It raced across the clearing, slamming into me with its full weight, before I could even consider side-stepping the attack. The snake ignored Mugsy and Lila’s attempts to redirect its attention, opting instead to try sinking its fangs into me. I managed to hold it far enough away to protect myself from the teeth, but not the venom. The thick, iridescent liquid splashed down my arm and ate away at the skin.

By the time I registered the pain, I was already screaming.

My healing ability might have fixed the problem if the snake hadn’t been like a leaky goddamn faucet, pouring acid from its open mouth.

Pain consumed everything, and only sheer instinct kept my arms locked and holding the raging reptile away.

But then my right elbow weakened, and one sharp fang scraped down my chest, tearing through my clothes and stabbing through the flesh. The sensation of the giant tooth against the bone of my ribcage was one that would live, vibrant and distasteful, in my head for the rest of my existence.

Then the world was on fire.

Caught up in the screaming pain in my arms and chest, I barely registered the human body standing above me, fire blasting from her hands and a fierce look of concentration on her face. Heat licked at my skin alongside the venom consuming my flesh, and I writhed on the ground, trying to claw my way to safety. My fingers dug into the dirt, the disturbed soil clinging to the bloody mess of my arms as I tried to escape.

Mugsy grabbed me by the collar of my shirt with his teeth, dragging me away from the newcomer. Lila shifted to their human form, lifting me by the arm to help. I screamed, and they dropped me. I could hear their panicked apologies, but couldn’t even begin to focus on that.

Without new acid pouring over my arms, my healing tried to kick in.

And that shit hurt. It wasn’t supposed to hurt like that. It never had before. Though, admittedly … Eyes blurry, I looked down at myself. Blood and dirt covered my bare chest, the wound trying to close itself and failing as leftover acid ate away at the new skin.

I’d never been hurt like this before.

At my shoulder, Mugsy had also shifted back to his human form, just as covered in blood and dirt as Lila and I were.

“Holy shit, what the fuck,” he said, his voice thick. “What the fuck.

“Hey, Mugsy?” I asked. I kept my own voice level while I stared at my chest, my old scars attempting and failing to reform. “Can you do me a favor and go kill that thing?”

He let out a ragged breath. “I think Mrs. Sato has it handled, honestly.”

That got me to look up.

Miyako Sato, a middle-aged Japanese woman in a rainbow onesie, stood in the middle of the clearing, relentlessly blasting the snake with fire from her hands. Her soccer mom bun was close to falling apart as she dodged the snake’s attempts to strike back at her. She leapt to the side, flawlessly shifting into a combat roll. Her arm slashed out as she rolled onto her knees, throwing out a whip of bright energy toward the snake, snapping it on the nose like a wet towel.

If the towel spontaneously combusted on impact, anyway.

The snake hissed, rearing back, and coiling into itself to escape the explosive magic. Its red eyes glowed for a long moment, focused on Miyako. She hadn’t moved from her position on her knees, her body tensed as she waited.

And then the snake was gone.

There was no smoke, no poof or pop sound effect to signal the new situation. One moment, the snake was there, and the next...there was a man.

If he topped 5’8”, I would be surprised, but he was also clearly too thin for his frame. Broad shoulders, sharply defined arms, and an almost emaciated look to his torso. Thankfully, he was wearing pants. Magic was a beautiful thing.

His hair had begun to go silver at the temples, but hadn’t yet started thinning. His beard was scraggly, but sat on a well defined jawline.

A drop of black liquid dripped down the corner of his lips, and he wiped it away.

He looked up and his eyes pulsed red.

“I knew the snake wasn’t normal, but I didn’t expect this,” Mugsy whispered to me.

“Hand over the scion, and we will trouble you no longer,” the man said.

I winced at the sound of his voice, trying to process the way it seemed to be many voices layered over each other. Slowly, Miyako got to her feet, crossing her arms over her chest, cocking one hip.

Idly, I noticed she was wearing penguin slippers.

“You’ve killed innocents, and you want us to let you take a child?” Miyako asked, her brows rising. “What is to stop me from destroying you where you stand?”

“If you could, you would have already done so,” he responded. He shook his head, like he was disappointed. “The scion belongs to me, and I will not be denied.”

“That’s a shame, because I am denying you,” she said, smiling. “You get nothing, certainly not a child, and you will answer for the lives you’ve stolen.”

The man’s nostrils flared. 

 “So be it. I gave you a chance.” With the same lack of fanfare as he arrived, he was gone. Smoke rose from a circle of dead grass where he had been standing.

“Well, I guess now I know why Rhyun didn’t want to live here.”

After delivering the comment that made sense only to me, I decided it was safe to pass out. So I did.


I opened my eyes on a choking gasp, blood pouring out of my mouth. I dropped the body in my arms to the floor, shooting across the bright  room and plastering myself against the wall. Instinctively, I crouched low.

Mateo approached cautiously, his hand held out flat like he was gentling a panicked child.


That was me. I was the panicking child in question.

Forcing my shoulders to relax, I slid down until I sat crisscross on the floor. I glanced behind Mateo, and saw a human holding a thick bandage to their neck. Cringing, I looked away.

“Hey, you’re okay,” Mateo said, crouching beside me. “It’s okay, mije.”

I briefly pulled the white gown away from my chest, checking to see if my rib cage was still on display. But no, I had fully healed. My pre-death scars had reformed, underlying my pecs. I let out a breath, strangely relieved that they were still there. Hadn’t thought I would miss them if they were gone, evidence erased, but I was disturbed at the idea that they might not be there when I woke one day. Vampire healing was finicky that way.

Mateo pressed a hand to my shoulder, leaning his forehead against mine.

“Scared the shit out of us,” he said.

“Scared the shit out of myself,” I replied, chuckling.

“They had to cut a lot of you away to stop the acid from spreading, so your healing could work. But you lost a lot of blood, and used a lot of energy just keeping yourself alive long enough to get here. So they gave you a shitton of transfusions, but blood in the veins isn’t …”

I shook my head. “It’s not the same as feeding.”

Mateo sighed. “No, it’s not.”

Hence, waking up starving and attacking the nearest human.

I leaned to the side, looking at said human. “Hey, sorry for...y’know. Attacking you.”

They waved a hand. “It’s all good! I’m a donor. It’s what I’m here for.”

Oh. Well, that...was not as bad as I was afraid of.

“I appreciate it,” I said. I held out my hand to Mateo, letting him help me to my feet. My balance was off, but I managed to stay upright. Once I was standing, the human gave me a quick nod and left the room.

“Where’s Frankie? Is she safe? And my team?” The questions came tumbling out as I crawled back into the hospital bed. I ignored the specs of blood splattered on the floor and the bottom of the flat sheet. I folded my legs under me, staring down at my arms, examining the clean, unblemished skin.

Healing was always a surreal experience -- I remembered the sensation of the acid eating my flesh away vividly, but I could almost believe it hadn’t happened.

“I don’t know anything about anyone else. Someone named Sam called the house.”

I looked up at that, surprised. That meant Sam had made it back to HQ, which should also mean Frankie was safe. It didn’t tell me anything about the others, but the two of them were my priority anyway. 

“You’re lucky Salma wasn’t home,” Mateo commented. “Otherwise, she’d be here smothering you now.”

He spoke too soon. I could hear her heels under the activity of the hospital, the short staccato clicks on the clean linoleum getting closer with each second.

I shot Mateo a glare, and he shrugged. “Brace yourself.”

Immediately, I pulled the sheets over my head.

“¿Dónde están? ¿Dónde están? ¡Quítate de en medio! ¡Te comeré!”

I groaned, slapping my hands over my face.

“Estoy aqui, titi!” I said, raising my voice just enough to be heard. Then, in a whisper, “Please don’t eat the medics.”

Mateo snorted, amused. I lowered the sheets, and crossed my arms, glaring at him again.

“Hago lo que quiero,” she said, marching into the room. The moment her eyes landed on me, the aggression went out of her shoulders, and she all but sprinted to my side. Her skirts billowed behind her.

“¡Oh, pobrecite! ¿Quién lo hizo? I will destroy them all.”

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