A man can get tunnel vision during battle. He fixates on the sight of blood spurting from a white throat or the smell of charred flesh. If he’s trained, he can still fight the demons, the blackhearted Bak-Faru he’s likely seen only in a book, but a large part of his mind still fixates on one hideous thing. For Patrick Lewis, it was the taste in the air: blood and bile. Metallic and bitter, it made his throat close and his chest heave. But he had enough training to fight even if he was coming late to the battle.
The screams reached him first. He was in the San Bernardino Botanical Garden, so the sound could travel far, especially at night. He was running full-tilt for the grove when the smell hit him, the smell and that taste in the air.
He didn’t even stumble: that was how well trained he was. But his mind was so caught up in not retching that he almost missed the sight of his first live Bak-Faru. The thing was humanlike. Large and dark haired, it had eyes that glowed bright lavender in the night. Patrick’s mother had told him the demon gate was being used, and indeed, attuned as he was to nature, he’d felt each and every tremor as something passed through. Still, he hadn’t actually believed such disaster was possible until now, seeing one, two…no, make that four of the creatures walking away. Two sported wounds—jagged flesh that bled dark down their naked torsos. But the demons didn’t seem to be slowed.
Patrick didn’t think. He had seven ceremonial knives with him and began throwing. Score. The closest demon clutched his neck and stumbled, but didn’t fall. The monster’s companions barely glanced around, even when Patrick’s second knife lodged in one of their shoulder blades. They were intent on escape.
Patrick wanted to pursue. He even took a step forward, but the need to find his parents burned hotter. He had to get to the grove. Especially since his mother’s screams were growing weaker. Yet he had to go slowly. Much though it burned his gut, Patrick shifted from battle mode to stealth; it wouldn’t help his parents if he stumbled blindly into more of these creatures.
He slipped around a redwood and peered into the grove, where his tunnel vision returned with full force. His mind registered each sensation as a disparate element: the taste of bile in the air, the smell of death, and the clenching of his gut. He refused to look for long, searching the bodies on the ground with as much speed as he could manage.
He found his father first, with only one shoulder and half a chest; the rest was burned to oblivion, as if a rocket had burst through him. Numbness seeped into Patrick’s spirit. At least his dad hadn’t felt any pain.
Patrick stumbled, scanning the rest of the bodies. He found his mother. She wasn’t as lucky as his father. She’d been gutted by a short blade, or more likely, by long claws. Blood and bile poured relentlessly from her into the ground where she lay. She was still alive.
Patrick skidded to a halt in the dirt beside her, but there was nothing for him to do; too much of her was spilled across the ground. His hands hovered uselessly above her torn belly. What could he do? He dialed 911 and stammered out details. The operator was speaking to him, but he didn’t hear her because his mother opened her eyes. The phone left his ear as he leaned forward. He opened his mouth to reassure her. He was going to lie, to say that she’d be just fine, but all that came out was a single word:
She focused on him and her expression softened. She struggled to speak, her voice a bare whisper, and Patrick lowered his head as close to her mouth as he dared.
“Run,” she said.
He straightened enough to look into her eyes. “They’re gone. The…” He couldn’t bring himself to name the monsters, the creatures of nightmare that had at last returned to his world. “They’ve left.”
His mother swallowed, and he was sure he saw relief in her gaze. He grabbed her hands, his mind scrambling for something to do. “Hang on,” he said.
“Find her,” she replied. “Close…the gate.” She was fading; he could see it. Her eyes were growing more distant, and her hands were like ice. He wanted to strip off his shirt to cover her, but he would have missed her next words.
“Draig-Uisge,” she said. It shocked him to hear his druidic title spoken with such command. “Find her…the Phoenix Tear. Close the gate. Permanently.” Then his mother shut her eyes and was gone forever.
Xiao Fei Finney didn’t like to hunt vampires. It was too dangerous, and she was too vulnerable. But she liked illegal fang activity in Chinatown even less.
The area residents had reported the crimes to the police, of course. They’d told the authorities about the drug addicts sucked dry and dumped between the ginger market and the dumpling palace. Xiao Fei’s boss, Mrs. Wang, had even made a big stink about a pair of lovers who’d disappeared under mysterious circumstances. But B-Ops in Los Angeles—the government agency set up to handle illegal paranormals and discord between the species—had bigger problems than a rogue vamp or two, even if all of Chinatown was afraid to go out at night. Truth was—according to the news reports—vamp and werewolf tension was ratched up all through the rechristened “Crimson City,” and everybody was afraid to go out day or night.
Everybody, of course, but several too-cocky fangs and the vigilantes who hunted them.
This particular rogue vamp’s name was Stan, and he was systematically buying out an entire block of Gin Ling Way. His plan was to corner the local gambling, racketeering, and whoring market. His method was whatever worked: intimidation, seduction, vamp conversion….
The last, of course, had been the final straw. When one of Chinatown’s young sons showed up with fangs, the remaining sons and daughters had to act. Xiao Fei hadn’t planned the trap—that was Bei Ling’s job. He was young—nineteen to be exact—but he was smart, methodical, and well-liked. In short, people followed him, whereas they simply thought Xiao Fei was weird. They were right, of course, but that didn’t make her any less lonely.
In any event, they all knew where Stan and his thugs would show up next: Chen’s China Emporium. Old Mr. Chen wouldn’t sell his little slice of America to anyone at any price, so all they had to do was hide up and down the block, guns at the ready, until Stan’s fellow fangs tried to make a move.
Xiao Fei had her favorite weapon—a Glock 27—strapped to her ankle. She’d carried a pistol since leaving Cambodia. Still, as the best marksman in the group, she had a tranq rifle in her hands and had put herself in a good sniping position.
Stan’s crew walked like petty royalty—or the newest Hollywood celebs—straight down the center of the street. There was poor Donny Li Chen. Only two weeks a vamp, and he already looked just like the others.
If it were up to her, Xiao Fei would have waited until they did something illegal—threw a brick at a window, threatened an old lady, hell, even kicked a dog. But she wasn’t in charge, and Pei Ling wasn’t like her, a refugee from harder lands; he had the impatience of an American-born Chinese. He waited only long enough for the fangs to make it past the first two shooters; then he hit the signal: an air horn loud enough to startle anyone who wasn’t expecting it. Hell, Xiao Fei was expecting it, and still she jerked.
The vamps flew straight up into the air, just as predicted. Then the shooting began. The others in Xiao Fei’s team had basic guns: single barrel, normal bullets. The plan was to make vampire Swiss cheese of the henchmen, knock them out of the sky and finish them off. Donny and Stan were Xiao Fei’s responsibility.
All vamps were strong, but some were less so than others. Especially the newly turned. Donny went down first, real easy, her dart in his midsection. Xiao Fei executed a practiced wrist flip, and another dart dropped into her gun. Then she sighted… Where the hell was the leader? Where was Stan?
There. He’d already been shot a few times. It didn’t seem to be slowing him down, but the bullets had knocked him against a building, and he’d tumbled afoul of a string of New Year’s lanterns.
Gung Ho Fat Choy. Happy New Year, vamp, she thought with a smile. You get to be cured. She pulled the trigger and a dart blossomed from his neck. Flip-swish. Sight and squeeze. Another dart appeared just below his collarbone. Flip-swish one more time, and he was down, snoozing on the pavement, right next to Donny and bits of vamp cheese that would never bite anything again.
Xiao Fei put her sights back on Donny. She was pretty sure Stan would stay down; three darts would take care of Dracula himself. As for the other vamps… She would just have to trust Bei Ling’s crew had done their jobs. Meanwhile, she prayed that Stan’s legion of girlfriends were busy doing their nails and not about to drop down as reinforcements.
She bit her lip, abruptly lifting her gun to scan the skies. She loved Pei Ling like a brother, and he could make a damn fine ha gow, but this was her life on the line. Forget watching the sleeping Donny; she was going to look for vamp reinforcements.
The air horn blared again. All clear. Apparently no other fangs were coming. She scanned the skies one more time, weapon at the ready. Her peripheral vision showed all four of her companions moving with no ill effects. Nothing new dropped out of the sky. Nothing erupted from side streets. Everything really was all clear.
She waited another ten seconds, watching without moving as the others grabbed Donny and Stan and dragged them into the acupuncture shop. Pei Ling remained in the street to set fire to the bullet-riddled vamp bodies, and to bellow up at her.
“Xiao Fei, hurry up!”
She winced. Did he have to shout her name like that? Did he really think that they were safe just because they’d caught these two vamps? But that was an ABC for you: never enough paranoia to survive in a war zone. Well, her position was given away now. With one last look around, she straightened into a half crouch and skittered down the fire escape. Now came the real work.
* * *
“Wow. Awesome playground.”
Patrick ignored Hank’s reverent tone as he powered up his mother’s massive computer. His druid friend stroked the flat screen while behind him Hank’s girlfriend Slick fingered a silk jacket his mother had bought in Vietnam for seven dollars.
“Where’d she get all this stuff?” Slick asked.
Patrick didn’t answer. He’d long since gotten used to the layers of scrolls, dusty fans, and various Asian paraphernalia that perpetually surrounded his white mother. Still, he couldn’t stop himself from reaching out and stroking a carved sandalwood fan that scented the air next to the monitor. Then his eyes drifted to a photo from his tenth Christmas. Even at twelve, his sister had been a beauty, and his brother had the geek glasses and pocket protector of the genius accountant he would eventually become. But what Patrick noticed most was his mother’s bright Asian scarf knotted about her neck. It had a batik design in brilliant red, the perfect accent to her dark green gown. And yet, despite all that, it was her face that glowed. She was no beauty by even a fond son’s standard, but she had a vibrancy inside her that outshone even that brilliant red scarf.
His gaze drifted to his father, Mr. Stem Hard-Ass, as he’d used to call him. Except in this photo, Mr. Hard-Ass wasn’t disciplining his children. He wasn’t even looking all professorish and serious. He was gazing at his wife with such devotion that Patrick was stunned he hadn’t ever noticed before. His father had loved his mother. Passionately, devotedly, and…
And it was over now because they were both dead.
The computer trilled—new e-mail for his mom—and Patrick forced himself to focus. Behind him, Slick and Hank had begun to bicker.
“Don’t touch that,” Slick ordered. “It’s like a violation or something. I mean, they’re—”
“I know what they are,” Hank snapped. “I…I know. I saw.”
“So don’t touch—”
“Find the monk’s book,” interrupted Patrick. “Handwritten in Chinese characters. It’ll have Mom’s translation on blue paper folded inside. I think it’s over there.”
He gestured randomly, pleased that his voice didn’t shake. There was precious little time before the authorities showed up. Once the bodies were found, then everything would be frozen for the investigation. He had to be long gone by then. Hopefully, he’d have found the Phoenix Tear and closed the demon gate before anyone brought him in for questioning. Before he had to deal with…
He pushed his grief away. As Draig-Uisge, pain had no place in his heart.
“Damn, they’re all written in Chinese,” grumbled Hank. “How the hell are we supposed to—”
“Let him be,” Slick hissed. “Just look for the blue papers—”
Patrick bit out an order before the bickering sent him postal. “Hank, I need the file on Phoenix Tears. From that cabinet.” He pointed, and Hank immediately hauled open a drawer.
“It’s in Celtic, Hank.”
His friend growled again. “Jesus. Isn’t there anything you need in English?”
Patrick didn’t answer. He was too busy typing. Thankfully, he knew his mother’s passwords. Her research was too important not to be coded, but her son was the Draig-Uisge and her nearest research partner. He knew her security protocols better than anyone.
“Got nothing in English or Celtic,” Hank called.
“Try ‘tears’ Phoenix Tears. They’re a Cambodian cult,” Patrick responded. “Bunch of girls with tattoos.”
“Cult?” Slick gasped. “Like a sex cult?”
Patrick shook his head as he scanned his mother’s e-mail for anything she hadn’t been able to tell him yet. Ever. Because she’d never— Once again, he cut off his thoughts. “They’re not sex girls, they’re bleeders. Hemophiliacs.”
“Got it!” Hank’s voice merged with the sound of the file drawer rolling further open. “There’s a butt-load of… Holy mother, these are adoption papers! Xiao Fei Finney. This girl escapes war-torn Cambodia, gets adopted by an L.A. family, and gets saddled with Finney as a last name? Sometimes life just sucks.” He paused. “So, do we want her or the sister? They’re both here.”
Patrick frowned as he looked up. “Who’s got the tat?”
“She’s the one.”
Slick interrupted from Patrick’s side. “This the journal?” She waved a dark slim volume in front of his eyes.
“Yeah.” Patrick grabbed it and dropped it into his coat pocket—the same pocket where he kept his ceremonial knives. The same pocket where he should have had a gun, but he’d been too much of a traditionalist to learn modern weaponry. God, what an idiot he was. If only he carried a gun. If only he’d arrived a little earlier. If only Slick and Hank had been there on time. But they hadn’t, and now demons had killed…everyone.
Hank slammed the file drawer shut. “We’re taking all this to Pete?” He didn’t seem pleased with the thought, but that was the protocol. Demons had just massacred the entire San Bernadino druid circle, save the Draig-Uisge. Peter the Pompous Prick was the leader of Hank’s circle, the largest California druid group, the one in L.A. He ought to be notified. And yet, the thought of putting that man in charge of a war against demons turned Patrick’s stomach.
Slick set a hand on his shoulder, her small fingers warm and intensely irritating. Patrick shrugged her off, but he couldn’t stop her question. “Are you sure it was demons?”
“Yes.” He bit the word off. They’d known there was movement between the demon world and Earth. His father had felt it. Patrick, with the amulet burning a hole against his chest, had felt it from the very beginning. That’s why they’d chosen to meet tonight. That’s why they’d asked Hank to come up from L.A. They were going to discuss plans for how to combat…
“That’s why they hit us tonight,” he murmured, slowly realizing what he should have figured out right away. “The demons. They knew we could fight them. We had the knowledge and the…”
“The amulet,” murmured Hank.
Slick nodded. “They knew. And they took you out.”
“But how?” Hank said as he leaned against the dark metal cabinet.
“We knew because we were researching it!” Patrick snapped. “Because Mom…” He swallowed his words and set the file to print. His mother was a disastrous housekeeper, but her computer files were meticulous. He’d found all the electronic notes on Miss Xiao Fei Finney, one-time Phoenix Tear, and he knew what he had to do.
“Not how did you know about the demons,” Hank growled. “I get the whole feeling-the-energy thing.”
“Hank’s been practicing too,” Slick piped up with clear pride.
Hank acknowledged her with a warm glance, but his words were for Patrick. “I don’t understand how the demons knew about us. How did they know where to hit us and how?”
“They feel the amulet…,” Patrick began, but then his words faded away. “But they didn’t attack me. They didn’t even notice me.”
“Yeah,” Slick chimed in. “They went for the druid circle. Not ours in L.A., but yours out here. How did they know?”
The printer was still spitting out pages, so Patrick spent a moment to clear his thoughts. He had to focus. This was a chance to get information here without police interference. The last chance.
He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, fighting the waves of grief that threatened to drown him. He was the Draig-Uisge. He had a mission: Close the demon gate before all of Earth was overrun. Everything else would have to wait.
And yet, the scent of sandalwood, the whisper of silk, the intelligence that was his mother and the knowledge held by his father… He couldn’t think. He couldn’t breathe. They were dead.
“Patrick. Buddy. Dude, don’t fade on us now.”
“Leave him alone. He’s just lost—”
“Jesus, Slick, I know what he’s just lost, but the whole freaking planet is at stake. We got demons on Earth!”
“I’m here,” Patrick interrupted, startled by how steady his voice sounded. As if his heart hadn’t just died with his parents. As if everything he’d ever known hadn’t just been ripped out from under him. “I’m the Draig-Uisge,” he finally said. “I will end this.”
“Yeah,” said his friend with obvious doubt. “But how? I mean, I’m here to help and all—”
“We’re here,” Slick corrected.
Hank nodded. “But what’s the plan?”
Patrick shrugged as he bent to retrieve the print-out. He grabbed Xiao Fei’s adoption papers with his other hand. He already had the druid book of spells; his father had passed it on to him when he’d become their enforcer. Their Draig-Uisge. His father had…
“You go tell everything to Pete. Let him figure out the whys and wherefores. He’s good at that.” And Pete was. A born researcher intent on multiplying his little academic kingdom, Mr. Pompous Prick would be great at understanding what happened—afterwards. But in the present…
“You’re going to find this Finney girl, aren’t you?” Slick’s voice was nervous. “Do you think she’s in danger from the demons?”
Patrick didn’t answer. The more important question was whether she was in any danger from him, the Draig-Uisge. He moved toward the office door. He had to get to L.A., but Slick grabbed his arm, holding him back with surprising strength. When he turned to glare at her, she glared right back.
“Why do you need this girl?” she pressed.
How to explain? “I shape energy. I can use it to seal the demon gate.”
She brightened. “Awesome. But why do you need—”
“But I need power. I can shape the power, but I can’t create it.”
Hank stepped up and gently tugged his girlfriend’s hand away. “The girl Xiao Fei has the power,” he explained.
Slick glanced at the adoption photo. Patrick didn’t need to look down to know what she saw: a hollow-eyed Cambodian waif. Even on this printed copy of a copy, Xiao Fei looked lost and dirty and empty of everything except a painful confusion.
“She’s just a kid!” Slick exclaimed.
“She’s in her twenties now and lives in Chinatown.”
“But nothing,” interrupted Hank. “Demons are here on Earth. If the Draig-Uisge can stop—”
“It’s in her blood.” Patrick used his words to clarify his purpose. Somehow stating his meaning out loud made it that much clearer exactly what he had to do. “She bleeds and creates power.”
Stunned silence. Then Hank cleared his throat. “How much power?”
“How much blood?” asked Slick.
Patrick shrugged. “Enough power to un-turn vamps and werewolves, according to that monk’s journal.”
“Whoa…,” Hank murmured. Patrick didn’t stay to respond. Instead, he pushed past them out the door. He knew without looking that the two would fall into flanking positions behind him. They did, but Slick could not keep silent.
“Patrick! How much blood?”
He growled, annoyed with her for the question, annoyed with himself for having to answer. “All of it,” he finally spit out. “Unless I can find a different way.”
Slick’s voice came from just behind his right shoulder, her words a little breathless as she tried to keep up with his rapid pace, “Is there a different way?”
“Maybe.” He’d studied the texts. Hell, he’d been the one to find the texts. He’d cross-referenced, re-translated, even sent it to other druids around the globe in the hope that he was wrong. But he and his father were the foremost experts in arcane druid spells. They hadn’t gotten it wrong.
Closing the demon gate required three things. First, an energy source—Xiao Fei’s blood. Second, a shaper of energy. That was the Draig-Uisge’s special talent, beyond killing people. And lastly, a way for the Draig-Uisge and the power source to sync up. They had to merge their energies such that he could shape her power. How to do that? They had to have sex.
Which meant he had to copulate with a complete stranger, bleed her during the act, and then use her energy to close the demon gate. All before the demons found and killed them both. And if he failed, then Earth would fall to the beasts who had just massacred his dearest friends and family.
Crimson City had better watch out. The Draig-Uisge was off to spill some blood.
* * *
They were almost ready for her by the time she made it inside Wang’s Health Emporium. The acupuncture tables were not even remotely intended to restrain a vampire, but she worked here and the space was available—her companions had improvised with leather belts and rope. Assuming the two creatures remained unconscious, everything should be fine.
“How this gonna work?” Old Mr. Chen hovered nervously at the edge of the room where Donny lay. Good question, Xiao Fei thought with a grimace. Unfortunately, she couldn’t say so out loud. This was the man’s son after all.
She dredged up a reassuring smile that didn’t fool the old man for one second. Then she abandoned it in favor of a shrug and honesty. “I’ve never done this before. I don’t know if it will work at all. There was a monk in Cambodia who thought we could do it—change a vamp back. But we never got a chance to try. We Phoenix Tears never got a chance to try a lot of things.”
Mr. Chen nodded. He already knew this. They’d gone over it a million times. “Your blood,” he said.
She nodded and crossed to the unconscious boy. And he was a boy, she thought, as she stared at the slack-jawed vampire. His skin was unfed-pasty, and in sleep it sagged a bit and gave him a more childish look. Sad.
Because it was suffocatingly hot in the tiny room, Xiao Fei rolled up the sleeves of her black turtleneck. She rarely revealed her arms to anyone, and certainly not when she was out monster hunting. Still, there was little choice. She stared at Donny’s face, moving slowly into position. Mr. Chen craned his neck to watch, his wrinkled eyes wide as he tried to see.
Xiao Fei looked up. This may not be pretty, Mr. Chen. And it may not—”
“I stay.” He was adamant.
Xiao Fei nodded. At least Mrs. Chen wasn’t here. Apparently the woman was at home, crying herself to sleep over the loss of her son, blissfully ignorant that something unheard-of was being attempted in Crimson City tonight: unturning a vampire.
Xiao Fei put the razored thimble on her left thumb, then began the chant. She kept it soft, knowing the prayer itself had no effect. She had long since stopped believing in a beneficent deity—Buddha or otherwise. But the words helped focus her thoughts and drowned out the other noises in her head.
As she chanted, she extended her right forearm so that the third-lowest tattooed teardrop hovered just above Donny’s mouth. Then, at the appropriate moment, she pressed her left thumb to the tattoo.
The razor cut was quick and sharp, but she’d long since stopped reacting to pain. Her blood began to flow. Her chant changed to echo the blood-letting. First came a staccato beat to mimic the steady drip, but as her words came faster and more fluid, so too did the stream of blood. Without aid of the razor, the wound widened until it encompassed the whole of that tattooed teardrop. And the red stream poured strong and steady into Donny’s mouth.
Xiao Fei didn’t stop chanting. But she did slant an annoyed look at Pei Ling, whose large frame filled the doorway. He’d just planned and executed a vampire slaughter, then set fire to the fangs’ remains, and he was grossed out by at a little blood? It amused her how squeamish Americans could be.
“Uh, Fei…” he said, his skin going a little green. “You’re spilling.”
Xiao Fei’s attention flew back to her arm. Her blood still poured steadily into Donny’s mouth—dead center between the fangs—but the stupid phnong wasn’t swallowing. What now?
Fortunately, Mr. Chen had the answer. He stroked his son’s throat from chin to clavicle, just as if the boy were a dog who needed to swallow a pill. Stroke. Stroke. Stroke—swallow! She saw it. Mr. Chen saw it and praised Buddha. In the doorway, Pei Ling grunted.
A couple more strokes, a few more swallows, and then the convulsions began. Vamps were strong. Incredibly strong. And no leather belts were going to restrain him, especially as his body began violent spasms.
Donny’s eyes flew open, and Xiao Fei saw madness inside. A growl began low in his throat that quickly built into a howl both inhuman and piercingly loud.
“Damn,” Pei Ling cursed. “He’ll bring more fangs!”
Xiao Fei felt the same fear, but she couldn’t help. She was a small Cambodian refugee, too small to restrain Donny or muffle his cries. Besides, she had to focus and close her wound or the entire floor would soon be covered with her blood.
Pop! The belt across Donny’s chest burst. No way was he going to stay restrained.
Mr. Chen pressed down on his son’s shoulders. He spoke a garbled litany of pleas, prayers, and admonitions to behave, but he was old and not very strong. If Donny got his arm free, he might very well kill his father in his confusion.
Then Pei Ling was there, in a headfirst dive on top of Donny. It was a dangerous place to be—neck exposed on a crazed vampire—but Xiao Fei had never questioned her friend’s willingness to be foolish in the pursuit of a greater good. That too was very ABC.
She reached out to help, but her hands were slick with her own blood. Xiao Fei had to concentrate. She had to close her wound. She wouldn’t be good to anyone otherwise.
Stepping back, she forced herself to close her eyes and concentrate. The sealing chant came difficult and slow. It was hard to block out the grunts and howls of the scuffle, but she did and remained focused. That was her true power, after all. Mental focus. Prayerful attitude.
Her skin sealed. She felt the rush of warmth as health returned to her wrist and palm. She was whole once again. She opened her eyes, only now realizing the other sounds had ended. No feral growls. No frantic pleas. Were they all dead?
The first thing she saw was Pei Ling still atop Donny. His skin was slick with sweat, but his chest rose and lowered with breaths, and his face glowed pink with healthy blood flow. Beneath him Donny lay completely unmoving, but with steadily clearing eyes. Beside them both, Mr. Chen stared hopefully into his son’s eyes.
Donny was the first to speak. “What the fuck are you doing?” he growled—but in a completely human way.
Quick as lightning, Mr. Chen flicked him on the temple. “Shut up. We’re listening.”
“Ow!” Donny complained. “That hurt!”
Pei Ling lifted his head and grinned. “We have a heartbeat!”
“Are you sure?” Xiao Fei leaned forward. She hadn’t believed it was really possible. Not until this moment.
Pei Ling rolled off Donny, who grunted in relief. “Listen for yourself.”
Mr. Chen was there long before Xiao Fei could make herself move. He pressed his ear to his son’s chest. A moment later, his grin told the story. “My son,” he gasped, then abruptly began to cry even as he flicked Donny’s belly in punishment. “How could scare us so, you stupid boy? Why would you talk to those vampires? What were you thinking? I’ll tell you what you were thinking? Foolishness! Stupid, stupid…”
The man went on and on, ranting despite his son’s protests. It was just another parent-child argument in Chinatown, and Xiao Fei was weak with pleasure at the sound.
“Are you all right?” Pei Ling asked, his large hand warm on her elbow.
She nodded, unable to speak.
“Can you do the other one? You don’t have to, you know. We can just kill him. It’s all he deserves—”
“No!” she snapped, forcing her knees to straighten. “You don’t punish a patient for what he does from dementia. We won’t kill this one either.” She didn’t like vamps, but rogues…if she could save this one, maybe things would change.
Pei Ling sighed, his whole body shifting. He looked her in the eye. “Vampirism isn’t the same thing as dementia, Fei.”
She pushed his supportive arm away. “It’s a disease, nothing more. And I now have a cure.”
So saying, she mentally reinforced her spine with steel and made herself walk to the next treatment room. Two more members of the team were there, standing guard over their prisoner. They looked relaxed and happy, flushed with success.
“It’s not over yet,” she snapped, and was gratified to see them jump to attention. For a moment they even looked like real soldiers. Then she turned her attention to Stan.
This vampire was a lot healthier than Donny. Even with the rapidly healing bullet wounds, his skin was pink in color, and his body looked lean in the way of a fighting dog. His face was handsome, angular and sexy. He looked like a Hollywood bad boy.
“Some woman cried long and hard over this one,” she said.
Pei Ling grunted over her right shoulder. “These leather straps won’t be enough. I’ll get the ones from Donny.”
He didn’t take long. And yet, Xiao Fei was jittery by the time he was finished.
“Stay close!” Pei Ling ordered the others. “And don’t vomit.”
Xiao Fei felt her lips curl into a smile. Trust Pei Ling to remind everyone just how young he really was. Still, he deserved the respect the others gave him; he was smart and driven, if a bit squeamish. She began the chant.
This time, she used the second-to-last teardrop above her wrist. Her blood flowed, and amazingly the phnong swallowed on his own. Once. Twice. Five times in total before the convulsions began.
Pei Ling was prepared. The extra straps held in part because he and the two others clutched down whatever they could. That allowed Xiao Fei to pour more blood into the patient’s mouth. Which was when the screaming began. Howls, screeches, bellows of agony—all of it came from the phnong. They were bestial sounds, inhuman, and yet they had one of Xiao Fei’s helpers in tears. Pei Ling merely grew grimmer as he put all of his weight into holding down the vamp’s shoulders.
It took a lot longer this time. And the vampire clearly suffered agonies while the conversion went on. And on. And on. Everyone in the room was shaking by the time it was over. Sweat and fear and blood-smell poisoned the air. Then, finally, Stan surrendered to unconsciousness.
“Heartbeat,” Pei Ling said, his voice rough with strain.
“The bullet wounds aren’t healing like before either,” another team member piped up.
Xiao Fei nodded. “Human frailty returns. We should probably get him to a hospital.”
“I’ll do it,” Pei Ling volunteered, his voice strengthening with purpose. “I’m gonna be up all night anyway.” He turned his grimace into a wink. “Archeology exam tomorrow.” He was studying to get out of this neighborhood, to better himself. Through education he would take control of his life. She felt a flash of jealousy.
“Really?” Xiao Fei strove to make her voice normal, even casual. “Which region?”
He shook his head. “All of them. Curating.”
She nodded as if she understood. Some educational directions were beyond the realm of her experience. But Pei seemed to find his work fascinating, so she pretended interest while they all managed to awkwardly carry the ex-vamp to Pei’s car.
The others split up, one to help Pei, the other to help Donny and his dad. A half hour later, they were all gone. Which left Xiao Fei alone to clean up the shop. She wanted to erase all evidence of their activities, so she was extra careful. She even went outside to kick at the vamp ashes in the street.
Which was when she had her first black chill. It was strong enough to drop her to her knees. Her hands were sliced open on the gravel, her vision blacked out and she vomited right there in the street. It couldn’t be true, her mind screamed, and yet she knew it was. Her blood burned.
There was a demon nearby. Worse, it felt like a battalion of gun dan demons. And they were coming to Chinatown.