“Let’s just change her, now,” Donny said, hissing, his eyes narrowed. “Bitch is tricky. Just bite her, change her-” He dropped silent as Chaac turned her warm brown eyes on him, his back straightening. “Just saying. Just saying we should do this fast, before she has time to pull any shit. Don’t want her pulling any tricky shit like the last time-”
“We aren’t going to do that,” said Chaac very politely. “Not without giving her a chance.” She turned her head towards me, and smiled pleasantly. “I want Jenny.”
“And what are you going to do when you get her?” I asked, my eyes narrowed.
“Kill her. Painlessly, quickly. Send her to her ancestors.”
“Oh, come now. Does it really matter?” Chaac gave me another indulgent smile. “We all have our reasons for doing what we’re doing. If you refuse, I will turn you into a vampire, and use the connection. My blood will flow in your veins. I will make my way into your head, and rip the knowledge from you, puppet you. Blood magic is something of a specialty of mine, and I have had centuries to refine my craft. So, that is your reason. Do it because you will be turned into a hollow shell of a thing if you are not. I will most likely destroy you afterwards. Believe me when I tell you that will be a mercy. You would not like to know the things that you can be forced to do through the bond of blood.”
“Indulge me. Come on. The Strix’s motivation is obvious enough: Money and chaos. This whole trial was a chance for them to drive a stake in the heart of the undead community here. Cause chaos, destroy existing power structures, open up a nice city full of confused and scared undead looking for leadership. Vampire leadership. Arthur… Well, I’m guessing your motivations were simple enough in all this. Dispose of the body in a way that nobody will ever find, and the ghoul gets strong as hell.”
Arthur shrugged. “It ain’t half bad. And that vampire’s done more than enough to justify getting offed. You should’ve seen those two poor kids. Lying there, pale as ghosts. And I wouldn’t mind a bit of chicken.” He served himself a couple of chunks of the chicken, eating hungrily.
“One of those kids, you’re now planning to kill. You told me you wanted to protect innocent people, Arthur. Were you lying?”
He shrugged. “To protect people, you need power and friends. Your principles don’t do anyone a lick of good if you can’t uphold them. As I think you’re finding out now. Don’t worry, though. I don’t intend to let them kill your friends, besides Jenny. Wouldn’t be any point to it.”
“Oh yeah?” Donny asked, his eyes narrowed. “You think you’ve got much of a say in that right now-” Parsons lifted his hand, pressing it against Donny’s shoulder. The angry Strix snapped his mouth shut, glaring daggers at Arthur as the British ghoul ate.
“Yeah. I rather fancy I do. Funny thing, I’d never gotten burned by holy water before I ate that holier-than-thou bint. But I never was able to go toe to toe with an elder Strix before either.” He gave Donny and Parsons a grin. “Wouldn’t mind the chance to do it. But let’s take care of business before we start going all implode-y, shall we?”
“Yes, quite,” said Chaac, sighing. “My reasons are my own, Atina. And I will be extremely sorry if I have to take extreme measures with you-”
“The Sunrise Motel. About five miles north of Binghamton, room 32.” I spoke very quickly. “They’ll be there in a few minutes. I-” I shuddered as the mummy grabbed my hand, and pulled my face close to hers. She took a deep breath, and wrinkled her nose.
Chaac sighed. “Well, that’s a great disappointment. I don’t suppose that I could tempt you with money?”
“Well, it would violate my legal ethics.” I smiled pleasantly. “I’m sure you understand.” Then I looked aside at the mummy. “You can smell lies? That’s completely unfair.” She gave me a yellow-toothed grin, and shrugged. “You know you’re not going to get away with this. Dean Morton’s seen you, your guards were on watch, there’s going to be no question about who did this.”
Chaac smiled. “There is not meant to be a question. It’s true, I would have preferred Jenny to die by execution, by misstep, by some method that would leave few lingering suspicions. But I did not hold back because I feared the consequences to myself.” She laughed softly. “You have seen it, haven’t you, Atina? Only two things in this world hold back someone with power. Someone with greater power, and morality. Arthur learned that lesson well. You have, too. You make friends with powerful creatures, and seek powerful allies. You make them owe you, and you allow yourself to owe them, to make a place for yourself.” She sighed softly. “I would really prefer you as a friend to an enemy.”
“Go fuck yourself.”
“What makes you so determined? What gives you such certainty? What crime did you commit, Atina, that your own life seems like a worthy price to pay for another’s? You will die, and there will be not even enough left of you to be a ghost. You will be forgotten, forever. What on earth could you have done that you think you deserve that?” She stared into my eyes for a long few seconds. Then, she made a soft, satisfied noise. “Ah, of course. I know that crime well. I’ve seen it so many times. You were born, you survived, you were given what others weren’t. You have spent all of your life knowing that you were given a chance others would have killed for, and by living, you wasted all the good that they could do.” She sighed softly. “Well, I can respect that. And I wouldn’t dishonor you by offering you another chance.”
“Bastards,” hissed Polly from the ground. Her body was twitching, as she shuddered. “Fecking bastards. Feckin’ arse-lickin’ cock-suckin’ jizz-rag bastards!”
Arthur turned, an eyebrow raised. “Jesus. I gave her a dose that should’ve been enough to put out a horse for a week.” Polly’s red hair burned like fire, beginning to sway and move.
“I promised her. I feckin’ promised her!” Tears were running down her cheeks. “I’ll find ye. I don’t care how strong you are. I’ll find every last one of ye and kill ye! I’ll rip your throats out with my teeth! I’m gonna fuckin’ kill you for this! I promised I’d keep her safe-” She let out a sharp cry as Parsons grabbed her by the hair, tugging her head up, nails going to her throat. He stopped, as Arthur grabbed his wrist.
“You do it, mate, I’ll rip off your limbs and feed them to you.”
“What the shit do you care about her?” whined Donny. “She’s just some fuckin’ Fae bitch, you’re not gonna fuck her.” The mummy turned, striding towards the two of them, as Chaac let out a groan of annoyance, turning to face them.
I am not a good fighter. I’m just outclassed compared to most of the supernatural world. But physics is still my friend. I crouched down, and grabbed the soccer ball. It was heavy as hell, and my stomach protested as I stood up. I should’ve been lifting with my legs, but I wasn’t thinking properly. I turned, and spun, letting the ball fly with all of the force I could summon. It soared through the air glacially, with a lazy unstoppability. The window of my office made a valiant and hopeless effort to stop it, and broken glass fell to the ground. As the undead turned, shocked, I threw myself out, pulling my arms in tight around my body.
Thankfully, my office is on the second floor, and right above some bushes.
I pulled myself out of the tangle of branches and needles, scraped and bruised, but with nothing broken. My jacket pulled off as I ran through the rain, and I let it go. My bicycle sat against the lamp post outside, the chain lock around it. I fumbled with the combination lock, grateful as hell that I’d cheaped out and neglected to get a proper U lock with a key. My fingers were numb as I struggled with the letters, spelling out BAAL. They shivered uncontrollably as I heard a thump behind me. I got the lock off, and threw it up and around my neck. It stung as it stuck there, but it was the closest thing I had to a weapon. I threw myself on top of the bike, and began to pedal.
Bicycles are an amazing invention. Functionally, they’re a way of efficiently converting as much muscle power into forward speed as possible. People have briefly sustained paces of 200 miles per hour, on extremely high-end custom bicycles after being towed up to speed and in ideal situations. My situation was far from ideal. I was bicycling through the rain, furiously blinking it out of my eyes as I made for the bridge, bone-tired and fingers freezing in the rain. There were several dozen churches in Binghamton, and I knew of exactly one of those churches that was open at this time of night. The trick now was getting to it before I was run down. I pumped my legs, trying to keep the bicycle going straight across the rain-slicked asphalt.
The late night and the rain were working for me, in at least one sense; There was no one else on the roads. I was the only damn fool speeding along. The icy rain whipped at my hands, and I couldn’t do anything to protect them as I peddled. I hit the bridge across the Chenango, and flew across at a frankly dangerous speed, trying to keep the handlebars straight to avoid sending myself into a spin. Then the lightning struck.
The entire sky split open, and a blinding light filled the air. I saw the purple-white aftermath of a lightning bolt across my retinas, and a crack-boom that nearly shook me off of the bike. I blinked, and the street lights flared bright. Then, they began to shatter, one after another, raining glass down onto the street, and filling the air with the sound of ringing, muffled by the continuous pounding of the rain. And the world went utterly dark.
I was back studying for the bar, bicycling through the perfect darkness. No flashlight, no idea of where I was. My heart lurched, as I heard the sudden snap-pop of the tire deflating. Maybe a piece of glass, maybe just a bad bump. The bicycle lurched, and I barely managed to keep it in control as it skidded wildly. My muscles froze instinctively, trying to keep myself on an even keel as it skidded in wider fishtails. Then I was dumped out on my side, and rolled across the rain and the broken glass. I cursed myself for not wearing a bicycle helmet, and tried to force myself to stand up. My entire body hurt, and I waited for the numbness. The sign that I’d broken my spine, that I’d destroyed my legs, that I’d killed myself in my rush. That I was helpless.
“This is how the Camazotz took their victims,” said Chaac. The adrenaline rush forced me to my feet. No broken bones, nothing obvious anyway. A lot of pain, a lot of fear, but I was still standing. I squared off against her in the terribly dim light, then noticed she wasn’t lunging for me. “They would choose a village, somewhere that had displeased them, that had earned its fate. They would come to that village, and announced that they would kill every human in the village. Then they would sweep out. Driving men, women, and children from their homes, and executing them where they stood. Draining every last drop of blood from their bodies. They would find those who hid. They would slaughter those who fought. The only ones who survived were those who ran. The longer they ran, the longer they survived. And sooner or later, there would be only one runner left. And then they’d die, too. And the only one who’d be given the second chance was that last runner.”
I took a clumsy swing at her, and she sidestepped it without apparently noticing it. “Those who fought died. Those who hid died. It was only those who ran. Run, you stupid bitch. Give me a reason to let you survive the night. Give me an excuse to fail. Just keep running!”
I squared up for another punch. Then the shriek filled the air. It was high, and shrill, harsh enough to etch glass. It came from across the bridge. I turned to look at Chaac again, and then ran, leaving my poor stricken bike there in the rain where it would rust and die just like me. My legs ached and tingled, my ribs hurt like hell. I ran as hard as I could through the night. In the darkness and the rain, I could barely see where I was going. I just managed to avoid putting my foot in a pothole and twisting my ankle clean off. My heart pounded, adrenaline trying with limited success to do the work of years of training.
I was faster running than I would have been without the bicycling, but it was a very different way of moving. My shoes slipped on the slick ground, and I tried to avoid losing my footing as I hit a patch of grass, sliding wildly, my arms windmilling. I thought of the sensation of being half-asleep, my eyes closed, imagining myself walking along. That feeling when I tripped, or fell, or something happened, and I hit the ground, and it jerked me clean out of sleep. I wished that would happen. I wished this was all a bad dream, the stress of the case giving me nightmares. I slipped, and struck the ground.
It wasn’t a dream. Cold rainwater washed across the scrapes on my face. I forced myself up again. I heard a shriek behind me, warbling strangely. I looked around wildly. Where was I? Had I passed the church? Was it still there? I ran towards one of the nearby buildings, and grabbed for the door, yanking it open, pulling myself into the dark interior, my heart pounding. Those who hid died. I couldn’t stay here. I had to find sanctuary. I had to get through to the other side of the building, take a moment to figure out where I was going, and run. I blinked the rain out of my eyes. A pair of candles had been set up, burning intimately on the counter of a restaurant. My eyes flickered up to the menu above the counter. Shark Belly’s menu. I was just across from the church. I was less than fifty feet from its door. I was home free-
“Miss Le- I mean, Atina?”
The bathroom door had opened. Roy stood there, in his silly looking uniform, his eyes wide, as he stared at me. “Oh my god, Atina, what happened? I’ll go get the first aid kit, I-”
“Roy! Look, I need to go, I-”
The door jingled, and the sound of rain briefly filled the room. Donny stood there, a grin on his face, a nine-millimeter semi-automatic in his hand. “Well, well, Miss LeRoux.” The black metal of the gun occupied my entire world as he stared at me, particularly the silencer screwed to the tip. I put my hands up, feeling my heart run cold. Then I heard a crash from behind me, and the cold feeling got worse. I turned around.
“J-Just step aside, Atina.” Roy stood, the old pump-action shotgun in his hands, leveled shakily at the man. “I don’t want to hurt you none, sir. Just put that gun down. Y-you can have what you w-want from the register, just don’t do anything-”
The nine-millimeter barked, and Roy dropped without a sound. There was the clatter of the shotgun rolling across the ground, but it didn’t go off. The damn thing probably hadn’t even been loaded. I felt my heart drop into my stomach, and my guts churn. I turned slowly, shakily, the world spinning around me. “Why? Why did- Why?”
He snorted. “What the fuck do you care? What was the guy, your boyfriend or something?” He stared at me, and then a grin spread across his face. “Hah! He was, wasn’t he? Holy shit, you must feel like a fucking idiot.”
In moments of extreme emotion, a human being is capable of some pretty incredible things. I, for example, hit Donny in his mid-section with a spear-tackle. My arms wrapped around him, and my face buried itself in his chest. He smelled of bad cologne and gunsmoke. He brought the butt of his gun down on my back, hard. I didn’t even notice it as I lifted him into the air, and through the glass door. He landed on his back and shoulders, hard. I came down on top of him, screaming incoherently.
The rain poured down around us and I punched him in the face. I felt a little better, so I did it again. My knuckles popped and crackled as I hammered him with both hands, driving my fists into his smirking bastard face mercilessly. Blood was flowing down his cheeks, but it was from my own knuckles. I kept punching, until someone grabbed me with an irresistible strength, and yanked me off of Donny. I was dragged back into the restaurant by Parsons, trying to claw at him. He shrugged the blows off with maddening ease. “Ah, come on, I had her,” said Donny.
“I don’t care. We’re trying to avoid maiming her, remember?” Parsons frowned as he dragged me towards one of the booths, shoving me down. All of the strength left me in a rush, my arms hanging limply by my sides. I could see Roy’s arm from where I sat, outstretched from behind the counter. It was the only part of him I could see. The tears began to replace the rain on my cheeks, my wet hair plastered to my head, as I let out a choking little sob. “Ugh. You murdered some civilian?”
“Hey, he pointed a shotgun at me. Self defense.” Donny gave a smirk. “Dude was asking for it, anyway. ‘P-P-Put the gun d-d-down.'” He laughed again.
“You can’t just do this,” I whispered. “You’re not going to get away with this.”
“Oh good god, shut your fucking mouth,” groaned Sofia as she stepped into the room. “Of course we’re going to get away with this. We have power, you stupid cunt. We’re better than you. We’re strong because of what we are.” She smiled. “The only thing that matters in this world is the power you have. You understand that? All of your ideals, all of your fancy laws, they don’t mean jack shit to us, because we’re powerful. You’re the mouse, telling the cat that we can all get along, and that nobody has to kill anybody. Why the fuck would the cat listen?”
“You’re not predators, you stupid… owl,” I managed. My head was pounding, throbbing. “You’re leeches. Parasites. You’re fucking nothing.” Sofia’s eyes widened, and Parsons grabbed her shoulder as she advanced.
“She’s trying to piss you off. Keep it together. We need her alive- Ah.”
The door swung open. Arthur entered, and his eyes flickered from me, to Donny, and to the arm hanging out from behind the counter. “You stupid son of a bitch,” he growled. “I’m going to straight murder you for that one when we’re done with this. Y’understand me? The moment this is done, I’m going to rip your eyes out and shove them up your ass so you can watch me kick the shit out of you.”
“What, didn’t you think this would happen?” I asked Arthur, laughing a little bit hysterically. “You were part of this whole damn thing! You wanted power, and that’s the price! You’re the-”
“Oh, don’t give me that, lady,” he growled. “If I’d been the one here, instead of you, that boy’d still be alive.” I went very silent. And then I just buried my face in my hands, and began to sob softly.
“It’s hard, isn’t it? Finding out that there’s no justice in the world, no law worth listening to.” Chaac sat across from me, and I nearly jumped out of the seat. “I’m going to try to persuade you, one more time.”
“Go fuck yourself,” I hissed, my nails digging into my palm. I was so numb I couldn’t feel it, though whether from shock, cold, or simple overload, I couldn’t tell.
“I started all of this because I wanted justice. When I was just a child, the Camazotz slaughtered my home. The Mayan priesthood demanded blood for blood, a punishment for the attacks of warriors from a city we’d never seen. They came to my village, and made an example of us. And they took me as the ultimate insult. They sucked the life out of me, and I woke up before the general who had been responsible for the attack. They made me drink his blood, sucking the life out of him. They made a killer out of me.” She took a deep breath. “They were a foul race, and I will see them wiped out.”
“Why the hell are you so interested in killing Jenny, then? She’s not Mayan. She’s not a Camazotz, and if Hun-Came is dead, she never will be, now.”
“It’s true. The blood needed to bring Hun-Came back to this world, long enough to recognize Jenny? It flows only in my veins. But even if it’s not awakened, Jenny holds Hun-Came’s bloodline. One of the last links that the Camazotz have to this world.”
I frowned. Then my eyes widened. “The bloodlines. The ghosts-”
“When the last Camazotz fades from this earth, every Camazotz will be gone. They will be forgotten, cast into oblivion, forever.” She canted her head to the side. “I fancy I can hear them, sometimes. When Hun-Came is wroth, she speaks to me, curses me, calls me a traitor. But I was never hers to begin with.” She stared into my eyes. “When Jenny is dead, I will be the last link left to the Camazotz. There are, I will confess, some side-benefits. As the last true Camazotz, I have become powerful. Perhaps as powerful as Hun-Came was, even. There is strength in being the last of something. Not to mention protection. When I die, the Camazotz die with me. That is a powerful threat to hold over those who would otherwise seek to kill me.” She smiled. “But what really mattered is the revenge.”
“You’re killing an innocent person, just to get revenge. That makes you no better-”
“I am not concerned with being better,” Chaac said, though her eyes were turned away from me. “I am concerned with vengeance. There is no justice in this world, Atina. No divine law. No right, no wrong. There is only power, and belief. I chose to do this without killing innocents, if I was capable of it. But given the choice between failure and violating that belief, I would choose success. This is the only goal I have.”
“Why? Why all of this now?”
She gave me a little smile. “What, haven’t you heard? The world is coming to an end. Now is the time for the telling of secrets, and revenge. There isn’t much time left.”
I took a deep breath. “What’s coming?”
“Oh, who knows? All I know is that it is inevitable.” She smiled pleasantly. “You know my reason. You know my motivations. I want Jenny, and I do not want to kill you, or Alfred, or Polly. I want all three of you alive, if I can manage it. You are good people. I can appreciate that. And I suspect that you are too canny to allow genocide just for the sake of revenge. You are, after all, a better person than I am.”
“I hope you die.”
She sighed. “That’s the thing, isn’t it? All you can do is hope. There is nothing else within your power. Justice only has a meaning when it’s enforced by power. Law is dead. There is only chaos.”
A low, rich laugh began to fill the air. Rich, basso profundo, rumbling and filling the air. The sound of it slowly grew. Chaac, Arthur, the three Strix, and the mummy, all of them turned, frowning. It wasn’t coming from any of them. I looked at the counter. Roy’s arm wasn’t visible anymore.
Slowly, the young man stood up, his eyes closed. There was no hint of injury, no cut, no mark. “Law is dead. How many years, almighty Lord? How many years have I been waiting to hear that joyous news?” His eyes slowly opened. They were perfectly normal, and that scared the shit out of me. He tilted his head to the side, and there was a slow crackle that filled the air like a log burning in a hearth. The lights flickered back to life, bright and actinic, throwing the room into sharp relief. “There is only chaos.”
“Whatever you are, you should’ve stayed down, motherf-” Donny raised his gun to fire. Roy’s arm moved in a blur, and the cash register ripped free of the counter, striking Donny. The vampire was left hanging from the far wall, cracks radiating out along the wall. He hung limply, the nine-millimeter pistol dropping out of his fingers and onto the ground. The register was embedded where his chest had once been, pinning him like a butterfly.
Chaac stood, her eyes arrogant and cold as she reached into her jacket, and drew out her axe. “What are you?”
“I? I am the First, the Last, and the Only. I am not dead yet.” His voice sounded the same, but there must have been something, some terrible subharmonic in it, which dragged nails across my spine, filling me with a primal terror. He turned his head slowly, lazily towards me, and a smile spread across his lips, cruel and arrogant like I had never seen on Roy’s kind face. “And that woman is Mine.”
4 thoughts on “Chapter 14: I Am Not Dead Yet”
Until I got to the twist, I was wondering if you were setting Atina up to be the next Lady Ann Willing. Perhaps, in some sense, she still could be – she had her idea of Roy taken from her by the vampires, leaving her with this this not-quite-sure-what-but-not-Roy.
I haven’t seen HFM for a while, where is he when all this is going down? This must be more exciting than catching up on House of Cards.
I’ve been reading/bingeing on my phone, so I haven’t really been able to comment easily, but this scene, and the first bits of the next one are my favorite from the first four or so books.
I’m really glad to hear that, because it was one of my favorite sequences to write. In fact, Roy’s character was something I wanted to do a long time before; I’m very fond of villains finding themselves suddenly out of their depth, as you may have noticed.