Chapter 17 - Blood

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"Is this a test?" Aria asked as the five of us gathered around, staring dumbfounded at the king's fallen body.

Sabine had been the first to spring to her feet after he collapsed, kicking off her heels and sprinting down the stairs as fast as her tight red dress would allow.

The remaining four of us exchanged uncertain glances. What if Aria was right? It would explain all of the secrecy surrounding the challenge. But this seemed too bizarre and cruel to be a mere twist.

Katrina bent over and held two fingers to the king's neck.

"What are you doing? He's a vampire, he doesn't have a pulse!" Aria huffed. Katrina flushed, nervously yanking her hand away.

Not wanting to be useless, I knelt down and gingerly turned the king onto his back. A red blood stain bloomed like a macabre flower over his heart, staining his navy suit black. This can't be good.

Had he been shot? It would explain the strange cracking sound I heard before. I was sure that vampires couldn't die from mere gunshots, but the king's sudden collapse was not a good sign. I had to make sure.

I heard a sharp intake of breath behind me as I unbuttoned his shirt, revealing a deep puncture wound that was oozing blood. I recoiled immediately. A girl standing behind me shrieked.

"This can't be real," Aria stammered. "This is a test, right? He can't be dead!"

I was suddenly reminded of the king's strange desire for anonymity. Of how no photos of him existed. Supposedly it was to protect him from assassination by rebels or political rivals. Could this be the result of such an attempt?

The king was silent and still, blood seeping slowly out of his wound. Somehow I knew he wasn't dead, but he would be soon if none of us did anything. But how were any of us supposed vampire? The answer dawned on me and I suddenly felt queasy. I looked up at the three girls standing behind me, staring open-mouthed at the miserable sight of the king's prone body. The thought hadn't occurred to them. It would have to be me.

I tried to comfort myself with the fact that the king had once saved my life as I held my wrist to his mouth, wincing with the anticipation of pain. When none came, I frowned, drawing my shaking wrist away. He probably couldn't bite because he wasn't conscious.

"What are you doing?" Aria asked, her voice a hysterical whine.

"He needs blood," I muttered, gazing around frantically for something sharp. The broken champagne glass lay in a pile of wet shards at the king's feet. I grabbed the biggest piece, careful to avoid cutting myself, and held it up. "Anyone?"

Aria shook her head wildly, backing away. She wobbled over to the railing and began to heave. Genevieve and Katrina exchanged panicked glances. I waited, praying one of them would step forward and spare me from having to do it myself. Out of the corner of my eye, the king's wound continued to seep blood. He wouldn't have long, certainly not long enough for the three of us to make up our minds.

With trembling hands, I held out my own wrist and held the sharp point of the glass against the cluster of veins on my wrist. A tiny voice in my head continued to scream about what a terrible idea this was, but I couldn't listen to reason right now. Not when someone's life was on the line.

I took a deep breath and pressed the glass into my skin. Pain laced through my wrist, causing me to cry out. Ignoring the other girls' horrified gasps, I pressed harder until blood trickled out. I tossed the blood-covered glass aside, then held my wrist up to the king's mouth, squeezing with my other hand so that the blood dripped onto his tongue.

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