A Shade of Vampire 30: A Game of Risk (4 page)

Derek

B
en’s plan
was a good one. Though, of course, it did not come without risks.

After talking through the plan, the Hawks and I remained in the sky while Ben, Kailyn and Lucas returned to the ship. They did not land on the deck this time, however. Instead, after thinning themselves again, they floated themselves down the side of the vessel until they were directly level with the wide glass window.

Now, if all was going to plan, they would be creeping, unbeknownst to the hunters relaxing in that room, toward the pile of weaponry. Then, once they sensed the moment was right, they would solidify themselves, snatch up a weapon each and…

An explosion of bullets erupted below, followed by yells. The large window shattered.

I held my breath, imagining the bloody massacre that was taking place as the machine guns blazed.

The hunters would’ve been caught unawares, Lucas, Kailyn and my son moving quickly. I still hated the thought of catching a man off his guard, unarmed. It made me feel queasy. But too much hung in the balance now for us to be timid with these people.

We waited less than a minute before deeming it time for the rest of us to descend. We couldn’t wait too long because hunters from the rest of the ship would hear the commotion and come running to see what had happened—armed with weapons, no doubt.

“Let’s go,” I breathed into Killian’s ear. He took a dive, and the rest of the Hawks followed.

Once level with the now jagged window pane, we gazed inside to see exactly what I’d been expecting to see. A bloodbath. Not a single hunter left standing.

We rushed in at once and headed for the table piled with guns.

I snatched one up and made sure it was loaded before glancing at the door, prepared for reinforcements to come bursting inside. The Hawks eyed the machine guns nervously, and I reminded myself that they had likely never picked up a gun before in their lives. Some of them probably had never even seen one before, let alone known how to fire one.

I commanded them to each pick up a weapon before proceeding to give them a demonstration. I drove bullets into the wall of the vessel before each of them took a turn.

Some were faster learners than others. But as footsteps thundered outside, we didn’t have time for more practice.

The door burst open. Before even a single hunter could step inside, Lucas, Kailyn and Ben closed in. They fired, catching the hunters with a firestorm of bullets. The hunters fell to the ground, clearing the way for us to emerge in the hallway.

It made me nervous that none of us had armor. Even Kailyn, Lucas and Ben were at risk, since while holding guns, they were forced to remain in their physical forms.

We stepped over the bodies and headed toward the back of the ship. Our aim was to rid the vessel of every one of the hunters in order to hijack it. And we had to do it as soon as possible. Somebody might have already emergency-dialed the IBSI’s Bermuda base for help. We couldn’t have the mutants arriving—none of us would be a match for them if they arrived in hordes. And I was sure that if reinforcements did come, their mission would simply be to destroy the ship along with the trees it carried. Even if there were still some of their own men on board. The IBSI would rather be without these trees than see us take charge of them.

More hunters emerged from cabin doors on either side of us, only to be shot within an instant.

“We should split up,” Ben breathed. “Kailyn and I will lead half of the Hawks down to the lower levels to clear them out. And I suggest you and Lucas lead the rest to take over the control room.”

“Agreed,” I murmured.

Thus we split up. It didn’t take Lucas’ and my group long to find the control cabin, though a door shut us out of it. Aiming our guns, Lucas and I fired at the door at once. We shattered the lock mechanism and I was able to force it open with a powerful kick.

Nobody was inside. Two abandoned chairs sat behind the navigation panels. A window in the far left of the room was open.

“Looks like they’ve escaped,” Lucas muttered. He moved to the window and looked down toward the ocean. “Or they could have—”

His speech was cut short by a hail of bullets from above him. He managed to pull his head back inside before a bullet could hit him. The next thing I knew, a group of six hunters had swung down from what I could only assume was a ledge above the window. Shattering the windows, they crashed inside while firing full blaze. I dropped down beneath one of the chairs, using it as a shield, even as one of the Hawks who’d entered with us was hit. I would have reached out to help him—drag him back through the door along with Lucas and me—but it was clearly too late. My brother and I leapt back out of the door, slamming it shut behind us.

As we leaned against the reinforced door, keeping it shut tight against the hunters’ attempts to push it open, I realized that Hawk had not been the only one to get hit.

My brother’s face was contorted in agony as he leaned next to me, his right hand above his right hip. A slew of curses escaped his lips. He was bleeding profusely.

“Christ,” I breathed.

As the hunters banged more forcefully in their efforts to get out, Killian and two other Hawks relieved Lucas and I of the pressure. They pushed themselves against it, allowing us to shuffle away.

I lifted my brother’s hand from where it was cupped around his wound to gain a better look. It looked deep. Worryingly deep.

“We’ve got to get you back to The Shade,” I told him, rising to my feet and gazing around at the other Hawks. The fastest way would be for him to travel with Ben. Lucas could climb onto his back. Fae were far, far faster than Hawks. But first I needed to find my son.

Placing an arm around Lucas, I shifted him away from the door and planted him in the midst of four Hawks further down the hallway.

“Keep an eye on my brother,” I told them sternly, before racing to the flight of stairs that led to the deck beneath us. My gun at the ready, I hurried down the steps to find the floor alight with battle. Bodies of hunters lay strewn across the carpet, along with one Hawk.

I ducked as a hunter at the opposite end of the corridor fired at me. I shot back at him, my bullet meeting its mark and lodging into his skull.

Ben. Where is Ben?

The struggle continued all around me, slowing my search for my son. I ended up getting caught in the thick of the battle and stayed caught up in it until I’d felled the final hunter.

Then I caught sight of Ben. He was climbing up a staircase along with eight other Hawks. He had a fresh wound across his right cheek, along with a swollen eye. The Hawks behind him looked no less ruffled, their feathers sticking up in odd places, though none appeared to have been shot.

“What’s going on? Have you cleared this level?” Ben asked as he hurried toward me.

“Yes,” I replied. “So are the decks beneath us clear now, too?”

Ben nodded. “We think so. There weren’t so many down there. Kailyn and a couple of other Hawks are doing a final check, but we’re pretty sure we cleared all of them. What about the control room?”

“There are still about six hunters up there we need to get rid of. But Ben”—I reached out and clasped his shoulder—“you’ve got to return to The Shade with Lucas. He’s been shot, and it looks bad. Really bad.”

My son’s green eyes widened. It was in moments of concern that I saw Sofia in him most. “Where is Lucas?” he asked.

“Upstairs, outside the control room. Come with me.”

I led everyone back upstairs to find the Hawks still successfully keeping the hunters on the other side of the door. Although they were equipped with guns, it seemed that none of them had it in them to tackle the men in my absence.

We found Lucas slumped where I left him. He looked worse than ever. His breathing was ragged and beads of sweat dripped down his forehead.

My son lowered to Lucas’ level. He grabbed one of his arms and placed it around his shoulders. “You’re going to have to climb onto my back, Uncle,” he told Lucas. “I’ll fly you back home.”

Lucas winced as he strained to haul himself onto Ben’s back.

“After you’ve dropped off Lucas,” I said, “you must return immediately with the witches. Also bring jinn, if you can find any quickly.”

Ben nodded before sweeping my brother away, back along the corridor and upstairs to the open deck.

I resumed my focus on the door of the control room, my eyes darkening.

“Right,” I said through gritted teeth, tightening my grip around my gun. “Let’s get rid of these bastards.”

Lucas

A
s Ben soared away
from the ship with me, I was having double vision. Although the bullet wound was local to my hip, it felt like the pain was spread throughout every limb of my body. I could barely even think straight through the agony.

It brought back the less-than-pleasant memory of the last time I had been shot—by Aiden. The bullet that had ended my vampire life. I couldn’t exactly say that my pain now was worse than that—when his damn UV bullet had made me burst into flames like a phoenix—but this was biting in a different way. It dragged on.

I ended up closing my eyes, trying to numb my brain of the pain, trying to think of anything else but the piercing throbbing in my hip.

I had better not die again
, I thought foggily.
I had better not become a ghost.

I’d had enough dying for one lifetime. Been there. Done that. Gotten the postcard.

I was barely conscious when we finally arrived outside the borders of the island. Barely aware as Ben yelled for one of the gatekeepers to let us in. Barely cognizant of being transported to the hospital. Then, as I felt myself being lowered onto a bed—a warm, soft bed—I gave into the pain and exhaustion… and the world went black.

* * *

S
omething pleasantly cool pressed
against my forehead, relieving the tension around my temples. I became aware of my breathing again, but strangely, not of the pain in my hip.

Then I remembered what had happened. Where I was. Ben had brought me to Meadow Hospital. A witch must have treated me already…

I lifted my eyelids slowly. Through my blurry vision, I could make out a brown-haired female leaning over me. I immediately assumed that it was Corrine. But as my eyes sharpened, I realized that it definitely was not Corrine. This woman’s hair was not entirely brown—it was streaked with blonde, in fact.

I was gazing up at Marion. Marion, in a light summer dress, sitting by my bedside and holding a cold towel to my forehead.

Her pretty face lit up on seeing me awake. “You are back,” she announced.

“Yes,” I murmured dreamily, “I suppose I am.”

“You were sleeping a long time,” she remarked.

Drawing in a breath, I propped myself up on my elbows and slowly sat upright. I removed the sheets that had been tucked around my body to see that my waist and hips had been wrapped in bandages.

My eyes returned to Marion’s hazel irises.

“H-Have you been here with me the whole time?” I couldn’t help but ask.


Oui
,” she replied. She glanced over her shoulder toward a cot that had been placed a few feet away from my bed. Her baby girl lay asleep. “When I hear that you return, I come,” she explained.

She eyed the buttons of my shirt before reaching out and undoing the first three. She bared the top of my chest before pressing her fingers against my skin. “You are hot,” she said. Her fingers slipped up to my cheek.

“Uh, yeah.” I realized I was hot. But I wasn’t sure that the reason for that was entirely medical… “I should probably take a shower,” I said, moving to swing my legs off the bed.

She stood up to help me, wrapping one arm around my waist and walking with me to the ensuite bathroom. As we approached the door and she was still holding me, for a moment I wondered if she was going to take me inside.

Then her arms loosened.

“You stand okay?” she asked. She cocked her head, her locks of hair swinging to one side as she eyed me with concern.

“Yeah.”

“Okay. I wait here for you, Lucas.”

“Sure… you do that.” I cleared my throat, shutting the bathroom door.

Apparently getting shot does have its perks.

Ben

A
fter dropping
Lucas off at the hospital, my most urgent priority was to return to the ship. I didn’t even have time to check in on Grace. I had to immediately gather some witches to protect the boat before the hunters could arrive—something that could happen any moment now. I hurtled to the Sanctuary, where I found Ibrahim, Arwen and Shayla. I figured they would be more than sufficient and I need not go searching for the help of jinn too.

And so we left the island and sped back to the ship. The witches magicked us to the approximate area, and from there, we scoured the waves. We spotted the cargo ship quickly. Thankfully, at least from our bird’s eye view, it didn’t seem like any other hunters had arrived. We dropped down to the ship, and the witches immediately cast a spell over it.

We sank to the lower decks, where we found my father, Kailyn and the Hawks waiting in and around the control room.

“We’ve put up a spell already,” Ibrahim assured my father.

“And you got rid of the last of the hunters?” I verified.

“Yes,” my father replied. “The ship is clear now for us to return to the island.”

Return to The Shade with these Hawks. Now that was an interesting proposition.

I had already explained briefly to the witches that we—or rather my father—had managed to gather an army of Hawks, but that forewarning didn’t stop the witches from looking stunned as they saw the Hawks standing peacefully with my father. The Hawks returned the witches’ stares, eyeing them suspiciously at first, but seeing that the witches were accompanied by me, the Hawks kept quiet. Hawks and witches weren’t exactly known to be the best of friends. Then again, I wasn’t sure of any species which would be considered natural “friends” with the Hawks.

“I’m glad you arrived when you did,” my father went on. “We were getting nervous. I managed to intercept the radio system here, and apparently the hunters are only a dozen or so miles away.”

“Ibrahim,” I said, as we began to navigate the ship back home, “any progress at all on your tree and Bloodless experiments?” I’d been in such a rush to bring them back here to the ship that I hadn’t yet asked the burning question.

Ibrahim and Shayla shook their heads.

Although I knew I should have been prepared for that answer, my stomach could not help but plummet.

“Well,” my father said, gazing straight ahead at the ocean as we glided, “at least we have secured the trees. Did you notice in the lower decks, there are massive freezers preserving the leaves? They should remain in good condition. “

Yes, I had spotted those, but I had been too preoccupied with eradicating the hunters from the ship to think about it at the time.

“You’re right, Derek,” Ibrahim said. “We just have to keep trying. At least we’ve gotten the trees safely out of the hunters’ grasp.”

“Oh, look,” Arwen said, pointing up at the sky overhead. “Here come the hunters.”

Indeed, a fleet of black wasplike helicopters hurtled our way, clearly looking for us. But because of the invisibility spell the witches had cast over us, they flew right on past, continuing their fruitless search. Apparently they weren’t carrying supernatural radars strong enough to detect us beneath the spell.
Good riddance.

I remained tense for the rest of the journey and said very little, my mind refocusing on Grace.

As we entered The Shade’s boundary, I rose up from the ship, leaving the others to navigate the giant boat to the Port and figure out where the best place was to store the trees safely.

I needed to check in on my daughter. Although it had only been a matter of hours since I’d last seen her, it felt like an eternity.

I sped to the hospital and up to the floor where Grace’s room was located. I stopped outside and knocked.

“Come in.” River spoke up, a tad choked. At least it was comforting to know that River had come to consciousness again. And if she had, I hoped that all the others who’d been affected by the gas would have also.

I pushed open the door and hurriedly stepped inside.

Any small relief I’d felt on hearing my wife’s voice, however, evaporated as my eyes narrowed in on my daughter.

She was sitting upright, leaning against the headboard, eyes half open, while River sat by her side, clutching her hands.

There was something so different about my daughter's appearance that I found myself doing a double-take.

Her hair.

She had lost every strand of her hair.

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