Striving to ignore the relentless aching, I struggled to get back onto my knees. But I must have looked feeble, because she merely laughed, sure of her dominance in the duel.
“You tell yourself that you don’t believe that he wants me, Sam. But truthfully, it plays on your mind, doesn’t it? It plays on your mind that maybe, behind all his anger, there lies some lingering desire for me, even some lingering feelings. Oh you believe he means it when he says that he doesn’t want me. But you worry that he’s only kidding himself, don’t you? You worry that he’s trying to convince himself as much as he’s trying to convince you.”
Each word was like being stabbed at with a hot poker. The cracked cow was right. I hadn’t acknowledged any of this until now, but it was true. I’d always worry that I’d lose Jared, because that was what happened when you loved someone, when you knew you’d be a shell without them. It wasn’t distrust. It was fear, pure and simple.
Hating her so much in that moment, I used every ounce of energy that I had into making my body move. Trying to set aside the pain somehow, I sprang to my feet. But a shoe slamming into my kneecap had me back on my knees only a second later. Then there was even more pain as the spike drilled into my uninjured shoulder. As she had with the other, she twisted it this way and that way.
“Beg me to stop, Sam. Beg me, admit defeat, and I’ll stop.”
Not bloody likely. She had to be off her rocker. Pain or no pain, she would never get that from me.
Instead, I peered up and scowled at her. “Fuck you, you demented, unhinged crank.”
The spike went deeper into my shoulder, scraping bone and tearing through more muscle. I squeezed my eyes closed against the pain, thinking that I might actually pass out with it. But then something happened. The torturous abdominal agony…it went. The sensation of invisible hands went. The feeling of being torn inside out went.
Where all that had been, there was something else in its place: power.
Strength blasted through my veins like a hot wave, invigorating me, energizing me, galvanising me. My eyes snapped open with the shock of it. Whatever Magda saw on my face made her gasp and back away, taking that sodding spike with her. My nose quickly snapped back into place, and each of my wounds swiftly closed over. It was then my turn to gasp – that kind of instant healing shouldn’t have been possible for injuries as severe as those. I’d had giant holes in my bloody shoulders, for God’s sake.
I inhaled a long breath, filling my lungs, as I took stock. Physically, I was fine. More than fine. In fact, I felt better than I’d ever felt. But inside…inside I felt…different. More.
Effortlessly, I jumped to my feet. Lifting my hands, I saw that they were literally sparkling with energy. That wasn’t all. Those same silvery-blue glimmers of energy played around the surface of my entire body. As I wiggled my fingers, tiny sprinkles of it peppered the air. It was like I was dripping silvery-blue fairy dust.
I didn’t know what any of this meant, but I knew two things. One, something very fundamental had occurred. Two, I was so much stronger than I’d been before. But it wasn’t bad strong. Not like when I Merged with someone and felt engulfed by the power or threatened by the measure of it. No, I was simply…more. That was the only way I could explain it.
Testing myself, I played with the energy that was spilling from me, shaping it into my much beloved whip. It buzzed against my skin, leaving tingles as I threaded it through my fingers – God, I’d missed that. Hence my huge smile.
Two things, however, were quite different about the whip. Not only was it longer, but it had occasional flashes of ultraviolet – whatever the hell that meant. Curious as to just how long the whip was, I spun it around my body again and again, as if preparing to crack it at Magda. It was able to loop around me three times. This was just bloody brilliant.
Still experimenting, I lashed the whip at the ground. Tremors practically rumbled along the earth – nothing that would cause a crack, but enough to unsteady a person. Seeing the utter shock and horror on Magda’s face made my smile widen. She knew she had some payback coming. “Didn’t see this coming, did you?” I cracked the whip at her, leaving a diagonal laceration from her collarbone to her hip.
She jumped and gave a loud cry at the burn of the lash. With stunned eyes, she peered down at the tear in her dress, as if expecting it to be an illusion or something. She cried out again as the whip slashed her thigh.
“Fight me,” I insisted, just as she had me.
To her credit, she straightened her shoulders and met my gaze. But that boldness disappeared when the whip caught her cheek. Without giving her a second to recover, I slashed at her mouth, watching in satisfaction as blood dripped down her chin. I noticed then that her wounds weren’t healing as quickly as they should – or as quickly as wounds from my whip had in the past anyway.
“Come on, Magda. Where did all that bravado go? Of course, if you’ve had enough, you can always just admit defeat and beg me to stop. But I won’t stop, so it’s hardly worth it.”
I cracked the whip again. This time, I wrapped it around her waist, using it to slam her against the ground a few times. When I released her, she dragged herself to her feet, coughing and cradling the back of her head. Then the psycho actually launched herself at me, aiming that spike at my stomach. Bad move. In under a millisecond, I allowed my whip to fade away and remoulded the energy into a shield. She ricocheted off it, ending up on her backside.
“Ooh,” I said with false sympathy. “That hadn’t been wise, had it? But, then, none of this had been wise. You should have known that.”
She quickly got to her feet, but before she could make another move, I was directly in front of her and shoving her hard in the chest with the palm of my hand. She zoomed across the arena and crashed into the far wall. I heard stunned gasps all around me. Of course they were surprised. So was I. A Sventé vampire should not have that kind of strength.
Apparently deciding to copy my move, she bounded at me in vampire speed so that she was up close and personal. Having dodged the fist that was fast heading for me, I spun and kicked her hard in the face. Maybe it was a little cruel to be so satisfied at the sight of her broken nose, but ‘tit for tat’ and all that.
Movement in my peripheral vision snatched my attention. A fierce looking Dexter had joined my side and had elevated his head and a third of his body from the ground. Focused on Magda, he flattened his neck and opened his mouth – exposing the inky black discolouration – before emitting a hollow hiss. Yeah, he was well and truly pissed. I cocked my head at the neurotic woman who appeared to be contemplating lunging at me again. “You know what, I think I’ll let Dexter have you.”