Night after night, I meet Death
He turns me inside out and makes me feel things I never knew possible.
Day by day, his patience thins as I deprive the god of death the one thing he wants more than anything.
But with my kind of childhood, one doesn’t just go dropping the L word unless it’s to a triple chocolate buttercream cupcake.
I’m an acts of service kind of vampire, so I’m showing I care by tracking down the only blade forged that can kill him.
Because if Grim dies, the whole world will go to hell.
And facing an eternity without him would kill me.
FINISH THE TRILOGY NOW!
by Marina Czygir
* Artwork copyrights 2022, Holly Roberds, All Rights Reserved
“Hold on to your tail, Cupcake!” I shouted over the roar of my motorcycle as we barreled down the road.
The small reaper puppy yipped behind me. I sped up, trying to get closer to the guy roaring on his black bike ahead of us.
Initially, I’d wanted a motorcycle with a sidecar for Cupcake, but the Kawasaki Ninja allowed me to weave in and out of the packed night traffic of Las Vegas. And seeing as Cupcake was an incorporeal dog who would grow up to reap souls, I didn’t have to worry about her safety on the sport bike. The fact that it was fuchsia also drew me like a moth to flame.
Cupcake’s tiny body perched behind me, pink tongue hanging out as the wind whipped by us. Chancing a look back, I noted no one got hurt. I would have smelled the blood. The perks of being a vampire.
“Fuck a duck,” I muttered, as the black motorcycle we chased cruised through the tail end of a yellow light. Though it turned red, and traffic began to cross from either side, I couldn’t let him get away.
My lungs filled with air I didn’t need as I braced myself. We shot through the intersection, causing cars to screech to abrupt halts. The smash of steel rang out, and horns blared in an angry chorus.
I set my attention on the motorcyclist again. A scabbard slung over his back. The glint of a sword hilt peeked out at me.
Why did this dick nozzle want me to chase him down the Strip on a Friday night? Even in autumn, people were out en masse, partying like the world was going to end.
And if I didn’t catch this guy, the world could very well come to a screeching halt.
He’d gotten far enough ahead that I was in danger of losing him. I needed to close the gap. My vampiric senses scanned the surroundings, taking everything in, making calculations. Yellow flashing lights caught my attention from the side of the road.
My body registered before my brain that I was about to do something tremendously stupid. An enabling yip of encouragement came from behind me. Cupcake was on board with it. I cut in front of the cars to my right.
Don’t do it.
The growl of warning inside my head sounded exactly like a certain scary man I knew. I swatted it away. We’d been hanging out too much if he now lived rent free in my mind.
That being said, while vampires were immortal, they could be smashed into a painful bloody pulp.
I twisted the throttle, taking full advantage of the fifty feet of clear shoulder, avoiding the orange cones. Connected to a long truck bed were a couple of trailer ramps. The construction crew used them to unload the bulldozer that was now hard at work on the road. The workers’ faces contorted with horror and disbelief as I roared by them.
My wheels hit the slope, and I hoped I’d reached a fast-enough speed to pull this off. Suddenly, we were sailing through the air. Time slowed into thick honey as Cupcake and I flew over lines of cars. Bright neon lights blinked down on us from the billboards overhead. The smell of cigarette smoke and someone’s heavy cologne wafted out of an open car window. I regretted not wearing a cape for this epic stunt.
Unable to help myself, I screamed out, “I’m king of the world!”
The black motorcyclist looked back over his shoulder, witness to my glorious daredevilry as we closed in on him.
It seemed a great way to savor the moment. Just like Jack did in Titanic. Then I remembered young Leo said that before the ship famously crashed and killed most of its passengers. A fact that rushed up as quickly as the blue sedan. I hit the roof hard, denting it with a sound crunch. Muscles tensed, I worked to navigate down the slant of the hood. When the tire bounced on the asphalt, my teeth clacked against each other. A metallic taste covered my tongue, but the bike continued up the street.
An unhinged giggle of disbelief escaped me.
We’d made it.
Cupcake yipped behind me, and I could feel her squirm against my back. Her tail must have been wagging double time.
My gamble had gotten us significantly closer to our target.
When the motorcyclist turned his head to see us gaining, he missed the car pulling out onto the road. The black bike smashed into the van, sending the rider rolling in the opposite direction.
“Whoa, shit,” I breathed. That was a hell of a hit to take.
But then he was up and running.
I heaved a dramatic sigh. “Runners, am I right?” I asked Cupcake.
She gave me a yip of affirmation that she knew what I meant.
As I navigated my bike around the angry drivers who’d gotten out of their cars, I followed my mark. He darted into the Parisienne Hotel as a group was leaving. I took advantage of them, opening the doors, and drove in, giving a polite thank you as I passed by. The man holding the door openly gaped at me.
If only I’d been wearing a cowboy hat I could tip in his direction.
My target continued to half-run, half-stagger as he looked over his shoulder at me. The sword still hung over his back.
The thought of letting this douche canoe get away with that weapon turned my stomach into a sloshy mess of ice and fear. Grim was death itself, yet that weapon could kill him. The thought of losing him made the frozen anxiety churn, and a sweat broke out on my brow. I couldn’t lose him.
Despite my smooth entrance, the casino floor was jam-packed with gamblers and late-night partiers. I wouldn’t get any farther like this. I parked and shut off the bike. I pushed my hot pink riding glasses up onto my head as Cupcake and I hopped off and started running after him.
No one would get out of my damn way. By the time we chased him to the elevators, the doors closed. In that last second of visibility, the motorcyclist flipped me the bird.
That little fucker.
As annoying as this was, deep down, I was riding a high. Before someone had turned me into a vampire, I was a bounty hunter. Tracking down and chasing skips gave me a thrill, and a purpose. Though that life lay far behind me, the taste of it flooded my mouth as I jumped on the elevator next to the one he’d disappeared on. Cupcake stayed hot on my heels.
Closing my eyes, I focused all my heightened senses on the scent of the motorcyclist.
I sure could have used these bloodhound abilities when I’d been bounty hunting before. In the past, this is where I would have lost him. He could get off any floor of this hotel, and it’d take me far too long to catch up.
But the faint ding of his elevator reached my sensitive ears, and I knew exactly where he’d gotten off.
My lips split into a smile.
The breeze up on the rooftop bar blew cool. I was grateful to be wearing Cookie Monster—my favorite bright blue faux fur coat. Colored lights illuminated the white couches where partygoers lounged. Music bumped through the club inside but faded out on the patio so people could talk. Glass surrounded the outdoor area to serve as protective fencing without obstructing the view.
I didn’t know how the motorcyclist got in, but my name was all but etched into the VIP lists across the strip.
A man in jeans, with ruffled hair, and a gray, sweat-stained shirt, stood at the corner edge of the rooftop bar. I tapped his shoulder.
“Excuse me,” I said. “I think you have something I need.”
He whipped around, his eyes wild with sudden terror. The motorcyclist had shed his helmet and bodysuit somewhere up here. But in doing so, his scent became only stronger, making it easy to pinpoint who he was even though I hadn’t seen him out of his black cycle suit.
Thin-framed, with a long face, he was practically a teenager. He stuck out like a sore thumb in his rumpled clothes, amidst all the popped collars and flashy rhinestone dresses. The smell of vodka, pheromones, and perfume filled the air, while the guy in front of me stank of fear and something strange I couldn’t identify.
Behind him, the crisscross of metal rose into the night. A replica of the Eiffel Tower gave partiers a unique view. He’d trapped himself in this corner, and there was nowhere left for him to run.
“Where is the sword?” I asked, holding out a hand. He must have stowed it away with his helmet and race suit.
The surprise in his eyes flattened as he shook his head.
I dropped my arm. “Listen, the chase was fun while it lasted, but let’s get one thing straight. If someone wants your shit on Craigslist, the polite course of action is actually let them buy it.”
Cupcake gave a little yip of agreement that was positively adorable. Too bad I was the only one who could hear it.
Instead of answering, the guy jumped up onto the ledge, a foot balanced atop the glass partition.
Conversation hushed around me as people nearby took notice. Though they likely thought this was some kind of impromptu Vegas side show.
“Whoa.” I raised my hands. “No need to get dramatic.”
“You cannot stop a god,” he said, matter-of-fact.
I wanted to point out that’s literally what I could do with the sword, but he teetered precariously on the ledge. “Why don’t you come down from there and tell me more,” I suggested in a soothing tone.
He jerked when I took a step forward. I stopped in my tracks, hands held up to reassure him I would stay put. The surrounding crowd watched with fascination.
“What’s your name?” I asked, touching my chest. “Mine is Vivien.”
He only shook his head, gaze darting over the edge of the tremendous drop.
This dude was going to jump.
So I did what I had to. I reached out with my vampiric mind control. I almost never used it, but I could feel my power wrapping around him.
“Step down,” I instructed, lowering my arms now that I had him under control.
His eyes fluttered close, and his shoulders relaxed a couple of inches, succumbing to my will.
I hated using this power. Someone’s will should always be their own. But this was to save a life. I’d make an exception for this dumb-butt, so he didn’t hurt himself.
Then his eyes snapped open, a green glow emanating from them.
Aw blood balls. He’d been worshiping a god.
“I vow allegiance to the one true god,” he said.
Before I could ask him which god, the blanket of power I’d wrapped around him fractured.
With that, he jumped. A collective gasp, along with a couple of strangled screams, came from behind me as he hurtled over the glass partition.
I darted forward to grab him, but his body already cleared the edge. At the last second, I grabbed the back of his shirt, but I lacked the leverage to easily pull him back over, and he hung there like dead weight.
I just needed a minute to get a better grip to drag him up.
Come on, vampire strength.
His pale eyes turned up to meet mine, without a trace of fear in them. “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”
Then he lifted his arms, slipped out of his shirt, and plummeted downward.
I wanted to shut my eyes. Keep from seeing him hit the ground, but I couldn’t force them to close.
His body smashed into the walkway with a sickening sound. He landed in front of a group of girls, and a chorus of shrieks rose into the air. His head twisted on impact, so he faced upward. Even from here, I could see the red-stained teeth and sightless eyes. Blood seeped out in a pool around his broken limbs.
The screams and rush of everything around me faded into the background as I backed away. A strange numbness washed over me. People ran to the edge, peering over with wet eyes and shocked expressions. Multiple calls to 911 echoed in my ears.
At first, I thought I should do something too, but there was nothing left. The kid was dead.
I turned away and walked back into the club. The crying and exclamations were muffled, as if I were underwater.
You’d think as a vampire, it would be no big deal to me. But it’s not like it is in story books. I didn’t turn and become a monster. Heightened senses, strength, speed, and a need to drink blood, sure, but a desire to kill? The media got it wrong. I didn’t lose my soul when I turned. It hardened and crystallized in my body. There would be no afterlife for me. No ticket to heaven. If someone snuffed me out, my soul would be destroyed, along with my body.
The kid painted on the pavement at least had a shot of getting into the heavenly gates.
Still, it didn’t make me feel better. The vision of him hitting the ground played over in a sickening loop.
My limbs grew stiff, and I struggled to take in what just happened, even as I scented the hiding place of the motorcycle suit and helmet. He’d stashed it behind a lounging couch. Reaching further under, my fingers closed on the scabbard.
You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.
It wasn’t the first time I’d heard the C. S. Lewis quote. It had been written on a piece of paper and packaged in a box, along with a god’s head. Presumably, the blade I held now was the same one that killed Seth. Though a major dick nozzle, I still hadn’t wanted Seth dead. Even when he did his best to torture me and kill my boyfriend.
That would have been one hell of a feat too, considering my boyfriend was literally death. The grim reaper, the god of the dead, and coincidentally, the owner of the most exclusive hotel on the Vegas Strip, Sinopolis.
But whoever killed Seth intended to change the world order. The quote confirmed one of the gods was no longer satisfied with the status quo, giving reign of this world to the humans. They would upset the balance even if that meant breaking the law of Osiris and taking a worshiper, imbuing that person with power.
Somehow, I made it back to my motorcycle, though I didn’t remember the journey down. Red and blue lights filled the streets as a crowd gathered.
The sheathed blade lay across my palms, a strangely light object to cost someone their life.
The numbness gave way to a sick feeling.
Cupcake leapt into my lap, forcing me to lift the sword up to make room. The reaper puppy whined, then yipped until I brushed a hand over her soft, black fur. Her golden eyes peered up at me with sympathy, and the nausea subsided a little.
“Come on, girl,” I said. “Let’s go home.”
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