Bound by flames, p.20
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       Bound by Flames, p.20
 

         Part #3 of Night Prince series by Jeaniene Frost
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  “Not a chance,” had been his reply. “If the spell on you reactivates, you’ll slaughter them and yourself. Only I am strong enough to stop you, so we stay together.”

  Selfishly, I preferred that anyway. The fastest way to travel was to have him fly us, and with the cover of darkness, it was the least conspicuous, too. Still, it took the remainder of the night to get everything we needed. The last thing I saw before passing out in Vlad’s arms was light breaking over the mountains behind the hotel, the lake reflecting the image as though I were seeing double.

  The next thing I saw was Gretchen, peering at me curiously from her crouched position a few feet away.

  “If she bites you, it’s your own fault,” Samir said in an exasperated tone. “You should never get that close to a new vampire who’s just waking up.”

  “’S going on?” I mumbled, looking around. I was in a small, windowless room that I recognized as a vampire holding cell. My hands were manacled together, but my right hand was also covered in about a foot of rubber, which had been taped onto it like a cartoon-sized boxing glove.

  “Where’s Vlad?” I asked, coming fully awake at the realization that only Gretchen and Samir were with me.

  “Sleeping,” Samir said, shaking his head. “Had to force him to, but he can’t keep running on hate and blood alone. That’s why you’re trussed up like this. He keeps burning your skin off while you sleep, which seems to keep the spell at bay, but if it kicks in again, he’d hear you by the time you worked yourself free to hurt yourself.”

  “You look dead when you sleep,” Gretchen added, as if I’d ever want to know that. “It’s kind of freaky.”

  “Thanks,” I muttered, sitting up. As soon as I was vertical, Samir shoved a covered thermos at me.

  “Courtesy of one of the tourists at the next hotel, not that he remembers,” he said, smiling.

  The blood was no longer warm, but I drank it to the last drop, my glare daring Gretchen to comment. She didn’t, just watched with her mouth curled in repugnance. Right. As if this was grosser than how she always ordered her steaks cooked rare.

  “I’d totally do the vampire thing if I could skip the drinking blood part,” she stated when I was done.

  Samir let out a strangled noise, as if he’d almost swallowed his tongue. The former Janissary who’d so impressed Vlad with his fighting skills that Vlad had made Samir part of his line, even when Vlad had hated “Turks,” apparently couldn’t handle the thought of Gretchen as a vampire. Guess there were some things that were too frightening even for a five-hundred-year-old vampire who’d captained the Sultan’s guard as well as Vlad the Impaler’s.

  “We have to drink it all the time,” Samir said, emphasizing those last three words. “Sometimes, buckets and buckets of it.”

  I stifled my laugh at the look on Gretchen’s face. She’d deserved that fallacy.

  “Since I’m awake and not suffering from any homicidal impulses, can I get out of these?” I asked, rattling my chains.

  Samir glanced up at the ceiling. “Five hours, that’s a decent rest,” he said, almost to himself.

  “Vlad’s only slept five hours?” I winced. “Never mind. I’ll stay down here like this.”

  Samir went over to the corner of the room, pressing numbers into a keypad. “It’s dusk, so he might be awake now anyway. I’ll check. If he is, there’s no need for you to stay down here.”

  “Gretchen, go with him,” I said at once.

  She wouldn’t have noticed his shudder, not with how fast he suppressed it. “I’ll be right back,” Samir promised. “Gretchen, Leila’s chain is three feet long, so stay back at least three feet and you’ll be safe.”

  “She said she’s fine, go,” my sister replied. Once Samir left, the solid rock door closed behind him. Gretchen rolled her eyes. “You have no idea how irritating he can be.”

  “You don’t say?” I replied dryly.

  She missed the inference. “Seriously, Samir was more restrictive than Dad while we were in Vegas, and in New Orleans, I wasn’t even allowed to leave the hotel. I mean, we were right in the French Quarter, but Samir wouldn’t even let me take one of those Haunted History tours . . . which reminds me, did you send me a weird text the other day?”

  “A text? No,” I said, not adding that I didn’t text because my electricity issues short-circuited all but the most elaborately protected cell phones.

  She grunted. “Huh, thought it had to be you since it was a link to an article about an underground Dracula dungeon being found—”

  “What?” I interrupted, alarmed. “Someone sent you a link about Dracula stuff?”

  Was this Szilagyi’s way of taunting us that he’d found my family? It couldn’t be random spam; what were the odds of someone accidentally texting Vlad’s only living sister-in-law with an article about Dracula?

  “What phone number did it come from?” I pressed. Maybe we could trace it back to the source.

  “It was an out-of-country number, but when I called it, it was disconnected,” Gretchen said, not catching the fear in my voice. “You don’t think your husband did it, do you?”

  “Not a chance,” I said grimly. “Vlad would sooner stab himself in the heart with silver than advertise any new Dracula hype . . .”

  “Leila?” Gretchen prodded when my voice trailed off and I didn’t say anything for several moments.

  “You say that the article was about an underground dungeon?” I said, an idea forming in my mind.

  Gretchen sighed. “Yeah, guess historians or something think they’ve found the place where he was imprisoned as a child—”

  “Where?” I interrupted more urgently.

  “I don’t know, somewhere.” Gretchen shrugged.

  I resisted my urge to shake her. “What about numbers? Were there any numbers after the link to the article?”

  She gave me an irritable look. “That was two countries and a plane crash ago, so I don’t remember. I didn’t know I’d have to study the thing because there would be a quiz.”

  “Give me your phone and let me see it,” I demanded.

  “I can’t, it blew up in the plane crash, remember?”

  Right. I was now so wired that I’d forgotten that. “Doesn’t matter, I’ll look up the articles to get the location myself,” I said, then yelled, “Samir, let me out of here!”

  Chapter 33

  Vlad glanced at what I typed into his default search engine page and annoyance grated along my subconscious.

  “This is why you needed to use my laptop? If this is a joke, Leila, I’m not amused.”

  “I know, you hate anything to do with the word Dracula,” I said, clicking on the first link that came up. “That’s why you’d never look at these on your own and why none of your people would mention them to you, either. It’s also why Szilagyi’s first lair was under the castle you lived in when you were human. He knew you wouldn’t be caught dead near that tourist trap.”

  “Your point?” Vlad said, sounding no less irritated.

  I found what I was looking for, then nearly shoved the laptop toward him. “Read this.”

  Vlad glanced at the article, a frown darkening his brow. “As usual, lies. Mehmed didn’t relocate his palace to Tokat until years after I was released, so I was never there—”

  “Vlad,” I interrupted. “Say you’re Maximus. You’re watched all the time because Szilagyi still doesn’t quite trust you, so you can’t leave any written messages at the drop points. You also can’t risk contacting any of your old allies because you don’t know who Szilagyi’s necromancer has bespelled. So, how do you relay information about where Szilagyi is without getting caught?” I tapped the screen for emphasis. “Maybe by texting an article link like this to Gretchen. She’s someone Szilagyi’s necromancer wouldn’t bother with because she’s human, yet she’s also in regular contact with me, and thus by extension, you.”

  He looked at the article again, rage sweeping across my emotions when he pieced together what I hadn’t
said yet.

  “If so, then my boyhood prison is where Szilagyi has been hiding.” The words were coated with so much scorching wrath, I was surprised smoke didn’t pour from his mouth. “He chose it because the site of my torture and rape would be the very last place I’d ever return to.”

  And with Szilagyi’s sick sense of irony, he’d enjoy plotting against Vlad in the same setting where his old enemy had experienced the worst years of his life.

  “So if it’s not in Tokat where the archeologists think it is,” I said very softly. “Where is it?”

  Two nights later, I viewed Edirne, Turkey, from over a mile above it while clasped in Vlad’s arms. With my enhanced vision, I could make out a mix of modern and ancient structures below, with rivers and empty patches of land cushioning the city. A lot had changed in the almost six hundred years since Vlad had been brought here as a child prisoner, so much that Vlad had needed to look up Edirne on Google Maps to acquaint himself with a bird’s-eye view of the city so he’d know where to go.

  Even with the changes, being back here had to hurt. Every ruin that had survived since the fourteen hundreds must be filled with memories for Vlad, not that he was letting on. Even with my body pressed along his, I couldn’t detect his aura. He’d tamped it down to undetectable levels and his emotions were just as securely locked up.

  For a few seconds, we hovered in the air, Vlad checking the images on his satellite phone to verify that we were in the right section of the city. The brief delay gave Samir a chance to catch up. He had Petre clasped in his arms, and the two vampires looked as grimly determined as I felt. The four of us made up the entirety of our forces tonight, but a larger presence might have alerted Szilagyi to our arrival. Even if Szilagyi did have security systems scanning the skies over his hideout, we could easily be mistaken for a small flock of birds.

  “There,” Vlad said, pointing to one of the city’s many bridges. Then he angled his body to swoop us toward it.

  We landed at the beginning of a stone bridge that ended at a smallish island. On the island, a tall triangular tower rose at least sixty feet in the air. The tower was illuminated by exterior lighting so that it drew the eye, but that wasn’t what held Vlad’s attention. He let me go and stared at the bridge, his hands clasped behind his back and his entire body rigid.

  I wanted to take one of his hands and squeeze it in silent support. Or wrap my arms around him, yet I remained where I was. He’d told me what he needed from me tonight, and it hadn’t been handholding or hugs. Besides, he didn’t want comfort. What he wanted—needed—right now was bloody, fiery revenge.

  And so did I, but we had a problem.

  “Is this the place?” I asked quietly. “There are people on that island. Humans.”

  His mouth curled with a coldness I’d rarely seen from him. “Yes, on the other side of that bridge is where the former imperial palace used to be, so it’s a tourist attraction.”

  “Maybe we should wait until later.” It was only an hour after dark. The site was bound to empty out soon—

  “No.”

  The vehemence in that single word had Samir and Petre taking off their backpacks and unloading their contents. I stared at Vlad, momentarily speechless. He couldn’t mean to take out a bunch of innocent people along with Szilagyi, could he?

  “I want him dead, too, but not over the bodies of people whose only crime is being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

  “Do you know what tourists do very, very well?” Vlad asked, the new silkiness in his voice more frightening than his previous granite tone. “Run at the first sign of danger.”

  Then he started striding down the bridge, ignoring the backpack that was meant for him, his only weapons the two silver swords that he had in sheaths crisscrossed on his back.

  “Time to give them something to run away from,” he muttered. Fire shot out in front of him, which had me, Samir, and Petre exchanging stunned looks. We had agreed that we would approach Szilagyi’s base quietly. When had that changed?

  “New plan,” Vlad called out, as if in answer to that. “Keep Leila on this side of the island. I’m going in alone.”

  The people on the island saw the streaks of fire lighting up the bridge and began to murmur in concern. Those murmurs turned to screams when large creatures seemed to form out of the flames, surging ahead of Vlad and rushing onto the island. Then the fiery creations howled, the sound channeling the ominous roars of an inferno. More and more of them formed, until it appeared as though the island were being overrun by wolves made entirely of fire.

  That’s when the stampede started, proving that Vlad was right. Tourists ran away very fast at the sign of danger. Samir, Petre, and I were almost trampled by their mad scramble over the bridge to the mainland, which was now the only place that wasn’t swarmed by fire creatures. Vlad was already a hundred yards ahead of us, his hands lit up by orange and blue flames. Suddenly, a pack of the fire creatures merged into one large, whirling ball that shot into the air before rocketing back down with an impact that made the ground shudder as if gripped by an earthquake. When the fireball cleared away, a tunnel was revealed in the ground to the right of the triangular tower. Vlad dropped into it and disappeared.

  Samir finished unloading the weapons that his backpack contained. “We hold the line here,” he said crisply. “If Szilagyi manages to run from Vlad, we will stop him.”

  “No, we won’t, because he could fly out,” I argued. “Or swim, or jump, or whatever! Vlad made a mistake by going off-plan, but we shouldn’t compound that mistake by complying.”

  “He is the voivode,” Samir said, as if that settled it.

  My jaw clenched from the effort it took to keep from screaming at them. “That means ‘prince,’ not God, so he isn’t above making a mistake.”

  They continued to stare at me as if I were speaking a strange language. I cast a frustrated glance at the island. It was rapidly emptying of people, but Vlad was there, and in all likelihood, so was his worst enemy and the most dangerous kind of sorcerer: a necromancer. I wasn’t about to just wait here, cross my fingers and hope for the best.

  “Fine. Don’t disobey Vlad by going in there to help him. Do it to protect me, because I am not staying here.”

  “You can’t, you could be a danger to yourself,” Samir said, grabbing my upper arm.

  “Believe me, I’m the farthest thing from suicidal right now,” I snapped, yanking away. “But Vlad’s acting like he is, so we’re going to do what we planned when we were all thinking clearly. One of us stays at the bridge while the rest of us go to back up Vlad.”

  I didn’t wait for him to reply, but spun away and ran across the bridge. Once on the island, I went for the nearest bright object that wasn’t on fire. That turned out to be the exterior lighting around the tower, and I ripped my glove off before plunging my hand through one of the bulbs.

  The surge of electricity hit me with sudden, delirious force. I’d relived cocaine highs through other people that didn’t feel this good. Just like what had happened when I was escaping my old cell, I found myself not only absorbing the energy, but also pulling it into my body by force. All too soon, the lights around the tower shorted out and went dark.

  I whirled, going for the next source of electricity. That was a small power grid next to a modern-looking stadium, and the far higher voltage shook me with its potency. By the time the stadium went black, taking out the rest of the power to the small island, I was shuddering with near-ecstatic bliss.

  But I hadn’t siphoned all that electricity for a cheap high. I re-channeled it into my right hand, where a cord of dazzling white began to grow. A few seconds of intense concentration later, and I had a sizzling whip that coiled and snapped like a snake chasing after prey. I forced back the almost irresistible urge to look for more electricity and ran over to the hole that Vlad had blasted into the earth.

  I paused before jumping into the opening that led to the labyrinth of tunnels beneath the ruins of the former palace. The
overload of voltage made my vision a little blurry. That, combined with the fearsome fire display still ravaging the island, made it impossible for me to see if Petre or Samir were still at the bridge, or if one of them had entered the tunnels while I was powering up. I decided not to go back to the bridge to find out. Too much time had been wasted already.

  I dropped down into the tunnel, glancing around at the rough stone walls. The narrow, barren structure gave no indicators on whether I should go to my right or to my left. Which way had Vlad chosen?

  A faint orange glow to my left answered that, and I ran in the direction of the ebbing light from his flames.

  Chapter 34

  After about fifty yards, I began to see modern touches in the ancient structure that backed up our notion that this was someone’s secret lair. The cameras stuck to the ceiling in several places of the stone tunnel certainly hadn’t been standard in the sultan’s time, and I blasted each one I passed with electricity, killing their feed. Vlad could have done the same with fire, but he hadn’t, and that worried me. Was he so consumed with rage that he didn’t care about Szilagyi knowing where he was?

  Concern for Vlad plus desire for vengeance, all fueled by an electric high, had me charging ahead like the proverbial cavalry, and made me almost oblivious to the faint noises behind me. Once I heard them, I tensed, but didn’t turn around. It couldn’t be Petre or Samir. They weren’t stupid; they would never sneak up on me in enemy territory without saying anything. Nor slink behind me while trying to mask all sounds of their presence.

  I paused as if confused, trying to hide my whip as much as possible. That wasn’t easy since the glow from it lit up my section of the tunnel. Despite that, with luck, whoever this person was might think that an unarmed vampire was an easy catch. Still, the tunnel was so narrow that I wouldn’t be able to get a decent strike on whoever was behind me. I hadn’t brought any other weapons, so I couldn’t afford to let the walls take the brunt of my whip. Maybe if I made it to one of the cells, I’d have room enough to swing a full, lethal arc at my stalker. They had to be down here somewhere.

 
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Gloria
Gloria 7 November 2018 18:45
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Iam not a robot