Chasing the Shadows
Page 18

 Keri Arthur

  • Background:
  • Text Font:
  • Text Size:
  • Line Height:
  • Line Break Height:
  • Frame:

"I'm not sure we'd be allowed. He could try I suppose. Why?"
"Because going to the hospital is not likely to raise any major alarms in Farmer's mind. And if we can get in to see Dale, I might be able to touch her mind and see if she's retained any memories of how she was snatched, and how she arrived at her cell."
Jake was silent for a minute. “I don't think Michael will be too pleased about you trying something like that."
Annoyance surged through her, and she struggled to keep her voice even as she said, “Right now, I don't really care what Michael would or wouldn't be pleased with. And since when did it matter to you if it means solving the case?"
"He said it's dangerous, Nikki."
"So you'd rather sit on your hands doing nothing while this madman runs loose?" He sighed. “No. But I don't want anything to happen to you, either."
"I'll be fine. Really.” She forced her voice to be positive, even though she was far from certain. “I'm walking up Hyde Street now. You want to talk to Mark, then zoom by and pick me up?” She hesitated and glanced at the street sign. “I'll wait near the corner of Ellis."
"I'll be there as soon as I can."
She hung up, then sat down on the nearest fence to wait.
* * * *
The scent of evil was distant but powerful. Michael ran swiftly through the darkness, keeping the shadows locked around him. It wasn't Farmer he was following, but rather his fledglings. The scent wasn't evil enough or strong enough to belong to a master vampire. Though why he thought of Farmer as a master when the vampire was obviously a lot younger than he himself, Michael wasn't entirely sure. But only masters could control the minds of other vampires—or a very strong telepath.
Farmer certainly wasn't what he'd term strong when it came to psychic gifts—at least not when compared to Nikki or himself.
So how could one so young become a master?
He wasn't sure. Even he, despite his years and experience, could barely be classed as one. Elizabeth had been a master, though. She'd been comfortable with what she was, comfortably aware of her strengths and weaknesses. Had he wished, he could have taken that knowledge, that skill, from her mind when he'd killed her. It was his right as victor.
And perhaps that was his answer. Perhaps Farmer had killed the vampire who'd turned him and sucked all the knowledge from his mind. But he was still too young in vampire years to process all that information and use it to full advantage.
For which they could be extremely grateful.
He slowed as the scent of evil grew stronger. Night stirred ahead, and the languorous beat of half a dozen hearts filled his ears. He'd found a nest that contained yet another loop. Farmer himself was nowhere near—which wasn't unusual. Fledglings could never be entirely trusted, even those mostly over the initial blood frenzy. It usually took ten to twenty years before true sanity returned—if the turning hadn't made them completely crazy.
He slowed and switched to the infrared of his vampire vision. The vampires were blurs of red heat in the small chamber just ahead. They were all asleep—the sun was high, and vampires this young had no choice but to slumber during the day.
If he killed them, Farmer would know. But if he didn't, these six would kill again and again and again. Their evil stained the very air. There was no goodness left in them—if there had been any in life. He had no choice but to destroy them.
He moved into the chamber and began his bloody task. It didn't take long. Once he'd finished, he carried their bodies to the nearest sewer cover, piling them underneath it. Then he kinetically lifted the cover, stepping back quickly so no stray rays of sunlight caught him. He'd been burned enough for one day. The fledglings flamed instantly, and the smell of burning flesh stung the dank air. He watched until they were nothing more than ash then stepped back into a small chamber to wait. Farmer would have felt them burn. It would be interesting to see if he came to investigate. He crossed his arms and leaned back against the cold brick wall.
Here. Her mind voice was decidedly cheerful. You'll never guess what has happened—Jon and Maddie have finally set a wedding date. The invitation just arrived in the mail. They've sent one for you, too.
He raised his eyebrows. I thought Jon had a thing about commitment?
Seline's unladylike snort rattled the mental lines. No. Like you, he feared to make a commitment because he feared his enemies taking revenge on those he loved. I don't fear making commitment. Though, like Jon, he did fear enemies being motivated enough to take revenge on those he loved.
Perhaps not. But you have every intention of compartmentalizing your life. There's nothing wrong with wanting to keep her safe.
Unless it's something that will kill her emotionally. She's not the type to play mother at home, Michael. If she was, I seriously doubt you'd still be together. Her words reminded him of the pain Nikki had revealed at never being able to have kids. He briefly closed his eyes. Seline was wrong about one thing—he could have easily played family man with Nikki. Could imagine nothing better than coming home from a normal day and relaxing with her and their kids. But he'd given up any sense of normality long ago, and there was no point in wishing for what could never be.
I can't risk her working with me, Seline. Couldn't risk losing her. She was his heart, his soul. He couldn't imagine life without her now. Didn't want life without her. It won't work, I'm telling you that now. You can't ever hope to keep Nikki and what you do separate. Nikki is a part of your life because of your work, and you're just going to have to accept the fact that she will forever be a part of it.
He rubbed a hand across his eyes. I didn't open this line of communication to get a tongue lashing, you know.
I know. It's just a bonus.
One I can do without, thank you very much. Especially when he was hearing much the same words from Nikki herself. What did you find out about Billie Farmer?
Not much. He dropped out of sight just after graduation and wasn't seen for a good ten to fifteen years. He was spotted a couple of times in the years since then, but the first reliable sighting we have of him is in Albuquerque two and a half years ago.
Six months before the first killing.
Yes. We're reasonably sure he was turned shortly after he dropped out of sight, because by the time he was spotted in Albuquerque, he was well past the fledgling stage. Don't suppose there's any chance of finding out who turned him?
You know how difficult a task something like that is. We haven't enough researchers to keep those sorts of records.
But you're still keeping records of master vampires?
Yes. Her mind voice was suddenly cautious. She knew, as he knew, that a master was serious trouble. Why?
Was there one around Boston around the time of Farmer's turning?
I could certainly check. You think Farmer was turned by one?
Yes. I also think he somehow killed the master and sucked in his knowledge. Fortunately for us, he's too young yet to assimilate all that knowledge.
Thank the stars. A master is not what we need in this sort of situation. No. Especially with Nikki and Jake involved.
Are you still intending to meet him tonight?
Yes. But I've just killed his nest of fledglings, and he'll know it could only have been done by another vampire. He won't walk into that meeting without some form of insurance now. Then why tip him off that way?
Because he's obviously created more than one loop, and the number—combined with an inept master—would test even my capabilities.
True. She paused. Just watch Nikki over the next few hours. He may make a grab for her. He'll probably try. Which is why I told her to stay in the sunshine. Master or not, he hasn't the years behind him to walk out in sunlight. He hesitated. Speaking of which, it appears sharing my life force with Nikki has had some unexpected side benefits.
What do you mean?
I mean, I was out in the sunlight for several seconds after eleven in the morning, and I didn't instantly flame. I did have sunscreen on but, given the hour, it wouldn't have made that much difference.
Concern flooded the link. Michael, you could have died.
I know, but my only other choice was letting Nikki enter the sewers alone, and that wasn't going to happen.
How badly were you burned?
He glanced down at his hands. Originally, they'd been a red so fierce they practically glowed, but the color and the heat were beginning to fade. Bad. But that's not the point. It was after eleven. I should have died.
Your merging with Nikki has improved your immunity.
So it would seem. Either that, or sunscreen offers vampires better protection than it does humans. Not that much more, I'd wager. She paused. Has anything else happened?
I think you were right about me developing precognition—and I'd like to know how my merging with Nikki has bought all this about.
Until we find out more about thralls, we won't really know. But I've got a feeling this has more to do with your compatibility to each other.
He frowned. What do you mean?
She hesitated . Do you remember the night we stood watching Hartwood burn?
Yes. How could he forget? That night had signaled the end of a sorcerer's bitter reign. The end of a twenty-year battle for revenge and justice. But it was also the beginning of what had become the Circle. Do you remember what I asked that night?
He frowned . Not really. Though he could remember what he'd been feeling. Not elation, despite the fact his quest of twenty years had finally reached fruition. Just an odd sense of ... emptiness. I asked what you intended to devote your life to now. You said perhaps finding the other half of yourself.
He smiled, remembering. I was being flippant, Seline.
But in many a jest there lies a truth. I think in Nikki you have found your other half. What is happening to you both now is merely the end result of locking two highly compatible pieces together—which is what you've done by sharing your life force with her.
That doesn't explain either of us developing new skills.
It does if the skills are not new but latent. By combining life forces, you've forced those skills into the light.
If he'd had latent skills, surely they would have made some sort of appearance by now. After all, he'd been on this earth for more than three hundred and sixty years. This is all nothing more than theory. True—at least until you come into headquarters so we can run tests. It isn't going to happen. You know I hate those damn tests of yours. Her sigh was overly dramatic, and he smiled as he added, And you can cut the theatrics, as well. She didn't answer, and the link between them suddenly hummed with tension—became a whirlwind of color that was oddly electric. He knew instantly what was happening—she was having a vision. No good will come from you putting these tests off, she warned. It will only throw you into greater danger when he comes.
Her mind voice had become abstracted, vague. He held back his questions, knowing from experience talking at the wrong moment could shatter the dream.
He seeks revenge. He seeks our destruction. Not the Circle itself, but you and me. For what we did to his brother so long ago. And he will start with you. Silence swirled through the link, thick with fear, then she added, Nikki could be our savior or our destruction. It very much depends on your actions.
What actions? And who was this ‘he’ Seline was talking about? It could have been any one of hundreds—between the two of them and the Circle itself, they'd been responsible for a fair number of dispatches back to hell.
And if what Seline was seeing was indeed the future he faced, then in many ways, it only ratified his determination to keep his life with Nikki truly separate from his work. He is a brother who has kissed the night good-bye, she continued absently. If he cannot steal your heart, he will steal you then destroy you. But only after he has destroyed all you care for. A cold sensation crawled through his gut. Seline's visions were vary rarely wrong. The ending often varied, but never the initial facts. If she saw this madman taking vengeance on them both, then it would happen. Lord, he had to walk away from Nikki. He couldn't risk dragging her into something like this.... No. Michael, no. Seline's mind voice was suddenly clear again, but filled with fear. I sense it is already too late for that.
I won't have her involved—
She's already involved. This man has been planning his revenge for a very long time. And there's nothing either of us can do to stop him until he comes out of the shadows and actually attacks. He took a deep breath and released it slowly . Did you have any sense of time?
No. It could be next week, next year, or ten years from now.
Do a search, he said. Backtrack over every case you and I have handled. See which of them had brothers who turned. I want this madman found before he finds us. Will do. In the meantime, be wary of Farmer. If he has stolen the knowledge of the master who turned him, then he may prove very dangerous indeed.
I'll be careful. Just make sure you are from now on, too.
I rarely leave headquarters nowadays. I am as safe here as I would be anywhere. Then make sure you don't leave at all. Not for anybody.
I won't. By the way, I've couriered that charm you wanted. You should be getting it late tonight or early in the morning.
Thanks, Seline.
He cut the link and pushed away from the wall. Farmer obviously wasn't that attached to his fledglings, because it certainly didn't look as if he was coming down to check what had happened to them. Time to get back to Nikki. Before she did something stupid—like try to track Farmer's whereabouts. He stopped suddenly, a cold sensation running down his spine.
Or try to enter a dying woman's mind to search for clues.
He swore softly and blurred his form, running for the hospital.