The front door burst open behind us. My eyes were dazzled by the sunlight that spilled over us. Gregory, one of my leopards, stepped out of that blaze of light. I don't know what I would have said, because Damian let out a sound that was beyond a scream. It was a sound that should never have come from a human throat. He was up and moving like a white and red blur, darting farther into the house, out of the warm blaze of light.
Nathaniel followed him in that faster-than-the-eye-can-see speed that shapeshifters have, and they'd both turned the corner before I got to it. I expected to see the basement door open, but it wasn't. Movement up the stairs caught my eye, and I saw Nathaniel clear the last step and vanish down the hall. In his panic, Damian had run up, not down, up into the part of the house where the vampires rarely went. Up into the part of the house where the drapes were open and the morning light streamed in. Shit.
I was nearly to the top of the stairs when I heard Gregory behind me. He called up after me, "What's going on?"
I didn't know how to answer the question, so I ignored it. The upper hallway was a blaze of light, the big window at the end open to the risen sun. The hallway was empty. I thought, where are they? and I knew. I could feel them, both of them in the smallest room to the left, our guest room. I had made one step toward the doorway when Damian came running out as if all the demons of hell were chasing him. He ran screaming into the room across the hall, which was the bathroom. Unfortunately, it had a window, too. All the rooms up here had windows. If we could get him into a closet, maybe.
He came running out of the bathroom and fell, and scrambled on all fours like an animal toward the next open door. He vanished inside, only his piteous screaming coming back out to tell us he'd found another open window, another wash of sunlight.
"Was that Damian?" Gregory asked.
Nathaniel came to the first door Damian had run out of, blood ran down his shoulder, and he was cradling his arm. He looked at me, and his eyes held all the sorrow in the world. "He's gone crazy again."
The last time Damian had gone mad, he'd killed several people, butchered them, not just fed. But that had been because I was his master, and I'd left town. I hadn't known I was his master then. I hadn't known that leaving him alone without the touch of my magic, or whatever you want to call it, would make him a revenant, a mindless killing thing.
If it had been my fault before, somehow it was my fault again. I was his master now more than ever; I had to be able to fix this.
"Gregory, close the drapes. Start with the ones at the end of the hall." His blue eyes were wide, and his face held a dozen questions, but Gregory could follow orders when he wanted to, or you made him. He didn't argue, just started down toward the end of the hallway.
I went for the room that Damian had gone into, but I never made it, because he came tearing back out of it and nearly ran me down. I grabbed him, but my touch didn't calm him, and his didn't calm me, not today. He slammed me into the wall, and if I'd let go of his arm, he'd have run again, but I didn't let go. I hung on and got slammed into the wall on the other side of the hallway. Shit.
I yelled, "Damian, stop it!" But either he couldn't hear me, or I'd lost the power to make him obey me. Either way, it wasn't good. When he tried to slam me into the wall again, I braced my legs and used his own momentum, turning him into the wall, so that his own strength drove him into it so hard, the plaster gave under the impact.
He came off the wall snarling, fangs bared, his face thinning down, his humanity folding away, until what pinned me to the floor wasn't Damian. The only thing that saved me from having my throat torn out was that little extra bit of speed I'd gained from all the metaphysical shit. It gave me the time to throw one hand across his throat and one hand into his chest. I held him off of me by an arm's length, my fingers curled around his throat. Normally, I'd have thrown an arm into his throat and not trusted that I could get a hand there in time, but the last two times I tried that maneuver with a vampire, they'd torn up my arm. So I set my fingers in his throat and my palm against his chest, and tried to hold him off me.
His teeth snapped and snarled at me, like a dog on the end of its chain. Saliva splattered my face, trailed from his mouth as if he were a rabid animal. He struggled mindlessly to reach me, to sink those teeth into my flesh. If he'd been thinking like a person he'd have used his hands, his arms to overwhelm me, but he wasn't thinking like a person. So he fought my hands, pressing his body against the force of my hands, as if that were all that mattered. He pressed the strength of his madness against the push of my hands, and he began to press my arm inward. I don't know if he'd been sane whether my new metaphysics would have helped more, but he wasn't sane, and crazy anything is stronger than sane. It was like trying to bench-press pure muscle, a snarling, breathing force of nature. My arms began to bend, and I knew that if he got close enough, he'd tear me apart. His eyes had bled to green, and there was nothing in them but a mindless ferocity.
I had no weapons on me. I might have been able to tear his throat out. I didn't know if I was that strong now, or not. But he wasn't a master vamp, and I didn't know for certain that he'd heal if I pulled his throat apart. If he'd just been a bad guy, I'd have torn into him and done my best to take him out before he took me out, but Damian wasn't a bad guy, and whatever was wrong was somehow my fault. I couldn't kill him, because I wasn't master enough to handle him.
He pressed himself into me, and I put everything I had into keeping him away from my face and throat. My arms started to shake with the effort, and my elbows were bending. His face filled my vision, and his saliva dripped on my face. I did the only thing I could think of, I yelled for help.
Gregory was there, his hands on Damian's arm and shoulder, trying to use supernatural strength against supernatural strength. He slowed Damian's push toward my face, but only slowed it. Damian was like a human on angel dust, stronger even than he'd been, because there was no one home to help him regulate his force. He was all about that force, and his goal in life seemed to be my face.
Nathaniel grabbed Damian's other shoulder. Blood was still dripping down his arm, but it had slowed. Which meant Damian had found a way to injure him that didn't include teeth or nails, those wouldn't have started healing, yet. I think with the two of them pulling and me pushing, we might have made it, but Nathaniel's bloody arm was next to Damian's face. He was enraged, but all vampires, even revenants, react to fresh blood.
His neck turned in my hand, and I'd been so intent on pushing him away, that it surprised me. He would have sunk fangs into Nathaniel's arm, except Gregory was a fraction too quick, and a fraction too slow. He managed to get his arm halfway around Damian's neck, which put his wrist almost in the vampire's mouth. Damian did what any animal would do, he bit him.
Gregory screamed and tried to pull away. It worked, and it didn't. He pulled away from us, but the vampire went with him. They moved so fast, that Nathaniel fell against me, smearing blood down my skin. He was on his feet and moving toward the sounds of fighting farther down the hallway, before I'd gotten to my knees.
Damian had Gregory pinned on the floor, worrying at his arm like a dog with a bone. Even over Gregory's screams I heard the bone crack. Nathaniel was there, wrapping his arms around Damian's waist. He lifted him into the air, but the teeth stayed in Gregory's broken arm, so that Gregory was pulled to his knees by the pain and the fangs locked into his arm.
I was almost to them, when Damian remembered he could fly. He pushed off from the floor and smashed Nathaniel against the ceiling hard enough that plaster dust rained down on them, and when Damian touched ground he rolled out of Nathaniel's loosened grip. Damian had been a warrior once, and though Nathaniel and Gregory had the strength, they didn't know how to fight. Strength without training was no match.
I was suddenly the only one standing in the hallway, except for Damian. He came for me in a blur of movement. I got one foot planted and had a heartbeat to see him, think what I'd do, and do it. Years of practice in judo, and my body remembered, before my mind had caught up. I used his own momentum against him, one arm and his hip as the pivot points, and I threw him, as far and as hard as his own motion would let me.
He ended at the top of the stairs, crouched, and turned toward me, before I had time to marvel at how far I'd thrown him. Let's hear it for not being human anymore.
But a figure rose above him, coming up the stairs. It was Richard Zeeman, local Ulfric, Wolf-King, ex-fiancé, and in the wrong place at the worst time. I had a few seconds to see that his hair had grown out just enough to give some curl to his woefully short locks, that the white T-shirt made his fading tan summer-dark with contrast, that he was still one of the most handsome men I'd ever seen. Then the vampire turned, noticed him, and launched himself at Richard. He balanced them both for a second, then the other man's weight took them both, and Richard fell backward down the stairs, with the vampire riding him. They vanished from sight, and over the sound of their bodies falling down the stairs, I heard a woman start to scream.