Chains of darkness, p.19
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       Chains of Darkness, p.19

         Part #2 of Men in Chains series by Caris Roane
 
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  The back of the gondola formed a kind of partition so that they could see nothing behind them. The gondola moved forward and passed through a series of curtains so that when the boat emerged into the first cavern on the river, Claire murmured, “Oh, my God.”

  “It’s beautiful.”

  “Have you never been here?”

  “No.”

  Unlike the best-known human caves, in which stalagmites and stalactites formed the greater fascination for explorers, the vampire world had an almost opposite sensibility: Caves were meant to be transformed, kept free from damp, with the richest mineral veins polished to a glow. They had teams working on caves constantly to remove all kinds of mineral buildup within their developed cavern systems.

  When the walls of a cave were a simple stone, crystals were added, or various exotic granites and marbles. Sculpture had been perfected as a high form of art.

  Music played in the background. As the gondola moved slowly around each intricate turn of the river, lights played over more sculptures, intricate stone carvings, and beautiful crystal mosaics.

  In the face of the beauty in front of her, Claire forgot her present struggles. She took Lucian’s hand, overwhelmed.

  Suddenly the hidden world of the vampire looked very different to her, full of beauty and subtlety, romance, and even children and families. She was looking at the opposite side of Lucian’s civilization. “I had no idea.”

  “I guess you haven’t seen much beauty in our world over the past few days, have you?”

  She shook her head as the gondola left the cavern behind and entered what appeared to be a long, dark tunnel. She heard a soft moan in the distance. Is that what I think it is?

  These gondolas are meant to be very private.

  But this tunnel carries sound.

  Lucian chuckled softly. He squeezed her hand. I wish we were here under very different circumstances.

  I’m trying hard not to think about it.

  But the dark tunnel ended, bringing the gondola into an immense new cavern and another display of vampire artistry. Realizing that the ride wouldn’t get them to their end point for at least another twenty minutes, and needing to keep from thinking about how she wished Lucian would kiss her, Claire let her mind drift and her eyes take in the sights in front of her.

  The entire ride was linked with dark tunnels, which created the ideal preparation for the next extraordinary display.

  Just as the fourth cavern opened up, which involved a thematic use of obsidian and white crystals, Lucian nudged her. Look how the river turns at the exit point.

  She sat up straighter and fixed her gaze at the far end of the cavern. Yes, it turns almost parallel to the rest of the ride; a ninety-degree turn.

  Exactly. Now all we need to find is the serpent pillar.

  Yeah, but have you given any thought to busting through the electrical field? And before you dispute what you’d be up against, remember that I saw what Tasers did to you in Daniel’s Dark Cave system. You were incapacitated.

  I wasn’t an Ancestral then.

  But she felt his doubts and maybe his remembered experience, the pain of having had that much electrical current disrupting his vampire circuitry.

  She forgot about the black and white crystals, her gaze now fixed across the cavern despite the switchback path of the gondola or the occasionally extreme height of some of the sculptures.

  Setting the rose aside when the gondola made the ninety-degree turn, she held her breath.

  There, to the left, it’s a disguise, Lucian, can you see it? The most beautiful blue.

  I don’t see it.

  That has to be the hidden cavern.

  At the same time, she saw the six-foot stone statue in the shape of serpent.

  There’s the serpent. Her heart started pounding in her chest. I see it.

  I’m going to throw us through the field and it’s going to hurt. But we don’t have to do this, Claire.

  Like hell we don’t. I’m ready, Lucian. I can take a little pain. Just say the word.

  Ten feet remained until they would enter the next tunnel.

  Just tell me where the disguise seems thinnest.

  Claire’s heart thumped in her chest, her gaze rising. Near the ceiling line, but it’s very jagged.

  Give me the distance; it’s time to go.

  Twenty feet straight up, then over eight feet, no more.

  Ready, Claire?

  Hell, yeah.

  She wasn’t exactly prepared for how he simply lifted her up and launched her into the air, holding her only by her arm.

  The electrical field burned and jolted her senses. When she landed, she felt like she’d fallen on pillows because her mind was floating, making sense of nothing.

  Then she blacked out.

  * * *

  Lucian couldn’t move, and the space was very dark. Something sharp pressed into his face, his neck, and other parts of his body. Where the hell was he?

  His mind faded in and out, the way his early recovery from blood-madness had felt, when only one thought out of three made any sense at all.

  Now he remembered. Shit, that had hurt. Where was Claire?

  Claire.

  Nothing came back to him.

  Claire.

  Still nothing. He wished like hell he could see, but he’d been in this situation before, every damn time he’d been Tasered.

  Light suddenly flooded the cavern. Oh, now he understood what had happened: He’d short-circuited the light show. Great. They’d probably have security on them soon.

  Sure enough, a few seconds later a team of eight tough-looking vampires flew through the cavern, high in the air, searching. The electrical fields weren’t functioning yet, either, and the gondolas had stopped moving.

  He sat up but as several glanced in his direction, he realized they couldn’t see him. He and Claire were behind the disguise.

  Hey, you’re sitting on my hand.

  Claire?

  He turned slowly, his mind still like mush, but rose at the same time. She drew her hand back.

  “You have a hard ass, you know.”

  He looked down at her. She had welts across her face, a fine array of electrical burns.

  He caught her chin in his hand. “You okay?”

  “Do I look okay? Because by the strips of pain in rows over my face, I’d say I got fried.”

  He peered closely. “You’re healing fast, though.”

  She sat up. “That did not feel good.”

  “But we made it through.”

  “I take it if I hadn’t been siphoning your power, I’d be toast?”

  “Burned to a crisp.”

  She lifted her right fist. “Go, vampire power.”

  He chuckled, then laughed. “Claire, you’re too much. Does anything ever get you down?”

  She rose to her feet, sniffing. “Oh, this is bad. The electricity singed my faux fur and now it stinks.”

  Still sitting on the ground, he looked up at her, marveling. Nothing about Claire was in the ordinary style. She’d been knocked unconscious and her face was burned, but she acted as though nothing much had just happened. He admired her more than he wanted to admit.

  Glancing down at him, she lifted a brow. “Oh, I’m sorry. Do you need me to help your sorry ass up?”

  He rose, shaking his head but still chuckling.

  Her gaze slid past him. “Those vamps in flight can’t see us, can they?”

  He turned around, watching them fly over their now empty gondola. “Not even a little. They can’t hear us, either.”

  “Good deal.”

  He glanced around. “All right, let’s get going. Who knows what we’re going to find next. Although all I’m seeing is a dead end, a wall of rock all the way to the ceiling.” His gaze traveled at least fifty feet to the top of the cavern, then back down. Yet something seemed off. For one thing, he couldn’t bring himself to shift into altered flight and pass through it, as though something blocked him.


  He started to express this phenomenon to Claire, but she merely smiled, then disappeared right in front of him. Gone.

  “Claire, what the fuck?”

  She came straight back, grabbed him by the lapels of his leather coat, then pulled him through what turned out to be just another layer of very powerful disguise, one that had confused even his strong, Ancestral mind.

  “Impressive,” he murmured.

  He moved into a small cavern, maybe thirty feet in width and thirty across. The stone floor was very old, ancient in fact, created at least three thousand years ago. This cavern hadn’t seen activity in a long time.

  He turned in a circle, but even he could see that there was nothing here. “Claire, is this another disguise? Because I’m not getting anything.”

  She shook her head and the chains told him she was serious as she said, “Not even a whisper of a disguise. This is it. And you’re right, there’s nothing here. Is it possible Arsen and Salazar were lying?”

  Lucian shook his head. “I don’t believe they were. They’d done their homework, assembling and cross-checking all the rumors and facts carefully. And they would never have crossed Daniel by lying.”

  “Do you think someone got the weapon first?”

  “I doubt it, only because not even Arsen and Salazar couldn’t get past the disguise; no one but you could. And I’m not sure there’s another vampire in our world that could do that.”

  “And why this cavern?”

  Lucian shook his head. “Who knows? Maybe the scientists who created these weapons hoped that one day our culture would have evolved enough to have made better use of the basic technology, so they chose remote hiding places like this.”

  Claire still moved about the space, examining the walls carefully. “What does the weapon do and why were there so many of them?”

  “They emit a form of high-pitched sound waves that proved to have the capacity to kill all the vampires in one locale. As for the number of them, my understanding is that in the nineteen fifties there was a kind of secret arms race to develop a weapon that could subjugate large portions of the vampire population all at one time, a kind of riot control. Instead the weapon proved to be a killing machine, damaging the brain through the auditory channels, which as you know are hypersensitive in our kind.”

  “Like bats.”

  “Going for the obvious.”

  “Couldn’t help it.” She smiled, then, using the iPhone Eve had given her, she started taking a video of the space. She moved slowly around the entire circumference and even covered the floor. “I don’t know if the patterns on the stones mean anything, but they aren’t anywhere else in your world that I’ve seen yet.”

  He remained in the center, staring up at the ceiling, looking for anything out of place, then focused on the walls. Except for the arched opening through which they’d come into the cavern, there were no other entrances or exits.

  Claire finished her video and had just put her phone back in the pocket of her jeans when Daniel emerged through the secret entrance to the cavern.

  Just like that.

  Lucian heard Claire take in a ragged breath as she returned quickly to him, then slipped her hand in his.

  Daniel’s gaze dropped to their joined hands and he smiled. “How tender. Did you enjoy the tunnel of love, my son? Did you make love to your new woman?”

  Lucian met his father’s amused, hard gaze. “So you followed us.”

  “I had my spies watching The Erotic Passage, but I doubled the detail when I learned that Arsen and Salazar had been taken into custody.”

  He turned toward Claire. “So how are you? Do you miss the boy, Josh? Of course you do. My associate, Mr. Kiernan, chose you over Zoey because you were better educated. But dear Zoey, what a tender spirit, yet a fighting spirit.”

  “Is she still alive?” Claire gripped Lucian’s hand hard, but he could feel her summon her courage, and he loved that about her—the way she faced up to things.

  He shook his head and clucked his tongue. “That poor child. She’s been deteriorating, you see. She’d stopped eating, not a good thing for a human. And yes, that was several weeks ago, which is why she looked so bad when I let you see her.”

  Lucian’s chains vibrated at his neck. He could feel the impact his father’s careless words were having on Claire, tearing her hopes down bit by bit. Daniel would never just come out and say that Zoey had died; what would be the fun in that when he could draw it out and let Claire live it piecemeal, one horrific detail after the next.

  Daniel glanced at Lucian. “My son doesn’t approve of my telling you these things. How interesting, Lucian, that you’ve taken to a woman, a human like your mother, very Freudian, though, don’t you think? A strong vampire female would suit you much better, give as good as she got.”

  But his gaze shifted suddenly back to Claire and he frowned slightly. “So I take it that you have a special ability to see through the disguises. Even I barely finessed the last one, except that I’d watched you pull my son through a wall of rock. I took it on faith and did the same. It was rather amazing, going against all the fear the disguise created in me. I confess, I’m much impressed with you.”

  But Claire ignored these comments and got back to the subject that mattered. “Where is Zoey now?”

  Daniel turned and walked slowly to his right, just a few paces. He glanced up at the ceiling, around the walls, then took in the floor. “Looks like a wild goose chase, a perfect waste of time, Arsen and Salazar up to their old tricks.”

  “Zoey. What happened to Zoey?”

  He turned his gaze on her, those light, gold-flecked eyes of his. “Humans rarely last two years—and do you know why, Claire? Because they give up. The despair gets to your people. Even when I told Zoey you’d be coming for her, that you wanted to take her home, she just stared at me like she didn’t believe a word I said.” He smiled and chuckled softly, bastard that he was. “Imagine Zoey not believing me. I was rather offended.”

  Lucian barely registered what he felt as his father strolled through the cavern, except that the tremors had started again, the ones that would take him into blood-madness once more. Daniel had been the cause this time, or—more aptly—Lucian’s hatred for him.

  He tracked his father, mistrusting him for a lot of good reasons.

  “Zoey was a good lay, though, I’ll give her that. She was built the way I like.” He glanced at Claire, then away. “Another reason why you got sent to Florida and I moved her into the Dark Cave system.”

  Lucian pulled Claire close. He felt her rage building right alongside his own. His instincts told him to get the hell out of there and take Claire to safety, but he remained rooted to the ancient stone floor, his gaze never leaving his father’s face.

  He’d done that as a small boy, watched Daniel like a hawk, reading all the signs he could to see if he could escape a forthcoming punishment, or take the blame for Marius or Adrien so that he’d go under the whip and not his younger brothers.

  A primal, childhood fear moved within him at the sight of the man who had done so much damage, not just to his own body and psyche or even to his brothers, but to his world. Claire was beside him right now because of Daniel, caught in his web as well.

  “So, it seems Claire’s gift differs from Lily’s. Lily had these revisiting visions, you see. But you can see through even the most powerful disguises.”

  He turned to stare at Claire. “I’m sensing something here, something that I felt when I killed Marius. Now I get it. You were there, weren’t you? I couldn’t see you and I could barely feel your presence, but I knew something was off. The power you siphon and use from my son has a flavor, something I can taste on my tongue. Yes, you were there. Of course you were, and you got Lucian out. How? Come on, Claire, you can tell me.”

  Claire’s nostrils flared. “The chain-bond did the trick, gave us enough shared power to bust Lucian out of your preternatural charge, you fucking bastard. Now what happened to Zoey? She’s dead, isn’
t she?”

  Daniel’s eyes took on a familiar darkening glint. Lucian knew from long experience that his father loved a challenge. Claire’s spirit appealed to him.

  “Your friend Zoey matched you in temper. She was feisty, and those first few days she fought me. Hard.” He drew in a deep breath, closed his eyes, clearly remembering and savoring the past.

  When he opened his eyes, he bored his gaze into Claire’s. “I knew she’d make it and more than anything I looked forward to her six-month death transition. I sold tickets at a hundred thousand euros a pop. She was a perfect performer as well because of course by then she’d fully embraced the lifestyle.

  “We were an excellent couple that way; she knew my needs and my preferences and she could take the pain like no other human woman I’d known. But what excited me the most was that she held something back, kept a part of herself alive, something I knew she vowed she’d never let me possess. I tortured her repeatedly, to the shadow edge of death, and it was beautiful to see, to watch, how she never gave in, never said, Daniel, you can have it all.

  “So you see, you shouldn’t pity Zoey; she became my favorite. I even thought about having a child with her, but then one’s offspring can be such a disappointment.”

  Lucian felt Claire go very still beside him. “When did she die?”

  Daniel held Claire’s gaze in a fierce grip.

  “Pity. Just a few hours ago. But then you saw what she looked like, how emaciated she was. And I needed relief. I’ve been under such tremendous strain since you took Lucian away from me. Zoey died while I was pounding into her.”

  Lucian knew some part of his father’s story was a lie, but which part, he couldn’t tell. The tremors moved through him again, heightened perhaps because of the monster he faced.

  He would have communicated to Claire that Daniel wasn’t telling the truth about Zoey, but she tore out of his arms before he could stop her and launched at Daniel.

  She had just enough physical power to knock him back a few feet as she clawed at his face. But he righted himself, then subdued her swiftly, overpowering her to hold her tight in his arms.

  Daniel could snap her neck with little more than a thought.

 
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