Wednesday, October 23, 2019
Blood Promise Chapter Twenty-Five
His eyes widened in shock, lips parting. Even though I knew this wasn't a silver stake, it might as well have been. To run it through his heart, I had had to act as decisively as I would have if delivering a killing blow. I'd had to finally accept my Dimitri's death. This one was a Strigoi. There was no future with him. I would not join him. That still didn't make some part of me want to stop and lie down beside him, though, or at the very least see what happened next. After that initial surprise, his features and breathing had gone still, giving the illusion of death. That's all it was, however-an illusion. I'd seen it before. I probably had five minutes at most before he healed up and shook this off. I had no time to mourn for what was and what might have been. I had to act now. No hesitation. I ran my hands over him, searching his clothes for anything that might be of use. I found a set of keys and some cash. I pocketed the keys and started to leave the cash but realized I might actually need it on the off chance I escaped this place. My own money had been taken when I arrived. I also swept up some of the jewelry on the table. Finding buyers for that kind of thing in big Russian cities wasn't too difficult. If I made it to said city. I stood up off the bed and gave Dimitri one last pained look. A few of the tears I'd hidden from him earlier now ran down my face. That was all I could allow myself. If I had a later, I'd mourn then. Before leaving, my gaze lingered on the stake. I wanted to take it with me; it was my only weapon. Pulling it out would mean he'd wake up in about a minute. I needed the extra time. With a sigh, I turned my back on him, hoping I'd find a weapon elsewhere. I sprinted over to the suite's door and punched in the code again. It unlocked, and I stepped into the corridor. Before going to the next door, I examined the one I'd just stepped through. To get into the suite, there was another keypad. Entry also required a code. Backing up a little, I struck and kicked the keypad as hard as I could. I did it twice more, until the tiny red light on it went out. I didn't know if that would affect the lock on the inside of the suite, but in the movies, damaging electronic locks always seemed to work. Turning my attention to the next lock, I tried to remember the numbers Inna had told me. They weren't etched as strongly in my head as the first. I punched in seven numbers. The little light stayed red. Ã¢â¬Å"Damn.Ã¢â¬ It was possible she'd lied about this set, but somehow, I suspected my memory was the culprit here. I tried again, knowing the clock was ticking on how long I had until Dimitri came after me. The red light flashed again. What were those numbers? I tried to visualize them in my head and finally decided I wasn't entirely sure about the last two. I reversed their order the next time I put in the code. The light flashed green, and the door unlocked. Of course, there was a security system of a different sort outside. A Strigoi. And not just any Strigoi: It was Marlen. The one I'd tortured in the alley. The one who hated me because I'd disgraced him in front of Galina. He was clearly on guard duty and looked as though he'd expected a boring night. Me coming out the door was a shock. That gave me, oh, about a millisecond of surprise. My first thought was to just run at him with as much brute strength as I could. I knew he would do the same to me. In factÃ¢â¬ ¦ that was exactly what he'd do. I stayed where I was, standing so that I could keep the door propped open. He came at me to stop my escape, and I stepped aside, pulling the door open wider. Now, I was neither skilled enough nor was he inept enough to simply get lured in. He stopped in the doorway, trying to get hold of me. This gave me the difficult task of trying to both fend him off and drag him into the corridor behind the door. I stepped back into the doorway, hoping he'd follow. All the while, I had to keep the door open. It was all complicated, and I would have no time to punch in the code again. We fought in the confined space. The biggest thing I had going for me was that Marlen appeared to be a young Strigoi, which made sense. Galina would want to keep around henchmen she could control. Of course, Strigoi strength and speed compensated for a lack of experience. The fact that he had been a Moroi once also meant he probably had very little training. That also was a bonus for me. Dimitri was a badass Strigoi because he'd trained as a fighter before being turned. This guy had not. So, Marlen got a couple punches in on me, one coming dangerously close to my eye. The other caught me in the stomach, knocking the air out of me for half a second. But most of the time, I was able to dodge him pretty well. This seemed to infuriate him. Getting beat up by a teenage girl didn't really score you cool points when you were a Strigoi. At one point, I even faked him out in one direction and came at him with a surprise kick -easier to do than I'd expected in that damned dress-that knocked him back a few steps. I just barely managed to keep my hand in the door when I did it, but that was all I needed. His stumble gave me a few seconds to slip out the door and into the main hall. Unfortunately, when I tried to close it, he was already trying to come through. With my hands, I tried to pull the door shut while kicking him back inside. We struggled this way for a while, and thanks to whatever luck I had left, I got the door closed enough so that only his arm was sticking through. Bracing myself, I pulled the door toward me in one huge, forceful movement. It slammed into Marlen's wrist. I half expected to see his hand detach and pop into the hall, but he'd jerked it back. Even Strigoi had certain instincts to avoid pain. Gasping-my physical strength still wasn't all it could be-I backed up. If he knew the code, this had been for nothing. A moment later, the door's handle shook but didn't open. I heard a scream of rage, and then his fists beat on the door. Score one for me. No, score one for luck. If he'd known the code, I would have been Thud. Marlen was still beating on the door, and I saw the tiniest dent appear on the metallic surface. Ã¢â¬Å"Oh, crap,Ã¢â¬ I said. I didn't stick around to see how many hits it'd take him to break it down. I also realized that even if I'd disabled the first lock, Dimitri would just be able to break that one down too. DimitriÃ¢â¬ ¦ No. I absolutely couldn't think of him now. As I ran down the hall, heading toward the stairs Dimitri and I traveled before, an unexpected memory suddenly popped into my head. When Dimitri had last threatened Nathan, he'd mentioned getting my stake out of a vault. What vault was that exactly? Was it here on the premises? If so, I certainly didn't have time to look. When weighing the option to search a four-story house full of vampires or run off into the countryside before they found youÃ¢â¬ ¦ well, the choice was clear. And it was in the midst of that thought process that I ran into a human at the top of the stairs. He was older than Inna and carrying a stack of linens that he dropped when we collided. With almost no pause, I grabbed hold of him and swung him against the wall. I had no weapon to threaten him with and wondered how I'd assert my will now. Yet as soon as I had him pinned, he threw up his hands in a defensive gesture and began whimpering in Russian. There'd be no attacks on me here. Of course, now I had the problem of communicating what I needed. Marlen was still beating on the door, and Dimitri would be up in a couple of minutes. I glared at the human, hoping I looked terrifying. From his expression, I did. I attempted the caveman talk I had with InnaÃ¢â¬ ¦ only this time the message was a little harder. Ã¢â¬Å"Stick,Ã¢â¬ I said in Russian. I had no clue what the word for stake was. I pointed at the silver ring I wore and made a slashing motion. Ã¢â¬Å"Stick. Where?Ã¢â¬ He stared at me in utter confusion and then asked, in perfect English, Ã¢â¬Å"Why are you talking like that?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Oh for God's sake,Ã¢â¬ I exclaimed. Ã¢â¬Å"Where is the vault?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Vault?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"A place they keep weapons?Ã¢â¬ He continued staring. Ã¢â¬Å"I'm looking for a silver stake.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Oh,Ã¢â¬ he said. Ã¢â¬Å"That.Ã¢â¬ Uneasily, he cast his eyes in the direction of the pounding. I pushed him harder against the wall. My heart felt like it would burst out of my chest, but I tried to hide it. I wanted this guy to think I was invincible. Ã¢â¬Å"Ignore him. Take me to the vault. Now!Ã¢â¬ With a frightened yelp, he nodded eagerly and beckoned me down the stairs. We descended to the second floor and made a sharp turn. The halls here were as twisty as the hedge maze Dimitri had shown me, all decorated in that gold and chandelier style, and I wondered if I'd even be able to get out of the house. Attempting this detour was a risk, but I wasn't sure if I could get outside without being followed. If I was, there'd be a confrontation. I'd need to defend myself. The human led me down another hall and yet another. Finally, we reached a door that looked like any other. He stopped and peered at me expectantly. Ã¢â¬Å"Open it,Ã¢â¬ I said. He shook his head. Ã¢â¬Å"I don't have the key.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Well, I certainly don't-wait.Ã¢â¬ I reached into my pocket and pulled out the keys I'd lifted from Dimitri. There were five keys on the ring. I tried them one at a time, and on the third one, I got a hit. The door opened. Meanwhile, my guide was casting hasty glances behind him and looked ready to bolt. Ã¢â¬Å"Don't even think about it,Ã¢â¬ I warned. He blanched and stayed put. The room before us wasn't very big, and while its plush white carpet and silver framed paintings made it look elegant, the room wasÃ¢â¬ ¦ well, basically, it looked like a junkyard. Boxes and weird objects-a lot of personal items like watches and rings in particular-lay around in no order. Ã¢â¬Å"What is this?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Magic,Ã¢â¬ he said, still obviously scared out of his mind. Ã¢â¬Å"Magic items kept here to fade or be destroyed.Ã¢â¬ MagicÃ¢â¬ ¦ ah. These were items charmed by Moroi magic. Charms always had some kind of effect on Strigoi-usually unpleasant-with stakes being the worst, since they used all four physical elements. It made sense that Strigoi would want to isolate harmful objects and get rid of Ã¢â¬Å"My stake!Ã¢â¬ I ran forward and picked it up, nearly dropping it because my hands were so sweaty. The stake was lying on top of a box with a length of cloth and some weird stones. Studying it, I realized it wasn't actually my stake-not that it made a difference for killing Strigoi. This stake was almost identical, save for a small geometric pattern running around its base. It was something guardians did from time to time if they felt particularly attached to their stake: have a design or initials etched into it. Holding this stake, I felt a momentary pang of sadness. This had belonged to someone who'd wielded it proudly once, someone who was now most likely dead. God only knew how many other dozens of stakes were in here, seized from other unfortunate prisoners, but I had no time to search or mourn those who had died. Ã¢â¬Å"Okay, now I want you to take me toÃ¢â¬ ¦Ã¢â¬ I hesitated. Even with a stake, it'd be a lot better for me if I didn't face any more Strigoi. I had to assume there'd still be a guard at the front door. Ã¢â¬Å"Ã¢â¬ ¦ Some room on this floor with a window that actually opens. And is far from the stairs.Ã¢â¬ The guy thought for a moment and then gave a quick nod. Ã¢â¬Å"This way.Ã¢â¬ I followed him through another maze of twisting corridors. Ã¢â¬Å"What's your name?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Oleg.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"You know,Ã¢â¬ I said. Ã¢â¬Å"I'm getting out of hereÃ¢â¬ ¦ if you wantÃ¢â¬ ¦ if you want, I could take you with me.Ã¢â¬ Having someone else-a human, particularly -would definitely slow me down. Yet, my conscience wouldn't let me leave anyone behind in this place. He gave me an incredulous glance. Ã¢â¬Å"Why would I want to do that?Ã¢â¬ Sydney had definitely been right about humans making great sacrifices for immortality. Oleg and Inna were living proof. We rounded a corner and came face-to-face with an elaborate set of French doors. Through the etched glass, I could see book-lined shelves, stretching all the way up the walls. A library-a huge one that extended on and on, out of my sight. Better yet, I saw a large bay window opposite me, framed in heavy satin curtains the color of blood. Ã¢â¬Å"Perfect,Ã¢â¬ I said, pushing open the doors. That was when the nausea hit me. We weren't alone in the room. Galina sprang up from a chair near the fireplace on the far side of the room. A book dropped from her lap. I had no time to dwell on the oddity of a Strigoi having a fireside read, because she was coming right toward me. I almost might have thought Oleg had set me up, but he was cowering in a corner, his face mirroring the shock I felt. Despite the library's enormous size, she reached me in seconds. I dodged her initial attack-or tried to, at least. She was fast. Aside from Dimitri, the other Strigoi in this house were clearly the B-team, and I had forgotten just how badass a truly skilled Strigoi was. She caught me by my arm and swung me toward her, mouth open and fangs going straight for my neck. I had the stake in my hand and tried awkwardly to at least scratch her with it, but she was holding me too tightly. At last, I managed to duck a little and move my throat out of her range, but all this did was give her the opportunity to grab hold of my hair. She jerked me upright, and I screamed in pain. How she managed to hold onto my hair without ripping it right out was remarkable. Still gripping it, she shoved me into a wall. When I'd first fought with Dimitri upon my arrival, he'd been rough but hadn't wanted to kill me. Galina did. She'd taken it on faith from Dimitri that I'd be an asset, but it was obvious now that I was a real pain in the ass. Her amnesty had ended, and she was intent on killing me. I at least had the comfort of knowing she probably wouldn't turn me into a Strigoi. I'd be lunch. A shout suddenly drew my attention to the door. Dimitri stood there, face blazing with anger. Whatever illusions I'd harbored about him being his former self disappeared. That fury radiated around him, his eyes narrowed and fangs showing. The pale skin and red eyes contrasted sharply against each other. He was like a demon sent straight from hell to destroy me. He strode toward us, and the immediate thought in my head was: Well, at least this'll end things that much faster. ExceptÃ¢â¬ ¦ it wasn't me he attacked. It was Galina. I'm not sure which of us was more surprised, but in that moment, I was totally forgotten. The Strigoi raced toward each other, and I froze, stunned at the terrible beauty of their fight. There was almost a gracefulness to the way they moved, the way they struck out and skillfully dodged each other. I stared a bit longer and then mentally slapped myself into action. This was my chance to get out of here. I couldn't get distracted. I turned to the bay window, searching frantically for a means to open it. There was none. Ã¢â¬Å"Son of a bitch!Ã¢â¬ Maybe Oleg had set me up after all. Or maybe there was just some mechanism that wasn't apparent to me. Regardless, I felt pretty confident there was one way to get it open. I ran to the side of the room where Galina had sat and grabbed an ornate wooden chair. It was obvious this window wasn't made of the hard-core glass that had been in my room. This stuff was similar to the library's French doors, delicate and engraved with fanciful designs, even though darkly tinted. It couldn't require that much force to break. After all that fruitless beating in my room, I took a kind of smug satisfaction in slamming the chair into it with as much force as possible. The impact made a huge hole in one side of the window, glass spraying everywhere. A few shards hit my face, but it was nothing to concern me now. Behind me, the sounds of battle raged on. There were grunts and muffled cries as they fought, as well as the occasional sound of some piece of broken furniture. I yearned to turn around and see what was going on, but I couldn't. I took the chair and swung again, breaking the other half of the window. There was now a huge hole, perfect for me to get out of. Ã¢â¬Å"Rose!Ã¢â¬ Dimitri's voice triggered some instinctive response in me. I glanced back and saw him still grappling with Galina. They were both exhausted, but it was clear he was getting the worst of it. But in their fighting, he kept trying to restrain her in a way that exposed her chest to me. His eyes met mine. Back when he'd been a dhampir, we'd rarely needed words to convey our thoughts. This was one of those times. I knew what he wanted me to do. He wanted me to stake her. I knew I shouldn't. I needed to hop out that window right now. I needed to let them keep fighting, even though it seemed obvious Galina was about to win. And yetÃ¢â¬ ¦ despite my misgivings, some force drew me across the room, stake poised and ready. Maybe it was because I would never fully lose my pull to Dimitri, no matter what kind of monster he'd become. Maybe it was an unconscious sense of duty, since I knew he'd just saved my life. Or maybe it was because I knew one Strigoi was going to die tonight, and she was the more dangerous. But she wasn't easy to get hold of. She was fast and strong, and he was having a hard time with her. She kept wriggling around, trying to renew her attack. All she'd need to do was incapacitate him as I had; then it'd just require decapitation or burning to finish him off. I had no doubt she could arrange either. He managed to turn her slightly, giving me the best view of her chest I'd had. I moved forward-and then Dimitri slammed into me. I was addled for a moment, wondering why he'd attack me after saving me, until I realized he'd been pushed-by Nathan. Nathan had just entered the library, along with Marlen. It distracted Dimitri but not me. I still had the opening he'd given me on Galina, and I plunged my stake into her chest. It didn't go in as deeply as I would have liked, and she still managed to fight me, bucking hard. I grimaced and pushed forward, knowing the silver had to be affecting her. A moment later, I saw the pain twist her face. She faltered, and I pushed my advantage, shoving the stake in all the way. It took several seconds, but she eventually stopped moving, her body crumpling to the ground. If the other Strigoi noticed her death, they didn't pay attention. Nathan and Marlen were fixated on Dimitri. Another Strigoi-a female I didn't recognize-soon joined the face-off. I jerked my stake out of Galina and slowly began backing toward the window, hoping I wouldn't attract too much attention. My heart went out to Dimitri. He was outnumbered. I could possibly lend my strength and help him fightÃ¢â¬ ¦ Of course, my strength was fading. I was still suffering from days of vampire bites and blood loss. I'd fought two Strigoi tonight and killed a powerful one. That had been my good deed, removing her from the world. The next best thing I could do would be to leave and let these Strigoi finish off Dimitri. The surviving ones would be leaderless and less of a threat. Dimitri would be free of this evil state, his soul finally able to move on to better places. And I would live (hopefully), having helped the world by killing more Strigoi. I bumped against the windowsill and looked out. Nighttime-not good. The sheer side of the manor was not ideal for climbing, either. It could be done, but it would be time consuming. I didn't have any more time. Directly below the window was a thickly leafed bush of some sort. I couldn't see it clearly and only hoped it wasn't a rosebush or something equally sharp. A second floor drop wouldn't kill me, though. Probably wouldn't even hurt-much. I climbed over the ledge, briefly meeting Dimitri's gaze as the other Strigoi moved in on him. The words came to me again: Don't hesitate. Dimitri's important lesson. But it hadn't been his first one. His first had been about what to do if I was outnumbered and out of options: Run. Time for me to run. I leapt out the window.