The Shroud of A'Ranka (Brimstone Network Trilogy) (10 page)

BOOK: The Shroud of A'Ranka (Brimstone Network Trilogy)
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From across a darkened chamber Vladek saw him, the young man who had slain the occupants of the village upon whom he had bestowed the gift of un-life.

The descendant of those who had imprisoned him, and who would die painfully beneath his fangs before Vladek allowed his plans to be thwarted again.

Just when Bram thought he’d pretty much seen everything, he found himself staring at a vampire wearing battle armor holding the withered head of an ancient sorcerer.

And, oh yeah, the head was still alive.

Seen it all? Not even close
.

“Put the head down,” Bram said, infusing the words with as much menace as he could muster.

“Dude, I can’t believe you said that with a straight face,” Bogey whispered beside him.

He was going to tell the Mauthe Dhoog to shut up, but why bother.

Vladek smiled at him then, and Bram felt an icy finger of dread run down his spine.

“I know you,” the vampire said, his voice heavy with accent. “The eyes … they give you away. You come from a long line of leaders, yes?”

He held the head out toward Bram. “Do you see, Gideon?” the vampire asked. “The piercing eyes, the
prominent cheekbones, the square of the jaw. He is the spitting image of the one who thwarted our plans.”

“My eyes have grown weak locked away inside the box,” the sorcerer hissed. “Hold me closer so that I may see for myself.”

“Of course.” The vampire extended the head toward them. “Take a good look.”

A spark of green flashed in the center of the head’s dark eyes.

“Move!” Bram warned as serpentine bolts of supernatural energy erupted from Gideon’s gaze.

Willing his body immaterial, Bram watched the tendrils of power pass harmlessly through his form, striking a crate behind him, the wood disintegrating in a flash of fire and ash.

The vampire and those who served him were already on the move. Vladek ran across the chamber, darting into the maze of boxes and crates.

Bram pushed his weightless form into the air, following the vampire’s path. He was headed for a magically created open doorway between the storage chamber and the world beyond it, his two servants behind him.

“I’ve got him,” Bram called out, his gliding form
picking up speed, and weight, as he aimed his body missilelike toward his fleeing foe.

He zipped over the heads of Vladek’s human slaves, forcing them to dive to the ground for cover. His body now fully material again, Bram tackled the vampire, wrapping his arms tightly around the vampire’s armored middle, sending them both crashing into some stacked wooden boxes.

Bram wrestled with the monster. The vampire was stronger than he expected.

Willing his hand ghostly, Bram plunged his limb through the armor and into the vampire’s chest. He gasped, feeling a cold the likes of which he’d never experienced before, as he searched for his prize.

“Looking for something, ghost child?” Vladek snarled, driving his forehead into the startled boy’s very solid chin.

Tossed backward, Bram’s head spun and he struggled to keep himself conscious. The vampire was on him in a flash, his clawed hand gripping his hair and yanking his head back.

“If there was time, I would turn you,” Vladek warned. “Then I would lock you away … inside a box of stone … and make you starve forever.”

And then he was gone. Through his swirling vision Bram saw the vampire and his human servants racing toward the magickal doorway.

That much closer to freedom.

It was as if he’d run into a wall.

Vladek was repelled backward, Gideon’s head dropping from his grasp to roll across the floor.

“Clumsy oaf!” Gideon screeched.

“Silence, magician, or I’ll leave your head behind,” Vladek growled, getting to his feet.

“I don’t think you’re going anywhere,” a voice addressed him.

Vladek snarled as a crippled child hobbled down an aisle of crates toward him. A man stood protectively at his side, a man that stank of death long passed.

A giant, equally invisible hand suddenly began to squeeze him, lifting him from the floor.

“I’ve got him,” the boy said as the others looked on.

Vladek was amused. They were certainly a powerful gathering of individuals, but they still had much to learn.

“You’ve got me, child?” Vladek asked, directing his mesmerizing stare toward the youth. “You might be surprised.”

“Desmond, look away,” the large, pale-skinned member of the team cried out.

Too late.

“Set me down, child, and do not allow your friends to bother me anymore.”

With those words, the cripple closed his eyes, and it was as if the others had suddenly gained wings. Each of them was flung away, across the expanse of the chamber. He would have preferred to kill them slowly, each and every one of the insolent pups, but he didn’t have the time for amusement.

There would be time for that soon enough, after the world belonged to his kind.

“Very good, child,” Vladek cooed. “Now remove the barrier that prevents me from leaving.”

The vampire reached out, feeling for the invisible hindrance, but it was now gone.

“Excellent,” he said, taking the offered head of Gideon from one of his slaves. “I guess we’ll be going then.”

Emily was changing into the wolf before she even hit the ground.

She landed in a crouch, the powerful leg muscles of the beast she was becoming absorbing an impact that
would have broken the ankles on any other fifteen-year-old girl.

She tore away the remainder of her dried skin and clothes and bounded off in the direction from where Dez had tossed her and the others.

The wolf rounded a corner, eager to tear into the vampire even though she wasn’t sure how much damage she could actually inflict. She roared as she came around a tower of stacked crates, clawed hand pulled back ready to strike at the person suddenly before her.

Bram recoiled slightly, leaning dizzily against the tower. “It’s me,” he said, bending over, hands upon his knees.

“Are you all right?” she asked, her voice like the growl of a well-tuned motor.

“Fine,” he said, waving her away. “Make sure he doesn’t get away.”

He didn’t have to tell her twice. She bolted, the claws on her feet clicking noisily upon the concrete floor.

The wolf saw them ahead, about to enter the magickal opening. She would be too late unless she could somehow slow them down. She glanced to her left and saw a big stone sculpture, the head of some ancient deity that had been long forgotten, by people long since dead.

The wolf wrapped her hairy, muscular arms around the face of the statue and with a grunt lifted it from the ground.

“You’re going nowhere!” Emily bellowed.

She tossed the stone head the best she could.

The vampire and his peeps turned slightly at the sound of her voice just as the great stone head hit the ground with a vibrating bounce and continued toward them.

She hadn’t really meant to hurt anybody, only slow them down, but one of the vampire’s lackeys—a real skinny guy that looked as though he was going to have a nervous breakdown at any minute—didn’t get out of the way fast enough and was crushed beneath the rolling stone sculpture.

But she didn’t let it slow her down.

Her thoughts were still filled with what she had seen in the little village. No, this guy had to be stopped right away, no matter how many skinny guys got killed in the process.

Emily sprang at the vampire with a snarl, knocking the armored Vladek back against the stone head that blocked his escape route.

The beast was in control now, slashing and clawing at her enemy, but the vampire proved bestial as well. He reached
up, wrapping his hand around her muscular throat, and began to squeeze.

Emily started to panic. She lashed out blindly, her claws raking across Vladek’s face, removing a swath of skin and one of his eyes.

The vampire screamed his rage, tossing her away with a powerful burst of strength.

Landing on all fours, she was ready to attack again, but so was Vladek. The two charged each other, screams of fury from both, fangs bared in a display of savagery.

They connected, and Emily felt her humanity slowly begin to slip away. It was what she had always been afraid of, that there would come a day when the beast would be stronger than her, and she would be lost forever.

Emily recoiled slightly, stealing away some of the beast’s strength.

It was all that Vladek needed.

The vampire was suddenly upon her, his superior strength driving her back. She saw that his torn face had already started to heal, a new eye growing in the once empty socket.

Gross
.

She tried to summon the full fury of the beast again, but it was too late. The vampire was beating her, his fists
pummeling her to the brink of unconsciousness. She could smell his breath, her heightened senses panicked by the odor of death that wafted off of him.

And then there was the pain, excruciating and burning pain in her neck as his fangs pieced the thick fur and skin around her throat. She experienced a sudden rush of embarrassing pleasure as the vampire began to suck her blood.

The rage of the wolf returned, and she swung her arm back, tossing the vampire away from her.

The vampire landed spiderlike atop the stone statue. He was grinning, her blood staining the corners of his mouth. She tensed, sensing that he was about to come at her again, to finish his meal, when the sounds of the others coming to her aid distracted him.

Emily struggled to her feet, clawed hand pressed against the wound in her throat.

The vampire leaped down from his perch, snatching up the head of Gideon and moving around the statue, escaping through the conjured doorway, his surviving lackey nipping at his heels.

Emily turned to see the others.

“I tried,” she growled, dropping to her knees. “I really did.”

* * *

Bram tried not to think of how disappointed his father would have been. He approached the others, who were all looking a little bit embarrassed.

“That didn’t work out the way we expected,” Stitch said with a shake of his head.

“How was I supposed to know he could hypnotize me?” Dez said, leaning heavily upon his crutches. “I didn’t even know what I was doing.”

“None of us did, really,” Bram said, gingerly touching the skin around his chin. Even the bone beneath the flesh was painful to the touch. He walked around the room, feeling the tremble in his legs start to lesson.

“The Archivist said that Vladek was dangerous,” Stitch said, kneeling by the stone head, examining the body trapped beneath it. “But we were a bit too cocky to recognize how dangerous.”

Bram massaged his chin. “We know now,” he said. “And we won’t be making the same mistake twice. We’re going to go back to the Brimstone Headquarters and learn everything we can about Gideon and Vladek. I want to know it all, including their favorite color.”

Bogey stepped forward, his hands wiggling at his side.

“Should I?” he asked.

Bram nodded. “Yeah, we’ve done enough damage here.”

A horrific scream suddenly filled the chamber.

“Where’s Emily?” Bram asked, recognizing the girl’s cry, already on the move, searching the rows of crates and artifacts.

He found her still in her wolf shape, kneeling upon the ground, her back to him as he approached.

Bram noticed that she was trembling uncontrollably, her fur-covered arms wrapped around herself, and she rocked back and forth.

“Emily?” Bram said in his softest voice. “What’s wrong, are you …?”

She spun around, her dark brown animal eyes overflowing with emotion. “He’s done something to me,” she growled, continuing to tremble and rock from side to side. “With his bite, he’s done something to me.”

Bram noticed the caked and drying blood upon her throat as the others came to stand beside him.

“I can’t change back, Bram,” Emily said in the voice of the wolf. “No matter how hard I try, I can’t change back.”

8.

THEY RETURNED TO THE ABANDONED BRIMSTONE
Network facility and went right to the Archivist.

“So let me see if I have the facts right,” the Archivist said, standing behind his desk. “You say that she was bitten, and now she cannot return to human form.”

The ghostly image of Elijah Stone stroked its bearded chin. “Interesting,” he said, turning toward the rows of books suddenly appearing behind him.

“ ‘Interesting?’” Emily growled, stalking forward, pressing a bandage to her wounded neck. “I’m glad you find my life being over so freakin’ fascinating.”

“Calm down,” Bram said quietly, gently touching her arm. “He didn’t mean anything by it.”

She snarled, baring her fangs and yanking her arm away.
“Calm down? Don’t you see how bad this is? Look at me … I’m stuck this way.”

“We all know how serious this is,” Bram tried to reassure her. “But getting yourself all worked up isn’t going to do anybody any good.”

They heard the wrinkling of plastic and looked toward Bogey, who had found a bag of potato chips.

“Yeah, you need to relax. Chip?” the Mauthe Dhoog offered.

Emily’s fur bristled as she lunged at the little creature. “I’ll show you how relaxed I am after I bite your freakin’ head off!”

Bogey instantly opened a dimensional rift behind him and dropped backward into it, disappearing from the room.

Emily landed where he had been standing, in a snarling crouch, furious. “Anybody else have anything to say?” she growled.

The Archivist cleared his throat behind them.

“I believe I might,” he said, a large book open in his hands. “Unfortunately, the organization’s research into a situation such as this is minimal, but I do find a note here about the effect of a vampire’s bite upon other supernatural creatures.” He looked down into the book for the exact wording. “It
says here that the bite can act as a kind of poison, and if not addressed immediately, will eventually lead to madness.”

The Archivist snapped the book shut with one hand.

“I believe that your little outburst is the first sign of something very bad to come.”

“Naw, she just hates me,” Bogey said, climbing up and out of a rift that had appeared on the floor across the room, away from the bestial Emily. He still had his bag of chips and was eating them hungrily.

BOOK: The Shroud of A'Ranka (Brimstone Network Trilogy)
3.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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