Sealed with a Curse Page 22

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A cluster of Shayna’s arrows flew by my ear in high-pitched whistles over the rapid fire of guns. Colleen reached her arms up to the boat’s edge, her screeches garbled by the blood pooling in her mouth. Half her scalp was missing and deep gashes carved most of her face. Beneath her, the water bubbled as if piranha feasted.

The bloodlusters continued to claw at the boat, splintering the edges. Misha’s vampires emptied their clips, puncturing them full of holes. Their putrid green blood stained the sides of the boats. And still they wouldn’t die.

One of Misha’s vampires gripped Colleen’s arms, while the remaining reloaded and fired at their invisible targets, stopping the onslaught as quickly as it began.

A bloodluster bobbed to the surface, his matted blond hair stuck between the serrated teeth of his slack jaw. A hole the size of a quarter had been drilled into his chest, and his breath heaved as if he were choking on vomit. Shayna pointed her arrow, but Misha stopped her with a raise of his hand.

“Ma-master,” Colleen choked.

Emme covered her mouth, gagging. One of the other Catholic schoolgirls held Colleen against her chest, sobbing softly. Colleen’s organs hung in nauseating clumps from the remnants of her demolished torso, droplets of blood turning to ash before they disappeared into the mist.

Misha’s eyes bored into Colleen’s as he communicated his thoughts through the blood bond all masters shared with their keep.

“Y-yes, Master,” she answered. “I…I do, Master. Thank you, Master.” She swallowed more blood, her voice shaking. “I’ll always love you, Master.”

With a deep sigh, Misha nodded at the vamp holding Colleen.

I blocked Emme’s view when the vamp reached beneath Colleen’s open chest cavity to yank out her heart. Tears slid down Emme’s cheeks as a burst of ash signaled Colleen’s demise. I would have given anything for the opportunity to lie to my little sister and convince her Colleen hadn’t suffered and would be okay. But she had. And she wouldn’t.

Misha heaved the floating bloodluster onto the boat by the throat and tore into him until ash caked his face.

As he straightened to his full height, his vehemence slowly simmered down to the demeanor of a quiet serpent waiting beneath a rock.

A small bubble popped before the horrible sense of being hunted returned. Five more bloodlusters broke through the water. Two pairs tried to take down the other boats, while the fifth landed inside our boat. I tackled Emme as Shayna’s sword whirled over our heads, severing the vamp’s neck at almost the same time her gold dagger found his heart.

“Get to shore!” I hefted Emme in my arms and leaped onto the rocky beach. No one followed. Misha and his vampires were engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the bloodlusters.

I bounced back into the boat and hoisted Taran over my head. “Emme, catch!”

Taran swore and kicked her limbs wildly as she became one with the air. Emme caught her easily with her force, then Shayna, when I tossed her after Taran. I screamed for Misha, but the bloodlusters gripped the vamps by their waists, ignoring the pummels, clawing, and biting of their enraged victims.

Good thing Emme had a beach full of weapons at her disposal. Mounds and mounds of rock hurtled, skipping and splashing along the water, pounding into the bloodlusters and forcing them to drop Misha’s vampires.

Misha and his keep sprang onto land while Emme continued her onslaught. The bloodlusters swatted crudely and uselessly at the rocks, but Emme’s telekinetic strength wouldn’t be enough to kill them. And they so needed to die.

“Taran, blow up the vampires!” Taran sat on the beach, shaking her head, unable to focus. I grabbed her shoulders and shook her hard. “Taran, you have to kill them. You have to kill them now!”

Taran gritted her teeth. A sparkle of blue glimmered from her hands, then nothing. I released her abruptly and looked to Misha. “Emme can’t hold them much longer; get ready to fight.”

Emme slumped onto the ground moments later, exhausted. The bloodlusters shook their heads briefly and then dove into the water with the dauntlessness of great whites on a herd of sea lions.

Shayna formed another arrow and aimed toward the lake. My skin crawled as I sensed the bloodlusters’ rapid approach. My knees bent into a crouch. My claws shot out like switchblades. Someone was going to die. But it sure as hell wasn’t going to be me.

In a tsunami-high wave, all four infected vampires pounced out of the water, their green eyes gleaming through the mist, their fangs dripping with drool and thirst. I aimed for the one at the end, only to be cloaked in a stream of nasty ash and blinded by a shaft of light.

Taran’s power ignited, surrounding her like a supernova of heat and flame, incinerating our attackers and the boats. I winced from the searing pain in my eyes until Taran slowly released her magic.

We all turned to her, momentarily stunned by the fight to the death that never came. I blinked the sting away as the white and blue flares enveloping Taran rescinded and unraveled her shaking form.

Taran always used her anger to incite her magic. This time it was triggered by fear. I took her gently by the hand, hating myself for dragging her into this abyss of unholy terror. She followed me without protest as I led her away from the slimy leftovers sticking to the rocks. As soon as our feet touched upon the grassy knoll, Taran wiped the ash from her eyes. “This is horseshit. I want to go home,” she whispered.

I looked into the dark section of woods leading to Zhahara’s compound. “Me, too,” I answered her truthfully.

CHAPTER 15

“Sit down, Taran,” I said when we reached the top of the small cliff. She sat, hugging her knees. I knelt by her side, disturbed by the major post-traumatic stress sliding across her aura. “Emme, I need you to heal her.”

Emme frowned when she failed to see any obvious wounds. “Celia, I don’t understand.”

I stroked Taran’s hair away from her shattered expression. “I need you to tend to her emotions, Emme. All the death, the blood—the fear of the unknown. It’s causing Taran to remember the night Mom and Dad died.” My voice grew hoarse. “And everything that came after that.”

“H-how do you know?”

“Because I’m reliving it, too.” Taran jerked her head in my direction. I positioned myself so I could view the forest bordering the compound, not wanting her to see my own pain. “Mom and Dad’s death was just the start of something horrible.” I kept my eyes averted. “So is this. So please, help Taran now so we can survive. Just like we did then.”

Emme rushed to Taran’s side. Her gift to heal often helped mend emotional wounds. “Oh, my goodness,” she whispered when she reached Taran’s inner turmoil. “It’s okay, Taran. I’ll make it better, sweetie.”

Taran rose when Emme’s pale yellow light rescinded. She seemed better, a lot better. I could almost see her kick-starting her inner bee-atch. “Thanks, Emme.” Her eyes cut to mine. “You get me. Don’t you?”

I nodded.

She let out a shaky breath. “Then I won’t let you down.” Taran marched toward the vamps. “I’m ready. Let’s go.”

“Wait. I have to help Celia, too.” Emme reached her hands toward me, but I stepped away. “Celia—”

I shook my head. “I need the aggression.”

Shayna drummed the hilt of her sword with her fingertips, her pixie face pained. “Are you sure it’s necessary?”

I considered the bloodlust welcoming committee. “Trust me. It is.”

The mist thickened as we returned to the vampires, cloaking the shore and edging its way across the grassy knoll like a giant tarp. Shayna sheathed her sword and adjusted the bow against her back while I caught up to Taran. Taran stormed through the dense forest, stepping on every broken tree branch she encountered. Johnny Wilderness she wasn’t. “Taran, if you’re going to lead, try being a little quieter.”

Taran huffed. “Who gives a shit, Celia? After all the gunfire and screaming, these bastards know we’re here.”

Oh, yeah. She was back.

“Not if they are occupied feeding,” Misha said. He walked directly behind me, flanked by Tim and Hank, his guards, who held two high-powered rifles they’d managed to salvage. “Quenching their thirst is often enough of a distraction,” Misha continued. “As long as we don’t invade their immediate vicinity.”

I glanced over my shoulder. “Like we’re doing now?”

The corner of Misha’s pouty lips curved into a smile. “Precisely.”

“But whom are they feeding on?” Emme asked quietly.

“Four buses filled with tourists disappeared en route to Tahoe a few days past,” Misha said. “I suspect they emptied them with as much prey as they could manage, and disposed of the vehicles over a ravine.”

Taran groaned. “That sounds like a lot of strategizing for bloodthirsty creatures.”

Misha moved with pantherlike grace. “In the early phases of bloodlust, those infected maintain some ability to reason. They often hunt in packs to achieve greater abundances of food. As the infection progresses, their greed takes over and their thought processes diminish.”

Emme hurried to catch up to me, her voice trembling. “And they grow strong enough…to lift buses?”

Misha paused. “Much time has passed, my dear. It’s likely they can now raise a vehicle of that weight.”

Emme’s eyes widened. “But they’re not very bright, right? At least that’s something.”

Emme always strove to think positively. Taran…not so much.

“No, Emme. They’re just big, dumb-ass idiots with supernatural speed and the ability to beat us to death with a damn Greyhound Express so they can suck on our organs like Tootsie Pops.”

“Zip it, Taran,” I muttered when Emme blanched.

A sudden feeling of dread hit me like a rush of wind. The vampires hissed, low and furious, spinning to locate the threat. My beast beat against my chest, demanding to be released. I soothed her: Easy, girl. In her haste to protect me, she could get careless, and we both needed our wits about us.

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