I closed the distance between the Williamses and myself, doing what I should have done years ago for my old friend.
Crouching beside him, I threw a shield over him with one hand then held a palm up in warning against his father. "No more. He's not an animal. He's your son."
"He's mine to kill if I choose," Mr. Williams hissed, and finally his face showed his true inner self, his eyes dark and squinting beneath thick eyebrows, his mouth twisted into a snarl. Gone was the polished politician.
I wished I had a camera so everyone else could see him like this.
"No, he's not," I said. "He's had enough of you. And so have I. You've lost. Quit while you're ahead."
Snarling, Mr. Williams tried to hit us with more energy orbs.
But this time he'd bitten off more than he could chew. As I shielded both of us, Dylan sat up halfway and threw orbs back at his father, knocking him off his feet.
Dylan rolled the rest of the way up and threw a hail of orbs at his father now, a roar of anger and fear and heartache clawing out of his throat the entire time.
Mr. Williams tried to hit his son again with energy, but he couldn't get through my shield.
Then I switched to throwing my own set of orbs at the man. When they hit, he let out an oomph. Then his head fell back to the ground and his eyes closed.
I hesitated then walked over and checked for a pulse.
Savannah would be proud. Mr. Williams would live to see an official Clann hearing.
Even as I crouched over him, his eyelids f licked up, his eyes rolling around as if to reorient himself.
When those eyes found my face, they locked onto mine, and in their hatred-filled depths I saw again all the reasons why this man should die. I saw the way he'd smiled at my mother's empty shell of a body lying on the f loor. And how he'd smiled tonight at me even while holding Savannah's best friends hostage for no reason other than that he could.
If ever a man deserved to die, it was this one.
My hand reached out to close around his throat, squeezing tighter and tighter until I could feel his pulse leaping in desperation beneath my grip. It would be so easy to simply twist my wrist and end him forever. No one would ever need to fear him again.
"Do it," he croaked, his eyes narrowing as he smiled up at me. "Do what you were made to do, killer."
I deserved this right to end him. He'd killed my mother, helped the vampire who'd killed my father, nearly succeeded in killing my sister. Killing him would be justice for all that I had lost.
"Do it, Tristan," Dylan muttered, reminding me that I wasn't alone here. "Make him pay for everyone he's ever hurt."
Dylan deserved justice, too, for all the years of abuse he'd endured at this monster's hands.
I looked around us at the Circle, still filled with Mr. Williams's loyal followers, each white-haired descendant just as bent on killing anyone who stood in their way as their leader had been. Mr. Williams had created this scene of destruction and death with his hatred and desperate need for power. How many lives had he hurt or ended indirectly by starting this war?
I wasn't the only one who deserved the right to end Mr. Williams's life. We'd all lost because of him. Was any one of our losses greater or more valuable than another's?
"You monster!" Mr. Williams snarled, his voice stronger now that my hand had relaxed slightly at his throat. "You can't even manage to do this right, can you? This is why the Colemans never deserved to lead. You don't have the guts to do what has to be done."
Be still, I thought, pushing out the willpower with it, staring at him until the spell hit him and he froze.
"You're right, Mr. Williams. I am a Coleman. And I may be a vampire, too. But that doesn't make me a monster." I stared down at the worthless waste of a life now lying helpless at my feet, hearing again everything Savannah had tried so hard to tell me, and finally, truly understanding. "What makes us monsters are the choices we make. And that makes you the monster, not me. I'm a Coleman, and there's a reason my family's led this Clann for four generations. We're not more powerful than you. We're just better people because we have the guts to make the right choices, even if they're not the easy ones. Killing you right now would be easy, and it might feel good for a while. But it would also be something you would do, because you're so messed up by hatred and fear that you can't even think or see straight anymore. I choose not to let hatred and fear twist me into something I'm not. I'm not going to kill you and let you turn me into someone like you."
"Tristan, he deserves to die," Mac said. At some point he'd found his way across the clearing to join us. "For my parents. For yours. For everyone he's hurt."
"Yeah, he does deserve to die." I stood up. "But not at my hands, or Dylan's, or even yours. Everyone in the Clann has been hurt by his hatred. Everyone has equal right to decide his punishment."
I looked around at the Circle. There were a few of Mr. Williams's diehard loyalists gathered at the base of a large pine at the edge of the clearing trying to fight their way out. But the descendants and Keepers surrounding them looked equally determined not to allow their freedom. Speaking of people who could handle themselves...
I looked around for Savannah, shocked to realize I hadn't been worried about her at all for a change. After everything she'd been through without me around to protect her, apparently I'd learned to trust her skills. She was every bit as strong and smart and fast as me, maybe even smarter since she'd figured out the whole slippery slope of choice thing way before I did. Knowing her, she'd probably taken out half the loyalists here plus already freed her friends and- "Tristan, look out!" Dylan shouted from behind me.
I turned in time to see Mr. Williams sit up and thrust his hands, palms-out, in my direction...and a huge red orb burst out of Mac's hands. The orb slammed into Mr. Williams's chest, knocking him back to the ground so hard his body actually bounced twice.
"He was going to kill you!" Mac whispered, his eyes round with horror as he stared at Mr. Williams. "His mind was wide-open. He didn't even care if I heard him think it."
I checked Mr. Williams's mind. But this time there was no invisible wall shielding his thoughts from the world around him. There was no thought at all, in fact.
He was dead.
Just to be sure, I checked his neck for a pulse. Nothing, not even a faint stutter out of rhythm.
I stood up, walked over to Mac and stared at him. When we'd found him earlier tonight, I'd thought of him as a kid. But I was wrong. It wasn't our age that determined whether we were kids or adults. It was what each of us went through, the terrors and trials we faced and survived, that made us grow up slower or, in Mac's and my cases, faster.
And Mac had definitely become a man tonight. A man who had just saved my life.
I held out my hand.
He glanced at it with a frown, not understanding at first. Finally his eyes widened and he reached out to shake it.
"Thanks, Griffin," I said. "Thanks for having my back."
He nodded.
Then I heard Savannah's scream.
A blur of red hair caught my eye. Then Savannah reappeared hunched over a body on the ground.
Her mother.
Cursing, I ran to her, kneeling at her side.
"Mom!" she kept crying out over and over, cradling her mother's head, rocking back and forth. Her face was dry, her eyes wild and round but slate-gray, her fangs nowhere to be seen.
A memory of seeing her like this before, with her Nanna, hit me hard enough to knock me to my knees. I reached past her, trying to find her mother's pulse. Nothing. I reached out with my mind, blocking out the world around us, seeking her mother's thoughts. Though I'd never had trouble hearing Ms. Evans's every thought before, this time I couldn't hear her at all.
Mr. Colbert appeared at the edge of the clearing, maybe having heard his daughter's scream. He saw us gathered on the ground, blurred over, then froze before crumpling to his knees at his ex-wife's other side, grabbing her arm and gently tapping her cheek. "Joan, honey. Do not do this to me. Joan!"
The scent of blood hit me hard and fast, swamping my nose as Savannah ripped into her own wrist with her teeth then thrust that wrist against her mother's mouth. "Come on, Mom. You've got to drink."
But the blood only spilled out of the corners of Ms. Evans's mouth.
"It's too late," I whispered.
"No!" Savannah pressed her palms to the ground.
I grabbed one wrist. "What are you doing?"
"I'm going to over-ground so I can cross to the other side and bring her back."
"Are you insane?" I stared at her, hoping to see some hint of reality return to Savannah's eyes.
"I know what I'm doing. I've crossed over before and come back."
"You're talking about killing yourself!" I wouldn't let her do it. I didn't care how much it hurt her to lose her mother. I couldn't let her do this.
"I'll be fine. Let me go."
"No." I looked at Mr. Colbert, hoping he'd supply some backup against his daughter and help me make her see reason. But he only sobbed and rocked his dead ex-wife, his mind shut down to anything beyond the breaking of his heart.
"You've got to let her go," I told Savannah.
She jerked her wrist free. "I'm doing this, Tristan. Whether you like it or not."
I stared at her, thinking fast. Short of knocking her out, I had no idea how to stop her, magical or otherwise. "I can't stop you, can I?"
She shook her head, her mouth a thin line. "Just hold me till I get back." She pressed her palms to the ground, hesitated, then reached up with one hand and grabbed the back of my neck, pulling me to her for a fierce kiss that ended too soon. "I will come back to you. I promise."
Her hand dropped to press against the ground one more time. Then she closed her eyes and a shock wave of energy burst out of her and into the ground so hard it actually rolled the earth in a wave that rippled out to knock everyone still standing off their feet.
The life f led out of Savannah, and her empty shell of a body began to fall.
I caught her, letting her weight take us both to the ground, where I sat and held her against me, making sure her palms kept touching the ground so she could draw enough energy to come back.
And then I prayed like I never had before to a God I wasn't even sure still heard vamps.