Blake closed his eyes with a sigh and stretched his arms gratefully over his head, wincing at the bursts of pain shooting through his bruised body. He’d made it through the day, and that was what mattered.
“You have an appointment this afternoon, right?” Zack asked from the driver’s side, putting the car into first. Blake nodded as the car purred, pulling through the empty space before them and out into the lane.
“Yeah, but I’d rather just skip it,” Blake whined. “Doc always makes me feel like I’m dying or something. It’s a huge pain.”
Zack’s hands tightened on the wheel, his face going pale, but his voice stayed light. “We could always just skip, right? Maybe go hunting or something.”
Blake laughed. “Does it still count as hunting when every girl in sight practically throws herself at you?”
“Oh please,” Zack replied, relaxing a little at the easy banter. “If you weren’t so busted up, at least a few would go for you. There’ve got to be a few lesbians in every crowd, right?”
“I take offense at that! I am not a female,” Blake yelled, punching his friend playfully. In response, Zack swerved wide into the other lane, earning them a series of short, very irritated honks and the finger as the other driver sped past. “You are just jealous of my stunning physique.”
“Oh yeah, Blake. Really jealous.” Zack laughed. “You are practically a god among men.” He turned onto the highway, apparently oblivious to the fact that the light was red. Blake hated driving with Zack, but it was much easier than bothering his brother for a lift every day. Besides, Whit was always busy anyway.
Blake flipped open the mirror built into the back of the sun visor, and, using the tiny glass, carefully removed the contacts from his tired, dry eyes. It took longer than it should have, the process complicated by his still-swollen bruises. When he finished, his own irises stared back at him, white as bleached bone. “I hate this.”
Zack grabbed his shoulder lightly with one hand – the other staying on the wheel, thankfully. “Me too. But only for a few more years, right? Once we graduate college, you can be a hermit or something, and no one will care that your eyes are the freakiest things since spray-cheese.”
He knew he was supposed to laugh, but Blake wasn’t in the mood anymore. He flipped the mirror closed before he could read the pain in his own eyes. “We both know I won’t ever graduate. Why do any of us bother with this farce anymore?” He turned to look at Zack, who seemed very interested in the road all of a sudden. Blake knew they were close to home, but he didn’t care. He didn’t want to have to spend another afternoon being poked and prodded and asked the same questions as always, giving the same answers, being given the same stupid optimistic lies.
“I’m dying, and we should just accept that.”
Zack pulled to a stop at a sign, and that was when Blake knew he’d gone too far. Zack never bothered with stop signs, especially not when there was no one around.
“I’m not letting you die, Blake. That’s all there is to it.” Zack looked over at him, and Blake saw pain, sorrow, and loneliness there, and remembered that his friend had recently lost his sister. Zack put up a hard front, a harsh one, a façade that drove most people away. Now, the only ones he’d let close to him were dying one by one.
“Sometimes we don’t have a choice.”
Zack started driving again, slowly still, but it was a little better. After a few breaths passed in uncomfortable, strained silence, Blake decided to change the subject. “Hey, I’ve finally finished designing my Card. Wanna see?”
The design wasn’t incredibly original, but Blake liked it. It matched the tattoo he’d gotten on his shoulder: a four headed dragon. The card was just an ordinary playing card, but he’d bleached off the color, so it was solid white, and in place of a pattern of hearts, diamonds, spades or clubs he’d etched in the dragon. The heads all breathed fire, and he’d carefully burned the top of the card to make it seem real.
Zack whistled his appreciation, reaching one hand toward the collar of his shirt and grabbing the chain around his neck. Blake had never seen what was on that chain, what the special pendant his friend had worn for years actually looked like. Now he knew it must be a representation of his card.
“Oh damn, yours is better than mine,” Blake complained appreciatively as Zack drew the small plastic tag from his shirt. It bore a snake looped six times around a bloody dagger. The sheer detail was incredible, making it seem almost alive. Blake had to forcibly stop himself from reaching out to touch it.
They might have continued, but the Savage home appeared around the corner, and Zack quickly tucked the plaque back down his shirt. Blake took a moment to really look at his home, from a distance. If taken alone, it was absurd, a house meant to draw attention. The design was complex and fanciful, with a detached portion of the second floor connected to the rest by a glass bridge. However, the entire neighborhood had been built by the same architect, and each building was more incredible than the next. Their neighbor had a mote, complete with a replication of a gothic castle. When compared to the rest, the residence of the Savages was almost plain, easily overlooked.
Which was precisely why they had chosen to live there.
Whit’s Audi was in the garage, and, strangely, Olivia’s convertible was pulled into the driveway, the engine still warm, so they parked on the street. Sharing a look, Blake took the lead, ignoring the front door and heading to the backyard. Halfway there, laughter brought them up short.
“Was there a meeting scheduled for today?”
Blake looked at Zack and shook his head. Although the other had been a part of the guild far longer, Blake had been raised within it, even if he’d only recently been given a number. “Aunt…” cutting himself off, Blake desperately sought her number. It was strange trying to portion off his mind this way, but a necessary evil. “Vijf.”
“What is Five doing here? Three’s parked out front too. Are we missing something?”
Blake would have replied, but the scream cut him off.
Sharing a look, the two friends raced for the door, determined not to miss whatever was happening in Blake’s home.