I glanced upward toward the castle that trees and the steepness blocked from my view. Everything was still quiet, good. I should only need ten minutes to-

Multiple booms! sounded in almost simultaneous succession. The mountain trembled and rocks began to cascade downward. A slew of curses ran through my head. Clearly Vlad was going for a shock-and-awe entrance, but my goal had been to get to Maximus and Shrapnel before Szilagyi knew he was under attack. As soon as he realized Vlad had found him, he'd probably kill any hostages before making a run for it through the tunnel.


I dashed forward, abandoning any attempt at being stealthy. With the barrage above, it didn't matter anymore. The bushes in front of the tunnel were thick and thorny, but I shoved past them, my heavy clothes helping to limit the scratches. Then I ducked under the huge broken boulder, careful not to hit my head on the rock ledge immediately beneath it. Once clear of that, I turned left into the tunnel as if I'd been here a hundred times.

It was pitch black, making me grateful that my enhanced vision meant I wasn't stumbling around blindly. Something happening above made the tunnel shudder as if in the throes of an earthquake. That was my cue to start running. What, had Vlad flown in carrying a huge wrecking ball with him?

After I went about a hundred yards, I saw the glow of green ahead. A male voice called out in Romanian, but I didn't reply. I kept coming, and when I rounded a curve, a skinny man with black hair and a beard stood in the tunnel. He looked to be in his forties, but those glowing eyes proved that he wasn't human.

"Sorry," I said coolly. "I don't speak Romanian."

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He looked me over in surprise, taking in my too-big clothes and shoes. He didn't seem afraid, though. Idiot. Did he think I was a lost hiker who'd accidentally stumbled across the tunnel?

"You need to get out of my way," I said, flexing my right hand. I didn't want to waste my power on him. I only had so much juice and it was earmarked for other things.

"Who in hell are you?" he asked with a thick accent.

"Know the difference between dying nobly and dying because you're stupid?" I replied, ignoring his question. "Nothing, you're dead either way. Hear that racket? That's Vlad Tepesh attacking, so if I were you, I'd run instead of staying to fight."

"Fight you? You're human, I kill you," he sneered, but another shudder followed by a boom! made him glance around nervously.

"If I was easy to kill, I wouldn't be talking to you."

He still didn't move. This was taking too much time, not to mention giving Szilagyi an opportunity to hear everything. I held out my right hand. He just stared at it, cocking his head.

I was about to unleash a current when a blur of motion shot by me. It barreled into the vampire, knocking him backward. Amidst the mad whirl of limbs and flashing silver knives, I caught a glimpse of a four-foot body crowned by bushy brown hair. Marty, not willing to hang back and let me deal with it. God, please don't let the other vampire be faster than him! I couldn't risk letting a deadly lash of energy fly, either. Not when it could cut through Marty instead of Szilagyi's guard. All I could do was wait, hand at the ready in case another guard heard the disturbance and came to investigate.

After a few seconds that shredded my nerves, the guard fell back, Marty on top of him. His hand gripped a knife handle half as long as his thick forearm, the blade buried deeply into the guard's chest. Then he jumped off, executing a low bow.

"And the crowd goes wild," he said smugly.

"Could you just let me handle it next time?" I hissed to cover how worried I'd been.

Marty rolled his eyes. "Please. I was fighting to the death before your grandparents were born. Now, let's finish this."

He jogged deeper into the tunnel. I hurried after him, only then realizing that in my moment of panic, I'd said a prayer to a god I didn't believe in. Strange.

When we reached a fork in the tunnel, I paused. Rend hadn't been the one to take Maximus and Shrapnel here, so I hadn't seen which way to go through his memories. If I made the wrong choice, I could be dooming them. No matter how quietly I moved through the tunnels, unless Szilagyi was so busy focusing on Vlad's attack, I was now close enough that he'd hear my thoughts and know why I was here.

No time for indecisiveness. I went right and Marty followed, silver knives gripped in each hand. As I ran, I also stroked underneath my thumb, seeking Vlad's essence. I couldn't wait despite him being busy with the attack. He had to know about the tunnel. Szilagyi couldn't be allowed to escape.

I'd intended to relay a quick message and then disconnect-not just because time was of the essence, but also to limit his fury with me once he discovered where I was-but when the tunnel fell away and I saw Vlad as though I hovered above him, I stared in disbelief. A pile of stone, brick, and rubble surrounded him that once had been the tower rising imperiously into the mountainous horizon. No, he hadn't brought a wrecking ball with him, as I wondered upon hearing the noise and feeling the tremors. He was the wrecking ball.

Vlad tore through layers of rock and earth with nothing more than his bare hands, flinging huge chunks aside in a maelstrom of destruction. Fire blazed over every inch of him, making him look more like Dante's version of a demon than a vampire. The light coming from him allowed me to see even as he tore deeper into the earth, ferociously annihilating everything in the way between him and his enemy. The mountain shuddered as if it could feel pain over the force of Vlad's assault, parting deeper and deeper beneath his merciless barrage. For a second while watching him, I was so stunned that I forgot to breathe.

"What are you doing here?" I thought I heard him shout, but the continuous smashing of rock and stone was thunderous.

Not sure if he could hear me, I mentally yelled my reply. There's an escape tunnel on the lower east side of the mountain about three hundred yards from the river. Send people to guard it. Maximus and Shrapnel are still alive. I'm going to get them.

Then I did disconnect, whatever he would've said lost as the tunnel rushed back around me. Marty had carried me while I was in my trance, and now we were in front of a large crevasse that looked to me like the open throat of a stone monster. Inside it, barely visible in the light of Marty's glowing green eyes, were Maximus and Shrapnel.

Marty jumped into the depths with me still in his arms. I grunted at the hard jolt when we landed. The pit had to be fifty feet deep. Then I sprang away from him, my right hand extended and ready to shoot a cutting whip through anything that moved.

Nothing did. Maybe Vlad's attack had cleared out the guards who were interrogating Maximus and Shrapnel. I thought I'd have to kill whoever was in here, but aside from the two vampires restrained to the wall in sickening ways, the pit was empty.

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