The Amarant

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Chapter 24

“Crimson! Reina! Robert! We absolutely have to go to the mall tonight!” Amber exclaimed as she came running into the cafeteria. “There’s going to be like this mega huge manga sale! People are going to dress up and everything! It’s going to be so much fun!”

“Cool,” I said. “That sounds really fun.”

“I want to dress up!” Reina said.

“I don’t really care about anime, but I’ll go,” Robert said. “I do think that the anime guys are super hot, and if there are going to be guys dressing up as anime characters, oh my God, I’m going to lose my freakin’ mind!”

“Yay, so we’re all agreed to go!” Amber said.

“Yea, but how are we going to get there?” Robert asked. “We won’t all fit on the back of Crim’s bike.”

“I’ll take Reina on my bike, and, Robert, maybe you can borrow your dad’s car,” I said.

“Aw, but I wanna go on the bike,” Robert whined. “I still haven’t ridden on it. Reina, I’ll fight you for it.”

Reina giggled but hid behind me defensively.

“I’ll take you on the way back,” I promised him. “That is, if you trust Amber to drive the car.”

“Okay.” He smiled. “And it’s not like Amber could mess up the car anymore than it already is.”

“Hey,” Amber said with a frown.

“So what time did you wanna go?” I asked her.

“The real fun isn’t going to start until eight, when all the cosplay people get there, so that would be a good time.”

After school, Reina and I went to my house to wait around until it was time for the others to come; they were to meet us here and we’d all drive up together. We sat on my couch and tossed skittles back and forth, trying to get them in each other’s mouth.

“I can’t wait till this semester is over,” Reina said. “I feel like I’m being crushed, there’s so much pressure. Pressure from my mom to get a job, pressure from my classes, pressure to get good grades, and pressure to find a college and apply and get scholarships and—ah! I’m going crazy!”

“Yeah,” I said because I didn’t know what else to say. I used to feel like that, a few months ago, like the world was crashing down on my shoulders and I had to make every decision right at that moment. But I didn’t have to worry about my future anymore. Though it was true that I still didn’t know when it would happen, or what would happen with school or college, but I knew that I would be a vampire with Nicholae, and that was the only thing that really mattered.

“What about you? Are your grades killing you?” she asked, after I hit her in the chin with a red skittle and she picked it up off the couch and popped it in her mouth.

“Just math,” I said. “Everything else is easy.”

“You’re so lucky. You have a scholarship to the U of A. You’re pretty much set.”

“You shouldn’t stress out so much,” I said. “I’m positive you’ll get in if you just apply. And since your parents don’t make that much money, you’re guaranteed to get financial aid. You’ll be fine.”

“Eh, I don’t know,” she shrugged. “But it would be cool to go to the U of A with you and Robert. It will be just like high school. We can take classes together and eat lunch together, and maybe even go to some wild frat parties together.”

I smiled but didn’t say anything.

She aimed a green skittle between her fingers, a warning to me that she was about to shoot. I opened my mouth and she threw it.

It smacked me right between my eyes.

“Ha ha, I’m sorry,” she laughed as I rubbed my forehead.

I picked it up off my lap and ate it.

“I’ll tell you one thing that’s never going to change,” I said.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“You’re aim will always suck!”

She laughed and ate a handful of skittles.

Someone knocked on the front door.

“I wonder who that could be,” I said as I got up to answer it.

“It’s probably Robert, come to battle me for the back seat of the bike,” she joked.

I opened the door, and the tall well-dressed boy standing there was not Robert.

“Benny!” I said happily. I opened my arms to him and he wrapped me in a bear hug.

“How’s my favorite human doing tonight?” he joked.

Benny, don’t say stuff like that around Reina, I thought chastisingly.

He laughed and came further inside.

“So what are you doing here?” I asked.

He shrugged as he put his hands in his pockets. “Just…thought I might hang out for a bit…”

I wasn’t sure what exactly it was, but something about his face, the look in his eyes or the subtle creeping tone in his voice, made me suspicious.

Reina stood up and came to my side, gazing and smiling at Benny.

“Oh, right, sorry,” I said. “Reina, this is Benny. He’s my friend through Nick. And Benny, this is my friend Reina from school.”

“Hi, there,” Benny said, extending his hand with a bright smile.

Reina took it with her tiny, delicate hand and blushed—apparently, she thought he was cute.

“We’re about to go to the mall in a while,” I said. “Do you wanna come with us?”

“Yes! Sounds like fun!” he said.

“I’m sure Robert won’t mind making room for you in his car—”

“Actually, could I ride on your bike with you?” he interrupted.

This caught me off guard. I looked at Reina, and she didn’t seem perturbed by it.

“You don’t mind, do you Reina?” he asked with a hint of boyish charm.

“No, I don’t mind,” she said, completely sold.

“Good, then it’s settled,” he said. He went to the couch and sat down.

Reina sat next to him, and I, frowning with speculation, sat on his other side. We watched TV and Reina and I continued to eat the skittles, passing the bag to each other until it was empty.

I idly looked over at Benny’s face, and his eyes seemed far away, detached. What was he thinking about?

Not more than a split second after I looked at him, he came back from his thoughts and smiled beguilingly at me.

“Have you…seen Nick around?” I asked, wondering if maybe he was here on Nicholae’s instructions.

“Uh, no, haven’t seen him for a while,” he replied.

I nodded and looked back to the TV. Something was definitely going on, but I couldn’t contemplate too much, because I knew that my thoughts were unsafe. But Benny was being weird, even for Benny.

“So are you, like, Nick’s cousin or something?” Reina asked timidly, staring at his face.

“No. Why do you ask?”

“You look so much like him,” she said without breaking her gaze. What she was really thinking was that they were both so devastatingly, uniquely gorgeous, with the same pale porcelain flesh.

Benny smiled. “No, we’re just old chums, that’s all.”

Reina kept asking him questions, obviously just wanting to keep the communication going—aw, she was so adorably naïve. But Benny was sweet and kind about it, indulging her, for which I was grateful. The only question she didn’t ask him was the one I knew she wanted the answer to most—do you have a girlfriend. For obvious reasons, I was relieved that she didn’t ask that question.

At fifteen minutes after seven, Amber and Robert came in without knocking, in mid-discussion. When they laid eyes on Benny, they fell silent, like ravenous mountain lions that had just seen their first piece of meat in a year of starvation.

“Hey guys,” I said. “This is Benny, Nick’s friend. He’s going with us to the mall. He’s going to ride with me on the bike, so Reina is going to ride with you guys.”

“Ok,” Amber said.

My television was the only source of sound in my living room as the other three humans stared adoringly at the vampire playboy. This was getting more and more awkward for me, but Benny seemed to be loving the attention. “So, are we all ready to go?” I asked finally.

They all mumbled affirmations as they remembered themselves, and we left my house.

“Oh my God, your new friend is HOT!” Robert whispered as we were the last two out the door. “Is he single? Is he into guys? Either way I’ll still go after him.”

“Robert,” I shook my head.

“What?” he said, smiling and visually assaulting Benny from behind as he passed him to go to the driver’s seat of his car.

Benny and I went to my bike and he got on behind me.

“I really like your friends,” Benny said when the others could no longer hear us. “Especially Robert. He would definitely be fun to play with.”

This made me blush furiously as images burst to life in my mind from Benny’s words.

“Benny!” I scolded.

He laughed and put his arms around me.

“You’re not really serious, are you?” I asked, riddled with uncertainty.

“No, I just like to mess with you,” he said. “But I would like a mortal playmate. I see how much fun Nicholae has with you, and it makes me a little jealous.”

“Well, please leave my friends out of your list of options,” I said.

Robert finally started the car and pulled away from the curb.

“Sure. I’ll consider them ‘off limits’,” he said.

I started the motorcycle, but I didn’t drive forward just yet.

“Benny, what’s the real reason that you wanted to ride with me?” I asked, my suspicion getting the better of me.

His answer was a half second too late, but it was enough of a difference to notice.

“Geez, what’s with the third degree?” he asked. “I just wanted to hang out, that’s all. Is there anything wrong with finding enjoyment in mortal company?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “You tell me.”

I waited for some kind of response, but none came. Finally, dissatisfied, I drove forward and we headed for the Tucson Mall.

It was so hard to keep my thoughts censored. I wasn’t allowed to think about what Nicholae was doing right now, I wasn’t allowed to think about my time at Laramie’s house or the secrets about myself that were discovered there, and I wasn’t allowed to think about the stalker, whoever it was, so that greatly limited my suspicions of Benny and what he was doing here. So I forced myself to settle with the possibility that maybe he really was just bored and wanted something to do, and that maybe the tiny, subtle quirks that were catching my attention were all just the illusions of paranoia on my Nicholae-deprived mind.

A half hour later, I followed Robert up and down the aisles of the parking lot of the Tucson Mall for unoccupied spaces. We found spots and met up at the top of the aisle. The girls and Robert all flocked around Benny as we walked up to the entrance of the food court, and he was prancing around like a proud rooster surrounded by eager hens.

Inside, the mall was so buzzing with people I could hardly see the white of the linoleum floors. Amber was so eager to get to the bookstore that she was pushing ahead of us, and we had to nearly run to keep up with her.

We could see the bookstore from the other end of the hall. It was easy to pick out, for there were colorfully dressed crowds protruding from its entrance. We squeezed through the crowd and into the bookstore, surrounded by costumed people who were just as nerdy as we were, if not more.

Within the belly of the bookstore, it was a vicious jungle, girls fighting over last issues of comic volumes, people knocking others over in their attempts to get to the cashier, men fawning over women dressed as Sailor Moon characters and girls squealing for men masquerading as Tuxedo Mask. It was a bedlam, but it was definitely our kind of party!

Amber ran for the Bleach comics, and Reina and I went to browse along with her.

When I looked back a half hour later to see what had become of Benny and Robert, whom I had completely forgotten in my mania, they were leaning up against a neglected bookshelf and talking, or flirting in Robert’s case. But Benny’s eyes would come back to me every now and then, almost with a paternal rhythm, worried I might get lost if he kept his gaze away for too long.

Coming up empty handed in my comic search, I walked over to the two of them to ruin their private moment.

“Are you two having fun?” I asked, putting my elbow up on Benny’s shoulder.

“I guess,” Robert said, trying to act cool and nonchalant, even though we all knew he was really loving having Benny to himself. “Actually, I was just about to ask Benny to go get some food with me.” He looked up at Benny hopefully.

“Sure,” Benny said. “You want to come with us?” he asked me.

Robert frowned.

“Okay,” I shrugged.

Robert pursed his lips; his plan didn’t work out as he had wanted.

Knowing that Reina and Amber would be fine here for a while without us, I left the bookstore with the guys and headed back toward the food court.

“Oh, hey can you guys hold on a sec?” Robert asked. “I have to hit the bathroom.”

“Sure, we’ll wait for you right here,” I said.

“Okay,” he said, then scurried off and disappeared into the sea of heads.

Benny and I stalled halfway to the food court, leaning against the wall.

“Are you enjoying your mortal night out?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been around so many humans in one place. I like the attention I get. And Robert is such a flirt.” He laughed. “Ah, mortals are so funny.”

I smiled and looked away into the crowd.

My head froze in its wandering as my eyes caught sight of something as striking as an ice burg in the middle of the desert.

There he was, the stalker, standing right across the floor in the very center of the crowd. He was staring right at me, that face I had only seen twice but could never forget. Our eyes stayed locked for an eternity as herds of people moseyed between us in slow motion. Then, his face crystal clear to me even at this distance, he smiled at me, mockingly, as if we were playing some game that I had just lost.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, Nicholae jettisoned from beyond my peripheral vision and pounced on the unsuspecting vampire. They went flying across the hall and crashed raucously into an escalator.

The sea of people ceased its flow as every preoccupation was abandoned and replaced by the sheer shock of what had just happened.

Before the staring, gasping crowd, Nicholae stood up over the vampire, and sparks flew from the escalator until it gave up the fight and shut down. All the glass and plastic that made up the rail of the escalator was smashed and dented, and the metal steps were crushed inward as if struck by a miniature meteorite.

Benny and I rushed forward, and I could tell by looking at Benny’s stunned expression that, whatever he had been up to before, it had nothing to do with this.

“Kerrich!” Nicholae hissed, preternaturally angry, the human illusion gone. “It was you! You were the one following her! What the hell are you up to!?”

The vampire Kerrich jumped to his feet elegantly and unperturbed. The triumphant smile I had seen before was magnified and spread even wider across his face, the image of the wicked victor.

“I am merely here to watch,” Kerrich replied in a low voice.

There was a question on Nicholae’s face as he glared at Kerrich. Some mental exchange was passing between them, once again keeping me out of the loop.

I could feel the crowd staring all around us, amazed at the impossible things they were seeing, their whispers a haunting song of superstitious proofs. And me, the only human who actually knew the truth, I was terrified. I was terrified that all these people were witness to the incriminating practices of the supernatural beings before them, and terrified of what this all might mean, specifically what was being “said” between the vampire I loved and the vampire who had been spying on me for months.

As I watched, Nicholae’s eyes widened, then he turned to look behind him, at William and Laramie who I hadn’t even realized were present until that moment. They were wearing the same startled expressions. Then as one mind, their heads shot upward. I followed their eyes up to the ceiling, expecting to see something horrifying overhead, but there was nothing but glass, and star-sprinkled black sky beyond that. They must be looking for something I couldn’t see…no, they weren’t looking, they were listening.

The vampire Kerrich began to laugh, low and guttural yet echoing as if the sound came from more than one mouth. “You can hear them now, can’t you!” he laughed, victorious. “Delilah regrets that she couldn’t be here to see this, the downfall of the great and powerful Nicholae Albaric!”

The crowd gasped at the mention of the fictional vampire’s name, many sighing in relief that this might be just a show and that all of the impossible phenomena of this scene could be easily explained away as theatrics.

Delilah. Who is Delilah? And what was Kerrich talking about? Hear who?

In blazing rage, Nicholae roared and punched Kerrich across the face, the sound like metal smacking stone. Another gasp from the crowd. I was never so grateful that my friends weren’t anywhere near me.

Kerrich spit blood to the side and laughed again. “Hit me all you want!” he scoffed. “But you’re only wasting your time.”

“Nicholae, he’s right,” William said, stepping forward.

Nicholae nodded, then, with determined fleetness, he sprang to my side and took me up in his arms.

“Nicholae, what’s going on?” I asked, obediently locking my arms around his neck.

“The worst possible thing that could have happened is happening,” he said severely. “We have to get you out of here. I only pray it’s not already too late.”

Then we took off down the wide hall of the mall, weaving through the crowd that was staring after the flash we had become. Kerrich’s exultant laughter followed us out, all the way to the exit.

As soon as we came into the darkness of the night outside of the mall, a shrieking wraith appeared from out of the shadows and razor sharp teeth shot for my neck. With lightning agility, I was pulled backward and another flash diverted the wraith in the opposite direction. When my reflexes caught up to them, I found William pinning the vampire to the ground, both struggling like titans until, faster than my eyes could follow each rapid motion, the being on the bottom screamed in what I knew must be defeat.

Then, before a breath of relief could be taken, another white apparition descended upon us. Laramie struck without hesitation and the being was slaughtered in an instant, its blood splattering across the wall behind us. And all the while, Nicholae held me close to his breast like a precious package that could not afford to be stolen.

After that, more and more vampires attacked, coming in pairs and then in groups. William, Laramie and Benny fought them off, and I watched with sheer awe, audience to the greatest combat scene of all, way better than any Jackie Chan movie.

“Nicholae, go! We’ll hold them off!” Laramie yelled.

He nodded and then ran—or tried to run—across the battlefield toward the motorcycle, stopped every few steps by a new threat, which was quickly deleted by one of the three on our side.

Suddenly, a face I recognized appeared in our path. Anticipating Laramie’s pounce, she bobbed and weaved around him and jumped at us, her fist making contact with Nicholae’s face above me. He fell backward and I landed roughly on the ground.

“Lolita!?” Laramie exclaimed. Heartbreak was clear on his face.

“Nothing personal,” she said. “But once I heard what a treasure she was, I had to have her. This is war, and old friendships mean nothing.”

Lolita wasn’t like the others. The vampires who came and attacked were obviously trying to kill me; the hatred and disgust for me was plain on their teeth-barred faces. But Lolita was here because she wanted me?

Oh no. I now understood what happened. All the pieces fell into place in my mind and displayed the horror that was my situation. Kerrich, the one who had been following me from the very beginning, found out about my rare potential and leaked this secret to the entire vampire world. And now all these vampires wanted me dead, even at the cost of their own lives.

I scrambled to my fallen Nicholae. Lolita motioned toward me to stop me before I got to him, but another hissing vampire lunged at me, and she dove at him instead, determined not to let her new-found diamond in the ruff be damaged.

Without intending to, Lolita was pushed into our ranks, fighting on our side against the vampires that kept coming like bombs. When there was finally a clearing, Nicholae sprinted to the motorcycle and put me on it in front of him.

“You want me to drive!?” I stammered, my hands barely able to grasp the handlebars through their shaking.

“You have to,” he said. “I need my hands to be free if I’m going to have to fend off any attackers who might come after us.”

I took out my key with my trembling fingers and tried to get it into the ignition, but it just wouldn’t go in—stupid fingers, stop shaking!

Nicholae put his hand over mine with surprising easiness. How he managed to stay so calm and gentle even through this was beyond me. With his fingers to guide and govern mine, I got the key into the ignition and started the bike. Then I spun out of the parking space.

“This isn’t over, Nicholae!” Lolita said as she snapped the neck of the female vampire currently opposing her.

I gave one last look behind us before I peeled down the aisle and ran the red light to turn onto Stone Avenue, forcing a car to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting us. They honked at us, but we were long gone by then, far ahead of them. I sped down the road, acCaelerating without discrimination, and running another red light. I had no idea where we were going, I just knew that we had to get far, far away from this place.

I was so nervous, I could feel my heartbeat in my ears, feel the perspiration building on my forehead as the wind turned it into icy chill. And no matter how high I pushed the speed, it just wasn’t fast enough, because I knew they were just behind us.

I kept looking twitchily to my side mirrors, keeping a keen eye out for any sign that we were being followed. Suddenly a red alarm signaled as I saw a black hummer speeding up the road and snaking recklessly around cars behind us. That could only be one of them.

The car drove up beside us. A black clad white man with a nose piercing and a black mohawk had his elbow hanging out the passenger window as the car matched my speed.

“Ah, well aren’t you a pre’y li’le thing,” he said with a sharp Scottish accent. “And look a’ those pre’y Amarant eyes.” His indulgent smile turned to an evil, impish sneer. “I’ll pluck those eyes righ’ ou’a their sockets!!” He cackled wickedly, and I could hear more derisive laughter from inside.

His arm lashed out toward me, intending to rip my arm off before I could even flinch. But Nicholae was faster. His luminescent hand snapped forward and gripped the British vampire’s arm. Before the vampire could counter, Nicholae tightened his grip and the bones in the vampire’s arm gave an audible crack.

The vampire screamed in deafening agony. “You bastard!”

Nicholae released the vampire’s shattered arm and the vampire whipped it back inside, continuing to scream as he cradled it against him. I could now understand why Nicholae was such a legend. The blood he’d stolen from Arianna had made him so much more powerful than vampires who were even older than him. It was such an easy thing for him to crush that vampire’s bones, like they were nothing more than dried porous mud. I was extremely lucky that he was so much stronger, for at least we had a fraction of a chance; it still might not be enough to save us.

My eyes flinched back at them, and I could see the vicious glowing eyes of the driver glaring at me. So much hatred. They flared in rage and his hands jerked on the steering wheel, forcing the car to feign in our direction.

I veered evasively to the right to avoid getting hit, which caused me to almost run right into a streetlight. Inhaling sharply, I swerved away from the lamp and evened the bike right in the middle of the lane.

Again, the hummer lurched out at us, nearly squishing me against the curb. My front tire tentatively skidded along the curb, threatening to hurtle us off balance and fall flat to the road.

Damn, stupid vampires! Even as shaken and terrified as I felt, anger was flaring inside me. I hated being weak and being unable to defend myself, and I hated them for making me feel that, for reminding me just how helpless I was.

Growling in frustration right behind me, Nicholae pulled his arms out from under mine and sprung off the motorcycle, light as a sprite. He slammed down onto the top of the hummer, denting in the roof. He crawled like a hunting cat down to the front, as immortal white hands reached out the windows to swat at him like some bothersome bug.

He smashed his elbow through the front window, and splinters of glass went flying out in all directions. The hummer swerved left and right, but that wasn’t enough. The driver hissed angrily at Nicholae.

Nicholae whipped his head at them, then gave a gorgeously demonic smile. He bent his arm straight upward, then dove his fist thunderously deep into the hood. He laughed tauntingly at the vampires inside and crept along the roof to swing himself back onto the motorcycle behind me.

“Get out of the way,” he whispered playfully into my ear.

I pulled the bike as far to the right as I could, just in time for the hummer’s hood to spontaneously combust. Within seconds, the entire thing exploded, and I sped even faster ahead of it to save us from the blow.

Through my side mirror, I could see cars pile up behind it, creating a huge accident that was getting bigger every second. I bit my lips guiltily, even as I sighed in relief.

My reprieve was too quick, for out of the fiery wreckage emerged three racing motorcycles all driven by white-faced beauties. Damn it!

They were at our tale in no time, one man with short dark hair on my left and two strikingly lovely blonde women on my right; they were trying to surround us, trap us.

“Fee fi fo fum,” one of the blondes sang.

The other one laughed trillfully.

“You can run all you like, but you’re never going to get away!” the man taunted.

We ran yet another red light, and this time, a cop caught us and sped after us.

“Oh, look Beatrice, more mortals to play with,” the second blonde said, then laughed like a child.

The man motioned toward us, and the first blonde on my right followed suit, both of them closing in on us. Nicholae was ready to strike at them whenever they came close, but I had no idea what to do. If I went any faster than this, I wouldn’t be able to control the bike, especially with this many other drivers sharing the road—I would surely crash.

And then yet another car came up behind us. Shit, this was getting hopeless!

But when the passenger window was rolled down, I saw William climbing up out of it. As soon as he was close enough, he jumped out and pounced on the male vampire’s bike. The vampire was so focused on me that he was unaware of the threat, and William easily and swiftly bit into his neck and ripped it open.

William jumped off and back onto the car, as the vampire’s hands flashed to his wounded neck, lost control of the steering and fell to the ground, right in front of the cop and caused another accident.

“Drake!!” the second blonde screamed.

Infuriated and rancorous, she abandoned her bike and pounced onto the car. She began to bang violently on the roof until finally she dug her claw-like fingers into the metal and ripped it open like the thin lid of a tin can. William slithered out of the window once again and began to wrestle with her.

I didn’t get to see what came of their struggle, for the other blonde had not forgotten us and presently jumped onto the front of my bike. She was so much more beautiful up close, with her very short, straight pale blonde hair and her eyes thickly lined in black. She was smiling sinisterly, and I knew that it was all over. She would slash at me and Nicholae wouldn’t be able to counter her without hurting me in the process.

But at the last minute, I saw something that she could not as she had her back to the path ahead. A diesel was forced off course by a car that had peeled out in front of it—surely yet another vampire come to exterminate me—and its cargo rig was swinging out to the opposite sidewalk, completely blocking the road. We were headed right for it, and we were all going too fast to stop in time. We were road kill, but at least I would take her down with us.

Nicholae wouldn’t give up so easily, though. In an instant, I was lifted up off the bike and was soon soaring through the air. Nicholae and I landed softly on the sidewalk several yards away.

Without a driver, and with the blonde vampire still on the handlebars, my beautiful, beloved silver Ninja crashed right into the long rig and exploded. My heart twinged at the sight, then my fists clenched so tight that it hurt. Goddamn, stupid, self-righteous vampires!!! Because of their prejudice and paranoid superstitious fear, my bike was ruined! I loved that bike!

Bemoaning my misfortune, I looked for William’s car. It screeched to a stop around the corner of the intersection, successfully escaping the destructive path of the diesel. William slid off the top, alone—the blonde vampire must have been vanquished—and Benny came out of the driver’s door.

They were at our sides in a nanosecond.

“Are you two alright?” William asked.

“Yes, we’re fine,” Nicholae said.

But William and Benny didn’t look too good. They had cuts and bites everywhere, and their clothes were ripped and frayed in places. There was even dried blood at the corner of William’s mouth. I was worried for them.

“You really saved us,” Nicholae said. “But where’s Laramie?”

“He’s still far behind us, fending off stragglers with Lolita,” Benny said. “And whenever they get the chance, they start fighting each other.” He laughed brusquely, then whipped around, serious as a hound on the prowl once again. “It’s not over yet.”

And just as he said that, more vampires descended upon us and surrounded us. There were too many of them. My hopes became shattered as I saw them circle us one by one, their ranks increasing until they were at least three to one.

“Crimson, stay behind me, no matter what,” Nicholae said as he backed up and forced me to get closer to the wall of the building behind us.

Then the battle commenced. A light show of flashing white blurs and phasing figures was all I saw, making me feel like I had taken some extremely potent hallucinogenic. Benny and William took on most of them, but the other vampires charged at Nicholae. Nicholae was at least a thousandth of a second faster than them, narrowly dodging their punches and swipes and bites. But he couldn’t dodge all of them. One elderly vampire sucker-punched Nicholae’s gut, and a younger male vampire bashed him in the jaw.

And all I could do was stand here a foot from the wall of the building behind us and flinch and gasp and quickly lose my sanity. I couldn’t stand to see him be hurt, especially because of me. I would rather die right now, rather rush forward and sacrifice myself. My life is not worth his!

The most bestial snarl rippled through him at that moment, and he grabbed the elderly vampire’s head in his stony fingers and slammed it into the head of another vampire, the force of the collision killing them both.

“Don’t you ever think that!!” he barked at me, his face abandoned of all innocent beauty, a truly horrifying mask.

More frightened by that than by anything else tonight, I nodded desperately and asserted to stay exactly where I was. I wouldn’t get in his way. I would never do anything to bring about that look on his face ever again.

Six more vampires dropped down on our clash of titans, and we were greatly outnumbered for about two minutes until Laramie and Lolita came, with a few of Lolita’s lovely and deadly concubines.

Benny was flattened to the pavement by a vampire who was about to chomp into his neck, but two of Lolita’s brunettes pulled the assailant off just in time and slaughtered him in a bloody dance.

Everyone was getting hurt, and though we were still winning, still killing all of our foes, how much longer could this last. Soon the cops would be here, and all of this would get so much worse. So many innocent humans would die, and Nicholae and all of my beloved vampire friends would be exposed to the world for what they were. This was terrible! I had to do something, I had to make this stop! But what could I possibly do?

Then, as I stood the helpless center of this carnage, both Nicholae’s and Benny’s heads snapped toward me. I tried to read the expression on their faces, to discover some meaning from their frantic wide eyes, in the infinitesimal amount of time allowed to me. But before I could read the signs of warning they were trying so hard to convey, and before they could phase toward me at their sound-breaking pace, arms closed snuggly around me from behind and I was abducted up into the air, watching Nicholae and the others get smaller and smaller, then farther and farther until they disappeared altogether. Had I blinked, I would have missed them completely.

I faintly heard Nicholae’s voice screaming my name, but only for a second as the distance increased exponentially between us and the sound couldn’t carry that far quickly enough.

“Nicholae!!” I bellowed back, but I knew that not even his razor-sharp senses could hear me now.

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