Bloodshifted Page 21

It was totally not sterile, but it would be better than dying.

Raven watched from the sidelines. I doubted he’d ever seen anyone try to save anyone else before. The Civic was burning now, upholstery caught on fire, giving him the aura of a demon newly risen from hell.

The man took a breath, and then another breath, and my seal system worked. His arm was bent wrong, but there were no bones sticking out. He’d been tough enough to live this long—he might make it a bit longer. I heard the sounds of sirens, and so did Raven. He stalked over to me and grabbed my arm. “Time to go,” he said, lifting me up like a cat would a kitten. My pride in my work evaporated, replaced by utter fear.

“He’ll live. We’ll say he stole the car from us. By the time he gets out of the hospital, telling everyone his crazy story, everyone will think he’s insane, and we won’t even have to prosecute.” He dragged me over to his car—there were scrapes all over the hood from where he’d shoved us off the road—and the door swung up like a wing. “Get inside.”

I got in and sat down. The door swung down again, trapping me.

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

This time I put my seat belt on. I wondered bleakly if Natasha ever wore hers on their midnight drives.

Your mom’s not a traitor, baby. She just got in over her head, is all. I hoped I could convince my unborn child. I hoped I could convince myself.

“Shall I read your mind for you?” Raven asked me.

I didn’t respond. He swung his car around impossible corners, going up onto the shoulder, confident in his own ability to make sure he wasn’t seen. I’d once watched Dren convince a train car full of people that we didn’t exist—this was the same kind of thing, writ large, and on the go.

“I think that for the first time since you’ve gotten here, you’re scared,” Raven said.

I bit my lip and kept staring out the window, my expression dead.

“You’ve always known Anna would come for you, and you’ve always known that your man would stay true. You’re not even scared of dying, although you should be.” The car pulled into the Catacombs’ garage again, and he let it idle for a moment.

“What you’re really scared of, Edie, is that given enough time, and enough blood, you’d become like me. That eventually, you’d enjoy it.”

I didn’t speak, didn’t move, didn’t breathe. Raven laughed at me, and then got out of the car, leaving me behind.

* * *

It took me a shameful amount of time to figure out how to get out of the gull-winged car on my own. I wanted to take my frustrations out on something, and I thought about breaking out all the expensive car’s windows, but I’d seen enough vehicular damage tonight. I slunk back into the Catacombs, exhausted by everything, not sure where to go or what to do. Suddenly the fifty or so hours left until Anna’s arrival seemed impossibly long.

Wolf was waiting for me inside. “You thought you’d just waltz right back in?” He was pissed, and I didn’t have a good answer for him—not that he would have listened to one. He lunged for me and caught me and took me under one arm down one of the forbidden hallways.

I fought with him because I thought I was supposed to, but I knew I couldn’t win. It was night out, he was stronger than me, and I had no idea where the hell we were, especially once we reached the dark and he kept going, until the lights disappeared. Instead of fighting with him now I clung to him, hoping that he would take me back, afraid he’d just throw me somewhere and turn off the lights and leave me—which wound up being almost what he did. He pried me off his side and tossed me against stone. Rock hit my head and scraped my back and I landed on hands and knees in unseen sand. Before I could do anything, metal ground over metal and closed with a thunk, and I heard the jingling sound of keys being put away.

“You’re in here until I hear otherwise. I hope you rot.” Then the echoes of his voice ended just before his footsteps disappeared and I was alone in a stone cell.

I still had the lighter in my bra. It felt like the darkness itself was a beast and I was inside its mouth. I didn’t want Wolf to see the light, hear the sound, or smell the butane and come back to take it from me. But I was afraid to move until I knew where I was and what was around me. I didn’t want to put out a hand and feel someone else’s bones.

I waited until I thought I couldn’t stand it anymore, and then flicked the lighter on. The golden flame cast light in all directions. My cell was about eight by eight, and I was its only occupant, alive or dead. It was inside a tunnel, which looked like it got more cavernous at one end. Hard to say without reaching out farther, but I was scared I’d drop the lighter and lose it. The door was metal, wrought from heavy bars of iron. I put the lighter back into my bra, and then wrestled with the bars, hoping one of them would give, but none did. The lock was newer too, and solid. This wasn’t connected to the electrical grid. Gideon wouldn’t be able to open it. I’d just have to wait it out—and hope that someone on my side would still be alive at the end of things to find me.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

The stone was cold, and being alone in the dark was frightening. The thought of what Raven would do to me was worse.

There was no way to break his power over me. And some craven part of me wanted to please him. I hated that part of me—but it would take more than one lighter’s worth of butane to burn it out. My hand found my necklace and I held on to it like a talisman. Anna knew I was here, and so did Asher. But a lot could happen in fifty hours. Too much.

I set my back against the wall and curled my legs up to my chin, trying to make myself small, staring into the dark.

* * *

Eventually, I must have slept, because I found myself back on the prisoner’s plain.

“What has changed?” he asked me the instant I realized where I was.

I was sitting in his world the same way I’d been when I’d fallen asleep. He was kneeling beside me, frowning. “You’re not the only person imprisoned now.”

The line of his jaw tensed. “And your friends?”

“They’re still looking for you. But I’m not sure how I can help them even if they do find you now. I’m sorry.”

He nodded slowly and relaxed, rocking back. “You’re not the first person to disappoint me.”

“Great. Thanks.” Sleep had been a brief window of respite. But now that I was “up” again, there was no place to hide from my fears. What if at the end of the night Raven came down here to get me? “I’ve got to get away from him.”

He spread his hands. “Killing him is the only way.”

“Surely someone has fought you off before, in all your centuries of being alive. Hasn’t anyone ever managed to deny you?”

“No. That’s the whole point. They can’t deny you. When he calls, you’ll go.”

“How did you get trapped then?”

“Raven found out where I slept. His daytimers killed mine, and banded my coffin with silver. Then they transported me into a cave that was sealed off, and left me there until I nearly starved. Since then I’ve been moved from cell to cell. He makes sure to never visit me himself, only sending in daytimers he trusts.”

“I saw another vampire invoke a right to fight him—”

“Vampires may invoke rights with one another; it’s how leaders are deposed. As a vampire, you may request to fight as equals—and your request may be denied, so you must ask for it in a public space. But as a daytimer you have no natural rights, and vampires feel no need to prove themselves against you. No one requires honor to dispose of an insect.”

“So why did he keep you alive all this time?”

“To torture me? To gloat? Habit? At first, I believed he was scared. Being without a Master is freeing, but freedom is fearful for some. Becoming a rogue means that you are alone in the world, that there is no one you can rely on—if only for the consistency of their hatred,” the prisoner said, then snorted. “Some people are not meant to face eternity alone. Perhaps none of us is.”

I didn’t want to contemplate the thought, staying the same while everyone else around me grew old. “I have friends—other than the ones I sent to look for you. They’re coming for me, but they won’t be here for two days. How can I stay strong until then?”

“If you want to stay alive?”

“I do.”

“Then you must think of that as your only job. Whatever that takes, whatever that means you must do. You gain nothing by struggling to the point that he crushes you, or by reaching for knives. Your children cannot eat pride, your man cannot make love to pride at night. You must be a thing without pride—like a beast. That is the only way.”

Like Anna had been forced to become. I swallowed drily.

The prisoner stood. “I will leave you to rest now, before you think too hard and wake. When you are chained such as we are, dreams are the only freedom we have.”

He faded, and the world changed around me, and I was back in Asher’s living room. The fireplace was roaring and Minnie was stretched out on the couch. I joined her there, lying down, hauling her to rest beside me, stroking my hands against the soft fur on her stomach.

I knew it was a lie, but I was okay with that.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

The next thing I remembered feeling was a greasy coldness covering my lips and nose. I tried to breathe, couldn’t get air—I was in the darkness of space and I didn’t have a helmet on, all the air had left my body and I’d never draw another breath—I threw my head back in panic and hit my head on stone.

“Stop that,” said a voice beside me in the dark. I found I could breathe again, and took in huge gulping lungsful.

I wasn’t at home with my Minnie anymore. I was in a cell, in the dark—and I’d just heard a voice.

“What are you doing here?” the voice asked me. It was so quiet it was hard to hear.

“Shadows?”

“We waited at the entrance for you for a day—we thought you’d abandoned us.”

I shook my head in the dark. It hurt where I’d walloped it on the ground. Raven’s blood in me was slowing down.

“After a while we got tired of waiting and divided again to look for another way out.”

I scooted myself to sit up. “Did you find the prisoner?”

“Of course. Stay still, so you may hold us.”

I crouched, waiting, one hand stretched out. A small wet weight crawled to the center of my palm. “Why were you choking me?”

“We were spread out to search. Also, we were hungry.”

“I’m so glad my terror at suffocating was good for something.”

“As are we. Let us take you to your friend now, so that this can end. We want to go home.”

“Join the club. But I’m locked in here.”

The portion of the Shadows in my hand made a mocking noise. “Oh, really?”

* * *

It took a second, but with their instructions, and using the lighter once, I placed my hand up on the rusty lock that Wolf had used. They slid inside and shortly afterward the latch came undone. I unlooped it from the metal bars and set it down open.

“Hurry. The others wait.”

“What time is it?” In the utter black, I couldn’t see my watch.

“Night, a few hours until dawn.”

Maybe enough. “How will I know where to go?”

“Don’t worry—we’ll hold your hand.”

The Shadows oozed back and forth depending on the direction they wanted me to take, and I followed them. It was hard to trust them—my imagination had them walking me off endless cliffs and me falling onto stalagmites below—but the lighter didn’t have endless fuel, and I needed to save what was left of it. Soon I didn’t know how far we’d gone, and there was no way I’d be able to find my way back without their help.

“Stop,” they said. “Let us down. Not on the silver!” they cried, rolling back and forth across my palm like mercury. I swung my arm farther out to one side and felt them sluice through my fingers.

“He’s … here?”

“You told us to look for a silver grate, so we found one. If there’s more than one person trapped under silver in this forsaken wasteland, we will have to start over.” They sounded irritated. “We couldn’t cross the barrier to go looking inside for ourselves.”

I still couldn’t see. “I’m going to turn on a light. Hide, okay?” I counted to ten before pulling the lighter out of my bra and flicking it on.

We were in a small room, carved out of more stone. I wondered at the people who’d taken so much time making these catacombs. The lighter’s flame made the shadows jump off every imperfection in the rough-hewn wall. In front of me, just as the Shadows had promised, was an ornately carved grate, decorated with the image of a scorpion, looking archaeologically old.

I leaned over it to see inside, but the light from the flame didn’t travel far, and the scorpion emblem scattered shadows. I had an impression of a person at the bottom of it—or a person-sized bundle of rags.

“Prisoner?” I whispered.

It was night out; he should be awake. But he said he’d been starved—maybe he wasn’t strong enough? Or maybe he was fooling me? Or maybe it was a corpse at the bottom of the well, and my vampire was in another castle.

I reached forward for the grate itself. “Don’t!” the Shadows warned, but too late.

I gasped in pain and almost dropped the lighter. “What the—”

“Just because it’s tarnished doesn’t mean it’s not silver.”

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