I slept most of the day, only waking up finally to eat. That was at four o’clock in the afternoon. I ate to my heart’s content, savoring each and every bite, knowing that they might be my last.
I thought about calling Mom, but I didn’t know what I would tell her. I couldn’t tell her where I really was, and I had no excuse for my disappearance. I couldn’t reassure her I was okay because I didn’t know if I would be tomorrow. Why call her only to disappear again, maybe forever…
I went back to the bed and lay next to Nicholae’s motionless, unconscious form, memorizing the lines of his beautiful face, inhaling his smell, caressing his cheeks even though I knew he couldn’t feel it. We might die tonight, and wanted to hold on to every precious moment we had left together.
I knew when dusk fell, because Nicholae’s eyes flew open. We stared at each other for a long time, saying nothing yet saying everything with our eyes. And then he stiffened and sat up in the bed.
“They’re here,” he said.
I got up and began dressing myself with the guns, strapping them around my legs and holstering them at my hips, hoping that I wouldn’t have to use them. Then I sat next to Nicholae.
“What’s happening?” I asked, knowing he was listening.
In answer, he took my hand, opened my palm and sliced into with his thumb nail. I cringed as the blood began to seep, but I held it out obediently. He sliced his palm as well then clasped his hand on mine.
At once, visions began to flow and I was no longer seeing with my eyes but with my mind. We were watching through the eyes of others up above.
A group of strangers was standing the middle of the parlor, and at the front of them was a teenage girl vampire, standing with all the command and regality of a queen. Her porcelain doll face was so child-like and innocent, with her thick black eye lashes and her perfectly puckered lips, and long shiny black ringlets cascading down both sides of her neck. She must be Delilah.
Her eyes were scanning the coven house. “Where is the Amarant?” she demanded.
Caeler stepped forward, emanating just as much authority. “She’s safe.”
“So you will not hand her over?” Delilah asked almost playfully.
Caeler stood his ground cockily and no one said a word.
“It is war then,” she said, her long lashes narrowing and pink lips curling in a beautifully wicked sneer. “Begin,” she said in little more than a whisper, and the infantry behind her flew forward, charging at our side. The parlor became a battlefield.
Nicholae’s telepathic vision jumped from one pair of eyes to the other, from whatever vantage point Laramie, William and Delilah could best be seen.
We were nearly evenly matched now, and neither side was, as of yet, overpowering the other.
“Oh, will you look at that?” one of Delilah’s male vampires said patronizingly. “They’ve brought a dog.” He laughed.
Arsinoe barked at him with that deafening decibel, and the vampire’s laughter cut short. He hadn’t realized that Arsinoe was more than just a dog, and now that he did, he was terrified. It was clear that he’d never seen anything like her before, and he had no idea how to react.
But Arsinoe didn’t give him a chance. With her untempered speed, she pounced at him and ripped away at him, and he fell hard like a heavy tree, screaming. Arsinoe finished him off quickly, then turned her attention to the vampires nearest her. Horrified, like humans who were about to wet themselves, they backed away from the demon dog, then finally made a run for it. Two of them got away while Arsinoe pursued the other.
The female vampire sprung up to the second story, but with the advantage of four legs, Arsinoe jettisoned up faster and crunched into her ankle, bringing her down to the ground floor and mangling her beyond recognition.
Ugh! I couldn’t stand to watch! As much as I adored that loveable dog, I was now brutally aware of just how dangerous she was.
Every vampire, on both sides, slowed their own struggle to watch the canine devour the pile of blood and bone, matting her white and silver fur with blackish red. Delilah’s vampires were losing their confidence, and this allowed our side to take the advantage. The young vampire Benny was fighting overshot his blow and Benny swooped underneath and got him in the neck. And the comparatively tiny female vampire dueling with Turq, the giant black vampire, crumpled beneath his wrath.
As we watched, the fight spread out more. Vampires were tackling each other out of windows and into other rooms, even taking the fight out into the snow. And all the while, Delilah and Kerrich hovered in the background like patient ghosts. Delilah’s eyes keep darting around. Was she looking for me? No, she was looking for Nicholae. He was her true target, I was merely the pawn.
Kerrich drew close to Delilah to say something in her ear, and instantly our viewpoint was from the eyes of someone right behind them.
“I heard in someone’s mind that they are down below,” he whispered.
Delilah smiled and nodded. They turned gracefully and wafted out the room like flowers on a breeze, and our vision jumped again so we could them leave down the hall and come in our direction.
As I was connected to Nicholae’s mind, I heard him mentally call out to William and Laramie to warn about Delilah. Laramie picked up his assailant and threw him against the fireplace, his bones cracking as he made contact, then Laramie darted after Delilah. William, on the other hand, was locked in combat with two females and couldn’t escape.
As Laramie charged after them, three of Delilah’s cronies instantly blocked his path, tackling him to the ground. They had him pinned, one holding down each side of his torso and the locking his hands around Laramie’s neck. The vampire began to pull on his neck. He was going to rip his head right off! No!
I stood up as I watched, as if I could interfere, but Nicholae never let go of my hand.
Just as it seemed Laramie was doomed, Caeler plunged his hand into the chest of the strangler and ripped out his heart. The strangler fell over, dead. Caeler threw the heart in the air, blood streaming as it flew, and Arsinoe jumped up and swallowed it whole. Caeler yanked up one of Laramie’s opponents, and Arsinoe clamped her jaws around the other’s leg and dragged him out into the snow.
As soon as he was free, Laramie continued his pursuit of Delilah and Kerrich. We were watching through his eyes as he ran after them. They were already coming down the stairs, they would soon be at our door, which was locked from inside.
Delilah waved her hand flippantly at Kerrich, and he turned around and faced off with Laramie. The scuffle made us blind to Delilah, but we didn’t need the vision anymore because she slammed on the iron door. The sound echoed through the stone chamber in which we sat. Nicholae released my hand, and I pulled it close to me, only absently noticing that the cut was sealing itself.
How long would the locks keep her out? How long until she found a way inside?
I didn’t have to wait for my answer long. Suddenly, the large iron door burst from its hinges and flew across the dungeon, smacking into the stone wall so loud it made my ears ring. Delilah was at the threshold, her delicate leg still poised upward from her kick. She put her foot down and stepped into the room.
I was so terrified, I didn’t have time to think, only to react. I reached for the holster on my right and pulled up the gun to aim it at her.
She laughed through her nose, daring me.
I pulled the trigger.
The boom filled the dungeon, followed by the tiny metallic sound of the bullet falling to the floor. It had hit her square in the forehead and bounced off. She was so powerful and old that the bullet couldn’t penetrate her skin!
She let out a melodic, insulting laugh.
Thinking on my feet, I readjusted my aim and shot again. The bullet went right into her eye, and she shrieked in pain. Her skin may be marble hard but her eye was still vulnerable enough to be damaged.
She dug her fingers into her eye socket and pulled out the bullet, throwing it to the side in fury.
“Get behind me,” Nicholae said, putting his arm out in front of me.
I backed up behind him, stumbled over the bed as I did so, and Delilah dove at him. The flurry was too quick for me to keep up with, but I could tell that neither was gaining over the other.
“Run!” Nicholae yelled at me.
I didn’t argue. I bolted out the door and up the stairs, determined to find someone to help Nicholae.
“Move!” I heard Laramie shout, and I leapt backwards just in time for Kerrich to slam into the wall where I had been standing.
As he returned to his feet, Kerrich slashed at my leg, his razor sharp nails slicing through my calf. I groaned and ran, and Laramie pounced him behind me.
As I ran through the house and finally made it into the parlor, everywhere I looked vampires were locked in battle. Travertine corpses and shimmering dark red blood were littering the floor. There was no one I could send after Nicholae.
I stood there, frozen in indecision. Suddenly, vampire fell from the railing overhead, then was mounted by his opponent and ultimately conquered. My shaken eyes fell on the face of the defeated vampire. I realized with sorrow that the vampire now dead at my feet was Levy. No!
I gasped and put my hands to my mouth.
The murderer looked up at me, and I was so certain that he was about to lurch at me. But the vampire didn’t move. He stayed crouched on all fours on the ground over his victim’s corpse, staring at me. With frenzied motions, he backed away. I turned around to see Arsinoe standing there, in pre-pouncing position, barring her fangs.
With his frightened eyes glued on the dog as he stumbled backward, the vampire ran right into Lolita. Smiling to herself wickedly, Lolita grabbed the vampire’s head, pulled him roughly upward and chomped into his neck.
I backed up against the wall, trying not to look as terrified as I felt. The numbers were dwindling all around me, casualties from both sides.
Most of the fight went outside, through the now gaping hole in the west-facing wall. The last of the vampires still doing battle in the common room killed each other off, and Arsinoe followed the herd out into the snow. Everyone had luckily forgotten about the human in the room.
Or so I thought.
Delilah scurried like a crazed animal through the hallway, clawing against the walls and grunting furiously. Her immaculate hair was still in perfect, undisturbed curls, but her clothing was in shreds and all but falling off of her. She quickly located me against the wall, and the expression on her face resembled that of a starving jungle cat that had spotted the limping gazelle.
I didn’t have time to internally question what happened to my beloved Nicholae. I knew I had to run, and that even then, I had no hope of escaping.
I put my hammering heart to good use and sprinted out through the hole in the wall and into the snow. Delilah was behind me in an instant. She grabbed the ends of my long hair and yanked me backward. I flipped off my feet and slammed to the slushy brown earth on my back.
Ignoring the stinging pain in my back, I scrambled off the ground. Delilah lurched for me, but Nicholae suddenly jumped out of the shadows and tackled her to the floor.
Kerrich appeared out of nowhere and leapt on Nicholae, pulling him off of Delilah. Delilah snaked out from under Nicholae and came after me.
“No!” Nicholae roared, bucked Kerrich off his back and grabbed Delilah two inches away from me.
They grappled into the snow again, and Nicholae punched Kerrich twice in the face as Kerrich dug his claws into Nicholae’s sides. Nicholae grunted in pain, but it was not enough to get him off of Kerrich.
Again, Delilah jumped at Nicholae, but he was ready for her this time and he backfisted her, and she was thrust backward. She slammed hard into me against a tree, knocking the wind out of me.
I coughed and heaved a whiff of icy air into my lungs, gripping onto the tree for support.
Delilah smiled sinisterly. “Oh, I’m going to enjoy killing you.”
Fast as my legs could carry me, I raced into the woods, trudging through the snow and kicking it out of my way with grim desperation. I didn’t dare look behind me, I just kept moving forward through the trees.
I thought I heard Nicholae call my name far behind me. Not even Nicholae could save me now; he was still struggling with Kerrich. And everyone else I could pray on coming to my rescue was nowhere to be seen. I was completely alone, save for Delilah who was hiding somewhere in this white-blanketed darkness, watching me.
I had to stop, had to catch my breath. I didn’t see her, didn’t see anything moving in the white behind me, or to either side of me.
“Crimson,” Delilah’s voice sang eerily, echoing through the woods.
I flinched and shuddered, looking all around.
“Crimson,” she sang again, seemingly from the other side of the trees. Then her childish giggle rippled through the chilly night all around me.
I started running again, not sure what direction her voice was really coming from. But I couldn’t just stand still. I had to keep moving, somewhere, anywhere!
“Run, run, run, stupid little mortal, ha ha!” she trilled.
I looked behind me as I ran, thinking I heard something rustle behind me, and tripped over a sharp rock hidden deep in the snow. I fell into the snow and scraped my palms on the hundreds of little pebbles just underneath the thin powdery layer.
I pushed myself up off the ground and dusted off my hands.
“Ahh!” I grunted in pain. I looked at my palms and they were bleeding, with several tiny bits of rock stuck in my skin.
“Boo!” Delilah said, suddenly in front of me.
I screeched and fell back against a tree. When I blinked, she was gone and only smooth white snow was there. I turned and ran in the other direction.
“Peak-a-boo!” she poked her head out from behind a tree just in front of me, then just as quickly disappeared.
I couldn’t help myself anymore. I was losing my grip. I was completely trapped, and I was going to lose. I started to cry, hopeless.
“Leave me alone,” I moaned, tears spilling down my cheeks. “Just leave me alone!”
“Don’t worry, silly girl,” she said, standing solidly to my right and stepping closer. “Once I’m done with you, I’ll kill your bastard of a boyfriend, and you’ll be with him again. I’ll make sure to bury you both in the same ditch.” She laughed.
I hated her. I hated her! I won’t let her hurt Nicholae, I won’t!
I saw a long, ancient, splintered branch in the snow out of the corner of my eye. Sneering and angry, I picked it up and swung it at her face as she laughed. The end of the branch shattered and put splinters in my already bleeding hands. Delilah faltered just slightly, but the force of my attack had been enough to scratch her pretty, smooth cheek. Her hand rushed to her face and she gawked at me in shock.
Somehow, this simple wooden branch had been strong enough to break her skin when a bullet had not. I didn’t care to question how.
“You bitch!” she hissed.
I turned tail and ran again.
“Oh, no you don’t!” she snapped.
She stomped on the heel of my shoe and I fell face first into the snow, the branch flying out of my hand. I turned on my side to look at Delilah, who was standing darkly over me.
“I’m going to really take my time killing you,” she said, walking slowly with me as I crawled along the ground. “First, I’ll rip out your arm, then the other one. Wait, perhaps I should slice off each of your fingers first. Yes, that’s what I’ll do.”
I couldn’t crawl anymore, for I had reached the edge of a cliff. I was really cornered now. If she wanted to, she could just throw me off this hillside and let gravity and the rocks at the bottom kill me. But that would be too quick for her, too easy. She wanted me to suffer.
Oh, Nicholae, I’m so sorry for all of this. You’re going to lose me, after all. I only pray that at least you will live through this. Please, just let Nicholae live, and let him find some kind of happiness without me.
Delilah smiled. She knelt down slowly and elegantly, then crouched over me.
“Does the great Amarant have any last words?” she asked condescendingly.
I swept my eyes to either side of me, and then I saw what I wanted.
“No,” I said. “But these are yours.”
My words threw her off, and in the second it took her to think about it, I grabbed the branch from before and thrust the pointed end into her chest with all my strength. Splinters peeled back with an audible whine as the ancient wood pierced her even more ancient flesh. I hadn’t been sure it would work, but I had to try.
She gasped sharply and stood up, staring at the wood protruding from her chest.
I scurried away from the cliff edge and clambered to my feet. From here, I could see that the branch had gone all the way through, sticking out of her back. But even still, I didn’t know what to expect. Would it kill her? How long would it take?
She didn’t do anything. She just stood there, continuing to stare as her own blood streamed down onto the snow. She looked so weak, so susceptible, like she was paper-thin. Too afraid to risk letting her live and giving her another chance to kill me, I rushed at her and pushed.
But at the last minute, she grabbed my arm, and we fell together. It seemed an eternity that we were falling. In the somehow infinite time we descended, she pulled me against her, and I felt the shocking sting of the branch stab through my gut. She held me tight, her arms around me in a lovers’ embrace, until the ground came up to meet us, and we were thrown from each other.
I was in a fog as consciousness returned to me, black spots in my vision. I felt pain throughout my entire body, and a horrid cold nothingness in my abdomen. I strained every muscle to perch myself on my elbow so that I could look at my torso. Seeing the hole, my torn flesh, my own blood pouring out and staining the snow, almost made me faint.
I looked around for Delilah. She was to my left, a rag doll on the ground, blood slowly creeping out of the stake wound in her chest. Her eyes were vacant.
I collapsed back onto the ground. So this was it. I was going to die. But at least I had taken Delilah with me. Now she couldn’t hurt Nicholae.
In a dreamlike state, I saw all of mine and Nicholae’s time together. I saw the first time I found his name in the search database, saw our first meeting, saw our first kiss, our last kiss, our last night together. I remembered the story he told me about Laramie and Lolita.
“She had lost too much blood for him to just heal her,” he had said. “He turned her into one of us.”
I knew I had lost a lot of blood, and soon it would kill me. I had an idea, my last ditch attempt to save myself.
Mustering up all my strength, I hefted myself up onto my hands and crawled over to Delilah, clawing at the slippery earth and at her arm and body to pull myself closer. With freezing, numb fingers, I gripped the branch yanked with all my might. I continued to pull, and just as I was about to lose my willpower, it gave and came out. It had been serving as a plug to Delilah’s chest, and now that it was gone, her blood gushed forth like a fountain. I buried my face in it, slurping and guzzling, almost drowning in it. I drank and drank, until nothing more came out, and even then I lapped at the blood on her skin, on the snow, and finally fell over, exhausted.
I lay there, numb, staring blank as the snow wafted down onto me from above. I felt nothing. I thought nothing. Is this what dying feels like?
And then an agony worse than any pain I had ever known blazed in my guts. I disappeared into the pain, it was all I knew, and then the world went black.