Dark Hunger


Page 50



But that wasn’t the most immediate problem.


“Could the infection have passed in the arterial spray?”Aodhan said, softly enough that his words wouldn’t travel to the vampires who continued to watch from the shadows; those vamps would soon find themselves with nowhere to go, Aodhan having instructed a squadron to surround the area.


Elena looked again at the rusty brown that marked the trees. “Depends if enough of it got into the mouth, as well as through the mucus membranes of the eye. Low risk, since a drop won’t do it, but a risk nonetheless—the spectators and the executioners were standing damn close.” More than one had likely had an open mouth as they no doubt screamed at Sidney and cheered one another on. “I can track at least some of the people here in the last few hours, but given the way he was beaten”—she pointed out the vicious marks on the body—“it looks like it might’ve been a mob attack.”


A hardness to Aodhan’s expression she’d never before seen, splintered irises hauntingly white with reflected snow. “Find as many as you can as fast as you can.”


Having already isolated the strongest scent trail, Elena started the track, Deacon at her back. The intensity of the scent told her the vampire in question had run from the Theater probably at daybreak, his body and face covered with Sidney’s blood, a strange mélange of disinfectant and lilies entangled with the vampire’s own natural scent.


The odd thing was, he hadn’t run out onto the street, but scrambled deeper into Central Park. Where she found him ten minutes later. Covered in patches of dried, flaking blood the color of dirt, he sat rocking to and fro under the shade of an oak devoid of its leaves, its arms skeletal against the incongruously stunning starlit night.


“They killed him. They killed him. They killed him.”


Crouching beside the male, far enough away that he couldn’t lunge for her throat, Elena said, “Who killed him?” her tone nonconfrontational.


“They killed him. They killed him. They killed him.”


Elena tried again, even chancing a touch, but the vampire was trapped in some personal mental hellhole he couldn’t escape.


She and Deacon stayed with him only until he was picked up for transport to the Tower. Returning to the main site, now busy with Tower staff, Elena chose the next most promising trail. Thirty minutes later, she received a message from Illium stating a friend of Sidney’s had confessed to supplying him with food blood out of her own frozen supply. He drank a bottle from Blood-for-Less. Bottle dated within the period of the original donor-carrier.


Five hours after that, she’d tracked down three other vampires who’d watched and/or participated in Sidney’s bloody execution, but who hadn’t stuck around to experience the aftermath. One was terrified, one defiant, but it was the third who was the most problematic: he’d started to show advanced signs of the disease.


Stepping outside the bedroom where the vampire shivered so hard his teeth clattered, his mind lost in a febrile haze, she met Deacon’s eyes. “You should get back home. Sara will be waiting.” She would not risk his mind, his memories.


A piercing look. “I already know what Sara knows.”


“You have to leave before you know more,” she said, then brought up the one thing she knew would get him to back off. “Zoe needs you. Don’t get involved in immortal bullshit that could bleed onto your family.”


“You change your mind, Ellie,” he said after a long minute of silence, “just call.”


That done, she contacted Illium. “None of the idiots I’ve found are talking and we need the names of the others who were there and might be infected. Can you do your mental voodoo?” Raphael was on his way back, but still at least an hour out.


“My mental voodoo is nowhere as well developed as the Sire’s, but I have a better idea.”


Arriving at the guarded warehouse where Elena had quarantined the two apparently uninfected vampires, the infected one in another warehouse, Illium asked the vampires for the names and, when there was no answer, withdrew his sword and sliced off the left leg of the brown-haired male.


The gleam of red on steel was not what she’d been expecting, her heart slamming into her throat, but the brutal tactic delivered: the uninjured vampire broke down even as her friend clamped his hand over his stump in an attempt to stanch the pumping blood. “I’m sorry! We made a pact not to nark!” Sobbing, she began to give them names, the maimed vampire joining in when she faltered in her recollection.


It took less than an hour to track down the nine other vampires who’d scattered, including—ironically—a number who’d been fans of Sidney’s work. One more was discovered curled up in bed, the disease ravaging her cells, the other eight terrified out of their minds.


“We need to find out where each one, but especially the two infected, went after the murder,” Elena said, furious at the stupidity that might’ve done more damage than the other attacks combined. “The only bright point in this situation is that the disease needs a blood transfer to infect.”


The interviews went fast—courtesy of the amputated leg sitting in the middle of the warehouse; none of these vampires was old enough to heal such an injury in anything less than twelve excruciating months.


Most of the murderous idiots had run home, but two had gone to a club. Where they’d fed on and been fed by fellow vampires. One of those two was the sick woman. Beautiful, sexy, and an unmistakable magnet for male vamps who wanted to sink their fangs into sweet, hot flesh.


“God damn it!”


Had the club been a high-class place like Erotique, where blood sharing was considered a seduction, a pair often spending hours together, there was a good chance they could’ve quickly halted any further spread. Unfortunately, Bezel was on the opposite end of the spectrum, catering to young vampires who were all about sex, blood, and more sex, multiple partners the norm in both categories.


The first indication Elena had of how bad this was going to be was when she landed in the club parking lot just as a tall, skinny vampire staggered out on four-inch heels, only to collapse to the concrete screaming that it hurt, it hurt!


34


Nine grueling hours later, Raphael looked down at the report Aodhan had just pushed across his desk and said, “How bad?” The disease had finally been contained, but not until it cut a swath through a particular segment of the city’s vampiric population.


“Three hundred and eight dead or sick,” Aodhan told him. “Two hundred under observation for the next day.”


It wasn’t the total disaster it had been shaping up to be, especially as none of Raphael’s vampire soldiers patronized Bezel, but given the already downed angels, added to the fear that now permeated the city’s vampire population, it was a brutal blow to the beating heart of his territory. “Continue to monitor the situation and alert me if there are any signs the disease has escaped containment.”


Montgomery, he said after Aodhan left, is Elena home? She’d been working side by side with him until an hour before, when he’d ordered her home, able to see her exhaustion after two tumultuous nights.


Yes, Sire.


Make sure she rests.


The slightest pause. I do not believe I could make the Guild Hunter do anything.


Despite knowing New York was on the brink of a catastrophic final assault, he almost felt the urge to laugh at the tentative response from the centuries-old vampire. True enough, he said, and touched his mind to Elena’s in a quiet question. When he heard only peaceful silence in response, he knew she slept.


Her sister? In all the chaos, he and Elena had had little time to speak, but she’d told him about her biological grandmother right before she left the Tower, the continuing shock of the revelation a strain in her expression. But trumping that had been her concern for what this might all mean for Eve.


Miss Evelyn is sleeping peacefully.


Thank you, Montgomery. With that, Raphael turned to input a number into the large communications screen on one wall of his office.


Titus’s face appeared on it a minute later. “Raphael, my second tells me you wish to speak to me,” the warrior archangel said, the mahogany of his skin gleaming in the light in the room from where he spoke.


“I hear you’re encountering the same vampire disease in your territory that almost brought down an aircraft in mine.” There’d been no way to suppress that information, their enemies no doubt aware the strike had found a target. Yet still they waited.


“I will trust you with this information, Raphael.” Titus’s eyes bored into his. “Do not betray me.”


Raphael inclined his head. “You are one archangel whose word I know is his bond. We are united in battling this scourge, and I’ll share all I know of it if you’ll do the same.”


Apparently mollified, Titus nodded. “The disease has at times threatened to decimate my ground forces. We tracked down and eliminated the carriers, but Charisemnon keeps sending more of the infected over our border, their only aim to disseminate their blood in the hours before the disease begins to show.”


Since the instant he’d received Jason’s message about the problems in Titus’s territory the day before, Raphael had had his suspicions about the archangel who was neighbor to Titus. “So. It is Charisemnon who is the architect of the disease? Is there any indication of Lijuan’s hand in its creation?”


“No,” Titus said. “The men I have in his court confirm this. Charisemnon’s power is now apparently much faded from overuse, but he has a stable of infected from whom he takes blood to infect more, continuing the cycle—he has somehow convinced his ground troops they die in the cause of protecting their territory.” Titus rubbed his face in a rare gesture of fatigue. “I ask you now if he initiated the Falling, for if so, we are even more vulnerable than I believed.”


“We have no proof, but believe the indications are there.”


A deep groove formed on either side of Titus’s mouth. “That he strikes so viciously at you, while only harassing me, means he must’ve thrown his lot in with Lijuan. I would stand with you in the war against her, Raphael, were Charisemnon not sitting on my border waiting for me to blink.”



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