Stefan’s Diaries: Bloodlust Chapter 18
As soon as Id taken every last ticket and accepted every last dollar, I slipped into the tent behind an overweight man clutching a sweaty wad of Confederate notes in each fist. The air was thick with the stench of sweat, sawdust, and, of course, blood.
People were milling around us, paying extra money to gawk at the Strongman and the Tattooed Lady, all of whom were hidden behind thick black curtains at various intervals along the perimeter of the tent. But the majority of the crowd was clamoring around Jasper. Large wagers were being placed, with lots of shouting and hand signals and stacks of greasy notes being passed back and forth. Jasper gleefully chomped on his soggy cigar and laughed.
Sailors yanked foreign bills from their billfolds. A few teenagers pooled their coins. Well-dressed men in ties waved gold coins.
“Fight, fight, fight!” one red-faced man began yelling. Instantly, the people standing by him began to chant as well. Three well-dressed women, their hair in curls atop their heads, glanced at each other, giggled, and echoed the cheer, their alto voices contrasting with the mens baritone ones.
Gallagher strode into the tent, his cane tapping a path through the sawdust. People turned and craned their necks to catch a glimpse of him; in the circus tent, he was just as much an attraction as the freaks. After all, this was the man whod caught a vampire.
Be strong, brother, I whispered under my breath, remembering all the times Damon had won fights back in Mystic Falls. Damon had never provoked those battles but had always been a good fighter, always landing a punch fast when a fight broke out. Thats why hed been so respected in the army. But now, in a battle against a mountain lion, especially after not feeding for days I shuddered.
“Brother?” I whispered tentatively, at a decibel I knew only his ears could detect. I was hoping for some sort of reply, even though I wasnt sure whether he could have actually heard me. If he did, he said nothing in response.
“And now, lets introduce our fighters!” Gallaghers voice broke through my reverie. Two animal handlers, their hands in leather gloves and wearing boots that came up past their knees, walked into the ring, leading a mangy mountain lion. The mountain lion had a grayish-yellowish coat and yellow teeth, and, despite its lean body, looked brutal. And hungry. As if on cue, it uttered a roar.
“In one end of your ring, you have the mountain lion. But this is no ordinary cat. This beast is the Alberta Avenger! He came down from Canada to find the hunter that killed his mate. He eviscerated the hunter, his wife, and all of his children except the youngest, whose legs the lion ate before leaving the rest of him alive to tell the story. Since then, you have followed the mountain lion in the newspapers as it has feasted its way on innocents in the Union and Confederacy without prejudice. Tonight, it is here only after we captured it trying to stow away on a boat bound for the Andes Mountains in South America. The mountain lion, ladies and gentlemen!” Gallagher yelled, his showmanship on full display.
The crowd dutifully applauded enthusiastically, and some even cheered.
“Its opponent is a legendary vampire that has been terrifying children and their parents for centuries. Viktor the Cruel was born in 1589 and was heir to the Hapsburg Empire until he first tasted blood–his sisters–and began a three-hundred-year feeding frenzy that has left a trail of drained bodies around the world. At an estimated two victims per day, this brings Viktors kills to one and a half million people, more than double the size of Italy. This unstoppable lust for blood continues tonight.”
The applause was more nervous now, but the cheers were louder.
Gallagher spread his hands apart with a flourish, and Damon came into the ring, surrounded by four handlers. His hands and feet were in chains, and his face was partially hidden by a muzzle. His skin was bleeding from the vervain, his eyes were bloodshot, and the expression on his face was one Id never seen.
I could understand the hatred he felt–I was fighting every instinct I had not to kill the people holding him captive. But his imprisonment had changed him. Damon had called me a cold-blooded killer. The look in Damons eyes was not one of sport, or survival. It was pure bloodlust.
A hush filled the tent. The mountain lion strained at his chains, but Damon simply stood in his corner of the ring, as if unaware of what the imminent future held for him.
“And go!” Gallagher yelled. Immediately, the handlers unlocked Damons chains and opened the iron door of the mountain lions cage, then ran off the stage. The lion jumped toward Damon, making contact with his chest. Damon let out an anguished moan and fell backward. Then, just as quickly, he rose to his feet and roared, his face suddenly flushed, his fangs on full display. I knew this was all instinctual: Damons Power rising to the surface as soon as hed felt the attack. I had learned this about our kind in the past few weeks: Our power led us to do things before we even knew we were doing them. Despite Damons external weakness, his Power was still intact.
The lion leaped again, and Damon went low, ducking under the claws and coming up at just the right moment to dig his hands into the lions neck. But the lion tossed Damon free; he rolled to a stop only when he slammed into the gate surrounding the ring.
Damon let out another moan and lay on the ground. The lion began to stalk over to claim his kill.
The crowd went wild, friends hitting one another in the arm and clawing at the air as though they themselves were in the fight.
One of the handlers positioned along the sidelines poked at Damon, clearly to get him moving. Damon swung without looking, knocking the man into the stands. As the handler struggled to get up, two nearby customers kicked him in the gut and then dropped him over the back railing to the dirt below, out of sight.
Damon paid no heed to the scuffle and moved deeper into the ring, letting the lion slowly circle him.
After a long silence, Damon let out a feral growl and ran toward the lion. The lion roared in response and charged, but this time Damon stepped aside, and when the lion missed him, Damon hooked an arm up under the lions neck. With strength no one seemed to expect, Damon threw the lion onto its back. He was about to dive on top and go in for the kill when the lion kicked up and drove a claw right through Damons arm.
The lion swatted its paw around, swinging Damon through the air like a fly on a fishing line. At last, the flesh gave way and Damon, with a red arc of blood trailing behind him, shot up through the air, then landed with a thud even I couldnt hear over the hellish roar of the celebrating crowd.
Damon struggled to his feet, holding the wounded arm in place with the other. He wasnt healing as quickly as vampires usually do–I wondered if the vervain had dampened that Power.
He needed blood, that much was clear. His survival instincts and the attendant adrenalin were waning. I was about to rush forward into the ring, with the stout man in front of me as an offering to my brother, when a warm hand fell on my arm.
“Its horrible,” she said. Her knuckles had gone white around clumps of her dress. Her lips hung loose and trembled. “I cant watch this barbarism much longer.”
“Then tell your father to stop it,” I hissed.
The stomping on the wooden stands was picking up in speed and along with the racing heartbeats of the people. The splotches of blood in the sawdust werent enough to satisfy them–they needed to see a death.
Now Damon was padding around the mountain lion, as the animal hunched, coiled, in the center of the ring, moving as little as possible while following Damon with its reflective eyes. Suddenly, Damon took off, moving at a blurred speed around the lion so that the animal had to rapidly turn and turn, as though chasing its own tail.
A quiet came over the crowd, and only the heavy panting of Damon and the mountain lion echoed under the canvas of the tent. Damon circled his prey, moving faster than the lion could comprehend.
The crowd gasped as Damon slanted toward the mountain lion, and before the beast could tell which direction he was coming from, Damon dove on the muscle behind the lions head. He bit in and held on, letting the lion kick and flip wildly.
Callie clutched my arm. My eyes were riveted on the scene, and my body was primed to run to the cage should I need to intervene.
The mountain lion was slowing. Each time it bucked, more blood appeared in the sawdust in little red rivers. Its left hind leg was looking weak now; wobbling, it started to flop toward the ground. Damon unlatched his fangs and reared back, ready to go for the vein in the cats neck.
Just then, the cat flailed its hindquarters and threw Damon free. As Damon tried to recover his feet, the mountain lion moved in and wrapped its jaws around his side.
The crowd gasped again, then began to boo.
Fight, I urged with every fiber of my being, clenching my fists at my sides.
Damon had gone limp and was being flung around like an old slipper in a dogs mouth. The lion tossed Damon to the ground, then pulled its head back and opened wide. But just as the animal dove forward, Damon rolled away. He drove his shoulder into the confused beasts side, bowling it over and exposing the short white hairs on its throat.
Damon tore into the vein with his fangs. The mountain lion twitched its way to stillness as a puddle of blood became bigger and bigger until it was a great lake of blood within the fighting ring. At its center was my brother, kneeling over a dead mountain lion.
He stood and stumbled backward a step. He looked up into the crowd with a wide smile on his face, his fangs out and his whole face and front dripping with blood. The crowd cheered and booed in equal measure, and Damon just turned in a small circle, occasionally licking his lips.
Gallagher clapped his fat hands together. The ones whod made money jumped and hugged one another. The ones whod lost threw hats to the ground or stared blankly ahead.
I leaped forward, trying to push my way to my brother, but the handlers had already moved in, stakes and vervain-laced nets in hand. Damon was clearly drunk on such a massive feed after not eating for so long and didnt seem to notice them. Before I could even shout a warning, the men wrapped him in nets and began dragging him out of the arena.
Even at my fastest, I couldnt get past the crowd that had filled in behind them and now blocked the entire way. All of the revelers, hooting and slobbering, stood between me and the exit, and by the time I pushed and shoved my way out, the wagon was careening out of the fairgrounds.
A whip cracked. Hooves beat the ground. And just like that, Damon was gone.