The Bonding Ritual (Girls Wearing Black: Book Four) (4 page)

BOOK: The Bonding Ritual (Girls Wearing Black: Book Four)
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“One by one, your greatest enemies have fallen,” Sergio said.

“Fortunately, there are always new ones ready to take their place. Keeps it interesting. Look over there. I don’t think we’ve seen that part of the lab yet.”

Daciana was pointing at a concrete wing attached to the lab’s western wall. The wing looked to be a relatively new addition.

“Come on, there will be a door on the other side,” Daciana said.

As they rounded the west wall of the lab, they walked past a small brick house high on the hill above them.

“Guest home, no doubt,” Daciana said dismissively. “A place this size needs at least one.”

“Yes, of course,” Sergio said. He was relieved that Daciana showed no interest in the house. He had seen Nicky’s memory of this space enough times to know there was something significant about the little brick house on the hillside. He made a mental note to come back here later, at a time when Daciana was occupied.

The concrete addition to the lab turned out to be a giant computer room. Row upon impressive row of computer servers, hundreds of them, all networked together, and attached to a single interface in the center.

“Let’s see what happens if I turn this on,” Daciana said, shaking the mouse.

The monitor came alive to a black screen with a blinking cursor on the top corner.

“Interesting,” Daciana said. “Perhaps we’ll bring these home with us and have an expert take a look.”

“That’s a lot of freight to take home,” Sergio said.

“You didn’t know Falkon like I did,” said Daciana. “If there is a prize to be found in this villa, it’s here, on these computers. He was obsessed with technology and data. Whatever he and Renata were up to, the answers are locked away on these machines. Besides, I have room.”

Sergio shook his head at the complexity of it all. He wondered if secrets about Nicky Bloom were hidden in the memory of these machines.

They left the computer room and went back to the mansion in the center of the estate. They passed through the foyer and walked up the staircase. They found one of Falkon’s servants on the second floor, a man with silver hair and vacant eyes. He was cleaning the windows in a small bedroom.

“Hello,” Daciana said. “What is your name?”

“Giordano,” the man said in a monotone voice.

“Look at the emptiness behind those eyes, Sergio. This servant was well programmed. He probably sensed Falkon’s end the moment it happened. I can only hope my slaves would be so utterly broken
if I died.”

Daciana put her hand on Giordano’s chin and tilted his head until he was staring directly at her.

“My name is Daciana Samarin,” she said. “I am your new master. Do you understand?”

“I understand.”

“My friend and I would like a tour of the house. We are particularly interested in the rooms where Falkon spent the bulk of his time. The night is growing short and we want to see Falkon’s most important documents and possessions. You will point those out to us first. Do you understand?”

“I understand.”

Giordano’s face brightened immediately. He bowed deeply at the waist and led them into the hallway, stopping at a chess board that hung on the wall, the pieces glued to their squares.

“The master spent much of his time in study of the game of chess,” Giordano said. “In all his years, he only lost--”

“--I’m not concerned with Falkon’s hobbies and amusements,” Daciana said. “I want to know what he cared about. What were his most prized possessions?”

Giordano took a moment to think before saying, “This way, please.”

He led them to an elevator which took them up two more floors, then he walked them though a network of long halls and finally into a large room in the back corner of the mansion.

“The master often brought guests here,” Giordano said, “to show off these pieces he liked to call, ‘Spoils of war.’”

They were in a gallery of sorts now, a common feature in the home of an immortal. Vampires loved to have a room where guests could come and marvel at the owner’s style and accomplishments.

This particular showroom had dozens of objects on display. Artwork, weapons, relics—no doubt every piece had a story associated with it and Falkon would walk his guests around and relive the greatest memories from a millennium of life on earth.

“The master seemed most proud of this statue,” Giordano said, taking them to a marble sculpture of a man holding a spear. “He told a story about another vampire who once owned this--”

Daciana held up her hand to silence Giordano. She and Sergio had both seen it at once, and rushed across the room to look.

Sitting on the floor, near the back of the room, was a steel safe with four dials on the door.

Sergio ran his fingertip across the top of it and smiled.

“Boy does this ever take me back,” he said.

Daciana knelt down in front of the safe and
gently touched each of the four dials that ran along the bottom of the safe’s steel door.

“A diamond, a ruby, an emerald...”

“And a sapphire,” Sergio finished.

They were referring to the most unique feature of this safe. Each dial had a pear-shaped gemstone set into its tip. To open the safe, one had to turn the dials until the points of each gem were aimed at the correct number.

“Do you remember the combination?” Sergio said.

“I only ever knew the first three numbers of it,” said Daciana.

“So enter them!” said Sergio.

Daciana grabbed the first dial, and turned it until the sharp end of the diamond was pointed at ninety-eight. She turned the second dial, the ruby, until it pointed at nineteen. The third dial was the emerald. She turned it to seventy-seven.

“No, wait, I’ve got those two out of order,” Daciana said.

She changed the ruby to seventy-seven and the emerald to nineteen.

“The sapphire was Anna’s dial, wasn’t it?” said Sergio.

Daciana grinned. “It’s been so long since I’ve thought of any of these people.”

“If you’re certain you have the first three numbers correct,” Sergio said, “opening the safe is just a matter of turning the last dial one digit at a time until you hear it unlock.”

“Yes, I know.
For years I’ve regretted that you and I left the castle that night without opening this safe. I was in such a mood after James failed to…oh, never mind that now. I’m so excited, Sergio! For years I’ve wondered what became of this safe, and what was inside!”

She turned the sapphire to number one and pulled the handle.

“That’s not it,” she said. She turned it number two and pulled again. Then she tried three.

“Not that it isn’t fun to watch you do this…”

“You go explore,” Daciana said, shooing Sergio away with her hand. “I’ll have the safe open when you come back.”

“Good luck,” Sergio said.

He left her there and went back the way he came, choosing to take the stairs rather than the elevator to the ground floor. There were two servants, both teenage boys, standing on either side of the front door, staring back into the house.

“You two, come with me,” he snapped.

The servants followed him out of the house. He led them towards the library, through the courtyard with the silver sphere, and up the hill to the little brick house. He had one of the servants unlock the front door. As he stepped inside, a surge of doubt came over him.

What am I doing here?

It made him nervous to think about the sequence of events that led him to this moment. Seeing a vision in Nicky’s memory when he was supposed to be dancing with her, dreaming about her for weeks afterward,
knowing
that when Nicky went missing he would find her
here
….

And now, feeling compelled to protect the girl. So compelled that he had lied to his maker. So strangely connected to one of the girls wearing black that he was certain there was something of significance in this house because he
felt
the girl’s presence here!

Nothing like this had ever happened to him before.
Half a millennium of acquaintances and relationships and never a single one that affected him this way.

What was it about Nicky Bloom?

He commanded the servants to stand guard at the front door and call to him if they saw anyone outside. Then he set about searching the house.

It was small and mostly empty. What little décor he found was at least ten years out of date and covered in dust. Spiderwebs filled the corners between walls. Appliances were unplugged. The floor was
clear, save the shag carpeting that ran the length of the house.

There were three bedrooms in the small home. The master bedroom had a
neatly made double bed pressed into the corner. The second bedroom was painted yellow and blue, as if for a child. The third bedroom had a collection of office furniture stacked against the back wall.

The connection that drew him into the house now pulled him towards that stack of furniture. He approached it. He found a cardboard box stuffed underneath the desk. He slid it out and looked inside.

The box was crammed full of the kinds of keepsakes that had become a part of family life over the past hundred years. Sergio began to empty it out. He found a small jewelry box, a stack of letters in torn envelopes, most of them addressed to a woman named Celeste or a man named Bruce, a 3-ring binder full of paper and colorful tabs, a plastic baby doll with curly red hair, and a framed photograph of a family sitting by a lake.

He stared at the photo for a moment.
Two young parents with a son who was no more than eight. The boy looked emaciated and discolored. Something was definitely wrong with him. And the mother was pregnant.

But it was the father who caught Sergio’s eye. The shape of the father’s face, the way his cheekbones pulled back when he smiled, the piercing green eyes…

He set the photo down and looked back in the box. There was another picture frame lying face down on the bottom. He pulled it out and looked at it.

He was looking at the same parents, a few years older. The boy was gone. The only child in the picture was a little girl.

A young Nicky Bloom.

It was unmistakable. The copper-colored hair, the depth of thought behind the eyes—the little girl in the picture was only four or five years old, but he knew it was
Nicky.

It was the same little girl he had seen gazing into the silver sphere outside.

He put everything back in the box and carried it to the front door, where Falkon’s servants were waiting for him.

“Is anyone else in the yard?” he asked them.

“No, sir,” they said in unison.

“Take this,” he said, giving the box to one of them. “You are to take it to the garage and place it in the trunk of one of your master’s cars. You are not to let anyone see you do it, and you are to tell no one about it. When you are done, you both will come find me in the showroom on the fifth floor of the mansion. You will give me the keys to the car where the box is hidden, and then you will forget everything about this conversation. Do you understand?”

“I understand,” they both said.

“On your way,” Sergio said.

He watched them walk down the hill and around the back side of Falkon’s estate. Then he went back into the mansion and up to the top floor. He found Daciana in Falkon’s display room, holding a bar of gold in her hands. The safe was open.

“So?” he said. “What was the great treasure inside?”

She sighed. “Gold. Here, have a look.”

She tossed a gold bar across the room. Sergio had to move quickly to catch it. It surprised him with its heft.

“How many of these were in there?” Sergio said.

“Thirty or so.”

“That’s quite a haul,” Sergio said. “What do you suppose it’s worth?”

“I’m the last one to ask,” Daciana said. “I’ve been locked away for months. What’s the current price of gold?”

Sergio shrugged his shoulders.

“Ten or twenty million,” Daciana said. “That’s my guess of what we’re looking at.”

“It’s a very nice prize to stumble across,” said Sergio.

“I was really hoping for something more
. All this time, I think I had worked it up in my head to be something special.”

“It was an inheritance
. I’m sure the Hastings children would have been thrilled to share all this gold. Enough to last each of them the rest of their lives if they had only figured out how to work together.”

Sergio approached the safe. He knelt down and slipped the gold bar back inside.

“I want to go back to America,” Daciana said to him. “There’s nothing more for me to see here. We will find Renata and I will make her talk.”

“Yes, about that
,” said Sergio.

The sound of two pairs of feet rushing down the hall interrupted his thought.

“Ah, our lunch has arrived,” he said.

“Our lunch?”

BOOK: The Bonding Ritual (Girls Wearing Black: Book Four)
4.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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