A Shade of Vampire 30: A Game of Risk (9 page)

I instinctively reached for my neck and realized that the pain had stopped. I tore off the bandage, feeling for the wounds. My God. The skin had become almost smooth already. I also realized that this was the first time I’d gotten cut since waking from my coma.

“It’s healed,” I gasped.

She nodded slowly, with almost a hint of amusement in her eyes.

“You see, Lawrence, one of the many components contained within the drug is derived from Bloodless DNA. We have been struggling for years to find just the right composition. We suspected early on, many years ago, that the Bloodless might play a big part in the future development of the human race, in our attempts to strengthen and equip ourselves against our intruders. But it has taken us many years and many failures to finally arrive at the right concoction. One that does not mess up a human’s system—make it weak, paralyzed or fatally altered—but instead works to enhance it. You, sir, are currently the only lucky person alive to have received the perfect formula… A suspected side effect of the drug is immunity to Bloodless venom. Just like with certain viruses, exposing oneself to a small trace of it actually serves to strengthen one’s resistance against it. The same principle has been in play in this case with you.”

I sat there gaping as her words sank in. Although I had asked for details of what exactly the procedure carried out on me had involved before, I had never been given such a precise answer. It had always been vague—the procedure was extremely complicated, and unless I was a scientist myself, I wouldn’t understand it.

But now… Now it all made sense. The convicts Grace had come across in this part of Chicago—they were all failed test subjects. They had received faulty batches of the formula, causing their systems to be “fatally altered”. That was why their life expectancy was so short. Why they were dropping like flies. And to add insult to injury, the IBSI was conducting further tests on them—while turning them into Bloodless. Grace had described a process where they withdrew blood from a man as he was in the process of turning.

I wondered how
many
experiments and procedures relating to the Bloodless these people were carrying out here. And for what purposes? I wondered if they had developed the drug that I had been given here. Perhaps even the antidote itself had been developed here.

I considered for a moment whether the drug I’d been given might also be the antidote, but that would not make sense. My mother had supposedly discovered it thirteen years ago before her death. They had only just arrived at my formula now.

Dr. Finnegan seemed to notice my distracted state.

“A lot to take in, isn’t it?” she said jovially, reclining in her chair.

“Yeah,” I murmured.

Now my mind was furiously working to figure out… What was next? It still didn’t feel like I was any closer to finding an antidote, even after offering myself up as a damn human sacrifice.
Still
, my efforts had not been rewarded.

I cast my gaze around the lab, eyeing the scientists milling about, some hunching over the metal tables in clusters, while others stood in the aisles engaging in conversation. The Bloodless and convicts were supposed to be kept on the uppermost floors of this lab; I couldn’t see them from down here, neither could I hear them. Perhaps they were sedated.

“Well, any questions?” Dr. Finnegan asked.

I returned my focus on her.

You bet
. I felt like I might boil over with frustration. This woman sitting before me probably knew what the cure was. I figured that there was at least a fifty percent chance. All it might take would be for me to pop the question—a few words.

But she had been so skittish about explaining the procedure I had undergone—insisting on getting permission from my father first—I could only imagine her reaction if I started spouting off about the cure. As tempting as it was, and as desperate as I was growing, asking her outright would
not
be a smart move.

I had to try to coax the information out of her. At least some of it.
Any
of it. Anything at all felt like it would be a step forward at this point. Even if I could get some idea of what was involved in that “freezing” drug, it might help at least delay Grace’s demise… assuming it wasn’t already too late for her. None of us had any idea how long it would take for her transformation to complete. I had to focus on uncovering the cure rather than the freezing drug—it would be wise to assume the worst.

I returned my mind to the present. Dr. Finnegan was starting to get fidgety. Like she wanted to return to work. I couldn’t have that yet. I had to keep her in conversation. “So, you’re really telling me that I’m still the only person who has undergone the procedure? I know my father is planning to do it soon—he has already been preparing himself for it, but have none of you scientists taken it yet? Nobody in this room?”

“No.” She shook her head. “Not yet. You are the first one.”

“Why was I the first one?”

“Because you volunteered,” she replied, without skipping a beat. “You just don’t remember.”

Sure I don’t…

“Why do I have a memory gap?” I asked. “Why can’t I remember?”

“We’re not sure,” she replied. “It was the first time we carried out the procedure with the updated version of the drug, and it was obviously a nerve-racking experience.” Her lips curled in a grim smile. “I wasn’t there personally but for those who were, obviously, they had the life of our boss’ son in their hands. I think that they made a mistake somewhere in the process, which had an adverse effect on your brain, causing a kind of blackout in your memory function, but… I’m not sure, Lawrence. Although we seem to have gotten the balance of the formula right, there is still much perfecting to be done in regards to administering it.”

“What other components are in the drug?” I asked.

“Ah,” she said. “I’m afraid that is classified information. Not allowed to talk to anybody about it. Ask your father.”

Yeah, right.

“So, are you planning to take it?” I asked.

“Who, me personally?”

“Yes. You personally.”

“Yes. I will,” she replied without missing a beat.

“And once you have perfected the process and diminished the risks—is this drug something that you plan to make more widely available?”

She hesitated this time. “I’m not sure. That is not exactly a decision I’m involved with. Again, ask your father.”

She was showing definite signs of impatience now. She probably had a lot of work to finish before the end of the day, but I couldn’t let her go now. Not yet.

“I get that you’re busy,” I said. “I know you don’t have a lot of time. But neither does my father. I honestly don’t get a chance to ask him much…” Since by now, we had crossed the subject of immunity to the Bloodless virus more than once, posing the possibility of a cure felt like a more natural place to lead the conversation. Even if I knew nothing about FOEBA, I was sure that it was a question that would be running through my mind now as I sat here in this lab of mysteries. And after she had explained to me that I had Bloodless DNA running through my veins, if I didn’t have a right to be curious about the subject, nobody did.

I feigned a shudder. “It’s a good thing that I
did
undertake that procedure. Imagine if I was just a regular human. I would have arrived at the gates, yelling for help and… what? There would have been nothing you could do for me? You would have just watched helplessly while I turned?”

Dr. Finnegan’s jaw tensed before, to my deepest dismay, she merely nodded. “Yup. Nothing we could have done. We might have developed preventative measures for the Bloodless virus, but no way to cure it…”

I held her gaze, wondering what she must be feeling inside as she lied to me so boldly. She glanced away, breathing out, apparently uncomfortable beneath my perusal.

“Well,” she said, standing up and yawning—a yawn that looked a little too artificial to me. “I need to get back to work… How did you get here in the first place?”

“Uh, a mutant,” I muttered, my voice thick with disappointment. “In case you didn’t hear my explanation, I came out to practice my shooting.”

“Right, well, your father will be wanting you back at headquarters. I’ll arrange for a driver to take you back in one of the tanks. Your mutant can ride along in that, too. Your father would
not
be amused if we let you return by yourself after the trauma you’ve just been through. Wait here and I’ll arrange it.”

She left me and crossed to the other side of the lab, where she drew open a back door and slipped through it. I gazed around again at the lab, wishing that I could read these people’s minds.

Then I spotted something that made me freeze. My mouth slackened as I caught sight of a man with salt-and-pepper hair appearing behind the doors of an elevator—the man whom I had caused to be bitten just a few hours ago. Albeit assisted by another hunter, he was standing, walking, as they moved out of the elevator and entered the room.

I cursed beneath my breath as Dr. Finnegan returned barely a few seconds later, accompanied by a tall, unshaven man in a navy-blue janitor’s suit. She had been quick. She obviously wanted to get me out of here soon as possible—probably because she thought that was what my father would have wanted.

“This is Kell,” she said as they approached me. “He’ll take you directly back to headquarters. Take care of yourself.”

With that, she turned on her heel and walked away.

I had no choice but to leave with Kell and tear my eyes away from the miraculously cured man as he made his way to the other side of the room.

We left the lab and crossed the yard in silence. A tank was already waiting. Jez was also waiting out here, perched on the gates. Judging from the gunk on his talons, he had torn a number of Bloodless to shreds while he had been out here.

I beckoned him down and climbed into the back of the tank with him.

Kell slammed the door behind us, locking us securely inside. And then we began the journey back through the city of nightmares.

Bastien

I
tried
to look casual as I entered the Mortclaws’ mountain and wound my way toward my parents’—and my old—bedroom.

I arrived to find the door slightly ajar. As I entered, my mother was inside, sitting in the wooden chair in the corner. My father was absent. My entrance brought a relieved smile to her face. She stood up and moved toward me.

“Well, where is…” Her voice trailed off as she poked her head outside the door, as if expecting to see… who exactly? Rona? Did she honestly expect me to bring Rona back here, after the massacre I had just witnessed them engage in?

“What?” I said, my eyes narrowing on her.

She appeared confused for a moment, but then shook it off. “Never mind,” she said. She straightened, looking me in the eye again. “You decided to return home by yourself.”

I nodded, clenching my jaw.

She let out a soft sigh. Reaching out to clutch my hands, she pulled me to sit with her on the edge of the bed.

“Listen, Bastien,” she began. “Things are still not going smoothly between us, I know. And I’m sorry for that. I truly am.” She looked at me with an expression that I would’ve liked to think was sincere, but knew in my heart was not.

“You must understand that we have a certain conditioning. We crave our own kind’s flesh like we crave air. It is our sustenance—a kind of sustenance that we simply cannot get elsewhere. I saw the horror in your eyes, my dear, but at the time I was too caught up in my hunger to stop and explain myself to you fully. But there are no more secrets now. You know what we are…”

I had become tired of my mother’s switching personalities. There were times when she seemed soft, almost apologetic—but the next moment she would turn again, and become hard as stone. Impenetrable to any word or plea I might direct at her.

Her words did not mean anything. Whether due to her conditioning caused by the black witches, or simply by choice, it did not matter. The result was the same. My family were cannibals—and my mother’s actions were doing nothing but making my life a misery in all respects. However apologetic she might appear, she refused to change or budge even an inch from her stance.

My throat felt dry as I swallowed. I steeled myself for my next move, even as I wondered if I really had what it took to follow through. But she spoke again before I could begin.

“I truly am so pleased that you made your way back here,” she said, her expression brightening. “Yuraya desperately wishes to speak to you about a misunderstanding she fears you and she might have had.”

And we’re back to that dreaded girl again.
I shuddered internally, recalling the look she had given me earlier. It had been salacious, vulturine, like she was undressing me with her eyes before we even knew a thing about each other. She repelled me.
Such a far cry from my sweet Victoria
.

“Yes,” I managed. “There was a misunderstanding.” I wet my lower lip, and even as I hated to say the word, I called her, “Mother.”

Warmth rose in Sendira’s cheeks.

“Mother,” I said again. “You can understand how overwhelming all this has been for me. All this in such a short span of time. Discovering that my entire life with the Blackhalls had been a lie. Discovering that you are my parents, that I belong to the Mortclaw tribe—such strange creatures I never could have imagined in even my wildest dreams. And then all the consequences. The inherent responsibilities that come with having you as my parents. All the plans that you have already chalked out for me—plans which are so very different from my own. And your habits. Your ‘conditioning,’ as you call it. I have been feeling crushed. Overwhelmed. In a state of shock. The Blackhalls gave me a very sheltered life. Sheltered, innocent and happy. I do not know much about the world even now, and your storming into my life has turned it completely and irreversibly upside down. After witnessing you”—I had to pause for a second as my throat tightened in disgust—“murdering the Northstones and ravaging them, all I could think to do was run. Run away and try to clear my head of the horrors and just…
think
. I have come to the conclusion that I will probably never understand you, in spite of the explanations that you give. Perhaps because I have never and could never even conceive of seeing my own compatriots as food, there will always be a big gap between us. But… as I went away to think, and think, and think, I realized that in spite of all this… there still remains something in my life that I should be grateful for. That I have a family. That they are not dead. That they love and care about me.”

My stomach churned. I felt sickened by my words—by just how much they were the exact opposite of what I was feeling—but I did my best to insert as much emotion into my performance as possible. Sendira had to believe me. She had to. This harebrained scheme of mine was my last resort. It had to work, which meant that she had to trust me.

In spite of my perhaps unconvincing performance, it appeared that her natural motherly affection for me overpowered any flaws on my part. Her eyes becoming rheumy, her lips trembled slightly, as if she were fighting to suppress a sob.

She wrapped her arms around me and pulled me against her. She bent my neck and rested my head against her shoulder. I sat with her awkwardly in this position for the next minute or so, until she finally released me. I let out a quiet breath.

“Thank you, Bastien,” she said. “No matter what happens, no matter how much we may fight or disagree, we will always remain bonded, connected by a tie that can never be broken. You will always be my son and I will always, always love you.”

I gulped. That was everything I did
not
want to hear in this moment.

“I never stopped loving you all these years,” she went on. “Not a day passed when I was trapped on Murther Island when you were not plaguing my mind. When I wasn’t wondering what you were doing, how you were keeping. Whether you were being fed… There were so many days when I believed you weren’t even alive. That I would never see you again.”

I could no longer hold her gaze. I looked down at my feet.

“I know, Mother,” I said. “I know that you love me. And I know that you want what you think is best for me. So… I will try to cooperate and not make things so strained between us. I… I understand that you wish for me to marry Yuraya. And so… I will grant your request. I will try to get to know her. And I will try to come to love her.”
Not that it seems love is particularly high on your agenda.

“Oh, darling. You have no idea how happy that makes me,” she said. “I promise you that you will not be disappointed in her. She is a true match for you, my son. You need somebody who is virile, who can match our strength and speed. Just imagine the cubs you will produce! She will become a true life partner for you and live as long as you. You will get to know her and you will be happy with her. I know it.”

I rose to my feet. “But I wish to delay the proceedings longer than a week,” I told her.

Disappointment flashed across my mother’s face but she seemed too pleased by my general behavior to be too stubborn about it. “Well, why is that?”

“Because I wish to get to know her better,” I said. “I wish to spend some time with her alone. Away from the confines of this mountain, where everybody can hear everybody. I wish for us to connect.”

“I understand,” she replied. “We shall delay the proceedings by three days—three days for you to be alone with her and go wherever you please. How does that sound?”

I scoffed internally.
Three days
. That was all my mother thought was required to get to know a life partner before marrying them. But I nodded. Three days was better than no days. And I feared to ask for more just in case it caused any suspicion in the back of her mind.

I’m going to be in a race against time.

“All right,” I said, reaching for the door and pushing it open. “Three days. I… I shall go to see Yuraya now.”

My mother was still glowing as I closed the door behind me. Now that I was alone out in the hallway, I released the heavy breath I’d been holding, even as dread welled in the pit of my stomach.

Three days.

I just had to pray like I’d never prayed before that my plan would go smoothly, for the sake of Victoria and me, and for the sake of my entire homeland.

And I also had to pray, for the sake of all that was sacred in love, that I would succeed
before
my virginity was lost…

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