I strode through a crumbling abbey located in the cleft of a mountain that seemed to crouch over it. My knives were splattered with crimson and the angry scent of smoke emanated from me. The fight was over, but I wasn't leaving until I'd searched every inch of these ruins. Szilagyi might have left a clue to his whereabouts. If not, I had other avenues to pursue.
"Take that one back to the house," I ordered, flashing a genial smile at the prisoner struggling in Maximus's arms. "We'll see what information he has."
Before Maximus could reply, a tremendous shudder shook the abbey, followed by the flash of flames and a deafening roar. Szilagyi rigged this place to explode was my first thought, followed instantly by Doesn't the fool remember that I'm immune to fire? But then the earth opened up in great cracking chasms, dragging me and the others down while the roof collapsed on top of us.
When the roaring and shaking increased, I realized the rest of Szilagyi's trap. He hadn't only set explosives in and under the abbey-he'd detonated the mountain above it, too. Rage and disbelief filled me. No. I couldn't die like this.
I tried to pull myself out, but the earth shook so violently I could find no purchase and it was too congested to fly. Then multiple tons of rock landed upon me as the mountain rained down, pinning me with gargantuan pressure before tearing my body apart from their weight and velocity.
I came out of the vision with pain still arcing through every limb. That didn't stop me from running out of the dining room and down the hall. At the end of that long, gothic expanse, the front doors were open and Vlad was between them, the sunlit backdrop of a beautiful winter day highlighting his frame in ethereal white.
"Stop!" I shouted as loud as I could.
"He rigged the abbey and the mountain?"
A short laugh escaped Vlad. I didn't see anything funny about it. In fact, I was still shaking from reliving his death.
"Yes. This whole attack is designed to bring you there and then kill you."
He stroked his jaw. Sunshine played across half his face while darkness etched the side turned away from the windows. He was a kaleidoscope of light and shadows, much like the startling contrasts of his personality, and while he'd never looked more vibrant or fierce, I still had to keep from running my hands over him to reassure myself that he was whole-and to make sure that I'd truly changed his future from that horrible fate.
"Szilagyi knows I'd come to assist my men. He must've planned this for weeks to have sufficient charges to bring down the mountain."
I let out a shaky laugh. "Gotta love an evil mastermind."
Vlad came over to me. He'd sat me down in the library when I kept screaming about how he'd die if he left. In hindsight, I should've been calmer in my warning. If he thought I was having an antiquated case of feminine hysterics over him going into regular danger, he might have ignored me and gone anyway.
He knelt in front of my chair, a smile flitting across his lips. "You're not prone to hysterics of any kind. That's why I listened when you said to stop."
Then he rose, going to the door. "Maximus!"
The blond vampire appeared at once. From his hard expression, he'd overheard everything.
"Take Shrapnel and four others to the abbey," Vlad stated. "Only one of you is to enter at a time to secure prisoners or collect our dead, and be conspicuous about who. You're being watched, but Szilagyi won't detonate the charges if he sees that I'm not there. He can only bring down the mountain once."
Maximus bowed to Vlad, but he stared at me while he did it, and the emotion in his gaze was unsettling. Then he left, and when Vlad turned back to me, his expression was harshly amused.
"I never thought a woman would come between us, but you might. If Maximus wasn't loyal to the last drop of blood in his body, I'd kill him for how he looks at you."
His tone was casual, but once again, I didn't know if he was using a figure of speech or being serious.
"He's just grateful that you're not going to die today."
A brow rose. "You think this is the only time he's stared at you that way?"
I hadn't known that, but it didn't change anything. "You can't kill someone for how he looks at me. That's crazy."
I thought I heard, "I can if he keeps it up," but I wasn't sure, and his next words startled me into forgetting that.
"I'll see you in a few hours. I don't want to be far behind Maximus and the others."
"You're still going?" I blurted, astounded.
His smile was coldly anticipatory. "Not inside, but someone is watching that abbey in order to detonate those charges. With luck, it will be Szilagyi himself."
I wouldn't link to the puppet master to find out; if he was there, Szilagyi would sense that I was spying on him and leave. Instead, I grasped Vlad's arm with my right hand. If I saw another image of his death, I wasn't letting him leave this room no matter what he said.
Nothing. I let out a huge sigh of relief.
He stroked my cheek, that deadly little smile never leaving his face.
"Don't fear. Szilagyi needed to bring a mountain on me to kill me because I'm too powerful to fall in a normal ambush."
Then he was gone, my hair rustling with the speed of his exit. Vlad had the devil's own ego, but according to myth, pride was how Lucifer fell. His arrogance could turn out to be his Achilles' heel if Szilagyi exploited it the right way.
My teeth ground together. That wouldn't happen. Vlad would search for him in his way, and I'd do the same in mine. So far the memories locked inside those bones from the club hadn't yielded more information, but I'd keep sifting through them. With luck, one of them would lead to Szilagyi's location, or to whoever might be helping him. Vlad said he thought that some of his "allies" really wanted him dead. He'd been seeking out items for me to touch the night of the club fire, but since we'd discovered the identity of the puppet master, combing through people he knew to determine friend from foe had been back-burnered.
Still, someone had snatched Marty off the streets, and Szilagyi had been tucked in his concrete box at the time. It could've been the young-looking vampire with the prematurely silver hair, but as Vlad had said, Szilagyi had waited centuries to make his move because he needed enough people supporting him first. If Szilagyi was close to us as Vlad surmised, maybe his secret cadre of allies were, too . . .
As sudden as the bolt of electricity that had changed my life, I realized how we could find Szilagyi without spending weeks on painstaking searches of abandoned structures or poring through memories contained in his people's bones. All we'd have to do was to give the puppet master what he wanted.