It was the middle of the night, and the hospital room was dark. The curtains were closed across the one small window. There was a dark shape beside the bed, much too tall and broad to be my mother, who in any case had left five hours ago in floods of tears to get some sleep. It had made my heart hurt to see her and know there was nothing I could do. It was selfish anyway to wish I wouldn’t die.
I looked up at the face, squinting to make out features in the darkness.
“Who is it? Why are you here?” I whispered, so I wouldn’t alert the nurse on duty just down the corridor outside.
It was quiet while I let the voice register. When I realised who it was, I felt even more drained. I didn’t have time for his jokes.
“I’m here because Meena and Willow found out where you were.”
“Why didn’t they come? Why you?” I said petulantly, feeling a little hurt.
“They wanted to. Oh, believe me, they did. The Eternals have ways of knowing things, and they found out what you’re doing here. Your friends wanted to come and save you, but of course the Eternals thought differently. One, it is against their law, and secondly, if you were gone at no fault of their own, this part of the Tenebrus threat would be eradicated.”
“So, you know.” I said quietly.
“The Eternals think I’m wasting their resources, so they’re happy I’m dead.”
“Not… happy. It saddened them to have to lock Meena and Willow up.”
I sat up suddenly and felt a jolt of pain. I had to lie back down slowly.
“They were going to come and get you anyway.”
“So, what? They sent you to tell me all of this?”
He fidgeted a little.
“Not exactly. I didn’t speak to them after they were taken from the meeting room. I decided to come here myself. I think they would have backed me up.”
I hated to repeat the word, but it was easier and less exertion to speak as briefly as possible.
“To do this. Ruby, I’m sorry, but there’s nothing else I can do to save you. If there was, it would save you the pain. But there isn’t, and you’re dying, and the Immortals need you.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You’ve got a bigger part to play in their future.”
I shifted slightly, trying to become more comfortable. Then in some part of my dying brain, something clicked into place. A part screamed that we couldn’t do this. Another part begged for me to let him save my life. Another part thrilled at the prospect of what this could mean. Another grieved for what I would have to go through.
“Do it,” I whispered, barely audible, but I knew that he would hear.
“Yes. I‘m the dying one. It‘s by my choice.”
“All right. I just want you to know…”
He trailed off as if he decided not to finish his sentence. Then he knelt down by the side of the bed and I tilted my head away, brushing my hair back. It felt silly, like I was in some bad movie.
Then he bent his head over me. I realised that he wasn’t wearing those sunglasses, but I couldn’t see his eyes in the dark. Maybe that was better.
His breath was warm, but his teeth were cold as they sliced through my skin and flesh to my veins.
I brought my hand up, suffocating my own screams.
Ice. Fire. My blood was freezing, then burning. I couldn’t feel his mouth against my throat anymore. All I could feel was the blood draining from me as he drank from the bite, taking my life and magic with it.
“Stop,” I gasped, though I wanted to scream with the agony. I tried to push his head away with the hand that wasn’t pinned down as he leant over me. He was impossibly strong. My hands slipped on his leather sleeve, shoving weakly and ineffectually. He was going to kill me.
Was all that a lie, then? A prelude to the feast?
The anger lent me strength as I grabbed his collar and tore him sideways off me. He was breathing hard, and even in the dark I could see my blood glistening on his face.
“Here,” he said, grabbing a wad of gauze from the medical cabinet in the corner and pressing it to my neck. It throbbed with pain, but the feeling of the blood being pulled out of me had stopped.
“You were going to kill me,” I spat. “Get out.”
I heard his mouth open as if he was going to say something, then he shut it again and turned and walked out. The door closed behind him with a final click. I didn’t care how he managed to get in or out.