Bound by Flames

Page 43

I looked at the chains and then the deep gashes in the wall that could only have come from an electrical whip. My right hand wasn’t even sparking now, but that lethal power must still be in me. And one lucky strike with that whip could take off Vlad’s head. After all, he’d be fighting to restrain me, not kill me, even if I wasn’t showing him the same courtesy.

“Don’t let me out of these,” I said hoarsely. After my captivity, being restrained filled me with panic, but I’d rather freak the hell out than risk trying to harm him again.

“You won’t be in them long,” Vlad said, his nearness easing my guilt as well as my fear. “Mencheres will break the spell.”

I hadn’t realized I’d tensed everywhere until his statement caused me to relax with the suddenness of a balloon popping. “Did he get what he needed?”

He glanced toward the door. “Yes, and from the footsteps headed our way, he’s awake and ready to begin.”

Chapter 23

I didn’t want to know what Mencheres put into the pot boiling on the stove. Images of rat’s tails and bat’s wings danced in my mind, but that was probably because I’d seen too many movies. Besides, I don’t think those were the supplies that had taken Mencheres hours to acquire, and the scent coming from the pot was more reminiscent of herbs than rodent stew.

I was glad to be out of my chains, although I still felt that I deserved worse. In addition to wresting the guilt that gnawed at me, I was also fighting to keep my captivity memories at bay. Unlike the other times I’d been in enemies’ hands, I wasn’t able to shake the post-traumatic stress, and being trussed up had made it worse. Vlad must have sensed that, because he told me he’d only chained me to allow Mencheres a few hours’ sleep. Before that, the Egyptian’s power had kept me from harming myself, saving Vlad from resorting to violence to accomplish the same thing.

As we waited for Mencheres to finish cooking up his magical brew, Vlad held my right hand in a light grip. I knew it would turn viselike if the spell reared its head again, and that comforted me, but it hadn’t escaped my notice that we were the only three people in the villa. It couldn’t be concern over my going on another rampage: Vlad alone would be enough to contain me. With Mencheres here, too, I was laughably outgunned. They must not want the guards or anyone else to know what Mencheres was doing, which begged another question.

“If magic is so illegal in the vampire world that this would get all of us in trouble if we were caught, why don’t we just tell on Szilagyi for using a spell?”

Mencheres gave me a sidelong glance before resuming his attention to the pot. “The same reason why some humans choose not to call the authorities: the repercussions aren’t worth the potential assistance.”

Vlad, as usual, was more blunt. “The Law Guardians wouldn’t believe your actions were the result of a spell unless they saw you kill yourself as proof.”

“But that defeats the purpose!” I said, aghast.

Vlad snorted. “Exactly.”

Great. The Law Guardians were useless when it came to helping us, but they’d do Szilagyi’s job for him if they found out that we were dabbling in magic. No wonder Vlad and Mencheres weren’t rushing to call the vampire version of 911.

“Szilagyi knows that, doesn’t he?” I guessed, letting out a short laugh. “That’s why he hasn’t hesitated to use spells against us. He knows we can’t do anything about it.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” Vlad replied, his copper gaze turning green. “But before we get to that, we’re going to reverse the one he put on you.”

“Ready at last,” Mencheres said with a final stir of his spoon. Then he poured the brownish mixture into a tall plastic glass. “Drink.”

I took the glass with my left hand. Vlad still hadn’t released my right one, and from his expression, he wasn’t going to. The mixture looked like pureed mud and it smelled earthy and fragrant, as if Mencheres had blended together a forest and a flower garden. Mencheres watched me with the expectant air of a chef as I blew on it to cool it, then took a small sip.

I began to choke after my first swallow, my stomach seizing with more ferocity than when I found out I’d tried to kill Vlad in my sleep. I would have spewed the mixture out, but my lips sealed shut as if they’d been welded by invisible tools.

“Swallow,” Mencheres said, his tone suddenly hard. “You must drink all of it in order to break the spell.”

My stomach still felt like it was shoving my other organs through an internal wood chipper, but I’d be damned if I let one glass of foul-tasting stuff stand between me and freedom. I nodded, and Mencheres released his invisible hold on my mouth and I tipped the glass high, chugging its contents. My insides burned as if I drank liquid silver and I had to swallow back my own vomit several times, but finally, the glass was empty.

“That wasn’t . . . so bad,” I gasped, my sides still heaving from nausea so intense that it was crushing. “Do you think—”

I didn’t get the rest out. Agony slammed into every cell at once, blinding me to everything except the pitiless, searing pain. I was still screaming when I came to my senses to find that I’d collapsed onto the kitchen floor. Mencheres was crouched in front of me and Vlad gripped me from behind.

“ . . . the hell is she turning blue?” I heard Vlad snarl beneath the last, shrill sound of my scream.

It took a moment for his words to penetrate and for my eyes to refocus enough to note that my arms were indeed turning a brilliant indigo shade. So were my legs, which scissored out from my long dress as if I had been trying to run away from the pain. The shiny, reflective steel surface of the dishwasher confirmed that my face was blue, too. It was as though I’d morphed into a raven-haired version of Mystique, and from Mencheres’s expression, that wasn’t supposed to have happened.

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