The Shroud of A'Ranka (Brimstone Network Trilogy) (5 page)

BOOK: The Shroud of A'Ranka (Brimstone Network Trilogy)
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Bram held up his hand. “Do you hear that?”

Bogey stopped to listen while Bram walked to the door at the end of the room and pulled it open. The sound of an alarm from somewhere in the ancient structure wailed.

Without a moment’s pause, he darted toward the sound.

“Wait up!” Bogey screeched, still carrying his Slushie. “Don’t you want to hear how it ended up with me in the bathroom?”

Bram didn’t; his entire focus was already directed toward the alarm. He reached the end of a twisting corridor and stopped.

“What’s going on?” he asked from the doorway of the room containing the ghostly globe of the world.

“You just scared the crap out of me,” Dez said, clutching a hand to his chest. “Next time couldn’t you whistle to let us know you’re around?”

“Sorry.” Bram entered the room, his gaze fixed on the translucent version of Earth hovering in the air above the circular platform.

“Maybe you should wear a bell around your neck,” Dez grumbled. His father chuckled beside his chair.

“Boo!” Bogey screeched, jumping into the doorway behind Bram. “Did I scare ya?” he asked, sipping from his Slushie, dark eyes twinkling with mischief.

“Nope,” Dez said and, using his psychokinetic abilities, yanked Bogey’s cup from his hand and levitated it above the creature’s head, just out of reach.

“Hey, knock it off!” Bogey cried, jumping on short, stubby legs, trying to reach his floating cup.

“Knock it off, Dez,” Bram ordered as he approached Stitch, who was kneeling beside the platform, where a small open door exposed a control panel. “It’s bad enough I’ve got to listen to the alarm, I don’t want to hear Bogey complaining.”

Bogey wiggled his hands in the air, rifting a small passage in front of the floating Slushie cup. The cup was sucked into the opening only to be spit out from another just in front of his hand. “No complaints,” he said as he took a big gulp of his drink.

“What’s all this?” Bram asked, trying to ignore the others and focus his attention on Stitch.

His friend held up one long finger, his gaze fixed to a row of switches on the panel. Stitch selected one, flicked it down, and the alarm went silent.

“There,” the large man said, getting to his feet, the bones in his long legs popping noisily as he straightened.

“Thanks,” Bram said, sticking his little finger in his ear and wiggling it around. “What was that all about?”

He stared at the ghostly globe spinning ever so slowly before him, noticing the colored marks and the one in particular flashing scarlet.

“Some sort of Brimstone Network security system,” the patchwork man said.

“And these?” Bram pointed to the glowing yellow spots around the world.

“If I remember right, they’re storage facilities.” Stitch continued to study the globe, his powerful arms crossed in front of his broad chest. “Places where the most dangerous supernatural artifacts are stored.”

Bram pointed to the flashing red spot. “And let me guess, this is the reason for the alarm.”

Stitch nodded with a sigh. “It appears that a holding facility has been breached.”

“We should check it out,” Bram said, turning to look at Bogey. “Can you use this map to rift us to the trouble spot?” he asked.

Bogey finished his drink with a loud slurp, then walked farther into the room to study the slowly spinning globe. “Shouldn’t be a problem,” he said with a shake of his head.

“Good,” Bram answered. He looked around the room and noticed that their number was incomplete. “Has anyone heard from Emily?”

And as if on cue, she appeared in the doorway, a heavy-looking duffel bag slung over one shoulder and a suitcase hanging from the other hand.

“I’m right here,” Emily said, letting the duffel bag slide from her shoulder.

There was a look in the girl’s eyes that hinted at something wrong, and Bram was just about to ask her about it when she seemed to read his mind.

“Later,” she said firmly. She walked into the room to look at the holographic image of the world.

“Right now all I want to know is where we’re going.”

* * *

Vladek felt the blood of his prey pulse through his veins, replenishing muscle, flesh, and bone, returning to him his youth and vigor.

In the center of the tavern, broken bodies as well as tables and chairs were strewn about, as if the vampire lord were standing at ground zero of a tornado.

The customers of the Angry Quail Tavern never stood a chance, but it hadn’t stopped them from trying. As he had attacked the first of the patrons, draining every drop of his blood in less than a minute, a wave of panic had filled the room.

Some of the human cattle had sought to escape, while others had attacked in a poor attempt at defending their lives. Vladek had taken them all, their warm and salty life-stuff filling his belly and returning him to the state of health he had enjoyed before his capture so long ago.

The vampire lord admired the new and powerful muscles that now developed upon his frame. This was how a warrior was supposed to appear: gorged with the life of his enemies, ready to fight.

The two humans he had taken as his servants cowered in the corner by the fireplace. “You have done well,” he
told them, acknowledging their loyalty to him. “And for that, you will continue to live and serve me.”

Mason bowed his head, giving thanks to him, while the other human watched with a cautious eye.

Vladek made a mental note to keep a watchful eye on the one called Lewis; there was something about him that urged caution. The vampire sensed that betrayal might come as second nature to Lewis.

Looking away from the humans, the vampire lord studied his surroundings. Even though he had been imprisoned for thousands of years, he saw that not much had changed. The human species still enjoyed their libations, and the company of their own kind.

He strolled about the tavern, letting his hands move along the polished wood and metal of the bar, his eyes taking in every detail of the drinking establishment.

And that was when he saw it.

Vladek bounded across the tavern toward a darkened corner where he could see it practically hidden in shadows. It was a suit of armor, human in design, but similar to what had been worn by his people when they had been going into combat.

He looked down at himself, at the tattered robes that
adorned his pale, muscular flesh, and decided that the armor would be more appropriate attire for one such as himself.

Reaching for the suit, Vladek was suddenly distracted by a blast of cold air and the cries of rage. The vampire spun around, fangs bared. And then he smiled, seeing the old man, his body withered and twisted with the affliction of age. There would be no drink of blood that would return this one to the power of his youth—the curse of being only human.

The old man stopped short before him; he was holding an old, wooden spear, the metal tip tarnished with the passing of many years.

Vladek looked away from the old man to his human servants.

He locked eyes with Lewis, and the human started to move toward the old man when Vladek stopped him.

“Stay your hand,” the vampire lord commanded, stopping Lewis in his tracks. “I will deal with this on my own.”

Vladek turned his attention back to his potential attacker. Vladek could see that he was looking around the tavern, seeing what had happened to people he might have called friends.

Seeing the fate that was likely to befall him as well.

“My great ancestors killed things like you!” the old soul began to bellow, lowering the spear menacingly. “I believed your kind was driven from the world of man, but I am sadly mistaken.”

“Your ancestors never faced the likes of me,” the vampire lord proclaimed, grinning at the old man, showing him his razor-sharp bite. “For if that were the case, you would never have been born.”

And with those words, the old-timer attacked.

His speed surprised Vladek, who was impressed that the ancient human could actually put that much power behind his lunge.

Vladek stood his ground, allowing the tarnished tip of the spear to bury itself into his chest, deep within the center of the cross-shaped scar that adorned the pale flesh of his front.

The vampire felt the spear tip enter, squeaking past the layer of skin and muscle, scraping off the bone of his rib cage.

Vladek watched the look of expectation on his human attacker’s face. The old man was waiting for something.

But not what he then saw.

The vampire grabbed hold of the spear shaft, ripping it from his flesh as if it were nothing. Vladek studied the spearhead briefly before tossing it to the floor.

“My aim was true,” the old man said, his voice now a hissing whisper. “I pierced your chest—aiming for the black heart that beats within your ribs. I could not miss.”

Vladek moved like the wind, suddenly standing directly in front of the old man.

“If it makes you feel any better, you did not miss,” the vampire said with a shake of his head. “But the spear did not find its target.”

The old man tried to escape, but Vladek had grown tired of his bravado and wanted to rub his face in the fact that he had never been a threat to him at all.

The old man screeched as his blood was taken, and soon there was nothing left of the ancient attacker except withered, empty flesh and bones.

Vladek let the remains of the man drop to the floor with the other dead and turned toward his slaves.

He could see a new kind of fear in their eyes, the kind that comes when all hope has been crushed before them.

The vampire chuckled. “Now you see why I was my
peoples’ greatest warrior,” he snarled. “Now you see why I was called Vladek the Undying.”

The vampire then turned from his slaves, going back to the suit of armor that was displayed in the corner of the tavern.

A warrior’s armor.

He turned to the two humans and held out his arms.

“Adorn me,” he commanded, and they responded to his commands, taking apart the armor display piece by piece as they began to dress him.

Like two squires preparing their knight for a coming battle.

Oh, charming,” Emily said, emerging from Bogey’s latest rift. “Another cave. Who’da thought?”

She was in her human form as she stepped from the opening in the fabric of reality, and Bram wasn’t quite sure if he liked her better this way or in the shape of the wolf.

Sometimes it seemed that the wolf was nicer.

“All right,” he said, getting everyone’s attention. “What do we have?”

Stitch looked around, hands on his hips.

“Somebody was working,” he said, pointing out the lights that had been set up around the inside of the dank storage chamber. “And something tells me that they didn’t have permission to be here.”

There were bags on the floor filled with all manner of tools.

“So you think thieves triggered the alarm?” Bram asked.

The patchwork man nodded, his head continuing to look around. “With many of the magickal defenses going down after the event, places like this have become easy pickings.”

Emily walked around, arms folded close to her chest, not wanting to get too close to any of the dusty, old artifacts. “I’m sure there was all kind of valuable swag to pilfer from here—
not
,” she added sarcastically.

Bogey was bent over the rim of one of the crates, his legs kicking as he attempted to reach something inside.

“Ohhhhh, look at this,” he said, his voice muffled.

He emerged wearing a monstrous mask carved from wood. “I’ve been saving up for one of these,” he said.

“It’s an improvement over your real one,” Dez yelled from his chair. “We should see what we can do about attaching it permanently.”

His father laughed, raising his hand so that Dez could give him a high five. “Good one, son,” Douglas said with a chuckle.

Bram smiled, shaking his head. He, too, had started to go through some of the storage crates, finding nothing of any real importance.

“Do you smell that?” Emily asked, suddenly beside him.

Her nose was wrinkled up and twitching as if smelling something really nasty.

Bram tilted his head back and sniffed. All he could smell was the musty aroma of dampness so common to caves such as this.

“Not really,” he said. “What do you—?”

“Abraham,” Stitch called out from somewhere deep within the chamber. “I think you should see this.”

Bram went to find his friend, the others following close behind him.

They found Stitch standing in front of what looked to be a stone box. The lid had been removed, and the patchwork man stood above it, looking down inside.

“What’s inside?” Bram asked, coming to stand beside him.

“Nothing,” Stitch grumbled. “Which is why I’m worried.”

The large man bent down and picked up pieces of what appeared to be the lid. He held them in his hand, studying some odd symbols that had been drawn upon the stone.

“Do you see these?” Stitch asked, holding it out so Bram could look.

“They look like wards of some kind,” Bram said.

“Hmm,” Stitch said. “Wards to keep something inside this box.”

Bram sensed movement behind him and turned to see that items that had been lying upon the floor were now floating in the air before him.

“Did you see these?” Dez asked, levitating most of the religious pieces.

“The place is loaded with this stuff,” Douglas added.

Emily approached the stone box, nose twitching. “That smell I’m getting is stronger over here,” she said.

She stopped, reaching out her finger to tap at a drop of something resting on the lip of the box.

“Blood,” she said, showing it to him. “A single drop.”

“Is that what you’re smelling?” he asked.

She shook her head. “No, it’s worse than that … something incredibly old … something dangerous.” She rubbed her hands up and down her arms as if suddenly cold.

Bram felt a knot of tension coiling in the pit of his belly.

“What do you think?” he asked Stitch.

“I think our thieves might have disturbed something that shouldn’t have been disturbed,” the big man said.

“And it got out,” Bogey said, his fingers already moving in the air, ready to rift an escape.

BOOK: The Shroud of A'Ranka (Brimstone Network Trilogy)
3.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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