A Shade of Vampire 30: A Game of Risk (12 page)

I chose a particularly succulent piece and popped it into my mouth. I chewed it, mixing its juice with my saliva, while being absolutely careful not to ingest even a drop.

I was satisfied that I’d taken the right amount—not enough to hamper my speech or cause a bulge in my cheeks, but enough to still be able to do the job.

I left Cecil and headed back to the upper deck. Yuraya remained in the cabin, obediently where I’d left her… except while I’d been gone, she had stripped herself bare.

I staggered back an inch, my heart pounding in my chest. I felt the blood rise to my cheeks. I couldn’t deny that Yuraya was a beautiful specimen of a female. But she wasn’t mine.
She was not mine.

She gazed up at me with wide, expectant eyes. I moved toward her and, my hands shaking slightly, placed them on either side of her waist before lowering myself on top of her. Her hands once again reached to the band of my pants. She pushed them downward, but it didn’t matter now. I just had to be fast. Extremely fast.

As she began to caress me in places I wished she wouldn’t, I focused all my attention on kissing her. Deeply. Fully. She was desperate to taste me, and I gave her exactly what she wanted, ensuring as much of my saliva as possible mixed with hers. This was the first time I had pushed my tongue fully into her mouth.

My all-consuming kiss only heightened her excitement.

As my body began to respond involuntarily to her, my tongue quickly darted out of her mouth, and scooped up the small, soft chunk of plant I had positioned at the back of mine. Moving my tongue through her lips again, I moved the pulp toward her throat.

She was swallowing hard as she kissed me, as if she was drowning. I doubted she even noticed the small, soft piece of stem slide down her esophagus. If she did, she didn’t show it…

Until her grip around me loosened. Her arms slid to her sides. Her lips stopped moving against mine. I raised myself above her. Her eyes had closed, her breathing slower, heavier.

I pushed myself off the bench and stood up. I grabbed the garments she had torn off herself and laid them over her naked body. I let out a deep, slow sigh.
Oh, Yuraya. I like you so much better when you’re asleep.

I left the cabin and headed back down to the lowest deck where poor Cecil was still waiting. Now, at least, I could take him away from that horrible smell and bring him into the fresh air of the open deck. I would need him up there. For now, our main obstacle had just begun.

I knew that I needed to seek out a higher power to help me and Victoria and The Woodlands out of our predicament. And I knew from Victoria that jinn were even more powerful than witches. The Shade, of course, had both witches and jinn, but I refused to go anywhere near that island lest something went wrong and I ended up cursing it with the wrath of the Mortclaws. I could never cause that kind of bother to them—have them be worried and perpetually looking over their shoulders for my stalking family every time they left their island. Not after the kindness they had showed me in saving my life and nursing me back to health. No.

I had to find my own way in all of this.

I had to find my own way, no matter the risks.

And I had three days. Three days to both free my homeland… and alter myself irreversibly.

Lawrence

I
went
to see my father after returning to headquarters. I caught him between phone calls. I asked him why he never told me I was immune to the Bloodless virus. It was a safe topic and I wanted to see what he had to say for himself. He just told me that he hadn’t wanted me to think that I was invincible. That he’d wanted me to still be cautious, as if I were a human. That telling me I was immune might have made me reckless. He ended the conversation shortly after that—he had to attend a meeting—leaving me to return to my apartment.

I’d already been brainstorming my next move during the journey in the tank. Now, lost in thought, I made my way to the kitchen to get some water when, to my utter shock, I found myself standing face to face with Benjamin Novak. I did a double-take, wondering for a second if I was seeing things. I wasn’t. Grace’s father had tracked me down.

His somber expression unsettled me. Fear clawed at my chest. For a horrible moment, I was so certain that I knew what he was about to say. That it was too late. I had taken too long. Grace had turned. But to my relief, he didn’t. Though what he did say wasn’t much less unsettling.

His voice was low and hoarse as he spoke. “Grace has lost her hair. Practically every single strand. She doesn’t have long now, Lawrence. Realistically, I’m thinking it’s a matter of hours. Have you made any progress at all?” His demeanor seemed almost numb—like he was already starting to steel himself for the eventuality of my failure and his daughter’s turning.

I poked my head out of the kitchen door and glanced down the hallway toward the main door to double-check that I had locked it. On seeing that I had, I stood with him inside the kitchen, closing the door behind us to create a greater feeling of privacy.

“I have not found the antidote yet,” I said. “But I am… somewhat closer now than when I started. I practically witnessed a man being cured.” I told him about the man I had seen being treated by the doctors in the lab. How they had managed to stop his turning. Granted, it wasn’t the same as healing somebody who had already turned into a full-fledged monster. But the principle ought to be the same. The infection had already been inserted into his bloodstream. Somehow, the doctors’ treatment had driven it out.

“So you think they have the cure in that very lab,” Ben said, his face daring to brighten.

“I think they must,” I replied. “But so far, I have been unable to find an opportunity to explore it.” God, what perfect timing Ben’s arrival was. “But you could go on a hunt. You could head there immediately. It’s the end of the day, and most of the scientists should have packed up by now and gone home.”

“I should have done a check for it last time I was there.” Ben cursed beneath his breath. Then, without another word, he thinned himself and sped away.

I could only hope that he would be successful in sifting through all the lab’s masses of bottles and ingredients to find the right thing. I
really
did not want to have to resort to the third idea that had come to me in the tank. That truly was a product of sheer desperation—arguably even more so than risking my life with a Bloodless… if that was even possible.

I couldn’t sit down as I waited for Benjamin to return. I paced up and down my apartment, wringing my hands.

When he returned over an hour later, I was relieved to see that he was carrying three bottles in his hands. But the expression on his face didn’t mirror my enthusiasm.

“Almost everything was without name labels; they have some sort of color-coded system which made no sense to me. The lab was empty, except for Bloodless; seems like they have already turned the most recent batch of human recruits.”

“So what are these?” I asked him in a whisper, gesturing to the bottles in his hands. “Random bottles you pulled off the shelves?”

“Basically,” he replied, exhaling in frustration. “I found these outside the cell of one of the Bloodless. No idea what they are though. For all I know, they could be deadly. Meant to kill rather than cure. There’s no way we’re going to uncover the antidote from the lab in time. Grace will turn before we ever get close. We
need
inside information. Have you tried to pry it from your father?”

I exhaled.
You wouldn’t believe what I’ve already tried.

Ben


W
hat exactly have
you tried until now?” I asked Lawrence.

It was getting harder and harder to keep my nerves at bay. I was screaming on the inside, being torn to shreds by anxiety. But losing it would not help anything. I had to keep a calm head, for everyone’s sake.

As Lawrence explained to me what he had tried so far, I couldn’t deny that the boy had guts. Lots. Deliberately putting himself in the path of a Bloodless and getting himself bitten was downright insane. His plan could have so easily turned into a disaster, like the Bloodless becoming more violent and tearing through his throat before anyone even had a chance to help him. Or the doctors simply being unable to treat him at all. He’d had no idea that he was immune to the Bloodless virus at the time. This was the same type of insanity that my daughter had displayed on entering the IBSI’s base in Hawaii completely on her own, with nothing but Arwen’s flimsy camouflage spell to protect her.

Perhaps they really did love one another.

Whatever the case, I couldn’t fault him for not giving it his all.

“So we need someone on the inside,” I concluded, sinking into a kitchen chair. “Someone who is easier to threaten and manipulate than your father.” A lot easier. Even in the face of death, Atticus hadn’t been willing to spill his secrets. “But the scientists of the lab have left… Who else is nearby?”

I found it odd that I had not spotted any signs of those big leaves from Aviary in the lab. Though it was possible extracts had been withdrawn from them and were being stored in a state I could not recognize.

“Grace mentioned a man she could have sworn knew about FOEBA,” Lawrence said, “because of the way he’d reacted to her. Mr. Munston. He’s one of the tutors here for new recruits, but he is also involved in higher-level management. My father introduced me to him soon after I arrived here. In fact…” He moved over to one of the kitchen drawers and pulled out a phone. “I’m pretty sure I even have his number…”

“Oh, while you’ve got that out,” I said quickly, while the thought occurred to me, “you should add a couple of Shade numbers. Just in case of an emergency. Hide them under some random name so if someone browses through your contacts they’ll never know.”

“Okay.”

I recited the numbers to Lawrence as he input them into his phone.

“Now,” he said, wetting his lower lip, “my father input a bunch of managers’ numbers in here—”

Lawrence’s voice cut short as there came a knock at the door. I thinned myself in an instant and backed up against one of the walls while Lawrence hurried out of the kitchen.

I moved silently to the doorway and gazed toward the entrance at the end of the hallway as Lawrence opened it. His father was standing there.

“Lawrence,” he said. “I’m sorry for being short with you earlier.” He stepped inside. “It was wrong of me not to inform you of the full effects the procedure has had on you, even if I did think it was for your own good… I’m heading to the lab now. I need to pick something up—a report from there that one of the professors forgot to deliver to me. Want to come? We can talk on the way.”

“O-Okay,” Lawrence said, clearly taken aback. We both were. What did Atticus want Lawrence in the lab for? I would have thought Atticus would be making excuses to prevent Lawrence from spending too much time there, not inviting him to tag along on one of his visits.

I couldn’t help but feel suspicious of his intentions, even though Lawrence had supposedly done nothing to arouse his suspicions yet. Then again, I felt suspicious of everything about this man. Whatever he did or said. I’d think he was plotting something even while going for a toilet break.

“I’ll get my jacket,” Lawrence said. He turned around and made his way toward me. Unable to see me, he moved right past me and swung his head briefly into the kitchen. Not spotting me, he grabbed his coat and made his way back to his father. I kept close to them as they left the apartment and headed down the corridor. They descended the levels of the building and exited, stepping out into the open.

“We’ll take mutants?” Lawrence asked as they began to make their way across the compound.

Atticus planted a hand on his shoulder and squeezed it. “What better way to travel?” He smirked.

They sped up to a jog and ended up outside an enclosure full of mutants, right on the other side of the IBSI’s compound. They fished out two of them, and, freeing them from their bonds, mounted them and launched into the sky. I followed as they soared above the high fence and out over the dark, grim city of Chicago. The night of my last visit here ran through my mind.

I had been experiencing intense anxiety over my daughter during that visit as well. I’d come to save her from the hunters who’d embarked on a full-fledged hunt for her. It was hard to believe that her situation now was even graver.

They crossed the city with supernatural speed, speed I had no problem matching, and soon enough they had arrived at the crematorium-turned-laboratory by the lake. They touched down in the yard and slipped off the mutants. They apparently trusted the beasts not to wander too far, as they left them unchained.

Heading to the entrance of the building, Atticus pulled out a heavy chain of keys from his coat pocket. He unlocked the first door, and the second door further inside. Then we had entered the mysterious lab.

The clanking of metal descended from the top of the atrium. Frustrated Bloodless, no doubt.

Atticus led his son along one of the aisles to the far end of the room, where he stopped at a counter that lined one of the walls.

I moved up behind them, trying not to breathe as I eavesdropped on the conversation.

“You know,” Atticus said, opening the drawer beneath one of the tables and pulling out a stack of papers, “I’ve decided to undergo the procedure earlier—in three days. Hopefully, I won’t be out for as long a time as you were,” he added. “The process has been further developed since you took it.”

Lawrence merely nodded. I wasn’t sure if he knew how much his expression emanated distrust—he probably didn’t. But Atticus noticed.

As he tucked the pile of papers beneath one arm, he cocked his head to one side, looking into his son’s eyes. “Are you all right, Lawrence? You’ve been odd today.”

Lawrence’s Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed. “I’m okay,” he said. “I guess I’m just still shaken from the incident earlier. I mean, I was attacked by a Bloodless…”

Atticus rolled his eyes. “Guess that’s true,” he half muttered, half chuckled.

He led Lawrence toward a set of elevators, and as he walked, I lifted myself overhead, positioning myself at the right angle to be able to read what was written on the front of the papers that he was carrying.

“Equipment Audit,” was written in bold letters.

My chest sank with disappointment. I mean, I wasn’t exactly expecting it to read
FOEBA
, but I’d been hoping it might be at least related to biology or Bloodless even in a loose sense.

Atticus took Lawrence into one of the elevators, where, to my surprise, he pressed the number nine.

The ninth floor. Where the Bloodless were kept.

As the elevator doors dinged open, a chorus of screeching exploded around us.

As father and son stepped out, and Atticus led Lawrence toward the nearest cage, an idea struck me like lightning.

A lunatic idea.

But Lawrence was crazy, anyway, wasn’t he? He had proven that well enough by now. And besides, it wouldn’t be Lawrence who was at risk, anyway…

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