I walked past the bloodsuckers and leaned on the other side of the tree. Whoever held the third vampire probably held these two, and I wasn’t going into that field alone.
“What do you want?” I whispered.
“Your friends are alive,” a quiet male voice said.
Hope fluttered through me. I caught it and choked it to death. He was lying. Nobody could’ve escaped that horde. The sheer number of undead had been too much for anyone to hold back, except possibly my father.
“There is an undead directly south of you in the field,” the quiet male voice said. “I’m about to let him go. Please take hold of it.”
The third vampire’s mind flared and I clamped down on it with my magic.
“I’m waiting for you two miles south. We can speak there in some privacy.”
I pushed the vampire south. It ran through the snow, the feedback from its mind overlaying mine, as if I were watching what it saw on a translucent screen. Another minute or two and Curran would come looking for me. I walked back to Jim.
“I can’t sleep. Let me take the watch.”
Jim peered at me. “You sure?”
“Sure,” I said. “I’m going to sit on that log and think things through.” I pointed to a log about a hundred yards out. If I kept my voice down, they wouldn’t hear me.
“Want me to come with you?” Curran asked.
“No. I’d like some alone time.”
He opened his mouth and closed it. “As you wish.”
I love you, too.
I went and sat on the log. Jim lay down. Curran was lying down too, but I was pretty sure he was watching me. If we had traded places, I’d be watching him.
I sat quietly with my back to Curran as my vampire dashed across the snow. It cleared the open field, then the brush, the strip of woods . . . I glanced back at the camp. Curran was lying on his back. Awake. He usually turned on his side to sleep unless I was lying next to him, my head resting on his chest.
The woods ended. The vampire shot into the open onto the crest of a gently rising hill. A man stood there wrapped in a scarlet-red cloak, frayed and torn at the edges. His long dark hair fell loose around his face. Tall forehead, high sculpted cheekbones, strong square chin, dark eyes, handsome and fit, judging by the way he stood. A Native American, not young, but ageless in the same way Hugh was ageless, stuck forever somewhere around thirty.
The man inclined his head. “Sharrim.”
It was an Akkadian word. It meant “of the king.” My voice came out of the vampire’s mouth effortlessly. “Don’t call me that.”
“As you wish.”
I almost told him not to say that either, but the explanation would take too long.
“Look below,” the man invited.
I brought the vampire to the edge of the hill. Below me the ground rolled down to another field. Vampires filled it. They sat in neat rows, held in formation by navigators’ minds. There had to be upward of two hundred and probably at least half as many navigators. Too many for me. Holding back the undead horde had given me some perspective. If I grabbed all of the undead in that valley, I could possibly hold them long enough for the rest of our party to make a run for it, but my control over them would be measured in seconds.
“My name is Landon Nez,” the man standing next to me said. “I serve your father.”
Right to the point. Apparently, I could stop pretending not to be related to Roland.
“Hugh d’Ambray is the preceptor of the Order of Iron Dogs. I’m the Legatus of the Golden Legion. Do you know what that means?”
It meant we were all in deep trouble. I knew exactly zip about Landon Nez. The Legati didn’t last long, because Roland was demanding and didn’t tolerate mistakes. The last Legatus my adoptive father had known, Melissa Rand, died about two years after Voron did. “It means you’re in charge of the Masters of the Dead, you answer directly to Roland, and your life expectancy is rather short.”
“In a manner of speaking. Your father chooses the People’s policies and I implement them. I’m the brain to d’Ambray’s brawn.”
“Did Hugh survive?”
How . . . ?
“Does that distress you?” Landon asked.
“No, I’m just wondering what it is I have to do to kill him.”
Landon raised his eyebrows an eighth of an inch. “I’ve often wondered the same thing. I’m positive that if I set him on fire and spread the ashes into the wind, he wouldn’t regenerate.”
“Have you tried it?”
“Not yet. But I’ve imagined doing it many times.”
The enemy of my enemy is not my friend. Not even a little bit. “What do you want?”
“Hugh had his shot. He failed. It’s my turn. I’ve been authorized to offer you this.”
He held up a photograph. On it, Christopher and Robert sat next to each other at a table. Robert’s smart eyes were blank. Wet tracks marked Christopher’s face, and his eyes were red. He had wept. He was back in the hands of the man who’d broken his mind. I would walk on crushed glass barefoot to get him out and my father knew it. Now, he was using it against me.
“They are unhurt,” Landon said. “His offer is as follows: if you can walk into Jester Park, take them by the hand, and walk them out, all three of you will be granted safe passage out of his territory. You must come alone. Whether you succeed or fail, the people who are waiting for you by the fire will be permitted to return to Atlanta unmolested.”
“And if I refuse?”
Landon turned to the vampires. “He wants to see you. If you choose to ignore his invitation, the two men will die and I will unleash what you see here on your camp. He has no doubt that you will survive the massacre. Perhaps the werelion may survive as well. The rest won’t be so lucky. The choice is yours.”
The werelion would not survive. We both knew it.
Robert’s words came back to me. But now they know you have a weakness and they will use it against you. They will take someone you love and threaten to kill them, because they know you won’t pass up that bait. I know it, they know it, and now you must understand it. You have to prepare to sacrifice your friends.
I couldn’t do it. It wasn’t in me. I couldn’t sacrifice the people who had risked everything to keep me breathing. I couldn’t let Curran or anyone else by that fire die here in this nameless field.
I looked at the Golden Legion waiting below. It was only a small fraction of what Roland could bring out, and I knew my father wouldn’t stop. He would keep culling my friends one by one, until I stood alone. Everyone I cared about had become a target. I’d known it would happen. Voron had warned me about this. He had taught me that friends made you vulnerable. I ignored his warning. I started it all with my eyes open and chose to let people into my life, knowing I would have to one day face the consequences. Now it was my responsibility to keep them safe.