“Vampires nest in old offices?” Scout whispered.
“Vamps nest in whatever space they can find in the Pedway,” Detroit explained. “It’s lined with parking garages, offices, stores that sell to the business folks who grab lunch, whatever. When an office clears out, it gives the covens an opportunity to split. That’s what Nicu did.”
After a glance to make sure we were ready, we began to wind our way through the maze. It ringed around in what felt like a spiral, finally dumping us into a giant circle surrounded by more cubicle walls . . . and filled with vampires.
Rugs and pillows in various shades of gray were scattered on the floor, and similar fabric was draped over the cubicle walls. The vamps, still in their dark ensembles, lounged on the pillows or stretched on the rugs, but the best seat—a clear plastic armchair in the middle of the room—was reserved for the head honcho.
He wore a long, military-style coat and pants in the same steel gray color, and one leg was crossed over the other. He held a cut-crystal goblet in his hand, and there was no mistaking the dark crimson liquid inside of it. As I looked around, I realized the only color in the room was that same dark red that filled glasses in the hands of other vampires. That explained the coppery smell in the air.
My stomach knotted, and I moved incrementally closer to Scout, squeezing my hands into fists so the vampires couldn’t see them shaking.
Nicu gestured at us with his glass. “What do we have here?” he said, that heavy accent in his voice. “Little rebels without a cause?” The vampires snickered, and he didn’t wait for our answer. “Tell me this,” he said. “If you reject the Dark Elite, what does that make you?”
“The huddled masses?” one vampire suggested.
Nicu smiled drowsily. “Indeed. And there can be no mistake that you have walked of your own accord into our nest, yes?” He glanced from Scout to me, the question in his eyes.
Out of instinct, I nearly nodded, but Scout held up a hand. “Don’t answer that,” she warned. “If you say yes, you agree you came here willingly. That means you came here to give them blood. We’re here for information,” she told him. “Not trickery.”
Nicu barked out a laugh. “You enter our home, you have already caused me trouble, and yet you seek to ask a favor? Danger lurks where you tread.” As if to prove his point, he took a sip. The drink left a crimson stain around his lips, which he licked away.
The vampires began to rise and shift, some of them moving around us, encircling us—and cutting off our escape route again. I swallowed down fear, but opened the channels of my mind enough to let the energy begin to rush around. If I had to use it, I wanted to be ready.
One of the vampires—a woman in a high-necked dress—moved toward us in a spiral that became tighter and tighter.
“Backs together,” Detroit whispered, and we formed a triangle. I put my hands out, ready to strike, and assumed Scout and Detroit were doing the same with the magic at their disposal.
But it wasn’t until I heard the yelp that I looked back. Detroit was wielding the walking stick—the end tipped in silver—like a weapon. And from the look of the crimson line that was beginning to trace down the female vampire’s arm, she’d gotten too close.
The vampires pulled the wounded female back into the main cluster and tended to the wound on her arm. The rest began arguing with one another, their voices high-pitched. I couldn’t make out what they were saying. Some of it, I think, was in another language. But some of it was more animal than human, like the yelps of fighting cats. We huddled closer together, our shoulder blades touching.
“Silence!” Nicu finally yelled out, gesturing with his goblet, blood slipping down the sides from the movement. It took a moment, but the room finally quieted. It didn’t still, though—we’d agitated the vamps, and they slithered around as if waiting to be set loose on us again.
Nicu scowled, but nodded at us. “Get on with it.”
“We’ve been seeing things in the tunnels,” I said. “Creatures. Not quite human, not quite animal. They’re naked. Pointy ears. Slimy skin. Lots of teeth.”
I swallowed, but made myself say it aloud. “And they’re terrorizing the tunnels. Someone nearly helped them breach St. Sophia’s tonight. The Reapers—the ones you call the thieves—believe you know something about them. Something about the missing?”
Nicu went silent. A vampire from the far side of the room, a tall man dressed in long black layers, rushed to Nicu, the fabric of his clothing swirling as he moved. He knelt at Nicu’s side and whispered something.
Nicu looked away. When he finally began to speak, his voice was so quiet I had to lean forward to catch the words.
“One of our children is missing,” he said, thumping a fist against his chest. “One of my own.”
Scout and I shared a worried glance. “One of your vampires is missing?”
He nodded, then looked away, a red tear slipping down his cheek. “For two months now. We have heard nothing from her. Seen nothing of her. Her lover is bereft, and we fear she is . . . gone.”
“And you think the thieves were involved?”
“Who else would do such a thing?”
“Marlena? One of the other covens? We heard you were fighting.”
Nicu swiped at the tear on his cheek and barked out a laugh. “Vampires do not steal from other covens. We may not agree on all things, but we have honor enough.”
I nodded in understanding. Vampires might not do it, but Reapers definitely would. And if we were right about the sanctuary, they weren’t above kidnapping someone to take what energy they could. But could that even work with vampires? “Do you know why they would have taken her?”
Nicu shook his head, but the vampire at his side prompted him with more whispers.
“We have heard rumors,” Nicu reluctantly said.
“What kind of rumors?”
Nicu met my gaze again, his eyes now fully dilated—sinking orbs of black. “Rumors that the thieves are unsatisfied with their lot. There are rumors . . .”
Pausing, Nicu held his goblet out, and the man at his side took it. Hands empty, he sat forward, elbows on his knees, and stared at us with terrible eyes. “There are rumors the thieves are no longer satisfied with their short human lives. They seek our blood and our secret.”
I frowned at him. “Your secret?”
“The secret of vampire immortality.”