And I would have been traveling with Vlad, if he hadn’t been so determined to keep me safe that he’d left me behind. More irony: if I’d stayed in the “safest” section of the dungeon like he’d told me to, I would’ve been blown to bits along with Shrapnel and Cynthiana. Looked like this time, playing it safe had been the most dangerous choice to make.
Cynthiana. Clever bitch knew if Vlad ever captured her, her only escape would be death. If she’d have guessed that her backup plan would result in my capture, she would have been laughing instead of flipping me off the last time I saw her.
Maximus only shrugged. “You hate me now, but eventually, you’ll realize that I’ll treat you better than Vlad would’ve, once this business is finished with.”
“Yes, back to business,” Szilagyi said, his gaze raking over me with palpable coldness. “With all the essence imprints Vlad must have left on you, your skin is as dangerous as your right hand. Harold, take care of both, would you?”
The blond vampire came toward me, holding the knife I’d been wondering about. Now, with sickening certainty, I knew what it was. A skinning blade. I pulled at my restraints, but of course, they didn’t budge. I wanted to tell Szilagyi that my abilities didn’t work because they’d been smothered by Vlad’s aura, but his expression said that it wouldn’t matter. He wasn’t just doing this for precautions. He wanted to hurt me.
“And turn the camera on,” Szilagyi added, the relish in his tone hammering home that nothing I said was going to stop this. “We don’t want Vlad to miss a moment.”
Hours later, after they left me to start the delivery chain for their grisly mementos, I stared at my right arm. The scar that had stretched from my fingers all the way up to my temple was gone. I never thought I’d miss the tangible reminder of touching that downed power line over a dozen years ago, but I did. Now, my scar-free, gleaming pale skin would forever be a reminder of another life-altering event.
I’d experienced many horrible things through my abilities, not to mention being tortured once before. This . . . was different. It wasn’t the pain that made me feel shattered inside. Being shot full of silver had hurt worse, but when you didn’t have yourself anymore, who were you supposed to depend on?
I’d once told Vlad that everyone held their sins close to their skin. A person’s past was there, too, essence traces recording memories that would never fade with time. When he had me skinned, Szilagyi didn’t just slice off every imprint Vlad had left on me; he’d also taken away the last links I had to my mother, my sister when we were children . . . every moment in my life that had been important enough to leave an imprint was now gone, leaving me in what felt like a stranger’s body.
That’s what I couldn’t deal with. I could handle captivity, pain, fear, uncertainty, but my body was now Szilagyi’s tapestry of revenge, each inch of new skin a mocking reminder of what he’d done to me. They’d left me naked except for my restraints, but instead of feeling exposed, every time I looked at myself, I felt like I was watching a replay of the skinning video Szilagyi had shot with such gleeful malevolence. They’d taken that video and packaged it with all my old skin and the final coup de grâce—my right arm.
Szilagyi had ripped that off himself, marveling over how it still sparked with electricity for several minutes afterward. Then his delight knew no bounds when the arm that grew back only had the same amount of voltage as the rest of my body. He hadn’t intended to, but with that one, savage pull, Szilagyi had torn my most dangerous weapon out of me, and with it, my hope for escape.
Even when Vlad had smothered my aura, my right hand had still remained lethally charged. Now, I couldn’t free myself by overloading that hand until electricity punched through my restraints, nor could I use that same hand to manifest a whip that would cut down anyone who tried to stop me from escaping. Even after Vlad’s aura faded, I probably wouldn’t be able to discern psychic impressions, either. It wasn’t mine anymore. It was another one of Szilagyi’s leftovers.
I’d screamed when they cut my flesh from me, despite my best attempts not to. I’d also hurled threats at Maximus, Harold, and Szilagyi even though that had only amused two out of three of them. I’d tried to tell Vlad not to lose it the way they wanted him to when he saw this video, but Szilagyi had silenced me by shoving a handful of my discarded skin into my mouth. Now that I was alone and they’d taken the camera with them, I finally allowed myself to do the one thing I hadn’t done during the excruciating, soul-crushing experience.
My cell had no windows, so I measured the time by my cycle of consciousness versus unconsciousness. When I abruptly passed out, that meant dawn. When I awoke, dusk. From that, I knew that five days had passed since the castle attack. Oddly enough, my jailers had left me alone during the time. To keep from drowning in despair over Vlad, my circumstances, and wondering if Marty had made it out alive, I occupied myself by doing two things: testing my manacles and eavesdropping.
The former turned out to be a bust. Not surprisingly, Szilagyi was a pro at knowing how to restrain a vampire. The thick clamps on my upper arms, elbows, and wrists were embedded so solidly into the rock wall behind me that the wall had to have been reinforced. The clamp around my waist meant that I couldn’t wriggle down to get any traction, and my legs were bolted to the wall in no fewer than four places.
In short, I could give myself a really good case of rock burn by repeated squirming, but I couldn’t get free. I could, however, tell a few things about my surrounding from listening.