At Grave's End (Night Huntress #3)

5,866
05.03.2019

FOR ABOUT THIRTY SECONDS I HELD BONES, feeling his mouth pressed to my hair, his hands gripping my back, and I was truly happy. Then there was the sound, a muffled moan, one I heard even above the other vampires' cries of exultation. One that seemed to come from my very cells, which made sense, in a weird way.

"Mom."

I dashed straight down the hall toward the back like I was being pulled by a string. Bones was close behind, but not as fast as I was, not this time. I fell to my knees when I saw her, draped across Denise's lap, my friend's hands compressing her stomach. Next to them lay a zombie, now only a pile of dirt, and my mother was as still and pale as death.

"No!"

It tore out of me even as I acted without thinking, taking one of my knives and slashing it across my wrist, tilting her head up, forcing my blood in her mouth. The blade cut right through to the bone and red liquid overflowed her lips.

She gagged once and weakly swallowed, bubbles trailing out of her mouth. I worked her jaw, forcing her to swallow again.

Denise was crying and praying at the same time. Bones pushed her to the side to crouch over my mother. He took the same knife I'd used and sliced his own wrist, holding it over her mouth, instructing me to begin chest compressions to force his blood through her body.

Blinded by tears I did, bearing down on her chest. Her heart had stopped beating right as Bones gave her his blood. Over and over I pressed on her chest while Bones blew into her mouth.

"That thing came in the room," Denise choked, several injuries on her as well. "And it just jumped on her! I tried to pull it off, but it was so strong…Come on, Justina, don't give up!"

Denise's shout was so loud, it took me a second to hear the soft internal thumping below my hands. Then I sat back, tears flooding my eyes, as my mother coughed.

"Filthy…animal…get away…from me," she rasped to Bones.

I laughed even as Bones snorted and sat back as well, pausing only to cut his palm and slap it over the slash in my wrist.

"Hallo, Justina. It appears we're still stuck with each other."

Denise laughed also, and then she wiped at her eyes and looked around.

"Where's Randy? Isn't he with you?"

My smile faded. Belatedly I realized that Randy wasn't in the room with everyone else. Seeing my mother bleeding to death had distracted me from noticing that before. I flicked a glance at Bones, who was frowning and getting to his feet.

"Why would he be with us?" he asked Denise in a sharp tone. "Randy was supposed to stayhere."

Denise got up now, too, her face pale. "He wanted to help find whatever it was Patra was using. He said he wouldn't leave the house. He's been gone about twenty minutes…"

Bones turned and strode out of the room. I went to Denise and took her hands. Even with all the blood loss I'd suffered, mine were warmer.

"You stay here," I told her. "We'll find him."

Denise's hazel eyes met mine, and the vehemence in them made me actually back up a step.

"No fucking way," she said, and shoved me to the side.

I let her go, feeling a bit woozy now that the battle adrenaline was leaving me. My mother sat up, staring at the blood and torn clothes around her abdomen where that mortal wound had been.

"Mom," I began.

"Don't worry about me," she cut me off. "Go after Denise."

I gave her a grateful look and left, moving through the ruins of the house far slower than I had before. It wasn't a minute later when I heard Denise scream, loud and piercing. That brought me to a run, despite the spots starting to dance in my vision.

Bones was kneeling on the floor of the kitchen with Denise in his arms. There was a pile of something red and dirty right next to them…

"Oh, Jesus," I whispered.

"Fix him!" Denise screamed, pounding on Bones's back. "Fix him, fix him,FIX HIM! "

But that was impossible. My mother had still been clinging to life when Bones and I gave her blood, so its healing properties had had a chance to work. Randy's body lay in pieces, parts covered by the dirt that had once been the zombie, or zombies, who'd torn him apart.

"He's gone, luv," Bones said to Denise, forcing her away from the gruesome sight of her husband. "I'm so very sorry."

I don't think Denise even heard him. She kept screaming and sobbing while her fists pummeled Bones. I went to her, uselessly trying to comfort her, even though nothing I could do would ease her pain.

Spade came in the kitchen, grim-faced, and knelt down next to us.

"Crispin, I'll take Denise out of here. You need to get Cat and the others to safety. We don't have much time."

Wordless, Bones nodded. Spade gently pried Denise from Bones's arms and carried her out of the kitchen.

Everyone still left standing was in emergency mode, rounding up the dead and the living for a speedy exit. We all had to get as far away from here as possible, before Patra came to finish us off.

Bones picked me up, and I didn't even bother to argue that I could walk. Frankly, I wasn't sure if I could. As he maneuvered through the broken items in the house, I was surprised to see one of the televisions were still on.

"…three…two…one…Happy New Year!" Dick Clark announced, followed by the usual noise of partymakers, firecrackers, and the beginning of "Auld Lang Syne." It seemed impossible that so much had happened in only two hours.

My vision began to get hazy, which might have been the blood loss catching up to me, because when I blinked next, we were out on the lawn. Strewn amid the odd-colored snow and heaps of dirt were bodies. What once had been vampires and ghouls were now shriveling remains. I felt a surge of gladness to see Tate milling around, and prayed that Juan and Dave had also made it.

Ian knelt on the ground, his chestnut hair making him easily distinguishable even from behind. His shoulders shook.

Bones set me down and then took rapid steps forward. Mencheres seized him, his face grim.

"How many?" Bones asked hoarsely.

Mencheres's gaze slid to several of the piles of shriveling limbs.

"We don't know yet."

Bones knelt beside Ian. "Ian, mate, we must take them and go. None of them would care for us being slaughtered over their bodies because we didn't have the strength to leave. Patra's already taken too much tonight. We shan't let her get another thing."

Through rapidly graying vision, I saw the three of them begin to collect the remains of what used to be their friends.