Water and soap, lots of it—the fancy, scented stuff—seemed to do the job. I watched the blood sluice off my body, dissolving into clumps, turning into a pinkish-brown froth then swirling down the drain. It should be scaldingly hot, but I barely felt any warmth. I couldn’t close my eyes when I shampooed my hair, I couldn’t even blink. And I knew why. I was terrified that I’d open my eyes and find myself under a blood-red sky again, lying among corpses.
I tried to focus on cleaning myself up. It was strange: it had taken me seconds to kill the hunters, but the better part of an hour to wash the evidence off my body. At the end, I stood in front of a steamed-up mirror, looking into the eyes of a boy who was entirely different to the one I’d seen in every other reflection before.
This boy only had one arm. And he didn’t blink. He had muscles too—wiry, bulging things that he’d never had as a human. His face was gaunt, yet handsome. Skin pale, yet unblemished. Even his black hair wasn’t the same as it used to be, now it was fuller, darker.
I don’t know how much time passed staring into the mirror. But it was long enough for me to realise I hadn’t inhaled once. So I didn’t need to breathe, or blink for that matter… How was I any different to a walking corpse? What else didn’t I need anymore? Food and water? My stomach didn’t grumble, but my throat was parched.
I cupped my hand under the tap and splashed some water into my mouth. Nothing changed, my throat still felt dry. I didn’t want to think about the one thing that could quench this thirst, though I was well aware what it was. My eyes went back to the mirror. I opened my mouth, ran my tongue over my teeth. No fangs. That was a relief, if only a small one.
I wondered what other myths were false. I probably couldn’t turn into a bat, though I suppose I couldn’t rule it out yet. Would sunlight kill me? Probably. Why else would this sanctuary be underground, without a window in sight? So I’d never see another sunrise.
My head dropped to the sink, to my one remaining hand. I clenched and unclenched my fist. In seventeen years, this hand had done so much. It had furiously written answers to exam questions until its fingers cramped. The thumb had slammed the spacebar key thousands of times every time I updated my blog. The palm had cupped the cheek of the first boy I kissed.
Only hours ago, this hand had killed men. It tore off limbs and crushed bones. It saved my life by taking others away. In one night, it changed from an ordinary college-student’s hand to the hand of a murderer.
Yet it still looked the same. I wanted to squeeze my eyes shut and wish it all away. I wanted to wake up in my own bed and return to my old life. I wanted to hug my mother.
I hadn’t realised my fingers had made their way to my lips, until my teeth scraped against my fingernails. I pulled my hand away… there was still dried blood underneath the nails. It tasted like fudge.
Is this what Doctor Rose meant? The bloodlust, a thirst that controlled your body. I didn’t want it. I didn’t want any of this. I wanted to cry, but the tears didn’t come.
I wondered if they ever would.
I slammed my fist on the desk.
I wanted to knock off all Agnes’ stupid paperweights and grab her by the collar. The two guards behind her must have seen it in my eyes, because they took a step closer. Agnes raised a hand and shook her head at them.
“I don’t see what part of that you don’t understand,” she said, peeking over the top of her glasses, “we cannot interfere with vampires. The Treaty is still in place, and it must remain so.”
I scoffed, then turned to Sean and Mum. They stood behind me, silent as fucking mice.
I pointed at Sean. “What? You’ve got nothing to say? He’s your brother, and your mum thinks he’s dead. We could save him!”
He kept his head bowed and his mouth shut. The prick! My own mother wouldn’t even back me up. What was wrong with them?!
“Listen to me, Rosheen,” Agnes stood up and spread her hands over her desk.
“No, I’m not going to listen to your bullshit—”
“Fuck your ‘language’!” I balled up my fists. I was ready to tear this office down. Agnes’ magic would no doubt stop me, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to try. “Shay was one month away from being told of his Dracon heritage. We were supposed to protect him, but we let him die. Now, the Nosferatu, Britain’s most powerful vampire, has resurrected him and we’re supposed to just stand around? Do nothing?”
“You have no proof it was the Nosferatu.”
“Who else can raise the dead!”
“Seamus could have been turned into a vampire moments before his death.”
“I saw his corpse at the funeral.”
Agnes shook her head and opened one of the leatherbound books on her desk, flicked to a page and turned it for me to read.
“Vampires’ spawn undergo a death-like hibernation before they transform,” she said. “Their hearts stop beating and their blood stops flowing, while their bodies change from human to vampire. It can take over twenty-four hours, sometimes a week, before they awaken.”
I swept the book off her table. It bounced off the wall, narrowly missing one of the guards.
“So what?” I said, throwing up my hands. “Who cares if it was the Nosferatu, or the Mother of Sorrow, or the Vukodlak, or any other bloody vampire? He has Dracon blood, so he’s one of us. The Treaty says sorcerers can’t fuck with vampires, and vampires can’t fuck with sorcerers. Well, a vampire just fucked with us. The Treaty is broken.”
Agnes pinched the bridge of her nose. The guards exchanged glances. They’d probably never seen anyone speak to an Elder like this before. Well I was pissed, and I couldn’t give a shit if Agnes was the Prime Minister.
“Rosheen, sit down,” she said, then tapped the floor with her cane. “Everyone else, out.”
I didn’t sit. Sean, Mum and the guards all left the office. I didn’t watch them leave. My eyes wouldn’t move from Agnes’ face, but she refused to meet my gaze. The bitch knew I was right.
“Listen to me—”
“You won’t fu—”
She raised her hand and finally looked up at me. “Let me speak or, so help me God, I will turn every part of you but your ears to stone.”
I grit my teeth, swallowing my response. She was being serious.
“The Treaty, as you so eloquently put it, prevents vampires and sorcerers from meddling in each other’s affairs. Vampires are not allowed to feed on or convert sorcerers, and sorcerers are forbidden to hunt vampires. An all out war between our two factions would be devastating. Neither of us want that.
“But Seamus was not a sorcerer,” she continued, “he may have powerful magic in his blood, but it was dormant at the time. Therefore, any vampire is allowed to target him for whatever purpose they choose. London is, after all, vampire territory. So I will not approve a party to go and ‘rescue’ Seamus, because he belongs to the vampires now, and doing so would be considered an act of war.”
She was right. And she knew I was aware of it. I just… I couldn’t accept it. Shay was the closest thing to a brother I ever had. He was my best friend. And he wasn’t dead, he’d just been turned into a vampire’s slave. If I killed that vampire, I’d set him free. I had failed him but I could fix it!
I couldn’t rely on the Sorcerers’ Convent for help. Agnes just proved that. I didn’t care. I’d do it alone if I had to. Fuck the Treaty.
Agnes mistook my silence for agreement. Her tone softened.
“Seamus is gone. Whether he’s dead or a vampire-spawn doesn’t make any difference.” She pushed her glasses up her nose. I had to resist the urge to snatch them off her face and snap the wire-frames. Heartless bitch.
She sat there, hiding behind her mahogany office and her white coat, legs crossed, gray hair in the same bun as always, every curl frozen in place with magic. And that ridiculous top-hat. She didn’t have a care for anything other than herself and her own. I wanted to smack the mock-sympathy off her face.
“Do you understand now?”
I kept my balled-up fists behind my back and tried to keep my voice as calm as possible. My response still came out shaking with anger, but only barely.
With a satisfied nod, she motioned for me to see myself out.
Her office door had one of those stupid, fire-safety mechanisms that stopped me from slamming it behind me. I was tempted to use Nitoris and rip the door clean off its hinges, then throw it at Agnes’ face. But that wouldn’t end well. So I left my anger to seeth and bubble inside me, taking it out at the end of the hall—on the button to call the lift. I punched it, cutting my knuckle.
The doors opened almost immediately. Sean was inside. His eyes were blood-shot, bags drooping underneath.
I stepped to his side. The last thing I wanted was to speak to him. He must’ve felt the same way, because he didn’t say a word. Until the lift-doors closed.
“What’s the plan?”
I turned to him, but he stood there like a statue. He had the same look on his face as he had at Shay’s funeral. The same look I saw in every reflection: Anger, at everything and everybody. But most of all, at my own incompetence.
“What’s the plan?” He repeated.
I stood silent, not quite sure what he meant. He sighed.
“You’re going to go rescue Shay no matter what Agnes or any other Elder tells you. So am I. So what’s the plan?”
“You’re… you’re going to help me?”
Sean pointed at the number above the doors, signalling that the doors were about to open. He didn’t want to speak in front of anyone else. I wish I was as sensible as him sometimes.
This was a regular office building, with only the top three floors occupied by the Convent. Regular mortals went about their business in the rest of the building, but there was no telling how many of them were spies. Eyes and ears everywhere, Mum would always say, don’t say anything you don’t want the Convent to know if a stranger is within hearing distance.
Speaking of, where was Mum? Had she gone home, without me? It wasn’t a big deal, I guess, Sean could always open a portal for me. Or I could order a taxi like a regular person. No doubt she was waiting to have a go at me for the way I spoke to Agnes.
I followed Sean outside until we rounded a corner into an alleyway. A few restaurants shared this space to pile their bin-bags. If the stink meant anything, collection day must be soon.
Sean glanced left and right before sparking a cigarette.
“I don’t think anyone can overhear us here,” he said, exhaling smoke. “So let’s start talking strategy. I take it you don’t have a plan.”
I bit my bottom lip. He nodded.
“Right, while you were throwing your tantrum in Agnes’ office, your mum and I have been keeping a close eye on things. Remember that book Agnes showed you, about vampires?”
I folded my arms and leaned against a lamppost. “Yeah.”
“That was Van Helsing’s Guide to Efficient Extermination.”
That name’s a bit uninspired.
“There’s only two copies of it in the entire Convent. Agnes owns one, the other is in the restricted section of the library. Your mum should have her hands on it any second now.”
“What? No, Sean, what if she gets caught?”
“Your mum?” he laughed, “The best portaller in the Convent? I don’t think so. But regardless, that’s probably the most she can do to help us. We need the book if we want to stand any chance against a vampire. I don’t know the first thing about them, do you?”
I shook my head.
“That’s step one. Step two was me paying Yolana a visit—”
“The little Greek girl who works in admin? The one who can’t look at you without blushing?”
“That’s the one. She recently got promoted to work under the Convent’s Head of Intelligence.”
“You sly son-of-a-bitch!”
Sean gave a dry chuckle, then took another drag of his cigarette. “Turns out we’ve got a small division keeping track of each of the High Vampires’ whereabouts, just to make sure they aren’t plotting anything that goes against the Treaty. The vampire who converted Shay goes by the name Jonathan Rose. And he’s powerful. Yolana’s sources say the other vampires are terrified of him, considering him second only to the Nosferatu.”
“My thoughts exactly.”
This was so much information. Mum and Sean must have started planning as soon as I dug up Shay’s grave and revealed the truth.
“So you and Mum… You’ve been planning this since last night. Why didn’t you tell me?”
Sean flicked away his cigarette. “Think. If you walked into Agnes’ office acting all calm, she’d have known we were planning something. Everyone in the Convent knows what you’re like.”
“I could have pretended…”
“You’re a terrible actress. Agnes would see right through you.”
I hated to admit it, but he was right. Keeping me in the dark up until now was a good idea. I pressed my palms to my forehead, trying to think. Another thing I was terrible at. Sean was the thinker, the planner, I just acted.
“But what do we do now?”
“Now, we wait.” He held his hands out. “Any second now…”
Just as he finished talking, the space above his hands scrunched and twisted. A portal. A black book fell into his grip.
Sean flicked open to the first page. “Now we learn as much as we can from this. It’s even got recommended spells for us to practice. But it won’t be long before someone realises this book is missing, and Agnes isn’t stupid. She’ll connect the dots.”
I could feel something bubbling up inside me. Except this time, it didn’t make my blood boil. This time, it was hope.
“You know what this means, right?” I placed my hand on top of this.
He gave a slow nod. “We’ll become rogues. If the Convent catches us, we’re fucked.”
“And you still want to do this?”
“I’m not going to let you do it alone,” he said, his jaw clenching with determination. “My brother is still alive. And we’re gonna save him.”