Killing a vampire is actually a lot easier than you'd think. I know movies and TV make it look really hard, like if you don't hit the right spot, it won't work. But the truth is, those are just rumors spread by vampire hunters to make themselves seem tougher. If everyone knew how easy it actually is to kill a vamp, there wouldn't be so many movies and TV shows and stuff. All it takes is a wooden stake and enough pressure to send it through the chest cavity. Doesn't really matter if you hit the heart or not.
See? So easy.
But capturing a vampire? Yeah, that's a little bit tougher.
"Just. Hold. Still," I mumbled around the tiny flashlight in my mouth. I was straddling the vamp's chest, my right hand holding a stake poised over his heart, my left clutching the little piece of paper with the ritual on it.
"Release me, mortal!" the vampire cried, but his voice broke on the last word, kind of ruining the dramatic effect. "My brothers will be here soon, and we will bathe in your blood."
I spit out the miniflashlight, and it landed on the hardwood floor with a clink. Pressing the stake closer, I leaned over him. "Nice try. We've been watching you for a week. You're working this town solo. No nest in sight."
"Nest" is what vampires call both their houses and the group of fellow vampires who are basically their roommates. I thought it was a pretty dorky name, but then, a lot about vampires is dorky.
This one was especially bad. Not only was he rocking the gelled hair, he'd moved into the one creepy, pseudo-Victorian mansion in town. He might as well have hung a neon sign blaring, HERE THERE BE VAMPIRE. All of his furniture was red velvet and heavy wood, and when I'd busted in earlier, he was in the middle of writing in a journal while a pretty blond girl sat near the fireplace.
She'd bolted when she saw me, and I was already cringing, thinking of how Mom would react to there being a witness.
The vampire, who was going by the name of Pascal, but was probably really a Brad or a Jason, twisted underneath me, but I was firmly seated. One of the perks of being a Brannick is that we're stronger than your average person. It also didn't hurt that this vamp was pretty small. When I'd wrestled him to the floor, I noticed that he was only a few inches taller than me, and most of that was his hair.
Sighing, I squinted at the piece of paper again. It was only a few words in Latin, but getting them right was important, and I'd never done this ritual by myself before.
That thought sent a bolt of pain through my chest, one I did my best to ignore.
Underneath me, "Pascal" stopped struggling. Tilting his head to the side, he watched me with his dark eyes. "Who is Finley?"
My grip tightened on the stake. "What?"
Pascal was still studying me, upper lip curling over his fangs. "Your head. It's full of that name. Finley, Finley, Finley."
Oh, freaking great. Vampires are a pain in the butt when they're just your garden-variety bloodsucker, but a few of them have extra powers. Low-level mind reading, telekinesis, that kind of thing. Apparently Pascal was one of the special ones.
"Get out of my head," I snarled at him, renewing my focus on the sheet of paper. "Vado-" I started, but then Pascal interrupted with, "She's your sister. Finley."
Hearing my sister's name from this...this thing's lips made the pain in my chest even worse, but at least no tears stung my eyes. I can't think of anything more pathetic than crying in front of a vampire.
Besides, if it were Finley here, if I was the one who was missing, she wouldn't have let a vamp, much less a vamp called Pascal, get to her. So I scowled down at him and pressed the stake hard enough to just break the skin.
Pascal drew in a hissing breath, but he never took his eyes off my face. "Nearly a year. That's how long this Finley has been gone. How long you've been working alone. How long you've felt like it was all your fau-"
"Vado tergum," I said, dropping the piece of paper and laying my free hand flat against his sternum.
Pascal's gaze fell to my hand and he went even paler. "What is that?" he asked, his voice high with fear and pain. "What are you doing?"
"It's better than getting staked," I told him, but as the smell of burning cloth filled the air, I wasn't so sure.
"You're a Brannick!" he shrieked. "Brannicks don't do magic! What the hell is this?"
I kept up a steady stream of Latin, but What the hell is this was a totally valid question. The Brannicks had spent millennia staking vamps and shooting werewolves with silver-tipped arrows (and later, with solid silver bullets). We'd burned witches and enslaved Fae, and basically became what monsters told scary stories about.
But things were different now. For starters, there were no more Brannicks besides me and my mom. Rather than hunt the Creatures of the Night, we worked for the Council that governed them. And they didn't call themselves monsters; they went by the much more civilized term "Prodigium." So the Brannicks were now more or less Prodigium cops. If one of their kind got out of hand, we tracked them, captured them, and did a ritual that sent them directly to the Council, who would then decide their punishment.
Yeah, it was a lot harder than just staking a vampire or shooting a werewolf, but the truce between Brannicks and Prodigium was a good thing. Besides, our cousin, Sophie, was a Prodigium, and set to be Head of the Council someday. It was either make peace or suffer some majorly awkward family holidays.
The ritual was nearly finished, the air around Pascal starting to shimmer slightly, when he suddenly shouted, "The boy in the mirror!"
Surprised, I sat back a little. "What did you just say?"
Pascal's chest was heaving up and down, and his skin had gone from ivory to gray. "That's what you're afraid of," he panted. "That he had something to do with Finley's vanishing."
My mouth had gone dry, and, blinking at him, I shook my head. "No-" I started to say, only to realize too late that my hand had slipped off his chest.
Taking advantage of my distraction, Pascal gave another twist, this one stronger than the others, and managed to free one of his arms from beneath my knees. I was already ducking the blow, but the back of his hand caught me across the temple, sending me sprawling.
My head cracked against an end table, and stars spun in my vision. There was a blur of motion-vampires may not be that strong, but they can be fast-and Pascal was up the stairs and gone.
Sitting up, I winced as I touched my temple. Luckily, there was no blood, but a lump was already forming, and I glared at the staircase. My stake had rolled under the table, and I picked it up, curling my fingers around the wood. The Council may prefer for us to send monsters to them, but staking a vamp in self-defense? They'd be okay with that.
I carefully made my way up the stairs, stake raised at shoulder level. The wall was lined with those tacky globe lamps-seriously, vampires are the worst-and a twinkling caught my eye.
Glancing down, I saw that I was covered in a fine layer of shimmery silver. Oh, gross. He was one of those body-glitter-wearing jerks. Now I was even more embarrassed that I'd let Pascal get inside my head, that I'd dropped my guard long enough for him to get away from me. If he got out of the house...
My fingernails dug into the stake. No. I was not letting that happen.
The landing was covered in burgundy carpet that muffled my footsteps. Directly across from me was a large mirror in a heavy gilt frame, and in it, I looked a lot less like a bad-ass vampire slayer and a lot more like a scared teenage girl.
My skin was nearly as papery white as Pascal's, a sharp contrast against the bright red of my braid.
Swallowing hard, I did my best to calm my hammering heart and racing mind. There was one thing vampires and Brannicks had in common: a few of us had special powers. Pascal's was reading minds, and mine-in addition to the strength and quick healing that came with being a Brannick-was sensing Prodigium. And right now, my Spidey senses were telling me Pascal had gone to the right.
I took one step in that direction.
On the one hand, my detection skills were dead on. On the other, I'd expected Pascal to be cowering behind a door or trying to open a window and get out. What I hadn't expected was for him to suddenly come barreling out of the darkness and slam into me.
We flew back onto the landing, crashing to the floor. I felt the stake tumble from my fingers, and with a grunt, tried to ram my knee up into Pascal's stomach. But this time, Pascal had the advantage-he was faster than me, and he'd caught me by surprise. He dodged my knee like it was nothing, and his fingers sank into my hair, jerking my head hard to the side and exposing my neck.
He was smiling, lips deep pink against the stark white of his fangs, and his eyes were black pools. Despite the stupid hair and the silly name and the flowing white shirt, he looked every bit the terrifying monster.
And when he ducked his head and I felt the sharp sting of his fangs piercing my skin, my scream was high and thin. This couldn't be happening. I couldn't go out like this, drained of blood by a dorky vampire calling himself Pascal.
A gray circle began to fill my vision, and I was so cold, colder than I'd ever been in my entire life. Then, from above me, there was a flash of silver, a glimpse of bright copper, and suddenly, Pascal was the one screaming. His body fell off of mine, and I raised a trembling hand to my neck, the rush of blood hot against my freezing skin.
Blinking rapidly to clear my vision, I scooted backward on the carpet, watching as the redheaded woman all in black dropped a knee in the middle of Pascal's chest, one hand pushing a bright silver amulet against his cheek. Her other hand reached back and pulled a stake from the belt around her waist.
The stake swung down, and there was a sound almost like the popping of a bubble, and Pascal vanished in a surprisingly tiny cloud of dust and ash.
Head still swimming, I looked at the woman as she turned back to me.
Even though I knew it was impossible, I heard myself ask, "Finn?"
But the woman who strode over to me wasn't my sister.
"You okay?" Mom asked.
I pressed my palm tighter to the holes in my neck and nodded. "Yeah," I replied. Using the wall to brace myself, I went to stand up. As I did, my eyes skated over my mom, noticing that even though she'd been right on top of Pascal, she'd somehow managed to avoid getting even one speck of glitter on her.
"Of course," I muttered, and then the carpet was rushing up to meet me as I passed out at Mom's feet.
The lights in our kitchen were too harsh. My eyes ached in the fluorescent glare, and my head was pounding. It didn't help that we'd taken an Itineris home. That was a type of magic portal, and they were located at posts all over the world. Problem was, like most things involving magic, there was a catch. While an Itineris made traveling a lot more convenient, it was also really rough on your body. I guess getting bent and twisted through the space-time continuum isn't exactly good for you.
The concoction in front of me finally seemed cool enough to drink, so I choked it down. It tasted like pine trees smell, but the ache in my head disappeared almost immediately. Across from me, Mom turned her coffee mug around and around in her hands. Her mouth was set in a hard line.
"He was a young vamp," she said at last, and I fought the urge to lower my head to the table.