PATH OF RAZORS, Book 5 - August 2009
When Costin punched the wall downstairs in the lab room of headquarters, he did it with a yell of rage that barely covered the crunch of his knuckles and the crash of plaster turning to dust.
But the sound of his frustration was nothing next to the yell that pushed out of Dawn.
“Costin!” She was near raw, pissed-off tears—she could feel them rising up—and that made her even angrier.
She broke out of her shadowed corner, where she’d managed to find a slice of peace while the team debriefed about last night’s trip to Queenshill. As they’d traded observations and theories about the schoolgirl vampires who may or may not have been involved with a new Underground, Costin had gained enough strength to come out of his exhausted rest and emerge from the bedroom.
When he’d entered the lab, he’d barely been restraining his agitation, but Dawn had seen the simmer under the ice-cool way he’d come to lean against the wall.
She’d asked how he was doing, and he’d confessed that he’d been upstairs trying to expel Jonah, the entity he shared his body with. When that hadn’t worked, he’d attempted to escape his host altogether, even though he knew it wouldn’t be of any use because the days when he could leave this body to use his full powers were gone.
That’s when Costin had lost his composure, going for the wall before Dawn could even react.
But now, after it was too late—and wasn’t that always the case?—she went to Costin and took his bloodied hand in hers.
Yet it wasn’t like she could assuage him or anything. Jonah had permitted Costin, a soul traveler, to basically rent out his body: Jonah sheltered him, lent him physical form so Costin, who existed as an immaterial being, could complete his mission to win back his soul for good. But Jonah had gradually learned how to take their shared body over.
Damn the guy, he’d learned real well, and it was tearing Costin into all kinds of pieces.
The good news was that Costin was in control of his host right this minute, but Dawn suspected that was only because Jonah was biding his time until the whim to take over again seized him.
The topaz gaze that signaled Costin was in charge for now burned feverish, his dark hair slouching over his forehead, half-shrouding his eyes while he watched Dawn inspecting his hand. She tried not to grimace at the bent injury of it.
“I want him out,” Costin said, and to hear that kind of torture in The Voice—a deep, fingernails-over-bare-skin tone that had always held such great power over her—just about slayed Dawn.
As if to balm her anguish, guilt seeped through her, silencing her. Over a year ago, she’d been the one who’d locked Costin into Jonah’s vampire body. But she could even trump that fact because, after the Queenshill trip last night, when Jonah had hijacked his and Costin’s body and taken it out of secure headquarters so he could prove to the team that he could also fight, she’d made a deal with him: the team would allow Jonah to aid in their missions, and in turn, he would let Costin out on occasion.
A trade off so that they could effectively continue to track and then wipe out the Undergrounds.
A devil’s bargain.
But she was used to making deals that involved a catch. Hell, she’d been the genius who’d turned Jonah and Costin into a vampire in the first place. It’d been the only option that would allow Costin to continue destroying the blood brothers.
It’d been the only way to save him.
While she wordlessly ran her fingers over his knuckles, she avoided Costin’s intense gaze. God, but she could still feel it on her, so she watched while the bones under his skin subtly undulated, his injuries mending.
She only wished Costin’s powers could also heal all those deep-down inner wounds he would always carry.
A stream of jasmine floated by, and she lifted her face to the scent, thankful for a distraction. Breisi, her favorite Friend spirit. One of many deceased vampire hunters who’d chosen to stay on and fight with Costin until the end.
“Broken?” Breisi asked while circling around Dawn and her boss.
Costin’s answer strung the atmosphere together even tighter. “Not for too long.”
“Bully for vampire healing.” By now, Dawn’s inner swell of anger and remorse had receded to a burn in her throat. Good thing, too, because tears were a waste. “It’ll be interesting to see how long it takes for you to heal all the way.”
“Yes, interesting.” Costin eased his hand out of her palm, but it left streaks of blood behind. His breathing quickened, as if the aroma got to him. “It never grows old, being this ever-changing experiment.”
Dawn tried not to take offense to that. No matter how much he tried to hide it, she knew Costin—a crusader who’d despised the monsters he hunted—couldn’t reconcile himself to his vampiric state much less her dominance over him. Ever since she’d exchanged blood with Costin in L.A. to keep him from expiring, she’d technically become his master. Of course, she’d had to kill her own maker to end his Underground, and that had turned her into a human again, but Costin didn’t exactly have the option to do the same with his master.
Not unless he wanted to terminate Dawn in order to bring a semblance of humanity back to his own host’s body.
Dawn startled as Breisi flew to the back of the room where her boyfriend, Frank, was sitting on a high stool. Pink marks slashed over his thick neck, the only healing evidence that he’d been badly wounded last night during the struggle with the schoolgirl vampires.
On their own stools, Kiko and Natalia sat to the left of Dawn’s vampire father. They were both wearing those tired, half-victorious, hyper-wary expressions that served as tonight’s post vamp-fighting costumes.
Then, came Eva, Dawn’s mom. She’d stayed here at headquarters because, after last night’s escalation in activity, no one wanted her to go even a block away to the flat she rented above a pub here in Southwark, so she was their temporary guest. She looked as put-together as ever with her blond hair and daisy beauty, which had gone from a quick early-twenties vampire glow to her actual middle-aged wilting of subtle wrinkles after she’d been changed back into a human in L.A.
Still, she was a head-turner.
But sitting a few subtle yet very obvious inches away from Frank’s right, her skin seemed paler than ever, just as Dawn’s had become because of the blood they donated to Frank and Costin, respectively. That, plus the bags that Costin secretively procured from a contact in a blood bank, kept the vampires on the team fed. As for Dawn and Eva, they were on all kinds of vitamins and supplements so they could offer the taste of blood that satisfied Costin and Frank the most.
Near Eva, Frank had his head down, no doubt struggling with the sight of Costin’s blood, but as Breisi drifted by, he lifted his gaze to her.
Eva looked away.
Kiko slid off of his stool, his short little-person legs cushioning the slight fall. He went for a low steel cabinet where some med kits were kept.
“Good thinking, Kik,” Dawn said. “We’ll need a wipe to get this blood off the boss before the vamps in this room start going nuts.”
Now Frank was breathing as hard as Costin was, his nostrils flaring at the blood, even from across the bevy of experimental weapons and tabled experiments stored in the lab.
Dawn watched her dad with concern, but he waved her off. She rolled her eyes, her gaze ultimately landing on a freezer, which was stocked fresh full of a mysterious, very dead commando who’d worn night-vision goggles while tracking the team before falling to his demise about a week ago.
Yeah, a kid who’d been creeping around while the team had investigated the site of a vampire burial site.
Just one more thing to worry about.
Kiko made it to Dawn in rocket time; Mr. Efficient had even already opened the med kit so she could yank out a packaged wipe.
She tore at the packet, extracted the wipe, then casually took Costin’s hand again to clean it off.
“Next time,” Dawn said to her patient, “maybe you should think about how much fight that wall has in it before you start whaling on it.”
“I was at my wits’ end,” he said, his tone back to that low Wallachian accent that had always made her go a little liquid. “Jonah has grown too strong and…”
He didn’t finish, and Dawn knew it was because a tough guy like him—a soldier who’d fought on fields of blood centuries ago—didn’t allow themselves to break.
Fair enough. She wouldn’t embarrass him by acknowledging any weakness he might be showing, so she just kept cleaning his knuckles.
But, at the same time, she felt the cold calm that kept her sane push even deeper into her bones.
Yet wasn’t that what they needed right now?
Couldn’t they all use a little alert frostiness?
The mangled cuts on Costin’s knuckles were closing up, but Dawn felt as if she were the one still bleeding.
“I’m sorry,” she said softly, disposing of the wipe by going to a drawer, retrieving a bag, and zipping up the refuse. She tossed it in a trash bin with a tightly sealed cover. “I wish there was something else I could do to help you with Jonah, Costin.”
“But you made a promise to him.” He held his gnarled hand near his stomach, and it was only now that her mind caught up and processed that he had changed out of the fight clothing Jonah had worn last night in favor of Costin’s usual dark lounging threads.
Fine idea, really. Jonah had gotten blood on the fabric when he’d had the time of his life out there, feeding and running around.
Next to Dawn, Kiko spoke up. “Boss, she’s only trying to work with Jonah.”
Costin closed his eyes, and Dawn didn’t even have to enter his mind, to access their personal master-progeny Awareness, to know he was approaching the end of more than one rope.
How many times had she gotten him to this point since she’d come on the team?
He opened his eyes, then glanced at his hand, his face expressionless, and that scared Dawn more than any of the Underground vampires they needed to hunt in order to save Costin, or even to save…
Well, the world.
Uh-huh, she’d gone and thought it, and the idea wasn’t any less of a hilarious nightmare. Her, the world saver.
Costin raised his chin, as if in defiance, and for a second, Dawn thought that maybe he’d shed something—his rage at Jonah, his fruitless attempts to change what couldn’t be changed now with his host.
“I suppose then,” he said, “that we shall require a change in procedure from this point forward.”
Kiko rubbed his hands together, clearly happy that the old boss seemed to have reappeared. Dawn only wished she could be just as sure.
“We’ve been pretty good about hitting curve balls out of the park so far,” the psychic said. “What’s one more?”
Dawn raised an eyebrow. “This is more like a cannonball, Kik.”
“Things’ll work out.” He grinned, as if mentally adding, How could they not when I’m clear, near, and on the case?
In the background, Dawn could hear the other team members getting out of their chairs, and she turned to see Frank and Natalia coming forward to join them.
Eva just waited there, looking more out of place than ever. Funny how she’d never come off that way back when she was a superstar-dusted Hollywood vampire.
“Maybe I should…?” She motioned toward the open lab door.
As if on cue, the door creaked wider, and Dawn supposed that Breisi had pushed her essence against it in invitation for Eva to leave them alone. Clearly, the spirit wasn’t stoked about how Frank’s first wife had come here to nurse her wounded ex-husband last night. It was bad enough that gorgeous, perfect, first-love Eva carried a torch for Frank, and this was apparently beginning to wear on the normally accepting Breisi.
Eva smiled wryly at the air, catching the ghostie’s message, too.
As she left—probably heading for the kitchen to make them all some tea—Dawn aimed an encouraging glance at her mother, and Eva’s smile turned warmer.
They’d come a long way, Dawn thought as her mom departed. But as much as she wanted to make sure Eva was comfortable upstairs, the London vampire Underground was a priority.
Actually, it was everything.
Disturbed by this truth, Dawn focused on Costin as the team members formed a half circle around their boss.
She’d attempt anything for him, her Voice, her mentor, her lover. She’d even march through hell to clear all accounts. And she wouldn’t be surprised if, someday, she found herself doing just that.
She owed him.
“So…” Natalia said, her Romanian accent tamed by a stint living in the States and an education at university. She also had a slight bump on her forehead from tangling with a spirit via a ouija board, but she’d covered the injury with cosmetics. “What happens now?”
“Exactly,” Kiko added. “We were talking about those Queenshill girls and whether or not they’ll lead us Underground. They’re vamps, all right, but are they the sort we’re looking for?”
Even with his dark hair tousled by all the previous drama, Costin managed to look dignified in Jonah’s body. “I know the lot of you were strategizing before I…” He stiffened and tilted his head as he used a euphemism. “…had my altercation with the wall.”
The team relaxed. Maybe their boss really was back.
“What did you come up with?” he continued.
Dawn stepped up before anyone else could get there first. “I’m going back to Queenshill because I’m the only qualified one who has a prayer of passing herself off as a student there. I can blend. See, Greta”—one of the Friends who was even now keeping watch on the schoolgirls’ dorms and the rest of the campus—“reported a few hours ago that she saw a vampire student, Della, disappear into the house matron’s room. Without the benefit of opposable thumbs and all that, Greta wasn’t able to open the door. She couldn’t even slip inside to follow, and the vents in Mrs. Jones’s room are closed, too. But about an hour later, Della and the house matron reappeared. Then they went to each of the girls’ rooms, where all four students stuffed their bags and then sped off. The Friends couldn’t keep up with their vampire speed, of course, but at least we know that this house matron, Mrs. Jones, is one of them. And we have another starting point to find a possible Underground lair.”
Kiko butted in. “We don’t know where the Lollipop Guild went, but Friends are combing London, searching.”
Giving Kiko an are-you-done-interrupting? look, Dawn continued. “First order of business is to see what’s in that house matron’s room. I’ll just--”
Frank crossed his arms over his wide chest. “You’ll just what? And you’ll do it at the risk of them identifying you and taking you down, Dawn?”
Oh, oh—he wasn’t saying “Dawnie,” that sweet little nickname he’d used since she was knee-high.
He kept inflicting his papa bear tone on her. “Or don’t you remember that, last night, when we snuck on campus for some reconnaissance, we found out these girls had the scenting power of wolves?”
Dawn thought about how the Queenshill students had even looked like wolves, too, when they’d turned all vampy. Transmogrifying, it was called, and Dawn wasn’t surprised by this talent of theirs at all, because worldwide folklore also cited vamps running around as things like wolves and bats. Actually, the Queenshill vampires were basically a cross between wolves and those weird hairless cats that rich women keep around their mansions—not that Dawn ever hung around with heiresses or anything.
“Dad,” she said. “The vampires have obviously got scent and sight profiles of me and Kik. And if they were able to catch any sort of vampire aroma—however unlikely—they could ID you and Jonah, too. They might be able to make any of us if we stepped foot on campus again while they’re around. I’m just volunteering to test that theory while they’ve stepped away from campus.”
“We’ll think of another way,” her dad said.
Natalia—the only team member who’d stayed at headquarters last night—cleared her throat, but Dawn raised a talk-to-the-hand palm to the new girl. No freakin’ way were they going to send someone so damned green in, even if Natalia had proven to be a top-rate psychic so far. In fact, the team had pinpointed Queenshill as a possible Underground location thanks to the newbie and Kiko’s combined visions.
Still, even though Natalia had a kind of vamp-radar—and the ability to hear dead humans—she had no fighting skills to speak of yet. She wasn’t ready to check out a possible lair.
“Here’s the thing,” Dawn said. “If the Friends are patrolling campus and telling us that none of those vamp girls are around right now, I don’t see a reason why I can’t recon the property again. Chances are that all vamps evacuated and won’t be around to sniff me or gauge my body rhythms—if they even have the ability to do that.” Which they might, Dawn thought. They still knew precious little about how these schoolgirl vampires—and maybe even their Underground—worked. “All I have to do is put on a handy-dandy disguise and get a Friend escort or two to give me immediate backup. Dressed as one of the older students, I can tiptoe into the dorm, then wheedle my way into the house matron’s room to check it out.”
Frank started to talk, but Dawn wouldn’t let him.
“If it doesn’t work,” she cut in, finally lowering her hand, “then we can try something else. But we don’t know where those schoolgirls are right now, so our idea of having Frank ambush them to get a follow-up look inside their minds for information about an Underground just isn’t realistic. My plan is.” She addressed her dad in particular. “The rest of the team can be on alert just off campus, especially if I find something beyond that door.”
Everyone was quiet, but it was Costin’s silence that got to Dawn the most. He had to be thinking about what would happen if they did discover more, because back before all the shit had hit in L.A., he would’ve put the team, whose main purpose was to ferret out the Underground location, in lockdown. Then he would’ve gone with the Friends to question the leading blood brother master, and then annihilate the Underground by emerging from Jonah’s body to exercise his full, hypnotic, war-like powers.
But…not any more.
Natalia, her curly brown hair barely held back in its barrette, joined Frank’s team of doubt now.
“What if those girls sic more animals on you, as they did last night?” she asked. “Perhaps they can even do it from where they are off campus. Their mind powers seemed that strong.”
“And perhaps they can’t do anything to us right now.” Dawn fingered the outline of the sharp crucifix just under her black turtleneck. “Don’t forget that my head trips can be just as strong as anything they have to throw at us.”
Nobody had the guts to say anything to that. They’d seen how Dawn’s ever-growing telekinesis had taken up puppet master proportions—she’d even been able to restrain one of the schoolgirl vampires, Della, with her mind during the skirmish.
But Frank gave it one last Daddy try. “They’re capable little girls, Dawn. Don’t underestimate them.”
“So why aren’t they at our front door barking at us right now?”
Costin listened, as if weighing all of this. Kiko just laughed.
“Dude,” he said, “I can tell you why they’re not here. First, those girls are major naïve, unless they were just acting! And unfortunately for them, naiveté isn’t so great a quality for a vamp to have. Second, they obviously didn’t get along with each other. They were a social disaster waiting to happen. I mean, did you see them scrapping amongst themselves as they hoofed it away from us? And I don’t even need to talk about the big-time tension between Della and her frenemy Violet. Who’s to say they won’t self-destruct before we even get to them?”
“The way I figure it,” the psychic added, “we’ll just load Dawn up with a UV grenade or two. I don’t know if silver bullets or darts or holy water works on those hairless wolf-cats, but UV sure did.”
“Pardon me,” Natalia said. “But they move around during the daylight. How can UV affect them so much?”
Kiko scratched his blond head. “I imagine they can only stand so much sunlight. Our grenades have enough concentrated UV to knock them to the ground. It’s like having one cocktail and getting a buzz as opposed to having, like, fifty drinks and getting alcohol poisoning. Dawn could take out a small hive of these vamps with only one grenade if she plays her cards right.”
“She might need more than just a grenade,” Frank added. “What if we’re dealing with an Underground that has different and distinct levels of vamps, like the one in L.A.? We’d need for every Underground vampire to be a sucker for that kind of UV dose, too. If they aren’t, then Dawn could be waltzing into a deathtrap.”
In spite of Frank’s argument, Kiko pointed at Dawn, shooting her with a wink and a smile. “Our girl can handle her vamps.”
Thankful for his props, Dawn stoically winked back at him. But when she glanced at Costin to see if he’d been persuaded, her heart sank at the way his gaze had gone dark again.
Even though he’d never admit it, she knew that he hated needing their help to such an extent.
She touched the crucifix buried under her shirt again, the points sharp enough to let out pinpricks of bad blood if she pressed hard enough.
“Costin?” she asked, wanting him to give his blessing.
But if he didn’t give it, would it make a difference?
Would he be able to stop her—his master—if it came right down to it?
The thought unsettled her, but it also made her feel…
And justified, too, because now he couldn’t use her as bait as he’d done in L.A.
Now he couldn’t hurt her nearly as much.
But… God, it wasn’t right to think that way. She wouldn’t contribute to literally putting Costin’s soul in hell if they failed in his mission to exterminate the dragon and his blood progeny.
“So when morning comes,” she said, putting an end to all this conversation, “I’ll hop into some schoolgirl clothes and get myself to Queenshill.”
Costin paused, and Dawn tensed. But when he nodded, his topaz gaze meeting hers, she knew that he felt just as helpless to control her as he did with Jonah.
She wanted to fall into his mind, to tell him he was mistaken, that he was still The Voice. That he was still the boss.
But when a new blast of jasmine air blew into the room, she tore her gaze from his, something dying a little inside of her.
A Friend’s voice—the French accent identifying her as Evangeline from one of Costin’s 18th century teams—whisked through the rest of the jasmine that was spilling into the room as other spirits joined her.
“Outside,” Evangeline said, the words threading through the atmosphere. “Get your weapons ready.”
Before she even finished, the team hopped to it, with Dawn grabbing a batch of velvet-wrapped throwing blades from her back pocket and heading for the lab door along with Kiko, who’d pulled his revolver from his shoulder holster. Frank joined them as they ran up the stairs.
About damned time those schoolgirls showed up to finish what they’d started last night, Dawn thought. In her craziest dreams, she’d been wishing they’d just get on over here and put an end to the waiting.
“How many of them?” she asked.
“One vampire,” Evangeline said as she trailed back to allow Breisi to take her place beside Dawn and Frank. “And she is asking for ‘the girl.’ Asking for Dawn.”
And she wanted Dawn in particular?
At the top of the steps, she exchanged red-alert glances with her teammates, then sprinted the rest of the way to the front door, where she looked out of the peephole.
And, indeed, out on the pre-morning street, right in front of the decorated gates of Cross Bones Graveyard, which was really just a slab of cement, stood a schoolgirl dressed in a long skirt, white shirt, and slender red tie.
The leader of the Queenshill vampires.
From the book: Path of Razors, Vampire Babylon, Book Five
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