A dark secret lies hidden away in a far-off mountain for countless centuries.
Will and his companions race after their captured friends in a desperate move to save the vampire race from extinction by the disease, or a horrible slavery through Stenson's control of the cure. The chase takes them to Constantinople where they meet up with new friends and foes, and find that their problems only skimmed the surface of the surprise that awaited them at the end of their journey.
The fourth and final part to the four-part Young Adult paranormal adventure Blood Guardians series. The fourth book is set on the Euro-Asian continent of the 1830s.
The scene aboard the Lorelei was hectic after the battle between Mario’s forces and their own. The Guild vampires tended to their wounded while the Hunters managed the sails. The two captives, both unconscious, and Abe were taken below deck, and stowed into the hold which was located at the center of the ship. The young woman didn’t awaken until the next night when they were far out to sea, and even farther away from being rescued. Antonio was glad to see her eyes flutter open.
“You gave me quite a scare, Violet,” he scolded the young woman.
Violet blinked and sat up only to wince at the pain in her sore limbs. She glanced around and was confused to find them in the short, wide room. They were surrounded by walls made of long, wooden planks, and the floor beneath them rocked with the ocean water. Above them could be heard the treading of many heavy boots and a murmur of Italian voices.
There were large barrels all around them along with sacks of food and gunpowder, separated by the length of the room. She’d been leaned against one of these stiff barrels, and her neck was sore from her head bent all day on her chest. Her hands were still bound behind her back by the manacles, and she saw Antonio was in the same predicament as herself in regards to the cuffs.
“Where are we?” she asked him. A new voice answered her question.
“On the Lorelei headed for Constantinople.” Violet’s eyes shot over to the speaker, and she was surprised to find Abe seated not far from them. She also noticed his arms were freed and out in front of him. Their enemies trusted him enough to allow him some liberties.
“I wish you wouldn’t have woken up,” Antonio replied with his lips pulled back in a snarl.
“Headed for Constantinople…” Violet repeated. Her heart dropped and she shuddered. “Then Will and the others…?”
“Use your senses to see the health of your guardian, but for the others we can only guess,” Abe told her. Though she thought him a wicked man, his advice was good and she focused her thoughts on Will. She let out a sigh when she felt his presence, so at the very least he still lived. Unfortunately, she couldn’t manage any more than feeling his existence. His emotions and distance from him didn’t present themselves to her as they had while on the mainland of Italy. Abe noticed her face scrunch up, and he shook his head. “The distance is too great, you won’t do any more than find if he still lives or not.”
“How far are we out from Civitavecchia?” she asked them both. Antonio’s face was grim when he answered her question.
“We stopped for only a brief moment during the day to gather supplies, since they brought in more barrels from somewhere, and we’ve sailed non-stop since then. We could be several hundred miles away by now.”
“And this place?”
“It’s the storage room for the ship, and I think we’ll have to get used to these drab walls,” Antonio replied. “They don’t intend to let us-” Violet was frightened when Antonio suddenly flinched and his eyes shut against some mysterious bout of pain.
“Are you hurt?” Violet asked him. Antonio shook his head and cracked open one of his eyes to glare at Abraham.
“It’s that damn blood inside him. That’s all I smell in these cramped quarters, and I can’t help wanting a drink.” Antonio shuddered, and Abe coolly watched as his Watcher rolled over onto the floor. Antonio sought to curl himself into a ball and fight against the craving, but his body began to shake from the effort.
“You should not have refused my offer earlier this evening,” Abe scolded. “You have gone too many days without my blood, and your body senses me nearby. New as you are to being a Watcher, it is a necessity you should take some every night.”
“Sick bastard,” Antonio managed to choked out. “You just turned me to use me as your puppet.”
“And you make for a poor one if you won’t take my blood.”
“Stop it,” Violet ordered Abe. She crawled over to Antonio’s side, but could only look down at his pathetically weak figure. “Is there anything I can do to help?” He managed a smile at her worried eyes.
“Only if you can drain that bastard over there of his blood. That would help a lot, and make me very happy.” Violet took the first half of his words seriously, for he wouldn’t have requested she fetch Abe’s blood blood if he felt he could do without it. She turned to Abe, and loathed the next words she spoke.
“Can you force him to take your blood?” Antonio’s eyes widened and his mouth was agape.
“Who’s side are you on?” her friend asked her. However, she continued to stare at Abe, who mulled over the suggestion a moment before shaking his head.
“I could, but that’s no way to teach him the importance of my blood. As I said before, he needs to drink of me or he’ll be driven insane.” He paused and pondered that fate for the young Watcher. “I would give him a week at most before his mind slipped into an insanity close to my own, and two before he succeeds in killing himself.” Violet stiffened, and then turned back to Antonio. He was still glaring at her for her suggestion.
“I know this is revolting to you, but you must drink some of his blood.” Antonio turned his eyes on Abe and scowled at the vampire who was now his master.
“With the situation we’re in, I would find madness and death more preferable,” the young man answered.
“Then you would leave me?” Violet asked him. Antonio was caught off guard by Violet’s pleading voice, and he glanced up to find there were tears in her eyes. “I don’t want any more death and certainly not yours, so pleased don’t die. I know it’s selfish of me to ask you to do this, but don’t leave me alone.” Abe scowled at her purposeful exclusion of himself from her thoughts, but the other two ignored him.
Antonio frowned, but then sighed and nodded. He hadn’t realized how important it was to Violet that he live, and he could appreciate that someone cared enough for him to beg him to keep living. That was probably the first time in his life anyone had cared about him enough to want him by their side.
“Fine, you win…” he muttered, and Violet’s face lit up. Abe rolled his eyes at the success of Violet’s heartfelt plea, but he couldn’t deny the results. Antonio glanced over to his master. “You want to come over here? These guys don’t trust me like they do you, so I have a harder time moving around.”
Abe’s companions were surprised when he obliged by standing and moving over to them. Violet backed up and allowed them room even as Abe righted Antonio back onto the barrel assigned to him. Antonio turned his head away when Abe held up his arm and slit a clean wound over his own wrist. The blood flowed out down both sides of his arm and dripped to the floor.
“Don’t hesitate now. When you first drank my blood, there was no turning back.”
“You needn’t remind me, the pain does enough of that,” Antonio grumbled, but he turned his head to face Abe. “Let’s have it then.”
Abe lifted his bleeding wrist up close enough for Antonio to lean down and clamp his mouth over the wound. His eyes were shut while the blood poured into his mouth, and Violet found herself fascinated with watching the transfer of life energy from one being to another. The joining didn’t last long, however, as Antonio pulled away for air and to be free of that disgusting drink. His lips were covered with the stuff and some dribbled down his chin. Abe was kind enough to pull forth a handkerchief from his pocket and wipe away the blood, though Antonio found the act humiliating.
“If I had my arms, I’d strangle you,” he swore to his master. Abe only smirked and stood.
“And I believe you are enough of a man to keep your word and do it, but you would have a hard time killing a man already dead, at least in that fashion.” Abe wandered off to a pile of barrels at the opposite end of the small room, and that gave Violet room enough to sidle up to Antonio.
“Are you feeling better?” She felt terrible for asking him to give into his cravings, but she didn’t regret that he would live because of her request.
“Better but for that damn cold stuff flowing through me. Makes my whole body feel numb.” He glanced at her, and looked her up and down. “Is this what it feels like to be a vampire? Cold and numb?” Violet smiled and shook her head.
“The cold doesn’t bother you after a while, and I haven’t felt numb at all since Will changed me.”
“Then perhaps it’s his blood that causes such numbness.” Antonio nodded his head at their third companion who was even now opening the barrels and inspecting the spice bags stacked along the walls. The Watcher was annoyed when Abe didn’t even acknowledge he’d spoke about him. “Damn him and his snooping.”
Violet was sorely tempted to ask what he was doing around the human food, but they heard a noise of many boots traipsing down the ladder leading into the hold. Soon the door was unlocked and pushed open. A beam of faint light from a lantern spilled into the room and washed over Violet and Antonio. They could see it was Caterina Sforza who stood in the doorway, and the vampiress stepped into the room and gave them a careful glance. Violet noticed Abe stopped his perusing in the food and slid away from the containers.
“It appears we’ll be together for quite a few weeks, so I would wish us to be on better terms,” she told them. Her lips were turned up in a wide smile, but Violet only recoiled from the expression. On Caterina’s face, the expression twisted and became nothing more than a mask. “We can do quite a bit for each other if you cooperate with us.”
“I would rather be on better terms with a viper, but I suppose that isn’t much different from yourself,” Antonio snapped back. Caterina’s smile slipped for a moment and an ugly expression passed across her face. Then she returned to her cheerful, friendly attitude.
“If you wish it to be so, then I cannot stop you. However, wouldn’t you at least wish your hands to be freed like your friend over here?” She gestured to Abe, and Antonio wasn’t impressed.
“If you believe we have any respect for that traitor, you’re even crazier than him.”
“Hardly, but perhaps I can tempt you with some food?” Sforza offered.
“Not hungry.” Caterina raised a brow, but Antonio had only spoke the truth. After the meal of Abe’s blood, he had no appetite for any solid, human food.
“I see you won’t be cooperating with us, but we at least have your master who will have you follow us regardless of what you choose.” Catrina’s voice sounded cracked and at a higher-pitch than before. She was fast losing her patience with Antonio’s blunt refusal, and instead turned to Violet. “I am sure your guardian would want you to be as comfortable as possible during this long voyage.”
“Where are you taking us?” Though she’d heard Abe mention Constantinople, she wanted to have a confirmation of their destination.
“To a grand old city where you can see-”
“It’s Constantinople, isn’t it?” Antonio spoke up. Catrina was vexed by the interruption, and even more troubled by the correct guess. Her eyes glanced over to Abe for a moment and then back. For the first time the two unwilling captives had a feeling Abe had told them more than he was supposed to.
“It appears you have already been informed of our destination, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is your cooperation.” She knelt down and took a lock of Violet’s long hair between her fingers. “I would hate to have to harm such a precious flower as yourself, and especially to waste any of your blood, but I won’t hesitate to force obedience from you.” Violet didn’t verbally argue, but she turned her head to face away from her captor. Catrina scowled, tossed the hair into Violet’s face and stood. “If you wish to be so difficult, little girl, then you can rot down here for the entire journey. Oh, and we’ll see how long this little pinch of food will last you.”
Catrina stomped out of the cargo hold and all but one of her entourage left with her. The one to remain, a vampire, stayed only long enough to drop a small basket to the floor and then exit the room. The door was firmly locked behind them and they were again left in the darkness.
“This is getting really old…” Antonio grumbled. He was already tired of the darkness, as he could only see by what little light slipped beneath the door.
“You will adapt,” Abe comforted him.
“Oh goody. I’m so looking forward to an unbeating heart.”
“Antonio, you promised me you would keep going,” Violet scolded her friend, and the man sighed.
“I’m not going anywhere, but his blood and presence really irritate me.” Antonio shifted where he sat and grimaced when his stomach churned at the foreign blood flowing through his body.
“Does it hurt like the first time?” she asked him. He hadn’t writhed in pain as before, and she hoped she’d never have to see such agony in her friend again.
“No, but this uncomfortable feeling is almost worse.” He turned his gaze on the shadow of his master standing close by. “How long is this sensation supposed to last?”
“Quite a while, if my memory serves me right.”
“That would be the only thing that would want to serve you.” There was a gruff chuckle, for the mad old vampire was sometimes amused by the man’s countering comments. It showed his Watcher had some wit about him.
“I needn’t worry about your allegiances shifting to Sforza,” Abe replied.
“No, she’s all yours,” Antonio gladly agreed, and then a thought struck him. “But what other stuff can you tell us that we’re not supposed to know? Maybe the next bit of information might help us escape, or at least plan an escape.”
“Escape where? The land is too far to swim to, and no vampire can survive crossing such depths without being crushed by the water around them. No, escape isn’t an option, if that’s what you choose to do.”
“That’s what we must do if we want to see the others again. Have a little humanity toward Violet here. It can’t be easy for her to be so far away from Will for so long.” Violet smiled at his kindness, but then shook her head.
“I’m all right, really.”
“I doubt that will be the case if you’re left without him for a great period of time,” Abe told her. Before he elaborated further, he moved over and took possession of the basket left by their captors. He opened the container and frowned at what he saw. “They intend to starve us, or hope we eat this fool.”
“Why? What’s in there?” Antonio asked him.
“Blood, but only one bottle. This will last the young lady-”
“Violet,” she reminded him.
“This will last Violet and myself a few days at the most. We are at their mercy for a replenishment unless you two cooperate, then perhaps they’ll be more forthcoming with the drink.” Violet bristled at the suggestion.
“I’ll never cooperate with them. Evil isn’t something one can call a truce with and expect not to become evil yourself.” Abe glanced over to her and raised a brow, but then a half-smile slid onto his lips. He closed his eyes and nodded his head.
“Yes, I suppose you are right.” He moved over to the pair and held out the basket to her. She took the offered container, but was confused by the offer.
“Shouldn’t you take some yourself?” This was especially true if he was to give his blood to Antonio every night. She didn’t want to partake of their rations while she watched the elder vampire whither away with starvation. She could never be that cruel to do such a thing to any creature, even a traitor. “Surely there must be-”
“There isn’t. At least, not unless they intend to visit us more often than I suspect they will.” He returned to the spot where he’d been seated when Violet had awoken. “This old body will last much longer than your young, frail one. Besides, one such as I who has seen the devil and made a deal with evil shouldn’t be expecting to be rewarded, but rather punished.”
“Seen the devil?” Violet didn’t understand his words nor did Antonio, since they both believed the evil referred to their captives. The young man was less afraid of finding the answer to his curiosity.
“What’s that supposed to mean, old man?” Antonio asked him. “What devil have you seen?” That half-smile slipped from his face and his eyes opened to narrow slits. He appeared to be pondering Antonio’s question and memories that were brought to the surface of his mind.
“An old devil, old even for me. I cannot comprehend how long the devil lay there, but I have no doubt he is been driven mad by now. No creature can be as old as that and still be themselves.” A shudder ran through his body and the pair watching him were disturbed when he wrapped his arms around himself. He looked like he was trying to contain some part of him that sought to break free. “Madness, that’s the end for us all. No amount of living can change that. No, living’s the problem, that’s where it all starts and ends.”
“Abraham.” Violet’s voice broke through his insane chatter, but she flinched back when his head jerked up to glance at her. His eyes showed the madness inside of him, and beside her Antonio shivered. He felt it worse, for their connection told him the other part of Abe was clawing its way up to the surface of consciousness. “You don’t have to act this way, you can control this madness inside of you.”
Abe continued to stare at her without blinking, and those terrible eyes glowed in the darkness of the room. Beside her Antonio winced and shifted. He sought to pull his hands up and cover his ears against the madness coming through their bond.
“Enough!” Antonio’s voice rang out through the small space and Abe started back. That broke his gaze from Violet and she felt a great weight lift off her. Antonio grimaced and shudder. “Enough, old man. Don’t let that thing come out again.”
Abe was indeed his sane self again, but he sat there crouched against his barrel as though a blow had been struck against him. Perhaps Antonio had helped push down the insanity, or maybe Violet’s pale, unwavering glance intimidated him. Either way he stopped his muttering and his tense, hostile face smoothed to a mere frown.
“I won’t take all this blood if you continue giving Antonio your own,” Violet insisted, and this time he didn’t argue. “You can take as much or as little as you please, but you must take something.”
“Very well.” The voice which answered her order was weak but calm. She was also pleased to hear there was some bit of relief in the tone toward her offer.
“What the hell was that, anyway?” Antonio managed to choke out. He was still physically and mentally shaken by the vibrant emotion which had crossed over on their connection. “And if you say it’s none of my concern, then none of my life is my concern.”
“Then I will only say you will feel it again, but hopefully not with such force,” Abe replied.
“I’d rather not feel it at-”
“That can’t be helped.” Antonio wasn’t pleased to hear those words, but Abe was deadly serious. Then a smile slipped onto the elder vampire’s lips and he gave a low chuckle. “We wouldn’t want two of us to be mad. One is quite enough.”
Suddenly the group heard a pounding of a pair of boots down the stairs. The person stepped quickly over to the door and in a moment the entrance was opened. It was the same vampire who had left the blood, and the expression on his face showed he wasn’t pleased to be back with them.
“What’s all this noise?” the vampire demanded to know. He glanced from one face to the other, but no one spoke up. “I know I heard some yelling in here. What was it about?”
“It was just me asking for some water,” Antonio told him. He leaned forward and hung out his tongue as though parched. “I haven’t had any in such a long time, can’t you bring me some?” Their personal guard grumbled at the troublesome request, but he shut the door and went to retrieve the drink. Antonio let out a small laugh at the vampire’s expense, and made sure his voice was low enough the sound wouldn’t carry beyond the wooden walls. “Not too bright, is he?” Just then the vampire returned with a dirty glass full of yellow liquid that was definitely not water.
“We ain’t got water to waste on you, but there’s plenty of beer aboard. You can drink yourself to death.” The vampire plopped the drink down in front of the Watcher and then took his leave, this time with no intention of returning. Antonio glanced down at the glass and his face drooped.
“Even if I was tempted to drink that stuff, how does the idiot expect me to hold it?”
“Possibly with your feet,” Abe answered, and there was a smirk on his face.
“Well, I’m not thirsty anyhow, not after your filth sliding down my throat,” Antonio shot back. Abe chuckled and leaned his head against the barrel at his back.
“You’ll think differently when you go without it.”
“That won’t be a moment too soon.”
“That’s enough from both of you,” Violet scolded. She sighed and seated herself beside Antonio. Her eyes closed so she could focus on the feeling within her connected to Will’s existence. That soft, glowing feeling, though faint for the distance between them, gave her some comfort. “I only hope Will and the others can find us. Then we needn’t worry about this blood and food.”
“I don’t see that happening for a long while,” Antonio replied. He was glum as he thought over the full implications of their predicament. “With this store of goods and this fast ship, they won’t need to stop until we arrive at Constantinople.” Violet allowed a small smile to slip across her lips.
“As long as some hope holds out, I can wait that long.”