Home > Nightshifted (Edie Spence #1)(16)

Nightshifted (Edie Spence #1)(16)
Author: Cassie Alexander

“Anna?” I whispered. My right hand found my left and traced along its scar. “That’s silly. You know it is. You’re okay,” I told myself.

You don’t just get to be a nurse and see sad and strange all the time and not have it affect you. I knew stress came out in different ways. I’d give any patient I ever had more leeway than I’d given my recent self. I’d been attacked and bitten less than a week ago. And I’d just seen us pour two gallons of blood, easily, into a man, and then seen ten or so vampires drink it back out. Things like that just don’t come normal to people. It’s okay to have some problems afterward. Nightmares, even.

I stood there wondering who exactly I was convincing with this line of thought until the strange feeling passed. When it did, I turned away. I hadn’t washed my hands yet, but that’s what hand sanitizer was for.

CHAPTER NINETEEN

It seemed like there was a lot more air in the locker room hallway. I stood and breathed, went for the next door, and was surprised to find visitors waiting outside.

I could only see three male faces—the fourth entity was shrouded in a robe and hood. All of them were vampires. I knew because even though we were all in the same hallway together, I felt completely alone. None of the companionship of shared humanity radiated off them, no warmth, no joy, no love—no hate or disgust or indignity either. Being near them was like being near a black hole—even without taking blood, they were lapping at the edges of the life I possessed, spinning it away.

“Um—the visitor bathroom is upstairs,” I said, pointing to the elevator as the locker room door snicked shut behind me.

“We are here for Edith Spence,” the one nearest to me said. He was classically beautiful, with long dark brown hair, narrow chin, and long nose. Eyes as green as grass.

No one had called me Edith since my grandma had died. “And you are?” I asked.

“Dren.” He took a step closer. He was wearing a black duster cut in an old-fashioned way, narrow-waisted, calf-length. He wasn’t threatening yet, but I felt he could be. The others behind him clearly were—two of them were dragging the fourth one forward by leashes made of dual silver chains. On its lanyard around my neck, my badge began to glow, stronger than I had ever see it glow before.

“Edith Spence, I presume?” he asked again, and I nodded. “You have been summoned to a tribunal. We are taking you into custody now.” He watched me, waiting for a reaction. I firmed my resolve not to give him any.

“Why?” I asked, crossing my arms.

“Apparently you managed to kill a vampire,” he responded, looking me up and down. “I have to admit I’m curious how you did it.” There was a glint of emotion in his eyes. He looked long used to disappointment, but just then, I saw a spark of hope. Why?

The doors to Y4 thunked open. “Hey, Edie—I need help—holy shit,” I heard Gina say in a rush behind me. Then she yelled, “Meaty!”

The doors didn’t even have a chance to close before Meaty burst through them. “It’s past visiting hours. Get out,” Meaty said at once.

I wasn’t sure what scared me more—the fact that the ones in the rear were jerking on the bound person’s chains, or the fact that they ignored Meaty.

“She’s been summoned. We’re taking her into custody until the darkest night.” Dren pushed his coat aside, hooking his thumb into a leather belt that held a gold sicklelike weapon, bound against his hip. His action seemed meaningful, like a cop putting a hand on a holstered gun. “If you’re her friend, you will procure her legal representation immediately.”

“But—” I began.

“Edie, be quiet,” Meaty said, moving to stand between them and me.

Some internal meter for patience in the rear guard ran down. They were stepping forward now, making the silver chains dance like wind-ripped spiderwebs, yanking the bound one along. I decided that it wasn’t a person, as it hobbled forward awkwardly, lurching from side to side, its brown robes dragging on the tile.

“As you may or may not be aware,” Dren continued, for Meaty’s benefit, “she’s recently killed a vampire. A tribunal has been summoned on the darkest night to determine her fate.”

I hadn’t really thought about the vampire since I’d killed him. Or rather, any time I had thought about him, I’d done my best to try not to. I could still remember the look in his eyes … as they’d turned into dust and poured out of his head. My stomach churned again.

“I’m sorry,” I blurted out.

Dren’s eyebrows rose. “So you admit your guilt?”

“She admits nothing,” Meaty said, giving me a glare. “She’s a registered noncombatant.”

Dren gave a soft laugh. “She lost that status when she killed a vampire.” He tilted his head toward me in a genteel fashion. “Unfortunately for Miss Spence, a mere apology won’t be good enough.”

The other vampires were crowding closer now, and I still couldn’t see the hooded thing’s eyes. Fear pushed the stomach acid higher in my throat, and I tried to fight it down.

“I released a captive girl,” I said, taking a step nearer to Meaty’s back for strength.

“There was no captive girl,” Dren said.

“Yes, there—”

“We know nothing of her,” he said, cutting me off. “And if there was, how do we know you didn’t kill her as well? There is only your word, which, at the moment, is not good for much.”

“You cannot take a nurse,” Meaty said, arms thrown wide.

“But we are.” Dren stroked his sickle openly. The rear two reached out and unfurled the final one’s cloak away, like splitting a cocoon.

Underneath was a creature no one should ever have to see. It had two arms and two legs, but they were misshapen—the legs nearly skeletal, leading down into feet with birdlike claws. The arms were shriveled, contracted in toward one another, meeting in front of its torso, which had the bloated shape of someone with end-stage liver cancer, distended skin stretched tight. Its head was long, like a pony’s or large dog’s, and at the end of its nose nostrils flared eagerly. Its skin was dark and rough—I wanted it to be reptilian, but it wasn’t. Neither were the eyes set wide and high at the bridge of its nose. They were light-colored and recognizably human. It was like a creature out of a surrealistic painting, a Bosch come to life.

“What is that?” I whispered to Meaty.

“That’s a Hound, and Dren’s a Husker,” Meaty whispered back.

Then I wanted to ask, “What’s a Husker?” but the answer was obvious. One who husked things. Probably with that sickle.

The silver leashes wrapped around the creature’s neck caused it pain—I could see the deep groove of scar tissue left by their passage. Its head strained forward, sniffing the air over Dren’s left shoulder, and its lips pulled back to reveal rows of sharp yellow teeth. The look in the two vampire handlers’ eyes begged me to run, so that this monstrous thing might chase me down.

I closed my eyes and huddled against Meaty’s back. Custody sounded like something I wanted no part of. Maybe Anna’d been in “custody” too.

“If you take her, our staffing will be noncompliant, which is illegal according to the terms of our contracts with the Consortium.”

Hidden behind Meaty, I blinked.

“Find another nurse,” Dren said, in a voice that brooked no argument.

“We run a tight ship here, you know that. And you’re not the only supernatural group that we have legally binding contracts with. Just because the vampires are mad at Edie doesn’t mean we can underserve the were or shapeshifter populations. Patient abandonment is a punishable offense—the Consortium takes it very seriously. If we lose our accreditation…” Meaty said without finishing the sentence.

There was a long silence, during which I could only hear the Hound’s talons clacking against the tile floor as it waddled in place, trying to escape each silver band in turn. “Then we will take her when her shift is over,” Dren said.

“She’s scheduled solid through the end of next week,” Meaty said. “It isn’t like she can escape your summons. With the Hound, you’ve seen to that.” Meaty reached back and took my hand, bringing me forward.

I couldn’t meet Dren’s eyes—but I could see his hand clenched tight on the hilt of his sickle. Vampires weren’t used to being thwarted, especially not by anything as lowly as mandatory staffing ratios and insurance companies. I stared at his shadow instead, cast back behind him on the floor like a bloodstain, hoping that Shadows might rise out of it and save me.

“Then,” he began, and there was the tension of strict control in his voice, “we will expect you on the darkest night, Miss Spence. We will summon you again and you will not refuse.”

I could do nothing but nod.

“Now, get out,” Meaty said, walking forward.

“You have until the darkest night,” Dren repeated. The vampires behind him were yanking the Hound backward on its chains.

“Perhaps you didn’t hear me. Get out, a**holes.” Meaty pointed toward the elevator shaft behind them. The elevator’s doors opened. Dren made a mockery of a bow, and then as one, they turned and left the floor.

“Why do we even have security?” Gina said aloud as soon as we were back in Y4.

“Security can’t stop them. Security probably didn’t even see them,” Meaty said.

“And the Shadows?” Gina asked. I was embarrassed now that I’d hoped they might save me, when it’d been so obvious in Pediatrics that they only held me in contempt.

Meaty opened up thick hands, facing their palms to the ceiling. “Not their business, really.”

I stood there. I could breathe now, but my heart would not stop racing and my whole throat burned. “What do I do? What will they do to me? What the hell was that thing?”

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