A Shade of Vampire 30: A Game of Risk (7 page)

Victoria

M
ona and Brock
vanished us away from Sendira’s bedroom and out of the Mortclaws’ mountain. Before we took off from the area completely, we were sure to look around. We rose upward, above the mountain, trying to familiarize ourselves with the area, so that finding it again would not be an impossible task. Though I realized that this was probably not even necessary, since we were going to return with Bastien—weren’t we?

As we soared back toward the beach where we had last sighted him, Brock muttered beneath his breath, “Everything would be so much simpler if we could just get rid of those damn Mortclaws. Just kill them. Then Vicky and Bastien could be together without their stupid interference.”

When we arrived at the beach and touched down, Mona addressed her son. “Murder is not the answer,” she said. “Murder should never be an answer except in the direst of circumstances. What we have here is an issue of long-held family tradition—and the culture of werewolves. In spite of how antiquated and unfair it may seem to you, this is their way of life. How they and all their ancestors have chosen to live. You have to respect it, Brock. Bastien is their son. And if Victoria wants to be with him, it’s only courteous that she at least attempts to play by their rules.”

“But aren’t they like, cannibals?” Brock countered. “Do they even deserve to live?”

“I don’t like that word, ‘deserve’,” Mona muttered, still frowning at her son. “First of all, we don’t know that the Mortclaws are still cannibals. We have no evidence of that yet. And secondly, neither you nor I are God. Who are we to judge who ‘deserves’ to live?”

“Well, we seem to do it all the time with the IBSI,” Brock replied.

Mona sighed. “Yes. But the IBSI is a different matter entirely. What we have here is primarily a private family affair. We have no grounds to simply step in and kill them for abiding by their heritage.”

While mother and son were debating, my mind was elsewhere. I was desperately scanning the ocean. “Guys,” I said, “we need to start searching. I told her we’d be back soon.”

“Right,” Mona said, averting her eyes to the water.

I climbed onto Brock’s back again and we began a thorough search of the waves.

They couldn’t have gone far, could they? Surely we would find them soon. I was feeling optimistic that we would spot them within an hour, in fact. And even if Bastien yelled at me to stay away again, this time, I would have something to yell back with. I would shout back that we might be on the precipice of his mother agreeing to our being together. That we might finally be able to stop all this back-and-forth between the realms.

That we could finally just
be
.

Bastien

S
oon after Victoria disappeared
, I returned with Rona to the shore. My mind had been working furiously on the details of the crazy scheme that had occurred to me. The crazy, yet seemingly inevitable scheme.

The first thing I had to do was travel with her across The Woodlands to the old Port, where a number of boats should still be docked. It was too dangerous for her to reside on the mainland at present. We milled around the old vessels—most of them broken down and many of them leaking—until we found a small one that looked at least semi-inhabitable. It had a covering over it, and a place beneath deck where she could hide if need be… though if the Mortclaws got wind of even her approximate whereabouts, there would be no hiding. They would scent her out. Hence the need for her to remain inconspicuous.

“I cannot tell you everything that I’m going to do next,” I told her, “because I’m still working it out myself. But for now, Rona, you need to stay safe. You need to keep yourself hidden here, away from the reach of the Mortclaws.”

“How long will you be?” she asked.

“I cannot say,” I replied heavily. “It could be days, it could be weeks. But you need to somehow stay alive. The best way I can think for you to do that is to stay in this boat, and venture onto land only very briefly when you need food or water. But whatever you do, do not venture deep. And certainly do not dare go anywhere near your mountain, unless you have a death wish.”

She nodded, all the blood draining from her face.

I felt bad leaving Rona alone. I knew what it felt like to lose one’s family—although the Blackhalls had not been my real family, at the time I’d thought that they were, and in my heart they still were. The aftermath had been crushing. Without Victoria by my side, I wasn’t even sure how I would have survived it. But Rona had no choice but to be alone now. I would try to return to her when I could, hopefully with a more permanent solution as to what she could do. But first, I had to find a solution for myself. Until I’d worked that out, there was no helping Victoria, Rona, or anyone else in The Woodlands.

And so, after comforting the trembling Rona with a brief hug, I left her in the boat. Assuming my wolf form, I began racing back to the Mortclaws’ residence.

As my paws kicked up a storm of dirt behind me, I tried to brainstorm my options—everything and anything I could possibly think of, no matter how absurd or impossible it seemed.

As much as my heart longed for family and connection, I was better off with no family than with the Mortclaws. Just as I was better off without Brucella. If I ever wanted to meet with Victoria and steep myself in her love again, I had to break free from them in a way that was permanent. In a way that would cause them to never wish to track me down.

As I pounded closer and closer to the Mortclaws’ lair, it became clear to me that I had to use their stalwart adherence to tradition to my advantage. I had to turn their pride in their lineage into their weakness.

But before any of this, I had to gain their trust. Their full trust. Because the plan that was slowly forming in my mind would require time. Time during which I could not have them looming over me.

As I arrived outside the entrance of the mountain that was my birthplace, even as doubts about what I was on the verge of doing threatened to overwhelm me, I forced myself to think of Victoria. Think of her face. Her smile. Remember what it felt like to hold her in my arms. The memory of her gave me strength. Strength at a time when I needed it most.

I will fight for you, Victoria.

I will fight for us.

Victoria

M
y hope
of finding Bastien within an hour quickly ebbed away. One hour turned into two, then three. We still had not found any sign of him or Rona.

Where could he have gone? My gut clenched as I thought of the promise I had made to Sendira. I said I would return “soon” with him. After almost four hours of nonstop searching, Mona and Brock had become thoroughly fed up.

“Let’s take a break,” Mona huffed. The three of us returned to the shore and sat down among a heap of dry, flat boulders. Setting down her bag, Mona stretched out beside me, while Brock did the same a few feet away. Mona reached into her bag and took out some food she had packed. She offered me some fig rolls, which I refused, but Brock gladly accepted. He and Mona sat munching while I set my eyes on the ocean.

He’s got to be somewhere nearby.
Werewolves, being supernatural creatures, could of course travel fast even in the unnatural habitat of water. They could have gotten a fair distance by now, maybe even further than we had searched, but I couldn’t imagine that they would have gone so far because of how dangerous it was. Bastien already had firsthand experience of the perils of those waters. He’d almost been torn in two by a shark, for heaven’s sake. If Micah had not stumbled across them, he wouldn’t even be alive now.

No, I couldn’t bring myself to believe that he would be that reckless. But then where was he?

And I wondered why, exactly, he had been running from Sendira in the first place. This at least gave me hope that there was more to the story than met the eye, but it did not quell my frustration as we sat there on the beach.

Sipping from a bottle of water, Mona dropped down from the rocks to dip her feet in the waves. Brock followed her lead, even as he rolled up the bottoms of his pants.

As I sat alone now, my eyes could not help but wander to Mona’s bag, perched just a couple of feet away from me. Within reaching distance. The vial’s bulging outline was visible in the center of the fabric bag. The vial of Mortclaw elixir. The vial that was supposed to have given me the power to detect their location. God, what I wouldn’t give for that ability now. I could probably find Bastien in no time if I had that. I could find him, look him in the eye and have him explain everything before I took him to see Sendira where hopefully, finally, we could arrive at a solution to this whole mess.

But that one drop had not been enough to give me such an ability. It was only enough to create a familiarity in me when faced with Sendira.

But… what if I took just one more drop? Or not even a drop, but half a drop? A full drop had not made any visible difference to me, I reasoned, and I didn’t feel any different inside either. I felt just like myself. Would an extra half drop really go and change all that? I found it hard to believe that it would, and the upside to it working seemed to far outweigh the risk.

The vial was so close to me, it felt like it was taunting me.

Desperation was a dangerous thing—I knew that. It clouded one’s brain and debilitated one from thinking clearly, logically, objectively. But still, I couldn’t stop myself from posing the question: What would really happen if I consumed the tiniest bit more? Would I really live to regret it?

I supposed it all came back to the same question that Mona had urged me to answer for myself before we ever started out on this mission. And the same decision that my parents had left in my hands.

How much am I really willing to risk for love?

Lawrence

I
finished paging
through the sheets of expenses, scribbling big red circles around all the items I found questionable, before moving the stack back to my father. He was still on the phone. I got up, mouthing, “Going to get something to eat,” and left his office. I exited his apartment and returned to my quarters.

I needed space to think. My own space, without my father present. I kept trying to rack my brain as to where I could possibly find the files now. But each time, I drew a blank. It was the thought that they might be somewhere here in the IBSI’s Chicago base that was driving me insane. They could be so nearby.

There was nobody I could ask, not even in a roundabout way. It just wasn’t possible to ask for that sort of information without arousing suspicion. The moment that happened, all my doors would be closed. Heck, I would likely have to flee for my life.

My primary advantage over everyone else was that I was somebody whom my father still trusted. And that still remained my most valuable asset—one that I simply could not be reckless with.

I dropped into a chair and leaned my head back, closing my eyes. I realized that continuing on the path of trying to locate the files was simply going to be too difficult, too time-consuming, and too likely to get me caught.

As much as it pained me—given that all the details of the cure were probably clearly laid out in those files—I had to cast thoughts of those files aside. I had to pretend, at least for now, that they did not exist. How then would I go about this?

As I brainstormed any and every avenue I could possibly explore, the lab on the other side of Chicago was at the forefront of my mind. Grace had recounted to me the scene that her father had witnessed there. They were conducting experiments involving Bloodless and even had a large stock imprisoned there. The scientists who worked there, surely, must know as much as there was to know about Bloodless. They worked day in and day out in close proximity with them… If they didn’t know what the cure was, who would? Given the dangers of their job, they must have some preventative measures in place in case one of them got bitten.
At least one person there must know.

The more I thought about it, the more it became clear that paying a visit to Bloodless Chicago was my next logical step.

Lawrence

O
nce I had formed a more
solid plan in my mind as to how exactly I was going to go about this, I picked up my phone and dialed my father’s number.

It was engaged, as I had expected. I opted to leave a voicemail:

“Dad, I’m going for shooting practice… In case you wonder where I’ve gone.”

I hung up. Something told me that he probably wouldn’t even notice that I was gone. He was too busy with his own affairs.

I changed into a thick pair of pants, then donned a heavy jacket and a belt. Moving to the entrance hallway, I retrieved three guns from a cabinet and holstered them at my waist.

Then I headed out of my apartment. On receiving my voicemail, my father would assume that I was practicing somewhere in the IBSI facility. He wouldn’t know where I had really gone. But I didn’t plan to be gone long. I couldn’t
afford
to get caught.

I left the residential block and sped up to a jog. I would run, but I did not want to attract undue attention from passersby.

I headed to the compound at the far end of the perimeter where our mutants were kept. It was a wide dirt enclosure. I searched for one of the creatures I had ridden before—the one that I had trained on. Jez, he was nicknamed by my trainer. He was one of the older creatures, more subdued and easier to control. I found him toward the back, tearing up the ground with his sharp talons. His severe birdlike face turned to me as I let out a sharp whistle.

He eyed me for a few moments before ruffling his wings and padding over to me. I held out my hand cautiously, allowing him to sniff me. Once he nudged his head against my wrist, I was confident that he was comfortable enough in my presence for me to unchain him. I climbed onto his back. Digging my heels gently into his sides, I encouraged him to take flight.

He was already wearing reins from the last hunter who had ridden him—not that I needed them. I’d been trained to ride mutants without any saddle or reins. That was the way that most hunters were trained because mutants did not like to have objects wrapped around or constraining them.

Once we were in the air, high enough to soar over the wall that bordered the IBSI’s base, I urged Jez over it. A dark, murky river flowed immediately beneath us. And beyond that was the gray dilapidated city. I needed to head straight for the shore of Lake Michigan, where the lab was located.

The landscape slipping away beneath me was a scene of horror. I could only imagine the fear and suffering Grace must’ve gone through in traipsing across it, all the while with the uncertainty of what was happening to her body after being bitten by two Bloodless. It must’ve been a living hell. A nightmare she couldn’t escape from. Just beholding the city from a bird’s eye view—the peeling buildings, the hulking shadows roaming the streets, the corpses littering the roads—was enough to give me shudders.

With the mutant’s supernatural speed, it wasn’t long before we found ourselves circling over the crematorium-turned-lab.

We could not be seen—that much was absolutely critical. I guided the mutant to touch down in the center of the roof, where I motioned to him to wait for me. He obediently folded his legs and sat down, gazing at me with beady eyes. Feeling confident to turn my back on him, I crept to the edge of the roof and gazed down at the immediate area surrounding the building, within the walls. The ground was scorched, the parking lot still filled with decimated vehicles—relics of Grace’s misadventures here. It seemed the IBSI had not gotten round to clearing it up yet.

I crawled closer to the front of the building, where the main entrance was. Arriving as near to the edge as I dared, I knelt down, planting both my hands on the tiles to gain a steady stance. And now began the wait. I needed to gain a sense of who worked here. Who came in and out. Who appeared to be calling the shots, and who were merely obedient assistants.

It took an uncomfortable amount of time for the first signs of life to show around me. But eventually gravel crunched, a deep engine rumbling from outside the compound’s gates. Keeping myself flat, I could just about make out the road from here.

A tank was approaching. It stopped outside the gates, which swung slowly open. The vehicle moved inside, the doors closing again behind it. Then came the clatter of the doors opening directly beneath me—the main doors to the lab. Three men stepped out wearing white coats. They crossed the yard and approached the tank, whose doors also opened. A woman and a man slid out of the driver’s compartment at the front.

The man who led the trio out of the lab—the tallest and apparently oldest with salt and pepper hair—spoke up in a gruff voice. “How many?”

“Ten,” the woman replied.

The man breathed out in apparent frustration. “I asked for double.”

“I’m sorry.”

“What went wrong?” he pressed.

“We didn’t receive the order in time,” she replied. “But we can go back.”

The man blew out again. “No. Don’t bother. Let’s just bring what you’ve got inside.”

All five of them moved to the back of the tank. They opened up a back door and began to drag out bound men and women who had sacks over their heads… and were definitely not dead. More convicts like Orlando to experiment on, apparently.

They carried the convicts into the lab, and closed the door behind them. The main doors bolted with a final click.

At least I had pinpointed one of the showrunners. I needed to try to make him my first target…

* * *

I
t was
nerve-racking waiting on that roof with Jez. He had to remain just as quiet as me, which was a lot to expect from an animal. I became all the more grateful that he had been available in the pen and I hadn’t been forced to pick one of the younger, rowdier mutants.

More people moved in and out of the doors, but I held out for the older man. He had the voice of a heavy smoker. I suspected he would come out for a puff sooner rather than later. I kept an eye on my watch as the minutes went by. I was waiting exactly twenty-six minutes before luck went my way. The man strode out of the main door with a packet of cigarettes. As he stopped on the doorstep and lit up, I immediately sprang into action.

I leapt to my feet and, backing away from the edge of the roof, approached Jez. We had very little time.

I climbed onto his back and coaxed him into the air. We soared away from the compound and across the street parallel to it. I was looking for a Bloodless. Any Bloodless would do, but a smaller one would be preferable. I only had to wait until the third street to spot a group. Jez’s keen senses had noticed them too. As we took a dive, I tried to navigate him toward the smallest one, but his claws ended up grabbing the tallest. The Bloodless thrashed and writhed in Jez’s talons as we took to the air again, but the mutant held it expertly in its grasp—he had been trained to deal with these monsters since his birth. Jez kept it a safe distance away from me, quelling its attempts to lash out at me. I guided Jez immediately back to the lab.

We soared over the roof of the large building and the second we arrived over the front yard where the man was still smoking, I nudged the mutant’s back legs with the edges of my boots, causing him to drop the Bloodless. It went hurtling to the ground and landed five feet in front of the shellshocked man.

I instantly pulled Jez back. We touched down on the roof so that we wouldn’t be spotted while the Bloodless took a few seconds to recover from the fall and realize it stood before a meal of fresh, pumping hot blood. It lurched forward and pinned the man to the ground before he could even yell. Its fangs sank deep into the man’s neck. He let out a stifled cry, causing hunters to rush out from the building. The atmosphere erupted in shouts, curses and commands, even as bullets exploded. They fired at the Bloodless relentlessly until it became so battered it was forced to withdraw from the man.

It rose and staggered back, even as hunters continued to pound it with bullets. Then a bizarre-looking machine—a flying spinning wheel, spiked with blades—came zooming out of the main doors and attacked the Bloodless. It sliced it to shreds in a matter of seconds.

“Holy hell!” one of the hunters yelled. “How did that thing get in here?”

Their faces panned to the sky, as if suspecting that it must’ve dropped from the clouds. Jez and I kept hidden before they refocused their attention quickly on the matter at hand.

“Come on!” a woman hissed. “Fetch a syringe! We need to freeze the turning.”

More hunters came hurrying out, and then one jabbed a needle into the man’s neck. Then they picked him up and carried him into the laboratory, out of sight.

Freeze the turning
.

The words inspired hope in my heart. If they could freeze the turning, surely they could cure it too. Perhaps freezing was the first step in treating it.

I had been holding out hope that I would hear them talk of a cure specifically—perhaps even administer it outside within my view—but this was better than nothing.

But I was still left with the same damn question:
what is the cure?
It was aggravating to think that they might be whipping up the antidote right now, inside. There were no windows in this building. And of course, I couldn’t go in without blowing my cover.

I launched with Jez away from the roof of the lab to somewhere more secluded—the top of a skyscraper. Sliding off him, I sat down on the edge of the roof and stared out toward the crematorium in the distance, as well as the lake beyond.

Slowly, another idea trickled through my mind. An idea that I was sure was the most insane I’d ever had.

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