Once Burned

Page 61

"That hurt," Rend said clearly.

Then everything north of his collarbones pitched over into the hay. The rest of his body remained crouched in front of Marty, that silver knife still gripped in his hand. The open area of gore where his head, neck, and shoulder used to be revealed Marty's stunned face above it. He stared at Rend's body-both parts of it-and then at me, mouth opening and closing wordlessly as if he'd been the one who was decapitated. The long current of white coming from my hand fizzled and then disappeared with another whiff of ozone.

"He s-s-o had that c-coming," I said through madly chattering teeth. Exultation filled me, but it didn't stamp out my lingering fury. I had to suppress the urge to summon another bolt and keep whipping Rend's remains until he resembled the hay beneath him. That frothing energy continued to pulse inside me, fueled by pain, rage, and about a pint of vampire blood.

"He's not alone," Marty hissed.

Later, it would bother me that I was happy by this news. I cut through the rest of my ropes in time to be standing naked but unrestrained when a Mediterranean-looking man suddenly appeared in the space between me and Marty's stalls.

My hand flashed out, those currents seeking the wild rush of another release. A line of blazing white arced from my skin, cracking across the man's neck. Just like with Rend, his head hit the ground before the rest of his body.

"One more," Marty whispered, still staring at me in shock.

I wanted to put on one of the dead vampire's clothes-and shoes!-but footsteps were already coming down the stable's narrow hallway. I snatched up the discarded horse blanket and darted out of the stall, hoping whoever was coming hadn't noticed the dead man's legs sticking out of Marty's stall.

From the preternaturally fast way the blond man turned and headed in the opposite direction, he had. I ran after him, extending my right hand and willing all those remaining currents out of me. But my level of power had decreased after two deadly releases. The lash that snapped across the blond vampire brought him to his knees, but it was too low and didn't cut all the way through him. I hesitated. For all intents and purposes, I was unarmed and he was undead. That meant I didn't stand a chance.

Then I forced that thought back with recklessness born of desperation. He couldn't get away and warn Szilagyi. If Maximus and Shrapnel were still alive, that would result in their death sentences. Low voltage or no, I had to stop him.

The vampire pushed himself upright, and it was a toss-up as to which he looked more astonished over-the gash that had cut halfway through his torso, or me charging at him while clutching a dirty blanket. Then it was my turn to be shocked as, instead of attacking, he staggered and began to run away from me.

I chased him, all the vampire blood I'd drunk plus his still-healing wound making me able to keep up. He ran out of the stables and into a snow-covered field. The sun was setting, but it was still light enough for me to see the cell phone he took out of his pants. Panicked, I snapped my hand at it. White flashed through the air, hitting the phone as if driven by missile lock. It blasted apart and he shot a wild look over his shoulder at me before accelerating his pace.

The distance grew between us. For all my increased abilities, I was still human and he was still not. In seconds, he'd be too far ahead for me to see. Even if that didn't happen, I had to get warm or I'd die. The snow felt like razors on my bare feet and despite the blanket, I shook so hard that I began to stumble. In a last-ditch effort, I aimed my right hand at his head and shoved all the waning energy I had toward it.

Red exploded as if I'd hit him with a paint gun pellet. The vampire staggered, turning in my direction. That's when I saw that the back of his head was missing. Despite everything I'd seen over the years, let alone experienced today, I gagged, but I didn't slow down. He fell over, thick dark blobs staining the snow, yet he wasn't dead. His hands swatted at his head in an uncoordinated manner, as if some thread of consciousness urged him to stuff his brains back inside the ruins of his skull.

I reached him in the next minute. He still looked dazed, but part of his head had already begun to heal. Soon he'd be fully recovered-and pissed. I fell to the ground next to him, avoiding most of his wild swipes as I began to search him. My teeth chattered until I tasted blood and my hand shook so badly that it took a few tries to get inside his coat. His eyes were open but unfocused, the sounds he made horrible animalistic grunts. Even when a few of his blows landed, I continued to tear at his clothes. Two hands would've been more thorough, but I couldn't afford to lose any time reliving his sins.

Something stabbed me in his inner coat pocket. At the same moment, those smoky brown eyes focused on me with terrifying clarity. Without even looking to see what metal the weapon was, I yanked it out and shoved it into his heart, twisting with all of my might.

Chapter 40

I trudged into the stables wearing clothes and shoes several sizes too big. I'd even put on the vampire's shirt despite its bloody rip in the chest. I was too cold to be picky.

Marty would've heard me com-ing, but until I appeared in the entrance of his stall, I don't think he'd allowed himself to really believe that I was okay. He stared me as I dropped to my knees in front of him. Two fat red tears rolled down his cheeks.

"You made it, kid."

I began ripping the knives out with hands that still shook, my own tears falling onto my cheeks. Their fleeting warmth was welcome. I didn't know if I'd ever feel free of the cold that seemed to have turned my bones to icicles within me.

"You made it, too," I said huskily.

The truth of those words made more tears fall, blurring my vision as I yanked out the last of the knives. Once Marty was free, he grabbed me in a hug so tight, it would have been painful if not for how happy I was to be held by him again.

Then he pushed me back. "We gotta hurry, kid. Now that Szilagyi and Vlad are after us, we need to disappear."

I blinked, thinking hypothermia must be messing with my ability to comprehend. "What do you mean, we need to disappear?"

He sighed. "I heard Rend say that you agreed to betray Vlad to Szilagyi, so he'll come after you with everything he's got. With luck, they'll keep each other occupied long enough for us to leave Europe-"

"I didn't betray him, Marty," I interrupted. "Rend was right. I lied to Szilagyi. In fact, I need to search through Rend's bones to find out where he is and then contact Vlad with the information."

"Vlad let you get captured?" Marty shook his head in disgust. "I warned you that he was ruthless. Vlad doesn't care about what happens to you as long as he gets what he's after."

Tip: You can use left and right keyboard keys to browse between pages.