A chapter in which Regan is brain-damaged.
Running for your life with four finger-deep gashes through your intestines is about as easy as it sounds. Which is to say, not at fucking all. In fact, I couldn’t really call it running, really. It was more of a frantic hobble. The only reason Rurik didn’t run me down right then was probably because he was too busy licking my blood off his hands. And here I thought my day had been on the upswing.
Fortunately for me, Ira had been right. At the end of the hall, I could see the front doors to the right. There had been people lounging all around earlier, but now there was no one to be found. Typical. Not that I would have trusted them to help me against their Primus, anyway, but I could have mugged one of them for weapons.
Mentally I cursed myself for allowing Ira to convince me to turn my sword into the House’s ‘armory’ to get it cleaned. I’d thrown Sybele’s dagger into the car when I’d gone to retrieve the sword for the duel. Hell, even my boot knife would have helped.
But all I had was me. I shot out the doors, and headed straight for the tree line. I didn’t want to limp around the back of the building for my weapons. Staying where I knew the Primus to be was suicide. The forest had cover—it had sounds and smells that would help cover my own. Maybe I could even find a river to dunk myself in, use the cold to rid myself of the scent of blood.
I had to get it together. First of all, I was bleeding all over the damn place, and though the wound wasn’t fatal in and of itself I would still pass out from blood loss sooner or later. Not to mention the fear-and-panic-scented blood would draw every predator in a twenty-mile radius straight to me. Then there was the whole no weapons having thing. That was kind of a drag.
So, priorities. Don’t bleed to death. Avoid stumbling straight into the vampire hunting me. Find myself something to kill the bastard with. This last would be the hardest. Unlike the snappy blondes from TV shows, I couldn’t just snap off a branch and be good to go. I needed something that would actually pierce his supernaturally strong skin.
“I am so dead,” I realized.
And then it hit me. Mountains. This whole area was rocky and craggy. Surely I could find a cliff that would do some damage even to the Primus of a vampire House. That is, if I could avoid sailing right off of it myself in the dark. I admit it wasn’t a great plan, but it was all I had. He viewed me as prey, the hunted rather than the hunter. Using myself as bait, maybe I could turn that to my advantage.
Finally I’d reached the trees. Gritting my teeth against the pain, I dove into the bush.
I heard the babbling of the river and nearly wept with relief. Or at least, I wanted to weep in relief, but all I could manage was a kind of gasping sigh. Dimly I realized the pain in my stomach wasn’t as close as it should be either. Damn, I was going into shock. At least I couldn’t feel the cold.
Dropping to my knees, I scrounged on the ground for some rocks heavy enough to throw. Picking up one about the size of my palm, I rubbed my bloody hand all over it. Grabbing another one, I rolled it around in the blood dripping down my stomach, careful to avoid getting dirt in the wounds. Ripping off the bloodiest portion of my tank top, not hard where Rurik had already shredded it, I wrapped the sopping cloth around another rock. I threw each of them in different directions, then turned back to the river.
Chewing my bottom lip, I swung my legs over the bank and dropped down. The biting cold ripped my breath away, and I nearly lost my footing. Forcing myself to take the steps, I waded out into the middle of the stream. It was high enough to come up to my chest, and I almost went under a couple times. I let the force of the water pull me downstream, hopefully far enough that Rurik wouldn’t see the ground disturbance where I pulled myself out.
As freezing as the river had been, once I was out it was almost worse. I forced myself not to dwell on it. It was necessary to get most of the blood off me and hide my scent. I didn’t feel like I was in shock anymore. My field-medical training hadn’t been enough to teach me if shock even worked like that, but I seemed more aware of my surroundings so I’d take it.
Obviously rivers flow downhill, so I started heading upriver, shivering all the way. Moving in my dripping wet clothes was completely miserable, especially my soaked jeans. They were heavy and clingy, and made covering any real ground almost impossible, but I forced myself onward. Didn’t, and I would die, it was as simple as that.
My heart about stopped beating when I heard a voice call through the darkness.
“Regan, oh, Regan…”
I froze, listening hard. The voice was echoing and far away, but it was unmistakably Rurik’s boisterous shouting. The bastard was enjoying himself.
Slowly, agonizingly slowly, I dropped into a crouch. Closer to the ground there was more foliage for cover. The bend was killing my abdomen, but I ignored it. With as much care as I could muster, I started to inch forward one cautious, quiet step at a time. Then Rurik started talking again, slightly closer to my location. For once I couldn’t come down on the vampire habit of grand-standing. This way I would know where he was.
“That was a clever trick with the rocks,” he called out. He was still far enough away to echo. “And I assume you crossed the river? Brave of you. Not the best thing for a body in shock, though. Are you in shock, did I hurt you that badly? Sometimes I don’t know my own strength.”
Sure, my body was in bad shape, but it had jolted my mind back online and that’s what was gonna keep me alive tonight. If anything could.
“It’s a shame,” he was saying. “Such a nice body. You can’t imagine what you did to me standing above Zo’s body in your skimpy top, spattered with blood, sword in hand. Like the dark gods had plucked you from my head.”
While Rurik had been going on about things I’d rather not know about, I finally made it to the base of a tree big enough to hide my body. So slowly I wanted to scream, I started to stand up behind it.
“I usually prefer submissive blonds, you see,” Rurik went on. “But occasionally, well, I enjoy the chase.”
You sick son of a bitch, I wanted to say when I was upright, but cussing out the psycho wasn’t worth my life. Looking up into the tree I reached for a branch, and a bolt of pain shot through me as I raised my arm. I clapped my hand over my mouth to stifle the gasp that wanted out.
“And it’s been a good game this time, I must admit,” he said. “The rocks, the river. Using your surroundings to your advantage like that maybe you have got some real warrior in you. Even Jen might be impressed. “
I didn’t have the first damn clue what he was babbling about, but I was more than willing to use the sound of his voice as cover. I had to do this exactly right because if I scraped the tree, made any kind of noise at all, it was game over. Grabbing a hold of the branch I had missed the first time, I took a deep breath to brace myself for the pain. I raised my foot and pushed against the trunk. Using the boost I flailed up and grabbed another branch. ‘Only’ two more steps, which seemed like they took forever, and I was high enough to find a solid branch to sit on.
For a few seconds I just had to sit there, body trembling, clenching my teeth to keep my heavy breathing quiet. I hoped to God it wasn’t actually as loud as it seemed to me. I was almost positive that if it hadn’t been dark already there would have been dark spots in my vision.
“—And just think,” Rurik’s voice cut in, and I realized with a jolt that I’d spaced out some of what he was saying. Now he was much closer than he’d been before. “If Ira hadn’t repudiated you none of our fun tonight would been possible. So long as you were his Beloved I would never have touched you.”
Thanks so much, Greer, I thought, but it didn’t have any real edge to it. I was the brain-damaged motherfucker who’d gone waltzing around a vampire House with no weapons.
“But then he walked away, leaving you unclaimed.” Rurik was close enough that I could hear his wistful exhale. “Sometimes one must take opportunities as they are presented.”
Out of everything he’d said tonight, he was right about that, at least. Now or never, St. James.
Making sure I was as silent as I could be, I shifted my weight around on the branch until I was facing away from the tree, roughly perpendicular to Rurik’s path to me. Approximating a defensive posture as best as possible in the cramped space, I firmed my body. Jing. I pushed my body upward, Chi, keeping my feet light on the branch, my arms in tight, Shen. Making a fist, I focused my energy, what little was left of it, down my arm. Fa.
From the corner of my eye, I saw Rurik. He was scanning left to right, but, as most people don’t, didn’t think to look up. I waited until he was about to pass beneath my branch.
I tipped myself off to the side, turning into the last position, Jin, as I did. I inhaled as my feet centered on the branch just before leaving it. With a noise that resounded through the night, the sturdy branch snapped.
Rurik’s head jerked upwards, but it was too late. I struck his chest with a solid One-Inch Punch. I heard the crack, felt his chest bone shatter beneath my fist. It was even enough to send him stumbling back. But I didn’t pierce his flesh. My position had been imperfect. I was dead.
For the first time since our chase began, Rurik must has tapped into his unnatural speed. I felt his fingers in my hair before I’d even stopped rolling from my momentum. He jerked my head back, wrapped his hand around my waistband, and heaved me through the air. I barely got my arms in front of my face before I slammed into a tree—the same tree, I think, I had used to attack him.
I felt a new tingle of pain, my wrist, but it barely reached me. Better my wrist than my neck, besides. There was enough power to Rurik’s toss that g-force tried to bend me in half around the tree trunk before I fell to the ground.
And then, impossibly, I heard Ira’s voice. “Regan! Here!”
Turning to my side, I looked up with swimming eyes. There were dim flashes as whatever Ira had thrown me to caught faint traces of moon light. Then my wakizashi thudded into the ground a little bit in front of me.
Propping myself up on one elbow I tried to make sense of what I was seeing. Maybe it was the blood loss, maybe it was shock, maybe it was the concussion I would bet I’d just sustained, but for a second I honestly thought I was hallucinating.
Ira appeared out of the darkness between the trees, blur of vampire speed trailing out behind him. He crashed into Rurik and they went down, but the older vampire quickly threw the younger off. I wanted to open my mouth to chide Ira on his sloppy form, but must have forgotten how.
Recovering, Ira charged Rurik again throwing his fist out in front of him. Whoever taught that boy to fight hadn’t been very good at it. The Primus caught Ira’s blow, and tugged hard enough to pull him forward. Rurik brought his head down into Ira’s, stunning him backwards.
Then it really occurred to me what I was seeing. Ira was fighting his blood father, for me, and all I was doing was laying here doing my best to die.
Taking of advantage of the disorientation, Rurik swept Ira’s feet out from under him. As he was going down, the Primus leaned over, grabbed big handfuls of his shirt and lifted the kid above his head.
I knew I wouldn’t have a better chance. Forcing air into my lungs, energy into my body, I lurched to my feet and bolted across the space between me and Rurik, snatching up my sword as I went. It must have hit a rock on the way out of the ground because the crystal-pure sound of its ringing blade filled the air.
Rurik didn’t seem to notice as he bunched up his muscles and hurled Ira away from him. My vampire disappeared from sight, and I heard the muffled thump of him hitting the ground. Forcing myself to clutch tightly whatever I had left of my hunter’s calm, I pulled it out of my soul with everything I had. Thankfully, my pain and dizziness receded.
Knowing I would need better leverage, I leaped up as high as I could. As I was coming down, my feet touched a tree trunk for the briefest second before I launched myself at the much bigger vampire.
He was just starting to turn around as I fell from the air toward him. My downward trajectory put me right at the perfect angle. Glinting with dull moon light, my wakizashi made a glimmering arc around me as I slashed it down. I barely felt any resistance at all as gravity tore me right through Rurik’s neck.
Stumbling as I came back down to earth, I couldn’t help but notice the crash of Rurik’s body falling behind me. My hand shot out to steady myself on a tree, but I’d forgotten my broken wrist. Pain shot up arm. Feeling fell away from the fingers on my left hand.
Bushes and branches rustled, and I staggered around to see Ira coming out of them. He stopped when he saw Rurik’s body, looking from it, to me, and back again.
My sword hit the ground. I looked down at it, perplexed. I didn’t remember letting go of it. Brows furrowing, I started to tell Ira how weird that was when I saw the alarm on his face. His mouth was moving, but no sound was coming out of it. Then I was looking at the ground again, but it was a lot closer than it had been before.
Then I was looking at nothing at all.