My time alone with Nick came to an end all too quickly, as I soon heard Lillian calling that Vanessa had arrived.
Although I wanted nothing more than to stay in my room all day and revel in the newfound feelings we had for each other, I knew it would have to wait. We both had responsibilities that could not be ignored.
Lillian gave me a knowing look as we emerged together from my room, which I chose to ignore. Vanessa sat on our sofa, wearing a dark leather jacket and jeans. Her short hair was held back with a scarf.
“That is a beautiful jacket,” I told her, not because I wanted to be nice but because it really was a gorgeous jacket.
She shrugged me off, still looking wary of me. “Thanks, so what’s the plan?”
A knock on the door interrupted my answer. I opened it to find Amir standing there looking exhausted.
“Come in,” I said warmly.
Entering the room he collapsed onto the free end of the sofa. “How are you doing?” He asked. “Lillian told me about what happened yesterday.”
Lillian herself had disappeared into the kitchen, where I could hear the sound of the kettle boiling.
“I think we’re doing ok,” I said, my eyes unwittingly flitting to Nick who gave me a grin.
Amir glanced at Vanessa and frowned in confusion, seemingly noticing her for the first time. “Who are you?”
“Vanessa.” She said reservedly.
It was obvious Amir recognised her name because his eyes widened.
“Oh! It’s um… nice to meet you?”
I snorted. “You don’t have to be polite Amir; she knows we don’t like her. We’ve just agreed to work together for the time being.”
Vanessa’s lips unwillingly twitched with amusement. “Yeah I’m not a fan of any of you either, but I’m here for my sister so…”
“Oh, right.” Amir glanced between us. “So, what’s the plan?”
Nick outlined everything that we knew so far, while I helped Lillian bring in tea for everyone. Our main issue now was that we didn’t know where exactly we should look for more of the creatures.
We guessed that they had to be somewhere in the area of the crime scene we had already visited. I suggested that they would most likely be somewhere deserted and dark. If they were anything like a vampire at all, they would not like sunlight. Importantly it also had to be somewhere private, where the police and the media couldn’t accidentally stumble across them.
That did narrow it down considerably, but there were still too many places for us to search all of them. It would take far too long and we would be sure to draw attention to ourselves. The more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that someone with more intelligence had to be behind everything. These creatures were not just some mistake of nature; they had to have appeared for a reason. But, who had the power and means to do something like this? Rowland would have been my first guess, but he was most definitely dead.
Digging through a drawer I pulled out a map. It wasn’t the most detailed. I had purchased it when I had first moved to the city, in order to familiarise myself with the area. I spread it across the coffee table and grabbed a pen. First I put a big red cross on the street where Linda had been found. I then similarly labelled the crime scene area. The two dots were quite close together in comparison to the wide spread of the city.
A large rectangle caught my eye, a plot of land taking up an obnoxious amount of real-estate. This was Rowlands former residence, I realised. It was almost equally distant to the other two points, forming a triangle across the landscape. Without fully thinking about it, I marked the building with another cross.
Nick leaned over my shoulder and shot me a confused expression. “You think this has something to do with Rowland?”
I shook my head. I had killed him myself; of course, he couldn’t be involved.
“No… but the proximity just seemed… strange.”
Leaning closer to examine the map, I looked at the buildings in my newly formed triangle. One, in particular, drew my attention- a large building right in the centre. Something in my brain clicked when I saw the street name and I tapped the building, suddenly confident.
“They’re here,” I announced.
“How do you know?” Vanessa demanded.
“Firstly, because this building is a large unused warehouse,” I explained. “It would be the perfect place to hide, nobody goes in there and it is near to both of the attacks.”
“Secondly?” Nick asked, sensing that there was more.
“I own it.” I had never been there but I recalled seeing the address on a list of properties that I had inherited from Rowland.
Vanessa leapt to her feet “What?”
“Keep your hair on; it’s one of the properties I got from Rowland when I killed him.” I shrugged. “I forgot it existed, to be honest. As far as I know, it is derelict, not suitable for use.”
She sat back down, looking mollified. “How can you forget that you own a warehouse?”
“I own lots of things. Plus, I haven’t exactly had time to do any admin lately.”
“You really think that this is the right place?” Lillian asked. She had been pretty quiet up until this point. I wished I could have made her visible again, but I really needed to conserve energy for the coming events.
I nodded at her. “Yes, it feels like the best place to look. What are the chances of me owning something right in the middle of everything?”
“Do you think the police are already looking there?” Nick asked, looking worried.
“I doubt it, I mean nothing is actually in my real name but, Adam or someone would definitely notify me if they asked for access. Plus, they have no reason to suspect it might be involved in any way, the attacks happened on other streets. They can’t connect them back to anywhere.” Without my knowledge of Rowland, I would not have been able to pick out the building.
“Do you think we should all go?” Lillian glanced anxiously at Amir. I knew that she was worried about his safety. I repeated her question for the benefit of the others.
“Yes,” Nick said immediately. “We might need as many people as possible.”
“I don’t know how much use I will be,” Amir admitted. “But I want to help.”
“If he gets turned into one of those things, he won’t be any help at all!” Lillian hissed crossly. I was somewhat glad that he couldn’t hear her remark.
“If you are coming, you should stay back on the side-lines,” I told him. “You don’t want to be in the middle of a fight if you don’t know what you are doing.”
Nick moved to his black bag and pulled out a boxy-looking gun.
“Here.” He said, handing it to Amir. “Don’t shoot in unless it is absolutely necessary and don’t point it near any of us.”
“What-where did you get a gun?” I demanded. “You really think it is a good idea giving it to him? No offence, Amir.”
“None taken.” He said, holding the gun gingerly as if it might bite him.
“You don’t want to know where it came from.” Nick admitted, “But at least it might help him if he’s trapped.”
“No way!” Lillian cried, although I was still the only one who could hear her.
Once the initial shock of seeing the weapon had worn off, I did see some merits to the idea. I really couldn’t imagine Amir successfully cutting anyone’s head off, even if they were attacking him. He was a healer, not a fighter. At least a gun might keep people away from him.
I still felt a little uneasy though; guns always added an extra layer of uncertainty to things. I’d even had my doubts about the short sword I had decided to bring. However, since it was very likely that I would have to cut off somethings head, I strapped it under my coat resolutely.
“Teach him how to use the gun,” I told Nick. “We don’t have a lot of time, so just make sure he’s not going to shoot himself in the foot.”
Nick nodded and drew Amir to one side, already talking quickly and gesturing to the weapon. Thankfully, it was not currently loaded.
“This is a bad idea,” Lillian muttered darkly.
I shot her an apologetic look before I quickly went to visit the bathroom and freshen up. My hair had mostly escaped from its braid so I quickly redid it, satisfied for the time being that it was out of the way. Just as I was tying the band, something caught my eye in the mirror. Leaning forward, I saw that I had the tiniest thread of white-blonde growing into my hair from the roots. I stared for a moment, unsettled. Although I knew that my hair colour had been brought on by the change, I hadn’t really considered the fact that it might turn back. It made me uneasy. My hair had become a part of my identity, silly as it sounds.
In my mind, the old human blonde me was almost an entirely different person to my present self. It had been a very long time since I had left that person behind. If my situation didn’t change, would I become her again? I thought not. I had gained so much experience since that point in my life; I would never get that innocence back. Perhaps I would become an entirely new person. That might even be ok, I thought. Especially if Nick decided to stick around and get to know me more. My heart sped up at the thought.
“Scarlett.” The unexpected voice made me spin around in alarm.
Gabriel stood leaning against the bathtub, impeccably dressed as usual in a full three-piece suit.
“What the hell are you doing here?” I hissed, “What if I was changing or something?”
He shrugged. “Time is of the essence, I came to check on you. I assume that you’re going after those abominations roaming the city?”
Surprise drew me up short. “How did you know that?”
“It’s what you do,” he answered. “Whenever I needed to check on you in the past, I just looked for where there was some sort of trouble happening. You always seem to be in the middle of it somehow.”
I pushed away my irritation. I never meant to end up in trouble; it just seemed to keep finding me. Perhaps he could be useful whilst he was here.
“The… things, they don’t have souls, do they?” I asked.
Gabriel regarded me seriously for a moment. “No, I think not. They are messing with the natural order of things. They must be removed.” He met my eyes with a surprising intensity. “I can’t help you. You must make sure you kill them all, before…”
“Before what?” I demanded.
“Before you run out of time.” He said ominously, disappearing without another word.
I was left standing in the bathroom alone, contemplating his words. I didn’t like the vagueness of his statement. Were we running out of time to get rid of them all? Or, was it my more personal time that was running out? I could do nothing but try to shake off the dark thoughts. Worrying about the future never helped anyone.
The others were all ready to go when I emerged. Vanessa had brought her car and offered to drive, which I thought was a good idea until I saw the size of it.
“Can we all fit in there?” I asked doubtfully. The tiny green car only had two doors.
“Yeah, you can move the front seats forward to get in the back.” She said breezily.
The sun was probably just coming up, although the thick rainclouds made it hard to tell. In the short distance between my house and the car, we were all quickly soaked.
I ended up crammed in the back seat between Lillian and Nick. It probably looked ridiculous to everyone else, because the space where Lillian sat would appear to be empty. To me she was solid, but that left me with very little legroom. I was practically in Nick’s lap. Although I found that I didn’t particularly mind, especially when he casually put his arm around me. Amir got to go in the front seat next to Vanessa.
The journey to the warehouse should have been short, but we had to do a wide detour to avoid the media circus that had sprung up after the events of the previous night. I wondered how Dr Young had explained the disappearance of two officers and her colleague. With any luck, she hadn’t implicated us.
The thick sheets of rain obscured visibility but would hopefully help to keep us hidden. It would also ideally have the added benefit of wiping away any evidence we left behind. Vanessa drove slowly with the windscreen wipers on full.
At one point we passed a police patrol car and I found myself holding my breath. As they glided smoothly past us I relaxed, they had no reason to question us. I couldn’t help feeling a little guilty about the people we had killed the previous night. It couldn’t have been avoided; the creatures had to be stopped. Nonetheless, it wasn’t like killing a vampire who was fully aware of what they were doing. These people had not asked to be turned into monsters; they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. They probably had people who would miss them, people who would never understand what had happened.
When I got the rest of this mess sorted out, perhaps there would be something I could do to help. Still, that was a problem for another day. Nick looked at my troubled expression questioningly, but I just shook my head. It wouldn’t help to voice my thoughts out loud.
When we finally arrived at the warehouse, the place looked completely deserted. For a moment this made me doubt my assumptions. However, I knew that whoever was inside was unlikely to want to advertise their presence. There was a strong chance that we might find something within. The property was surrounded by a tall metal fence. Vanessa pulled up in front of a sturdy looking gate.
“It looks locked.” She said.
“There is a combination lock on the gate,” I observed. “Somebody try 10-18-05. That is the code Rowland used for most multi-access properties.” I had received a list from Adam when I had taken over.
Amir climbed out and tried the code, it worked first try. We all waited anxiously whilst he hurried back to the car.
Once he was in I spoke to Vanessa; “Drive around the back and park out of sight. I don’t want anyone to see your car.”
I had no idea how good the senses of the creatures were. But, if they were half as good as a vampire, it would be impossible to sneak up on them anyway. We could only hope that they were sleeping. If a vampire was involved, they would also be at their weakest. I had to admit I was enjoying my human ability to stay awake all day.
As soon as the car came to a stop, we all piled out. Lillian simply disappeared from my side and reappeared outside the car. I tried to copy her example. However, my own exit was somewhat less graceful as I managed to appear in a slippery patch of mud and almost fall over. We were all trying to be quiet and cautious but I could tell that the others were silently laughing at me. Nick especially looked amused. Shooting them all a glare I swiftly got back to business.
“We need to find a way in,” I whispered, keeping my voice as low as possible.
Nick pointed silently to a door at the back of the building and raised an eyebrow. I nodded so we moved towards it, letting him lead the way. Of course, it was locked, but he was able to pick the lock without too much trouble.
The small room inside was dark and cold, I suspected that the building hadn’t been used for anything official in a long time. When this was done, I would have to look at doing something with the land. As I entered the dark interior, I half expected something to jump out at me from somewhere. Quietly, I withdrew my sword from its sheath. Nick followed my example, holding his axe at the ready.
I stood at the front of the group with Nick. Lillian stopped just behind me and Amir and Vanessa brought up the rear. Vanessa carried a large bag slung over her shoulder. I almost questioned the necessity of it, before realising that it was probably filled with witchy tools that she might need. Her mysterious dissolving powder had certainly come in handy before. Her hands were free, save for a small pouch covered in tiny symbols. Amir carried a baseball bat, although I could see the blocky shape of the gun at his hip.
Listening intently, I strained to hear any tiny sounds that might give away an attack. I could hear nothing but the sound of the heavy rain outside. Deciding that that was the best I was going to get, I began moving forward cautiously. The small room led into a much larger cavernous space, which made up the bulk of the building. Unfortunately, ginormous empty shelves stretched across the gloomy area, creating deep shadows and stopping us from seeing more than a few metres. I hadn’t counted on having to navigate a maze to find the targets.
With nothing to do but go ahead, I started walking. The others stayed close behind me. Our footsteps sounded uncomfortably loud as they echoed in the vast space. Each time I rounded a corner my heart skipped, anticipating an attack that didn’t come. By about the tenth one, I had started to become a little desensitised. Of course, that would be when something actually happened.
Something flew down from above with an enraged howl. I caught a flash of red eyes as I brought my sword up just in time to impale the snarling male. My body collapsed under his weight and he slid along the length of the sword, bringing his snapping face inches from my own. Somehow I kept the momentum going, ignoring the pain in my crushed limbs as I rolled.
“They’re above us!” Nick yelled.
The guy was on top of me again when I had enough presence of mind to disappear and reappear a few feet away. He sprawled to the floor in confusion as I whipped my sword around and cut off his head. My arms ached with the effort; I had to throw all my weight behind it to get enough force.
Frantically I looked around for the others. Amir was screaming, Vanessa was backing away looking terrified. Nick was fighting with another of the creatures, a hulking male a head taller than him. Running to help I swept the sword across the back of the man’s legs, cutting him down. It was a dirty move, but there was no way I was risking Nick being bitten for the sake of politeness. Nick took the opportunity to relieve the guy of his head.
There was no respite. No sooner had we finished with the first two, another three came running up the corridor we were in.
I was just about to rush at them when Vanessa yelled, “Wait, duck!
I mindlessly obeyed her and she flung the little package in her hand over my head. As it flew towards the three creatures she yelled a string of words too quickly for me to hear. On contact, the object burst into a fiery explosion, coating all three of the attackers. They screamed and flailed around in pain but the fire seemed to stick to them somehow. It spread across their bodies much faster than normal flames, like it had some kind of unseen accelerant. Two of them stumbled near enough for us to take their heads, but the third one ran away howling. The thick foul-smelling smoke made me cough violently. I went to give chase but Vanessa shook her head.
“Leave him, that fire is bewitched. He won’t last very long.”
“We have more company!” Nick called.
The commotion had drawn the attention of a larger group of attackers, five this time.
“Amir, stay behind us!” I yelled.
Lillian flew forwards, directly at the creatures. With a shriek of rage, she collided with the first one and passed all the way through. The woman was knocked to the ground but quickly scrambled to get up again. I was there already, driving my sword at her head. Nick was right behind me, swinging his axe with furious abandon. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Vanessa throwing some kind of powder which stopped a red-eyed man in his tracks. He dropped to his knees looking dazed and Nick chopped off his head.
The fight seemed never-ending; as we killed opponents, more kept arriving. I was breathing so heavily I was struggling to get enough air into my lungs to sustain my activity. Sweat coated my face and neck and my muscles screamed at me to stop. I disregarded everything and kept going, stopping meant death or worse. Every time I was backed into an impossible corner, I simply disappeared and reappeared behind my opponent. It proved to be an effective move; I was able to kill several creatures this way.
My sword was knocked from my hand as I tried to shove a woman backwards away from me. It clattered to the floor out of reach but I was already pulling out a knife. As she lunged I plunged it into her chest, going up under the rib cage to hit the heart. She faltered but kept coming at me, it seemed that just damaging the heart was not enough. I shifted to my sword and quickly scooped it up with my left hand. There was a sharp pain where she had bent my right wrist back.
Lillian came to my rescue by shoving the woman bodily to one side. As she spun around looking for the unseen attacker I hit her in the neck. My left arm was not as strong so I only made it half the way through. Trying again, I managed to sever the remaining flesh.
Without warning it was suddenly silent again. All of the creatures had been defeated, numerous bodies littered the floor. The only sound was our heavy breathing. Quickly I looked around. Nick met my eyes and gave me a grim smile, relief blossomed in my chest. I was glad that he was safe. Lillian stood next to me. She looked absurdly out of place beside the scattered corpses in her still pristine evening wear. Vanessa looked very pale. Her magic mostly seemed to use pre-prepared symbols and aids, but I guessed such a display of power must still be taking a toll on her.
“Where’s Amir?” Lillian suddenly demanded.
“Amir?” I called, not seeing him anywhere.
“He wasn’t really fighting, maybe he decided to run?” Nick suggested.
I shook my head, it seemed unlikely. “I don’t think that he would just leave us.”
Before I had thought that I couldn’t possibly have any more adrenaline or stress, but now I could feel the horrible sick feeling of fear spreading through my body. Where was Amir? If he was bitten, wouldn’t someone have seen it? How long did it take for these things to change, anyway? What if we’d missed it? I didn’t think I could take it if a red-eyed version of my friend suddenly sprang out of the shadows.
“Amir?” I called again a little louder, trying not to let the desperation show in my voice.
“Where is he?” Lillian already sounded tearful. “I knew we shouldn’t have brought him!”
With dread, I scanned all of the bodies again. Thankfully I saw only the blank faces of the dead creatures staring back at me. I jogged to the nearest corner and looked around. There was only another empty corridor with no sign of Amir. Nick had followed me.
“Hang on, look.” He said, pointing.
It was difficult to see in the faint light, but on the dirty floor, I could see the vague outline of bloody footprints. I leaned in closer to look.
“Wait, there are two sets! Do you think someone took him?”
He looked worried. “It’s possible, but who else is here? These creatures are not capable of taking hostages.”
Lillian rushed to catch up, Vanessa wasn’t far behind. I pointed out the tracks on the floor.
“What are we waiting for? Let’s go!” Lillian was already moving.
“Wait.” I called, “What if it’s a trap?”
“Does it matter?” She demanded. “We can’t not go after him!”
“You’re right.” I sighed, following her. “We’re going after him.” I clarified for Nick and Vanessa.
Nick followed me without question but Vanessa looked reluctant. “You said it might be a trap!”
“We’re still going.” I snapped. “You can leave if you want, I won’t stop you.”
“I not going to- oh fine! I’ll help. It’s not like I would just walk away now.” She grumbled, marching after us.
Somewhere in the distance, we heard a cry of pain.
“Amir!” Lillian cried, breaking into a run.
“Oh hell!” I cursed, right behind her.
I quickly lost Lillian because when blocked by a shelf, she just ran straight through it. I couldn’t shift without knowing what was on the other side, so I had to take a longer route. Nick easily matched my pace but I could hear Vanessa struggling a little bit behind us. There was no time to slow down when any number of terrible things could be happening to Amir.
Praying that nothing else jumped out to attack us we whipped through the warehouse. I was so focused on finding Amir that I was surprised when we hit a clearing in the centre of the room. I skidded to a stop, almost hitting Lillian who had arrived seconds before me.
In the middle of the space, Amir stood stiffly next to a blonde woman. There was something very familiar about her. It took me a moment because her long blonde hair was tied up into a tight ponytail and she was wearing a pair of scruffy jeans. I had last seen her in a frilly white dress looking far more girlish.
“Charlotte?” The name somehow found its way out of my memory in my surprise.
This was the girl Nick and I had found in Rowland’s house, months ago when we were searching for Angela. She had been a pet of Rowland’s; I remembered Nick’s horror at the idea. I felt a little bad that I had forgotten all about her existence. I had left all of Rowlands staff on the payroll for the time being, but most of them had chosen to move on. The majority had not exactly worked for him willingly, they had been happy for a chance at freedom. Charlotte was different; I remembered her devotion to Rowland. Did it still exist?
“Scarlett.” The venom in her voice made me think that perhaps it did. “You stop right there, all of you.” Nick and Vanessa stopped beside me. Lillian crept closer, unseen.
Charlotte held the gun pressed to Amir’s neck, but otherwise, he looked relatively unharmed. Although only months had passed, her childlike blue eyes looked older somehow. There was a harshness to her face that had not been there before. She hid it well, but I could see that she was exhausted.
“What do you want?” I said carefully, trying to think of a way to get her safely away from Amir.
She laughed; a sudden harsh sound. “What do I want? I want Rowland, of course. But, because of you, I can’t have that.”
“You told us where he was,” I said evenly, playing for time.
“You were just supposed to remove the girl so I could be with him in peace!” she hissed. “He was going to make me immortal so we could be together forever!”
I really doubted that he would ever have done that. It was much more plausible that Rowland was just stringing her along because he liked her blood. Still, I knew that she would never believe me. I decided to change track.
“What do you know about these creatures?” I asked.
For some reason this made her giggle. “They were an accident. I should thank you really, for cleaning them up. It really wouldn’t do to have them running around everywhere.”
I was dumbfounded. “An accident? What did you do?”
A wicked grin grew on her face. “I had a little play. Rowland already had a whole lab set up in here; he’d been trying to figure you out for ages. All he was missing was a sample of your blood, which you helpfully left all over the floor when you visited our house.”
Belatedly I recalled that I had been shot the night I had met her. At the time I hadn’t really thought much of it, the wound had healed quickly.
“What did you do?” I repeated, my voice a growl this time.
She shrugged, “Rowland had something to help things transmit, some kind of disease mixture I think. I added your blood to it and injected it in a homeless man I found outside.”
Horror filled me. “Why would you do that?” The utter senselessness of the idea baffled me.
“Well, I wasn’t going to inject it into myself, was I? I didn’t know what it would do.” She said this as if it was obvious. I was starting to suspect that this girl was at least a little psychopathic.
“So, what did it do?” I couldn’t help but be curious as to how this all started.
She just looked at me as if I was stupid. “Well, you saw it yourself. The guy went a little crazy, so I hid and watched from a distance. This place has some good hidden viewing platforms. He jumped the fence and ran out onto the street. There was another man out there, whom he attacked. Some woman came running, I suppose she heard the screaming and wanted to help. Of course, she was bitten too. I thought that everything was going to get very out of control then, but then something very strange happened.”
“Linda.” Vanessa breathed.
Charlotte ignored her, intent on telling her story. “The man turned first, of course. The woman saw what was happening and she did some sort of magic. The homeless man burst into flames, but the other one ran for it. I think the woman tried to chase him, but she didn’t make it very far. I found her about a street away, chest all toasted.”
Vanessa made an angry sound next to me.
“Friend of yours I assume?” Charlotte raised an eyebrow, not looking sorry at all.
“So, you didn’t kill her?” I asked angry but confused.
“She may as well have.” Vanessa snapped. “When Linda realised that she was going to turn into one of those monsters, she must have turned her magic on herself. She-she killed herself to stop it spreading any further.” I could see her balled fists shaking with pent up rage, she was itching to attack.
Whilst it was a relief to have that mystery finally solved, I felt a pang in my chest for the dead witch. I had not known her very well, but I admired her bravery. She died trying to help others, there was an honour in that.
Charlotte simply laughed. “Well, she didn’t do a very good job. She must have failed to stop the guy she was chasing because more of those things keep appearing. They have been returning here for refuge in the daytime.”
“I suppose you didn’t think to do anything about that?” I gritted my teeth, itching to hurt her.
“I did do a little bit of cleaning up.” She whined, almost as if she was a child trying to get out of chores. “They made an awful mess last night, I stopped a few of their victims from coming back, couldn’t get to all of them in time though. But, why would I bother? They only seem to go after things with a heartbeat.” Suddenly she paused, staring at me. “This makes me wonder… why they were so intent on hurting you.”
My heart dropped. She was already so pale, I hadn’t realised quite how lifeless she looked. Slowly her mouth curved into a wicked grin, revealing the points of fangs.
“So, you got your wish to be immortal then.” I kept my voice even. The fact that she was a vampire was very bad; she could hurt Amir before I even had time to react.
“Well it didn’t quite go as planned, but then that’s life, right? It happened right after you invaded our home and killed Rowland. I took advantage of the chaos and convinced one of the security guys to turn me for my own protection. It was supposed to be our little secret, but it doesn’t matter now, does it? It seems I wasn’t the only one with a change in circumstance! I didn’t notice at first with these others here, but Scarlett… that’s a very loud heartbeat you have there.” Her eyes glittered wickedly.
The stupid organ betrayed me by pounding even faster, clearly advertising my fear. It was no use hiding it; even a young vampire could easily identify a human across a room. My palms were sweating, making it harder to grip my sword. Despite this, I held my head high. I would not be intimidated.
Surreptitiously I noticed that Lillian was standing directly behind Charlotte, a look of pure hatred on her face. She met my eyes and I inclined my head a fraction of an inch. Whatever she was going to do, I hoped she would do it quickly. I didn’t trust Charlotte at all; she could kill Amir at any moment, simply because she was bored. Rowland had definitely found a kindred spirit. I hoped that Lillian understood this, hesitating would do us no good.
“I would like to suggest that you put down the gun and release Amir right now,” I stated coolly. “This is your only warning.”
Charlotte snorted with laughter. “Warning! What are you going to do to me? I think that you are powerless. Empty words will not work on me, even if they work on your little friends here.” She did a bad imitation of Amir’s voice. “They’ll kill you, let me go!”
Amir himself looked ashen. I could tell that he was trying to be brave, but I could see him shaking slightly. Charlotte’s comment was apparently too much for Lillian. With a scream of rage, she plunged her fist into the vampire’s chest.
Charlotte stumbled and the gun waved perilously close to Amir’s face.
“What’s happening?” She gasped in pain, clawing at her apparently unharmed flesh in horrified confusion.
I didn’t bother to answer her; instead, I shifted next to Amir and pushed him bodily out of the way. He stumbled and fell but managed to get up and run as I swung around and punched Charlotte in the face. It was like punching a wall, my knuckles screamed in pain. Lillian accidentally collided with me as the vampire turned, making me stumble. She did not relinquish her hold, although I could see an expression of intense concentration on her face.
“I’m crushing her heart!” She cried, “But you need to finish her!”
“She’s mine!” Vanessa roared, reaching the fray but being deflected by a kick from Charlotte.
Furiously I swung my sword, lodging it in her neck. Almost in slow motion, I watched the vampire raise the gun, pointing it towards Nick with a malicious silver gleam in her eyes.
He tried to duck out of the way but already I could see that it would be too late. Without thinking I shifted directly in front of Nick, grabbing him just as the gun went off and transporting him across the room.
He stumbled in shock, “Woah… Scarlett you just saved my life! Oh, and you got her!” I could see Charlotte fall to the ground a few metres from us, blood pouring from the wound in her neck. She wasn’t quite dead but Vanessa quickly took care of it, pulling out my sword and hacking at her viciously. She didn’t stop at the head, stabbing the body multiple times too, still screaming in rage.
I was just as surprised as Nick that I had managed to move us both in time. Unfortunately, it hadn’t been quite fast enough. A curious numbness was spreading through my limbs, making me feel very light. Looking down, I spotted a deep patch of red, rapidly spreading across my abdomen.
“Oh,” I said, faintly surprised. The world seemed to be swaying.
“Scarlett? Scarlett!” Nicks voice simply concerned at first turned into a panicked shout that echoed through the room. To me, it sounded very far away.
The room lurched and I suddenly fell to my knees, hitting the ground hard. Gabriel’s words drifted through my head; before you run out of time… for me, time was definitely running short.
Nick was gripping me hard, yelling something and trying to put pressure on the wound. It wasn’t enough; the bullet had somehow passed all the way through creating a corridor through my body. The blood leaking out of me wasn’t a stream but a broken dam.
Amir was suddenly at my side, trying to help Nick stop the blood. Lillian was there, screaming for me to hold on. It would all be ok, she said. Somehow I doubted that.
Despite all the effort I had put in to avoid dying, I was faintly surprised to find that when it came to it… I actually wasn’t very afraid. Not that it wasn’t painful, because it was. Once the initial shock had worn off, the pain flooded in sharper and brighter than anything else I had felt as a human. How could it possibly hurt so much when these senses were so dull? It defied all logic but it was like my body was protesting, raging against the coming erasure.
Was this really the end? It seemed strange that after 1224 years it could come so suddenly. After all the battles and fights that I had endured, I had been brought down by a single gunshot. It was even weirder that it could have been avoided, had I not chosen in that split second to save Nick.
I did not regret my actions; it was not time for him to die yet. After all of the hard truths he had faced, he could probably now do some real good in the world. Plus, if I was honest with myself, I just couldn’t face it. I had seen a lot of people die, but something in me refused to allow it to happen to Nick.
Under other circumstances I would have laughed at the thought of me, Scarlett, giving my life to save a known vampire hunter. Sure, he was somewhat reformed, but the concept was still ludicrous. Life always had been full of surprises, but this last one really took the cake.
The girl from the hospital, Meg drifted into my thoughts. Now I knew what to look for, I could feel the thread of my own life for the first time. It was rapidly unravelling before my eyes, dissipating into nothingness. There was nothing that could be done, I realised. The last vestiges of hope flew from me. I was going to die, that much was certain.
If I was finished, my last act would be to help a friend. Without me, Lillian would be lost. No one else would be able to see her. With a sudden surge of strength, I lunged upwards and grabbed her wrists, pulling her close to me. I could feel my life draining away, the least I could do was put it to some use. Energy flooded through my hands and into Lillian, faster than I had ever managed it before.
“NO!” She shrieked, trying to pull away. “Scarlett no you’ll die!”
I locked my grip, refusing to let go. “I’m finished anyway, Lil. Least this way I can help you.”
“No, no, no!” She sobbed. Despite the pain, I tried my best to smile. It probably came out as more of a grimace but she understood.
“I love you.” I told her, “You’re the best sister anyone could ever have.” With an effort, I moved my gaze to Nick. I was shocked to find actual tears in his eyes. “Nick…” I trailed off, unsure what to say. “I’m sorry.” I sighed finally. “I didn’t mean to leave like this.” I had hoped that we would have so much more time to explore and develop our feelings for each other.
He stroked my hair desperately, shaking his head. “No Scarlett you are not leaving, not after everything!”
“Sorry.” I sighed again. “It’s time.”
The world was growing very fuzzy. My friends all seemed far away and I struggled to make out their faces.
In the background for a moment, I thought I saw a tall blonde man with a triumphant expression, but he too quickly faded out of focus. I hadn’t stopped pouring energy into Lillian, despite her wailing protests. Finally, I reached the end of my thread and I knew that I was done. With a final push, I released the ribbon, letting myself float down into blackness.
I didn’t want to go, but I was done. Whatever came next, I could only hope it was pleasant.
With a final sigh, I died for the second time.