Blood Fever Page 41


We grappled, and I put a foot behind hers to trip her. We fell, and I let her roll on top of me. Here it came. We made like we were wrestling, but we had to make it quick. Anything more and it\d look too staged, too fake.


She slammed my shoulders down, and for a moment my head swam for real with the impact. I felt her hands wrap around my neck. Her eyes locked with mine, and I detected the slightest twitch in her eyelids. I twitched mine back. Do it, Emma. We were in this together. Friends forever.


Time to let my bestie kill me.


She squeezed, and panic swelled. I tried to suppress it. This was pretend. I\d be all right. We\d both come out alive. I had to trust her. I did trust her.


But still, cold panic and solitude began to swallow me. I was alone. I was being choked to death.


Not alone, I told myself. I tilted my head to catch another glimpse of Carden, standing at the edge of the gym. His strawberry-blond head rose above the rest as he waited for the moment I might need him.


I wouldn\ be afraid. I trusted Emma. Trusted Carden.


I pretended to writhe, but she pinched harder. Even though I\d pushed away the panic, as my vision dimmed, I began to writhe for real. My deep-seated animal instincts flared to life I couldn\ suppress those. I didn\ need to act out the hammering of my heels against the ring, the gasping of my mouth, automatic, like a fish out of water.


I let go. Forcefully, I crushed every one of my instincts. I suppressed my all-consuming urge to survive. I let it all go.


I blacked out.


The first thing I felt was cool air in my nostrils, filling my lungs. It felt so good, tasted so good.


My eyes fluttered open. I felt Carden, but I saw Ronan. Fury distorted his features. I didn\ understand. Was he angry I was dead? I willed him to look at me so he could see I was alive.


But he didn\ look, and then I caught sight of Yasuo, too, fuming, raging, his fangs bared. It hit me that everyone in the crowd was looking where they were.


I turned to see, and the pain in my neck was severe. I coughed, and my throat convulsively gagged and gulped, and I had to spit out the saliva that was too painful to swallow. I focused, and it took a moment to make sense of what I was looking at.


Emma\s feet dangled above the ground, kicking at the air. A hand held her up by the neck. Alcántara. He held her, dangling and flailing, but he stared at me. He waited for reality to register in my eyes and then gave me a slow smile.


I tried to mouth words, but couldn\ speak. I coughed again. What are you doing? I wanted to scream.


Her hands clawed at his, but he only tugged her closer. He wrapped a hand at her belly and used Emma\s own knife to slash her down the middle.


He dropped her to the ground, a lifeless, bloody heap, and finally I was able to make a sound. A keening, nonsense wail that tore my throat as it came out.


’’There is no cheating.’’ He looked out at the audience and proclaimed, ’’Only one shall emerge alive.’’


I scrambled to my hands and knees, scuttling to Emma. She was dead. I shrieked, pleading, ’’But it wasn\ her fault. Blame me. It was my idea. Punish me.’’


Alcántara slowly turned his head, looking at me with those eyes, cold like black stones. ’’I just did.’’


CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE


With the end of the semester came my ascension to Initiate. There weren\ many girls left from my original group, and the vampires held a torchlight ceremony for us in front of the standing stones. In the darkness, I couldn\ see the castle on the hill, but I felt it out there, looming. Full of secrets. The secrets of men.


Once it\d scared me. Now I saw it as a challenge.


The rest of the year was a numbed blur, and how bizarre it all was. Vampires and an oddly sentimental acknowledgment of Christmas, or Yule, as some of them chose to call it. There was a night of lights and incense and familiar melodies sung in eerily somber Latin.


It was so weird to think that somewhere in the world, people were out there, shopping at Target, and doing Black Friday and Cyber Monday and all that. While it felt so timeless here, just me and my new, dark blue catsuit.


Carden gave me a small gift a replacement for the throwing star I\d given to Mei-Ling, only this one bore a delicate feather pattern etched along its blades. ’’A lethal wing, for my wee dove to fly,’’ he\d told me. There was nothing in the world that could\ve been more perfect.


Well, maybe there was one thing. I don\ know how or from where, but Ronan had managed to steal back the photograph of my mother that\d been confiscated. He gave it to me as a gift...but also as a warning, he\d said, and it was his accompanying advice that was the only thing to sully what was such an extraordinary surprise. The photo was a reminder, he\d said, of who I was. Of being human. In those words, I heard his recognition and admonishment of my relationship with Carden.


I tried to shrug it off and just enjoy the picture. Because I was also determined to enjoy my vampire. McCloud was a greater comfort to me than I\d ever known.


I tried to contact Yasuo, had even asked Josh to intervene, planning ’’accidental’’ run-ins, all to no avail. Once, in the dining hall, I\d caught his eyes on me, gleaming with fury and blame.


He hadn\ spoken to me since Emma\s death. He was so angry. So sad. But it was okay. So was I.


Yasuo wasn\ the only one who wanted revenge.



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