"Can you tell where he is?" Vlad asked in a hiss.

"No," I replied with a sudden burst of insight. "He must've known I'd come looking for him. That's why he's in the same windowless concrete room that I saw when he ordered my attack. There's nothing in it but a big fur blanket, and even his clothes are so average; you can't tell anything from them."


Szilagyi gave a concurring shrug. "I thought it possible that you could locate me through an object I'd touched. Why do you think I wanted to retrieve you so badly?"

"Or kill me," I reminded him in a curt tone.

Another shrug. "Anyone who isn't on my side is my enemy." Then those deep brown eyes gleamed. "You could still be on my side, Frankie. With that clever defense you have against mind reading, Vlad need not even suspect. Lead him to the place of my choosing, and I will ensure that you never spend another day bouncing on trampolines for pennies."

"Yeah, because I'll be dead," I scoffed. "Jackal was going to kill me as soon as my usefulness ran out. I'm supposed to believe you'll be any dif-ferent?"

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"Why would I kill someone with your priceless abilities if I can use you to my benefit?" he asked silkily.

"Ooh, a lifetime of captivity, sounds nice," I mocked. "Thanks, but no."

Szilagyi's expression hardened into the merciless one I recognized from other people's memories. "You believe that Vlad will let you go? Is he pretending to be kind? I've seen that act from him before, but only a fool falls for it."

"I'm not getting anywhere with him," I said to Vlad, ignoring Szilagyi's taunt. "Do you have something you want me to relay before I go?"

"Yes." Vlad's voice was pleasant. "Tell him the next time I see him, I'll rip off his head and make a new toilet out of it."

"He hates you a lot," I summarized to Szilagyi.

"Accept my offer while you still can," the vampire replied.

I dropped the link, the confining gray room morphing into soaring ceilings with tapestries depicting various scenes of ancient life. Vlad's fingers drummed on his armrest, the faint smell of smoke emanating from him. Behind him, Maximus was immobile, but Shrapnel paced in front of the fireplace.

"How is he even still alive?" he muttered.

I didn't think the question was to me, but I answered it. "He was vague about the details. Said something about him and Vlad sharing a sire, and Vlad figuring it out if he thought about it long enough."

Nothing but the crackling of flames for a few loaded moments. Then Vlad laughed, but it sounded far uglier than his usual half purr, half amused growl.

"He has Tenoch's gift of degeneration."

Comprehension dawned on everyone's face except mine. "What's that?"

Vlad's fingers drummed against the armrest hard enough to produce tiny splinters.

"Tenoch, the vampire who turned me, had many powers. One of them was the ability to degenerate into a withered husk, mimicking the appearance of true death for a vampire. Szilagyi was also turned by Tenoch, but while I inherited Tenoch's control over fire, Szilagyi must have inherited his gift of degeneration. That's why I thought I'd burned him to death, but he wasn't dead. The filthy usurper was faking it."

Flying. Pyrokinesis. Degeneration. What other vampire powers would I learn were possible?

"What happened between you and Szilagyi?" I asked to distract myself from the scariness of undead abilities. "Three hundred years later, you're still trying to kill each other."

That scent of smoke coming from Vlad increased. "The first time I was imprisoned, I was a boy and the Ottomans were my captors. The second time, I was a vampire and my jailer was the king of Hungary, who was mesmerized into imprisoning me by his uncle, Mihaly Szilagyi. My human allies were unable to free me and as my vampire sire was dead, Szilagyi could do with me what he wished without repercussions from the vampire world. He intended to break me and rule Wallachia through me as he ruled Hungary through his nephew, but"-cold smile-"I would not break. Szilagyi would've killed me if not for Mencheres. He was Tenoch's most powerful progeny and declared me to be under his protection despite my protests that I'd rather die than be subject to a filthy Turk, as I considered Mencheres at the time. But since Szilagyi was afraid of Mencheres, he kept me alive. Years later, as a condition of my freedom, I married the king of Hungary's pregnant cousin and claimed the child as mine. Szilagyi pretended to want my help in overthrowing the Ottomans, so he had the king of Hungary assist me in reclaiming Wallachia's throne, but he'd secretly allied with the sultan."

Vlad paused, a savage smile flitting across his face. "When it came time to war, the Church paid Hungary to join me in fighting the Turks. My armies went. Szilagyi convinced Hungary's army to stay behind, but he never returned the money. Instead, he fabricated tales of my viciousness and spread them far and wide. My people suffered because of his lies and greed, and my reputation had been tarnished so badly that many allies abandoned me. When my brother ambushed me, I allowed my country to believe I'd been killed so that my son could rule. Then he was murdered shortly after he'd begun his reign. Two centuries later, I discovered Szilagyi had sent the assassin, and I trapped him at the Royal Court of Targoviste, where until today, I thought I'd burned him to death."

I winced. There was bad blood, and then there were centuries old virulent hatred.

"Why would Szilagyi wait so long to come after you?" He clearly wasn't the forgive-and-forget type.

Another smile that made me think of blood-coated knives instead of good humor. "After I believed him dead, I hunted down and exterminated every member of Szilagyi's line, plus his friends and political allies. It would take centuries for him to build up enough support to mount a successful attack against me. If he came after me alone, he'd be slaughtered."

Now that Szilagyi had finally made his move, neither he nor Vlad would stop until one of them was really dead this time.

"At least he can't hear my thoughts when I link to him," I said, trying to look on the bright side of this bleak situation.

Vlad's gaze swung to me. "How?"

"Bones taught me that playing really annoying songs over and over in my head acted as a barrier against mind reading. I was supposed to use that on you, but then things changed."

"Remind me to kill Bones next time I see him," he bit off.

Being tricked by his enemy for so long had obviously pushed Vlad into new heights of rage. I didn't think the blazing in the hearth was accidental, and he would shred that armrest into sawdust with his increasingly vicious tapping. All of this should have made me head quietly toward the door, but I stayed where I was, mulling these developments.

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