Waugh! With a gasp that was more like a moan, Johnny shot out of the water, arching his back as he released the stale air trapped in his lungs and drew in a fresh breath. He sank back into the water, glad for once that it was true dark when he awoke. Usually, he had an inner sense that awakened him from his self-imposed sleep, but this time, it was a nightmare that caused him to burst out of the frigid lake far later than normal. Was it because he had been sharing blood with Crystal?
He had been running in his dream. The sound of the pipes echoed over and over in his head, and the ground ran red with blood. All around him were dead bodies, some felled by axes or arrows, some he knew he had killed himself. In the heat of the battle, no one noticed he did not carry a weapon. He was the weapon. He was glutted on blood, the blood of his people’s enemies, but as he looked around him, they were all dead, his clan, as well as his kinsmen who set him to kill. It was still daylight, and the sun burned him unmercifully. His protectors were dead, too, and there was just the enemy staring at him from the banks of the Tay. With a curse, he threw off the heavy deerskin he wore across his shoulders and ran for the river. He needed to get out of the sun.
Johnny’s heart beat faster. That was a real memory. He had been there, at the battle between the clans. He remembered returning to his loch, alone. He squeezed his eyes shut, but it did no good. That was all he could remember. Shaking water from his hair, he climbed out of the lake, grateful it wasn’t yet frozen, and made his way to Lisa’s cottage. Since it was closed up for the winter, no one ever came there, so he kept a few things in the back bedroom for emergencies.
An hour later, he knocked on Lisa’s front door, dry but wearing only a tee-shirt and jeans. He had left his jacket in Lisa’s kitchen when he came back from Rhode Island. “Hunter?” he said with a grin, when Kenny opened the door. “How’s your mother?”
Kenny scowled, but stepped aside so Johnny could enter. “Let’s get this over with,” he said brusquely. “I have some information for you.” He led the way into the study, Aunt Beth’s former genealogy room. Lisa had kept some of the old furniture, but the charts were gone from the wall, somewhere in Betty’s house now. Aunt Beth’s hobby had been harmless enough, but to those who knew, the degrees of relationships within the extended Smythe family shone through like a roadmap. It had opened Johnny’s eyes, the first time he had seen the genealogy charts, and led in a roundabout way to this moment.
Kenny spread out several papers on a low table. Johnny sat down, picked one of the papers up to read it, and frowned. These were the lists of family names which he and Lisa had stolen and copied from the Brown’s home in Rhode Island four years ago. Johnny had the same list upstairs in his secret room. “So?” he asked, raising his eyebrows.
“Look here. Your name is on the first page. This is the manifest from the ship which came to Rhode Island from Scotland in 1648. You came over on the ship with Jack Pryce, or Jack Smythe—he went by both names.” Kenny looked up. “Am I right?”
When Johnny nodded tersely, Kenny took a sharp breath. Even though he knew it was true, having it confirmed was chilling. Johnny was that old. “Then you disappear. Your name reappears here,” he pointed out another page on the list, “and here,” and then not again until here. What I don’t understand is what happened to you in between. We know what happened to Jack. We know how he died.”
Johnny gave him a crooked grin. “You killed him, you mean.”
“Of course we killed him. He was attacking random people, trying to make more vampires. We couldn’t let that happen.”
“You realize it never would have worked,” Johnny pointed out. “Those people didn’t have the right kind of blood.”
Kenny glanced up. “We knew it. We still couldn’t let him try. People were dying.”
“How did you know about me?”
“You were on the list from the beginning. It wasn’t hard to figure out that the Jonathan Price who moved to Lockwood to follow some of the family was the same one who had been old Jack’s ‘nephew.’ When people started dying in Lockwood, we knew.”
Johnny froze. He had not realized the hunters knew exactly who he was, but then again, they had known he was one of them, where Johnny had not, until recently. “Yet you didn’t catch me,” he observed with a wry smile.
Kenny reddened. He had caught the vampire, but it didn’t do any good because here the creature was, sitting across from him, still very much alive. That was the hardest thing to accept—that such a creature could exist, defying the known laws of the universe, and still be alive. “And here we are,” he muttered. “Are we done? I did what you wanted. Do I have your word that you will leave my parents out of this? And Lisa and Crystal?”
Johnny shook his head. “We’re not done,” he replied. “And Lisa and Crystal were never part of the bargain. I’ll be in touch, Hunter.” He glided out of the room too quickly for the hunter to follow. That was disappointing. Except for the fact that the hunters had known who he was all along, Johnny had not learned anything new.
Before he went out to find some dinner, Johnny grabbed his jacket off the back of a kitchen chair, startling Lisa as he passed. He flashed her a quick grin, then slipped out the back door, amused to note how she scrambled out of her chair and practically ran out of the room to check on her beloved Kenny.
It was almost cold enough to snow. The night sky was clear, though. It wouldn’t snow tonight. He made do with animals, not wanting to chance taking a human just now. Since he had begun the blood exchange with Crystal, some things had become easier, but some were harder for him to control—like when to stop when he needed blood. He was constantly hungry these days.
He wanted to go see Crystal. It was a need in him that went beyond blood and companionship and bordered on compulsion. Was this what sharing blood meant? He couldn’t remember. Was this normal, or was he doing something wrong? He clenched his fists and turned back to the house. His hunger could wait. He needed to find out.
When he returned to the study he found Lisa kneeling by the hunter’s side, concern apparent on her upturned face. They didn’t see him yet. “Telling secrets?” he sneered. Lisa quickly scrambled to her feet. “Hunter, we’re not done yet.” He grabbed Ken’s arm none too gently and hauled him to his feet. “Come on.”
He didn’t wait for an answer, but pulled the hunter towards the outside door. Hunger was a twinge in his belly, and hunger for that tiny drop of Crystal’s blood a burn at the back of his throat, but he refused to give in to his cravings. His need for knowledge outweighed his need for blood at the moment.
He dragged the hunter through the woods to the cemetery. “You said you knew about me all along. Did you know about Emily Crew? Elizabeth? Why was I drawn to them and not to others?” He threw Kenny down in front of Jonathan Price’s grave. “Why was I there at all?”
Kenny looked up at Johnny in surprise. “You don’t know?” He raised himself to his knees and brushed off his clothes, wary but not intimidated. “That’s what the list is for—to keep track of who has the most potent blood. To keep them away from creatures like you, because that blood can give your kind too much power!”
Johnny ground his teeth in frustration. “Why the hell was I there? Why was Jack there? If you knew we were vampires. . . .”
Kenny tilted his head and almost smiled. “You’re hard to kill. You said so yourself. Besides, we didn’t realize what you were until later, after Elizabeth, and by then you had disappeared again. Nobody guessed what you were on the ship, or until years later, when Elizabeth Smythe was found drained of blood.”
“Who figured it out?”
“One of my branch of the family, of course. The Lockwood Smythes were quite ignorant of things like vampires, but even they knew something was wrong when they saw that girl’s dead body. Nobody put two and two together back then, since Jonathan Price had died before poor Elizabeth.” Kenny patted the slate headstone behind him. “But we started watching, and tracking the deaths. It became clear when Jack Pryce began his killings in Rhode Island. When we matched his names up with the original list, your name popped up too. We were always a step behind, though, even after old Jack was killed. By the time another Jonathan or Jon or Johnny Price appeared in Lockwood, it was too late. You never stayed very long. Where did you disappear to in between your appearances?”
“Never mind.” Johnny motioned for Kenny to keep talking.
“We almost caught you when you went after Amelia Lovall. If you look on the list, her blood is one of the forbidden strains. How did you know which strains to go after?”
Johnny gave the hunter an annoyed glare. “I didn’t. And what do you mean ‘forbidden?’”
“I don’t know exactly, except that certain strains of the blood, mine for example, are more attractive to creatures like you. It’s more powerful than ordinary blood, that’s why it’s forbidden.”
“I figured that much out on my own,” Johnny said, more to himself than to the hunter, but Kenny glanced at him sharply. “But you, your branch of the family as you said, knew about vampires already. How did you know? What are you to us?” Johnny had already remembered vague snippets of his past, and he was aware that the hunters had not always been hunters. He wanted to see if Kenny knew it, too.
“We’re your worst enemy,” Kenny muttered, “but for a glitch in the DNA string, we could be you. Who better than family to know your weaknesses?”
“Why?” Johnny asked harshly. He glanced over at the hunter, who had leaned back against his gravestone and stared at the moon which illuminated the cemetery. The hunter shivered with cold. Without thinking, Johnny peeled off his jacket and tossed it to the hunter. He didn’t really need it.
Kenny murmured something softly under his breath.
“What?” The words were hauntingly familiar, and in no language Johnny could consciously remember.
“Blood of my blood, blood of my enemies,” he whispered, this time in English. “Or something like that. I learned the words from my father, and he learned it from his father, and so on. It means that even though we are of the same bloodline, we are also enemies.”
“Say it again.”
Kenny repeated the strange words, and all of a sudden Johnny remembered. He stood by the fire, next to the tall man who might have been his father, as one by one the people he had known since he was born approached him and slashed the palm of their hands with a sharp blade. He drank carefully, a sip only, from each who offered, and so did the tall man next to him. “Blood of my blood, blood of my enemies,” intoned a voice from somewhere behind him. “Go, kill our enemies this night. I offer you their blood, flowing free, along with this token of our blood which you carry inside you.”
He remembered the battle that followed, but not the reason why of it, except that his people had asked it of them, using the ancient words. After the battle, the vampire had led him to his loch, and he slept there, beneath the waters, sated and waiting. When their people needed them again, they would call, using those words.
Johnny shuddered, as he gradually became aware of the night air around him once more. A sharp blow to the back of his head staggered him, and before he could recover, his own jacket was wrapped around his head and used as leverage to swing him down to the ground. The hunter’s heavier body slammed into his own, and he used a rock, probably a broken piece of a gravestone, to pound into Johnny’s head.
Still unable to see because of the jacket covering his head, Johnny smiled viciously. The hunter wanted to be his enemy? So be it. He lurched to the side, taking the hunter with him and causing him to lose his rock, although he still had a stranglehold on the jacket wrapped around Johnny’s head and neck. Using his hands, Johnny swiped savagely at the hunter’s midsection, until the hunter had to let go or have all his ribs broken. First mistake. As soon as Johnny had put some distance between the two of them, he tore the jacket away from his face and bared his teeth. Blood of his enemy. His enemies always felt pain, unlike his family. With a grin, Johnny stalked forward, and Kenny turned to run. Second mistake. Johnny was on him in a heartbeat, and he tore the man’s arm where he bit it, and his leg, and his side. Not his neck, not any vital artery, no. Kenny might have declared himself an enemy, but his blood still tasted of family. It healed Johnny and it calmed him down. He stopped before it became too late, and stared down at the bloody mess that was Lisa’s lover. She was not going to be happy. Oh well.
With a grunt, Johnny picked up the heavier man and lifted him over his shoulder. He kicked the torn and bloodied jacket out of his way. At least he wasn’t hungry anymore. He could use a shower, though.
“Lisa!” he yelled, when he got to the house.
She opened the door and gasped in shock. “What happened? Oh, please say you didn’t kill him!”
Johnny brushed by her and dumped Kenny onto the couch. “I didn’t kill him,” he muttered. “But I wanted to. Damn stubborn hunter. Lisa, this is between me and him. If you want him to survive, don’t make this into something it isn’t. He tried to kill me. He didn’t. I didn’t kill him, either. We’re even. Got it?”
Lisa pushed damp hair back from Kenny’s face. “I don’t know what you’re trying to do, Johnny.” She spoke without turning her head. “Do you want me to take sides? He’s really hurt!” She started to carefully undress Kenny, noting the jagged edges to the wounds on his body. “These won’t disappear by morning, will they?”
“A little reminder not to cross me,” Johnny replied, moving her out of the way. He picked up the hunter and started up the stairs. “He won’t be going anywhere for the next few days.” He grinned, as he laid the unconscious hunter in Lisa’s bed. “At least I have a captive audience now. Maybe I can talk without him trying to kill me every few seconds.”