"That girl's a witch."
"Look at her. She got the devil in her."
And giggling, that kind of scornful giggling that some girls carried like a razor blade under the tongue. The words and laughter sparked a wave of deja vu so powerful that Anna swayed and felt her eyes half-lid. Memory clawed at her guts, tracing patterns of insecurity and buried childhood miseries across her goosebumping flesh.
The backhanded blow that fell across her face actually helped her, pulling her out of a mire of negative associations. It was a weak strike, no power behind it, meant to hurt through shame rather than force. Anna actually felt her lip curl. Amateurs.
Tyler hadn't made the slightest attempt to contact her since the "vampire summer" falling out. But this social detritus remained, this sludge of sycophants and courtesans that grew around him like a fungus, feeding on his manipulation and fighting for his attention. Perhaps these serpents thought that putting a hurt on her would curry favor with the king. She knew better, but there was no arguing with stupid.
The room was small, and she was tall, and all but levitating with adrenaline energy. There was no time for fear. Outside, she felt the tempo of the music building towards a drop. The green-and-purple blacklight makeup of her assailants was all she could see of them - disembodied shades grinning faceless grins. But they weren't real muscle, just collections of fear and vanity and poor impulse control. She surged upwards to plant a solid boot directly between the legs of the one directly in front of her, and was rewarded with a yelp and a bone-jarring impact.
Her victim fell forward towards her, and Anna lunged to the right, managing by pure chance to catch another serpent right in the eye with one of her horns. Now you've got a little bit of devil in you. Was it everything you hoped for? Shouldering her way past, she fumbled with the doorknob and felt a swipe of impact along her lower back before she managed to force her way through. The Poet's Kiss, she thought to herself without knowing why.
The fire door was steps away. She ran for it, looking for distance, praying for time, and never daring to look at the tide of serpents at her heels.