A Shade of Vampire 30: A Game of Risk (14 page)

“I-I don’t know,” said Mr. Munston, to my dismay.

Liar.
I didn’t believe that he didn’t know. I was sure he was just too afraid to break the protocol of silence over the matter—he was probably sworn to an oath to never speak a word about FOEBA to anyone, under any circumstance. He probably feared for his life and that of his family if he broke the oath, even in what seemed like an emergency situation. I needed to speak to someone whose shell was softer…

“We should send in an emergency group of scientists,” he said.

I didn’t like the sound of that. Unless they’d allow me to watch every single step of the process, which I doubted. I was already foreseeing them arriving, swiping my father away to some private room where they would treat him away from anyone’s prying eyes. Then all this would have been for nothing—my attempt to throw myself at the Bloodless, and now Ben’s attempt to throw them at my father. We would be back to square one. My nerves couldn’t take it.

“There’s no bloody time!” I bellowed. “I need information right here, right now! Put me onto a scientist who knows what they’re talking about, instantly!”

My aggression seemed to get through to Mr. Munston. Although he still refused to offer any insights of his own, he dialed me through to another scientist… a scientist whose voice I recognized as the same woman I’d spoken to earlier, just a few hours ago. Dr. Finnegan. Gosh. It was hard to believe it was only a matter of hours since I’d last been sitting in this lab as a patient.

“Yes?” she answered, her voice tense, as though she’d already had some kind of briefing from Mr. Munston.

“I’m sending you a video,” I told her. I hit send quickly and she gasped on the other end as she viewed it, the same type of gasp that Mr. Munston had let out, except more strangled, more feeling. With her being a woman, I had to hope that she would show more empathy than him.

“I know you said there’s no way to help a bitten person, but please!” I made my voice crack. “P-Please. It’s my father. Help me! There’s got to be something in this lab.”

“I-I can tell you how to slow the turning process while we send in—”

At least she was basically admitting now that it
was
possible to help him even at this stage.

I dropped my voice to a whisper, hoping my father couldn’t hear clearly what I was saying. “It’s too late for that. The video I took was taken some time ago. I had a problem with getting a signal and I’ve only just managed to communicate with the outside world. My father brought me down here to pick up some papers that one of you forgot to deliver to him. We found Bloodless escaped and we were attacked. He’s already lost all his hair! His nails are loosened!”

That was, of course, a lie for the most part, but as unbelievable as my statements might sound, she was going to have to believe me. I hoped that my panic would get through to her. She was old enough to have a son my age.

When she fell silent, it seemed like I might have just struck gold. It occurred to me that perhaps she was the scientist who had forgotten to deliver the papers, causing us to come down here in the first place. Could it be such a happy coincidence?

“Where are you in the lab?” she asked in a voice so low it could have almost been mistaken for a man’s. I had managed to strike some kind of nerve in her, anyhow.

“I’m on, uh, the third floor,” I hissed, still trying to be mindful of my father hearing as little of this conversation as possible—I’d even wandered toward the other end of the lab, though in my urgency and desperation, it was kind of hard to keep my voice down. I was having to keep reminding myself.

She drew in a shuddering breath. “Okay. Okay… I’ll help you.”

“Thank you,” I gasped, meaning it with every part of me. It took guts to agree to what she had. I appreciated that.

“Go to the ground floor.”

“Okay, I’m going!”

I hurried toward the smashed-up elevator and pressed the button for the ground level. As the doors were about to clang shut, I was met with the sight of Ben zooming toward me, still holding the Bloodless he’d hauled off my father in his grasp. He stepped into the elevator after me a second before the doors closed.

“Good grief,” I breathed, putting my phone on mute for a second. The Bloodless struggling in his grip, Ben slammed its head against the elevator wall to keep it from lashing out at either of us.

“Can you get rid of that thing!” I hissed.

“Yes,” Ben replied. “I’m sorry. I just didn’t want to kill it unnecessarily.”

“Well, can you please do something else with it than drag it around?” I breathed. I prayed that my father hadn’t noticed it suddenly disappearing from the roof of the cage—assuming he hadn’t noticed it magically get up there in the first place. I didn’t know what state he would be in right now. I hated to think.

“Lawrence?” The doctor’s voice spoke in my ear. I unmuted the microphone.

“Yes,” I said quickly. “I’m still in the elevator.” The doors opened. “Okay! I’m here. On the ground floor. Now what?”

“Head to the fifth aisle, assuming you’re facing the entrance.”

“Yes, I’m facing it,” I said. “Okay, I’m going there now.”

I hurried there while Ben scoured the room for somewhere he could stuff the Bloodless. He spotted a fire exit and opened it, stuffing the Bloodless outside before quickly slamming the door shut. Those fire exits were strong—just like the door to the armory and, indeed, the main entrance to the lab. The Bloodless wouldn’t be getting back inside in a hurry.

As nerve-racking as it had been to travel down the building with that thing in the small elevator—I might be immune to their venom but I wasn’t impervious to their claws, and neither was Ben when in his physical form—I understood Ben’s hesitation to kill it, of course, now we knew there was a cure. That was a
person
. A sick human. No longer just an unthinking, unfeeling monster. No longer an “it”.

I needed to start treating the Bloodless with the same respect myself, and not kill any without good reason.

“So are you in the aisle?” Dr. Finnegan asked me.

“Yes,” I whispered.

“Head to the last table on your left-hand side.”

I sped up to a run, Ben catching up behind me. We arrived at the table at the same time. “Now, beneath the table, you will see a block of drawers. Yes?” the doctor said.

“Yes.”

“Open the bottom drawer. You’ll find a large assortment of color-coded tubes,” she said. “Take out a purple one, a green one, an orange one, a blue one… Got them?”

“Yes.”

“And then the last one you need is—”

Just as she had been talking, and I had been hurriedly scooping up the colored tubes into my hands, a deafening alarm sounded, shrieking through the lab like a choir of banshees. I could hardly hear my own thoughts, let alone Dr. Finnegan’s voice on the other end of the phone.

What is that?

I pressed the phone harder against my ear, but it was hopeless. Her voice came like a vague whisper.
Dammit
! I hurried to the bathroom situated near the fire exit, but the blaring was just as loud in there. It was as though every single corner of the lab was reverberating with the sound. And then, as I glared in frustration down at my phone screen, it was to see Dr. Finnegan had hung up.

No. No. This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening! We’re so close!

I glanced frantically at Ben, who had followed me in confusion.

I shoved the colored tubes into his hands. “Keep these safe,” I hissed to him, even though he hardly needed to be told that—and could barely hear me anyway over the ruckus. I figured it would be wise to hand him my phone, too, for safekeeping.

Had my father sounded the alarm? In his desperation, had he managed to crawl to an alarm trigger? Perhaps he’d thought that I had run for my life to escape the Bloodless. Just abandoned him.

I raced back to the elevator and returned to the third floor. As I sprinted to where I’d left my father… he was no longer there. The spot where he’d been lying and writhing was empty.

As suddenly as it had appeared, the alarm stopped shrieking.

“Lawrence!” My father’s strangled call came from my right.

I whipped around to see his silhouette in the dimness at the end of the row of cages, hunched over in a chair. He sat next to a metal lab table lining the wall.

“Dad?” I called, squinting even as I began hurtling to him.

He was clutching a syringe in his hands, a syringe which was tinged with blood. His left hand was pressing down against his wrist, which I realized he had pierced with the needle.

He had stopped shaking, but still looked deathly sick and weak, like it was a struggle just to sit up straight. His face was shining with sweat as he gazed up at me.

“Lawrence,” he said, gasping for breath. “I need your help. I managed to freeze the turning—but it won’t last forever. An hour or so. I sounded the alarm for help, but there’s no guarantee when help will be able to get here. I need you to administer me a formula. Downstairs, in the fifth aisle, at the end, beneath the table on your left, you’ll find some drawers. Open the bottom one and you’ll find some tubes with colored labels. Inside are liquids. You need to pick out a purple, a green, an orange, a blue, and a red. The liquids are already measured. You just have to pour them into a glass tube and bring it to me.”

I could hardly believe my luck. My call with the doctor had been cut short, but here was my father now, semi-delirious with pain and panic, telling me the exact ingredients we needed.

“Okay,” I whispered, trying to still look nervous and anxious even as my chest soared with relief. “Wait here,” I told him. “You’ll be safe. I managed to finish off the rest of the Bloodless.”

“Hurry!” he wheezed.

He didn’t need to tell me again. I darted away from him, back to the elevator and punched the ground-floor button. When the doors dinged open, Ben was waiting just outside, anxiously, still clutching the test tubes.

“I’ve got the cure,” I hardly dared to breathe. “I’ve got it!”

Purple. Green. Orange. Blue. Red.

I repeated the combination over and over in my head like a prayer. Though there was no way I would forget it. My ears had become sharp as a vampire’s the second I realized what my father was about to spill.

Grabbing Ben’s arm, I pulled him back over to the chest of drawers we had been unceremoniously torn away from. Opening the bottom drawer again, I picked out three of each color and laid them on the table.

I gave two of each to Ben and whispered, “Take these back to The Shade, a single tube of each color makes up one dose. I’m giving you two of each just in case one breaks…” He also still had the incomplete set of tubes I’d given him before. Though I was sure that Ben would sooner lose a limb than let one of those bottles be smashed. I had to hope that nobody noticed so many were missing, when I was only supposed to have mixed up one formula for my father. If somebody questioned about it, I’d have to say I was in such a panic that I dropped a bunch, or something…

Ben looked like he could hardly believe what I was saying. His face lit up with the same relief I felt inside. He carefully stowed the tubes into his pockets.

“Thank God,” he whispered. He gripped my shoulder. “Take care of yourself. Try to find a way back to us as soon as you can.”

I nodded. Then he zoomed away toward the fire exit. Opening it carefully, he slipped out and closed it just as quietly behind him.

I let out a long sigh of relief as I gathered up the small test tubes. Snatching up a large empty tube which had been turned upside down to dry on a rack, I made sure it was completely devoid of water before pouring each of the colored liquids into it. I sloshed them about within the cylinder until they were thoroughly mixed. Then I hurried back up to the third level.

My father was sitting where I had left him in the chair. His head leaned back against the wall, his eyes closed. His breathing was sharp and erratic, his arms slumped in exhaustion.

“Dad,” I called, hurrying to him with the mixture. “Here. I’ve got it!”

He still didn’t stir. I wondered if he’d fallen into some kind of coma. I grabbed his arm and shook him to see if my touch would make any difference. It did.

But not in the way I expected.

The second my fingers closed around his shoulder, his right hand shot upward, sending the full glass tube flying out of my hands and shattering to the floor. The next thing I knew, something sharp had pierced the side of my neck. Something thin, long, and sharp.

A syringe.

I could no longer command my limbs. I lost all feeling in them. As I sank to the ground and my father loomed over me, in my last moments of consciousness, I was staring up into his eyes, darkened and possessed.

Ben

A
fter the alarms
suddenly started blaring in the laboratory, things became confusing to me, to say the least. One moment Lawrence had been rummaging through a drawer, picking out tubes, and the next, he sprang away and lurched for the toilets. I assumed that he’d been unable to hear what the doctor was saying on the line—unable to hear the rest of the ingredients that would make up the cure. But then when he raced upstairs and returned to retrieve a full set of tubes from the drawer while reassuring me that I now had everything I needed to administer a cure—I could only assume that he had managed to catch everything she had said after all. Or perhaps he’d managed to resume the call while he was upstairs… I hadn’t been sure of his purpose in rushing up the elevator; I’d guessed it was to switch off the alarm, because it had stopped screaming soon after he’d left.

Whatever the case, I hadn’t had time to ask him about logistics. I had even forgotten to return his phone to him; I still felt its weight at the bottom of my left pocket. As soon as I realized he had the answer, I had to get out of the lab and begin my race back to The Shade. My race against time and all odds.

As much as my heart swelled with relief at the feeling of the small tubes clustered in my pockets, I couldn’t shake the fear still pooled in the pit of my stomach. It had been hours since I had left Grace. And hours, in Grace’s time, was like an eternity.

She’s got to still be all right. I’ve got to reach her in time
. It would be a cruel twist of fate indeed for me to reach her just an hour, or maybe even moments, after she had turned.

But now, even in the worst-case scenario of reaching her too late, I comforted myself that it wouldn’t be the end of the world. We had the cure now. Even if I was forced to witness my sweet, innocent daughter as one of those monsters, it wouldn’t be for long.

As I hurtled over the ocean toward The Shade, even my supernatural speed was painfully slow. It was at times like this when I would have given anything to be a warlock, to be able to vanish myself halfway across the world in a matter of seconds.

I focused my mind on my daughter, visualizing her still in bed the way I had left her.

When I finally approached the borders of the island, I bellowed for someone to let me in. Thankfully, they didn’t keep me waiting long. It was Shayla who came to me. Her face was gray and lined with worry, though her eyes brightened a touch on seeing me.

“Grace hasn’t turned yet, has she?” were the first words to slip from my lips.

“No,” Shayla said. “But she’s much worse than when you left her.”

My throat tightened.
Much worse than when I left her.
God. This was going to be harrowing.

“I’ve got the cure!” I said. I dug my hands into my pockets and brought out the small tubes.

Shayla gasped, staring at the objects. She quickly performed the standard test for all arrivals at The Shade to ensure that I was not an intruder in disguise. Then she magicked me directly to the hospital, right outside my daughter’s room.

I was actually grateful that she did not take me straight inside. I had a few seconds to steel myself for what I was about to witness before knocking.

“Come in!” River’s strained voice called.

I burst inside. I was unable to immediately see my daughter. She was surrounded by my wife and family. River leapt to her feet, desperate hope flashing in her eyes.

“I’ve got the cure,” I told her. “I’ve got it.”

She broke down in tears. “Oh, God, Ben! You angel!”

“Lawrence is the one you need to thank,” I murmured, hurrying over to my daughter’s bedside.

My stomach churned at the state of her. She was curled up in a fetal position, her bald head tucked between her arms. Her body had wasted away in the hours since I’d seen her last; she was as emaciated as a corpse. She was holding on by a thread, poor thing.

“I need a cup,” I said hurriedly. River shoved a hospital glass my way. I dried it with the nearest thing to me—the end of one of the bedsheets—before sweeping to one of the bedside tables and laying down the tubes. My parents, who had been sitting around it, got up and moved away to grant me some space. I unscrewed each of the tubes one by one and tipped them into the glass, careful not to waste a single drop. There was hardly any liquid in them to begin with. Then I shook the glass in circles, making sure that it was thoroughly mixed.

“Baby,” I whispered, my throat choking up as I placed a hand on my child’s fragile shoulder.

She stirred and lifted her head slowly to face me. Her face was almost unrecognizable. I could hardly bring myself to look at it. It was so bony, the skin so stretched, and her nose was starting to disfigure.

“Here,” I managed, helping her to sit upright.

Her body quivering, she appeared to be in a daze of pain. I wasn’t even sure if she could hear what I was saying. But she gripped the glass as I pressed it to her lips. Then she began to drink in small drops, until she’d finished the glass.

A chill silence descended on the room as we all watched her like a hawk, hope and expectancy pulsing through all of our veins. Nothing happened for the first minute, except for a belch escaping from her cracked lips.

And then something happened.

But it wasn’t what any of us had been expecting.

It wasn’t what any of us had been expecting at all.

Her quivering turned to violent shaking and then, like a horror movie I couldn’t pause, her body began to morph rapidly. Her eyes narrowed and blackened, and her nose completed its recession in a matter of five shocking seconds. Before my mind could even crawl out of its denial, she sprang to her feet on the bed. Her eyes trained on each of us surrounding her, and then she leapt at the closest person to her—River.

Though I was still reeling in horror and disbelief, my instincts took over. I shot toward River, scooping her out of the way and soaring up to the ceiling before Grace could touch her. River was quivering like a rabbit in my arms, her gaze frozen on our daughter beneath us.

“Get out!” I bellowed, even as my voice cracked. “Get out!”

I dashed with River to the exit and set her down as everyone else raced after us. Grace hurtled just as fast, but before she could reach out to try to grab someone else, I swept toward her and caught her by her waist, swooping her backward and pinning her to the bed.

She wasn’t a danger to me—at least, her venom wasn’t. I had to watch out for her claws, but otherwise I was the only one who could risk restraining her.

“What the heck is going on?” my uncle Lucas called from outside.

He came zooming through the door a second later and stalled, gaping at me struggling with my daughter.

A slew of curses escaped his lips as he approached the bed. “Wh-What happened? You didn’t get the antidote?”

I couldn’t even conceive of bringing myself to talk in this moment. My emotions were wild, my mind out of control. Disappointment was pulverizing me to dust, terror ripping me apart.

And above all, a devastating guilt was crashing down upon me as the question wormed through my brain:

What have I just done?

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