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25 THE AFTERMATH

VLAD PULLED OPEN THE DOOR and stepped back into the lobby, where Henry and Otis were waiting for him. Otis lurked back near the elevator, where the shadows were at their heaviest, covered in what smelled like Ignatiuss blood. Vlad threw his uncle an exhausted glance. I thought drinking my blood would render the drinker immune to sunlight.

You thought wrong. Otis frowned, watching the alley across the street. As did he. I told you, Vladimir. Fairy tales and nonsense.

Henry stood near the front windows, gazing at the alleyway that DAblo had disappeared into with an intensity Vlad didnt know he was capable of. Henry pursed his lips. We should go after him, Vlad. Finish him off. Otherwise, hell never stop trying to kill you.

Vlad looked back over his shoulder at the bright, sunny day and shook his head. My dad would have let him live.

Otiss voice was gruff. Are you so sure of that, Vladimir?

Vlad paused. In truth, he wasnt, but he hoped that his assumption was right. Even if he wouldnt, Im going to. Its the right thing to do.

The sidewalk began to fill with people. The city had awakened, and very soon, the building would be bustling with activity. We should find some sunblock for you, Otis, and get home. Im sure Nelly will be furious that Ive been out all night.

Not to mention worried out of her mind. A small smile curved Otiss lips. But Im sure shell understand once we explain that you had important vampire business to attend to such as saving my life.

Otis grabbed Ignatiuss corpse from where he had left it near the end of the hallway and slid it along the floor to the waiting elevator. He dropped it, ran a shaking hand through his hair, and sighed. Thats going to mean a lot of paperwork for someone.

Vlad chuckled. After everything weve just been through, youre worried about somebodys paperwork?

Otis merely blinked at him.

Vlad sighed. I will never understand grown-ups, vampire or otherwise.

Vlad and Henry stepped inside the elevator with Otis and what was left of Ignatius. Otis opened the panel of buttons that led to the offices of the Elysian council. With a press of a button, they were on their way back to the room where DAblo had attempted to steal Vlads invincibility from him.

You know, whatever that was that DAblo took out of you His voice trailed off for a moment, as if something occurred to him that had not before. we should probably get it back inside you where it belongs. If theres any truth at all to DAblos ramblings, perhaps ingesting it would shield you against the Grim Reapers trespasses once again.

Ingest it? Vlad looked disgusted. You mean I have to drink that crap?

Vlad wasnt sure he wanted to find out what flavor his essence was, but he wasnt about to take his chances. Being invincible, it turned out, came in very handy. Especially with psycho vampires lurking around every corner trying to kill you.

The elevator door opened, and the trio made their way down the hall to the room with the large metal door. Otis opened it and Henry immediately cringed. Jasik lay on the floor, dead, his gray, lifeless eyes staring up at the ceiling. At the sight of him, Vlad felt that horrible emptiness again, just as he had at the moment of Jasiks death. And he felt an unshakable pang of guilt for having controlled Jasiks mind. After all, if Vlad hadnt intervened, Jasik wouldnt have suffered DAblos wrath and he might still be alive right now.

Vlad knelt and closed Jasiks eyes with his palm. He looked around the room for a sheet or blanket-something, anything to cover Jasiks dead body-but there was nothing lying around to serve that purpose. Otis squeezed his shoulder, and they exchanged looks of understanding.

Oh no. No no no no no. Across the room, Henry muttered several curse words under his breath. Um, guys. Im afraid I have some bad news.

Henry held up the vial that had contained the iridescent purple liquid. The glass was cracked in several places, and the top of the vial had been broken completely off.

Vlad frowned and crossed the floor to where Henry was still crouched down, holding the broken tube. He could see the crusty spot on the floor where the liquid from the vial had puddled and dried. His invincibility. One of his Pravus powers reduced to no more than a carpet stain. Vlads mind began to ask questions: What if the rest of his powers could be lost as easily? What if DAblo did come back to try again? What else might he lose? Had he made the right decision letting DAblo live? He silenced the thoughts before they had the chance to consume him.

After a moment of silence, Otis said, Look on the bright side, Vladimir. Now there is no question of your mortality.

Vlad snorted. He was about to ask a question when Henry intervened with the same thing he was thinking. How is that a good thing?

Otis met Vlads eyes. The concern Vlad saw there was almost overwhelming. Because maybe now you will be more careful when facing your enemies.

Do you think Ive been careless? Ive tried my best not to have to face any enemies at all. Vlad could feel his face get hot. I really dont find this an enjoyable way to spend my Saturday nights, Otis.

Vladimir, you misunderstood my intent. Otiss voice was soft and understanding, as if he could sense Vlads emotions starting to get the better of him. I simply meant that with these vampires believing that you are the Pravus-

Really? Because it sounded like you were saying that I tend to seek out all this life-in-danger crap. After all that he had been through in the past twelve hours, it seemed so unfair that his uncle blamed him for it all. Vlad had to fight to hold back the tears. I just want to be left alone to live my life, but the psycho fanatics wont let that happen. And frankly, knowing that I couldnt be killed made facing them a lot easier. Now I now Im just scared.

Vlad fell to his knees. Though he had won his fight against DAblo, hed never stood a chance in the battle he now fought. Now he had to face the world, and whatever lurked in the shadows, without his ability to survive it.

His emotions won out. Vlad let out a shuddering sob and wrapped his arms around himself.

Henry took a step toward Vlad to comfort his friend, but Otis held up his hand, stopping the boy in his tracks. He spoke softly to his nephew. Vladimir, you have been through a lot in the last few years. More than any boy. More than any vampire. I wish I could say that I understand what you are feeling, but I cant. When youve lived for centuries you learn to deal with fear and loss in different ways.

Otis bent down in front of his nephew and put his hands on Vlads shoulders. All I can say for sure is that whatever it was that was in that vial is not you. It is not who you are and it is not what you do. There is nothing different about you now than there was before DAblo took out whatever that was. He pulled Vlad in closer and let him cry into his chest. And you dont have to worry anymore. Youve shown DAblo that youre a lot tougher than he thought. I dont think hell be trying anything anytime soon. And if he does, Ill be here to protect you.

Vlad lifted his head and looked into his uncles face, blinking away his tears. Does that mean youre staying? For good?

For now, not for good. He smiled down at Vlad. After what Ive endured in the months since my capture, I could certainly use a vacation. However, I am still a fugitive in the eyes of Elysia, and I cannot stay in one place for too long. Speaking of which Otiss eyes scanned the room to make sure that Henry was still nearby. He spotted him rummaging through the drawer of a cabinet against the wall. We should find a way to get out of here before council members show up.

From across the room Henry held up a small bottle of sunblock, SPF 40. It looks like this is all they have. Will it be enough?

Otis took the bottle, frowning a little. Itll have to be.

Vlad regained his composure. Otis was right. There was more to him than some weird purple liquid. He was the Pravus. He knew that to be true now, could feel the right-ness of it down to his very cells. And no one, not even DAblo, could ever take that away. He crossed the room and pulled open the large metal door, but Otis stopped him with a thought. Arent you forgetting something? Your fathers journal, perhaps? After all, it is precious to you, is it not?

Vlad hesitated.

Im not sure I want it anymore, Otis. The backs of the pages now contained a horrible memory. After all, it had been a tool for his demise-something that troubled Vlad deeply. Why would his fathers journal contain such a horrible ritual, especially knowing that Vlad was the only vampire born to a human mother?

Im sure your father had sound reasons for not destroying the ritual when he had the chance. Otiss lips formed a thin line as he nodded at Vlad. We just have to trust that.

Vlad was ashamed to admit that he didnt trust that and that he wasnt sure why, exactly. Why did my dads journal contain the ritual that could destroy me?

I dont know, Vladimir. Maybe he was protecting you by keeping it close and hidden-out of the hands of the likes of DAblo. Or maybe he wasnt even aware that it was contained on the backs of those pages.

Vlad thought for a moment. Do you think that DAblo put it there before he gave the journal to him?

Otiss forehead wrinkled as his eyebrows came together. What are you talking about? Vikas gave your father that journal.

No, DAblo did. He told me so. Theres even a D on the inside cover. For DAblo.

Is that what he told you to get you to give him the journal? Otis shook his head and laughed, his voice warm and friendly in Vlads mind. No, Vlad. The D stands for Dyavol, the nickname that Vikas used for your father. The same that he uses for you. Mahlyenki Dyavol. Besides, when a vampire gifts another vampire with something, we always inscribe our name in Elysian code, not in English. Otis placed the journal into Vlads hand on his way out the door. If for no other reason, to remember him by.

Vlad squeezed the journal tightly. It had been a lie. Just another lie told to him by DAblo. And he had stupidly believed it.

Vlad followed his uncle to the elevator.

When the three of them stepped inside, they were greeted by the Muzak version of Teenagers by My Chemical Romance. Vlad and Henry exchanged looks of horror, and Vlad sighed. Is nothing sacred?



24 A DIFFICULT DECISION | Tenth Grade Bleeds | 26 SWEET RELEASE