16 A RESTLESS NIGHT
THE DARK FIGURE STABBED THE BLADE into Vlad’s side and forced it as deeply as he was able, inciting an anguished scream from Vlad. But when the man twisted the dagger, forcing the wound to open further, Vlad began to think he would lose his mind. He could barely see now, practically blinded from the pain. Pain that was unending, unyielding, and could only be measured by peaks and valleys of torment.
The smell of his own blood-sweet, metallic-filled his nostrils. He would die on this table, of that there was no doubt. But death would be a tender release at the end of this boundless torture.
The man leaned closer, but Vlad could not make out his face. His words weren’t a voice so much as a sizzle, like bubbling liquid on hot steel. “I will never stop.”
At his final spoken word, he twisted the blade again, this time wrenching it until it pulled through Vlad’s flesh.
Vlad shrieked, and edged ever closer to the thin line between sanity and madness.
Vlad gasped and sat up in bed, bathed in sweat, his throat raw as if he’d been crying out in his sleep. The nightmares were getting worse.
He sat there for a few seconds, shuddering breaths shaking his already trembling body. It took him a moment to realize that he wasn’t tied to a table somewhere but in his soft, warm bed, safe and sound. He turned on the lamp beside his bed and glanced around the room, just to be sure. But somehow, knowing that his dreams were not his reality didn’t make him feel any better.
Before the details slipped from his memory, he grabbed his journal from the nightstand and scribbled down every last moment he could recall of the horrific nightmare, as he had almost every night since his birthday party. As he scribbled the last words down, a picture flashed in his mind-too similar to the weird, external camera view he’d experienced with Otis. A dark figure, standing outside in the snow, watching his house. Vlad tensed as the image left his mind.
Vlad moved to the edge of his bed and slipped on a pair of jeans. Shirtless, he moved out his bedroom door and down the stairs as quickly as he could. Pulling back the curtains, he searched the scene outside, but no one was there. Vlad frowned. Maybe his vampire abilities were on the fritz. Or maybe it had just been his imagination.
He walked into the kitchen and pulled open the freezer. For some reason, he was famished. He grabbed three blood bags, bit his lip, and reached for a fourth, then a fifth.
As he sat at the table, biting into the bags with his razor-sharp fangs and gulping down mouthfuls of blood, Vlad’s thoughts turned to Henry. Could it have been him lurking outside in the blowing cold? Maybe he had changed his mind. After all, Vlad could slip into Henry’s thoughts… Perhaps the bizarre camera trick wasn’t a vampires-only kind of thing. Maybe he could see anyone with it.
And on the chance that Henry hadn’t come to his senses, Vlad desperately needed to read through the Compendium of Conscientia and see just what lay in store for him and his drudge.
Tossing the empty bags into the biohazard container beneath the sink, and ignoring the still-hungry rumble of his stomach, Vlad hurried to the living room and slipped on his sneakers, tying them haphazardly. He was just slipping his coat on over his bare torso when he noticed a parchment envelope lying on the small table next to the front door. His heart jumped with hope… hope that he would spy Otis’s familiar scrawls when he flipped it over. It didn’t surprise him that Nelly would forget to give him his mail when she was working double shifts all week, but it did fill him with disbelief that she wouldn’t give him a call to say that Otis had written.
When he flipped the envelope over, his hopes swirled down the drain, but not for long. The postmark was Siberia, and the handwriting belonged to Vikas.
That was something, at least.
He pocketed the letter and opened the front door, stepping out into the bluster of a midwinter night.