A chapter in which Regan's skill is tested.
Sybele didn’t bother to waste any more words once Ira reluctantly retreated—she was coming on me so fast the candles sputtered in the wind she left behind. Her arm came out of the blur she had become, aiming for my neck, but I dove for the floor and rolled beneath it. Coming to my feet by her chair, I ignored her pets as they shrank away from me. I barely had time to flip the knife still in my hand to a defensive position before she was coming again.
A slash of the blade kept her at bay long enough to get away from the chair, but she was too fast for the extra maneuverability to matter much. Going on the ball of one foot, I pivoted around, aiming for her with both my other foot and the knife. Wind billowed around us as she effortlessly danced away.
The blur around her faded as she came to a stop a short distance from me. She began to circle, and I had to move with her to keep her in sight. Our circling brought Ira into my line-of-sight. The worry etched clearly on his darkened face stole my focus, just for a second. Of course, a vampire of Sybele’s caliber only needed that much time. She was blurring her way across my space before I even realized what was happening.
I cried out in surprise as her nails raked my face. As she retook her place across the circle from me, I resisted the urge to reach up and touch the slashes I could feel stretching downwards from my ear to the corner of my mouth.
“Keep your eyes on me, hunter,” she said. “Or you shan’t last very long at all.”
Before I could even grimace at her pretentious grammar, the candles flickered and she was coming again. Fortunately, I’d been expecting her to back up her quip with something ‘unexpected,’ and I brought the knife through my strike zone. A vampire’s dagger, though not a bad weapon, was no samurai sword. I heard the gratifying tear of fabric, but the blade came away clean. My sword would have at least struck flesh.
“Close,” Sybele said as she shrugged out of her ruined suit jacket. “Not nearly close enough.”
Jesus, what is with vampires and quipping during battle? There was no time to ask. Sybele came on again, but this time I was done evading her. It was time to make contact. Falling to my back, just as she came over me I kicked at her. Launching her over the top of me, I rolled to my feet as she went sailing through the air. Quickly, I dashed across the room as the startled shrieks of the vampires Sybele had crashed into filled the air. She’d landed on the far side of the large tables.
Bracing my hand on one, I leaned over it with the knife raised to stab her in the head. I never got the chance. She lashed out with her foot, the vampiric strength in it overturning the table, sending it and me skidding across the floor. My shirt shredded, and I was thankful for my lightweight hunter-armor that would save my back.
I came to a stop with the heavy wood of the tabletop resting on me from my mid-chest to my knees. I was struggling to get out from under it when suddenly Sybele was above me, bring down her fist. Ducking, I pushed the table above my head and felt it shudder as she hit it. Another blow rocked me, and this time I heard the splinter of wood. One more strike was all it took, and in three blows Sybele severed the solid table in half.
Surging upwards, I pushed the wood with my shoulder, rolling Sybele beneath the half of the table still on top of me. I heard her let out a surprised grunt as I sandwiched her between the two pieces and rolled over top of them.
Snatching up the knife from where it had fallen from my grasp, I hit the floor. Half of the table went rocketing toward my head as Sybele hurled it off of her. A tornado of dust and wood fragments began to swirl around me, kept in orbit by the superspeed blur of Sybele. I had to bring my arm up to keep my eyes clear.
Her voice floated out of the whirlwind, echoing strangely. “Are there more tricks up your sleeve, hunter? More fancy footwork you may make use of? Will you avail yourself of more clever applications of scenery?”
I tried to track her in the mess her speed was kicking up, but it was no use. Most of the candles were blowing out, and the feeble lighting wasn’t helping.
“Will you beat me, vampire hunter? Will you?”
Sighing, I held the hand with the knife out in front of me, and opened my grip. The knife clattered as it fell to the floor.
“No,” I said, pitching my voice over the dim roar of wind. “It’s clear to everyone here I can’t beat you.”
And just like that the wind stopped. Dust, wood chips, and splinters rained down around me in their varying speeds. I blinked to clear my eyes and waved my hand in front of my face. Ira hurried to my side, his fingers headed to the scratches on my cheek. I caught his hand in mine before he made it there, and gently drew it away.
“I’m fine,” I said softly.
His eyes creased, but he said nothing.
“Elder Greer, Beloved St. James.”
Sybele’s voice made us turn back towards the chair, which she was standing in front of. She was holding her knife in her hands, sheathed. I had no idea how or when she’d picked it up. She held it out to me, and I stepped forward to take it.
“Keep it,” she said. “My gift to you, in welcome to this House.”
“Thank you, Lady,” I murmured. It wasn’t a bad knife, all things considered.
Inclining her head, she stepped back and sank into her chair. Her hand dropped to fondle the heads of her human pets, who crouched shivering and whimpering on the ground. I only just remembered Ira’s warning and raked my eyes away. Sybele was watching me with an odd half-smile, but she didn’t comment.
Instead, she turned her attention away from us. “Iriy Hills House, welcome our newest member, Beloved St. James.”
“Welcome, Beloved,” the assembly chorused.
Apparently satisfied, she addressed the room once more. “All this excitement calls for refreshment, I think. I will adjourn us to the sitting room, if there is no further business?”
I waited for Ira to say something but he didn’t. I looked at him, and he was still studying my face. Giving him a look, I moved my eyes toward Sybele. Shaking himself, Ira stepped forward.
“Actually, Lady,” he said. “There is one more thing.”
“Calling upon the House’s good graces twice in a row, young Elder?” she asked, but her voice sounded amused.
“Ah, yes.” He continued, “but I’m afraid this matter is not so light as welcoming a new Beloved.”
Sybele sat forward in her chair. “Go on.”
Clearing his throat, Ira said, “I’m afraid I must ask to bring a suit of combat against the fledgling Zo Williams.”
“On what grounds?”
“Disrespect of an intended Beloved, and preying on an outsider human without House authority,” Ira said. “Zo has sabotaged my budding relationships before, as I have spoken with Primus Rurik about, but this time she went too far. If not for my Beloved’s training, she might very well have hurt him seriously. She was also responsible for sending his best friend, a human not of the House, into a blood coma. Because of these grievances, we must ask a suit to be brought, although, considering the nature of them and my Beloved, Regan would like to carry out the combat himself.”
“I see,” Sybele said slowly. “These are grave charges, indeed, what proof do you have of them?”
Wasn’t that an interesting question? As far as proof went it’s not like we had any, but to his credit Ira said smoothly, “Regan’s car was damaged when Fledgling Zo first accosted him, and I have spoken with Primus Rurik about my trouble with Zo before—”
“But Primus Rurik is not here,” she interrupted. “And things which you did not speak in assembly are private conversation, and cannot help you here. I ask again, what proof?”
And then, strangely, it was Zo herself that saved us.
“That won’t be necessary, Lady Sybele.” Zo appeared from the press of bodies. “It’s all true, and I accept his challenge.”