“Be careful,” the man to her left cautioned her. “The guy on your other side is one of the winged ones. His wings are gone, some sort of magic, so it is hard to tell, but I heard the guards talking about him.”
“Thank you,” she edged away. In the darkness, her mind flashed with sapphire eyes.
“So, what are you innocent of?” He asked her. She heard him groan and the shuffle of movement as he resettled himself against the bars.
In the darkness, someone wept.
“I was in the wrong place, at the wrong time.”
“That would do it. I tried to steal from their supplies,” the man hissed in a breath as he moved his arm. “Hunger drives a man to desperate things.”
“You are injured.”
He laughed the sound raw and bereft of humour. “Honey, everyone in here is. That is why we are here. So, they can hurt us, in between feeding from us.”
She moved to the bars nearer him. “Move closer.”
“Why?” He was suspicious.
“I am a healer.”
“That is like a thing?” He was human, she realized from the question.
“Yes.” The bars of the two cages were touching, and wide enough between that she could slide her hand through almost to halfway up her forearm. She closed her fingers around the man’s wrist and inhaled. “Three broken fingers, a fractured wrist, and a concussion.”
“It is a thing,” he said. “Oh, f-k,” he added as she threaded her power into him. She bit onto her back teeth as she felt the crack of bones, the sudden headache. As she released her breath, he did likewise. “That is amazing.”
“Mmm,” she slid down the bars cradling her arm and wriggled her fingers cautiously as the bones reset.
“Are you alright?” He sounded concerned.
“Healing… The healer takes the wounds.”
“Takes the wounds… Oh, shit, are you okay?”
“It is only for a moment,” but she was exhausted. She had eaten too little and healed two people.
“Heal me,” the man to her right demanded, his voice harsh, a groan of sound.
“Why the f-k would she do that?” The man to her left retorted. “You are the enemy mate.”
“Heal me,” the man’s movement shook his cage, the bars between the two enclosures chiming in discord.
“Keep it down,” the man to her left hissed. “Or they will come in.”
She rolled onto her back and reached out her hand. Her fingers came into contact with the man on her right, and he stilled. Her heart raced as she closed her hand over his wrist, unable to span the width of bone and flesh. A large man, like the other, she thought, but there was something about this man, a fission of energy that flooded up her arm from where they touched…
She reached into him with her power and discovered that his wings were retracted because the vampires had crushed the bones and stripped the flight feathers. Although the man was otherwise unharmed, the evidence of his injury magically hidden, he was in great pain.
It was like healing the ghost of wings, she observed with fascination, the magic holding the limbs that were very much an extension of the man’s body and bone structure hidden. He moaned as she moved along the bones, rebuilding, setting, soothing away infection and fever.
She sobbed out a breath, the phantom limbs making themselves known, her back aching beneath the cruel pain.
“Don’t heal him,” the man to her left protested. “He doesn’t deserve it.”
The darkness oozed around her, pulsing with her heartbeat, and she lay on her back fighting against its pull. She withdrew her hand from between the bars and curled into a ball.
“Hey, girl, are you alright?” The man to her left whispered.
She couldn’t respond.
The door opened, spilling light into the room, and she found herself staring at the winged man eye to eye. His eyes were golden-brown, and his dark hair curled, framing the perfect lines of his face. He wrapped his fingers around the bars between them, an invitation. She reached out and touched his knuckles, the warmth of skin beneath her fingertips comforting.
The vampire stood at her cage and opened the door.
“Nah, man,” the man to her left said as the vampire reached within for her. “She is sick, leave her be.”
“Be brave. Live,” the winged man whispered as the vampire dragged her out.
She was propelled out of the dark room and into the hallway. A blonde woman dressed in a tightly belted wriggle dress and stiletto heels, her hair dragged painfully back into a tight bun, ran her eyes over Verity top to toe.
“This is the fresh one, Jacinta,” the vampire holding her told the woman.
Jacinta drew in a breath through her nose. “She will do.”
She wrapped her fingers around Verity’s upper arm and strode down the hallway at a pace that should have been impossible in the wriggle dress she wore.
Verity trotted to keep up, her exhaustion pulling at her, her vision crackling with static and warping the line of the wall so that she staggered.
Jacinta hissed her annoyance and gave her another tug, turning her down the hallway back towards the car park.
Verity’s knees gave, the sudden collapse sliding her out of the vampire’s grip.
Jacinta frowned and lifted her by her t-shirt. “What is wrong with you?” She searched Verity’s eyes with hers. “Your eyes aren’t focusing.”
“Tired,” Verity slurred the word. “Not enough food or sleep.”
“You will be fed where you are going,” the woman put her back on her feet.
“Where?” Verity wondered.
The went up the stairs into the car park, and Jacinta jabbed the elevator call button with a manicured finger. The elevator dinged and opened, as if it had been waiting there for them. Jacinta pulled Verity in and hit the button to the eighth floor.
“I am not a spy,” Verity whispered. “I am Verity Carson. Alatar Xavier is my half-brother. Please. Contact him. He will identify me.”
Jacinta arched an eyebrow. “It is funny how many relatives the leadership of this world has gained in the last few weeks. It seems as if half this world is related to them in one way or another.”
The elevator doors opened, and she pushed Verity out into a brightly lit, crisp hallway. There were many doors into small rooms and offices, people on the phone, and others in conversations. Their passage drew no interest.
The room they entered had a bank of cupboards against one side, and a dentist chair in the centre. An IV pole stood to one side, and a man on a wheeled chair tapped details into a laptop. He looked up as they entered.
“Excellent,” the man opened a drawer and pulled on a pair of gloves. “Onto the chair with her.”
“What is this?” Verity tried to resist Jacinta, but she found herself pressed into the chair, her arms and legs strapped. She pulled against the straps. “What is this?”
“Just a blood sample,” the man told her cheerfully. “Lots of hungry vampires, lots of injured, blood is needed. We will just take a little now, then put you somewhere where you can eat and rest, and if your blood is good, we will have you back in tomorrow to start drawing donations.”
He brought a small tray over to her and wrapped a tourniquet around her arm.
“I don’t suppose you can run a genetic test, whilst you are at it?” Verity watched him locate a vein.
He inserted the needle and connected the first vial, releasing the tourniquet so that blood pumped into the glass cylinder. “They are not part of the screening we run, why?”
“No one will believe me that I am Alatar’s sister,” she sighed heavily.
“Probably because he has so many,” the man replied with good humour as he switched vials.
“What are you testing my blood for? Vampires don’t contract diseases through blood.”
“That is very true,” he smiled at her. “Fancy you knowing that.”
“I grew up in the Other world.”
“As Alatar’s sister, of course,” he met Jacinta’s eyes and rolled his upwards. “We collect for human use as well. We will run tests to determine the best use for your blood. There we are. All done.”
He removed the needle and held a piece of gauze over the vein as he slid the tourniquet down, tightening it over the gauze.
“And a pretty band-aid,” he removed the backing before releasing the tourniquet and put the band-aid in place.
Jacinta released her legs and arms and pulled her to her feet. She swayed, dizzy.
“Hmm,” the man frowned. “You shouldn’t be dizzy from so little.”
“I have healed three people on very little food and sleep,” Verity told him. “I am running on fumes.”
He arched an eyebrow. “Healers are exceptionally rare.”
“Yes, we are about one in every million,” she agreed.
“Well, have something to eat and a rest, and maybe we will get you to put your power where your mouth is,” the man decided.
“This way,” Jacinta pulled her out of the room back towards the elevator. When Verity’s knees tried to give again, the vampire sighed and picked her up. “I don’t make a habit of carrying food around,” she grumbled.
“Thank you,” Verity closed her eyes.
She felt the vampire inhale as they waited for the elevator. “Nate did say you smelt nice.”
“The vampire who brought you in.”
“Ah, boot foot.”
The elevator doors opened, and the vampire shuffled her grip in order to press the floor number. “You are lucky,” Jacinta observed as the elevator went up another level. “That Nate thought you smelt edible, as you were slated for torture in order to determine what your meeting with the winged man involved.”
“I lived in the building. The winged man was in the rubble. I ran, dropping the vitamins as I did. That was it,” she lied.
The elevator doors opened, and Jacinta carried her into another hall identical to the one below, except the doors on this level had been altered to include heavy duty catches that were all padlocked shut.
The vampire carried her down to the first open door and set her to her feet. “I almost believe you,” Jacinta said. “You are very lucky, either way. Now you will be cared for, fed and given water, and in return, we will just take your blood.”
“Sounds great,” Verity looked at the little room. It had been an office, but the contents had been stripped out, leaving just a cot bed and a chemical toilet. A tray sat on the carpet holding a jug of water and a cup. Sanitary wipes sat next to the toilet. “Looks cosy.”
The vampire did not respond, closing the door.
Verity heard the padlock click into place.