It was fair to say that this wasn’t going to be at all easy. These vampires were clearly powerful…but so were we.

Not wanting all of the vampires to head for Jared and outnumber the rest of the team, I launched a powerful energy ball at one of them, hitting him in the back and making him burst into ashes. Simultaneously, Chico exhaled dozens of thorns in their direction; some connected with a dark-skinned Pagori. Instead of falling to the floor in agonising pain that would quickly lead to his death, however, he swerved…and exhaled thorns at us that were identical to Chico’s. We barely managed to dodge them.

“Oh shit. He’s a Syphon.” That was definitely not good. Whatever gift we used against him, he would be able to absorb and use for himself. Tell the others not to use their gifts on the dark-skinned Pagori, he’s a Syphon, I warned Jared. The only way we can deal with him is with up close and personal combat, but you’ll have to wait until his ability to exhale thorns has worn off. The average time was somewhere between three and five minutes.

Great, he snapped. I’ll get Stuart to duel him. That was clever, since Stuart had sparred with Chico often in order to improve the speed at which he could explode into molecules − when poisonous thorns were coming at you and you needed to dodge fast, your speed could improve very quickly. But I didn’t have time to praise Jared for his decision as suddenly six vampires were charging at me and my team. Oh bugger.

The one that had decided to focus on me jumped in the air and hissed a large spray of water at me. Or, what looked like water. It was only when it hit the trees in front of me and the bark sizzled away that I realised what it was: acid. I slammed up my shield just in time, smiling at him. Again he hissed acid, seeming to think that it would dissolve the shield, but again it didn’t work. Behind my shield, I tauntingly wagged a finger at him, just to piss him off.

I was about to reshape my shield into an energy beam and bury it in his chest when, distracting the hell out of me, Salem was suddenly flat on his back in front of me and clutching his abdomen. The vampire chose that moment to hiss acid at his face. Salem cried out as patches of his skin began to sizzle, smoke, and peel. Shit.

As a feral-looking Pagori leaped at Salem – I guessed it was the same vampire that had put Salem on his back in the first place – I pushed my shield outward, encompassing Salem. The Pagori rebounded off my shield and went zooming backwards.

Relentless – or stupid, whichever – the hisser once again tried to penetrate my shield with his acid. Before he could try it again, that very same vampire exploded into ashes, courtesy of a psionic boom from David. I gave him a brief nod of thanks then allowed my shield to fade away, and offered Salem my hand. “Can you get up?”

In answer, Salem ignored my hand and bounced to his feet. He didn’t look good at all. Although his wounds were healing, they were healing extremely slowly and were obviously painful. But they didn’t distract him from sending a vengeful, psychic punch hurling at the feral-looking Pagori. The force rippled in the air as it headed for the vampire, taking him out instantly. Salem’s grunt of satisfaction would have made me smile if I hadn’t, at that moment, sensed two vampires coming at me from behind.

I turned sharply, ready to fight them, when they were each abruptly lifted off their feet by an unseen force and sent colliding into a tree. Turning back again, I gave Harvey a nod of thanks. He barely had time to nod back before his attention was snatched by a vampire that was heading for him. I might have moved to help him, returning the favour, if green ooze wasn’t suddenly being aimed at me.

It was very familiar green ooze, actually…as was the vampire spraying it out of his hands. “Denny, what the f**k?” I demanded, shocked. Everything in me rebelled against the idea of hurting a member of my own squad, but he had obviously been brainwashed into turning on us or something, because he was about to attack me!

Unsure of what else to do, I was ready to blow a gust of wind at him. But then the ooze stopped just short of reaching me and wrapped around an invisible, struggling captive. That was when it all made sense. The struggling stopped as a psionic boom sprayed out of David’s fingertips and hit the invisible vampire hard. Like that, he was ashes inside the oozy web.

David’s triumphant smile disappeared from his face, however, as a white tiger crashed into him, sending him sprawling onto the ground. It went to bite down on David’s throat, but as David threw his arm up defensively, the powerful jaw instead locked onto his arm. He cried out through his teeth, shoving at the animal. I shot an energy ball at him, but the tiger flattened himself on top of David, effectively ducking from the impact. He couldn’t escape David’s other hand though as it pressed against his head. Blue sparks danced around the animal’s large skull just a second before its entire body burst into ashes.

I ran to David, checking his arm. It was practically savaged; I could even see bone. “It’ll heal, but with that kind of damage, it’s going to be at least half an hour before it’s properly healed.”

“I’m not leaving the fight.” His face was a mask of frustration and pain, but there was utter determination there.

I turned to Chico, who stood over us. “I need you to stay with him.”

Ignoring David’s petulant ‘I don’t need babysitting’ comment, Chico nodded.

“No, you don’t need babysitting,” I agreed. David’s pride was a big thing. “But you’re always an immediate target because of how powerful you are. This is no different than when Butch sticks with you. It’s just having someone to watch your back, that’s all.”

Pure instinct made me look in a particular spot. There was Jared with black, oily tentacles trapping his wrists and ankles, pinning him to the ground. A large Keja stood, sneering down at him. Fucking bastard. In the space of a millisecond, I was on my feet and an energy ball was in my hand. I only barely managed to hold it back when the Syphon threw himself in my path, wanting to absorb the energy ball and have my power for a while. Sneaky little sod.

I had to assume two things from that. One, the ability to exhale thorns had worn off. Two, Stuart was hurt somewhere, or the Syphon wouldn’t be running around freely.

Cursing, I sucked the energy back into my hand, disintegrating the ball. Eager to get to Jared, my instinct was to whip the shit out of the Syphon and get him out of my way. But I couldn’t touch him with my whip, because then he’d have one of his own. And I couldn’t attack him with my gifts in any way, because I couldn’t afford for him to have them. But I needed him gone!

Tags: Suzanne Wright Deep In Your Veins Vampires