And so into battle I went. For a vampire I currently hated, to a fight I wasn’t at all involved in.
And it felt so, so right.
I tossed a table on its side and crouched behind it, Celestina doing the same to my right. “How many down?” I asked as I checked my handgun’s magazine. It was empty.
“We’ve taken down four of sixteen, Your Eminence,” Celestina reported.
I exhaled a curse—that was too few.
The table I was braced against cracked ominously when a forest green ball of magic smashed into it.
Shooting them was our only option. We were trapped in this magic circle they’d erected under our feet, which swirled and rotated so it looked like a vine-like pattern grew around us. We couldn’t escape, and we couldn’t get any closer.
I exhaled a second curse.
“How are we doing on ammo?” I asked.
“We each still have two to three loaded magazines,” Celestina said. “Unfortunately, they raised a ward, and it seems like our bullets cannot pass through it.”
“Josh?” I shouted for my Second Knight.
Josh slunk around the barricade of chairs he’d created and slid to a stop next to me. “Your Eminence.”
Josh bowed his head. “His injury is grievous. They hit him in the belly. He’ll survive if we can get out.”
It wasn’t necessarily a given.
I’d been such a fool. Though I usually armed my people with great paranoia, I hadn’t learned from the occasion with Hazel’s degenerate cousin and the elf spell he’d dropped on us.
I should have realized what that spell meant and started carrying items to break wards.
How could I fail like this? How could I fail them? If Hazel…
No. I didn’t regret sending her away. Hazel could have busted us out of this—possibly—but I didn’t want to involve her, didn’t want to risk her…
My gaze wandered from Josh to Celestina as another glass vial sailed over our heads and hit Josh’s barricade, spattering a red liquid that slowly ate through the wood.
“We have to hold out,” I said. “Pre-Dominant Harka and Elite Bellus were in attendance. They’ll send forces, and our people will learn of it.”
Celestina and Josh nodded, and the table groaned before its left side shattered into splinters.
“Get back to Gavino,” I said.
“Yes, Your Eminence.”
Even in the middle of a battle my First and Second Knights kept up with a title which—at the moment—I felt like I didn’t deserve.
Josh crouched as he ran back to his barricade, ducking out of sight.
I reloaded my handgun’s magazine, then propped my hand on the table for stabilization and shot twice, carefully spacing the bullets. If we could keep them wary, maybe they’d stop slinging so many spells—
Pink tinted magic rippled underneath Celestina. She barely rolled away in time before the magic clamped around her table like the jaws of a creature and swallowed it, pulverizing it into dust and slivers of wood.
I shot off a few more bullets, attempting to cover for my First Knight while she dove for new shelter. She barely made it behind a desk, tucking her feet in just before purple magic punched through it.
Celestina was thrown into the invisible wall of the spell that encased us, her face muscles grimacing in pain.
My table creaked ominously, and I edged out from behind it before it collapsed entirely.
We were losing, terribly. And things were about to get painful.
The thing about vampire healing was it could keep you alive even under constant injury for a long time.
I’d be able to survive just about anything the fae threw at me. My underlings, however…
“Gavino!” Julianne screamed, her voice high-pitched with terror.
A fireball consumed the barricade Josh had built. While he shot off his handgun, Julianne dragged an unconscious Gavino toward two tables Rupert had tipped on their sides.
As she pulled him along, a fae shot an arrow made of black-hued magic at the inert vampire.
Julianne swiveled him so she took the bolt to the side, rather than let it hit Gavino. She cried in pain and fell to her knees as the bolt disintegrated and magic racked up and down her body.
They weren’t going to make it.
And I was powerless to stop this.
Snarling, I tried to slam my hand through the wall of the invisible barrier that held us captive.
The resistant magic burned my skin and made my whole arm numb, but I gritted my teeth and pushed harder. The wall didn’t give, but I could start to see strains in the magic, hairline fractures that spread through the barrier.
I clenched my jaw as I pushed, agony radiating from my hand up and down my body.
One of the fae turned their attention from blasting my cornered underlings to me, hitting me in the shoulder with purple magic that had a slick, oily feeling to it and burned like fire.
It burned my suit, but with my powers, my body quickly repaired the damage, producing an uncomfortable, bone deep ache.
I leaned into the spell, but although it was still cracking, the area I was affecting wasn’t much bigger than my upper torso. But if I could just push through…
Rupert’s shout broke through the angry hum of magic.
I swiveled, freezing when I saw Rupert collapse, holding his right shoulder. Dark, angry magic crawled up his throat and clawed its way across his face. The whites of his eyes were wide as he gazed at me, fear and pain filling his expression.
For a moment, the constant bombardment paused. I streaked across our limited fighting area and carefully scooped Rupert up and set him down behind the last remaining bit of cover with Julianne and Gavino.
Gavino was out, and Julianne whimpered as she hung her head, her hands clamped to her bleeding side.
I took her handgun from her thigh holster and stood upright, adding my fire to Celestina’s and Josh’s as we shot at the cowardly fae.
As Celestina had said, our bullets were stopped by whatever shielding spell they used.
“Hold your fire,” I ordered as I jogged past a bruised Josh and bloodied Celestina.
When I reached the spot of our circle that was closest to the fae, I stopped.
Three fae were standing by a sword. This far away I didn’t recognize it, but between all the gold and the glittering gems encrusted on it, it had to be a magic sword. Possibly even one of the holy swords the elves used to revere. How had Queen Nyte and her foolish consort gotten their hands on that?
If they used it, Celestina, Josh, Rupert, Gavino, and Julianne would die.
I raised my gun and wasted three bullets, trying to prevent the inevitable.
The shots hit their shield and fell to the ground with an audible clink as the sword started to glow.
Desperate, I turned around.
Josh had retreated back to the tables where Rupert, Gavino, and Julianne were. When he saw my face, he bowed his head, then loaded his handgun with another loaded magazine.
He knew what was about to happen.
I shifted my gaze to Celestina, who offered me a smile, her red eyes warm and proud. “I know you will avenge us, Your Eminence.”
I wanted to say something, to tell her they all were going to survive. I wanted to roar. It couldn’t end this way!
The magic in the sword throbbed in a wave even I, a magic-less vampire, could feel. The humming noise increased, broken by crackles of raw power.
I backed up a few feet and shook my head. “No,” I said.
“Get back behind the tables, Your Eminence. Please.” Josh stood with Celestina, his expression calm.
Celestina rolled her shoulders. “The tables might shield you a little longer and spare you a bit of pain.”
I set my shoulders. “I can survive a blast, even from a holy sword. You go.”
Celestina’s smile turned amused. “You know very well, Your Eminence, there’s no table thick enough in the world to save vampires of our caliber from that.” She nodded at the sword.
“Please go, Your Eminence,” Josh said. “We will remain here. They’ll have to lower their shield for an attack of this size. We might be able to get some shots off before it’s over.”
No! This couldn’t happen! How could I be so powerless to stop this?
Celestina and Josh had stood with me for decades—I couldn’t…
Celestina winked. “It’s been an honor, Your Eminence.”
Josh bowed, and then they were gone, pressed against opposite sides of the circle as they tried to take up positions that would offer them the best line of sight.
It was said vampires didn’t have souls. I never gave it much thought. It didn’t matter to me because I didn’t intend to die.
But now, I swear I felt my soul—or something deep inside of me—fracture.
The fae shouted words that were lost to the murmur of magic. They held books that started to glow, and the sword burned with such pure light I couldn’t look at it.
Unwilling to retreat to the table, I backed up until I was lined up with Celestina and Josh. I was their sire. And while I had failed to protect them, the least I could do was stand with them while they passed on.
An explosion triggered the sword, and the air fell into smothering silence as light blasted from it, cutting a path toward our prison. It ate up the ground, disintegrating floor tiles and furniture in its wake.
And I could only watch.
Soon it was too bright to see anything. I lowered my eyes to half-mast and was just about to shut them and brace for unending pain and agony, when a shadow passed in front of me.
Sound cracked through the air with such intensity my ears rang, and my eyes snapped open.
Standing inside, near the front of our magic cage was a solitary figure. Her blond hair whipped in the raging wind caused by magic, and with her hands thrust out in front of her, she powered a blue shield of magic so large it encompassed about half the width of our prison.
Her arms shook, and her petite body trembled with strain as she held back the full blast of a holy sword with her shield.
Bolts of unstable magic ran up and down the length of the blast, blackening the ground and making the glass covering the framed artwork hanging on the walls pop and shatter. The air was hot, and flames sprouted at the spot where the attack from the holy sword thrust against the wizard’s shield.