Hit list, p.5
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         Part #20 of Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series by Laurell K. Hamilton
Chapter Five

  THE DREAM CAME as it had most nights for a month. The details changed but the theme didn't. The theme was Haven, not as in a place of rest and peace, but as in the lover I'd killed. Some nights he died in my arms. Some nights we made love and then he bled to death on top of me. Some nights it was like a movie replay of how he'd actually died. Tonight's version was new, but after the other nightmares new didn't seem bad.

  I was in a maze formed of black walls. They were slick and almost shiny, almost stone, almost mirrors, so that the ghost of myself wavered in the black surfaces. I had hopes that this was just a regular nightmare until I heard his voice. Haven called me somewhere in the maze: "Anita, I'm coming, Anita. " Great, he was hunting me tonight. Sometimes turnabout is so not fair play.

  I was dressed in jeans with a belt and buckle, T-shirt, jogging shoes, but no weapons. This just got better and better.

  "I can smell you, Anita. I can smell all that sweet skin. "

  I started moving in the black maze, away from his voice. I thought about needing a weapon. I thought about my Browning BDM and it was in my hand. This was a dream. I could change some of it - normally I could break free of dreams, but something about the ones with Haven seemed to trap me. I think guilt made me stay to see the horrors.

  I started moving faster, taking left turns only. All mazes had the same premise: One direction would lead out and one would lead to the center of the maze. I don't know why I chose left; why not? I just prayed that it led out and not deeper into the blackness. But it was a nightmare, and you never really win in nightmares. No, they're all about losing over and over again.

  The center of the maze was a huge square space with a fountain in the middle of it. The fountain was all black squares and quietly pulsing water; as the center of a scary night-dark maze it wasn't bad. It could have been worse; and then, of course, worse stepped out of an opening on the other side. Worse was six feet and a little more of slender, muscled handsome. Haven's hair was still short, gelled into spikes on top of his head, all of it done in shades of blue as if some artful hairdresser had pretended that blue could be a real hair color and have highlights. The hair made his pale blue eyes look more blue than they actually were, I think; it was hard to tell since the hair was always so close to his eyes. The hair and the Sesame Street tattoos on his shoulders were what had made me nickname him "Cookie Monster. "

  "What do you want, Haven?"

  "What I always wanted: you," he said.

  "You can't have me. "

  "Here I can. Here there's just me. "

  "Fuck you. "

  "Let's. "

  "You're dead. You're dead. I killed you. "

  "I remember. "

  "You're dead, you don't remember. You're just my guilt visiting every night. "

  "Am I?" he asked, and something about the way he said it made me ask, "What else could you be?"

  Other figures stepped from the entrances around the square. Figures in white masks and black cloaks: Harlequin. I raised the gun and pointed it vaguely; there were too many of them, and I wasn't that fast, not even in dreams.

  Movement made me glance at Haven; he was wearing a black cloak and held a white mask in his hand. "We're coming," he said, "wake up. "

  I woke staring at the dark ceiling, pulse thudding, throat almost closed around it, and then I heard it. The door, not the knob, but the brush of someone against it, like the first tentative touch. I drew my gun from underneath the pillow and tried to think how to warn Laila without them hearing me. They were either vampires or wereanimals; they'd hear any whisper. Then I realized they'd heard the change in my heartbeat; they knew I was awake.

  I had time to say, "Laila, they're here!" The door opened as she sat up in bed but didn't reach for a weapon. Shit. There was no one in the doorway. It stretched pale and empty, filled with night and the artificial lights of the parking lot beyond. Then I heard it, a creak of board, and knew something was crawling on the floor, hidden from me by Laila's bed.

  She had her gun in her hand now, and whispered, "What is it? Why is the door open?"

  I started to say, "It's by you, on the floor," but one minute she was on the bed with her gun and the next a black shape whirled over her and she was gone. I'd seen the speed of lycanthropes and vampires, but all I saw was the cloak like a black sheet and it dragged her over on the other side of the bed with it. It wasn't just fast, it was as if the thing, whatever it was, was formed of the blackness of the cloth and nothing more. Fuck, that couldn't be real. Had it mind-fucked me? If the answer was yes, I was about to lose in real life and not just in nightmare.

  "Yell for help and we kill her," a voice said on the other side of the bed. It was male and growly; I was betting shapeshifter of some kind.

  "How do I know she's still alive?"

  "Do you think I could kill her that quickly?" the voice asked.

  "Yes," I said.

  He laughed. "Say something, girl. "

  There was a moment of silence, then a small pain sound, and Laila said, "I'm alive. "

  "Are you hurt?" I asked.

  "No. "

  "Oh, I'm sad that you think I haven't hurt you yet. The next thing I do to you, you won't doubt that you're hurt. "

  "Leave her alone. "

  "We will if you give us what we want. "

  "What do you want?" I asked. I had the gun pointed in the direction of the voice, but there was nothing to shoot at. If I was patient maybe there would be; nothing is faster than a bullet.

  "You," and it was such a direct echo from my dream that it startled me.

  "What do you mean, you want me? How? Why?"

  "Does it matter? If you don't come with us, I'll kill your friend. "

  "Don't do it . . . ," Laila said, and was cut off abruptly, and this time the pain sound was a little louder.

  "Ask her if she's hurt again," the growling voice said, and he sounded eager.

  I'd heard that tone before in voices; I knew that they liked causing pain, so I did what he asked so he wouldn't hurt her again to make the point.

  "Laila, are you hurt?"

  Her voice was shaky. "Yes. "

  "What did you do to her?"

  "Nothing permanent, yet," he said.

  "She'll heal?" I asked, and as in the dream I pointed my gun toward the voice, but also at the open door. Most of the Harlequin traveled in pairs or more. But with their speed I wouldn't have time to shoot twice. I'd need a target and a decision before I'd really had time to decide anything.

  "Yes," he said.

  "What do you mean you want me? Sexually?" I was almost hopeful on that one; it wasn't a fate worse than death and it certainly wasn't a fate worse than having Laila murdered while I listened to her die.

  "We're not allowed," he said, and he sounded sad.

  "You're not allowed to have sex?"

  "Just not with you. "

  That was interesting. "Then what do you want with me?"

  "My master is outside. Simply put down your weapon and walk out the door to him. I will release the girl and follow you. "

  Laila said, "Don't do it, Anita!" She yelled it, and then she screamed for real. Edward and the other marshal were next door. Help was coming.

  The cloak rose up, and I saw the white mask, but Laila was held in front of him like a shield. Her eyes were fluttered back in her head, but she was alive. I raised the gun barrel higher so I'd hit the white mask and miss her. Then he was gone; I swear that he moved so fast Laila simply stayed in the air where he'd held her, and he was through the door and gone before she began to fall.

  Edward shouted, "Anita!"

  "I'm okay, did you see that?"

  "I saw something," he called back.

  I kept an eye on the doorway as I searched for Laila's pulse. Edward was in the doorway: shirtless, boxers, with a gun in each hand. I let him watch for bad guys and looked down at Laila. Her arm was broken at the wrist and
maybe higher up. There was blood, too, and it wasn't from the arm. Fuck.

  I heard the other marshal go back toward the room. "I'll call for an ambulance, and then will someone tell me what the hell just happened?"

  Edward kept watch out into the night, but said, "Her warrant is vacated. I guess we have our warrant of execution. "

  "I didn't want it this way," I said.

  "She's alive, Anita. It could have gone the other way. "

  He was right. I knew he was right, so why did I feel so shitty? "I don't know where the blood is coming from, but somewhere on her back. I don't want to move her, but there's too much blood. We need to find the wound and put pressure on it. If she bleeds out, nothing else matters. "

  He knelt down to help but kept his side toward the door so he could still see movement. "We can hunt them now, Anita, our way. "

  He helped me lift her and try to keep her neck from moving. It probably wasn't a spinal injury, but back wounds can be tricky, and cautious was better than being wrong. He helped me lift her just enough so I could search for the wound. But it wasn't just a wound, it was several. I found at least three. "Shit!" I said.

  "What's wrong?" he asked.

  "It's multiple wounds, which means it wasn't a blade. He used claws. "

  "Powerful enough shapeshifter to change just his hands," Edward said.

  "Yes. "

  "They're all going to be that powerful," he said.

  "I know. " I got towels from the bathroom to press against the wounds. "These are punctures. If they're deep, her chances of catching lycanthropy are higher. "

  "You'll have to tell the EMTs when they get here. "

  "I know. " I pressed the towels against the wound and tried to stop the bleeding. Edward kept holding her up and trying to keep her neck from moving. It was the best we could do until the medics got here.

  "What's our way?" I asked.

  "What?" he asked.

  "You said we'd be able to hunt them our way now. What's our way?"

  "Violent, and very, very final. "

  I looked at him over Laila's unconscious body. My hands were already soaked with her blood. I was kneeling in it. "Did you see the speed of the thing?"

  "Incredible. "

  "How do we kill that speed?"

  "Wound it, then chop it up. " He sounded eager.

  "I'm scared, Edward. "

  He looked at me, his eyes empty and cold as a winter's moon. "I'm not. " I guess he meant it to be comforting, and I guess maybe it was.

 
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