Bleeding Hearts Page 51

“That’s enslavement.”

“Or pragmatism. It’s certainly not any worse than what you do to us.”

“We’re trying to save people from being hurt!”

“So are we, little boy.”

He bristled at that. So did I.

“You think we’re all the same,” Aidan interjected smoothly, looking at the camera again. “It’s time you heard our stories. They could just as easily become your own. This is our court, who’ll be attending the Blood Moon. We expect them to be allowed past your guards, Liam Drake, if your talk of peace treaties all these years has been honest.” The Hel-Blar were shrieking in their pen, rattling the fences. He lifted his wampum belt.

“This is a record of my people, the Wendat, and of myself, Aidan Hawkfeather. After I was turned I was too ill to notice the bear hibernating at the back of the cave I’d dragged myself to. By the time I was desperate enough to think of drinking his blood, I’d already changed color and grown more fangs than I might have otherwise. But I’ve never been feral.” He quirked a smile. “I might have been, if I’d been saved by a porcupine spirit instead of the Great Bear.”

I tried to imagine drinking all the blood from a giant brown bear and gagged.

“And Emma,” Saga said.

“I was turned just three years ago,” Emma said softly. She was a plump woman in her thirties. She looked quiet and calm, except for the silver stakes glittering on a strap between her breasts and the scar bisecting her eyebrow. “My family thought I was dead. I heard them weeping and then I heard the embalmers discussing chemicals. I could smell them, sharp and poisonous, but I was too weak to open my eyes.” She was marbled with blue and gray and pale, pale white. “The poisons didn’t kill me, but they stopped me from waking before I was buried, kept me too weak to claw my way out for months.” She pointed to the scar, tilting her head so we could see where it ran in a jagged line down to her chin and past her collarbone, toward her heart. “Another vampire did this to me. When Saga found me, I couldn’t even speak. “

The man next to her was wearing an expensive suit and a ring set with an emerald on his pinky. He could have been a lawyer or a wealthy businessman, except for the faded tribal tattoos on his neck and hands.

“Max.” Saga nodded to him.

“Maxixcatzin, as my mother named me,” he said smoothly. “The hunger had me for nearly a hundred years. I lived in the rain forest, and when I knew myself enough to know I needed blood, not sugarcane or papayas, I drank from jaguars and panthers—and it was enough to survive. Barely. I never drank from a human because I never came across one. My tribe’s shaman had me banned before I was turned. I don’t know what I would have become if I’d lived in a city or been buried under concrete. By the time Saga found me, I was more panther than vampire.”

“And I was born on Tortuga,” Saga said with a bloodthirsty grin. “I was turned at port but I didn’t know what the sickness was until we were at sea and too far from land to feed properly. I knew I was ill, knew something was wrong, so I locked myself in the brig and swallowed the key. It was months before we made it to shore. I nearly didn’t survive.” Snow was falling, settling in her hair, and the last of the fire gilded her hard expression, her pale, red-veined eyes like maple leaves in autumn. “But I was lucky, strong. So I spent centuries chasing legends, chasing witches, doctors, and scientists. It took me that long to find a way to train the Hel-Blar, to have them heel to me so we might prove to others that we are different. The whistle I use was taken from a snake charmer in India, made three hundred years ago and since blessed by a shaman. The collars have magic in them—old magic and old blood.” Her smile went wolfish. “But you don’t need to know all of our secrets.

“We meant to take your Lucy so she could be a link between our families. But I think Christabel is a better choice. She doesn’t come with your prejudices and she comes with your son. So we’ll take our council seat by your promise,” she threatened darkly, “or we’ll steal it. I have enough Hel-Blar trained to the whistle to carry out my plans, whichever choice you make.”

The snarling was close.

Too close.

The vampires around the fire rose to their feet, smooth and soft as the smoke. Light glinted on fangs and stakes. Snarls and the clacking of teeth made all the hair on my body stand up straight. Goosebumps tightened my skin. I was so tense I wondered how I didn’t break into pieces, like porcelain hitting the ground.

Hel-Blar scrabbled toward us.

“You haven’t trained them all,” Connor said, whipping a stake out of his boot as the smell of wet mushrooms hit the back of my throat. I retched.

Saga lifted her whistle and blew it hard. Her eyebrows met, making her look like a stern teacher. I’d hate to know the kind of detention she’d give out.

Connor took a knife from his other boot and handed it to me. “Trust me—if you need it, you’ll know how to use it. But try not to jab yourself with it in the meantime.”

I clutched it and made a few jabbing motions.

“You’re not chopping onions,” Connor said, the corner of his mouth lifting despite our circumstances. “Here, hold it like this.” He adjusted it so that it was lying along my forearm, point toward my elbow.

“It’s backward. And when did you get all tough?”

“It’s easier to stab this way,” he said, ignoring my question. “Lift your arm.” I did. “See? It’s already facing out and you haven’t had to move your hand at all.”

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