J. Elizabeth is here to finish her story, I know you all are on pins and needles to know what’s going to happen next.
The Blood began to shiver. They weren’t supposed to get cold, but it shook as if in a blizzard. Jansen lunged forward, but skidded on his knees, colliding with it. The chains pulled them both to a stop. This time, it didn’t scream. Its head snapped back, eyes wide open as tears of blood poured down the pale cheeks.
Lips skinned back to reveal clenched teeth and fangs. Jansen felt a brief flash of pity for the thing before squashing the feeling.
Desperate, he seized the one remaining option, placing his fingertips on the vest-like contraption along the bands that encircled it. The pressure pushed the tips closest to his hands deeper into Cantor’s skin, but it wouldn’t matter how much he hurt the thing if it died. And Jansen was in no doubt it would die. The cursed mage had betrayed him. He’d hunt her down and make her pay. But first things first.
He closed his eyes and concentrated on his blood, trying to ignore the doubts and rage that flooded him as always when he tried to use his inborn magic.
Jansen knew what he should feel. He’d been successful before but this time, the surge and heat didn’t come. Damnation, why did it have to be this way the one time he needed it to work without fighting him? He tried again, concentrating on what he knew was happening within him.
Blood flowed through his veins. The power he needed was within that blood. Just a little surge, that was all it would take. The blood was his to command. It wasn’t like the undead freaks who’d destroyed humanity for their own gluttony and greed. This blood was his, and it would obey him!
Fire licked his insides, everywhere at once. Knowing his concentration wouldn’t hold long, Jansen vaporized a small amount of the raging tide in his veins. He sighed, intoxicated by the way magic caressed his insides as it was released.
A crack and clattering sounded in the room and pain blossomed in his shoulder. He looked down. The bands under his fingers had fractured. Gears had fallen to the ground. Some had flung themselves away from the device. One must have nicked his shoulder on its way by, drawing enough blood that the surge within him lessened, compounded by the quantity of his own blood he’d used.
He forced himself to move through the shock of success. One day, he swore it would be his to command with confidence. For that moment, he didn’t have time to marvel.
He tore the pieces of the spiked cage from Cantor’s body. Though the holes in its skin continued to smoke, the quaking lessened with every piece that was removed. he waved Wallen off when he tried to help. This was too dangerous. He had no way to control the beast now, and Jansen had no wish to risk the older man’s life. What Wallen knew, the things he could do for the rebellion, were too important to risk.
At last he had the Blood free, and the creature crumpled forward. To Jansen’s surprise, its wounds still didn’t heal. He’d been sure it would be able to close the wounds once the spikes were removed. The mage was going to answer for this.
The breathing of the two humans and the slow drip of blood tears onto the floor was loud in the silence. He wondered if he’d have to kill Cantor after all. What if the contraption had damaged the Blood too much for it to function as needed?
A hand suddenly gripped the front of Jansen’s overalls and pulled him forward. Eyes, entirely red now, danced with rage-thirst. Jansen knew what came next. Death. His, Wallen’s and every other human unlucky enough to be in this section of the Pavros ghetto. Plasma-crazed Bloods were impossible for any human to bring down. Jansen said a prayer to gods he didn’t believe in anymore, asking them to shelter the innocent at least.
“Thank you.” Pain made Cantor’s voice rougher than it had been before.
“You don’t know,” it began, then paused as another tremor wracked its body. “What you’re playing with.”
“We’re trying to survive. You’ve given us no choice!”
Jansen clamped his lips together. As long as he said nothing more, the creature still didn’t know anything important, not about him, or Wallen or the Rebellion. The anti-Blood movement was still safe.
An ugly sound came out of its throat, halting and jagged. Laughter? “We said the same thing at the beginning.”
Wallen’s boot scuffed on the dirt floor. Without looking away from Jansen, the Blood rasped, “I wouldn’t try anything if I were you, human. Not draining your friend here is taking all of my control. If you distract me any more than this, his death is quite likely.”
Jansen couldn’t afford to let his sudden fear disrupt the plan. “What do you want?”
“I was going to ask you the same. While I owe you my life, you’re also the reason it was in danger in the first place. I wouldn’t ask too much of me beyond sparing yours.”
It was Jansen’s turn to laugh. This undead thing spoke as though it had a life to cherish or protect.
“My existence, if you prefer that term. You shouldn’t play around with such dark magic, fool. Perhaps that advice will suffice to cover what debt I feel exists between us.”
Cantor released his shirt with a light shove. Jansen slid across the floor, bumping into the wall. It was on its feet when he looked up.
“And I suppose I can’t report this. Were I to tell Lord Dametri, or any of my kind for that matter, you’d be hunted down and put to death. After they interrogate you to find out where you got that thing, that is.”
Jansen had to salvage this. Having the mage make that damned thing had been expensive. But there was more at stake than money. Humans were dying in the effort to bring the Bloods down, yet they were making no headway. “Information.”
It paused, turning back from the door to the street. “Excuse me?”
“That’s all I was after, information.”
“And I’m supposed to believe you? Or care?”
All the tears in the Blood’s skin he could see were closed now. Time was running very short. “That’s all I want in exchange for saving your… life.”
The crimson eyes fixed on him. Jansen refused to flinch back. “Bold. I like that. If we could freely make more of my kind, I think I’d take you for my own. You’d make an interesting Blood.”
His stomach lurched even as he tucked away that fact. Then he gambled. “There’s something in the Ghettos Dametri wants. I know that much.”
Cantor took a step closer. “What makes you think you know anything about what our Blood Lord wants?”
“It’s subtle, but enough of us have noticed the patrols by constables, not to mention shapes in the night. Dametri’s involving Bloods as well as his lap dogs, which makes it important. What is it?”
“If it’s that important, what makes you think I’d tell you? I keep my Lord’s secrets.”
“You said you owe me.”
Cantor nodded, as if he’d expected the response. His reply dripped with derision. “And if I told you, I’m sure you’d retrieve it and hand it over to him.”
“What I’d do with it isn’t your concern. I want to know what he’s looking for.”
The creature was back across the room in a second. It held him against the wall by the throat with his feet dangling in the air. He fought against the panic flooding his mind at the constriction of his windpipe.
“You’ll seek to use it against him. I know your type. Honorless. Depraved. You refuse to acknowledge what we’ve wrought here, how we’ve made your lives better than the brutal existence it was before we rose to rule you.”
“Lies,” Jansen choked out, slipping his hand behind his back.
“You don’t know how to do anything other than kill, do you? You’d seek Dametri’s destruction, even though he’s done nothing but keep peace and ensure all humans have food, shelter and clothing.”
“Like cattle.” He forced out the words he could manage. “Food to him. Not people.”
“I won’t help you kill him, or even harm him. I owe him everything, you arrogant speck of dung!”
Cantor’s hand squeezed tighter. Pain spread out from Jansen’s neck as he heard bones creak. It was so loud, almost deafening. What was he doing? Why was his hand gripping something? The leather ridges were so smooth under his fingers.
Leather. The hilt of his dagger.
He pulled it out of the sheath and rammed it into the Blood’s side, under the rib cage. The twin blades slid in deep, almost to the hilt.
Cantor paused in the middle of what it had been yelling and looked down. The Blood laughed. “Is that the best you can do? You’ve used up any debt I had to you already. Now I am going to make a meal of you. Well, perhaps an appetizer.”
Jansen pressed the button on the side of the hilt. He felt the small click of the compartment between the blades opening. With a faint smile, he envisioned the small object slipping deeper into Blood’s body, the first spell on it driving it relentlessly toward the thing’s heart. Their one known weakness. The Rebellion had taken generations to learn of it.
Jansen needed to feel the second spell take hold, so he concentrated on his blood and the magic there again. There. The reverberation. The spell had triggered. It was unstoppable now and under his control.
“Release.” That was all he could get out past the constriction of his airway, but it was enough. The hand was gone the instant he said it and he dropped to the floor, coughing and massaging his throat.
“How did you do that?”
Jansen looked up. Cantor stood there, staring at its hand in confusion. He smiled. “So, how about that answer, Blood?”
“Two boys we lost a few years ago.” Cantor slapped a hand over its mouth. The red eyes bulged.
“And what are the boys’ names?”
From behind the hand, muffled words. “Eben and Vandis.”
“And why does–”
“Why can’t I keep from answering?” Cantor shouted.
“I have my ways. You’re mine now. And don’t try to fight me too much. You won’t die, but it’ll hurt a lot.”
This was probably a lie. Jansen suspected enough fighting would burst the Blood’s heart and that would kill it, but he wasn’t about to let it know there might be a way out of this. “Now, why does Dametri want these boys?”
“Vintages. Lost. Must resurrect. Bloodline.” Cantor fought and lost one word at a time. It amused and gratified Jansen, partly because the concept for the spell had been Jansen’s.
For nearly an hour, he picked the creature’s brain, digging out everything he could on the boys. He was fairly sure he knew who they were, though he kept that to himself.
Wallen sat nearby, making notes in a small notebook. Cantor was more of a find than Jansen had even dreamed of. It was so hard to judge what went on inside the Blood Lord’s towering home from outside, so this one’s true relationship to Dametri hadn’t been suspected. A confidant as his own slave!
“I’ve told you all I can. Let me go. I’m of no further use to you. Damnation, if Lord Dametri learns of this, he’ll destroy me.”
“Then you’ll have to ensure he doesn’t figure it out. I have other work for you. You’re to conceal from everyone, human or Blood, what happened to you today, whatever that takes. You will do nothing to endanger your life or your current position in Dametri’s household.”
Horror filled its red eyes. “What are you going to make me do?”
“For now, you’re my spy. You’ll report back to us. Once a month, you’ll take a walk as you were doing today and stray close to Gate Eight of the North Enclave. If something important or urgent comes up, you’ll report to one of us right away.” Enclave was what the Bloods called their human ghettos, like that somehow made it better that they penned up humans who wouldn’t serve them.
Jansen leaned in close, sure the spell would keep Cantor from harming him. “I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise for you. Now, return to your master before it worries too much.”
The Blood shot him a look of pure loathing, then left. A long moment of silence followed before Wallen broke it.
“Are you sure this’ll work?”
“Oh yes. Possibly even better than we could have hoped. I heard about Vintages once. Dametri won’t let such rarified blood escape him. Come on. Let’s go find those boys. I think they’re in District Four. Tommy had a couple boys with him last time I was there. I’m certain they match the description. If needed, we can get Cantor to confirm it’s them, but I think we’ll manage fine without that. I don’t want to risk Dametri finding out we have a mole in his home prematurely.”
“You’ve got a plan, don’t you?”
The hope in the other man’s voice was sweet and Jansen let his own fill him, bringing a smile to his lips. “Yes. One better than anything we’ve come up with before. I think we can finally bring the bastard down if we play this right. First, we grab the boys and getting them ready for their part in this plan. Then, when the time’s right, we put them in position. Once Dametri has them, it’ll be smooth sailing to our goal, cutting that beast’s heart from its chest.”
Wallen stared at him.
“The only sure way to kill a Blood. I’m not taking any chances.” Jansen grinned, unable to hold back the joy the vision brought him and the one that followed it. Humanity free, at least in one of their cities. He’d sacrifice anyone for that, even those two boys.
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