Underworld blood enemy, p.24

Underworld: Blood Enemy, page 24

 

Underworld: Blood Enemy
 


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26

Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font   Night Mode Off   Night Mode


  “Speak of the devil.” The vampire prince chortled. “If it isn’t the nefarious beast himself.” He tilted his head back at the bloody carcasses behind him. “How fortunate for me that I spied these miscreants fleeing this furtive little back entrance of yours, but then, it wasn’t entirely luck; I rather suspected that you’d have just such a bolt hole.”

  Lucian had no desire to bandy words with Nicolae. He heard heavy boots splashing through the tunnels behind him and realized there was no way to go but forward. “Stand aside!” he said, raising his sword. “I’ll not be undone by the likes of you!”

  “Arrogant pup!” Nicolae laughed sardonically. “Why, I was mastering the fine art of swordplay while you were still emptying the chamber pots of your betters!” He lifted the lantern higher, granting Lucian a better look at his sneering countenance. “Come, lycan, see how a pureblood fights!”

  Your blood’s no purer than mine, Lucian thought angrily, longing to slice Nicolae’s smirk from his face. Baring his fangs, he ran at the Elder’s son, swinging his sword.

  Nicolae expertly parried Lucian’s slashing blade. Sparks flew in the darkness as steel met steel. Lucian thrust again, but Nicolae blocked the blow without even letting go of his lantern. “Is that the best you can do, lycan?” the vampire taunted. “No wonder your kind is destined to do our bidding until the end of time. You’re nothing but a pack of ignorant beasts!”

  “Better than a clutch of soulless parasites!” Lucian snarled back. “Sucking the life from everything you touch!” His blood boiled in his veins. “Sonja was the only one among you with a beating heart!”

  Despite his fury, though, Lucian quickly realized that Nicolae was simply playing with him. He thrust, feinted, and parried, yet the vampire’s blade drove Lucian steadily back up the drainage tunnel. Vampire boots and voices echoed from elsewhere in the mine; Lucian knew that it was only a matter of minutes before the sound of their clanging swords attracted Viktor and the other Death Dealers.

  He was running out of time.

  Nicolae appeared to reach the same conclusion. “Time to end this,” he announced, disarming Lucian with an elegant flick of his sword. Lucian’s iron blade landed with a splash on the floor, disappearing beneath the bloody slurry sluicing down from the upper reaches of the mine.

  Thunder boomed overhead as Nicolae prodded Lucian with the point of his silver blade, poking the unarmed lycan in the chest. Lucian clamped his fangs together, unwilling to give Marcus’ heir the satisfaction of hearing him whimper in pain. If only the moon were shining brightly, he seethed, I’d tear this preening vampire apart with my claws and teeth!

  “Viktor would prefer to butcher you himself,” Nicolae explained calmly, “but surely I will be forgiven for striking out at the very beast who ravished my own dear betrothed.” He winked salaciously. “Tell me, before I slice you to ribbons, was the lovely Sonja as knowledgeable in bed as she was in matters of art and philosophy? A pity I never had a chance to find out for myself!”

  An uncontrollable rage suffused every atom of Lucian’s being. How dare this bloodsucking sybarite defile Sonja’s memory? Nicolae’s obscene innuendos provoked Lucian even more than the silver sword’s point jabbing into his chest. He opened his jaws to roar in defiance—and was startled to feel bone and muscle begin to shift beneath his skin.

  What is this? he thought in amazement. It was impossible—the moon was dark—yet he felt the first inklings of the Change coming on.

  Every hair on his body bristled and began to grow. His fingers and toes curled into claws. His spine stretched beneath his rain-soaked tunic. Bones twisted and ground against each other. Blood pounded in his temples.

  Yes! he thought fervently. The pain was worse than usual, as though his flesh were being forced into a new shape against its own inclinations, yet Lucian refused to surrender. Through sheer force of will, he pushed the Change onward. That’s it! he urged his inner wolf, as it snapped and clawed at the weak human frame confining it. Break loose! Break free!

  For Sonja!

  “Alas, I’m afraid Viktor will have to settle for your head on a pike,” Nicolae declared, too enraptured by the sound of his own voice to pay heed to the warning signs of his foe’s accelerating metamorphosis. “No doubt, he will want to display it prominently back at the castle, perhaps in the center of the courtyard for all to see. That should bring the rest of your uncouth breed to heel… wait! What’s happening?”

  His inattention cost him dearly. One final convulsion racked Lucian’s body. Then, for the first time in the annals of the immortals, a werewolf roared into existence without the moon to call it forth. The nightmarish form of an immense black beast filled the narrow confines of the exit shaft.

  “No!” Nicolae blurted, eyes wide with shock. His lantern slipped from his fingers, crashing down into the running water. “This cannot be!”

  A shaggy arm swiped at the prince, knocking his silver sword away. A second blow sliced through Nicolae’s mail shirt as if it were made of gauze. Daggerlike claws opened up the vampire’s gut, spilling his chilly entrails out onto the floor of the tunnel. Gore turned the flowing water incarnadine.

  You never knew Sonja as I did, the werewolf thought vindictively. He lunged forward, crushing Nicolae’s skull between his powerful jaws. He would have liked to have stayed and dismembered the prince at leisure, but his tufted ears heard the sound of at least a half-dozen Death Dealers splashing down the side tunnel toward him, the irate Elder among them.

  “Out of my way!” Viktor bellowed impatiently. “The beast is mine!”

  Not tonight, Lucian decided. Even in his wolfen form, he was not ready to take on Viktor in single combat. As much as he hated to abandon the fray, and the army he had unwittingly led to the slaughter, he could not deny the irrefutable fact that tonight’s battle was already lost. There was nothing to be gained by dying along with the rest of the pack; only by escaping now could he hope to carry on his crusade against Viktor and his bloodthirsty parasites. Better to avenge my followers later than die with them now.

  Dropping onto all fours, he bounded out of the mine shaft and made for the forest below. Wind, rain, thunder, and lightning spurred him onward, along with the tantalizing hope that someday Viktor would know what it was like to flee for his life. Now that the moon no longer holds sway over me, anything is possible.

  Despite tonight’s grievous defeat, he vowed to continue his war against Viktor and the other vampires. Somewhere, he mused, there must be a way to match the staggering power of the Elders, some secret hidden away in the very origins of our respective races.

  I shall attain that power, he resolved, no matter how many centuries it takes.

  My war has only just begun.

  Now

  A.D. 2002

  Chapter Twenty-one

  OUTSIDE BUDAPEST

  The chains tugged on his wrists, and at first, Lucian thought himself back in Viktor’s dungeon, a scene he often returned to in nightmares. Then his head cleared, and he realized that he was indeed manacled but somewhere else entirely.

  Where am I? he thought groggily. The last thing he remembered was receiving a tranquilizer dart in his neck, back in that dismal alley in Pest. Now he found himself chained to a cold stone wall, lacking both his brown leather jacket and the spring-loaded wrist blades that were ordinarily hidden beneath his sleeves. He looked around and found himself staring at a pillar of dusty brown skulls.

  It took him a second to recognize where he was. The crypt beneath the old monastery where Sonja and I sought refuge from the mob.

  Eight centuries had wrought surprising changes in the underground mausoleum. Although human bones still decorated the limestone walls and the vaulted ceiling, modern technology now existed side-by-side with the morbid relics.

  Electric lights had replaced the candles in the skeletal chandelier, while the wall directly opposite him was covered with what appeared to be a sophisticated high-tech surveillance system. Closed-circuit TV screens offered
multiple views of the monastery above, which apparently had been converted into a private residence sometime over the centuries. A computerized control panel, full of blinking lights and switches, was built into the wall beneath the security monitors. A grotesque archway, constructed entirely of human skulls, led to another branch of catacombs, tantalizing him with the prospect of escape. Gypsy music played softly in the background.

  A figure sat at the control panel, his or her back turned to Lucian. Kevlar body armor shielded the figure from the neck down. A visored steel helmet rested on the control panel next to the armored stranger. A pistol was holstered at the figure’s waist. Close-cropped black hair covered the back of the stranger’s head.

  Is this the mystery sniper, Lucian wondered, or simply a soldier in my enigmatic foe’s employ? He yanked experimentally on his manacles, but the silver-alloy chains refused to budge; clearly they were designed with immortal strength in mind. Perhaps if I change? A bloody bandage covered his injured knee, but he no longer felt the silver bullet burning within his leg. Apparently, my unknown captor wants me alive, at least for the time being.

  The rattle of the chains attracted the attention of the figure at the control panel. “Ah, awake at last, are we?” said a sultry voice Lucian had not heard for nearly a millennium. “It’s about time. I was starting to fear that I had overestimated the dosage required to knock you out.”

  A stainless-steel desk chair spun around, revealing the face of his captor. Lucian recognized the sly, exotic features at once.

  “Leyba!” he gasped.

  “Hello, Lucian,” she said with an evil grin. Malice gleamed in her dark eyes. “Long time no see.”

  Lucian was stunned by this unexpected reunion. “But… I thought you dead!” Although he had not personally witnessed the scullery wench’s fiery demise, he had soon learned of it from the various castle servants who had joined his ranks in the early days of the war. “Viktor killed you, eight hundred years ago!”

  “It took me almost that long to recover,” Leyba said venomously. “I landed in a lake located deep in the woods beyond the castle, but even still, every bone in my body was broken, my flesh and organs singed to a crisp.” She shuddered at the memory, and her wicked grin faded. “The only thing that kept me alive was the thought of having you at my mercy, just as I do now.”

  She drew the pistol from her holster. A Walther P-88, from the looks of it. “And by the way, don’t even think about Changing.” The muzzle of the Walther flared, and silver agony exploded in Lucian’s right leg. “I removed my earlier bullet so that you wouldn’t die on me, but another nine millimeters of silver should keep you in human form for the time being.” She shrugged beneath the matte-black Kevlar armor. “I suppose I could have just dosed you again, but where’s the fun in that?”

  Lucian grimaced in pain as blood streamed down his leg, irrigating the floor of the medieval ossuary. Hatred ignited within him, especially as he recalled how the jealous Leyba had betrayed him and Sonja to Viktor, but he struggled to control his temper for the sake of the war. He could not afford to provoke Leyba now, not when he was so close to destroying the vampires once and for all.

  There will be time enough to deal with Leyba later, he reasoned, after Viktor and the Elders are no more. But first I have to keep this psychotic female from killing me!

  “I am not your enemy, Leyba.”

  Her bitter laughter implied otherwise. “And who started this goddamn war of yours? I was the first casualty, but I was hardly the last. How many lycans have died because you couldn’t keep your grubby paws off that perfumed vampire princess?”

  It took all of Lucian’s self-control to overlook his captor’s caustic dismissal of Sonja. You are not fit to utter her name, he thought angrily but held his tongue. “This is Viktor’s war, not mine!”

  “Maybe that’s what you tell yourself,” she countered, “but I know better. None of this would have happened if you hadn’t rejected me in favor of the Elder’s slut of a daughter. Thanks to you, I was burnt alive—and our species has been hunted to the brink of extinction!” She rose from her chair and crossed the vault to confront Lucian face-to-face. “I’ve waited generations for my revenge. Imagine my disappointment when I first heard that Kraven had killed you. Deep down inside, though, I knew you were still alive. I’ve been shadowing the vampires for years, hoping they would lead me to you, but you’ve kept out of sight for far too long.” A scowl gave way to a smirk. “I figured that attack at Statue Park might lure you out of hiding.”

  “Very clever,” Lucian conceded. Perhaps if he appealed to her sense of racial solidarity? “You’re still a lycan, Leyba, as am I. Trust me when I tell you that this war is far from over. The time of Viktor’s Awakening draws near. If we work together, we can destroy the vampires once and for all.”

  “Shut up!” she snapped. “I don’t care about your fucking war. A plague on both your houses!” She smiled mirthlessly. “You see, I’m no longer the ignorant scullion you remember. I’ve acquired a degree of culture and learning over the centuries, just like your precious Sonja.”

  You’ll never be her equal, Lucian thought. A growl escaped his lips. My Sonja had a kind and loving heart, with malice toward none. You’re still the same spiteful bitch you always were.

  “Besides,” Leyba taunted him, “you’re a fine one to speak to me as one lycan to another, allying yourself with the likes of Kraven and Soren.” Her voice dripped with contempt. “What’s your game now, Lucian? Are you trying to get back in the vampires’ favor again, just as you were back in the old days? You were never happy being a lycan like the rest of us. You always wanted to be one of the bloods instead.” She spat in his face. “No wonder you chose a vampire mistress over your own kind.”

  Insanity twisted the woman’s Gypsy features, and Lucian realized there was no reasoning with her; Leyba’s maniacal hatred ran too deep. He dared not tell her about the plot to assassinate the Elders, let alone the top-secret scheme that not even Kraven knew, a scheme born of the science of the last few centuries: to transform himself into an all-powerful hybrid of vampire and werewolf… like the unborn child Viktor had destroyed so many centuries ago.

  Thanks to Leyba’s treachery.

  “It was you who betrayed me,” he accused her. His memory supplied the vile image of Sonja’s golden ribbon gripped in Leyba’s thieving hand. “You exposed us to Viktor—and were fool enough to expect a vampire’s gratitude. Don’t blame me for your downfall, Leyba. You brought your misfortunes on yourself.” He glared at her with undisguised revulsion. “I only wish that Viktor had done a better job of killing you.”

  The Walther struck Lucian across the face, hard enough to rattle his teeth. “Go to hell, you blood-loving bastard! Before I’m done with you, you’ll admit your guilt. You’ll beg me for forgiveness, even if I have to skin you alive with red-hot silver!”

  I’ll be damned before I beg you for anything, Lucian thought defiantly. He tried to change, but, as Leyba had predicted, the silver bullet in his leg kept his inner wolf at bay. If he concentrated hard enough, he might be able to expel the bullet from his flesh, but what was to stop Leyba from shooting him again once she saw what he was doing? Best to keep that trick in reserve, he calculated, in the unlikely event that the vengeful bitch ever gave him a chance to recover from the torture to come.

  Leyba walked across the vault to an upright metal cabinet. She opened its door, revealing a well-supplied weapons locker, including several machine guns and a flamethrower. A drawer slid out from one side of the locker, and she extracted a gleaming straight razor. She held the razor up beneath the bony chandelier, so that its silver gleam caught the light. Insulated gauntlets protected her own flesh from the toxic metal.

  Another memory came back to Lucian with excruciating clarity: using Kraven’s knife to slice Viktor’s brand from his own arm, so that Kraven could offer the bloody fragment of skin as proof of Lucian’s “death”. For all Lucian knew, the grisly trophy was still buried a
way somewhere in the coven’s archives. He only remembered how painful it had been, flaying his upper arm with the sharpened edge of a silver blade, it looks as though I’m about to relive that experience, and then some.

  His chief regret, as he braced himself for the ordeal ahead, was that he might not live to see his plans against the Elders come to fruition. He would have to hope that Raze would carry on in his stead and bring the vampires’ despotic reign to its long-awaited end. One way or another, Lucian vowed, my will shall be done.

  Leyba faced him once more. “Miss me?” she taunted with a hint of her once-brazen lewdness. She pressed the flat of the blade against Lucian’s cheek and smiled malevolently as his skin sizzled at its touch. She sliced open his shirt with the tip of the razor, leaving a thin red line down his chest. Her eyes widened at the sight of Sonja’s pendant, and her lips peeled back, baring her fangs. “Time to exact my pound of flesh,” she announced, “plus eight hundred years of interest…”

  A sudden explosion rocked the subterranean crypt. Dust and gravel rained down from the ceiling. Moldering skulls and clavicles crashed onto the floor. An ear-piercing alarm echoed through the gloomy catacombs.

  Leyba stepped back from Lucian, surprise and confusion written all over her face.

  “What the fuck?” she exclaimed.

  Selene moved like a shadow through the darkened monastery, which, until recently, had served as Leonid Florescu’s country estate. According to Florescu, the refurbished medieval edifice had been claimed by the same deranged female lycan who had terrified the human arms dealer into assisting her in her guerrilla warfare against both the coven and her own kind. “She wants revenge on you all,” Florescu had reported.

 
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26

Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll