This is not my morning. I'm running late for Introduction to Faerie Combat, the latest rain shower just plastered my hair to my skull, the iron poker sticking out of my backpack keeps banging me in the back of the head, and I can barely read the handwriting on my class schedule. As if that wasn't enough, I'm pretty sure something is following me: if I had the sight, I'd be able to tell if it was something under an invisibility glamour. But no, I had to get stuck with unreliable prophetic visions instead.
I finally reach Building 6 as the shower ends. When I stumble through the door (which creaks loudly, of course), 17 blank faces turn my way. 17 pairs of eyes scan me, and then dismiss me.
"You are not Ronald Hayes," the instructor says.
The light glints off her fangs. They are very white and very sharp. I notice that all the windows are completely covered. And that 9 of the 17 students in the room are vampires. The other 8 appear to be human. I wish for the second time today that I had the sight.
I wonder why vampires would take a Faerie Combat class.
I clear my throat. "No. I'm Carrie Manchester."
She shrugs. "Well, we have an empty chair. Take a seat."
My wet sneakers squelch loudly on the linoleum as I walk to my seat. All the vampires are dry; I wonder how they got here in the daylight. There must be a tunnel or something. Of course they are all perfectly groomed, even though it's the middle of their night. Sometimes I hate vampires.
I drop my backpack on the floor, and the iron poker thumps on the linoleum and then makes a louder clang when the top of it hits my chair leg. Why couldn't I have found a rail spike or something?
"All right." The professor only looks at the vampires as she speaks--it's like the humans aren't even in the room. "Welcome to Cruelty-Free Feeding. Most of you are here because you wish to seek a career path that frequently brings you into contact with mainstream human society, and you need to be able to drink from humans without draining them."
Wait . . . what? I raise my hand. The teacher ignores me and continues talking.
"We have a collection of volunteers present to help us practice exercising control when we feed. Be aware that I am armed with Rowan and will not hesitate to use it on you if you don't stop when you are told. The stakes were blessed by a priest, a rabbi, a fundamentalist preacher, and a buddhist monk. Even a non-fatal blow will leave you in pain for weeks, and will run the risk of serious infection. I have a perfect safety record in my classes, and you will not ruin it."
I wave my hand. She keeps ignoring me. I'm just about to jump up when I feel a vision coming on; the room tilts and my head starts to spin. I grip the edge of my desk and see the door to the classroom opening, and a man bursting into the classroom with a flame thrower. He sets the teacher (and the teacher's desk) on fire. The human students--all except me--jump up and rip the black-out curtains off the windows or produce stakes from backpacks and pockets. Flames crackle, blood splatters the desks and walls. The vampires retaliate by ripping out throats and breaking bones, but the sunlight and fire reduce them to piles of ash.
I don't realize I'm screaming until the vision clears. The room has gone quiet, and everyone is looking at me now. I want to shrink into my seat, but I never know how long it will be before a vision comes true. And though I might resent the vampires' perfect grooming, I'm not willing to let them be slaughtered.
They probably won't listen to me if I talk, so I jump up and grab the messenger bag of the student next to me, tipping it upside down before he can protest.
A dozen Rowan stakes, a vial of holy water and a crucifix clatter onto my desk.
"Someone is coming with a flame thrower," I say. "He was following me through the woods. I don't know how long you have. They're all in on it."
The classroom erupts. The vampires all jump for the humans, and I wish I'd thought more carefully before I acted. I'd rather nobody died today. Fortunately the teacher's hiss freezes the vampires before they hurt anyone. I don't blame them--I wouldn't mess with her either.
"You," she says to me. "Wait by the door with that ridiculous poker. Looks like you'll get to use it this afternoon after all."
I nod, grab my poker, and assume the position.
"As for you," she says to the humans. "Out the back door right now. And if you aren't far away by sunset, I'm going to let my students track you down."
They're all white and shaking. The instructor doesn't have to tell them twice; they scurry.
The back door has barely shut when the door beside me opens and the man with the flame thrower jumps through. I whack his hands with the poker, making him drop the metal nozzle and trip over the fuel hose. The professor is on him before he hits the floor, picking him up by his shoulders.
She smiles, and I'm glad she's not smiling at me.
"So nice of you to join us today," she says to the man. "Have a seat. I have some questions for you."
I slip out the door while everyone is looking at the man. I suspect that Cruelty-Free Feeding is about to lose it's perfect safety record.