Opening my eyes, body weak and sore from the hard tumble, all I have time to see are fangs - so white, covered in dark, scarlet blood - before the creature is on me, forcing me down, snapping my head back - but not to kill, only to expose my soft, vulnerable neck…
My mind reflects the fog around us, shifting, confused…. A Vampire. So this terrain must be his… They suck your blood - turn you… into them… Has there been another cannon? Those fangs…. If there was, the ever-constant mist muffled the sound.
There is something so familiar about this creature - the slitted, sharp eyes, pallid frame, hungry - no, ravenous - face…. And then, I realize. He has been following us, ever since we stopped and crossed the shallow stream at the base of the cliffs - in the face of the wolf Bralynn glimpsed yesterday, the bat Onyx spotted, circling us… perhaps even the fog itself, darker, denser than any I have ever experienced - stalking us, his next prey.
Where’s Bray? Onyx? Onyx had been shrouded in her invisibility cloak - perhaps she is coming to my aid, even now-
But the monster is leaning closer, salivating with greed, and the metallic scent of blood fills my nose as I struggle in vain - I am weakened from the arena, and I suspect this insurmountable vampire is stronger than even the iron fist of the Capitol. My mind flashes back to the announcement of Claudius Templesmith, at the beginning of the Games, explaining the arena - What stops vampires?
He is leaning in now, so close… My vision begins to blur as those dagger-like teeth slide neatly into my soft flesh….
No. I will die, but my own way. Not through the hand of the Capitol…. NOT!
I twist with a shriek, and the creature’s jaw connects with my leaf-woven supply pack, splitting it open. Wriggling desperately away, I lunge at the same moment he does - him for me, thin, tight hands reaching for my throat - but I am either faster or desperate. Seizing the small canteen among my scattered supplies, I roll away, yank it open, and, without a second thought, throw the liquid towards the creature.
For a moment, it only ripples down across his chest, and my breath catches in horror - What if Onyx switched the water canteens?
And then there is the stink of melting flesh, and the vampire is howling, staggering up, as dark burns spread from every stain, doubling over, screeching in agony-
And then Bralynn is there, holding me up, while two disembodied arms that must belong to Onyx scoop up my belongings, salvage my pack. I am breathing heavily, fighting for the air that, moments ago, I might never have been able to sample again…
“What - did - you - do?”
“Flip kick, bashed him with the crucifix.” Bralynn runs her hands over my neck, checking for puncture marks. “And Onyx helped shove him. I thought it was too late - by the time we got down here-”
I realize we are all shaken; the encounter was too close. My own survival seems miraculous now. Bralynn, Onyx… my affection for them both gushes through every fiber of my body. They could have run - it would have been safer to run - yet they did not. My allies. My friends.
“But -” I spring to my feet, a thought slamming me with the force of a mountain. “He’ll be after us again!”
“Not if we hurry. Vampires can’t cross water, and there’s a little stream ahead, I just saw it before you fell. If we hurry, we can get across without him.” Onyx’s voice sounds from the air around us, mist curling in once more.
“Right. We’ll have to be careful, now - with my Holy water gone, all we’ve got is the cross.” Bralynn heaves me to my feet. “Are you sure you're okay, Detour?”
I manage a weak smile.
“Never better, just most times in my life.”
Bralynn chuckles. “Let’s go, then.”
As we set off again - certainly not in the clear, still hunted, still marked for dead - I can’t help but feel just the smallest bit of triumph. In this small victory, at least - we have travailed.