22 HIDDEN IN BLOOD
OTIS PARTED HIS CRACKED LIPS and, through bloodied teeth, whispered, “Don’t… listen… to him, Vladimir.”
As the last word escaped his mouth, Jasik threw him to the floor. To Vlad’s astonishment and his uncle’s credit, Otis didn’t cry out.
Vlad released Henry, who limped back over to the chair he’d been sitting in, and knelt before his uncle. Otis met his eyes, and an unspoken understanding passed between them. Otis hadn’t meant to be out of touch for so long. It was D’Ablo and his cronies who’d kept him away. And Vlad hadn’t caught on to the nightmare clues, Otis’s cries for help-the only bits of communication that D’Ablo had allowed through. “I’m sorry, Otis. I’m so sorry I didn’t come sooner. I hadn’t realized…”
A chilling laugh echoed from D’Ablo. “Ah, what a touching family reunion.”
Despite the warning in Otis’s eyes, Vlad stood up straight and tall, turning to D’Ablo. “You monster! There was no reason for this. You were just getting your sick kicks torturing him like you did.”
The fury within Vlad’s chest continued to build. “You knew where I was this whole time. You even stopped by my room. Why not take the journal by force? Or send one of your lackeys to do it? That seems to be more your style.”
“I would have, but I confess that after our previous encounters, I’m-pardon the phrase-once bitten, twice shy when it comes to direct confrontation with the Pravus. And that much is true, young Vladimir, you are the Pravus. And there are at least a thousand other vampires who share that belief with me. We have been waiting your coming for a millennium.”
Otis managed a wheezing laugh. “You’re a fool who believes in fairy tales, D’Ablo.”
“Your uncle is among the majority of misguided vampires, those who believe the prophecy to be false, a mere children’s story. Despite the fact that you have been born-a miracle in and of itself. You see, before the law was passed, vampires and humans were allowed to intermarry for several hundred years. In all that time not one child was ever born. Not to mention that you have survived a stake through the heart.” D’Ablo straightened with pride, clearly pleased with his manipulation of Joss last year. “But it doesn’t matter what Otis believes or doesn’t believe. You are the Pravus, Vladimir Tod. Even you cannot deny it anymore, after all that you have seen, all that you have experienced. Think of it-it would make no sense for the prophecy to be no more than a bedtime story for children. In all of vampire history, there has only ever been one child.”
Otis managed a single word. “Lies.”
But any further words were replaced by a scream as D’Ablo forced his gloved thumb deep into the open wound on Otis’s shoulder.
Vlad cried out, “Knock it off!”
To his amazement, D’Ablo withdrew from Otis, but as he did, he licked Otis’s blood from his thumb and shivered with delight. “You see, it was the council who sent Ignatius after you. It was they who insisted that he should be given a chance to restore his family honor.”
D’Ablo shook his head. “Such fools. Sending a vampire to kill the unkillable. Oh, that’s not what they told him-they ordered him to bring you before them, to be tried for your crimes at last. But this is Ignatius, and his temperament has always run a murderous trail. I quite think they were hoping you’d not survive long enough to face them. Most of them would find it a difficult task to punish a child with the brutality of our laws-especially the child of a departed friend.”
Vlad looked at Otis, but Otis nodded, as if to indicate that he was fine. Then he looked back at D’Ablo in confusion. “Wait… ‘restore his family honor’?”
Otis wheezed, gulping for air between words, as if his lungs had been damaged too. “Vladimir… Ignatius is… your grandfather.”
Vlad’s eyes shot to Ignatius, who snarled, emitting a low, guttural growl that made Henry slide his chair back several inches. Vlad shook his head, refusing to believe that this monster could possibly be related to him.
D’Ablo chuckled. “Oh yes, it’s quite true. Ignatius turned your father and your uncle into vampires. He created them. And, by extension, created you. Something that deeply disturbs him.”
In wordless agreement, Ignatius cracked his knuckles, his fierce eyes on Vlad the entire time.
D’Ablo continued in an oddly casual tone. “By bringing you to justice-or death-it would bring honor to his blood-line, honor that was lost by Tomas’s and Otis’s crimes, not to mention those of his grandson. I didn’t want to send him, because Ignatius is a skilled bounty hunter, one of the best there is, despite his intense allergy to the sun-so severe that even the sunlight reflecting off the moon will harm him. You see, he can only venture out under the dark of the new moon.”
Vlad swallowed hard. He thought he had it bad by having to slather on sunblock several times a day.
“Alas, due to the proper paperwork being held up, as sometimes happens, and his seeming inability to find you completely alone, as well as his unfortunate exposure to the dawn during your initial encounter, which took an enormous amount of time for him to recover from, Ignatius has hardly had a fair chance at justice. Something that has both embarrassed and infuriated him no end.” D’Ablo flicked his eyes to Ignatius and back, a bemused smile on his lips. “I knew that Ignatius would not succeed in killing you, but would bring you before the council-something that would make acquiring the journal difficult, to say the least.”
Vlad gulped as the pieces fell into place in his mind. It had been a trap all along. And he’d fallen for it, hook, line, and sinker. “So you kidnapped Otis.”
D’Ablo offered him a nod, the smug smile never leaving his lips. “And took great pleasure in causing him pain, knowing that though I blocked his telepathy with a Tego charm, he would be able to send you images of his experiences when your mind was most susceptible.”
“When I was sleeping.” Vlad almost gasped. He was quite certain that Otis and Henry were going to die, but he had no idea what D’Ablo and his cronies had in store for him.
D’Ablo nodded once more, his lips twisting into a sneer. “Luckily, I am an infinitely patient vampire. Besides, invincibility is well worth the wait.”
Vlad threw him a confused glance.
“ Through my studies, I have learned that the great vampire philosopher Diogenes once theorized that there is a way to steal the status, the traits, the power of the Pravus. And so he designed a ritual to do so. And you, my boy, have just handed it to me.”
Vlad rolled his eyes. “Nice try, nimrod. I know that book from front to back. There’s no ritual in there.”
D’Ablo held out his hand and in his most gentlemanly voice said, “Your hand, if you would.”
“Not a chance.”
Before Vlad knew what was happening, he was grabbed from behind by Jasik. He had been so involved in his conversation with D’Ablo that he hadn’t even noticed Jasik moving into position. Otis summoned all the strength he could and leaped out to free his nephew, only to be met by D’Ablo’s elbow in his face. Otis fell back on the floor in a heap.
From behind his back, D’Ablo pulled a dagger-the same dagger, Vlad noticed with a shudder, that he had used to torture Otis. With a nod, Jasik grabbed Vlad’s wrist and offered up his hand. D’Ablo slashed his palm open, and Vlad cried out, but remained still. Blood dripped from the wound, and before it could close, D’Ablo pressed the backs of two of the journal’s pages against Vlad’s palm, staining them with crimson.
D’Ablo’s eyes were locked onto the blood-smeared pages. Vlad was about to use the distracted moment to shove Jasik away and try, somehow, to get his wounded uncle and friend out the door, but then something happened…
The pages began to glow. All of the pages.
And after a moment, flames scrawled across the pages that Vlad could see, burning letters, then full words, into the parchment.
Vlad almost forgot completely about the wound in his palm, which had already begun healing closed. He gasped, “What is it?”
“It’s your future, Master Pravus. It is your end.” D’Ablo met his gaze with the glowing grin of an empowered lunatic. The three words he spoke next made Vlad’s heart skip a beat and his limbs freeze with terror. “And my beginning.”