Hit list, p.38
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       Hit List, p.38
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         Part #20 of Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series by Laurell K. Hamilton
Chapter Thirty-Eight

  ONCE WE STEPPED out into the corridor, I had my answer on whether we were underground: yes. I'd have said it was a basement but the single hallway was all stone, as if it had been hacked from the ground, or maybe begun life as caves like the Circus of the Damned underground. This underground wasn't nearly as impressive. In fact the main hallway was narrow enough that we could only walk two abreast. There were doors on either side like the one we came out of, and a visible end to the hallway just down from our door. The other end vanished around a curve that hid anything more than twenty feet away. A dead-end corridor with a series of doors into dead-end rooms; I'd feel sooo much better when we got around that curve, and out of this nearly perfect ambush area.

  "Where are our people?" I asked.

  Thaddeus motioned up the hallway. "Last door on the left has your men in it. "

  He started to lead us toward that door, but I glanced at the four other closed doors. "Are there more prisoners down here?" I asked.

  "No, just our masters and their vampire henchmen. "

  Lisandro and I exchanged a look. "We need out of this hallway," he said.

  I nodded, because I totally agreed. If it had been a normal vampire hunt we could have staked the vampires, or put silver bullets into their brains and hearts, but if the vampires died, then their animals to call might die, too. It would be really ungrateful of us to kill our rescuers, so we had to leave the vampires behind us, dead to the world for now. The back of my neck prickled with the thought of them behind the doors, waiting for night, and us having only one way out. I appreciated Thaddeus and the lions helping us, but we weren't rescued yet.

  Thaddeus led the way with the male lion beside him. Lisandro insisted on going next and putting me between him and the female lion. I didn't waste time arguing. We just needed to get the others and get the fuck out of Dodge.

  The door we wanted was nearly at the bend of the corridor, so the lion, whom I was still calling Thing One in my head, drew a gun and glanced around that blind curve. He didn't startle or wave us off, so apparently no nasty surprises were up ahead. Good.

  Thaddeus unbolted the door. It opened almost noiselessly. He said something harsh in a language I didn't speak, and in English said, "They are not here. "

  I tried to peer around the broad shoulders and cloak, but Lisandro was actually taller and looked over his head. "Shit," he said.

  I realized I'd never asked who they had. I understood in that moment that I'd been afraid to ask, because part of me didn't want to know who they had as hostages. I was pretty sure it was Bernardo, because he'd had the coffee just like Lisandro and me, but Nicky and Olaf hadn't. I hadn't asked if they were captured, or dead. Having Olaf die in the line of duty would solve so many problems, but he was a good man in a fight and he was a fellow marshal. I couldn't wish him dead. I admitted to myself that it was Nicky that bothered me most. Bernardo was a friend, but more a work friend. I'd be sorry, but my life would go on. Nicky dead would seriously change my day-to-day life. If he'd been my lion to call his death would have hurt me, and I'd have known, but Brides of vampires are often cannon fodder, the vampires that are left behind to delay the hunters while the masters get away. If you have the vampire ability to make brides, you can always make more. Most masters knew better than to fall in love with the cannon fodder.

  "Who got captured with you?" I asked Lisandro.

  "I came to with just Bernardo and a guy I didn't recognize. "

  "What about Nicky and Olaf?" I asked, and I forgot to use Olaf's "marshal" name. In that moment, I didn't try to correct it. I'd learned when accidentally giving away someone's alias that just ignoring the mistake attracts less attention than repeating and correcting. Most people edit what they hear to match what they expect to hear anyway.

  "I passed out when you did, Anita. "

  "Shit," I said. "Thaddeus. "

  He turned and gave me those serious green eyes in their mask. "While I fetched weapons they moved your friends. I have failed you. "

  "Who's the man that Lisandro didn't know, and what happened to the other two men with us?"

  "The red tiger mongrel that you made your lover," he said.

  "Ethan?"

  "I believe that is his name. "

  "I've only slept with Ethan once. "

  "You have a reputation for bonding very closely with your lovers after very little contact. "

  "How did you get him out of the red tiger's lair?"

  "Our spy knew a way to get him to come to us. "

  "Good ol' George," I said.

  "That is one of his aliases. "

  I wanted to argue, but wasn't sure I could, so I pushed the thought away. I'd look at it later. I didn't ask again about Nicky and Olaf either. If they were dead, there was nothing I could do, and there'd be plenty of time for mourning. Right now, I needed to get us out alive without being possessed by Marmee Noir; until those two goals were reached nothing else really mattered. I told myself that and almost believed it.

  "Fine, where would they take them?" I asked.

  Then a voice called from ahead, "Anita, we have your lovers; if you do not throw down your weapons and surrender we will begin cutting pieces off them. " It was Harley; great.

  I didn't answer him. I believed he'd do it, but I also believed he just wanted to hold us here in this corridor until nightfall. All he had to do was wait for darkness and the vampires would rise behind us, and Harley and the red tiger Harlequin I'd wounded - George, if that was his real name - and the female wereleopard who'd helped carry Lisandro would have more allies.

  "Answer me, Anita, or do you need proof?"

  "I heard you, Harley," I yelled back.

  "That is not my name. "

  "Then give me a name to call you. "

  "He is Marius," Thaddeus said.

  "Okay, Marius," I yelled back, "you want us to surrender. We want our men safe. What happens next?"

  "Wolf, you have given them my name, my real name. I curse you, wolf. "

  "I was cursed long ago, Marius. You are cat and that was always her favorite animal. The wolves are worse than the meanest cur to her. I will not go back to it. "

  "Traitor!" A woman's voice yelled it, so she was the wereleopard that we'd met earlier.

  "Yes," Thaddeus said.

  Marius gave a wordless scream, and cursed, and then there was a muffled scream from someone else. Shit. "Marius. " I called out his name, but there was nothing I could do to undo what had caused that scream. That bit of damage was done. Fuck.

  There was a small sound, and Thing One made a sign with his free hand. Thaddeus said, "They've thrown down a finger. " He motioned and the werelions moved up and out in the large, nearly circular open area. The stairs lay on the far side of the space. The werelions moved quickly across it, guns out, alert, but there was nothing but the thing at the bottom of the stairs. One of them covered up the stairs while the other picked it up, and then they retraced their steps, watching behind them as if they expected the others to rush them. But they didn't need to rush us, all they needed was to outwait us. They could just wait and cut pieces off . . .

  The man held out his black-gloved hand and there was a pale little finger in it. It was Ethan's; Bernardo's skin tone was darker. If they hadn't used silver, Ethan would grow another finger. It meant they weren't trying to do permanent damage. That was almost interesting on its own.

  "The next thing I cut off won't be from your pet tiger. The next finger will be from your human lover and it won't grow back!" Marius yelled.

  I didn't try to argue that Bernardo and I had never been lovers. I had a reputation for liking men, a lot, and that meant they'd never believe that I'd passed Bernardo up. Besides, if they knew we weren't lovers, they might hurt him more and faster. There was just no way to tell. I stared at the finger in the werelion's hand. It felt like I should do something with it, but I couldn't think what.

  Lisandro
spoke low. "Anita, we need a plan. "

  I shook my head, staring at the still-bleeding finger.

  Lisandro grabbed my arm and spun me around to look at him. "Anita, I'm the muscle, you're the brains. Think of something!"

  "I don't know," I said.

  "The vampires will rise soon, and it will all be over," Thaddeus said.

  Then I had my idea; it was a wonderful, awful idea. "Show me Marius's and George's and the wereleopards' masters. "

  Thaddeus didn't even argue. He just turned and started walking back the way we'd come. Marius, George, and the wereleopard had Ethan and Bernardo, but we had their vampire masters, who were still completely helpless until nightfall. They had hostages and now so did we.

 
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