Zander arrived in his office while Chase was still sitting on the floor with me in his arms. He stood speechless for a moment as he took in the scene in front of him.
It probably looked quite alarming; we were still covered in blood and I couldn't help but wipe self consciously at my mouth, something that Zander noticed of course.
He shut the office door firmly behind himself before turning back to face us. 'You've given her your blood?' he asked Chase.
'Yes,' Chase replied. 'Talia is healed now. What is happening with the students?'
I flinched at the reminder of what had happened. Will... he was the one...
Zander's eyes flicked to me and back at Chase.
'There is no need to hide the details from Talia,' Chase told him sharply. 'Not when she was attacked by your child.'
I gasped, my eyes going wide. 'What?' Silence filled the room as I looked over at Zander. He didn't look guilty; more that he was sad that it had come to this. 'You were the vampire to change Will?' I asked, horrified as I remembered Will's story.
'Yes,' Zander replied. 'I am Will's maker.'
I felt sick and Chase's hands tightened around me fractionally. 'How could you do that?' I whispered. 'How could you just end his human life like that?!'
'Is that what he told you?' Zander asked, sadness still in his eyes.
I hesitated, uncertain. 'He... he told me that he was taken from his family's home in England. I don't think he remembered much but Will's first memories after that were of being a vampire.'
Zander nodded thoughtfully. 'Will's transformation was traumatic, surely,' he told me quietly. 'But I did it to save his life – something that I should have explained to him apparently.'
I stared at Zander, trying to reconcile my competing views of him. 'What happened?' I asked eventually, giving up on figuring it out for myself.
Zander smiled sadly. 'William was taken from his home, as he told you, by a vampire. This vampire had the idea in mind of creating new vampires to do his bidding. I discovered him only after Will had been kidnapped and drained nearly to the point of death. I had only a number of choices. I could have simply let him die. Or I could have even let the rogue vampire attempt to change him but Will's life would have been wasted anyway. Or, finally, I could attempt to change him myself.'
I stared back at Zander. 'Why would his life have been wasted if the other vampire made the change?'
'What the rogue vampire did was dangerous,' Zander told me. 'In taking such a noticeable person in such a clumsy way, that vampire drew attention to a human's disappearance at the hands of a vampire. That sort of behaviour puts our entire society at risk. It is the sort of thing that cannot be allowed.'
I nodded slowly, understanding. Other vampires would have stepped in to punish the rogue vampire so the secret would be kept. I wondered who would have stepped in but decided that wasn't the most important thing at the moment.
'So Will doesn't know what happened?' I asked.
Zander hesitated and then sighed. 'Apparently not. From his early days as a vampire, William has been very careful to close himself off from other people.'
I shook my head. 'You realise that he blames you, right?' I asked. 'He was the one to break into your office!'
Both Zander and Chase looked at me sharply.
'Is that why he attacked you tonight?' Chase asked.
I nodded. 'Yeah. I worked it out that the same person who broke into your office would be the one to attack me and therefore had to be a student. So I came here to tell you, Zander. But you weren't here so I tried to get back to the dorms before sun down. I met Will on the way and I accidentally told him that I thought I knew what had happened. I didn't know it was Will specifically but he assumed I knew.'
'That still doesn't explain why you saw more than one student around the castle grounds the night of the break in,' Chase pointed out.
I just shrugged. 'I don't have all the answers.'
'I can answer that one,' Zander said heavily and we both looked at him. 'I was away from the castle last night to follow up a lead. I found the other two vampires who were here.'
Something in his voice made a knot form in my stomach.
'Alive?' Chase asked.
'No,' Zander replied. 'They had been dead a while so I believe that William turned on them after the attempted break in.'
I felt sick to my stomach. 'You think he killed them?'
'Yes,' Zander replied without hesitation. 'He has proven twice tonight that he is capable of such a thing. Everyone's been confined to the common rooms,' Zander told us gravely. 'On his way out, William attacked another student.'
My eyes went wide. Twice? Will's first attack must have been to stab me but the second...?
'Who?' Chase asked sharply and I felt a strange twinge; he was concerned about how this would affect me. Chase glanced at me and I knew he was aware of what I was experiencing.
'The student's name was Amber,' Zander told us.
There was a moment of silence before I could speak though my heart pounded in my ribs. 'Was?' I questioned in a whisper, afraid of the answer.
'Yes,' Zander said softly. 'The knife he used on you was silver.'
I closed my eyes, feeling sick. I could picture Will fleeing the castle and coming across Amber on his way out. He already had the weapon and he had nothing left to lose. Amber had been in the way. Amber, who had secretly loved him.
'Do you know where he has gone?' Chase asked, lifting a hand to press my head into his shoulder.
I didn't argue, closing my eyes and letting myself sag against him. I couldn't believe it. Amber was gone and Will had killed her. He'd tried to kill me too but, thanks to Chase, he'd failed.
'No,' Zander said, the anger returning to his tone. 'And I was more concerned with getting the academy into order before I pursue him myself.'
There was a moment of silence and I hoped that neither of them would speak to me. Despite the healing properties of Chase's blood, I was beyond fatigued and overloaded with stress and grief for what had happened.
'Will you stay to look after her?' Zander asked Chase, sounding more curious than anything else.
'Yes,' Chase replied. 'Though she will be physically recovered very soon.'
'Do I take it the secret it out?'
'Yes,' Chase repeated. 'The students know about Talia's connection to me. At least now I can offer her formal protection.'
Zander hesitated. 'Then at least one good thing has come of this tragedy,' he said heavily. 'I will leave you now. Judy is expecting Talia in the infirmary when you want to rouse her.'
Chase didn't reply and I heard the door to the office open and close again. His fingers gently pushed my hair off my face. 'Are you recovered enough to walk?' Chase asked.
I forced my eyes open. 'Probably,' I told him.
He smiled a little and shifted me in his arms to a more secure grip before getting to his feet so smoothly I was barely jostled. Then he let me down to my feet. I felt better than I'd expected; stronger and clearer headed. That was definitely a good thing. 'Your blood must be pretty powerful,' I said aloud.
Chase laughed and I discovered I liked the sound. He slipped a hand around my waist and together we headed for the door. It was a slow process but eventually I got over the residual weakness and began to feel more and more like myself.
By the time we reached the infirmary, I was walking normally. I paused outside the door and turned to Chase. 'Do I really need to go in?' I asked.
'Yes,' Chase replied firmly. 'You are not going back to the dormitory covered in blood.'
My mouth formed a perfect "o" as I remembered the state of my clothes. Looking down, I saw how truly macabre my uniform looked all covered in still-fresh blood. 'Eww,' I said. 'Okay.'
I pushed open the door and walked in, pleased that for once I was in a state to do so. Consciousness was a good thing, I decided. Judy instantly appeared in the doorway from her office, clearly stressed. 'Oh, dear,' she said, briskly coming towards me. 'Come over here and have a seat.'
I allowed her to tow me over to one of the beds and sat on the edge of it, glancing around to see that Chase followed after me, standing at the end of the bed. Satisfied that he wasn't going anywhere, I focused on Judy who was making a fuss scratching through her cabinet of medical supplies.
'Uh, Judy?' I called, glancing at Chase again who nodded.
'Yes?' she asked, pausing to look at me.
'She has had my blood,' Chase informed the nurse, entirely unconcerned about how she might react to such a statement.
'Oh,' Judy said, clearly surprised. She hesitated for a moment longer and then shut the cabinet before crossing the room again. 'I imagine you're all healed by now then?'
I nodded and pulled up my shirt so that she could see my stomach. It was still obvious where the stab wound had been, covered in blood as it was, but the skin was clearly healed. Judy stared at it in wonder and I realised just how rare this sort of thing was.
Judy nodded in approval. 'That has done the job nicely,' she said. 'I'll get you some warm water and a sponge then so you can get rid of all that blood.'
She bustled away and I glanced at Chase. I considered asking him how things were going to be between us now that I'd had his blood but I decided I probably wasn't quite ready to hear the answer.
Chase smiled softly as if he knew.
Judy returned with a basin of warm water and a cloth which she placed on a roller table and set that next to the bed. 'Will you be right from here?' she asked.
I nodded. 'Yeah, I can do it. Thank you.'
Judy nodded, cast another curious glance at Chase and disappeared into her office, closing the door behind her to give us privacy.
I grabbed the cloth and wrung out the excess water, glancing at Chase. 'Are you going to stay for this?' I asked, half wishing I could just take my shirt off so that I could clean my skin properly.
'Yes,' Chase replied. 'While the academy is still so unsettled.'
I paused, staring at him in surprise. 'You think there's still danger?'
'Some,' he said. 'While we don't know where Ryecart is I think it is best not to leave you alone.'
I dropped my eyes and stared at the cloth in my hands, feeling strange. I began rubbing the blood from my hands. 'You think he'd come back for me?' I asked quietly.
Chase paused. 'Not now. Ryecart probably realises that if you've lived, you would have told at least someone who your attacker was.'
I nodded and dunked the cloth in the water again before wringing it out. I couldn't believe how hurt I felt by Will's betrayal. Well, on second thought, it was entirely understandable. Frowning, I undid the bottom few buttons of my shirt and rolled it up so that my stomach was bare before knotting it to hold the material there.
Because the blood hadn't had time to dry, it wiped off pretty easily. I felt slightly sick looking at the redness of water as I left the cloth to float in it but I could only be grateful that I was still alive. And now uninjured.
Looking up at Chase, I finally took note of the fact that he had my blood smeared on him too. His black shirt was wet with it and his hands were bloody too.
'Are you done with the water?' he asked.
I just nodded and watched as he put his hands into the water, further deepening the colour of it. Sharing is caring, I thought and couldn't help the smile that spread across my face. Oh dear, I was losing it.
With his hands clean, Chase crossed the room and opened another cabinet next to the one that Judy took the medical supplies from. I watched as he took two new shirts from one of the shelves and closed the door.
Coming back over to me, Chase passed me one. The one he'd handed me was the standard white blouse for the girls and he'd found himself a nondescript black shirt. I guessed even the teachers were injured sometimes.
'That's for you to put on,' Chase said pointedly when I failed to move, his hands going to the buttons on his shirt.
I blinked in surprise. 'Are you taking your shirt off?' I asked, my brain strangely foggy.
Chase smiled suddenly. 'You can watch if you would like.'
My mouth dropped open. 'I...'
He reached the last button and I quickly got to my feet, turning my back before he could take his shirt off. Why? At this very moment I had no idea.
I heard the quiet sounds as Chase washed off any blood that had soaked through his shirt and then pulled on the clean one. I busied myself with unfolding the uniform shirt he'd passed me. Now this was going to be interesting.
'You can turn around,' Chase told me, amusement in his voice.
Damn vampires. Turning around to face him, I gave him a frosty look. 'So can you.'
Chase grinned but turned his back to me.
I wasted no time taking my ruined shirt off and pulling on the clean one, mentally cursing Chase the entire time. This was really not necessary. 'Okay,' I said finally when I was decent.
He was still smiling as he took the rolled up shirt from my hands and carried it with his own ruined one over to a lidded bin. He threw them both in there and firmly shut the lid before coming back over to me.
It was weird to think that only a short time ago I'd been lying in the corridor, badly injured. Now, looking at me, there was no trace of it.
'So what happens now?' I asked.
Chase returned to seriousness. 'Now, we wait. Zander will bring the academy back into order and we will remain here for the night. I do not want you around the students so soon after them being exposed to your blood.'
I nodded jerkily, having no problem with that.
'Then in the morning, if you would like, you will be boarding a flight home to visit your parents,' Chase continued.
My eyes went wide. 'You're sending me home?'
'Temporarily,' Chase said firmly. 'And only on the condition that you will get on the return flight so I don't have to go bring you back myself.'
I nodded quickly. 'Okay,' I agreed. I almost couldn't believe it. I was going home. Even if it was only temporarily, I was looking forward to doing something normal. 'Thank you,' I said sincerely, amazed by the intense rush of relief I felt. For even a short period of time, I would be assured safety.
Chase looked at me for a long moment. Then he slid his hand into my hair. 'Don't make it regret it,' he warned simply before bending his head to kiss me.
And honestly, I was only too happy to kiss him back.
After a minute of being lost in him, Chase lifted his head and drew the pad of his thumb across my bottom lip. 'Your friends are outside if you are ready to see them,' Chase informed me softly.
'Oh,' I said, surprised. It took me a moment to think of an answer to that. 'Oh, right. I guess so.'
Chase smiled and dropped another light kiss onto my lips. 'I will be nearby,' he said quietly. 'You will be able to feel where I am. That will be normal for you now. I will come back in when your friends are gone.'
I nodded. 'Okay. Thanks, Chase.'
He shook his head slightly. 'Don't let them demand answers from you. If I feel you getting too tired I will come back in and tell them to leave.'
My eyes went wide and I laughed at the idea of my friends being told off by Chase Laliberte. They'd be forever too scared to speak to me again. 'Alright,' I said, still smiling.
Once Chase was gone, I climbed up onto the bed as the door opened a second time. Jas came in, her eyes wide with nervousness. Behind her were Lucy, Brad, Peter and Bree.
I smiled to see them all. 'Hey. Come in everyone,' I said warmly.
They all crowded around my bed with expressions ranging from Jas' awe at having come across Chase again to Lucy's fretting.
'Talia,' Jas nearly whispered. 'You look healed...'
I bit my lip as realisation dawned on the group around me. 'Yes,' I said softly. 'I'm healed.'
Jas looked like I'd just announced I was getting married while shock covered the shifters' and Bree's faces which slowly eased into astonishment and plain curiosity.
'Wow,' Bree said quietly, a small smile on her face. 'So, how does it feel to be bonded to one of the most powerful vampires in existence?'
A shiver ran down my spine as I tried to think of an answer. 'I... think it will take some getting used to,' I admitted at last. 'But... I'm alive and I don't have Toby's vision hanging over my head anymore.'
Lucy grinned at me, relief evident in every line of her face. 'That's all that matters,' she said.
We were all quiet for a moment, reflecting on that. Really, I couldn't have put it better myself.
I was alive and so were all my close friends. It would take time to come to terms with Amber's death and Will's betrayal just as it would take time for me to work out the strange situation between Chase and I. But, in time, even those issues would be resolved.
As Lucy had said, that was all that mattered right now.
A/N: So, a big thank you goes to everyone who's followed this story and especially to those who have left a review! I hope you've all enjoyed reading.
Very soon I'll be posting the next piece to the Kaiser series – "A Matter of Loyalty". It's a short novella (just 7 chapters long) and I'll be following it with a full-length third Kaiser book which will start November 22.
So once again, thanks so much for reading!