Bloodshifted Page 23

“Not fair enough yet,” said a female voice from behind me. I whirled to see Celine leaning against the door. Her face was perfectly healed now, and she was dressed in her club gear, with the addition of opera-length black gloves. “It’s beginning to be fair, but—” She stepped into the room, her head shaking at my predicament. “—not yet.” She was swinging a heavy cross on a chain, and I realized she must have liberated it from one of the people being changed into a vampire soldier upstairs.

I wasn’t afraid of the cross, but I was afraid that it might be silver.

I carefully grabbed hold of the chain between Lars and me. If it came down to ripping his arm out to protect my baby from Celine, I’d do it, no question. “Anna’s coming for me.” No need to hide it now, since Raven knew.

“But she’s not here right now, is she?” Celine made an arc around the room. I might have been stronger than her, but I was a sitting target.

She darted forward, and I jumped back, bumping into Lars, only able to use one arm to protect myself. My arms were bare and she had the gloves and her dress on. I felt the sting of silver as the chain wrapped itself around my forearm, before she yanked down and ripped it away to swing again, this time for my face. I yelped, bringing up my chained arm, but not fast enough: Silver slapped against the back of my hands, and I closed my eyes trying to protect them. She lunged for my throat and I felt a freeing snap from behind my neck at the same time as a line the length of my forearm burned, bone-deep. I swung for her blindly, but she was back at the door.

“That’s what you get for hurting my face,” she shouted. “See how long it takes you to heal that without blood.” The cross dangled from one of her hands, spattering drops of my blood on the floor with each swing of its chain. Her other hand held my necklace, the gift Asher had given me after his proposal on the Maraschino.

“Have a fun time meeting Lars. I can’t wait to hear you scream,” she said, stalking out the door. She stepped in a shadow and I saw the Shadows surge to join her, as if they’d been sewn on. They were leaving with her, because she could leave. I couldn’t blame them.

It’s just me and you again, baby.

And Lars.

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

I could smell my own blood. I hoped that that wouldn’t encourage Lars to wake up faster. My skin was trying to heal, but some property of the silver wasn’t allowing it to suture up—I could move my arm and wrist but it stung, and I was sure I’d scar.

I put my hand to the spot on my neck where my necklace had been. I’d taken it for granted this whole time. One more piece of my former life, gone.

Well, baby, there goes your inheritance.

I wanted to cry—out of exhaustion, frustration, and pain—but was too afraid to. And I needed to make a choice, sometime—I checked my watch—between now and about ten hours from now. About ripping a man’s arm off or getting eaten alive.

It would be one thing if there was a way to get out after leaving here. Even if I could bludgeon my way out, pulling Lars’s dead arm along behind me, I’d still be trapped by Raven’s command to stay in the building. Until Anna killed him—and to do that she’d have to fight through who knew how many baby vampires upstairs first?

I sighed and put my head against my knees, my chained arm listless on the floor.

“There has to be a way,” I whispered to myself, hoping that faking that there was one would give me greater strength.

“Glad to hear it,” said a very small disembodied voice. I blinked and jerked upright. “Over here,” said the voice. There was a tiny oilslick of blackness behind Lars’s ear, a thumbnail’s worth of Shadows.

“What are you still doing here?” I crouched down to their level. What remained of them would only barely fill a thimble.

“We have followed you this far from home. We are not giving up on you quite yet,” they said, swirling as they spoke.

Their faith in me was as charming as it was misplaced. “Thanks.”

“Protect us over here, will you?” they asked, and despite my desires to be anywhere else at that moment, I moved closer to Lars so that they could have the run of him and the wall.

“You’re a lot more polite than the rest of them.”

The tiny patch of darkness made an affronted snort. “We never liked them anyhow.”

* * *

I couldn’t see what they were doing as they dispersed, but they gave me occasional commands to move right or left, and I did so, within the confines of the chains.

“Your cuff and his are beyond our capacity, and yours. But the bolts that shackle him to the wall are short and old. It is possible you could pry him off it.”

Thus giving me mobility, as long as I was willing to drag a corpse around. I knelt down beside the chain around Lars’s ankle, grabbed it, and pulled with all my might. Nothing gave. I tried again, setting both my feet on opposite sides of the bolt and hauling again. Chain ripped through my fingers, friction burning to no avail.

“Try harder,” the Shadows encouraged. I dusted my hands off on myself, and on Lars’s pant leg—and that’s when I realized that his jeans were still covered in a fine layer of Rex’s dust. And I still had a lighter in my bra.

“Hang on,” I said, and started undoing Lars’s belt. If I could knot his flammable pants around the bolt and light them as I pulled, I might be able to rattle the anchor bolts free.

I was concentrating so hard that I didn’t hear Jackson sneaking up behind me. “What are you doing?” he asked, enunciating each word.

I looked down at Lars, whom I now had half naked. No wonder Jackson was surprised—it looked like I was about to have sex with a corpse. “Um. It’s not what it looks like.”

“I should hope not.”

I stopped disrobing Lars and tried to act nonchalant about being chained to him. “What happened upstairs last night? And what’s happening now?”

Jackson squatted down to talk to me at my level. His eyes were serious and dark. “They closed the doors before last call last night and trapped everyone inside. Then they held up each room, taking all their phones, and drugging them, a floor at a time, even the DJs and bouncers. We’re the only people left awake—and Natasha’s been making us bring everyone downstairs and divide groups of people by weight.”

“How many of them are there?”

“Seventy or so. Lying down side by side, they’re taking up all of Hell and most of Purgatory.”

How many people was Anna bringing along? “You know what he’s doing, right?”

Jackson nodded. “Turning them.”

I yanked on the chain between Lars and me. “You’ve got to help me get free, Jackson—”

“And then what?” he asked, not moving an inch.

“Then we get out, we stop Natasha and warn Anna and—”

Jackson started shaking his head. “And what happens when night comes?”

“We can find where Wolf sleeps between now and then.”

“Can we? Wolf, and Raven, and Estrella? And Anna won’t get here until nightfall—you forget that she’s one of them, too. Will she be able to protect you in time?”

“Jackson, he’s making an army—” I protested. “If we work together—”

Jackson shook his head and gave me a serious look. “What happens to me if Anna wins?”

“Then Anna could take you in—”

“Really? Knowing who I am? You’d let her?” he asked, forcing the truth.

“I don’t know. I could explain things—make her understand. And maybe you’d understand her then, too—”

“I’m afraid you’ve mistaken me for a hero, Edie. When Wolf changed me—I was losing that fight. Just like I’d lost all the other ones I’d ever started, stupid and drunk. He gave me blood because it amused him to have a loser like me for his daytimer. Someone he knew would be easy to control.” Jackson rocked back onto his heels and stood. “I didn’t go with House Grey to be noble for all the bullshit reasons I fed you—I went with them because for once I wanted to be on the winning side.”

I rattled the chain in frustration. “So what’s your plan then? Let Raven succeed? Let Anna be surprised by a seventy-person vampire army?”

Jackson’s face was implacable—it was probably the same face he had when he was dipping corpses into lye. “Something like that. If I’m lucky they’ll take each other out; it’ll be like drowning two kittens in the same sack. Either way, I’ll report back and House Grey will be pleased enough with me to finally change me over. And I’ll be free.”

“You’re hedging your bets and you know it, Jackson.” I strained at the chain, but it held me back like a dog leash.

“No one is coming to rescue me. My bets are all I have.” He shrugged with a grunt. “Celine’s wearing your necklace now. I assumed you were dead. I’m going to keep on assuming that. I don’t know what you’re doing down here and I don’t care to. That’s all the slack I can give you, Edie. I’m sorry. This is my one chance to get out and I’m taking it.”

He wheeled and walked back into the hallway before I could think of anything else to say.

The second he was gone I started ripping off Rex’s pants with a vengeance.

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

I threaded the pants around the chain between Lars and the wall. I couldn’t get the fabric under the cuff to come free, but I was able to knot most of it around the anchor bolt that chained him. I tried to create a loose nest of the fabric there, so that the fire would have enough oxygen to breathe and be hot and fast.

Then I put my hand out in the shadow his form created. The Shadows pooled underneath, and I pulled them back toward myself as if I were scraping mercury across the floor, making a bridge of shadow so that they could hide in my shoe again. I’d seen vampire dust light before; I knew my clothing might get burned off me by the blast.

I was banking a lot on the hope that it would be enough to loosen the bolts so I could pry them free, but not enough to injure me beyond what my hyped-up blood could heal. I coiled into a ball to protect my stomach, then stretched out and lit the portion of the hem that I’d pulled out to use as a fuse.

Here go we go. Baby, hang on.

The fuse took and hissed like silver felt, racing up the fabric to create a bright blue flame. The fire jumped from the fuse to the bulk of the fabric, and the particulate amounts of vampire dust still present caught hold. I saw a bright blue ball and then everything went very loud, and then very quiet.

* * *

I was in a place I recognized, unfortunately, curled up on the ground, with the prisoner looking down at me. “Am I dead?”

“I don’t think so. Concussed, perhaps. What did you do?”

It took a moment for the precise chain of events to reassemble. There was Jackson, and Lars, and then fire—“Is my baby okay? Why am I here?”

The prisoner knelt, just as Jackson had. “I don’t know the answer to either of those. You weren’t dreaming, and then you were.”

I could be bleeding out right now, lying beside Lars. “Send me back.”

The prisoner nodded, and then closed his eyes, concentrating—but neither of us moved.

“Is it because you’re weaker during the day?” I guessed with hope.

“No. Your mind—” He shook his head. “You still have his blood in you. You’ll heal. Give it time.”

“But I don’t have any.” I looked down at myself. I was still wearing what I’d had on above, minus the chain. My watch was still on my wrist, but the numbers on the screen were blurred. If I concentrated on what I wanted them to be they’d change, but that wasn’t actually the time. Who knew how long I’d been out before I’d slipped into here? And how long it would be until I got back? “He’s chained me to a sleeping vampire. If I don’t wake up before he does—” The prisoner’s lips parted into a cruel smile as I talked. “Why do you look pleased about that?”

“Because he remembers me. In all of this time I’ve been imprisoned, I thought maybe he’d forgotten I exist. But if he remembers the lessons I taught him, then he remembers me. Some.”

I rose up. “What exactly did you teach him?”

“I culled him young, at an age when he had no choice but to look up to me. He was called Corvus then, and he haunted me like his namesake, trailing along behind me like a curious crow. I made him warm my bed, and help bury me each morning before daylight. I made him fight for every dram of affection I gave him, like he was a hyena fighting for scraps, and in return he worshipped me like a god. There was no Apollo or Mars for him, there was only me. I taught him to be cruel with my own cruelty, and capricious due to my whim. He shuddered when I walked by, never knowing whether to expect a blow or a kiss.” The prisoner seemed to get lost in his tale, and he didn’t sound contrite. Something like pride tinged his voice. “Maybe once upon a time I did feel something for the boy—I must have, to have bothered to change him—but three hundred years of imprisonment have dried that fountain up.”

“I’m chained to a sleeping vampire because you taught him to assume the worst and fear being controlled? All of this is because of you?” My voice rose in anger, and the prisoner nodded, unashamed. “That’s it. That. Is. It.” I stood up and started pacing the plain of his imagination. “You remember your promise to me earlier? To not kill anyone unless I tell you to? I’m going to need a lot more promises from you.”

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