Chasing the Shadows
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"I'd offer you some sustenance,” Farmer continued. “But I'm afraid my fledglings and I overindulged, and there's not much left of the poor girl."
The smell of death mixed with a damp, slightly fishy odor, indicating they were in the sewers again. But beyond that, there was a sea-weedy, salty sort of tang. In the distance came a continuous, thumping roar, like that of ocean pounding against rocks. They had to be near an old outlet to the sea, even though those had been blocked many years ago.
But why here? Especially when it was such a long way from where they'd found the other two victims?
What was Farmer up to this time?
"I know you're awake,” Farmer continued, his tone less jocular. “Feigning unconsciousness in the hope of getting me closer will achieve nothing. You're chained, in case you didn't realize it." He shifted his right arm carefully. Heard the clink of metal. Normally, chains wouldn't hold him. Farmer knew that and so did he. Which meant he was hurt far more than the pain pounding through his body would suggest.
"This won't—” The words came out a cracked, almost unintelligible whisper. He stopped and ran his tongue around his mouth. Three teeth were chipped, his top lip was split, and the bottom half of his face seemed horribly swollen. Farmer obviously hadn't been overly careful on where he'd placed his boots. It hurt to breathe, let alone talk. “—get you anywhere,” he finished.
"Interesting you should say that, because I really did expect the witch to come rushing to your rescue. She hasn't, and I'm wondering why."
Because she's smarter than you think. Smarter than I think. “Argument,” he ground out.
"Well, that's just downright inconsiderate of you. How bad?"
"Split up.” It hurt to say those words. Hurt more than any of the wounds Farmer had inflicted on him. And if he got out of this situation alive, he was going to ensure she stayed in his life. There had to be a compromise that suited both of them. Had to be.
And if there wasn't?
Then he'd do what it took—even if that meant walking away from the Circle, from everything and everyone else he loved. Her leaving him this afternoon had allowed him to glimpse the future, and it was as he'd long suspected. Life without her was a long, dark tunnel. He'd been through that tunnel once. He had no intention of going back.
Farmer tsked. “Very inconsiderate. Still, maybe she has no idea yet that you're my captive. Maybe she failed to find that damn cross of yours."
She would have found it. Of that, Michael had no doubt. But why she hadn't yet tried to rescue him he couldn't honestly say. Maybe all the arguing they'd been doing over the past few days had actually done some good. Maybe she was thinking instead of simply reacting.
Which wasn't really a fair thought. Especially when it was part of what he loved about her.
"Perhaps I shall send her a little souvenir and let her know." Over his dead body. “Great ... idea."
The silence seemed to stretch. He could feel Farmer's confusion, even if he couldn't yet see it.
"It worries me that you so readily agree with me,” the younger vampire said eventually. It was supposed to. Obviously, Farmer wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed, and at least that gave Michael himself some advantage. Right now, he needed every little bit of help he could get. He shifted his right hand and carefully rubbed his face. Blood crusted both his eyes. He wiped it away and opened his eyes—or eye. The left one remained swollen shut.
Farmer was a blur of red heat fifteen feet away. Farmer's left arm was heavily bandaged, indicating Michael had been successful in at least one aim. Behind the younger vampire were four others—the fledglings he'd heard feeding earlier.
"Why do you want me to send her such a reminder when it is your flesh I'll be taking?” Farmer continued.
"How...” His voice faded, and he coughed. The action sent pain slicing through him, and the metallic taste of blood filled his mouth. He swallowed it. Blood was blood, and right now, he could not afford to lose any more than he already had. “...would you react?"
"I'd be hysterical. Then I'd want revenge.” Farmer paused again. “Which is exactly the reaction I want."
"Go for it."
Farmer crossed his arms, expression wary. Puzzled. “You're just trying to psyche me out of it, aren't you?"
The puzzlement on Farmer's face deepened. “And now your just agreeing with everything I say and trying to confuse me."
"Yes.” At this stage, there wasn't much else he could do. Not until the pain ebbed a little.
"Perhaps I should try to contact her first. Give her a little taste of what I intend if she doesn't come to your rescue.” Farmer glanced at his watch. “In the meantime, I have a pressing engagement with another prisoner.” He turned, then hesitated. “And don't bother trying to escape. My boys will be more than a match for you in your current condition."
The boys in question stirred restlessly. None of them were particularly old, three of the four probably little more than eighteen or nineteen. The taste for young flesh was something he had never been able to understand. Even in the darkest days of his early years as one of Elizabeth's fledglings, he had always chosen older victims to feast on. The destruction of such young life was something he'd always abhorred. As Elizabeth had often said, he never did make much of a ‘proper’ vampire. Farmer left. The Loop milled uncertainly for several seconds, then followed their creator. But they didn't go far. Their restless movements and hungry, blood-crazed thoughts stirred the darkness from just around the corner.
If Farmer wasn't careful, these four would soon slip the leash. They were too new to their condition, too crazed by the urgency pounding through their veins. And that could lead to a blood bath on the streets above. Not that Farmer would particularly care, except for the fact it might put a dent in his plans for revenge.
Plans Michael still had every intention of stopping. He closed his eyes, breathing deeply and taking stock. The pain was centered in three areas—his ribs, his left arm and his stomach. His legs were undoubtedly bruised and battered, but he could move them without great walls of agony hitting him, so nothing was broken. His arm was broken—every twitch sent hot lances arrowing into his brain. His ribs and stomach were almost as painful, but neither of those would hamper his escape as much as his useless left arm.
He reached out to the link and tried to contact Nikki. Nothing but a haze of gray came back to him. It was something he'd felt once before—when Jasper had kidnapped and drugged her. Farmer had undoubtedly done something similar to him. He'd felt the full force of Michael's mind strength in the cafe. He wouldn't risk being captured like that again.
Michael glanced at the metal cuff around his right wrist and tried to kinetically pry the attached links apart. The fog swirled sluggishly, and the metal links remained stubbornly locked together. No relying on his psychic skills, then.
He edged carefully onto his back, but the movement still jarred his arm. Sweat broke out across his brow, and he hissed, battling waves of nausea and the threatening tide of unconsciousness. He couldn't slip back. He didn't trust the fledglings not to attack him. And he needed to get out of here, away from Farmer, before Nikki did come looking for him. He continued to breathe deeply until the pain had subsided once again, then turned to study what held the chains. It wasn't the wall he'd expected, but a rusting metal ladder. His gaze followed it up into the darkness. The cover looked as if it hadn't been moved in some time, but that didn't mean it couldn't be moved. It was certainly worth a try.
But first, he had to do something about his arm.
He looked down at the limb in question. Bone gleamed whitely in the darkness. One break, close to his elbow. It would heal with time but, right now, time was the one thing he didn't have much of. He looked back at the ladder. Muck and silt had built up over the years, and the bottom rung was half buried and looked rustier than the rest of the ladder. If he could break it off, it would make a good splint. He wrapped his fingers around it, took a deep breath, then pulled with all his strength. It came away with a snap that jarred every part of him. A scream tore up his throat, but became nothing more than another hiss of air through clenched teeth. Sweat stung his eyes, and for several seconds, everything went red. He wasn't sure if it was blood or pain.
Gradually his vision cleared, and he saw he was clenching a one-foot section of the rung. What in hell was he going to tie it with?
He stared into the darkness and listened to the restless stirrings of the fledgling's. They'd attack soon. Farmer had obviously stepped past the distance from which he could control them—or perhaps he wasn't even aware there were such limits. Either way, the blood-craze was stirring the ‘boys’ into a frenzy of lust and wanting. And he was fresh meat all too close, all too tempting. He slipped off his shoes then edged off his socks. Hooked them, one at a time, between his toes and held them up so he could grab them with his good hand. He positioned the rung on his chest then carefully took hold of his broken arm and eased it towards the pipe. He knew it would hurt and it did. When the red haze had once more cleared, he clumsily secured his socks around both his arm and the rung. Then pulled the bottom of his shirt from his jeans, undid the bottom button and pulled it up over his arm, reattaching it to one of the top buttons. As slings went, it wasn't the best. But it was the best he could do.
He turned his attention to the chain holding him captive. It was thick and strong, but the ladder to which it was attached wasn't. He carefully edged into a sitting position, thrust his bare feet against the ladder, grabbed a fist full of chain and pulled back hard.
Against the strength of his desperation, the ladder had little hope. The rusted side gave way with a snap that sent him sprawling backwards. Through a haze of pain he heard the sudden silence, felt the surge of panic and lust.
Saw the red glazed eyes of the fledglings as they rushed towards him.
Nikki stared at Jake, not wanting to believe his words even though she knew them to be true. “Maybe she just missed the flight."
"She didn't even check in.” Jake scrubbed a hand across his face. “God, I should have gone into the airport with her. Should have escorted her to that plane."
"None of us thought Farmer would go after her in the daylight,” Nikki said, trying to ease her own guilt as much as his. Lord, if only she hadn't been so consumed with her own problems, maybe she would have seen this coming...
"We have to find her. Now. Tonight."
"Yes.” And there was only one way they were going to do that—with her psychometry skills. But finding strangers and finding someone she knew and loved were two entirely different propositions. She wasn't sure she was strong enough to handle what Farmer might be doing to Mary... Farmer. He'd want them to know. Want them—or her—to choose. She quickly stood. “I have to get back to my room."
Jake looked up. His expression—a mix of fear, guilt and confusion—wrenched her heart. “Why?"
"Because Farmer will try to contact us. Go get something of Mary's then meet me upstairs.” She hesitated. “If she's okay when we rescue her, we'll need some place safe to hide her. You able to arrange that?"
He nodded and rose. Rather than waste precious time waiting for an elevator, she ran up the stairs to her room. Energy tingled across her skin the minute she entered. She kicked the door shut and walked into the bedroom. A man stood there, his image rippling, as if it were a pond in which a stone had just been thrown. She hesitated in the doorway, but the image gave no indication he'd sensed her. Farmer was just as she'd pictured—short, thickset in a powerful sort of way, and balding. He wore dirty looking jeans, heavy black boots, a zipped leather jacket that struggled to hold in his stomach, and over that, a sleeveless jean jacket.
She slowly walked around him. On the back of his jean jacket were his gang colors— The Shadows. A somewhat appropriate name for a vampire gang. She finished her tour and stopped in front of him. His eyes were small and mean looking, his mouth thin and petulant.
He showed no sign of realizing she was there. She frowned, wondering why—then remembered she was wearing Seline's charm. She retreated, took it off, then went back into the bedroom. His image came to life almost immediately.
"So.” His voice didn't match his tough appearance, tending to be high, almost feminine. “We finally meet."
"We're not exactly meeting."
His smile revealed bloodied canines. A chill ran down her back. God, don't let that blood be Mary's ... or Michael's.
"I suppose, technically, you're right. But we will meet in person soon, have no fear of that." She had plenty of fears about that. She crossed her arms, suddenly glad this image wasn't real. At least Farmer couldn't taste her apprehension. Couldn't hear the rapid pounding of her pulse.
"What do you want, Farmer?"
"I suppose you know I have your lover?"
She nodded tightly.
"What you probably don't know is that I also have the woman you consider your second mother." She kept her face stony. Disbelieving. They needed to buy time. Needed to make Farmer believe they didn't believe. “Bullshit. We sent her away on a plane this morning."
"I'm afraid I just couldn't let that happen. Not when I had so many delicious plans for her." God, if Mary had been a captive of this madman since this morning, there was no saying what sort of condition they'd find her in now. He may have been taking his time with his earlier victims, but time was the one thing running out on him now. He may have decided to just do her quick ... Bile rose in her throat, and she swallowed heavily.