Prince of Twilight (Page 14)

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Stormy got to her feet, one hand on her shoulder, which felt as if it had been hit by a freaking freight train. “What the hell is the matter with you, you freaking maniac?”

There was no reply from the woman on the ground, and Stormy moved closer, cautious, but not too worried. “Damn sneak attack. That's not a very dignified way to fight, Elisabeta.”

Still nothing. And, Stormy noted suddenly, a trickle of red marked the miniature boulder on the ground beside the fallen woman.

“Hell, you brained yourself with that thing, didn't you?”

She used her foot to turn Brooke's body-and it was Brooke's body, not Elisabeta's-over. Beta was unconscious. There was a little blood coming from a gash in her left temple, and Stormy figured there would be a goose egg damn near the size of that stupid rock later on.

Sighing, wanting to haul off and kick the bitch for the throbbing pain in her shoulder, she instead reached down and yanked the ruby ring from the other woman's limp finger. Then she searched her pockets and found the scroll. “I imagine we'll need these,” she said. “And you never deserved them to begin with.” She dropped the ring and scroll into her backpack, took out her cell phone, dialed Athena House and waited.

At sundown, Stormy was sitting watch over the unconscious woman in Brooke's bed at Athena House. She was sitting watch because it was her turn. She, Lupe and Melina had been taking shifts with the injured woman all day long. They couldn't do the ritual without Rhiannon. But if Beta's soul wasn't set free soon, Stormy would die with her. It was only now that the patient opened her eyes.

Stormy tensed in the chair beside the bed, then frowned. Because her eyes were pretty. And they were blue. Brooke's eyes, not Elisabeta's. Those eyes met Stormy's, and they were wet with unshed tears. And then Brooke said something so softly that Stormy couldn't hear her.

Her heart ached for the woman, despite the fact that she had brought all of this on herself with her foolish actions. She closed a hand around Brooke's and leaned closer. “I didn't hear.”

“I didn't think… it would be… like this,” Brooke whispered.

“I know. I know what you're going through, believe me. We're going to try everything we can to get her out of you, Brooke. I promise.”

Brooke closed her eyes. “She… she wants… “

“What, Brooke? What does she want?”

“She wants you dead.”

Stormy knew that already, but hearing it still sent a chill down her spine. Not, however, the same chill that came a split second later when Brooke's hand closed more tightly around Stormy's, and her other hand clamped to the back of Stormy's head and drew her face down even closer.

“And I will see you dead, too. I promise you that. Vlad is mine.”

Her eyes, blazing into Stormy's, were black now, like glittering pieces of polished coal. Stormy jerked free of her. “Not having much success at that so far, are you, Elisabeta? Tried to brain me with a rock and wound up hurting yourself instead. And now you're here, and trust me on this one-you aren't going anywhere.”

“He will save me. He loves me.”

“Yeah, right, and you love him, too, don't you? That's why you tried to kill him last night.”

“I did not!”

“No? Sinking a blade into his belly was what, then? Kind of like a little love bite?”

“He is vampir. He is immortal.”

“There is no such thing as immortal, Beta. Everything that lives can die. Vamps just die a little harder than the rest of us.” Stormy wrenched herself free of the clasping hands, twisted her own hand around and gripped Brooke's wrist hard. “If you hurt him again, I'll kill you. Do you understand me? I'll kill you, and damn the consequences.”

Beta blinked, winced in pain and stared up at Stormy with a suddenly wide-eyed and child like expression. Utterly innocent and afraid. “You… you would really kill me?”

“Don't even doubt it. I should have picked up that rock and crushed your skull today. The only reason I didn't was because-“

“Because Melina came and stopped you,” Beta said in a frightened little girl voice. And now there were tears rolling down her cheeks. “You're hurting my wrist.”

Belatedly, the alarm bells sounded in Stormy's mind. That wasn't what had happened at all. She'd called Melina, asked her to bring a car to help her get Elisabeta back to the mansion. Why would the woman try to accuse her of something when they were alone in the room?

An instant later, she knew why, she heard Vlad's voice coming from behind her. “Let her go, Tempest.”

She was already in the process of doing just that, and she rose from her chair and turned to face him. He held her eyes for a moment, then shifted them to the other women, when Beta spoke again.

“Thank goodness you've come, Vlad. Thank God.”

Great. He'd been standing there long enough to hear what sounded like a threat, and maybe even a confession of attempted murder.

“She tried to kill me!” the bitch in the bed sobbed. “I tried to speak to her on the road this morning when she left you, Vlad, and she attacked me. She hurt me.” The little phony lifted a trembling hand to the white bandages Melina had plastered to her head, her crocodile tears flowing like rivers.

Stormy let her head fall forward until her chin nearly touched her chest and expelled all her breath. Vlad was moving past her, making a beeline for the actress in the bed, and then he bent over her to peel up one corner of the bandage and peer underneath.

Straightening, then, he fixed his eyes on Stormy's. “Tempest? Is this true?”

She opened her mouth to supply a full blown denial and a long winded explanation, then stopped herself. She tipped her head to one side. “Why should I bother? You're going to believe the word of this psycho bitch from hell, even after she drove a knife into your gut and left you to die. Even after I gave my own blood to save your life. So why should I bother?”

“Tempest-“

She held up a hand, palm facing him, and smiled a bitter smile at the irony of the situation. “Fuck this. And fuck you, Vlad.” Then she turned and left the room, slamming the door behind her. Let him care for his pathetic little murderess. Elisabeta would destroy him in the end, and it would be no less than he deserved.

She met Rhiannon partway down the hall but didn't even acknowledge her, just kept walking.

“Wait!” Rhiannon said.

Stormy didn't wait, so Rhiannon changed direction and caught up with her. “Stormy, where are you going?”

“To pack. I'm done with this. I got her here, all right? And I got the damn ring and the scroll.” She turned, tugged the things out of her pocket and pressed them into Rhiannon's hand. “You can do your thing, exorcise her, send her to hell for all I care. And you can deal with Vlad, because he's not going to let her go without a fight, I guarantee you that. There's no longer any reason for me to be here. It's not my problem anymore. If I wake up tomorrow morning, I'll know it worked. And if I don't, well, then I guess I don't. I'm sure as hell not going to spend what might be the last several hours of my life watching him fawn over that bloodthirsty lunatic.”

“Stormy, don't do this.”

Stormy stopped walking. She was outside her own bedroom door. She forced herself to lift her gaze and meet Rhiannon's eyes, even though that meant revealing the unshed tears in her own. “Thanks for trying to help me. I owe you one.”

“You can thank me when it's over, if I'm successful.”

“I hope I get that chance, Rhiannon.” She blinked her eyes dry and turned away. “This is getting disgustingly sappy. Go on, go to Brooke's room before Vlad has the chance to take his pathetic excuse for a bride out of here.”

“She is pathetic, isn't she?”

“She's bloodthirsty, selfish, violent and insane. But worse than any of that, she's a whiner.” She glanced at Rhiannon and saw a small smile appear on her lips.

“That was my first impression, as well. It hasn't changed. Goodbye, Stormy.”

Then she turned and hurried back up the hall to Brooke's room.

Vlad sat beside Beta. The sight of her, lying in the bed, her tears, her pleas and the painful wound beneath the bandages, got to him. He wanted so much to heal her, to help her and make her well again. It killed him to see her suffering this way.

Rhiannon stepped into the room, took a seat on the opposite side of the bed. “Hello, Vlad. I'm surprised the Athena woman let you in.”

He met her eyes, noting how stiff and guarded Beta had become the moment Rhiannon entered the room. “The one they call Lupe tried to forbid me from entering.”

“Oh? Is she still alive?”

He noticed Rhiannon's smile, the touch of humor in her voice, and felt an answering smile tug at his own lips, in spite of his pain. “Of course.” He rose to his feet, and went to her, wrapped his arms around her, half expecting her reaction to be cold. But it wasn't. Rhiannon hugged him in return. Whatever had happened between them, their bond was strong. Had always been. Would always be.

“It's been a long time,” he told her.

“Too long. And I fear this embrace of yours will not last, Vlad. It's likely we'll end this thing on opposing sides.”

“I wish that wasn't the case,” he told her, stepping back to look into her eyes. “Regardless of what I say to you later, Rhiannon, even if I'm forced to destroy you, know that I love you.”

“As I love you. I'll love you even when I'm killing you, Vlad.”

He nodded. “Understood.”

Rhiannon glanced at Beta. “Melina says the head wound isn't serious.”

“Do not trust them, Vlad!” Elisabeta pleaded. “They are lying. They want me to die.”

Rhiannon gave her a dismissive look, then focused on Vlad again. “She's right. We do want her to die. But we don't want Tempest to die, and we have no right to just execute Brooke, though her so-called sisters will likely do that in any event.”

“You cannot save Brooke,” Beta hissed. “This is my body now.”

Rhiannon sighed and rolled her eyes. “Do you mind if we speak in the hallway, Vlad? This is growing tiresome, and my patience with this body thief is wearing thin.”

He nodded and rose. Beta grabbed for his hand. “Vlad, no! Don't leave me!”

“You'll be fine,” he promised her, patting her hand even as he pried loose her grip. “Beta, you've been here for the entire day. If anyone truly wanted to harm you, they would have done so by now. And you know now that I'm here, I won't let anyone hurt you. Don't you?”

She met his eyes, searched them, and finally nodded.

“Just rest. I'll keep you safe.”

He went to the door, stepped into the hallway and pulled the door closed behind him.

“Did Stormy tell you what happened?” Rhiannon asked.

“No, but Beta did.”

“Oh, did she.” Sarcasm dripped from her words. “And what fiction did that little liar spin?”

He scowled at her. “Said she tried to speak to Tempest on the road, and that Tempest attacked her, would have killed her, if Melina hadn't arrived in time to prevent it.”

Rhiannon just gazed at him, her eyes calling him an idiot. “And you believed that?”

“Tempest has felt attacked by Beta for sixteen years. Still, that doesn't justify-“

“Oh, for pity's sake, Vlad. You could put it together yourself if you were thinking clearly. I got the entire story from Melina. Stormy stayed with you in the house until sunrise. She watched over you until the knife wound your devoted little wife gave you had healed completely. And then she left. She was walking back here when Elisabeta ambushed her. Attacked her with a large rock. She'd have caved Stormy's skull in if Stormy hadn't glimpsed her shadow and spun around. The blow missed her head, thank the gods. Her shoulder took the brunt of it.”

He didn't alter his expression in the least. “How bad is it?”

“She refused to let me see, though Lupe tells me it looks as if someone dumped blue and purple ink over her shoulder. She doesn't think anything is broken, however.”

He nodded thoughtfully. “So Tempest was defending herself when she hit Elisabeta with the rock?”

Rhiannon frowned. “She didn't hit Elisabeta at all. Just kicked the madwoman's feet out from under her when she came at her again. Beta fell and hit her head on the rock with which she'd intended to crush Stormy's skull.”

He closed his eyes. The other two women were coming along the hallway now, and they joined them there, outside the bedroom door.

“At least they're both all right,” he said, glancing at the door, feeling with his senses.

“They're not all right,” Melina said softly. “Brooke is in danger of dying, and Elisabeta… she's sick. It's not the head wound, it's… it's something else.”

Vlad sighed, lowering his head. “Yes. I'm afraid I know what it is.”

“As do I,” Rhiannon said. “I can feel it from here. It's the antigen. Belladonna. It's killing her.”

Melina frowned. “That can't be. Brooke wasn't one of The Chosen.”

“No,” Vlad said. “But Beta was.”

“So she what?” Melina asked. “Brought it with her? Into another body? Is that even possible?”

Vlad started to speak, then narrowed his eyes and glanced at Rhiannon. “Why are we discussing this with them?”

“Believe me, I wouldn't be if I felt there were any other way. However misguided, though, I've come to believe these two are, at their cores, decent. Though I'm more certain of Lupe than Melina.”

Melina gasped.

“I don't like it. You know this group can't be trusted.”

She shrugged. “What could they do to us, Vlad? We could snap them like twigs before they could blink.”

“Hey, hey, hold up a sec,” Lupe interrupted. “Just what is your problem with the Sisterhood of Athena?”

Rhiannon faced her. “If you really want to know, look it up. You keep scrupulous records. Cross reference Egypt and my original name, Rianikki, daughter of Pharoah, priestess of Isis-a group once tightly allied with your own.” She shrugged. “When you have time. For now, let it go, and let us focus on the matter at hand. How did Beta bring the antigen into a body that did not formerly possess it?”

“I don't know how it happened, or why, but it has,” Vlad said. “I'm not sure it even matters how or why. The antigen is different in her, altered somehow.”

Rhiannon nodded. “It's taken up residence in a body never meant to house it,” she said. “According to what I've read in the ancient texts the recipients of the antigen have a common ancestor. It's said to be you, Vlad. But I suspect it goes back further.”

“To Utnapishtim,” Vlad said softly. “The first immortal. I was his servant, but also a distant relation.”

“I'm not sure it has to be a blood descendant, though,” Rhiannon went on.

“What other sort of descendant could there be?” Melina asked.

Rhiannon met her eyes. “A future incarnation of the same soul,” she said. “There is a master soul for each of us. Think of it as your higher self. It spins off parts of itself to come into each lifetime. When we die, we return to meld with that higher self, to share with it all of the wisdom and experience gained from our mortal lifetime. It grows wiser and stronger and more enlightened, and spins off another part to live another life.”

“And what happens, Rhiannon, if that melding fails to come about?” Vlad asked.

Rhiannon shrugged. “I suspect each future incarnation is somehow less than complete, for it is missing a part of its spiritual ancestry that would make it whole.”

He frowned deeply. “What do you suppose that means for our kind, Rhiannon? We never… meld.”

“I have my theories,” she whispered. “But I think it's a conclusion one needs to reach on one's own.”

He lowered his head, shaking it slowly. “What are we going to do to help Elisabeta?”

“I think you already know that answer to that, Vlad.” Rhiannon put both her hands on his shoulders. “We have to exorcise her. We must free her soul from the influence of that ring, so she can move on to the other side and meld with her higher self the way she was meant to do.”

“It does seem to be the only way,” Melina whispered.

“It is the only way,” Lupe agreed. “Especially since she's going to die anyway.”

“And if she does, she'll take Brooke with her,” Melina said quickly.

Vlad remained stoic. “We could transform her.”

“We'd still be condemning Brooke to death,” Rhiannon said. “If Beta stays in her body, Brooke will die. And while I'm not certain she can escape that fate either way, Vlad, it is not our place to take her life.”

“She asked for this. She invited Elisabeta in.” He closed his eyes to keep his feelings hidden.

“Honestly, Vlad, you know perfectly well Beta is insane. You cannot tell me you would consider giving a lunatic the power of the Undead and turning her loose on the world of man. She would be a rogue. And a dangerous one. We would end up having to destroy her anyway.”

She sighed, and when he said nothing, she went on. “And there's one more thing to consider. Unless Beta is set free, all of her spiritual descendants will die. That's the way your magicians worded the spell. And you know what that means, Vlad. Stormy, the only true innocent in all of this, will die. Tonight, Vlad. Midnight tonight.”

He opened his eyes, parted his lips to speak, then closed them, rethinking his words. “Then I have to find a way to save Beta before then.”

“Vlad? What… what the hell is wrong with you?”

Rhiannon stared at him as if she'd never seen him before. And he couldn't speak to her, not even mentally, not without risk. “I wish to speak with Tempest now,” he said instead. “Where is she?”

Lupe, who'd been mostly silent until then, looked at him with worry in her eyes. “Um, I thought you knew. She left.”

He blinked, stunned. “Left?”

“She said this was no longer her problem, Vlad,” Rhiannon said. “She was angry, furious-with you, I imagine.”

Lupe added, “I saw her in her room, packing her stuff.”

Vlad turned and ran down the hall to Tempest's room. He flung open the door, but it was empty. Then he opened the closet, the bathroom, but all were vacant, and every sign of her presence was missing-except the scent of her. That still lingered.

He went down the stairs and through the mansion to the front door, only to see that Tempest's car was gone. Only a trail of dust remained. She must have only just departed.

“Vlad!” Rhiannon shouted.

He returned to Brooke's bedroom door, which stood open. The others-Rhiannon, Melina and Lupe-were standing just inside.

He said, “You were right, Lupe. Tempest is gone.”

“Yes, well, that might present a serious problem,” Rhiannon said, and stepping aside, she gave him a view of the empty bed. “Because so is Elisabeta.” She wrung her hands, closed her eyes.

“She was listening at the door only moments ago!” Vlad exploded.

Rhiannon lifted her brows and met his eyes. “Is that it? Is that why you-“

“Not now, Rhiannon.” He closed his eyes. “We have to find them. And we don't have much time.”