This is what you get for thinking you could outsmart someone centuries older than you, an insidious inner voice taunted. For all your big talk, you and your friend are going to die, and there's nothing you can do about it but scream.
FUCK you! I thought, something steely rising in me. That dark inner voice had been responsible for my worst mistakes, like tattling about my father's affair out of spite instead of love, cutting my wrist, and walking away from my family after I healed. I refused to let it direct my actions now. Yes, all my plans had gone to shit, but I'd make new ones. I might indeed die, but it would be fighting every step of the way.
"Wh-wh-what's your name?" I asked, teeth chattering so hard that it made me stutter.
He snorted. "Trying to stall? That won't work with me."
"N-n-not trying to stall, but if y-y-you're going to t-torture me, we sh-sh-should at least be on a first n-name basis."
He laughed. Under other circumstances, I would've said someone with his pleasant features, vivid blue eyes, and runner's build was attractive, but nobody pulled off cute when they were about to carve into you as if you were a juicy steak.
"I was born Aron Razvan, but for the past three centuries, I've called myself . . . eh, the English translation would be Rend."
It came as no surprise that his chosen nickname implied violence. No wannabe badass would choose a moniker like Petal.
"Leila D-Dalton," I managed. If I shook any harder from the cold, I might dislocate something.
Another jovial smile. "Well, Leila, this will hurt, but if I find that you're not trying to trick Szilagyi, then after I heal you, I'll send you to him." His smile faded, and green covered his gaze until not a speck of blue remained. "But if you are trying to f**k us, you will regret it."
Then that pale ivory knife slashed across my shoulder, signaling that Rend was done talking.
Over the past twelve years, I'd gotten familiar enough with pain to classify it in stages of mild, moderate, acute, intense, excruciating, and freeing. That last one might sound strange, but if you've been pushed past every other milestone and were still alive, the final one-the one that inevitably leads to the sweet nothingness of death-is a relief.
This was the third time I'd entered the "freeing" stage with Rend. Like the other two instances, soon he'd use one of many irrigation syringes he'd prefilled with his blood and force-feed it to me, healing the damage he'd done before I ruined his plans by dying. But right now, hovering over the precipice between life and death, I experienced a moment of clarity.
All I had to do was hang on until he switched to torturing Marty. He hadn't made me confess my true loyalties yet, and he was getting irritated. Soon he'd seek to break me through my love for my friend, but Rend didn't know that every crimson drop he forced me to swallow did more than heal my body-it fueled my power. I felt it growing, surging against my skin, burning inside with a seething intensity that would have killed me if not for all the vampire blood I kept swallowing. It was all I could do to contain the rivers of electricity that tried to push their way out of my hand. If Rend hadn't been so careful to touch me only with his nonconductive weapons, plastic syringes, and thick rubber gloves, he might have sensed the danger. As it was, his precautions would be the death of him.
Touching him might not be enough, after all. I'd see his worst sin, but perhaps not where he'd been before he grabbed me from Tolvai's. The only way I'd definitely find where I was-and hopefully where Szilagyi was-would be through Rend's eyes.
Or, more accurately, through the memories in his bones.
I felt darkness overwhelming me when he cursed in something that sounded like a cross between Latin and Romanian. Then, he shoved a needleless syringe in my mouth and I tasted his cold blood again. That liquid seemed to turn to fire after it slid down my throat and hit my bloodstream. My body convulsed while it healed, leaving me shaking from the surge of power and the agony of countless nerve endings knitting back together.
"Either you're telling the truth, or you're strong as f**k," Rend muttered in English this time. "Let's find out."
By the time I blinked enough to clear my vision, I saw the stable door was open. Directly across from my stall, in another open stable, was Marty. He wasn't tied to the posts with rope like I was, but speared through in multiple places with silver. From how pale he was, he hadn't fed in several days, and his blood barely pooled around the stab wounds.
Silver poisoning, starvation, and draining of blood were the most efficient ways to negate a vampire's strength. Rend was no amateur, as he'd proved. But what simultaneously broke my heart and filled me with feral purpose was seeing the crimson streaks on Marty's cheeks. He'd cried while listening to Rend torture me, so much that his tears had turned from pink to red.
"I hope Vlad rips your guts out and burns them in front of you," Marty snarled at Rend.
The vampire laughed. "I've watched him do that to someone, you know. The smell is horrible."
Marty spat when Rend came nearer. "If you were ever that close to him, then he should have killed you."
His back was to me, so I couldn't see Rend's expression, but his tone turned colder than the air around us.
"Oh, he did worse than kill me. He cut me off from his line mere months after turning me, all because I broke some of his endless, stupid rules. For decades, I was every vampire's bitch until Szilagyi found me and took me in, but enough about the past." He took those rubber gloves off and tossed them aside. "Your turn."
Rend's body briefly blocked Marty from view as he squatted down until he was nearly the same level as Marty's four-foot, one-inch frame. Then he took a silver knife from an open satchel on the ground and waved it in a taunting manner.
"You mentioned ripping guts out. Sounds like a good place to start. Speak up if you have something to tell me, Leila."
"Don't worry about me, kid," Marty rasped, and though his voice was hoarse, the words were firm. "I'll be okay."
"No, you won't," Rend replied with obvious relish.
Yes, he will, I thought savagely, and released the energy roiling beneath my skin.
Ozone scented the air, replacing the smell of horses. The rope around my right wrist fell away as a sizzling strand of white cut through it. Rend cocked his head at the crackling sound, glancing over his shoulder at me.
I aimed everything I had at him, channeling it in a rush of power that made my hand feel like it exploded when electricity burst from it. A glowing lash ripped across Rend's upper body, shooting out from me so fast, he still had that quizzical expression when he glanced down at where it hit him.