Underworld blood enemy, p.19

Underworld: Blood Enemy, page 19

 

Underworld: Blood Enemy
 


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  Grief for his lost daughter tore at his heart, but he took comfort from the knowledge that he had made the only decision possible under the circumstances. The abomination the lycan had planted in Sonja’s womb had been a threat to the coven’s very future. There had been no choice but to destroy it utterly.

  But, oh, the price he had paid!

  Bootsteps sounded on the wall walk. Viktor looked away from the forest to see Soren approach him. The overseer held an upraised torch, and his leather boots were splattered with mud and fallen pine needles.

  “Well?” Viktor demanded.

  Soren shook his head. “The werewolf continues to elude us. We will search the woods until dawn, but he is a crafty beast. He knows how to hide his trail!”

  Viktor scowled, remembering how, in happier times, Lucian had distinguished himself as a tracker of his own kind. Now, it seemed, those very skills were being used against them.

  The Devil take me for a fool if I ever trust a lycan again!

  Thoughts of missed opportunities tormented him. I should have realized something was amiss, he mused, when Sonja was so appalled at the prospect of marrying Nicolae. His fists clenched at his sides. Had she already succumbed to the beast’s seductive wiles by then, or might I have still had a chance to turn her from that fatal course?

  He would never know.

  Another set of footsteps approached him, from the opposite end of the parapet. Irritation flared within his heart as he saw that it was the dark-haired lycan wench who had first informed Soren of his daughter’s misdeeds. The worthless scullion crept toward him, Sonja’s damning ribbon still clutched between her grimy fingers.

  “Yes?” he asked impatiently, already regretting that he had not consigned this particular bitch to the dungeon along with the rest of her filthy breed. “What do you want?”

  “Nothing but what I deserve, Elder.” She grinned wolfishly at him, her bright eyes gleaming in the moonlight. “Has Leyba not done well? Did I not speak the truth?” She extended an open palm before him. “How might I be rewarded for my great service?”

  The trull’s naked greed infuriated him. “You dare to approach me now—and expect to profit from my daughter’s ruin?” He snatched the blazing torch from Soren’s grip and thrust it at Leyba, setting fire to the wench’s hair and clothing. “Here’s your reward, she-beast! Burn as she burned!”

  Leyba let out an agonized howl as her squalid hide went up in flames. Her raucous caterwauling assailed his ears, and he grabbed her with both hands. Heedless of the fire consuming her flesh, he lifted her high above his head. In his mind’s eye, he saw Sonja—his precious Sonja!—burning as well. His daughter’s dying screams echoed within his skull, in concert with the high-pitched keening of the lycan bitch who had betrayed her.

  Viktor flung Leyba from the parapet with all his strength. The blazing figure arced across the sky like a falling star before crashing to earth somewhere within the shrouded forest below. Her final cries were lost to the night.

  The Elder sagged against the battlements, exhausted more from emotion than from exertion. If only I could cast away my painful memories so easily, he lamented, feeling the loss of his daughter like a stake to his heart. First my wife, now my Sonja… I am bereft of family and affection.

  “Well done, milord,” Soren said gruffly. “The bitch had it coming.”

  Viktor shot Soren a murderous glare. “Be thankful I do not set you to the torch as well!” he snarled. “I have not forgotten your many failures where my late daughter is concerned.”

  Soren staggered backward, taken aback by the Elder’s savage rebuke. “But milord…!”

  “Silence!” Viktor ordered sharply. “If you are wise, you will not try my patience further.”

  He turned away from the crestfallen overseer and stared darkly out over the parapet. Alas, Leyba’s death had not eased his pain or quelled his all-consuming anger. Killing the female meant nothing; it was the male, Lucian, who had brought this catastrophe down upon him.

  I will not rest, Viktor vowed, until the lycan who despoiled my daughter is dead… even if I have to exterminate his entire loathsome species!

  Now

  A.D. 2002

  Chapter Sixteen

  BUDAPEST

  Built by the Turks during the sixteenth century, the Petofi Baths were one of the oldest and most prestigious of the city’s famed thermal baths. In theory, the bathhouse closed to the public at dusk, but tonight the interior lights still could be seen through the frosted glass dome above the main pool. A gleaming black limousine was parked in front of the building, while the front entrance was guarded by a pair of unsmiling thugs packing suspicious bulges beneath their leather jackets.

  Selene perched atop the central cupola, unseen by the human guards below. She had easily gained access to the roof of the bathhouse by scaling one of the adjacent buildings and stealthily dropping onto the large glass dome. Sneaking past mortals was simplicity itself compared with stalking lycans; for once, she didn’t have to worry about her scent giving her away.

  I could get used to this, she thought. Too bad I’m only interested in killing lycans.

  Using a glass cutter, she quietly removed a small, round segment of the dome and peered through the peephole at the scene below.

  The steaming octagonal pool glowed green in the dimly lit bath. Green marble columns supported the dome. Rose-colored granite walls, dating back to the glory days of the Ottoman Empire, surrounded the pool, and arched doorways led to the attached locker rooms, sauna, and side pools. Selene could feel the heat from the sulfurous waters rising through the hole in the ceiling.

  Leonid Florescu lounged within the heated pool, having booked the historical baths for his exclusive use this evening. A young blond woman, whom Selene assumed to be his mistress, shared the bath with the notorious arms dealer. A floating chessboard bobbed atop the water between them. An open bottle of plum brandy rested on the tiles at the edge of the pool, next to a plate of fatányéros. A pair of additional bodyguards stood watch over the chamber’s exits and entrances. Given Florescu’s profession, Selene had to assume that the guards were well armed.

  Selene drew her eye away from the peephole, satisfied with what she had seen. Her intel regarding Florescu’s whereabouts had proven correct. Now all she had to do was pry some more information straight from the horse’s mouth. She had questions that demanded answers, questions that she hoped would lead her one step closer to finding Diego’s killer.

  An exploding grenade, sending her comrade’s body flying. An armored figure spraying fiery death from a flamethrower. Diego’s body burning up before her eyes, his dying screams ringing in her ears….

  Selene shook her head to clear her mind of the painful memories. A look of grim resolution hardened on her face as she stood atop the dome and drew a pair of twin Berettas. Her long leather trench coat flapped in the breeze. Her dark brown hair blew across her face.

  Aiming downward at the frosted glass beneath her boots, she squeezed the triggers of her weapons.

  The graceful dome shattered before the hail of bullets. Selene dropped toward the bath below, preceded by a shower of broken glass.

  She kept firing as she fell, taking out both bodyguards even as she plummeted feet-first toward the luminous green water. The guards died reaching for their guns, their bodies dropping onto the tiled corridor surrounding the bath. Florescu’s blond mistress screamed in fright.

  Selene hit the center of the pool with a splash. Ignoring the stifling heat of the water, she quickly holstered her drenched handguns and palmed a pair of shining silver throwing stars. Her boots struck the floor of the bath, and she sprang upward, breaking through the steaming surface of the water, shuriken in hand.

  Drawn by the commotion, the two guards from outside came running into the bath chamber. Selene’s throwing stars spun through the air, catching each of the two men in the throat. Bright arterial blood spurted through their fingertips as the wounded gunmen clutched at their neck
s, slicing their palms and fingers on the razor-sharp points of the shuriken. Their bodies quickly joined their associates’ on the soggy tiles. Streams of blood flowed across the floor of the bathhouse into the pool itself, creating crimson swirls in the choppy green water.

  As a rule, Selene went out of her way to avoid harming humans, whom she regarded as noncombatants in her eternal war against the lycans. These particular humans, however, were not exactly innocent bystanders. If Florescu and his goons choose to involve themselves in our war, she decided, then they had better be prepared to suffer the consequences.

  Despite her scruples, the sight and smell of so much spilled blood tantalized Selene. She licked her lips involuntarily, resisting the temptation to dip her finger into the crimson swirls and give it a lick. It had been a long time since she’d tasted fresh human blood, as opposed to the cloned variety.

  Instead, focusing her mind on her mission, she waded forcefully toward Florescu, who was backed up against the edge of the pool, his eyes wide with alarm. Her waterlogged coat and leathers dragged on her, but Selene did not let the added weight slow her down. Her dramatic entrance, she observed, had capsized the floating chess set. Pawns, rooks, and other pieces drifted like flotsam in the agitated water. Florescu’s mistress opened her mouth to scream again, but Selene shot her a warning look.

  “Don’t even think about it.”

  The blonde clammed up fast, and Selene turned her full attention to Florescu, who looked properly cowed. His parboiled complexion paled to a slightly less vivid shade of scarlet. “Who are you?” he asked tremulously. “What do you want?”

  Selene saw no reason not to reveal her true nature. Her eyes assumed an azure glow, and she flashed her fangs at the sweating arms dealer. The crimson nectar spreading through the pool, impossible to ignore by one of her kind, made it all too easy to assume the visage of a bloodthirsty undead.

  Just give me an excuse to bite you, Leonid. You look like you have plenty of blood to spare.

  Her scare tactics had the desired effect; Florescu gasped out loud and crossed himself. Scratch a sophisticated mortal urbanite, she thought, and you’ll usually find a superstitious peasant underneath.

  Good. That just makes my job simpler.

  “I want answers,” she told him. “About the attack at Statue Park—and the person responsible.”

  Once she’d gotten over the shock of Diego’s death, it hadn’t taken her long to put the pieces together. The faceless killer at the park had been equipped with state-of-the-art military body armor, plus silver hand grenades just like the Death Dealers used. And where did she and her comrades get most of their ordnance?

  She had remembered, too, how eager Florescu had been to exit the park that evening, not even bothering to take the time to count his money. Perhaps because he knew of the bloodbath in store?

  “I don’t know anything about that!” he protested. His jowly face was slick with perspiration. “That had nothing to do with me.”

  Selene wasn’t buying it. She grabbed onto Florescu’s scalp and shoved his head beneath the hot, sulfurous waters. She counted slowly to ten, then waited for the first rush of bubbles to rise past his submerged face, before yanking his head out of the pool. Red-tinted water streamed down his face and sluiced from his nose and mouth. He gasped raggedly for breath.

  “Try again,” she suggested.

  “I told you!” he sputtered. “I don’t know anything!”

  “Wrong answer.”

  She pushed his head back under the water. This is taking too long, she thought impatiently. Despite the thick stone walls of the ancient bathhouse, it was only a matter of time before someone reported the gunfire. The blonde whimpered loudly a few feet away, and Selene briefly considered knocking her unconscious. Just my luck, she’d probably drown.

  Selene counted to twenty this time, then brought Florescu up for air again. Was it just wishful thinking, or was he starting to look a bit blue beneath his flushed red skin? “Had enough?” she asked harshly, treating him to another glimpse of her ivory fangs. “Tell me about that bastard in the armor.”

  Tears flowed from his eyes, merging with the bloody water running down his face. “I had no choice!” he sobbed pitifully. He was breathing so hard Selene feared he might have a heart attack. “She made me tell her about the meeting. She would have killed me otherwise!”

  Selene let go of Florescu’s scalp. Her eerie blue eyes widened.

  She?

  Then

  A.D. 1202

  Chapter Seventeen

  CARPATHIAN MOUNTAINS

  The day was waning fast as Lucian tracked through the verdant forest on foot. Soon he would have to seek shelter for the night, unless he found what he was looking for. He trudged through the clotted underbrush, far from any mortal paths, as he traversed a wooded valley lying deep between the spurs of the jagged, snow-topped mountains.

  Nearly a month had passed since his escape from Castle Corvinus, yet Lucian knew that Viktor and his Death Dealers would still be looking for him. For safety’s sake, he had taken to traveling by day while hiding at night.

  Has it truly been almost a month? he thought, his throat tightening. The pain of Sonja’s death was still fresh within him, tearing at his heart and soul. He could still hear her agonized cries, smell her soft and supple flesh burning in the sunlight, along with the precious child she carried within her. The ghastly memories haunted him day and night, as did hopeless fantasies of the life they might have had together, a life that he would never know. Sometimes it feels as though I lost her mere hours ago.

  That first night, he had taken refuge in the charred ruins of Strasba, abandoned after the vampires set fire to the village two months ago. Human tears had streamed down a wolfen muzzle as he’d whimpered in pain and despair, mourning the loss of his one true love. He had not even been able to howl his grief to the moon, lest his heartsick keening bring his undead enemies down on him. That hellish night had been the longest in his entire immortal existence.

  The next day, he had rooted through the blackened timbers in search of provisions. Most of the villagers’ earthly possessions had been destroyed in the fire, but Lucian had managed to salvage a decent steel knife and a quantity of gold and copper coins. Ironically, it was the modest stone chapel, Brother Ambrose’s final sanctuary, that had provided the richest pickings: there he found the greatest store of currency, as well as fresh garments to clothe his nakedness. A hooded cloak concealed his face, while a monk’s black robe hid the telltale brand on his arm. Sandaled feet trod softly on the mossy forest floor.

  Most nights he spent at mortal inns, posing as a wandering pilgrim, which was true enough in a way. He had found to his relief that his disguise, complete with a cross and rosary beads, helped blind humans to his true nature. Apparently, they could not imagine that any werewolf or vampire would willingly don the trappings of their faith.

  In this way, he had eluded the Death Dealers for weeks, but Lucian had more than mere survival on his mind. Revenge was his abiding obsession now, not just against Viktor but against every arrogant vampire who had ever lorded over a lycan. He could not believe that he had ever admired, let alone envied, his former masters. He saw now that the vampires’ elegant veneer of culture and civilization masked a cold-blooded barbarity more heinous than that of the most savage lycan.

  They are all bloodsucking parasites who deserve to be put to the sword! Except for Sonja, of course.

  He gently touched her gilded pendant, which now occupied a permanent place around his own neck. He tried to remember her as she had been—loving, beautiful—rather than as the lifeless pile of cinders she had become. I shall never forget you, my love, he silently vowed, or the happiness we once shared.

  A happiness that Viktor had destroyed without mercy.

  If Lucian had his way, the vampires would pay for Sonja’s unforgivable murder, but he knew that a lone wolf would not be enough to overthrow Viktor and his undead ilk.

  I need an army
.

  Hence today’s hunting expedition, deep into the primeval heart of the rugged wilderness.

  Lucian had been tracking this lycan pack for days. Travelers’ tales, recounted nightly in inns and alehouses, spoke of a plague of supernatural beasts that had been preying on neighboring livestock—and the occasional careless mortal—for months now, most often on the nights of the full moon. From the humans’ horrified descriptions of the mangled remains left behind by the monsters, Lucian recognized the handiwork of his renegade kinsmen.

  Better, he mused, that such ferocity be turned against the vampires instead. They should be our true prey, now and for all time.

  His eyes probed the dense brush and bracken before him. Broken branches and half-buried droppings kept him on the correct path through the closely packed oaks and beeches. The heavy canopy overhead cast the forest floor into shadow, but Lucian’s expert gaze had no trouble following the lycans’ trail. Their spoor was obvious to one who knew where to look.

  He glanced upward through the interlaced tree branches to see the sun sinking slowly toward the west. The moon will be full tonight, he recalled. If they’re smart, the vampires will stay safely behind their castle walls.

  Twilight’s crimson radiance was painting the distant mountaintops red by the time Lucian’s ears detected the clamor of raucous voices and laughter. He cautiously circled to the right in order to stay downwind; there was no point in alerting the noisy celebrants until he was ready to make his entrance.

  He expected he would need every advantage he could get.

  Creeping stealthily through the woods, he spied ragged figures cavorting around a smoldering campfire. A wedge-shaped clearing, nestled at the base of a rocky cliff, played host to a throng of unruly men and women clad in crudely stitched furs and tattered rags.

 
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