A Gate of Night / Page 18

Page 18


“I never went to him, Vivienne.” Her voice came with a hiss as she uttered Vivienne’s name. “You don’t go to the Elder. He comes to you. When he pleases, and often times, he does it to draw blood. I don’t understand it, but he seems drawn to the darkness of one’s soul. We all have it, I think, and that’s what usually draws his presence.”

“He sounds like the devil himself,” Xavier muttered.

“He might as well be,” Claudia said softly, swallowing hard. Her eyes turned toward Yuri. She was crying out for him to reassure her, to let her know that despite what she was about to reveal, he would still love her.

Yuri had become one of my friends at The Shade, and I knew without a doubt that no matter what, he would still love her. Deeply. Nothing was ever going to change that.

An ache formed in my heart at that realization, because in Yuri and Claudia, I’d always seen myself and Camilla. I found myself wishing that they could survive whatever was to come. I wouldn’t have wished Camilla’s fate and mine on anyone.

“It’s all right, Claudia,” he assured her. “Tell us everything.”

“It was me whom the Elder came to in order to get to Derek. He instructed me on how to conjure the darkness in Derek. The first time the Elder came to me was the worst night of my life. I’ve seen evil in many of its forms, been a victim of it. I’ve even been evil myself, but nothing compares to the Elder. I don’t think Derek ever forgave me for bringing the Elder into his life. I…”

A bitter smile formed on Vivienne’s face. “I’m sure he has, Claudia. If he hadn’t forgiven you, I doubt you’d be alive.” She stood to her full height and nodded in resolution. “None of us are strangers to the atrocities that happened here at The Shade. That’s the past. Let’s leave it there. What we need to deal with now is that a force that is completely unknown to us is about to come to our home. The Elder isn’t just a myth like we once thought he was. He exists and he is not alone.” Vivienne shuddered as the implications of what she was saying sank into her—into all of us.

“We’ll survive this.” Liana spoke up. “We have to. I want that cure, Vivienne.” She turned to her husband and clutched his hand. “We’re so close to being human again, living with a family. Normal. Mortal. And Sofia… if she really is pregnant… Derek and Sofia are family to all of us. We’re family. We’ve made it this far for the past five centuries. Together. We need to get through this the same way. Together.”

I was taken aback by what she said. I’d known that Derek wanted the cure in order to become human and be with Sofia, but it had never dawned on me that any of the other vampires wanted it as badly as he did.

With Anna, the only immune apart from Sofia, having been taken to the hunters’ headquarters soon after Derek and Sofia had left, there was no way any of them could take the cure for themselves. For some reason, the cure made the stakes higher. I looked at every person in that room—all of them vampires—and found myself perturbed that I honestly saw each of them as family.

I’d be a fool to still think of myself as a hunter, I thought, but then again… I thought of Zinnia and Julian and other comrades I’d made as a hunter, and I saw them as family too.

Liana’s pep talk seemed to have the desired effect on all involved. I had to give it to these vampires. They were resilient. Practically unbreakable.

“We’ll make it.” Cameron nodded.

“You don’t look convinced, Vivienne,” I said.

Vivienne forced a smile. “All I know is that if any of us are going to make it—together or otherwise—we need to know what we’re up against. Claudia, we’ll need you to tell us in detail everything you know about the Elder. Your encounters with him. What he did. What he put you through. That may be painful to relive, but it’s necessary for us to know.”

Claudia nodded. “All right. I’ll try to remember.”

“Good, but before that, Yuri, I need you to look through all the texts your brother has kept over the years. All the information about the original vampire. Legends, stories, rumors… I don’t care what it is. Find it. Ask Ashley to help you out. She’s already worked with Eli before when they were trying to figure out the hunters.” At that, Vivienne gave me a side glance, almost as if to apologize.

Yuri immediately went about the task, digging through the many resources his brother had collected over the past five centuries, leaving us all to hear what Claudia had to say.

“When the Elder comes, he will always make you bleed,” Claudia started. “An encounter with the Elder will always leave you in pain after.” She detailed how the Elder inflicted pain. The mystery of his invisible presence. She told us everything she knew.

“Okay,” I drawled after she was done. “We know what he is like. Now what we need to figure out is how to fight back. What are his weaknesses? How do we destroy him?”

Silence crossed the room as we all hung our heads to dwell on the reality we were facing: How on earth do you fight a creature that you can only sense, but never see?

Chapter 26: Vivienne

I was perched on an overhanging plateau at one side of the mountain range that was the Black Heights. I had to get away from everyone at the Catacombs, try to gather my thoughts together, find a dose of peace that could get me through the night.

I stared at the view ahead of me. Far into the distance, where the night of The Shade stopped and the day of the rest of the world was about to start, the sun was rising. It would only be a few hours before the Elders arrived.

“Vivienne?” A familiar, warm, soothing baritone spoke from behind me.

I was both relieved and shaken to have him around. Xavier had over the past months awakened my desire for him in so many ways that his very presence scared me. I was pleased to have his company, but I was also afraid of the effect he had on me.

“What are you doing here?”

“I was looking for you. I know this is one of the places you go to when you want to be alone.”

I smiled, sensing him approach from behind me. “You keep stalking me, Vaughn.”

“I would think you’d be used to it by now, Novak.” The tips of his fingers brushed against my shoulders, then down my arms. “Vivienne… You’re trembling. You’re scared.”

“Aren’t you?”

“Cameron and Liana are right. We’ve made it through a lot together. We can make it through this.”

“I want to believe that we can make it, but we don’t even know what we’re up against. All that talk about unity and togetherness sounds great, but the Elder is a threat just on his own. To think that there are more of his kind…” I heaved a sigh. “Yes. Liana is right. We need to make it through this together, but we also have to look at this with a dose of realism. Xavier, we are an Elder’s creations. Mutations of the original. We are just watered-down versions of that particular Elder’s power. Who knows what the others are capable of? The information Claudia revealed and Eli dug up… they’re threadbare clues to what kind of creatures these things are. How do we fight that?”

His cold breath touched the back of my neck, his forehead pressed against my head, his hands brushing up and down my arms. No matter how cold we both were, he made warmth climb from the pit of my stomach to the top of my chest.

“You always worry about things that are beyond your control, Viv. You worry too much.”

“I can’t help it.” I frowned. “And you? You worry too little, Xavier.”

“The way I see it, these Elders are coming. Nothing we can do to stop it. We might as well cherish these last few moments we have, these times when we’re still free from their hold. I think it’s what Derek and Sofia would’ve done.”

“Really? You don’t think my brother would’ve had some sort of plan concocted by now? An escape… something?”

“An escape to where? Derek has done a lot of great things, but I don’t think even he could’ve found a way out of this one. Stop being so hard on yourself. Besides, Derek isn’t here. And you’re not Derek. Stop trying to be him. Do you see any of your subjects complaining so far? Vivienne, you’ve been keeping us all together since Derek and Sofia left.”

I spun around and pushed him away. “I hate you.”

“Hate me?” His eyes widened, his ruggedly handsome face twisting in confusion. “Why?”

“For being so calm! You’re always so cool and collected and…” I had no idea what was happening to me, but tears were beginning to fall from my cheeks. “You remind me of who I used to be before the hunters got me.”

His eyes cleared when he realized what I was telling him. “I remember.” He nodded with a bittersweet smile forming on his lips. “Nothing seemed to faze you. Your father and Lucas… they would be in a panic, but you… I used to wonder if anything could ever shake you. You were the very picture of fortitude at that time—exactly what The Shade needed.”

I raised my eyes to his, the terror and dread that I felt being shoved to the back of my mind by his mere presence. I loved him. Always had. The way he was looking at me at that time unnerved me. I wished I believed in myself as much as he seemed to believe in me.

“How can you look at me that way?”

“What way?”

“Like you think I’m amazing.”

He grinned. His mouth opened to reply, but instead of words, I found myself being pulled to him, his lower lip caught between mine. I slightly bit into his lip. He groaned and pulled away, but the naughty expression on his face—the hunger behind his eyes—told me that this encounter was far from over.

“You love me, princess. Admit it.” His grip on my arm tightened. He wanted to hear me say the words. He was desperate for it.

My lips trembled. I could find no reason not to say it, so I didn’t understand why the words wouldn’t come out of my lips. “I… Xavier…” I had no idea what terrified me more—the coming of the Elders or baring my heart completely to the man I loved. Xavier made me feel vulnerable. “You said you’d wait until I’m ready.”

“And I’d do that, Vivienne. You know I would, but…”

I pressed my lips against his to silence him, hoping that if I couldn’t express what I felt for him in words, he would understand that I loved him through my actions.

Still, even as I reveled in being held in his strong arms, I could tell that I would regret not telling him. Especially when a cold, foreboding wind began to sweep through the island.

That meant only one thing.

“The Elders are here,” I whispered. A creeping sense of fear began to envelop me, getting under my skin and chilling my bones. I clung to Xavier tighter but he pulled away from me.

“Xavier?” I asked. I looked into his eyes and gasped. They’d gone a strange, translucent white.

He brushed loose strands of my hair with his fingers before giving me a wide, manic grin. “Hello. You’re right, sweet innocent.”

Right about what? Realization dawned on me. “No.”

“Yes. We’re here.”

Chapter 27: Kiev

I watched as the young woman set the tray of food on top of the aluminum pushcart. Strawberries, pancakes, delicacies that I would never have the pleasure of tasting. Ones Derek Novak is somehow now able to enjoy… wherever he is. The man had been off our radar since the day he’d somehow escaped our capture.

That means only one thing. He’s no longer in this realm.

“Everything’s ready, my lord.” Downcast eyes and clasped hands faced me.

“Let’s go then.”

Olga was the beautiful brunette tasked to bring Sofia her meals every day. She’d been held captive at The Blood Keep since she was a baby and she’d been serving as a kitchen girl from childhood to her teenage years. I knew I could trust her to do whatever I told her to do, so when the subject of who to send to cater to Sofia’s needs had come up, Olga had come to mind.

Unlike the other servants, the teenager didn’t tense at the very sight of me. She respected me more than she feared me and I liked that about her. She knew her place in my life and she served it well.

“How is she?” I asked her as we walked along the corridors of The Blood Keep, headed for Sofia’s bedroom.

“I don’t think she gets enough sleep. She seems anxious as of late.”

“Did she try to talk to you again?”

“Yes. Always. She wanted me to help her. Begging. She was talking about escape.”

Sofia, you little fool. “And what did you do?”

“Nothing. I ignored her. Like you told me to.” Olga paused and caught her breath.

I’d practically raised the young servant. I could read her expressions very well. “You’re keeping something from me. Spit it out, Olga.”

“She hit me yesterday. She got really angry that I wouldn’t respond to her pleas.” Olga’s round face paled.

She hit Olga? I couldn’t picture Sofia doing something like that, especially to an innocent just like herself. The darkness is getting to her.

“She’s not like she was when she first came. She’s losing it, my lord. She’s withering away.” A deep sigh escaped Olga’s red lips, her eyes glistening. “I feel for her.”

You feel for her? The thought riled me up. I grabbed her arm and yanked her around to face me before gripping her jaw. “Know your loyalties, Olga.”

She didn’t cower like others did. Her hazel eyes met mine, unflinching. “I know where mine lie, my lord. On the other hand, I’m not sure where yours do.”

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