As if we'd want you.
"My connection to the Order is terminated," Chase said. "Just keep the ring out of that vampire's hands. Amazingly, I trust Lothaire with it even less than I do you."
Words hurt, Chase.
"You're truly going to ally with miscreats?" Webb demanded. "Have you forgotten that those abominations tortured and killed your parents? Tortured and nearly killed you? I saved you from them!"
"I am one of those miscreats, Webb. A born berserker."
Shaking off the Order's brainwashing, are we, Blademan?
Though Webb's face was flushed with rage, his tone remained fatherly, concerned. "Son, your mind's unclear. That female has swayed you."
"I'm not your son," Chase snapped. "And that female is going to be my wife. Better Regin sway me than you."
"I reported to the Order that you died on the island," Webb said. "And I'll stick to that, but only if you stand down against our mission."
Chase replied, "You told me I was either on your side or theirs. You were right. Harm any among my allies, and I'll retaliate." Click.
The Blademan rises a notch in my estimation.
As soon as the call ended, Lothaire said, "Ah, was that Chase warning you against me? Shame. If only he'd done so sooner."
The commander whirled around, firing a charge thrower at him.
Lothaire laughed as the electrical stream passed through his torso. "Half-tracing, Webb. You can't touch me. But I can touch you." He briefly materialized to knock the gun from Webb's hand, breaking the mortal's arm with a satisfying crack.
Webb yelled with pain, his other hand darting for a button under his desk.
"Ah-ah, don't touch that alarm." Lothaire secured the man's hand in his own fist. Giving the lightest squeeze, he shattered Webb's bones like a crushed walnut.
As the man bit out a scream, Lothaire smiled down, knowing how terrifying he looked-the face of death. "Now you have two choices, human. If you tell me the combination to your safe and reveal what countermeasures are in place, I might spare your life. Or I can torture you for the information, then drink your memories so I can find and punish your family as well. You have one hidden somewhere, don't you?"
"Never. Never will I tell you!"
"Very well. I'll enjoy it more if you struggle. . . ."
Ultimately, he tortured Webb until the man begged to divulge all. After a while, Lothaire let him.
"And one last question," Lothaire said, rising above the man's mutilated body. "Who gave the Order my name? Who put me on Chase's capture list?"
Blood bubbled from Webb's lips as he laughed brokenly. "Vampire . . . deep down . . . you know."
At that, Lothaire's composure faltered. He'd had a suspicion, of course, but it couldn't be correct. "Not possible."
Between choking coughs, Webb grated, "You know . . . who gave you to us."
He had to be lying. Only one way to find out for certain.
Lothaire's gaze dropped to the man's neck. Would this be the victim that sent him into the abyss? Could he stop short of drinking Webb to the quick?
Must risk it. "I'm going to drain you now." Lothaire hauled the man to his feet. "Do resist. It adds something." Then he pierced Webb's jugular, grimacing at the blood.
The commander tasted like sewage compared to Elizabeth. But the impending kill teased Lothaire, beckoned him to suck harder as Webb's flailing body grew lighter and lighter from blood loss.
When the man fell limp, Lothaire dropped him, staggering back. What's in his blood?
A narcotic haze shrouded him. Raw, potent. Lothaire was high from it, too high to ponder why. He slid his back down a wall, closing his eyes against the spinning room.
As Webb took his last rattling breath, images began to stream through Lothaire's mind at light speed. He fell into a quasi-sleep, immersed in the man's twisted memories.
What felt like hours passed before Lothaire could seize on the memory he sought. . . .
The commander hadn't lied about Lothaire's betrayer.
Bile rose in Lothaire's throat, a spike of pure hatred reviving him. He slitted open his eyes. Everyone he'd ever trusted had died-or betrayed him.
Elizabeth can still do one. Or both.
Forever betrayed. Stefanovich, Serghei, Fyodor, Saroya, even the one being Lothaire had called friend. . . .
But not Elizabeth. Never her.
He lumbered to his feet, kicked Webb's lifeless body-good riddance, prick-then started for the safe.
Now to disable all the safeguards. Press a button there, enter a false code, turn the lever once. Enter the real code.
Puzzle moves. If Lothaire didn't have so much on the line, he might have enjoyed this.
With a hiss, the safe door opened. There. A black velvet pouch.
He slipped the ring from it. As he donned the plain gold band, he felt an unfathomable power radiating from it.
Wasting not one second, Lothaire twisted the ring, making his wish. Go back in time to undo my vows to Saroya the Soul Reaper.
Nothing. Lothaire felt no surge of power as he had in the past with other lesser talismans.
Maybe the ring forbade time-travel. He amended his wish: Erase my vows to Saroya.
Again, nothing. Dear gods, the ring had denied him; the vows remained sacrosanct. The pull to destroy his Bride grew overwhelming.
Death was the only move left on the chessboard. Elizabeth's or his own?
He gazed out the study window. The sun was rising, rays of light erupting over distant mountains.
Like clutching fingers. His instinct was to go to ground, to evade their grasp.
Could he sacrifice himself for Elizabeth? Part of him could scarcely believe that Lothaire-the black-hearted Enemy of Old-was even contemplating this! To spare her, would he render himself to ash?
As Ivana had all those years ago to protect him . . .
He told himself he was considering this only because Elizabeth's death would alter him. How could any vampire go on living without his Bride? He tried to convince himself that his heart held no sway in this decision.
But it did. Little mortal, you've changed everything. . . .
Before Ivana had gone to meet her death, Lothaire had asked her, "How can you do this?" At last he understood her answer.
Because anything that is worthy in me began with Elizabeth.
He rubbed his hand over his chest, startled by the ache he felt there. I wish I could have seen her one last time. . . .
Shoulders back, he traced outside to meet dawn, challenging an enemy he'd eluded all his life.
An enemy he now prayed would defeat him.
It's happening," Ellie admitted to Balery as she sipped a Coke. "I'm falling in love with him."
She and the fey were on the deck watching the sunset as Ellie anxiously awaited Lothaire. He'd been missing all day.
As he'd set off, Ellie had again told him she wouldn't worry. So much for that.
Earlier Thad had visited. For hours, he and Balery had tried to distract her, but her sense of dread had grown steadily throughout the day.