Not exactly vampire chic, as pop culture defined it, but Myrnin wasn’t one for fitting in. Ever.
He looked up at her, black hair falling back from his moon-pale face, and said, "Well? Jump!"
It was one thing for a vampire. Quite another for a breakable, not-too-athletic human. Claire shook her head. Myrnin sighed, tugged at his hair with both hands as if wanting to pull out his brain by the roots, and then seemed to have a bright idea. He dashed off into the darkness.
A moment later, he was back, carrying a ladder–and not their ladder. He’d ripped it off from a neighbor, Claire guessed. Well, it was better than jumping.
The climb down was chilly and scary, because Myrnin didn’t think about bracing the ladder, which bounced and shifted uneasily with every step she took. Claire jumped the last couple of rungs, landing flat-footed, and whispered, "Where did this thing come from?"
"Oh, out there," Myrnin said, and waved vaguely at the darkness. "We don’t have time for niceties. Keep up, please."
Oh, right. Myrnin didn’t drive, so there was no car; that meant walking. In the dark. In Vampire City. Well, at least she had an escort, although he had longer legs and didn’t bother to slow down for her, so she had to almost jog to stay with him.
"What’s going on?" she asked, by the time they’d reached the corner of Lot Street. The streetlight was out. Most of the streetlights in Morganville stayed off when you needed them most. "What’s the emergency?"
"I found out who killed your friend."
"Oh." She sucked in a deep breath as they crossed the street and took a right, heading for Founder’s Square in the center of town. "Who?"
It was a simple question, but she didn’t expect a simple answer. Myrnin was always being vague when she most needed clarity.
So it surprised her when he said, "Do you actually want to know?"
"Of course I do!"
"Think carefully before you answer. Do you want to know, Claire?"
That sounded…ominous. And Myrnin sounded very, very serious and in control, which was odd, to say the least.
"Is there some reason I shouldn’t?" she asked. He glanced over at her, and she was unsettled again by the concern in his expression.
"Yes," he said. "Several that I can think of."
"Then why drag me out of bed about it?"
"Not my choice. Amelie’s orders. Trust me, I objected. I was overruled."
Claire concentrated on walking for a few moments, until the pale glow of the lights from Founder’s Square warmed the night ahead of them. The houses they passed were silent and dark. Apart from a few barking dogs, nobody seemed to notice them.
"Tell me," she said. "Tell me before we get there. It’s better if I know what I’m walking into."
"I knew you’d say that." She couldn’t decide whether Myrnin approved or sounded resigned about it. "Very well. It’s Eve’s brother. Jason."
Jason.Well…that didn’t shock her quite as much as it probably should have. Jason had sat with them at their dinner table. He’d even kind of saved her life once. But on the other hand, he’d terrorized her, threatened her, and he’d actuallyhurt Shane. With glee. Jason was not a good person, deep down.
"Eve’s going to be so upset," Claire said. She couldn’t imagine how bad her friend would feel; Eve had been so excited about Jason’s supposed turnaround, so supportive of his attempts to make himself better. And now this. It would knock her flat.
"You’re not surprised."
"Not…really. I mean, I’m disappointed more than surprised. I wanted him to be…better."
"Ah, Claire." Myrnin shook his head and reached out to give her a quick, fierce, one-armed hug. "You want us all to be better than we are. That’s charming, and alarming. I’ve disappointed you many times."
"Not like this."
"Very much like this," he said. "But perhaps not so bloodily."
"What’s going to happen to him?"
Myrnin gave her a long, sideways look. She realized that it maybe wasn’t the most perceptive question she’d ever asked. "No," she said. "No, Myrnin. He didn’t kill a vampire, no matter how it turns out. Human violence gets judged and punished by humans. That’s the rule."
"Amelie makes the rules, dear child."
They were in a relatively deserted part of town now, heading for Founder’s Square. Normally, Claire wouldn’t have liked walking out here in blazing noon sun, not even with an escort, but having a vampire at her side had made her careless.
She never saw it coming, not until Myrnin suddenly stopped and raised his head, face gone still and unnaturally pale in the silvery moonlight. He usually had a kind of awkwardly angled grace that was almost human, but now he took on that weird vampire stillness that made Claire feel so…clumsy. So vulnerable.
Except Myrnin hadn’t abruptly gone all fangy on her; he was focusing on something out in the dark.
"Claire," he said, in a low, soothing, carefully controlled voice. "I would like you to take out your mobile phone and call the police, please. Do that now. Perhaps that emergency number."
It was so utterly un-Myrnin that it scared her into fumbling her phone out of her pocket. "Why?" she whispered, as she started punching the three numbers in.
"Because it’s an emergency," he said, and then somethinghit him , something faster than Claire could
actually see, and she’d only just gotten the 911 entered and hadn’t pressed call, and before Myrnin fell, something had her wrist in a crushing grip. She had a confused impression of a stench like the worst body odor in the world, like poor Stinky Doug times a thousand, and a feverish glitter of eyes, and a face that looked like a skeleton with skin stretched over it…….
With sharp, sharp,sharp fangs that glittered like knives and were heading straight for her throat.
Myrnin hit him–it?–with so much force that the two vampires skidded at least fifty feet, rolling and punching and fighting, and Claire realized that just standing there like a total idiot might not be the best survival strategy. She felt numb and stupid with shock, but she saw the glowing blue screen of her phone in the grass, scrambled for it, and hit the call button. She looked around wildly, trying to get her bearings; it all seemed dark and murky and strange, but she saw the street sign in the faint gleam of the underpowered streetlight at the corner.
She was only two blocks from Founder’s Square.
Claire ran, holding the phone to her ear. Her heart was beating so fast it felt like a sledgehammer hitting her chest. The sidewalk was dark, very dark, but she didn’t worry about cracks or uneven pavement or anything else but running as fast as she possibly could, heading for the somewhat questionable safety of even more vampires, and,God , she couldn’t believe she was runningto the vampires, but that thing, that thing wasn’t–
"Nine-one-one. What is your emergency?"
She didn’t have any breath, she realized. Claire gasped out something about where she was and was about to try to explain what the hell had just happened, when she tripped and the phone went flying as she lost her balance and momentum carried her forward into what was going to be a bone-snapping impact with the pavement.
She got her hands in front of her, but it wasn’t the pavement she hit.
It was Myrnin, who caught her, gave her a look she couldn’t read at all, and grabbed her fallen phone when she pointed numbly at it. He had blood on his face and long, animal scratches that were healing slowly. His clothes were ripped and shredded, too.
Without another word, he scooped her up in his arms and ran for Founder’s Square. It didn’t take long–thirty seconds, maybe–but Claire used the time to get her head back together and try to slow down her flailing heartbeat.You’re not going to die. Calm down.
She ran it through her head again. Myrnin’s alarm. The glimpse of that skeletonized face. The smell of death.
That had been a starving, savage vampire, and in Morganville, that shouldn’t be happening. Vampires had ready access to the blood bank, if nothing else. If they were lawbreakers, they had plenty of easy targets. How did one get that skeletal, that savage? And why attackMyrnin first, before going for her? She’d had the feeling it had come for her only because she was calling for help.
It didn’t make sense.
"Something’s going on," she said as they turned the corner and she saw Founder’s Square dead ahead. "Put me down."
"I’m fine," Myrnin said, and stopped to let her slip down to a standing position. "Thanks for asking, Claire. Considering I subjected myself to unimaginable danger to protect the contents of your veins and your immortal soul, one might imagine you to be able to ask." He was trying to be the old, casual Myrnin, but he was rattled, badly rattled. Claire found herself clutching her phone like a life preserver as she stepped away from him, and also realized that the police were still on the other end of the line, asking questions.