“You know this guy?” Milo asked within his glowing sphere.
“Remember Patrick?” The mage nodded. “Yeah, this would be his minion, Tamus.”
“You were warned, Madeleine.” The minotaur took a step forward. “You were given the option to make all this stop, but you chose to do what you wanted. As usual.”
She moved to put herself between the mage and the minotaur, and motioned for Milo to back up. “Then you admit that Patrick planted bugs in my house to keep tabs on me? I mean, since neither of you called to see what I’d decided.”
Tamus snorted. “You know he did no such thing.”
“Oh, yeah,” she said, trying to keep her movement smooth, slight. “Patrick wouldn’t dare do his own dirty work. So, no, he didn’t do it, but let’s not pretend that you think I am stupid. He hired someone to do it. Maybe the guy who cleaned my carpets last year, or the maid, or the cable guy, people I wouldn’t pay much attention to. But it was his hand that moved those pawns.”
The minotaur shrugged. “Perhaps.”
She shook her head. “There is no ‘perhaps’, Tamus, but I will let it slide and consider the truth all laid out. As for this, what is going on right now, your issue is with me. It has nothing to do with Milo. You let him leave, no harm, no foul, and we can have this out, once and for all.”
Tamus spat fire on one of the saguaro cactus. “You know I cannot do that. The imps are owed their pound of flesh. After all, he did kill many of their kin.”
She swallowed hard and stopped. Milo’s voice replayed the story of his mission at the grocery store in her head. Well, crap. “Imps aren’t familial, Tamus, and they really don’t do revenge, because let’s face it, of all the dark supernatural creatures in the Other, they aren’t the smartest. No, if they want blood, it’s because other people planted that thought in their head and reinforced it with a little darker magick.”
He smiled, that ugly spread of lips that showed his sharp teeth. “That changes nothing, vampire. We are still in this little space, you and I, your mage and a horde of imps. Does it really matter how we got to be so cozy? Really? You know how to end this; why not spare us the bloody mess?”
She ran clammy hands over her jeans. Come on, Maddie, think!! “You destroyed my house.”
He shrugged. “You wouldn’t invite me in. And you wouldn’t come out.”
“You can’t kill me, you know. No matter what Patrick thinks of me, he doesn’t want me dead.”
“Very true,” the minotaur mused, “but that doesn’t hold true for your human.”
“He’s going to kill me anyway,” the mage in question whispered from behind her. “You know he will. He’s just that kind of douche bag, like that bad Italian mobster that promises to leave everyone all right, if you just do what he says, and when you leave to go and do it, he orders his minions to kill them all.”
I know, she replied back in his head. But what can we do? You and I aren’t strong enough to take on all those imps and a douche bag Minotaur alone.
“Let me think. I will come up with something.”
Hurry, because I am all out of ideas right about now.
“Keep him talking, buy us time. The imps aren’t going to attack until he gives the go-ahead. Let him have the biggest bad guy monologue of all time.”
“I swear, woman, if you fuckin’ apologize again, I am going to have to spank you. Consider yourself warned.”
I am sorry, then.
“Oh, yeah, definitely a spanking in your future.”
She chuckled. It was ludicrous to even think about an after in a situation where she simply couldn’t see one, but she needed that little bit of humor to wash some of the fear out of her system. She would have to make sure she thanked him appropriately later. After the spanking, of course.
“What is so funny?” Tamus snorted. “Have you finally lost your marbles? It will be easier to carry you off to Patrick if you are a basket case, though.”
“You wish,” she scoffed. “I wouldn’t make this any easier on you than I have to. Who exactly do you think I am? More to the point, who the hell do you think you are? And why the hell are you still working for someone like Patrick? You were your own master in Other World, held your own place in the dark court. So what the hell happened?”
The minotaur managed to look offended, and Madeleine wondered if she had pushed too far. “I still hold a place in court. I am revered among my kin for the bonds I have built in Other World and beyond. You will not diminish what I have become because you no longer hold such power.”
Nice that your ego’s still in tact. “But to be beholden to a vampire? There are ties, and then there are ties, Tamus. Do you provide a service, or are you simply serving?” A thought occurred to her. “Is there something else? Are you holding out for some prize after all these years? Or have you done something so terrible, even in the eyes of the dark court, that you have no choice but to serve?”
He did not answer, his eyes dropping to his hooves that kicked at the desert floor. “The reasons I do what I do for whom I do such things matters little in the grander scheme. I am not here to satisfy your curiosity, Madeleine. Tell me why I should not set free the impish horde to munch on your new boyfriend. Tell me why I should not make short work of you for all the hassle you have caused me. It would be worth the punishment I would have to endure for maybe the next ten years under Patrick’s rage. Then I would be done with you, my hands clean of you.”
“Even if that means washing your hands with my blood.”
“Especially washing my hands with your blood.” He shook his head. “If I were he, I could care less what a woman I once cared about did anymore. Even spreading the misery gets old after a couple of decades. Yet he persists and I am sent to harass you once more. I do not take glee in this, no matter what you believe. I would rather revel in the pieces of you spurting forth blood before you turn to dust, as you vampires are apt to do, but this, this harassment, this petty annoyance, it is beneath me. And honestly it is beneath you.”
“I’m almost ready,” the mage whispered. “When I tell you to duck, do it, okay. But I need a few more minutes.”
Gotcha. “I wish it were as simple as you just walking away,” she said to the minotaur. The ground pulsed under her feet, slight, almost imperceptible. Had Tamus noticed?
“But you and I both know it is not,” he finished for her. “So let us be done with it. No more words, Madeleine. You have stolen enough time for your mage, don’t you think?”
“What are you talking about?” She gave him her best innocent look. Milo?
“Oh, yeah, I heard him. Now’s as good a time as any, I guess.”
Tamus snorted and shook his head. “I am older than you by several millennia. And unlike your kin, I enjoy a good confrontation, so this heart-to-heart is old hat.” He stopped her protest with one hand. “I needed to vent. I don’t believe in keeping all that negativity inside, and now I get to kill you with a clear head. I guess I should thank you for that.”
“So you’re going to kill me?” She widened her stance, hands up, as if she could possibly win a mano-a-mano fight with this supernatural.
“Yes,” he rubbed his monstrous hands together. “I’m going to kill you and your little mage boy toy.”
“What will you tell Patrick?” Milo!
“Get ready. One more minute!” he whispered. The pulse quickened, and she could hear the magick moving under her shoes, gathering at the feet of the man behind her.
“I will tell him the truth, that I gave into my nature and could not stop myself. That the boy mage’s blood incensed me, and I lost all restraint. That I was sorry, truly sorry, to have left this part of the mountain covered in blood and ash. The last part,” he shrugged, “perhaps that is a lie.”
He chortled, deep and echoing off the rocky walls. “No, you and I both know I will not leave here regretting it. Now, let us begin.” He clapped his giant hands together, three times, and the buzzing that had lingered just beyond her eye sight moved closer in a crescendo of noise.
She crouched down, and a second later, white, blue spirals of electricity poured from the mage’s hands. He stood like a giant lightning rod behind her, arms out, head thrown back, the magick drawing up from the ground beneath them.
A high-pitched squeal filled the air. She peeked around him and saw the lashes of magick snagging imps from the air, or slashing them with minute electric blades, or crushing them within the tendrils. Whatever magick held them here could not compete with the mass hysteria growing ever larger among the tiny beings. Short attention span and all that.
Behind her, Tamus bellowed in anger. “Madeleine!” She turned to see the minotaur slapping at the electricity, but there were so many lines of it, and he was just a giant. It was like watching a hundred thousand whips eating at his flesh. She almost felt sorry for him, and then she remembered that he had intended to kill her and Milo. Good riddance.
But the barbs were not enough to kill him, and when he had had quite enough, she watched Tamus pull the nearest man-shaped saguaro from the ground. “Milo!!”
It was too late. Tamus flung the uprooted cactus at the mage. Madeleine stood up to meet it, but she had not anticipated her own reaction to his magick and found herself paralyzed by the electric charge. The pain was excruciating, ripping a scream from her lips. Every hair on her body stood on end, conducting the electricity ever deeper into her flesh until her very bones rattled with it. It forced her wings out, which only gave it more area to play upon.
She could not sort her thoughts, could not form words from the agonizing sounds issuing from her mouth. The cactus made contact, slamming her into the mage and dropping them both to the ground. The electric net stopped, but her arms, legs and wings twitched uncontrollably. Tamus stomped toward them, his shadow lengthening over them.
He grabbed her by one arm and one leg and flung her across the open space, against the farther wall. Her head bounced off the rock, and one of ridges in her wing snapped. She fell to the ground in a crumpled, feathery heap. Must. Get. Up. Must. Save. Milo. She pushed up to all fours and straightened her wings. She grunted against the pain as her eyes swept the scene.
Tamus had wasted no time. He was yelling Other World obscenities at the man, and while the magick had forced him down to almost human size, it did nothing to lessen the strength of his cloven kicks. Milo screamed in pain as the minotaur rolled him around the area. The sound of his bones breaking echoed audibly in the air.
“Tamus, no!!” she yelled. “Don’t do it! Please!”
Her last word gave him pause. He reached down and grabbed Milo by the front of his shirt. He lifted the mage above his head. “What would you do for him, Madeleine? What boon would you give me to spare his life? What could you possibly say to me that will convince me from tearing him limb from limb as you watched? What?!”
She raised her hands in surrender. “There’s nothing, Tamus, nothing that will sate your anger. I know that. I will go with you to Patrick, if you let him go. And by doing so, I will ensure your position in the dark court. But you have to let him go. Now.”
“I do not believe you, vampire.” The minotaur cocked his head to the side, one horn scraping a long line down Milo’s body. “I believe not your words at all.” He pulled Milo downward, goring him through the abdomen. The mage screamed, back bending as his blood poured down Tamus’ arm.
The second it hit the air, her hunger growled through her lips. It had been so long since she had tasted fresh human blood, longer since she had fed on a supernatural. But she held back, afraid that her fury, her hunger, would consume not only the minotaur but the man in his grasp. She shook the scent from her nose.
“I would not do such things if I were you,” she whispered, her voice low, guttural, almost a purr.
Tamus lowered the mage to the ground, eyes wide. “Madeleine?”
She licked her lips in spite of herself, her eyes closing in a slow blink as she reveled in the scent pooling around the mage, still moving in rivulets down the minotaur’s arm. “Oh, Tamus, can’t you smell it?” Milo, Milo, Milo, a little voice in her head reminded her. Do not feed on him. Do not feed on him!
But the hunger tore at her with every forward step, her eyes caught in the pooling red shimmer. Alone, she was no match for the minotaur, not usually, not as starved as she was, but somewhere between the magick and the mayhem, the blood and the battle, her hunger served a greater purpose. It propelled her, moved her, and when the voice in her head saw that Milo breathed no more, it lay quiet in anguish, the gates restraining her released.
Tamus took two steps backwards. “Madeleine, you know not what you do.”
“And nor do I care.” She leapt at the minotaur in a flurry of untold speed and fury, and sank her teeth into his neck. And the blood, all that blood, all spiked in that supernatural magick poured down her throat in a decadent flood.
Oh, yeah, that hits the spot.