Remember the time we broke Mothers crystal bowl? And I was so worried about how she would react that I cried?” I asked.
“Yes, and then Father decided I was to blame and whipped me and called me wicked,” Damon said dully.“I tried to make your life easier, little brother.But Im done.
This time, I want you to get exactly what you deserve.”
“What do you want me to say, Damon?” I asked angrily, so loudly the two guards looked up in surprise.
Damon paused, his eyes at half-mast. “Ill tell you exactly what I want you to say right before I kill you.”
I rolled my eyes in angry frustration. “I thought you were the one who wanted to die. And now youre going to kill me?”
Damon chuckled. “You know, now that I think about it, being a beast from hell might not be so bad. In fact, I think its a role I could take to, immensely. Perhaps it wasnt my newfound state I despised. It wasyou. But if youre gone–“
“If Im gone youll be in Patrick Gallaghers freak show forever,” I interrupted.
“But admit it, brother. Dont you think Patrick Gallaghers freak show is more fun than hell? And once I get some strength, I think I can plan an escape quite easily.”
“And then Im sure youll get caught, just as you did the first time,” I said in disgust.
I leaned my head back against the cage bars. The fight was one short hour away, and I hadnt given up on trying to engage Damon, to spark any possible thread of connection between us. But no matter what Id say, hed taunt me or ignore me.
It was impossible to know just how long wed been trapped. Since I had become a vampire, time had taken on a different quality. Seconds and minutes no longer mattered. I found being imprisoned gave time back its importance, because every second brought us closer to our battle. As I waited, I played out in my mind the various scenarios the fight could take. I pictured Damon snapping my neck, roaring triumphantly for the crowd. I saw myself succumbing to anger, accidentally stealing life from my brother–again.
But what would happen if we both refused to fight? Could we take on the entire audience together? Could we somehow engineer an escape? Yes, Gallaghers minions had vervain and stakes, but we had Power. If only I had Callie on my side
My heart panged painfully at the thought of Callies betrayal. The image of her flame-red hair and gleaming eyes floated to my mind constantly, inflaming my anger–and hurt–over and over. I curled my fists. If only Id listened to Lexi. If only I hadnt let a human in.
My only goal for the battle was that, if I should die, I would die with my eyes closed, instead of searching the crowd for her face.
“Lets go, boys!” Gallagher called out, pushing open the door as if he were rousing two children for a bright and early hike. He wore a black waistcoat and a brand-new gold watch that glinted in the weak sunlight. He snapped his fingers, and instantly the guards jumped to their feet, bustling to put on the makeshift uniform of a vampire handler: gloves, boots, and vervain-soaked garlands.
The door of the cage flew open, and guards roughly yanked us out, tightened muzzles around our fangs, and shackled our hands behind our backs. We were blindfolded, then marched out of the attic and into the back of a black iron wagon. The wagon took off, bumpily heading down to the lake.
When we arrived at the tent, we were marched in opposite directions.
“Freak!” I heard the sideshow acts hiss as I was marched through the backstage area. I tightened my jaw. I wondered if Lexi wondered where I was, if she thought I was already dead.
Though I was still blindfolded, I knew every inch of this tent. To the left was the tattooed woman, and to the right was Caroline, the bearded lady. The floor dipped down, and I knew I was in the arena.
I felt something grab my arm. “Ive told a lot of people about what a crafty one you are. But dont try too hard for my benefit, Mr. Salvatore. My money is on your brother,” Jasper whispered gleefully.
Finally, the blindfold was removed from my eyes. The tent was lit up like it was midday, and all the stands were crammed with people. At the center of the ring, Gallagher had set up a betting pool, where people frantically waved bills in the air. Organ music filled the tent, and the air smelled like candied apples and rum punch.
And then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw her.
Callie was weaving through the stands, and behind her was Buck, carrying a tin box. Her hair was plaited with vervain stems, and her face was pale. Shed obviously been dispatched to collect bets in the stand. She was certainly her fathers daughter, and she fulfilled her duties well.
She did not look at me once.
I tore my gaze away from her and forced it over to Damon on the opposite side of the ring. Damon had always been a good fighter, and his recent bouts had only strengthened him. If Damon wanted to kill me, he would.
Moreover, I would let him. I owed him that much.
Jasper struck the starting bell, and the crowd hushed. Gallagher stood up from his post in the betting pit and boomed:
“Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to another fine evening of sport made possible by yours truly, Patrick Gallagher. Only days ago, we brought you the first-ever fight between a vampire and a mountain lion. Tonight, we bring you the first-ever fight between two vampires, including the winner of that previous match. And not only that,” he said, dropping his voice and causing the crowd to hush and lean forward, “these two monsters are brothers. They came from the same womb, and now one of them will be heading straight to hell.”
A rock hit me in the back of the head, and I whirled around. Vervain was everywhere, causing the sea of faces to blend together in a nightmarish collage of eyes, noses, and open mouths.
“Brother, I’m sorry for anything I’ve done. Please. If we die, let’s not die in anger. We’re all we have,” I whispered, clenching my jaw and trying, one last time, to reach Damon. Damon looked up for a split second and jerked his head, but his expression was unreadable. In the center of the ring, Gallagher was still commanding the audiences attention.
“The book will be open for another five minutes for final bets. But!–” He raised his hand in the air, attempting to silence the crowd. The noise in the tent dulled, if only slightly. “Stay after the show, when well be selling the losers blood. Even a dead vampires blood has healing powers. Cures all ailments. Even ones in the bedroom.” Gallagher winked showily. The crowd catcalled and cheered. I stiffened, wondering whether the crowd thought this was all an act: that we were down-on-our-luck actors and that the blood Gallagher sold after the show would be some type of cherry cordial. Did anyone know that all the blood would be real, that the fallen loser in the center of the ring wouldnt be standing up and heading home once the tent was emptied?
Callie knew. Callie knew, and she had decided that this would be my fate. I again clenched my jaw, ready to fight, ready to give the audience the show it was looking for. Suddenly, I found myself being led around the ring by Jasper, giving the audience one final chance to scrutinize my strength before raising their stakes. I could hear snatches of conversation from all sides of the tent:
That one’s got an inch on the other. I’m swapping sides.
How’d your old lady like one of those for your anniversary?
I wonder how they’d do against a real lion.
A man dressed in clerical robes stood next to Gallagher, raising his frocked arms to quiet the crowd. I recognized him as the snake charmer from the sideshow.
“May all good light shine upon this fight and return the losers soul to the cleansing fires of hell!” he yelled, causing the tent to erupt in a cacophony of noise. A whistle blew, and the fight was on.
Damon circled toward me, his stance low to the ground, like when we were kids and practiced boxing. I imitated his stance.
“Blood!” one drunken man yelled, practically hanging over the railing of the ring.
“Blood! Blood! Blood!” The entire tent seemed to be cheering. Damon and I continued to circle each other.
“Let’s not do this,” I said.”Let’s refuse. What can they do?”
“We’re beyond that, brother,” Damon said.”The two of us can’t survive in the same world.”
Anger seeped into my limbs from the center of my being. Why couldnt we? And why couldnt Damon forgive me? I no longer thought he was haunted by the memory of Katherine. Instead, I believed he was haunted byme. Not who I was, but who he thought I was–a monster who killed without fear or awareness of consequence. How dare he not even recognize the lengths Id gone to to try to make him happy, to try to save him? I swung, connecting with Damons cheek. Blood spurted under his eye, and the crowd roared.
Damon wound up and swung back, hitting me on my shoulder and knocking me down to the ground.
“Why did you do that?” Damon hissed, baring his teeth to the delight of the crowd.
“Because you wanted it,” I hissed back, baring my own teeth, then flipped him over into a headlock.
He freed himself quickly and returned to his corner. We stood at opposite sides of the ring, staring at each other, both confused, angry, alone.
“Fight!” the crowd roared again. Gallagher glared at us, unsure what to do. He snapped his fingers, and Jasper and Buck ran toward us with stakes, determined to force us to fight each other. They prodded us until our bodies were only inches apart and both of our fists were raised, when a huge, echoing, booming crack that sounded like the sky splitting in two echoed from above. A cold wind whipped around us, causing a cloud of sawdust and debris to rise at our feet. I smelled smoke.
“Fire!” a panicked voice yelled.
I looked around wildly. Part of the tent was on fire, and people were running in all directions.
I felt hands shoving my shoulders. Callie. My eyes opened wide in surprise. “Go, go, go!” Callie yelled, pushing me. She held an axe in her hand, and slowly I began piecing together what had happened. Had she actually cut down the supports of the tent structure, then set the fire?
“Move!” Callie pushed me one more time. She was surprisingly strong for a human, and after a few seconds of stupidly standing and blinking in place, I grabbed Damon by the wrist, and we ran, past the tents, away from the river, faster and faster, heading toward my home.