At that, my gaze swung to the necromancer. “Looks like you forget to mention something really important, huh?”
He gave an oblique shrug, but his eyes were all for the vampire over my shoulder. “Mihaly hid some final contingencies from even me, it seems. And it also seems that his early mistrust of Maximus was well-founded.”
“Who’s that?” Vlad asked sharply, just now noticing that I wasn’t alone in the tunnel.
“Meet the infamous necromancer,” I said, and moved aside to let him enter the room, although I tapped the whip around my neck in warning as I did so.
When he emerged from the tunnel, Vlad got his first look at the vampire who was now bound to me in a frightening way. Even if I hadn’t felt the instant shock icing my emotions as his shields cracked, I would have realized that Vlad knew him, because he stared at him as though thunderstruck.
“Radu,” he whispered.
I stiffened in disbelief. That was the name of Vlad’s brother, who had died back in the fifteenth century. Good Lord, what if he hadn’t? All at once, I remembered the deep copper color of the necromancer’s eyes. Add a ring of emerald around the irises, and they would be identical to Vlad’s.
The necromancer’s laugh was cold. “No, though Mihaly often said that I favored my father a great deal. That would have caused serious problems for my mother if you hadn’t stayed away for the entirety of my childhood, but she knew others would notice the resemblance. That’s why she sent me off to Oradea.”
Now the look Vlad gave him was calculating, if no less amazed.
“Mircea.” A single, humorless laugh escaped him. “Ilona’s lover was my own brother. No wonder Szilagyi pushed so hard to have me marry her. The irony of me claiming Radu’s children as my own would have delighted him.”
“And would have put one of Mehmed’s loyal subjects on Wallachia’s throne, eventually,” Mircea concurred with a shrug. Then his gaze gleamed. “But while Mihaly groomed my brother to replace your son as prince, he had other plans for me.”
“Yes. He turned you into a vampire and then turned you against me,” Vlad stated, his tone now emotionless.
“Mihaly didn’t need to do that,” Mircea said instantly, his scent sharpening with hatred. “You did it yourself. Until I was turned, I didn’t know that you weren’t my father. All through my childhood, I loved you, yet you cared nothing for me. You didn’t even visit me enough to notice that I was the spitting image of the brother you hated and hounded to his death!”
“Yes, I left you and your brother in your mother’s care,” Vlad said in a toneless voice. “Is that why you plotted against me with Szilagyi for centuries?”
“Yes,” Mircea hissed. “He was a cold, cruel substitute for a father, and yet more of one to me than you ever were.”
I’d stayed quiet, mostly from surprise at the revelation that the sorcerer was Vlad’s stepson and nephew all rolled into one, but I couldn’t any more at that.
“Don’t you dare use bad-daddy syndrome as an excuse for what you’ve done,” I snapped. “I was pushed aside by my father, too, yet you don’t see me casting evil spells, crashing planes, and committing God-knows-how-many other acts of mass murder!”
“Then you’re not as strong or driven as I am,” Mircea said curtly.
Vlad’s hands became engulfed with flames, signaling that he was done discussing the necromancer’s motives. I yelled “Stop!” at the same time that Mircea said something very fast in Romanian.
“He’s tied to me now, Vlad,” I confirmed, feeling his suspicion sweep over me. “The spell did it. Look.”
I dragged a fang over my palm and Mircea held up his hand, showing the bloody slice that appeared in the same place. Then he pulled out a small, silver dagger from a concealed sheath on his back and laid open his cheek to the bone.
I fought the urge to grab my cheek at the instant, white-hot pain. Silver hurt worse than any metal for vampires, and I didn’t think it had been an accident that Mircea had gone for that knife instead of using his fangs like I had. No, I realized as I saw the malevolent gleam in his eyes, he’d wanted to hurt me, and he’d wanted Vlad to see him do it.
“You can’t kill him without killing me, too,” I said before Vlad could respond in the violent way he wanted to. “So we need to let him go.”
“I will do no such thing.” Each word fell like a hammer. “I can keep him alive without leaving him free to wreak more havoc on you, me or mine.”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” Mircea said, his beautiful features twisting with hatred. “I would rather be dead than your prisoner, not that you could ever hold me.”
At that, Vlad smiled, as charming as if he was trying to sweep Mircea off his feet. Then a wall of fire blocked the tunnel, cutting off Mircea’s only means of escape.
“Is that a dare?”
Oh, shit, I thought, bracing myself, but Mircea smiled back with equal charm.
“I only stayed to save her life since it’s currently tied to mine. Now that that’s done, so is my work here. Good-bye for now, Uncle, but don’t worry. We will see each other again.”
Vlad lunged at him and Mircea made no move to sidestep him. He just . . . disappeared, causing Vlad to grasp only thin, smoky air where the necromancer had just been.
“Spread out, this is a trick. He’s still somewhere in this room,” Vlad said at once.