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22 HIDDEN IN BLOOD

OTIS PARTED HIS CRACKED LIPS and, through bloodied teeth, whispered, Dont listen to him, Vladimir.

As the last word escaped his mouth, Jasik threw him to the floor. To Vlads astonishment and his uncles credit, Otis didnt cry out.

Vlad released Henry, who limped back over to the chair hed been sitting in, and knelt before his uncle. Otis met his eyes, and an unspoken understanding passed between them. Otis hadnt meant to be out of touch for so long. It was DAblo and his cronies whod kept him away. And Vlad hadnt caught on to the nightmare clues, Otiss cries for help-the only bits of communication that DAblo had allowed through. Im sorry, Otis. Im so sorry I didnt come sooner. I hadnt realized

A chilling laugh echoed from DAblo. Ah, what a touching family reunion.

Despite the warning in Otiss eyes, Vlad stood up straight and tall, turning to DAblo. You monster! There was no reason for this. You were just getting your sick kicks torturing him like you did.

The fury within Vlads 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, Im-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. Youre a fool who believes in fairy tales, DAblo.

Your uncle is among the majority of misguided vampires, those who believe the prophecy to be false, a mere childrens 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. DAblo straightened with pride, clearly pleased with his manipulation of Joss last year. But it doesnt matter what Otis believes or doesnt 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 DAblo forced his gloved thumb deep into the open wound on Otiss shoulder.

Vlad cried out, Knock it off!

To his amazement, DAblo withdrew from Otis, but as he did, he licked Otiss 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.

DAblo shook his head. Such fools. Sending a vampire to kill the unkillable. Oh, thats 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 youd 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 DAblo 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.

Vlads 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.

DAblo chuckled. Oh yes, its 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.

DAblo 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 Tomass and Otiss crimes, not to mention those of his grandson. I didnt 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. DAblo 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 hed fallen for it, hook, line, and sinker. So you kidnapped Otis.

DAblo 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 DAblo and his cronies had in store for him.

DAblo 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. Theres no ritual in there.

DAblo held out his hand and in his most gentlemanly voice said, Your hand, if you would.

Not a chance.

Very well.

Before Vlad knew what was happening, he was grabbed from behind by Jasik. He had been so involved in his conversation with DAblo that he hadnt 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 DAblos elbow in his face. Otis fell back on the floor in a heap.

From behind his back, DAblo pulled a dagger-the same dagger, Vlad noticed with a shudder, that he had used to torture Otis. With a nod, Jasik grabbed Vlads wrist and offered up his hand. DAblo slashed his palm open, and Vlad cried out, but remained still. Blood dripped from the wound, and before it could close, DAblo pressed the backs of two of the journals pages against Vlads palm, staining them with crimson.

DAblos 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?

Its your future, Master Pravus. It is your end. DAblo met his gaze with the glowing grin of an empowered lunatic. The three words he spoke next made Vlads heart skip a beat and his limbs freeze with terror. And my beginning.



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