I had trouble concentrating, too. “Something about vampires feeding on other vampires.”

“It makes them feel older, more powerful to us,” Ghastek said. “The navigators can feel an undead’s age, and a diet of other undead makes a vampire feel older.”

I had met vampires that felt old enough to be pre-Shift before and I never could get over it. It should’ve been an impossibility. Before the Shift, the magic was so weak, it was barely there. The Immortuus pathogen didn’t manifest until after the first catastrophic magic wave. Now I knew. They weren’t really old. They were cannibals.

“Older how? By decades?”

“Yes.” Ghastek yawned. “Unless you just want an overpowered specimen, it’s not cost-effective to continue to feed a vampire other undead over time. The procurement of vampires is expensive. It’s really a waste.” He yawned again. “You have to tell your lion to avoid killing them. Cannibalistic vampires target the weaker of their species and they react to undead blood. Kill one, and a swarm will converge on the corpse.”

He closed his eyes.

“How many vampires are in Mishmar?” Robert asked.

Ghastek opened his eyes. “I’ve been here only once, five years ago. I had to take a test to be admitted to the Golden Legion. You must walk into Mishmar and bring out a vampire. Back then, I felt hundreds.”

Hundreds. We had to go. The faster we got out of here, the better our chances of survival. Ghastek and I were keeping us anchored here. I needed to get mobile fast.

I reached over for the container and began to eat more of Doolittle’s paste.

“Thank you,” Ghastek said.

“For what?”

“For keeping me alive.” He closed his eyes and fell asleep.

Curran pushed through the door. His blond hair looked longer than it had before he left for North Carolina. Heavy stubble sheathed his jaw. He also hadn’t shaved in a couple of weeks. Blood splattered his clothes, some of it old, some new.

He landed next to me. I put my arms around him and kissed him. The taste of him against my tongue was magic. He kissed me back and held me against him. “Did you eat?”

“I did. It tastes much better than the feast Hugh was offering.”

“I’ll break his neck,” Curran whispered, his voice vibrating with so much menace that I almost winced. The muscles on Curran’s arms hardened with tension. He was probably picturing killing Hugh in his head. I wouldn’t want to be Hugh d’Ambray at this point. Between me and Curran, his prognosis for a long life didn’t look good.

“Ghastek says the vampires here are feeding on each other. If you kill one, they’ll swarm. How’s the barricade?” I asked.

“It will hold for a couple more hours.” He stroked my shoulder and kissed my hair. I leaned against him. It felt so good just to know he was here.

“You can have one more nap and then I’ll carry you,” he said.

“I might manage a walk.”

“That would be good, but if not, I’ve got you.”

I wrapped my arms around him again. There were things I wanted to say, but I didn’t know how. He’d crossed half of the country, broken into an impenetrable prison, and found me against all odds. There were no words to explain to him how I felt about that.

“I love you,” I told him. There. Nice and simple. “I knew you would find me.”

He smiled at me. “I would never stop looking.”

And he wouldn’t. He would’ve kept going until he found me. I had no doubt of that.

He reached into his jacket and handed me something wrapped in a rag. I unfolded the fabric. Slayer’s other half. I imagined sliding it into Hugh’s eye. It was that or start crying, and I would not cry in Mishmar.

“Can it be repaired?” Curran asked quietly.

“No.” I’d broken the tip off before, once, and Slayer regrew it, but this break was right in the middle. My saber was done. An old friend had died. Thinking about it made me cringe. I stroked the blade. It was like a part of me had been cut off. I felt . . . naked. “Even if I managed to fix it somehow, the blade would always have a weak spot.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Thank you. Hugh got under my skin and I got careless.”

“Don’t worry, I plan to get under his skin, too.” He curled his fingers as he did when he had claws. “He won’t like it.”

We sat quietly for a long minute.

“I brought your other saber,” he said.

“The Cherkassy?”

Curran nodded.

“Can I have it?”

He reached over and pulled it from the pile of backpacks. I drew the slightly curved metal blade from the sheath and ran my fingers along it. Not the same.

Curran nudged the container of food toward me. “Eat.”

“Feeding me again, Your Furriness?”

“Of course,” he said. “I love you.”

It made me feel warm all over.

“I figured out how Hugh teleports,” I said between bites. “He wears an emergency vial of water around his neck. He breaks it and the water wets his skin, he says a power word, and it teleports him to the water’s source. Once the process begins, you go ethereal for a few seconds from start to finish. He teleports only as a last resort—if the tech hits during transit, he’s toast.”

“Good to know.”

“Was Gene’s invitation a setup?”

Curran shrugged. “I don’t know. But when we get back, I’m planning on asking him. He is our guest at the Keep.” The way he said “guest” didn’t bode well for Gene.

“What happened after I left?”

Curran leaned against an overturned chair. “I chased Hugh across the field, but he teleported before I could get to him. I got his horse. You want it?”

“His Friesian? No thanks. It looks pretty, but they don’t make the best riding horses. Did they tell you I rode a giant donkey?”

He blinked. “You what?”

“A giant black-and-white donkey. She was like twelve feet tall and bad tempered. I left her in the Keep’s stables. I’d rented her from a livery stable, so we may have to buy her now, because of all the time that’s passed. Her name is Cuddles.”

He struggled with it for a minute. “Sometimes hunger has strange side effects . . .”

“No, I was there,” Robert said, his eyes still closed. “I’ve seen Cuddles. Long ears.”

Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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