We collapse into the chairs of the J.B. Rhine Auditorium where we’d learned about Sandra’s first victim. A few dim emergency lights highlight the exits, but otherwise we keep the room dark so as not to alert the guards stalking the grounds. Occasionally flashlights peek through the auditorium’s windows and we hear orders barked through radios, but no one tries to come inside.
I huddle with my knees up to my chest. Inside me, the black hole is immobile and ominously silent. I see Melissa collapse. I watch Hamilton float in the sky, swallowed in a bronze halo. I don’t realize I’m crying until Kamiron brushes my cheek. His tenderness causes me to cry even more--but silently. The scalding tears seem foreign to me, as if someone else has laid claim to my body and uses it to weep for the fallen.
Kamiron murmurs things meant to soothe me. I don’t pay him any attention. My fingers trace Gjinna’s chain at my throat and I use the rhythmic thumping of Dace’s tennis shoes against wood to drag me back to reality. The small blond hums with anxiety as he paces between the stairs leading up to the stage and the podium.
“It’s only a matter of time before she’s here, if what Shari says is true. We need a plan.”
I wipe the last of my tears away. Priority one: survival. I can do this. I have to.
“I have to kill the Steel Fang.”
The weight of their gazes collectively settles on my mouth.
I cut Kam off with an absent wave. “I know you love her, but she’s under the command of The Darkness-That-Hunts.”
“I can persuade her. She hesitated to kill me.”
has her soul. He owns her. His
command is . . .” I struggle, trying to find the words to convey the power of
his enthrallment. “A compulsion she can’t help but heed. She hesitated, yes,
but she can’t disobey for too long. Only her hatred for me gives her the
strength to not target you yet. That’s the good news--she’s after me first and
“Good news?” Zakk snorts in disbelief. Dirt and sweat dull his long hair. “Hate to see what’s bad with you.”
Dace flops down at the edge of the stage and lets his feet dangle over the rim. “So how do we kill her? A stake through the heart? Holy water? Garlic?”
Kamiron tenses and I feel Zakk weaving peace for him.
“We don’t kill anything. I do. Alone.”
“No,” they simultaneously reject.
“Look, she wants me dead above all. She’s hunting me. I’ll lead her away from you. Stay in here and you should be safe from the hounds.”
“And how do you propose to beat her? Bullets didn’t work.” Zakk’s fingers curl around mine. Despite the waves of calm assaulting me, I pick up his underlying fear.
My tongue dashes across my dry lips. “I don’t know yet, but I’m not entirely helpless. I feel . . . something inside me. I can’t describe it, but I know I can stand up to her.”
At least I sound more confident than I feel. “Just stay hidden ’til I get back.”
“And if you don’t?”
Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence, Dace.
“Then get help. Tell Lieutenant Butler and the Director. Say Sandra’s had a psychotic break.”
I rise and it’s Kamiron who blocks me. His stormy eyes are at their most brooding. “We’ll face her here.”
I frown as Zakk takes up the mantle. “This is as good a place as any, Shari. We’re in this together like it or not--and we have some abilities of our own that could prove useful.”
“Speak for yourself, Z,” Dace snickers, his heels rapping against the wall of the stage. “I’m thinking being a medium ain’t real helpful.”
“But your mouth is,” Zakk retorts. “We’ll do our best to distract her. I can make her more agitated with my ability. Kamiron has telekinesis and Dace can be . . . well, Dace.”
“Shit talker ’til the end,” he grins but quickly sobers. “Shari, Mel and Ham are dead. We have to end this.”
I release a long, slow breath. A vise chokes my heart. “Hamilton’s not dead.”
Their heads swivel to me but before I can explain, we overhear nails pawing at the auditorium’s locked double doors.
“What is it, boy?” Sandra’s voice whirls around us in deadly caresses. The boys immediately fan out, hiding in the shadows. Dace remains onstage and faces the entrance.
Sandra continues to croon. I can feel her menace circling, closing in. “Do you smell a bitch in heat? You do? Oh, good boy. So do I!”
A growl. The doors rattle.
Something large bangs against the oak. It holds firm. Huddling behind a seat, I curl myself into a tight ball and seek out the black hole inside. I grip it firmly and tug.
Another rattle followed by a bang. The metal hinges groan and screws clatter against the floor. They sound like rusted bells.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” Sandra taunts in a singsong manner.
Bang. The hinges pop off with the collision. I tug harder, willing the maelstrom to return to me. I’ll need it if I’m to survive.
The doors shudder in their death throes and faint, plummeting inwards in a plum of dust, oak, and glass.
I peek around my row of seats and spy the Steel Fang, hands on her slim hips, hounds at her thighs, staring at Dace with raised eyebrows. Dace pushes up his glasses and smirks.
“Took you long enough.”
Sandra gestures and the dogs separate. “Tell me where she is and when I kill you, it’ll be quick.”
“In that case she left with Chameleon. If you hurry, you’ll catch up to them, but I think he’s made his choice pretty clear at this point.”
Wind shrieks past me and Sandra is onstage with Dace’s throat in her white hands.
“Now, Kam!” he gasps.
The podium shivers and lurches across the stage, slamming into Sandra and Dace. Her hold loosens and Dace scrambles away. Wood splinters as Sandra rips apart the lectern as if it is little more than cardboard. Her gaze finds Kamiron at my side.
shouldn’t be here with her.” She peels pieces of wood from her strawberry hair.
“Why did you have to tell my Master who you were?”
Kamiron takes a step towards his girlfriend. “He had our friend, Sandra. I wanted to save Mel.”
Sandra waves the answer away. “Lost cause. If you hadn’t involved yourself, I would have made sure you lived . . .”
Is it my imagination or does she seem truly regretful? A sadness creeps into her mismatched eyes and I find the same emotion reflected on Kam’s face.
“This isn’t you, Sandra.”
If she hears him, she doesn’t indicate it. “Come with me. I know he ordered me to kill them--it’s out of my hands, sweetie--but I can help you. I never imagined I’d meet you and I can’t bear for it to end this way. Onegai.” Her voice rings with sincerity. “Be with me, Kam. We’ll have eternity. All you need to do is join him. It isn’t so bad.”
I sense two hounds behind me, navigating the rows with cat-like silence. Sandra’s distraction is paying off well. I wrestle with the power inside me, but it doesn’t bulge.
Patience, child, coaxes the voice. Not yet.
“All it will cost is my soul, right?” Kamiron hangs his head for a moment. His broad shoulders rise and fall with his steady breathing, and I can see the veins poking through his golden skin. When his head lifts, his eyes are like mercury. “I can’t do that. I won’t have the blood of my friends on my hands. Not even for you, honey.”
For the first time since entering the auditorium, Sandra looks at me. Her blue eye swears vengeance. Her green eye promises death. “We’ll see how you feel when I kill your whore.”
I expect Andhakar’s hounds to attack me first, but it’s the Steel Fang who catches me in her charge. Folding her white fingers around my neck, she rams me into the wall across the auditorium. My head strikes the drywall and my vision spins as wet pain assaults me. Plaster rains down around us.
Sandra’s fist connects with my jaw. She screams at me but I can’t make out her words. They sound far away, lost behind an odd ringing sound. Again and again her fists slam into my face. Blood bursts out of my mouth and my lip splits. Her fury heightens at the smell of blood and she bares her canines at me. Over her shoulder, I notice my friends wrestling with the giant dogs. Massive jaws and fetid saliva spear the air. Makeshift weapons fight back. Ferocious teeth--
A punch to my gut winds me and I collapse. Sandra kicks me as I try to block the blow. Before I can scramble away, she grabs my ponytail and hauls me to my feet. I lash out with nails, fists and feet but even with lingering strength from Gjinna’s blood, I am no match.
“So much trouble over you, you little cunt.”
She bites me.
Her razor-sharp teeth sink into the flesh of my shoulder and wrench a wail from the pit of my soul. I fight and struggle but she latches on like a pit-bull. Her hands secure mine behind my back and she pins me against the wall, pressing her body against mine. Our breasts mold against one another until I can feel her heartbeat. Unlike mine, which hammers like a bullet train travelling from Osaka to Tokyo, hers is measured and slow. It evidences no exertion.
Almost as if she has entered a state of Zen. Zen in destruction. Is that ascension? I snicker at my own absurdity before I realize--in a sudden, sobering instant of clarity--that she is draining me. She isn’t drinking my blood, but swallowing my life-force.
Rage washes me in heat.
The cow is killing me!
Let her. The masculine voice reels me with its conviction.
No way! My friends need me!
Give it to her, Shari. Don’t fight.
Lethargy takes over and my body feels heavy. My heartbeat begins to match the Steel Fang’s unhurried pace. Her will rips into the shields protecting my mind, stabbing over and over against the fortifications in search of an entrance.
You’re trying to trick me!
If the voice were a real person and not a figment of my disturbed imagination, I’d swear it (he?) just cursed at me. Foolish imbecile. Give her it all!
And then I see.
The black hole inside that I couldn’t pull out or use--I’m too weak. It’s Sandra who can wrest it from where it’s lodged.
I slump against her and open myself to her psychic assault. Certain of impending victory, she latches onto my energy and sucks in deep, unchallenged pulls. Without registering the danger, she grabs at the black hole.
Body shattering with the strain, I release it.
The storm sweeps us up in its hurricane winds. Suddenly Sandra no longer pulls at it. The energy sinks its claws into her and does not relinquish its newfound outlet. Power that I have gathered pours from me into her. She tries to ebb the flow but can only tumble over and over in its chaotic whirlwind.
Her heart speeds as mine assumes her earlier Zen-calm. Her hands loosen from my wrists. Her head snaps back from my shoulder, but it doesn’t sever the flow of energy. Sandra staggers away and an orange light leaks through her alabaster skin like she’s swallowed the sun. Power melts her eyes and erupts from her ears, mouth, and nose.
Sensing the Steel Fang’s danger, the hounds turn as one and rush for me. I can do nothing to protect myself. The energy funneling out of me threatens to destroy us both.
Sandra shrieks in agony. Chasing her scream, a quasar burst of heat and orange light slams me back into the drywall.
More raining plaster that reeks of chalk and mothballs.
The shockwave picks up chairs, banners, and anything not bolted to the ground and hurls it in all directions. It snatches up Andhakar’s hounds, launching them into the air before burrowing into their bodies. Yelping, the dogs shatter in a starburst of light the hue of apricots. Windows shatter, the ruined oak doors explode outward and disappear into the night, and Sandra . . .
She disintegrates into a puddle of translucent jelly. Skin-colored Vaseline that bubbles and pops across the floor, and ruins her designer outfit. I turn away from the rancid smell.
My ears ring and the auditorium--or the chaos that used to be the J.B. Rhine building--hums with the aftershock of the energy explosion.
Zakk reaches me first, careful to skirt Sandra’s oozing remains. He kneels beside me and tenderly touches my split lip. Pain flares, but he steals it away. His long fingers skid down my throat to my shoulder where Sandra has bitten me. Soothing coolness saturates my feverish skin and I moan with pleasure.
Dace whistles and eyes the jelly-puddle with unveiled disgust. He extends a hand and helps me up. “Holy crap. What’d you do to her?”
“Don’t know.” My throat burns and my body aches with each bruise. Getting the crap kicked out of me seems to be a recurring theme in my life. “I just felt this force, this energy, inside me. I couldn’t contain it anymore, and it sought her out.”
“The Law of Transference. Pure energy will always seek an outlet.” Dace eyes me with new respect. “Clever.”
I’ve never heard of the Law of Transference, but I accept the praise.
Kamiron staggers around the wreckage and finds what remains of Sandra. The look he gives me is withering. I know I’ve crossed an unforgiveable line with him, perhaps even damaged our friendship beyond repair, but I had no choice. Kamiron collapses beside Sandra’s jelly-stained clothes. Despite the grime and dust coating his skin, tears streak down his cheeks in reflective rivulets.
“She had good in her,” he whispers.
Z spares me a questioning glance and I nod in acquiesce. He limps to Kamiron and places a hand on his shoulder, weaving comfort.Kamiron’s deep sobs haunt the destroyed auditorium.