When the fighting broke out, I discovered for the first time that I was paralyzed. Everything about this moment was like my nightmares brought to life, and all I could think was not again.
I couldn't lose Tristan again.
The last time I'd been in this Circle, fighting had also broken out. And I'd seen Gowin almost rip Tristan's heart right out of his chest. If not for my hybrid blood and Emily's quick fire spell to kill Gowin, Tristan would have been gone forever.
Even though we were vamps, I could still lose him tonight. The only difference was, this time it would be permanent. I knew now that we would both survive if his neck were broken, because his body could heal from that.
But he wouldn't heal from a stick shoved through his chest, or fire, or if a descendant managed to take off his head with a spell. And now that every descendant alive had spent the past two months in fear of being attacked by rogue vamps, everyone present would be armed and fully capable of killing us in less than a second with one well-aimed spell.
Thankfully most of them simply wanted to get clear of the Circle with their own lives intact. Several of them ran in a crouch, trying to duck the spells f lying through the air. Some weren't so lucky and were hit in the back with energy orbs from Mr. Williams or his allies. The unlucky descendants slammed to the ground and didn't get up again.
With the reassurance of Tristan fighting at my back, I was able to at least turn my head and look for the rest of my group. Mom, Dad, Emily and Mac were hunkered down at the edge of the clearing behind a tight grouping of pines, the younger boy bravely shielding them all from f lying spells. From the rapid movement of Emily's lips and the frequent pointing of her fingers, it seemed she was telling him what to do and where to aim it.
I turned to check on Tristan and see if he needed any help taking down one of Mr. Williams's guys.
That's when I discovered I was standing alone in the middle of a sea of fighting descendants and Tristan was nowhere in sight.
"Tristan Coleman!" Mr. Williams's scream managed to rise above the roar of the fight.
I twisted and turned until I found him standing by the stone chair with his son.
Time to finish this.
I wove through the crowd, dodging spells and energy orbs and f lying bodies. But when I got to the stone chair, I found only Dylan waiting for me.
"Where is he?" I asked.
Dylan slowly raised his hands palm out.
I stared at him. "Don't do this."
Blue light gathered like a condensing fog before both of his hands.
Cursing, I raised my own hands. The shield took the hit of the two orbs easily. I wasn't even rocked on my feet.
Dylan threw another orb, then a fourth. Each thudded against my shield. But it was like he wasn't even trying.
Impatient now, I closed the distance between us and grabbed him by his shirt. "Where is he?"
Dylan swung a fist at me. I leaned to the side to avoid it. He threw his other fist at me, and this time I caught it.
I pushed him back and down until he was kneeling on the ground. "Don't make me kill you. Just tell me where he is."
Dylan closed his eyes, his throat working beneath my grip as he tried to swallow. "Do it. Just finish it already."
The old anger rose up within me. I dropped his fist then raised my own, prepared to answer his death wish.
But something stopped me. Maybe it was the memory of how I'd felt two months ago when I thought I'd killed Dylan, or the relief that had blasted me when I'd learned he was alive after all. Or maybe it was some stray memory of when we were kids playing football together. Whatever it was, I hesitated. And then I reached out with my mind and read his thoughts.
His mind was filled with memory after memory of his father yelling at him, telling him he was a loser and probably not even his own son, of his father hitting him with orb after orb of energy while threatening to kill him.
"I swear I didn't know he was going to kill your mother," Dylan croaked. "You were right. I should have stood up to him. Now finish it. Please. I can't...can't take it anymore."
Dylan wanted to be free of his father, even if it took dying to do it.
Bile rose up to burn the back of my throat. I let go of him and stood up. "You don't have to die to be free."
He slowly opened his eyes and looked at me in confusion.
I held out a hand, praying everything Savannah had told me over and over was right and that I wasn't making a huge mistake here. "If you really want to be free of him, help me end this."
Dylan hesitated, his hand rising almost as if it had a mind of its own. His fingers wrapped around the base of my thumb, and I pulled him up to his feet. We both froze, remembering countless times over the years when I'd pulled him upright after a sack on the field during practices or games.
He took a deep breath then made eye contact with me. "Okay. Let's finish it."
We worked side by side, systematically searching for and knocking out each of his father's devoted followers, and it was almost like the old days. Only this time Dylan didn't carry a ball, and we weren't just blocking tackles.
Then I got drawn off in a separate battle, helping one of the descendants fight back against one of Mr. Williams's loyalists. When I turned back around, Dylan had found his dad. And judging by the steady stream of blue light pouring out of Mr. Williams's hands at his son's head, now inches from the ground, his father had figured out Dylan had switched sides.
"You think you can betray me and get away with it?" Mr. Williams screamed. "My own son? I'll kill you for this. I'll kill you!"
Mr. Williams's elbows bent, his hands drawing back toward his chest for a second. Then they thrust forward and twice the blue light came pouring out at Dylan, pinning him on his back to the ground.
I heard Tristan's name yelled out, but not from where. And no matter how much I looked, I couldn't see over the crowd enough to find him.
I spotted Anne, Carrie and Michelle all huddling at the base of a tree. Carrie and Michelle looked terrified. Anne just looked furious.
I ran over to them, keeping low to avoid the spells in the air. "I can't believe you tried to rescue them on your own!" I yelled at Anne as I bent over and bit through the plastic zip tie around her wrist.
As soon as her hands were free, she ripped the duct tape from her mouth and shouted back. "Well, you obviously weren't going to do it!"
"I was, too! I just had to make sure Mr. Williams wouldn't have them tracked down and killed them the second I freed them, or worse, that he'd go after their families." I bit through Carrie's and Michelle's zip ties next.
Carrie tore off her own duct tape with one hand then reached for Michelle's. But instead of ripping it off, she yelled, "Can't we leave hers on?"
I grinned as Michelle slapped her hand away then removed the duct tape from her face with a startled howl of pain. "Crap, that hurts!" She turned to me with wide eyes. "Savannah, would you please explain what is going on around here?"
"Well duh, Michelle." Carrie leaned over and shouted in Michelle's ear. "Isn't it obvious? The rumors about the Clann being a bunch of witches are true. And they're apparently at war with vampires."
"But which one are you and Tristan?" Michelle said. "Uh, both actually." Seeing her open her mouth to pelt me with questions, I threw up a hand. "Not now. I'll explain later."
A scream, even higher-pitched than all the other screams and shouts filling the Circle, made me twist and look around. Emily, there by my parents and Mac. Something was wrong with her. She was seated on the ground, her upper body braced against a tree trunk, both her arms curved around her stomach. Had she been hit by a spell?
Her round eyes widened still further, then narrowed into slits as she cried out again then pursed her lips. Her cheeks curved out like a chipmunk's out then sucked in repeatedly, almost as if she were blowing up a balloon.
Or doing Lamaze breathing.
Oh, no. The baby. She must be in real labor after all.
I visually searched the Circle, spotted the descendant I was looking for, then vamp blurred across the fifty yards of embattled descendants until I reached him. "Dr. Faulkner!"
He whirled and almost zapped me with an energy orb before recognizing me. "Savannah!"
"It's Emily. Her baby's coming and it''s like me. She needs your help delivering it. Quick, hold your breath."
He barely had time to suck in a breath, his thoughts startled and trying to figure out why he should be holding his breath at all now. Then I wrapped an arm around his waist, lifted him a few inches off the ground, and vamp blurred with him over to Emily.
As soon as we stopped, he gasped, grabbed the tree trunk with one hand for support, and bent over in an effort not to fall down. When he found his balance again, he crouched down at Emily's feet and checked her pulse then felt around her tummy.
"The baby is definitely ready to come now," he said, his words almost lost within the sound of all the fighting around us. "We need to get you out of here, somewhere safe-"
"Not a hospital!" Emily managed between hard puffs of air out through her lips.
"The house," Dad suggested. "I will carry her. Savannah, you bring the doctor."
"I should-" Mom began, meaning to go with Emily and help her.
I read the answer in Dad's thoughts even before he shook his head. Dad might be forced to rely on Dr. Faulkner's medical experience as far as helping Emily deliver this baby, because the doctor was the only descendant here capable of helping her. But that didn't mean Dad would risk putting Mom's safety into the Clann doctor's hands, too. Not if there was even a slim chance that Dr. Faulkner was on Mr. Williams's side.
"Stay here with Mac behind the tree out of sight," Dad told her. "I will be right back."
He didn't wait for our agreement before scooping Emily up into his arms then disappearing.
"Hold your breath," I warned the doctor again, waiting just until he'd had a chance to suck in a deep breath before grabbing him once more and vamp blurring him through the woods, across the backyard and into the now open patio doors into the Coleman house.
Dad was laying Emily on the couch when we arrived.
I set the doctor on his feet. "I'd better get back. Good luck, Emily. You're going to do great."
She didn't even look up, her face red and scrunched as she started Lamaze breathing again.
I turned and vamp blurred back the way I'd come, returning to my human friends in the Circle in less than a second to find Anne deep in argument with Ron, apparently over whether it was safe for her to use her beloved compound bow and arrows on anyone in the fight. Thank goodness it looked like Ron was going to win the argument against that idea.
A blue orb zinged through the air toward me, passing so close that I actually felt its sizzle and passing heat on my nose and cheeks. I reared back just in time to miss the second one on its tail then looked for its source. There, a white-haired man crouched against a tree to the northeast. He sneered as he threw two more orbs my way.
"Stay here while I draw him away," I shouted to my friends then vamp blurred several yards away from them.
The plan worked, at least to draw his focus away from them. But when I dropped down into a crouch to throw some orbs back at him, I realized just what kind of descendant I was trying to outgun this time. I didn't even have enough time to throw up a full shield. This guy was fast, fast enough to make me think maybe speed was his specialty. I went for the next best solution, forming small shields around my hands, then knocked away the orbs before they could hit me.
A third one f lew at me while I was still blocking the one before it. I held my hands palms-out in front of me just in time for the miniature shields to take the brunt of the hit. But the force was still enough to push me back onto my butt.
Crap. Not a good defensive position. I needed to be able to move and dodge his shots.
I jumped to my feet and ran with bent knees away from my still far-too-vulnerable human friends. A glance back at them showed Anne was actually in the process of drawing back an arrow, its lethal tip aimed in the loyalist's direction. Great. Here I was trying to protect them by purposely drawing fire in the direction opposite of them, and she was still crazy enough to think she could shoot someone.
I ran again without looking where I was going, seeing only an opening in the fighting from my peripheral vision, thinking only to make the loyalist look at me instead of Anne. His shots trailed me, each one a half second behind my movements, as if this guy had practiced hunting moving targets and knew how to lead his shots.
Another orb nearly hit me, and I was forced to stop in a crouch and block the barrage of orbs with my miniature shields. If I could just get a long enough break between shots, I could expand the shield to cover my entire body. Then I'd be free to use my hands for more than just blocking.
I was so over the defensive position in this battle. This guy needed a taste of what he was way too happy to dish out nonstop at me.
The hits pushed me backward, threatening to topple me again. Instead, I fell forward onto my knees and dug into the ground to brace myself.
"Savannah!" Mom screamed from somewhere at my left.
I looked her way, instinctively throwing up my hands to shield any additional orbs from my attacker.
But he'd discovered a better target.
Two blue orbs f lew through the air straight for my mother as she tried to run to me.
"No!" The word roared out of me as I threw every ounce of willpower I had into forming a shield around her.
But even with my vamp ref lexes and speed, she was too far away. My shield reached her a half second too late.
Her face twisted into a silent scream as the orbs exploded like mini fireworks over her entire body. Her back arched, her face going pale.
Then she crumpled to the ground.
A sizzling sound warned of another orb, this one headed my way. But I couldn't look away from my mother, not even to save myself.
Just like Nanna, my mind echoed over and over as I ran to her and dropped to the ground at her side.
I heard a strange thunk from the direction of my human friends and a man's scream from behind me.
"Mom," I whispered, stroking her face.
But my mother's open eyes refused to blink. And when I checked her neck, I couldn't find a pulse.