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VLAD SQUEEZED HIS EYES TIGHT and listened to the thumping of his heartbeat and the whoosh of his blood as it pumped through his vampire veins. Well, half-vampire veins, anyway. His stomach had been rumbling loudly for the last half hour, and the hunger eased the task of locating his uncle with nothing more than his vampire intuition. Otis hadnt thought that it would. Actually, hed presumed quite the opposite-the same way Vikas had been surprised during their training sessions in Siberia last year when Vlad confessed he found it easier to push into peoples minds when he was hungry. It turned out Vlad was a freak in that regard as well. But maybe that wasnt such a bad thing. After all, the hunger seemed to sharpen his vampire skills.

He tightened his stomach muscles and refrained from pushing into Otiss mind. As his uncle had said, sensing a vampires location wasnt about tapping into his thoughts. It was about reaching out with your blood, your very vampire cells, and feeling the presence of one of your kind, gauging the distance they stood from you.

With a deep breath, Vlad reached out and sensed his uncles presence northwest of where he stood on the front porch of his Aunt Nellys house, the house hed called home for five years. The corners of his lips rose in a half smile as he spoke to Otis with his thoughts. Oh come on! Thats too easy. Go farther away! Youre only a half mile out. Even Henry could detect you at this distance.

Your drudge couldnt detect the Stop & Shop with the aid of a GPS.

Vlad laughed aloud, brushing his black hair out of his eyes and dropping his gaze to his shoes, the smile still firmly fixed to his lips. How am I doing, anyway?

Exceptionally well, Vladimir, but Id wager you dont need me to tell you that. In fact, better than any vampire Ive ever encountered. Most can detect our kind up to roughly six hundred yards. But you youre clearly gifted in this regard-your father would be proud. Now, clear your mind and try again in five minutes.

He sat on the steps and stared up at the star-speckled sky. A cool breeze brushed his cheek. As of tomorrow, summer would be at its end, and Nelly would no longer have an open mind about his late-night activities-even those with Otis. He had hoped this evening could last forever, but the first day of school was looming, and with it, something disturbing that hed been pushing out of his mind all summer.

There was no stopping it. Not anymore, anyway. Hed whined, pleaded with, and appealed to his uncle until he was blue in the face. But there would be no further delay. It was inevitable. It was time.

Uncle Otis was leaving.

Worse yet, there was absolutely nothing that Vlad could possibly do to prevent it.

It wasnt just that Otis was going away again that jangled Vlads nerves; it was the fact that hed gotten used to Otiss comforting protection in the past few months. What was Vlad supposed to do if his former friend Joss decided to return to Bathory and unleash his Slayer skills all over again? He didnt think it was mathematically possible to survive another stake through the heart. Surviving it once was bad enough. And it had raised the possibility that he just might possibly be, maybe actually really be, the Pravus. The half-vampire, half-human, ruling-over-vampirekind, enslaving-the-human-race subject of prophecy that Elysia had been watching out for for centuries. Just thinking about it gave Vlad the chills.

And even if he really were the Pravus, he seriously doubted that DAblo would back off for another entire year, especially since the last time Vlad saw the fanged jerk he had all but mimicked Arnold Schwarzeneggers catch-phrase of Ill be back.

Man, sometimes it really sucked being a vampire.

Especially a teen vampire.

Whose vampire uncle was about to pull outta town and leave him to his own defenses.

Vlad stood back up and listened to his heartbeat: slow, strong, amazingly healthy after his encounter with Joss last year. After a moment, he reached out to Otis and felt his presence. Only this time he didnt just feel him standing three blocks away; he could almost see him there, leaning casually with his back against the streetlight across from Mr. Craigs old house. It was as if he were watching the scene through the lens of a large, omniscient camera.

He furrowed his brow. Otis, are you standing across from Mr. Craigs house, leaning against a pole?

Otiss voice, hesitant in Vlads mind. Vladimir, youre supposed to be judging my distance from you. Are you tapping into my thoughts? I cant feel you in there.

No. Im watching you. At least, I think I am. From the outside.

Otis grew very quiet and walked quickly out of view from the camera in Vlads mind. Then the camera clicked off, and Vlad chewed his bottom lip in contemplation. In moments, thanks to his vampire speed, Otis was making his way up the street to where Vlad stood. His face seemed paler than usual, his eyes large and wide, almost suspicious. When he opened the gate, he frowned, his eyebrows drawn together as if he were distressed. How did you see me, Vladimir? Exactly what were you doing?

Vlad shrugged, his nerves fraying some-hed seen that look in Otiss eyes several times over the summer, and each time had ended up reminding him what a freak he was, even in the vampire world. I didnt do anything different, just reached out with my blood, the way you taught me. Why?

Otis shook his head. Vampires cant tell who it is we sense or precisely where they are, only how far away from us theyre located and how many there are.

Vlad sighed. Great. I cant do the simplest thing without screwing it up with my weirdness.

Its not a curse, Vladimir. Its a blessing. But in Otiss softly spoken words lurked a lie.

Vlads jaw tensed, but he kept his tone light. Then you be the Pravus. Im too tired to reign over vampirekind, let alone enslave the human race.

Otis smiled, but it was forced. Behind his casual pose Vlad sensed fear. Is that what you want, to do as prophecy deems you will-if, in fact, you are the so-called Pravus?

I dont know. Being godlike might have its perks. The corner of Vlads mouth rose in a smirk, but then he shrugged with one shoulder and dropped his gaze to the ground between his feet. But even if I am-and well, I think we both know thats a very real possibility.

Otis shifted his feet, and Vlad braced himself. Vlad wasnt stupid. He hadnt failed to notice Otiss changed behavior-the discomfort and awkward, nervous glances ever since Joss had put him in the hospital with a stake through the heart. Only the Pravus could have survived something like that. Worse than the idea that he could be a danger to humans everywhere, and a tyrant to his fellow creatures of the night, was that his uncle, his last living relative, was living in fear of him or rather, of what he might be, and probably was.

Even if I am the Pravus, its like you told me, Otis. A man is the choices that he makes. And I fully intend to make good choices, to be a good man. Like my dad was. He met Otiss eyes then and smiled, hoping his words would be enough to calm Otiss fears, if only for the evening.

But Otis still looked troubled.

Vlad looked up into the night sky. It sucks that summer is almost over. No more late nights outside with you, learning new skills. Not that there could possibly be much more to learn.

Oh, theres one or two that I havent taught you yet. Otis winked. Are you hungry?

Famished. Vlads fangs slipped down from his gums in acknowledgment. He ran his tongue across their tips and met Otiss eyes. By the way, I wanted to thank you. You know, for not feeding on humans while youre here. I know it hasnt been easy, living on bagged blood when youre used to feeding straight from the source. But I really appreciate the effort even though youll probably gorge on whole families after youve left Bathory.

Otis chuckled but, Vlad noticed, he didnt negate Vlads jibe. And I want to thank you, he said.

For what?

Otis turned and led the way up the steps of the porch. He opened the front door, holding it for Vlad, then followed his nephew inside. Many things. For putting up with an old fools superstitions. For outshining our brethren in wisdom and skill. For allowing me to share your home. And mostly, for helping me to see your father, Tomas, again, through you.

Vlad felt his cheeks flush a little. Its not like I even had a say about you staying here-there was no way Nelly would let you stay anywhere else. And neither would I. You belong here with us, Otis.

Otis grew quiet for a moment, and then nodded, as if making a momentous decision. Come, Vladimir. I want to show you something.

Otis led him into the kitchen, where he rummaged through several drawers before finally withdrawing a paring knife. There is power in blood. Im certain you know this. But something I have not yet taught you is how that power may be utilized for your protection, and the protection of those you care for. And with me leaving well, Id feel better if you knew more about how to protect yourself.

Otis placed the knife on the counter between them and kept his voice low, as if afraid that they would wake Nelly, or maybe, Vlad thought, afraid that Nelly would overhear. Reach back, Vlad. Do you recall me carving my name in Elysian code into that small box in your dresser two years ago?

Vlad nodded. How could he forget it? Hed thought Otis was some psychotic vampire, marking him for death. It was funny how wrong hed turned out to be.

Otis pushed up his left sleeve, revealing the thick black tattooed symbol on his wrist. When he placed it near Vlads own tattooed wrist, both symbols glowed brightly. I was marking you, vowing with my life to protect you by inscribing my vampire name into one of your possessions. It was a warning to any vampire who wanted to cause you grief that they would have me to deal with. You remember my explanation of that?

Vlad smiled at their tattoos and offered a nod. Of course I do. But whats with the knife?

Marking someone is taken very seriously in the vampire world. But it is more of an oath, a vow, than an element of power. The real power of our Elysian names is when they are used in the creation of glyphs. Otis plucked the knife from the counter and pressed the tip against the soft pad of his pointer finger. The shiny metal broke the skin, allowing a crimson bubble to form. Vlads stomach rumbled. He and Otis exchanged somber looks-one hungry vampire to another. Otis nodded apologetically. Normally Id just bite my finger, but I fear the taste of blood-even my own-would be too much to bear at this point. And I made a promise to you that I intend to keep. No feeding from the source while I am here in Bathory.

Otis placed his bloodied finger against the wood of the nearest cupboard door and, with his blood, drew his name in Elysian code, the tattooed symbol on his wrist. As he did so, the blood soaked into the wood. Seconds later, the wood began to burn where his blood had touched. Otis looked at Vlad. Open it.

Vlad furrowed his brow and reached for the knob, but it was stuck fast. I cant.

I know. I empowered that as a locking glyph. As I drew my name, my mark, I fed my intent into the blood with my thoughts. Otis smiled, but beneath his smile there was something else-concern, maybe. Or fear. Again, fear. In blood, there is power. But your name is powerful as well. Combined, you can protect loved ones and precious objects, keep secrets, even harm unwanted trespassers. Glyphs are crucial to vampire society, to our way of life. But they are also dangerous, Vladimir, when used incorrectly or not respected. Use your glyphs wisely, and keep your distance from those that glow red.

Vlad ran his finger along the glyph, wondering briefly what Nelly would say about the unusable cupboard and its damaged surface. Why?

But Otis either didnt hear his question or didnt acknowledge it, because he washed off the knife in the sink and turned back to Vlad, almost anxious. Now, your turn. Nip the end of your finger just a bit. We dont want the blood to flow too well. Itll smear your glyph, and a flawed glyph wont work.

As Vlad bit into his finger, Otis turned his head, shivering. Suddenly Vlad felt enormously bad for restricting his uncles diet. As the blood blossomed out of the small cut, Vlad squeezed, encouraging the wound to remain open.

Otis closed his eyes. Vlad could feel his uncle inside his mind. His presence was comforting. Now visualize, for example, that none but you can open the knife drawer. A pause, then Excellent. And now you simply write your name on it, with your blood, in Elysian code.

Vlad breathed deeply, dragging his bloody finger along the drawer, drawing the symbol that was his vampiric name, the image that was forever burned into his left wrist. When hed finished, he met Otiss now open eyes. How do we know it worked?

Otis pulled the knob, but the drawer was locked tight. He smiled proudly. It seems to have worked just fine.

Vlad examined his handiwork, a smile finding its way onto his lips, but his smile faltered when he realized what an enormous mess would be awaiting Nelly in the morning. How do you remove a glyph, anyway?

Only the glyphs master can remove it, and it must be washed away with spring water. Otis moved to the refrigerator and rummaged around inside for something. Successful, he withdrew a small plastic bottle. He tossed it to Vlad, along with a rag. Fortunately for you, it comes in bottles now. Your father and I used to walk for miles to locate a spring.

Vlad poured some water on the cloth until it was soaked, then wiped at the marked drawer front. His glyph sizzled a bit and then evaporated completely, leaving the drawer just as it had been, with no sign of the apparent damage his blood had caused to its surface. He tossed the rag to Otis, who scrubbed the cupboard door clean. Let me guess. Uphill? Both ways? Through four feet of snow?

Otis chuckled. At times, yes. We faced many obstacles seeking out springs in our younger days, when we were still learning how to use glyphs. Ill never forget the time we had to cross straight through a grouping of roughly a hundred members of the Slayer Society, who were all regaling one another with boastful tales about how many vampires each had killed. The only spring for miles was at the center of their encampment.

Vlads eyes grew wide. They didnt see you?

Of course they did. But for all of their apparent skills, not one attacked. We were approached by a small group, stakes at the ready. They asked to see our Society Coin. All slayers carry a coin as proof of their membership in the Slayer Society. Tomas withdrew just such a coin from his pocket and told them of the three vampires that we had just slain, not a mile from their encampment. Three at once, he bragged. When in all actuality it had been three Slayers that he and I had just feasted on, which is how hed come by the coin. And they believed his ridiculous tale. Otis grinned at Vlads disbelieving stare. Have I mentioned that your father was a master of mind control?