I didn’t know what else to do. I had no choice but to trust him. I reached for his hand, and took it. At least his strength gave me some comfort as his fingers closed around mine and he led me outside. I was glad that he continued holding on to me, even as we exited the corridor and appeared by the doorway.

I stepped behind Joseph, trying to hide myself from Michael, as I eyed him warily.

To my surprise, his eye appeared to have healed already, though he looked like he had just borne the brunt of the scuffle between the two men. His arm had a deep gash in it, and his neck also looked red.

He glared at me, and I was only able to hold his gaze for a short while before I looked down at the ground and clutched Joseph’s hand even tighter. I was grateful that Joseph kept me on the opposite side of him, away from Michael, as we left the apartment.

We traveled along the veranda in silence until we reached Jeramiah’s front door. Michael knocked.

Footsteps sounded and the door creaked open.

The vampire with harsh blue eyes and dark shoulder-length hair appeared behind it, his eyebrows raised in surprise as he looked at the three of us.

“We are here to settle a dispute,” Michael said. I winced at the confidence in his voice.

I looked up at Joseph’s face. He seemed to be quite unfazed as he looked calmly at Jeramiah. I couldn’t fathom what gave him such confidence. I just prayed that it was founded on something other than male ego.

“Joseph has claimed my half-blood as his,” Michael said.

Jeramiah’s eyes fixed on me, and then he looked back at Joseph.

“What is this, Joseph? I thought you said you weren’t interested in a companion?”

“I did say that. But I’ve changed my mind.”

“How come?”

Joseph ran a hand through his thick dark hair. He breathed out a sigh that I was sure was exaggerated. “I regret not being able to do what you requested of me earlier. My confidence evaporated as I was locked in the room with a human… this girl. Her blood called to me and I didn’t think that even you would be able to restrain me. I was sure that I would end up killing her. I know now that I have a very serious problem, but I want—and need—to solve it if I’m to be of any real use to The Oasis… I think the only way I can overcome my problem around humans is with a half-blood assisting me. The bitterness of her blood will help me.”

As Jeramiah stared at Joseph, I wondered for a moment whether he doubted Joseph’s story. “But why this one? There are others you could have.”

Joseph glanced down at me. “Because… I’ve taken a liking to this one. She’s newly half-turned, so she and I have much in common. We’re both getting used to these supernatural bodies and I think we might make a good team.”

Jeramiah frowned. I was sure that he was about to refuse Joseph’s request, but then his eyes softened and he shrugged.

“Michael,” he said. “Just let Joseph have her. He’s been having a rough time adjusting and this might help him to finally be of some real use to us.”

Michael looked furious, but surprisingly, he didn’t argue with Jeramiah. It seems that Jeramiah really does wear the pants in this place…

Michael glared daggers at both Joseph and I and, without another word, turned on his heel and stormed away.

“I do have a condition though,” Jeramiah said as Michael disappeared.

I held my breath.

“What’s that?” Joseph asked.

“We still have one human left to half-turn from the most recent batch. Prove your theory. Take this girl with you and half-turn a healthy human. Let’s see if you can control yourself.”

Joseph’s tension seemed to spread from his jaw down to his hand, which squeezed mine tighter.

There was a pause. I had no idea what he was going to say.

The thought of my assisting in half-turning someone was the most horrific thing I could imagine. And yet, if Joseph refused, I’d be stuck with Michael. I tried to justify that the human would be half-turned anyway—just by another vampire, who I guessed would be much more insane than Joseph.

Joseph seemed to have come to the same conclusion as he said, “Certainly.” I was amazed by the confidence in his voice.

“Good,” Jeramiah said, a contented expression on his face. “Let’s do this right now.”

Chapter 12: Ben

What have I gotten myself into?

I hadn’t been able to see any way out of the situation.

I’d realized on the way to Jeramiah’s apartment that River being a half-blood could be used as an advantage both for herself and for me in escaping. After I’d refused to half-turn anyone in front of Jeramiah, I saw no way of suggesting that I join them on a hunt in the near future. Because what reason would Jeramiah have to trust me after my behavior?

Then, after realizing how off-putting River’s blood had become to me after her half-turning, I’d seen just how we might be able to help each other.

But it had backfired.

I had of course expected Jeramiah to put my theory to the test. But I’d thought he might wait until the hunt itself, once we were already outside of the boundary, not have me experiment on a human beforehand.

Although I felt guilty about inflicting on another human the life of a half-blood here in The Oasis, with no guarantee of who might take him or her on, Jeramiah had made clear that the person had already been chosen to be a half-blood. Either I did the job, or someone else would.

Now I just had to hope that my theory would indeed hold up, because there was no way out of this now.

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