Prologue

The spell that hit me came out of nowhere and slapped me silly. One second, up was up and down was down, the next, they weren't. It felt like someone had put my brain in a blender and set it to maximum speed. The concrete of the alley rushed to meet my face with a nasty slap that left me even more stunned. The clatter of my splat gun hitting the ground barely registered against the haze of whatever mind-scrambling spell I had been hit with.

Stupid witch… Al would laugh his ass off if he saw you. Then again, the demon might just be appalled that his pupil couldn't pull off the simplest counterspells. He made it look so easy in training, like it was second nature to him, but I still fumbled half the time, when I even remembered to use them at all. Even after months of lessons, I still pretty much fought and used my magic the same way I always had; as a last resort.

I muttered the words of Latin of a dispelling spell, the confusion lessening but still too great for me to do more than keep the contents of my stomach down. My vision was blurry when I looked up, but there was no mistaking the enormous shape of the revolver clutched in the man's hand.

They say that the longer you stare down the barrel of a gun, the more important it becomes, the more place it takes in your consciousness. What kind of life do I lead when this becomes a cold, hard fact for me? Like now; I'm no firearms expert, but the huge, silvery monster in the man's fist just couldn't be that big, or it would blow a hole the size of a watermelon in my chest, right? While in reality, it would be a grapefruit-sized hole at worst, right? Right?

Now that I think about it, that's not a comforting thought…

God, why do you always babble when you're about to die? Hmm, not a comforting thought either. I mean, how bad is it that I know I always babble when I'm about to die?

Maybe you should shut up and do something about it. Yeah, that sounded good, except that I knew I was stuck in a single second, stretched beyond belief because of adrenaline and the calm realization that this is it. I'm dead. Thanks for playing. Better luck next time.

There's a blur. That's all I can see, just a dark blur, a tall shadow coming between me and that bowling ball sized gun. Then there's a thunderclap, an impossibly loud booming sound that echoes through me. No pain, though I don't understand why. I was so sure that when the sound would come, I'd be dead, but I'm not.

The dark blur, however, has materialized into a tall, dark haired woman, hunched in pain before the man with the gun, her beautiful features scrunched up in agony. Ivy, I thought, the realization slicing through the spell induced confusion like a knife through my flesh. Again, my best friend had thrown herself in the face of death for me.

The man, however, was unmoved by the sacrifice he just witnessed. He scoffed as he levelled his gun back at Ivy's crouched form, muttering what sounded like "stupid bitch" before landing the sole of his booth in the vampire's face. Ivy grunted in pain, blood seeping from her nose as she landed on her side and curled upon herself. I, forever the dumbass, did nothing at all, too shocked by the sight of my best friend clutching her middle to take the opportunity I was given to lunge for my gun, or cast a spell, or do anything that might get us out of this mess. Horror, coupled with the spell that messed with my mind, had overruled training, had made me too slow to react, and as the man with the gun strolled over Ivy, after kicking her in the ribs and wrenching an honest to God sob from her, I knew that Ivy had thrown her life away in vain this time.

"And here I thought I'd have to content myself with a scrawny little witch. Well, no need for you, now. I'll take the pretty vamp, instead. Of course, I'll have to beat her good before, break a few limbs, but that's fun too… Nighty night, witch." The rough features of the human were alight with sheer anticipation, his eyes glinting with a malignant desire that sickened me.

The barrel of the gun was again centered between my eyes. I didn't stare at it this time; instead, my gaze searched for Ivy's, hoping I could look into her eyes and apologize for the horrible death she would suffer because of me. Mine would be quick and painless, but she would be tortured and raped because she tried to save me.

This is all just a bit of history repeating … I thought bitterly. Life had just been so unfair to her. It seemed she wouldn't even get the mercy of a graceful death.

But Ivy wasn't lying on the cold concrete. In fact, I couldn't see her anywhere, but since my vision still went from focused to blurry, that didn't mean much. I silently apologized to her, and closed my eyes, waiting for the final moment of my existence. I heard the distinct sound of the hammer being pulled back, accompanied by a very amused chuckle. The sound made me sick.

"You should have finished me off, asshole." Ivy's usually melodious voice sounded incredibly harsh and rough, carrying more anger than I'd ever heard her express. My eyes flew open just in time to see her dark, leather-clad form looming behind her would-be rapist. Her hands were joined over her head, and in one impossibly powerful move, she delivered a hammer blow to his head. His neck gave way with a snap, bent at an awkward angle, and he collapsed in a messed bundle of limbs. The gun slid from his grasp and with a bang that reverberated through me, it went off, the bullet miraculously only grazing my left arm. The pain was drowned out by the sheer, overwhelming relief that flowed through me. Ivy, though, didn't look so good.

"Sorry… that was sloppy." She muttered, her black eyes unfocused and her usually uptight posture wobbly and unsure. I didn't even have time to move before she collapsed.

"Ivy!" I cried out as I scrambled to get close to her. She was on all four, blood flowing freely from her chest and her mouth as she vomited, bringing to my mind more memories I'd rather have forgotten. I knew it wasn't hers, that it was just the blood she had shared with some unknown partner, but it was still a terrifying sight.

It didn't last long. She collapsed on her side, then lay on her back, her face covered in blood, from her nose, her mouth… her top was soaked through with it under her short leather jacket, and it mated her black hair; to say she was a mess would be the understatement of the century.

My fingers scrambled for the cell phone on her belt, my own lying forgotten in my desk back at the church. In a haze, I dialled 911. I somehow managed to call an ambulance, although I don't know how; all I could see were Ivy's perfect black orbs staring back at me, her pupils completely dilated not from hunger or instinct but mind-numbing fear and pain. Her chest heaved rapidly, her breathing was fast and shallow… My hands felt for the bullet wound in her side and pressed on it, the sensation of her warm blood flooding my fingers bringing tears to my eyes. She was hurt badly; already she had trouble keeping her eyelids opened and her eyes focused.

"Stay awake, Ivy. Come on, stay awake. You can do it, don't give up. Just stay with me." I said in a shaky voice as I brought one bloodstained hand to her cheek and tapped it gently.

"You're bleeding…" She mumbled weakly. It was true; blood had soaked the sleeve of my torn sweater just above the elbow. Now that she mentioned it, it hurt a fair bit, but it was a scratch next to her injuries. If I hadn't been scared out of my mind, I would've rolled my eyes; typical Ivy, worrying about me when she was clearly the one in the most trouble. I tried, and failed, to swallow my tears. What in hell had I ever done to deserve a friend like her?

"It's not bad, thanks to you. And you know what? Now, you've got to stay awake so I can kiss you. Got to… got to give you a proper thanks." My voice was a half sob, but it did bring a smile to her lips; a terrifyingly small and weak smile, a resigned smile, but still a smile. My lips quirked in response, though the tears that still streamed freely down my cheeks probably ruined the effect.

"You're bullshitting me." Her head fell with the last of her words. She was suddenly completely still and limp. A sigh escaped her, then nothing; her breathing had stilled with the rest of her body.

"Ivy… Ivy! IVY!"