“Safe here,” Naeemah said. “Vampires do not come here.”
I sank to the ground and closed my eyes, and the world disappeared.
• • •
“WHAT THE FUCK were you thinking?” Curran growled.
I rolled to my feet. Slayer felt wrong in my hand. The weight was off.
Reality hit me like a brick in the face. Oh. That’s right. It wasn’t Slayer. Damn it.
A sour smell hit my nostrils. To the side Andrea bent over and vomited into the grass. She wiped her mouth and straightened. “I was thinking that my best friend was stuck in Mishmar and she would need my help getting out.”
“I meant to talk to you about that,” I said.
“I’m all ears,” Andrea said.
“This is a suicide mission and you’re pregnant. What the fuck were you thinking?”
“He already said that. You guys are no fun. How about ‘I’m happy for you’ or ‘How far along are you’ instead?”
“You’re a moron,” I told her.
“They needed a shooter and someone who knows something about Roland and Mishmar besides Christopher.”
“You’re pregnant,” I told her.
“You’d do it for me,” she said. “Now excuse me, I’m going to go pee and puke some more.” She wandered off and disappeared behind the greenery.
Curran shook his head and held out a container of Doolittle’s wonder food for me. I took it and began eating. “How long was I out?”
I looked around. Curran, Christopher, Nasrin, Jim, Andrea, and Ghastek, bleary-eyed. That’s right. He had to stay awake. If he fell asleep now, his vampires would rip into us. “Where is everyone else?”
“The rats and Naeemah went ahead to scout the way,” Curran said.
I reached out with my magic. Constellations of vampires surrounded us. Some above, some to the sides . . . Their numbers had swelled while I slept. Fifty . . . Sixty? If they jumped us now, even with my help, we might not survive. I asked Curran for Slayer’s pieces and tucked them away into my clothes. It was broken, but it made me feel better. I’d crushed vampire minds before, when trapped in Hugh’s castle. I could kill some off, but making their heads blow up took a big chunk of magic out of me.
Ten minutes later, I was about halfway through eating the food when Thomas, Robert, and Naeemah came through the door in the back of the garden.
“Do you want bad news or bad news?” Thomas said.
Curran sighed. “Give me the bad news.”
“There’s only one way out of here,” Robert said. “Directly behind that door is a huge round room, extremely deep. There’s a metal bridge that controls the only access to the other side.”
“Is it broken?” I guessed.
“No, it’s retracted. From the other side.”
“If it’s retracted, there must be a mechanism to extend it,” Ghastek said.
Thomas grimaced. “That’s the other bad news.”
• • •
WHEN IT CAME to size, huge could be an understatement. I stood on a narrow ledge. A cavernous chamber lay open in front of me, molded together from the walls and stones of a hundred different buildings. Shaped like an egg set on its wide end, it stretched up and down for at least a hundred feet. A narrow spire of concrete blocks, chunks of brickwork, and steel beams, cemented together by hardened soil, sprouted from the center of the chamber. An identical but inverted spire stretched from the ceiling. They met in the center, clamping between them a rectangular box of solid rock about the size of a large two-story house. A narrow doorway allowed a glimpse inside the room. Whatever was in there glowed with pale purple, as if the room were a geode containing a treasure within.
A metal breezeway circled the rectangular box. A metal bridge led from the ledge where I stood to the breezeway. I could see a large door in the opposite wall, slightly to the left. Another bridge led from that door to the breezeway. But it fell short, the last two-thirds of it retracted.
“Too far to jump,” Robert assessed.
“What about down?” Andrea asked.
I looked down. Steam slunk along the bottom of the chamber. Odd shapes protruded from it. I looked closer. Vampire bones, half sunken in the reddish goo. As I watched, a bloodsucker moved slowly through the goo, oblivious to us.
“That would be a very bad idea,” Ghastek said.
“There’s a wheel inside the room,” Naeemah said. “If we turn the wheel, the far bridge will extend and we can cross.”
“So what’s the problem?” Curran asked. “We go in and turn the wheel.”
“Try it,” Thomas told him.
Curran started down the bridge. A third of the way down, he stopped and gripped the rails. The muscles on his arms bulged. His face changed, reshaping itself into a leonine muzzle. His hair stood on end. He snarled, like a pissed-off cat.
“Honey?” I called out.
“Well, he got farther than I did,” Thomas said.
Curran’s body shook. He was straining but making no progress.
“Curran!” I called.
He turned around and shook himself. His face reshaped itself back into a human. He spat a single word out. “Magic.”
“Alright,” Ghastek said. “My turn.”
The ancient vampire with the scar scuttled forward onto the bridge. Curran leaned to one side, letting the bloodsucker pass. The vampire made it about six feet past Curran and stopped. Ghastek planted his feet, his eyes fixed on the room, and slowly extended his right arm forward. The vampire shivered and hugged the bridge. A vein on the side of Ghastek’s face pulsed. The vampire didn’t move an inch.
“If your head explodes, can I have your stuff?” I asked.
“My head won’t explode,” Ghastek said, his voice dry, and strode toward the bridge. “May I pass, please?”
“Knock yourself out.” Curran came back and stepped off the bridge onto the ledge.
Ghastek began walking across the bridge.
“This will be interesting,” Robert said.
Ghastek slowed, then stopped a few feet behind the vampire. He stared at the glowing room in the heart of the chamber for a long second, his spine rigid, and spoke, his voice too muffled to make out the words.
“What is he saying?” I asked.
“I can’t,” Curran said. “Power. Darkness . . . I think he’s losing it.”