A Shade of Vampire 30: A Game of Risk (6 page)

Victoria

I
remained
in a daze for several minutes after I had lost sight of Bastien in the ocean. Even Mona and Brock fell into radio silence.

Why did Bastien yell at me to stay away? Why was he sitting there with Rona? Why did he just… run away with her?

The way he had reached out and grabbed her arm before pulling her into the ocean… to say that it didn’t sit right with me would be a gross understatement.

Why were they together in the first place, and why was he intent on keeping her with him? It didn’t make sense. None of this made any sense.

“You… You know that girl?” Mona finally ventured.

“Yes,” I replied hoarsely. “Rona Northstone. She’s Bastien’s cousin…” My voice trailed off as I spoke the words. I remembered that Rona was actually no such thing. If the Mortclaws really were Bastien’s family, he was, in fact, in no way related to Rona. A chill settled in at the base of my spine.

“Well, what do you want to do now?” Mona asked.

After Bastien had shouted at me to stay away, then rushed into the ocean with another girl, I somehow didn’t have it in me to go running after him. He had made his wish clear. For me to stay put. And although I didn’t understand it, I wasn’t that type of girl.

Besides, I was feeling emotionally exhausted. All the buildup to coming here, all the worry and stress and anxiety about taking that potion… It all welled up inside of me at once and I just felt… drained. Weak. So very weak.

“I… need to think,” I managed.

“Good idea,” Mona said, glancing furtively up and down the beach. “But in that case, I suggest we don’t wait here. Why don’t we go sit up in some trees? I’ll make us invisible and you can think as much as you need to…”

Brock was remaining quiet in all of this.

“Okay,” I said. “L-Let’s do that.”

I climbed onto Brock’s back and we zoomed into the nearest line of trees, where we searched for a broad bough somewhere high up and secluded, where we could sit comfortably.

Then Mona and Brock left me to my silence again, to my own jumbled, painful thoughts. The more I mulled over what had just happened, the worse I felt about it.

Until Mona put me out of my misery. She placed a hand on my knee and squeezed it. I met her blue eyes, traced with compassion. “I can guess what you’re thinking, Vicky. And I will tell you: don’t assume the worst. There could be a very good reason for what that wolf said and did.”

I nodded, sucking in a ragged breath. “I think you must be right,” I said, fighting to think objectively. It was just so uncharacteristic of him. He had never spoken to me in that sort of tone, not once since I had met him.

“Maybe we should continue with our original plan,” Mona went on. “Maybe we should investigate The Woodlands a bit, visit the Blackhalls as we had previously planned, and do some sniffing around… The reason for Bastien’s evasion might become apparent.”

I nodded again, a feeling of comfort rolling through me. Mona couldn’t have known how much her words meant to me in that moment. Given an incident in The Shade’s history when a ghoul had wreaked havoc on her mind, causing her to believe Kiev and Sofia were having an affair, she definitely spoke from a position of experience.

I gripped the craggy bark of the tree. Feeling a surge of renewed energy, I raised myself slowly to my feet.

“Okay,” I said, clearing my throat. “Let’s keep moving.”

Victoria

S
hoving
my doubts about Bastien aside, I tried to focus on the matter at hand. In spite of his strange behavior, I refused to continue doubting him. Hopefully the reason for his avoidance would come to light soon, as Mona had suggested it might.

I climbed back onto Brock’s back and the witches lifted into the air with me, leaving the treetops where we had stopped to rest. I needed to concentrate now. Our plan was to first head to the Blackhalls’ lair to see if they held any clues as to what was going on.

It struck me only now, as I was recovering from the shock of seeing Bastien with Rona, that if Bastien was here, wouldn’t his mother be here also? She had carried him away. I did not see how he would have been able to break free from her grasp, given her extraordinary powers. Perhaps all the Mortclaws had returned to The Woodlands.

In which case, I didn’t need that psychic “location ability” after all—although The Woodlands was a big place. We didn’t know where the Mortclaws’ lair was, assuming they still had an official base here after all those years. Where would we even begin to search for them?

I voiced my thoughts to Mona and Brock.

“First things first,” Mona said. “We, or rather you, know where the Blackhalls live. Let’s go talk to them and see what they have to say.”

But as we continued soaring toward the Blackhalls’ location, we were distracted by the sound of galloping beneath us, thundering paws over the undergrowth. We dipped beneath the trees to find ourselves staring down at a stampede of giant black wolves—five of them in total. They whipped through the trees, heading in a different direction than we had been.

Those were Mortclaws for sure. Even ignoring their size, the fact that it was daytime and they were in their wolf forms proved it beyond a shadow of a doubt.

They traveled so fast, they were already disappearing from sight. We had to make a decision, fast. Continue on our course to the Blackhalls, or follow these Mortclaws’ trail while we could. They might lead us back to their base. And who knew how long it might take us to find it on our own,
if
we ever found it. It could be well hidden for all we knew.

“Let’s follow them,” Mona whispered.

Doing an about-turn in the air, we began zooming after them. Mona made us invisible, since we had to travel beneath the treetops in order to keep track of them. They raced for miles and miles through the woods, and soon they began to run at an even greater speed. I feared that they might use their powers to vanish and we would lose them. But thankfully, they seemed to be enjoying their sprint through the trees.

Eventually, they departed from the woods and bounded out into a vast meadow filled with violet flowers. They ran and ran for miles more, across the meadow into another stretch of woods, then out into a clearing again, until finally they slowed to a stop as we neared a mountain range.
Another
mountain range. Mountains sure seemed to be a popular habitat for the wolves of The Woodlands.

We hovered overhead, watching as they circled the foothills. They began clambering over the boulders, leading us to a hidden crack in the wall. Instead of squeezing through it, they finally exercised their powers and vanished—we could only assume within the mountain.

“Well, looks like we’ve found their lair,” Mona said.

I wondered what the pack of five had been speeding back from.

“So we’re going to spy on them now, or what?” Brock asked.

“That seems the logical next step,” Mona replied. “I’m going to cast some extra protection around us first though,” she added, “to help conceal our scent and also any sounds we might make.”

We waited a few seconds while I assumed Mona was doing her thing. Then she said, “All right, I’m ready if you two are.”

I doubted I would ever be ready to descend into a lair filled with those monsters, but Brock and I replied, “Let’s go.”

I could barely blink before our surroundings vanished and we reappeared on the other side of the mountain wall. We stood in the midst of a dark network of tunnels with hardly any lighting. As we began to move, we passed the occasional burning lantern that looked like it’d only been recently fixed to the wall, but there were patches of tunnel which were completely dark. My arms tightened around Brock’s broad shoulders—I was relieved that he was still carrying me. My witch escorts couldn’t create any artificial light to guide us in case it drew the attention of wolves. So we had to make do. As we moved deeper into the mountain, doors began to appear on either side of us. We searched the chambers for Bastien’s mother, all the while prepared to flatten ourselves against the wall if a wolf came barging past.

This place was alarmingly big, the network of tunnels so extensive it felt like it would go on forever.

Then, as we passed by a particularly old-looking door, I caught the sound of a familiar voice, coming from the other side of it.

A male and female were arguing. The female voice was the one that I recognized.

“We should give the boy some time to cool off,” the male was saying. “He’ll return when he’s ready.”

“Can you blame me for not wanting to lose sight of him, after all those years we lost him?”

“We haven’t lost him. He’s simply gone for a walk to clear his head.”

The woman huffed, but fell quiet. Unnervingly, she reminded me of Brucella.

A bed creaked, even as footsteps approached the door. It opened and a man strode out—a man whom, being in his humanoid form, I could instantly recognize as Bastien’s father. The likeness of their facial structures was almost uncanny.

He strode away down the corridor and out of sight, while the door closed softly behind him.

“Let’s go in,” I dared to breathe. “That’s Bastien’s mother on the other side. I’m sure of it.”

Mona drew in a breath. “Okay…”

The hallway vanished and we reappeared inside a bedroom lit by a single torch, fixed high up in one corner. The flames sent shadows dancing around the craggy walls, casting light on the woman who had stolen Bastien from me. Mrs. Mortclaw.
Brucella on steroids…

I reached out my hand and found Mona’s. I squeezed it, hoping that she would take the hint. She did. All three of us suddenly became visible, and I was sure that she had also lifted the spell that was muffling our scent.

The she-wolf, who had been reclining on the bed, immediately leapt up. Shock sparked in her gray eyes.

“You!” she growled, her expression nothing short of murderous. She moved to launch at me, but then stopped herself in mid-air, even before hitting the protective shield I assumed Mona had the sense to form around us.

The wolf eyed me like a rare, disgusting specimen. Her shock and anger turned to utter confusion. She breathed in deeply, taking in my scent. Her eyeballs bulged.

“What… What are you?” she croaked.

“Victoria Mortclaw,”
I was half-tempted to answer, but that would have been taking things a little too far…

I glanced at Mona, weighing my answer, before replying, “Why do you ask? Isn’t it obvious who I am?”

“You… You are that human girl. But y-you—you’re different than the last time I saw you!” The latter part of her sentence came out as a furious growl.

“How so?” I asked, still trying to maintain a semblance of innocence, though it only seemed to be aggravating her.

“You have done something. You…”

“You feel some… connection to me?” I dared pose.

She gaped at me. That was enough of an answer.

Well, at least that tiny drop of elixir had done something. I had been so afraid that, in addition to it not granting me the ability to detect her location, I would also appear exactly the same to Bastien’s mother as the last time I’d crossed paths with her.

“This is witchcraft!” she hissed, her eyes narrowing on Mona and Brock.

I said nothing, and neither did they. I merely looked casually at her… or as casually as I could manage.

“Well?” I said after a pause. I tried to keep my tone as polite as possible. “Do you still wish to attack me?”

If Mona was right about the elixir, then the notion would go against the wolf’s every inner instinct. It would be like attacking one of her own.

She let out another growl. “What is it you want?” she snapped. “Why have you come here?”

I was relieved when she took a step back, albeit begrudgingly.

“I’ve come here to talk about your son… I’m in love with him. And he is in love with me. He does not wish to marry—”

“But they are already betrothed,” she responded, cutting me off. “Whatever you have done to yourself cannot change that fact.”

I tried to keep my calm. “May I address you by your first name?”

The wolf grunted. “Sendira.”

“Sendira. Do you not care about your son’s happiness? Do you not care about his wishes? Is he just an object for you to command as you will?” I swallowed hard, trying to meet her eyes even as I hoped that her heart was not fully forged of stone as Brucella’s seemed to be. “Trust me when I say I would do anything for your son,” I said quietly. “Anything. I would change into anything, be anything, if it meant that I could stay with him.”

Sendira pursed her lips. Her brows furrowed.

“Hmph.” She paused, and I actually thought that I might have gotten through to her just a teeny tiny bit. She glanced down at her hands before admitting in a more subdued tone, “I
do
wish for my son to be happy… You will never understand the love I hold for him.”

“Then why do you not listen to him?” I asked. “Why do you not listen to his wishes and instead act only according to your own? Look,” I went on, daring to move a little closer to her. I hated to come across as desperate, but that was exactly what I was right now. In spite of my trying to forget what I’d seen on the beach, at the back of my mind the vision of Bastien racing away with Rona still ate at me, and flamed up my desperation to reunite with him even more. I just wanted him back. I just wanted to hold him.
Be
with him and not keeping getting torn apart like this. Was that really so much to ask?

“Name your price,” I said. “I’m willing to do anything.”

Sendira ran her tongue over her lower lip, her right eyebrow twitching. Then she sank back on the bed, folding her hands on her lap as she paused for a moment. “Well,” she began, “your demands are certainly weighty. But I will say this: if you love him so much, and if you have truly formed a connection with him, then go and find him now. Find him and bring him back here. Back to me. Then I will perhaps
consider
taking your words seriously.”

“Okay,” I said, suddenly breathless. I could hardly believe that she was being even slightly amenable—Sendira, the same monster of a woman who had smashed into Bastien’s bedroom and scooped him away like a sack of potatoes even as he yelled for her to stop.

“I-I will find him,” I stammered, moving back and standing level with Mona and Brock again. “I will find your son, and bring him back. Soon. Very soon. I promise.”

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