Home > Born in Fire (Fire and Ice Trilogy #1)(12)

Born in Fire (Fire and Ice Trilogy #1)(12)
Author: K.F. Breene

“Dude, don’t be that guy,” I said, not looking up. “No one likes the creepy guy.”

Footsteps sounded behind me and echoed around the walls. I patiently awaited an attack. Nothing happened.

I kept moving, my breath even, my senses on high alert.

Metal scraped against the ground, loud and obvious. Someone wanted attention.

“Yes, Timmy, I hear you. You don’t have to shout.” I kept walking, not looking back or to the sides. Ignoring their intimidation tactics. Bullies hated that.

“You smell delicious,” a woman said from directly above me in a thick, lust-filled voice.

She had a good sniffer, I had to give her that. The columns were right beside me now, but the platform was still at least thirty feet up. That was a long distance for my smell to travel.

“That means a lot, coming from you,” I said, careful not to pick up my pace, even though I was a bit worried that someone would soon want to see if the smell matched the taste.

“We’re going to peel your skin off and lick your bones clean,” someone else called.

“Good grief, that escalated quickly,” I muttered. “I’m bored. Do I have much further to go?”

As if I’d voiced a command, vampires filed out in front of me, clogging the way. Black gums sported elongated fangs. As I watched, claws extended from their fingers, which turned long and bony. Their bodies widened, ripping the fabric of their clothes until the destroyed garments slid to the ground. Skin, once all shades of human-colored, melted into the gristly green of younger vamps, slower and weaker than their older counterparts. They hunched and hissed at me, swampy and gross.

It was the vampire fighting form. Like when shifters turned into animals, vampires could become swamp monsters to gain speed, strength, and magical power. The fact that they’d ruined their clothes to show me their power look meant this was part of the show. Another intimidation tactic.

“Ah, look, wee babies.” I laughed. “How’d it feel, going to bed with a beautiful vampire and then waking up to this? Ugly stuff. Did you guys freak out? I totally would’ve.”

One stepped out from a trail to my right, jerky and much too close. “Ew.” I curled my lip and scrunched my nose. Also for show. “Don’t get slime on me; these are new pants.”

“They are in their most perfect form,” someone said in a haughty tone from above.

“Yeah, keep on telling them that, bro. See if it helps.” I put my hand to the side of my mouth like I was whispering secret knowledge. “Do yourself a favor, everyone. Keep practicing the control of your human form. There is no way the guy up there walks around looking like a swamp thing. Not that I can verify that, since he’s hiding in the darkness like a coward.”

A sheet of some kind fluttered down from the platform. It had been used to render the vampire invisible somehow. A pasty mustard-green monster, with long, matted hair falling over its bony shoulders, stepped forward on bowed legs. Its skin sank between its ribs. At the end of its stringy arms curved large, razor-sharp claws.

“Good Lord.” I held up my hand to shield my eyes. “Put it away, man!”

“Show the proper respect, little girl, or you will meet a most unpleasant fate.”

“Don’t pretend you have any say in what goes on down here. Your gross, hanging balls show your age, and they aren’t nearly low enough for you to be an elder.” I had no idea if that was true, but I was pretty sure the colors went from green, being newer, to the pasty white-green of the elders. I had no idea why it dipped into yellow and mustard in the middle levels, only that I’d seen some monster forms like this guy’s. He wouldn’t be too fast or skilled.

A newbie on the path in front of me jerked, which turned into a stilted walk forward. Black took up its eyes, banishing the whites. Saliva dripped from its fangs, something that happened when a vamp was about to feed.

Newbies didn’t have much control over their need for blood. This all might unravel in the next few moments.

I stared at it, ready for action. “If you lose control and try to bite me, I will kill you. Do you understand me?” I raised my voice. “Do you all understand me? I’ll play nice until you go for my neck. Then vampires will die. That is the only warning you’ll get.”

Laughter crowded the space above me. They wouldn’t be laughing when I fulfilled my threat.

More sheets fluttered away and sailed toward the ground. I half wanted to rush over and grab one. Those would be really handy on the job.

Someone grabbed the hungry newbie and pulled it to the side. The throng of monsters parted in front of me, revealing a naked vampire in human form blocking my way. Huge and rippled with muscle. His fangs were elongated, distending his jaw, and his eyes were wells of black. Not handsome like many of the others, it looked like his face had been hit with a bat a few times. Nothing else had changed yet, meaning he had some control. When he stepped forward, though, showing a jerky movement, I realized that while he might not be a newbie, he wasn’t far from it. His control to keep from biting me and draining me dry would be slippery, at best. A fight would bring out his urges that much more.

Not to mention he was a mammoth of a man.

He had been sent to kill me. Or try, anyway. Clearly this was a test.

“Well holy-moly, look at you. You’re a big mother-trucker.” I whistled. The vampires around me made a circle, either trying to keep me from running, or excited for the fight. Probably both.

“It’s a lovely day in the neighborhood…” I sang as I took out my sword. I paused. “I am supposed to kill you, right? We aren’t getting ready for a thumb war?”

“Oou’re aun insif-icat ooman!” Meat-grinder Face said.

“What’s that? You’ve got fangs in your mouth…”

“Fight to the death,” a lovely voice rang out, musical and cultivated.

“And that is why the human form is so useful. Communication.” I ripped out my gun, sighted, and shot. The bullet tore through the big vamp’s chest, just missing his heart.

Dang it. That was almost cool.

I shot him in the legs. Mostly.

He crumpled to the ground with a roar.

I slammed my gun in its holster and ran forward. The huge vampire roared again as his body changed. He flailed and then pushed himself upward, roaring a third time.

“You’re angry, we get it.” I kicked him in the face, flinging him away from one of his planted hands. I swung down with my sword. It hacked into his neck a fraction, not even making it a quarter of the way through.

“Holy shiznit—what are you made of, iron?” I hacked down again as his tree-trunk arm lashed out. I dove over it and rolled back onto my feet, pushing the circle of vampires wider.

Meat-grinder staggered to his feet, and I could see that his neck was already trying to stitch itself back together. This one healed at an incredible rate, even for a vampire. I saw now why they’d chosen him.

His fist came around, fast. I ducked and thrust forward, stabbing him through the stomach, a nonlethal area. He staggered back instead of bending over it, so I hammered a foot into his balls. He bent in time to meet my fist’s upward swing. His nose smashed, sending a gush of black blood over his face. I leapt onto his chest like a spider monkey, helping his backward fall. His arms windmilled, but there was too much momentum.

Timber!

I rode him down until his back hit the ground. Nimbly, I hopped off, planted my feet to either side of him, and stabbed down with everything I had. The blade pierced his chest, prompting a monstrous sort of squeal. Thick black sludge oozed out of his chest while his body started to disintegrate.

Panting, I took a cloth from my pouch and wiped off my blade. I dropped the cloth on the body, since it had to be cleaned up anyway, and started forward, continuing down the path again.

A stringy vampire in its fighting form hissed at me as I passed by. When I didn’t react, it leaned toward my neck.

I turned and thrust my sword through the vampire’s gut. Its eyes rounded and the hiss turned into a howl. It staggered backward, holding its stomach.

“Don’t do that.” I shook my head at it and took out another cloth—I’d brought several.

   
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