She knew what I was doing. Her teeth bared in a feral grimace, but she didn't have the power to resist the blood-link. The magic of my blood overwhelmed hers. My power spread, flooding the vampiric minds. Clenching my teeth, I squeezed, crushing her heart and her life with it. Power exploded in my fist, forcing me to my feet.
Olathe jerked. Her eyes rolled back into her skull and the full weight of the horde settled upon me.
The room shuddered. Too many. There were too many.
A fiery band enclosed my chest, engulfed my throat, my head, and compressed, crushing me. I stumbled. My knees quivered. My mouth hung open. I couldn't breathe. There wasn't enough air.
I knew I hadn't gotten them all, despite the bloodlink.
Through the hammer of their minds I could feel inpidual stragglers, drowning in bloodlust. I sent the horde against them. The ceiling churned with bodies tearing into each other. A chunk of plaster broke off and plummeted to the floor, breaking into dust two feet away from me. The bloodflames blocked the sound from the rest of the room.
My arms held wide, trying to balance, I looked through the eyes of the vampires and saw a long crack in the plaster. Thank you, God.
The ceiling quivered as dozens of talons ripped into it.
Dimly I saw Jennifer through the shimmering wall of the flames. My lips shaped a word.
She stared at me, unable to hear through the bloodwall.
Suddenly Curran was beside her. He said something, but I couldn't hear.
"Go. Now. Go."
He thrust his hand into the fire and leaped back, his fur melted, his skin red with future blisters.
Another chunk of plaster crashed to the ground outside the circle. To me it made no sound, but they heard the dull thud, jumped, and looked at the ceiling. Jennifer cringed like a whipped dog.
Curran stared at me.
"Go now. Go. Go."
He understood. His clawed hand grasped Jennifer's shoulder and pushed her back. The she-wolf hesitated for a moment and ran.
My sight faded completely. The beating of my heart filled my ears like a tolling of a great bell. I couldn't feel my body, as if it no longer existed. Blind and deaf, I remained in the middle of nothing, swaying, while above me the undead brought the ceiling down. They dug through the plaster and cement to the framework of steel support beams, holding the five stories of concrete above us. Thin arms grasped the beams and pulled with supernatural strength.
God. I haven't been very good.
The metal whined in protest.
I could have tried harder. I could've been a better person. I stand before you now as I am. I make no excuses.
The beams gave, bending.
Please, have mercy on me, Lord.
In my mind's eye I saw the enormous beams breaking. I saw tons of plaster, cement, and steel falling down, onto vampires, onto me, burying us beneath the rubble, sealing a tomb from which not even a vampire could get out.
I felt their hate-filled hungry minds vanishing one by one. Finally I could let go. I released the awful burden and the awareness left me.
SLAYER LAY IN ITS SHEATH ACROSS A NIGHT TABLE, next to a man reading an ancient paperback. On the cover of the book a man in a brown suit and fedora held an unconscious blonde in a white dress. I tried to focus on the title but the white letters blurred.
The man reading the book wore blue scrubs. He had cut the pantlegs midway down his thighs, and faded blue jeans showed below the blue fabric. I crooked my neck so I could see his feet. Big heavy work boots caught the jeans.
I leaned back onto the pillow. My father had been right: there was Heaven and it was in the South.
The man lowered the book and glanced at me. Of average height and stocky, he had dark skin, glossy with an ebony sheen, and graying black hair, cut military style. The eyes peering at me through the thin-framed glasses were at once intelligent and brimming with humor as if someone had just told him an off-color joke and he was trying his best not to laugh.
"Lovely morning, isn't it?" he said, the unmistakable harmonies of coastal Georgia vibrating in his voice.
"Shouldn't it be 'aint it'?" I said. My voice sounded weak.
"Only if you are an uneducated fool," the man said. "Or if you wish to appear country. And I'm too old to appear anything that I'm not."
He moved by my side and took my wrist in his hands. His lips stirred, counting the heartbeats, then his fingers lightly touched my stomach. Pain lanced through me. I flinched and drew a sharp breath.
"On a scale from one to ten, how much does it hurt?" he asked, his fingers probing my shoulder.
I grimaced. "About five."
He rolled his eyes. "Lord, help me. I have another hard case on my hands."
He jutted something on a yellow legal pad. We were in a small room, with cream colored walls and a paneled ceiling. Two large windows spilled sunlight onto the floor and light blue sheets covered my legs.
The man put down his pen. "Now, whoever told you, little lady, that you can slap on an r-kit and charge right down the mountain into the battle, needs a good wallop. Anything magic hits it and the damn thing will go screwy on you every time."
"Screwy," I said. "Is that a medical term?"
"Of course. Follow the finger with your eyes, please. No turning the head now."
He moved his left index finger around and I followed it with my eyes.
"Very good," he said. "Count backward from twenty five."
I did and he nodded, satisfied.
"It appears, mind you, only appears, that you've avoided a concussion."
"Who are you?"
"You may call me Dr. Doolittle," he said. "I've sailed through the night and day, in and out of weeks, to where the wild things are and now I'm their private physician."
"That was Max." The pain twisted my hip and I groaned. "Not Dr. Doolittle."
"Ah," he said, "what a pleasure to meet an educated mind."
I stared at him for a moment, but he just laughed at me with his eyes.
"Where are we?"
"In the Pack keep."
"How did I get here?"
"You were carried."
I felt an urge to rub my forehead and found an IV dangling from my arm.
"Who carried me here?"
"That's an easy one. His Majesty carried you out of the building, then you were slung over Mahon's back and brought to my doorway."
"How did Curran get a hold of me in the first place?"
"From what I understand, he leaped through some sort of a fire, grabbed you, and leaped back out. Which accounts for his third degree burns. Curiously, there are no burns on you. A mangled hip, some severe injuries to the stomach, massive blood loss, but no burns. Now why is that?"