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Affliction (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 22) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 16:54:16

Henry Crawford wasn't that hurt and normally wouldn't have been on the same floor as Rush Callahan, but putting him a room just down the hallway from Micah's dad meant that all the cops hanging out there could help watch Henry's room, since vampires did have a habit of coming back for humans they'd singled out. Wolves will take the weakest in a herd, the easiest to kill. Though wolves are one of the traditional and most common animals to call for a master vampire, vamps don't think like wolves. They think more like lions.

Lions don't pick the weakest, though they can, and they will take opportunistic kills if offered, or even chase other predators off their kills and eat it. They'll even eat carrion, but when they hunt they go at it like some people enter a bar on Saturday night. They walk into the room, survey the crowd, pick out one they like, and think, 'I'll have that one.' People then spend the night seducing that person to take home for sex.

Lions pick the biggest, toughest water buffalo, or the fastest, juiciest-looking antelope, or whatever strikes their fancy, and then they throw overwhelming force at it. They live as part of a pride of lions, and the bigger the pride, usually, the bigger prey they will bring down, and the more arrogantly they choose it. Lions are the guy, or girl, who believes he, or she, really is God's gift to the opposite sex, and of course, you'll be flattered if they want you, and you will eventually say yes. Most of these people never turn into stalkers, because they are beautiful, sexy, and most people can be seduced. But lions, real lions, don't want sex from their prey, that's what other lions are for; they want to eat you, and unless the water buffalo can fight its way free early in the chase or have enough of its herd to fight back force against force, the lions will bring it down and eat it. Buffalo is big prey, so they kill it first; smaller prey sometimes gets eaten before it's totally dead. Most humans aren't big enough prey for vampires to kill us first. They toy with us, some because they enjoy it, because they can, but others because they're still deciding - do they want sex from us, or servitude, or are we just food?

Henry was still alive. The question was, had they just been playing with him, had they meant to make him their slave, or had the vampire that bewitched him grown to desire him? Food, torment, slavery, or sex; those were the choices between humans and vampires. How could I say that, with Jean-Claude's proposal just a few hours old? In my experience with vampires the overwhelming truth was they saw us as prey. I actually think it was a way of distancing themselves emotionally so they could feed on us. It was the same principle I used at crime scenes to distance myself from the victims. The bodies became its, things, so I didn't run screaming. Live victims are harder; they demand more, and vampires can't feed on the dead.

Some of the vampire community called me a living vampire, but if I was, I didn't have the attitude yet. I would not have picked Henry Crawford junior at six foot seven, or his father, who had not been a small man either, as my victims du jour. I'd seen the group that had been out there in the woods looking for the lost, and there had been so many other men in the group who would have been easier marks than the Crawfords. Why them? Why go for the water buffalo when there'd been so many antelopes to choose from?

Several of my inner beasts sort of 'looked' up at me, if something inside you could look 'up.' They didn't talk like people talk, but I understood them all the same. Sometimes you get tired of antelope, and if you're big enough to take the water buffalo, why not? Until they took the Crawfords the vampires had taken tourists, some families with younger kids, hikers, one runner doing his route through the mountains, elderly couples in isolated areas. They'd been victims of opportunity, like the Crawfords, but everyone else had been much easier marks. Maybe the vampires were learning how to hunt and just decided to take bigger prey?

Tests on the blood around the man's groin had come back human and female. I was betting it was from the female vampire in custody, but we wouldn't know until we got the DNA tests back from the saliva in the bites she'd given to Travers. Because the vampires had lawyered up, we couldn't take DNA samples without them being awake and having their lawyer present. Ares' body had been considered too hazardous to test because of the lycanthropy. They'd been keeping Little Henry knocked out most of the time, because he'd been pretty hysterical any time he started to come to. They couldn't keep him doped up forever, but they also couldn't figure out what was wrong with him mentally and emotionally. Yes, he'd been through serious trauma and his father's death, but it was almost as if he were having hallucinations when he was awake and horrible nightmares if he slept without the drugs. Henry was a very big, strong guy to have the nurses waking him from nightmares or trying to control him during waking hallucinations.

Dr Bill Aimes was tall, athletic in that I-hit-the-treadmill-and-light-weights kind of way, with short blond hair and steel-rimmed glasses. He was stumped at how to help Little Henry. 'Is there anything that a vampire could do to him that would cause waking hallucinations and night terrors?'

'Some vampires can cause terror in a person and feed off it, like a sort of metaphysical snack, but usually they have to be physically closer to do it. It's usually a touch-distance kind of thing.'

'Could they be causing the fear and visions so they could keep feeding off him from a distance?'

I thought about it. 'I'd normally say no, but this vampire has done so many things that I would have said were impossible that I wouldn't rule it out. I can tell you, though, that if he's got a connection to a vampire, I should be able to sense it.'

'How would you sense it?'

'It's hard to explain unless you have a background in psychic ability,' I said.

He smiled and shook his head. 'No, I'm strictly a touch-it-and-it's-real person. I don't even believe in God, because I can't put him in a test tube.'

'You're an atheist?' I asked.

'Then you can't use holy objects against vampires, or faith against the demonic.'

The way he said it made me ask, 'Do you not believe in demons?'

'If I don't believe in God, it's very hard to believe in the rest.'

'I'm so sorry,' I said, before I could stop myself.

'Sorry about what?' he asked.

'Your world is very ... narrow, Dr Aimes. I find that sad, and it also means if vampires attack us you have to hide behind all of us believers.'

He laughed. 'I will hide behind you proudly and keep not believing in all the glowy stuff.'

'All right, you can hide behind me, but in the meantime I'll see what I can sense from Henry Crawford.'

'I hope you can give us some clue, because it's almost as if he's continuing to be freshly traumatized in the dreams and hallucinations.'

'Aren't night terrors by definition traumatizing?' I asked.

He seemed to think about that and then nodded. 'I suppose so, but these seem different. I've worked with patients with post-traumatic stress disorder and helped them work through some truly terrible memories, and all I can tell you is that there is something different going on here and I have no idea what it is.'

'Vampire mind games can fuck with stuff,' I said.

He grinned suddenly and gave a small laugh. 'Well, I guess you would be the expert on vampires.'

I agreed with him, gathered up Nicky, and went to see Little Henry Crawford.