Home > The Bitten (Vampire Huntress Legend #4)(16)

The Bitten (Vampire Huntress Legend #4)(16)
Author: L.A. Banks

The chairman let his breath out in disgust. "Everybody has a weakness, every power structure has an Achilles' heel - ironically, theirs has now become ours." He chuckled sadly and closed his eyes, the strain clear in his fatigued expression. "Almost karmic, wouldn't you agree?" When Carlos didn't reply to the rhetorical question, the chairman calmly returned to his seat. "Our only chance is the fact that they've never kept the keys with the seals. Each seal, we can only determine via logic, is most likely kept far away from each key. The quest then is to secure either the key or the seal to have bargaining power with the master who is attempting the coup."

"Or we can eliminate the bastard from the game before he can play it." Carlos stared at the chairman hard and could feel the electric agreement of the others course through him as they hissed their approval.

The chairman smiled.

Carlos stood and began to pace. "All right. What does the key look like?" His nerves were drawn so taunt that he had to put his hands behind his back as he paced.

"It's blood," the chairman whispered. "It's the blood of the Lamb. It's the Key of Life. When the blood is spilled upon the seal, it opens. The priest showed the master vampire a holy vial, which was then stolen."

Carlos stopped walking. The blood of Christ? Carlos chose his next words carefully. "The Light is going to send a serious militia for it. You know that, right?" He hesitated. "I can't imagine that they'd just sit back and - "

"Even their normal Guardian teams are gaining strength, becoming more aggressive. You are correct, Mr. Rivera. This has already begun to create repercussions that we are monitoring to develop a damage-control strategy against."

"Even if the priest left hallowed ground, the master wouldn't be able to hold onto the vial. If this blood really came from - "

"Yes," the chairman said quickly, again cutting Carlos off. "A human helper had to do the master's bidding, but the key can be contained within a living body. We must find the human that has been given the blood, and that human must be slain on the seal as a perfect sacrifice at the appointed hour. If we do not find this human before the other master uncovers the location of the sixth seal, existence as we know it is over."

"If I off the master vamp who did the heist, and bring you the key - "

"The Neteru is yours, fangs and all. We would have no more use for her and she would be less problematic as your vampire bride, Carlos, than as a huntress."

Carlos returned to his throne very slowly. The threat was implicit. Bring us the seal or we kill Damali. It was so obvious, yet so subtle, a knowing so clear that the chairman didn't even have to say it. The old vampire understood by now that Damali was worth more to his existence than even infinite power. The realization that the chairman recognized that deeply held secret left Carlos feeling naked. They could trust him to bring them the seal and not use it himself - it made too much sense.

He sat with great effort and in deep contemplation. What would he tell Damali? Every fiber within him knew that she'd never allow such a trade; her life for the sixth biblical seal. She'd fight to the death to protect it, even with fangs. That was her nature, just like to negotiate to the bone to save her was his. Another variable had arisen, but it was one he might not be able to live with.

"You seem hesitant," the chairman said, threading new tension throughout the chamber.

Carlos shook his head. "No. I'm trying to figure out who could have crossed my borders and when. It probably went down when I was in Brazil or in the Caribbean. The northern borders would have been wide open for a month." Renewed rage and frustration lowered his incisors as he raked his fingers through his hair. Damn!

The chairman sat back in his throne, appearing relaxed.

"Perhaps as the newest council member, I may call a topside meeting. The others, after all, are a level of power lesser than me, right? That is my prerogative." Carlos watched the chairman for a reaction.

"Do not take these old masters lightly, Carlos," the chairman warned. "They are shrewd and deadly. We cannot afford another power drain to the table. Do not act on an ill-conceived plan developed in haste and frustration."

"I know better than to go in blind-swinging because I'm pissed about a border breech." Carlos tried to temper the indignant tone that was making his statement too brittle. Mellowing slightly to show respect, he took a deep breath before continuing. "I just need a little time to work some things out, but duly noted. If they've lasted this long topside, against all the Neterus they've historically encountered, I have respect for what they can do." Carlos leaned forward and filled his goblet without looking at it, his gaze holding the throne-seated vampires' steely glares. "But they also need to respect this council."

The chairman smiled. "We had not made your descent full public knowledge while you were away... for your safety, and for that of the Neteru's, since she was your traveling companion. Perhaps we should?"

"Rub some salt in the wound and see who bristles the most," Carlos said, taking a casual sip from his goblet. "That ought to bring out the claws, and I can pick them off one by one."

"You are talking about wiping out four masters?" The councilman seated closest to Carlos stood and ran his palm over his bald scalp.

"If I have to." Carlos didn't blink as he stared at the group. "You can make more, we all can make more, if it comes to that. But what we cannot allow is for this council to be overturned. I just need to work out a plan to get them all together under the same roof. We have to be sure of where any allegiances may lie - more than one of them could be in on it."

The chairman's smile broadened. "It will represent a temporary and significant power drain, but well worth the topside purge under the circumstances. Very wise. Once the seal is opened under our control, the power drain will be inconsequential. Yes, and I have every confidence you will develop a suitable plan," the chairman said, raising a goblet to Carlos. "Come, sit, drink, and let us enjoy the evening. A couple of dogs are available to aid in your security - they're more loyal than men."

With a casual wave of his hand, the chairman dispatched a ceiling transport bat, and Carlos waited for his resources, trying to stay cool. A loud commotion beyond the council walls made everyone train their attention toward the sound. Bats screeched in terror, and incessant growls and barks careened through the cavernous space. The front doors blew open, and four super-strength international couriers paired off to hold the two beasts they held by chains.

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