Bloodshifted Page 22

“Oh.” I rubbed the fingertips of my left hand.

“Careful, you’ll scar,” said a parched voice that wasn’t the Shadows’.

“Prisoner?” I crouched forward. “Is that you?”

There was a groan from below.

I held the lighter up again, and then bit the meat of my thumb, hard, and flicked the blood that welled up there down into the pit before I could heal.

The trapped creature at the bottom rushed up in a burst. It crawled up the sides of the well like someone was pushing FAST-FORWARD. It had a gaunt and drawn face, teeth straining out from a withered skull. It was the stuff of nightmares, the exact image of the last thing you see before you know you’re going to die.

I yelped and jumped back into the dark. The sound of my shout echoed, echoed, and echoed behind me.

In the darkness, the first thing I was afraid of was that somehow he’d gotten out, that he was in the same room as I was. It took a moment for me to swallow my panic and start feeling around on the floor until I found the lighter. I flicked it on again, because I needed to look around and make sure I was still alone.

“Didn’t mean—starved,” hissed a voice, now much closer than it had been.

“Prisoner?” I asked, my voice rising.

“Yes. Don’t look,” he recommended, from inside his cell.

I nodded, eager to agree. Just a second of the silver had felt like fire—and it looked like it was three inches thick. I was strong, but was I that strong?

“We can’t help you. It burns us,” the Shadows said, as if reading my mind.

I leaned toward the pit. “Your promises are still good?”

“Always,” whispered a too-close voice.

“Then get back.” I wished there were a way I could keep the lighter on while holding it with my teeth. Then again, seeing him get nearer would only help me to imagine him breaking off my fingers and sucking on the stumps like bloody teats. My imagination didn’t need any help. I set the lighter down again, and before I could think about it reached in, grabbed hold of the grate, and pulled.

It didn’t budge. Not even a fraction of an inch.

I tried again, hands on fire, and it felt like the silver was cutting through my fingers as I pulled.

“Fuck.” I reeled back, holding my fists up to my chest, teeth grinding together so I wouldn’t scream.

There was a harsh laughing sound—it took a moment for me to realize it was the prisoner, not the Shadows, mocking me.

“If it were so easy, don’t you think I would already be out?”

“I just need gloves,” I spit out, when the pain let me breathe next. “And three other people to help me.”

“If I could have one entire life—I might be able to get free,” the prisoner said from inside his cell.

I clasped my hands together. They’d gone from burning to aching, as if they’d almost gotten frostbite.

“I’ll work on it.” I didn’t even know where I was, or how I could get someone else back here—to kill them. Fuck fuck fuck. “I need some time, though.”

“Will you be able to escape your own cell again?” the prisoner asked with a voice raspy from disuse.

I honestly didn’t know. “Shadows?”

“For now, yes. But we expect you to come up with answers soon.”

Of course they did. I stood, dusting my burning hands off on my short skirt. “I’ll be back. Assuming I’m still alive.” I put the lighter back inside my bra.

“Before you go—” I heard a shifting noise from inside the silver cell. “Another drop?”

I closed my eyes in the dark. He was starving, and we both knew there were no guarantees I’d be able to even come back here, much less free him.

“Please,” he said.

“Of course.” I pretended there’d never been any question. I squatted down beside his cell, savagely bit my thumb again, and milked it. I heard the first few drops spatter and hiss as they hit the silver. I swung to the right two inches and, hearing nothing, assumed they dripped down. When the blood stopped, I put my hand down, and the Shadows that were here with me rolled into my palm.

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

The Shadows took me back to the cell where Wolf had abandoned me. I got back inside and replaced the lock. Then I held it in place while the Shadows swam inside and acted like Wolf’s key. Feeling it click shut felt like I was sentencing myself.

“Half of us are going to gather our brethren. The rest of us will stay here and await whatever genius next falls from your lips.”

“I’ll be sure to speak up then,” I said, and curled up into a ball with my back against the wall and my knees beneath my chin.

* * *

It was hard not to flick on the lighter to check the time. Every passing minute got my hopes up that maybe Raven had forgotten about me, and that I’d sit out the final fight.

Baby—after all of this, the rest of our life is going to be really boring. I promise.

Just when I’d almost convinced myself that it had to be daytime, and began pulling the lighter out, I heard heavy steps approaching in the dark. The cell opened and I wasn’t alone anymore. Rough hands grabbed for me with poor aim, proving that Wolf wasn’t completely nocturnal. “Your Master awaits,” he said, picking me up and hauling me out of the stone room. I held on to one of the bars as we passed, but he wrenched me loose.

We went back to the Catacombs, and Wolf deposited me in Raven’s feeding chamber without saying another word. He didn’t lock the door behind himself. I could have run, but what would be the point? I knew it was still night.

I looked down at myself in the dim room. My clothes were torn from the car accident, and I had splashes of that man’s blood on me, and my hands—I gasped as I held them up to the lamp’s weak glow. They were striped, like the prisoner’s skin, worse than they had been from Raven’s knife—burned from all the silver I’d touched.

“I’m surprised you didn’t make another run for it,” Raven said as he came in, firmly shutting the door behind himself. I put my arms to my sides, caught.

He stood, waiting, enjoying my discomfiture as I bit my lips not to speak.

“And so now you’re the silent type. Of course.” Raven leaned back against the door, one hand behind his back. He grinned malevolently. We both knew I was trapped.

“You don’t look like someone who wants to cure cancer to me.”

He paused, and then laughed. “That’s Natasha’s fight, not mine. I have enjoyed the fringe benefits of her research, though, I’ll admit.”

When he was this close it wasn’t hard to imagine why she was with him. I was still scared, but being in his presence was like being made of iron and fighting a magnet. “Why’re you with her?”

“Would you believe that I want to protect her?”

My face must have said I didn’t, because he laughed again. “I like seeing her hair lighten from the sun in the summer. I like seeing the light in her eyes. She still has hopes and dreams and the certainty of the very young. Instead of my blood, she wants my affection. She’s the first in four hundred years, do you know what that’s like?” It was not the answer I was expecting—nor was the expression on his face as he said it. He meant it. He honestly loved her.

“Then Anna’s not your enemy—”

“You are the only person to tell me that she’s not. Don’t be offended if I consider you an unreliable witness.”

“But I don’t—”

“Sit. Kneel. Beg,” he commanded in quick succession, and I found myself on the ground as if thrown there, forehead pressed against the dirt. “It’s not much fun being controlled, is it?” he asked rhetorically. “No one will ever get to control me again.”

“It doesn’t have to be this way, though,” I said, my lips brushing the ground. “What if you could come to an agreement? Make a treaty? If you gave me back to her—if Natasha stopped her research—”

“Ah, see? People in power are never inclined to share. That’s the whole point of being powerful.” I could see his boots approaching and feel the reverberation of his footsteps through the ground. He knelt down, caught my hair, and pulled me to my feet, his eyes cold and cruel.

“You would understand if I cared enough to break you properly. I learned from the best, and I know that to do it right you must do it slow. Give, and then take, give, and then take again.” He licked his thumb and then wiped it across my forehead where I’d touched the ground, as a mother might clean the face of a child. I closed my eyes without thinking, and he chuckled. “It’s been a long time since I’ve broken someone, though. It would take more time than we both have to do it right, and your Beast is on her way.”

“What did your Master do to you make you like this?”

At the memory of the prisoner, a dark frown pulled his lips. “Nothing. He did nothing for me. Stay.” He let go of me and I was forced to wait as he left the room, wondering what would happen next.

He returned with Lars—and two short lengths of chain. I tried to back up but couldn’t, feet weighted to the spot by his command.

“Unfortunately, Edie, you’re not as valuable to me as you once were, even mere hours ago. I could kill you now, and the outcome of events would be the same.” He walked over to his couch and kicked it to the side, revealing a series of low metal rings bolted into the stone behind. “It’s bad luck to wake up near a sleeping vampire—a newborn vampire, doubly so,” he said, holding up a metal cuff.

“No—” I protested, getting some inkling of his idea as he bent the cuff around Lars’s ankle, and then fastened him in turn to the wall. “No no no—” I tried to pull back, but my feet were fastened to the ground.

“Come here. Hand out,” he demanded.

I couldn’t refuse—and I watched in horror as he chained my wrist to Lars’s.

“It’s only temporary,” Raven calmly explained. “Until he wakes up, that is. And I don’t even know when he’ll turn. It’s an individual process—or was, until lovely Natasha figured out how to speed it up. But for you, it will be like playing Russian roulette. Will the Beast get here in time to save you, and fight through my sleeping army above? Or will you decide to rip his arm off to save yourself? The woman I saw groveling yesterday to save some human would never think of doing that. But already you’re not that same woman anymore.”

“Army?” I flailed against the chain in panic, the cuff cutting in.

“We’ve been busy upstairs while you’ve been locked up.” He stood and surveyed his handiwork—me and Lars, Lars and the wall—and nodded. “This is the exact sort of thing my old Master would approve of. I command you to stay in the building, Edie. Learn how to become a vampire—or learn how to feed one,” he said, and then left the room.

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

I moved as far away from Lars as I could get, his whole body splayed out, my arm outstretched. I tried to kick out to things—the bed, the lamp. I felt my arm loosen in its socket as I snowflaked, trying desperately to get ahold of anything I could use to sever us, or as a weapon.

How long did I have? I counted back. The traditional length of time it took to become a vampire was three nights—up until Natasha had perfected her bone marrow transplant technique. But Lars had been changed the original way, and this was nearing the end of his second night. I didn’t know if vampire metabolic clocks were precise, but I figured that sometime in the next twenty-four hours Lars would wake up desperately hungry—and he wouldn’t think twice about eating me alive.

I stretched even farther, finding new length, the rusty cuff slicing into my wrist, the wound healing—it seemed to me that it was healing more slowly. Was it, or was I imagining things? And would the scent of blood so nearby help wake him up?

Then I had that sensation again, as if I’d just read the last page of a book, and I looked at the watch on my free hand. It was daylight now. I was safe, until night. I gathered myself up, massaged blood into my cuffed hand, and considered my options.

The only way I could get the cuff off myself was to tear my own hand off. Raven’d made sure the cuff was too tight for anything less.

Or I could rip off Lars’s arm. He was dead, or dying, or whatever the fuck it was now that was happening to him inside—it wasn’t as if he’d feel it. It also wasn’t as if I could kill him—he was technically already dead. But as I crept closer to him, contemplating somehow putting my feet against his ribs and neck and just pulling on his arm like a reluctant drumstick, my conscience got the better of me.

Baby, I don’t know if I can do this. Even if it’s for us.

“Just tear it off,” said a voice. I almost jumped—I’d forgotten about the Shadows. Their voice was coming from inside my left shoe—they must have tagged along from inside my cell. “Yours, or his. Either way there has to be tearing. Or we can kill you, if you’d like to just give up now.”

“No,” I protested, sitting up. I saw them slide out into the shadow my leg had cast. “Shut up. Just let me think.” I had all day to come up with something, he wouldn’t wake up until it was nightfall—

“Technically, we’ve satisfied our promise to you, Edie. Even we can’t get you free, and if you’re no longer free, then you cannot help us.”

I closed my eyes, blocking out the entire room, trying to ignore the rusty metal cuff cutting into my wrist. “That’s fair.”

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