Asylum (Causal Enchantment #2)


by K.A. Tucker

1. Safe

“Forgive me,” I whispered, knowing my words would never reach her ears. She was already gone. Safe—safe from this deadly atrium; safe from Mortimer and Viggo; safe from me.

Now for damage control.

I scanned the crowd of a hundred-odd depraved vampires, their wild eyes and expressions varying from bewilderment to crazed blood lust after the briefest scent of a human, until I spotted four familiar faces. The four who needed to survive. Relief flickered through me. Thank God for those pictures.

I closed my eyes, searching for one last thread of energy, just enough to cast another spell. There—a miniscule, glowing purple helix coil, much like a DNA strand, floating beside my heart. I grasped it with my mental hand, and yanked. It immediately took flight, shooting up to my fingertips. Armed with magic, I raised my hand toward the pyre burning brightly atop Veronique’s tomb. A thought brought embers soaring toward my fingertips as if magnetized.

Then I struck.

Sparks shot from my hand and erupted into flaming circles around Evangeline’s friends, forming a formidable barrier of protection—large enough not to ignite them but tight enough to keep them from leaping out and making a run for it.

“Sofie?” Mortimer hollered, his voice tinged with uncertainty.

I turned to see shock masking his face. He stood next to Viggo, both of them frozen like ice sculptures, struggling to grasp the events of the past ten seconds. I knew that confusion would quickly give way to understanding, followed by retaliation.

I’ll deal with them later. For my sister’s sake, they needed to survive; for my sake, in a subdued fashion. Another flick of my hand produced three flaming circles—one around each of them and the last around me. There. That should hold them until I’m finished.

Now, elimination.

From the corner of my eye, I caught the telltale silvery white hair and hideous face of a mutant. I shuddered; their very existence was truly repulsive, but worse—I knew the Merth-laced building couldn’t confine them. The last thing we needed were those monsters running loose in New York City.

Flames shot from my fingertips to ignite the hideous creature, consuming his body as if it were made from highly flammable fabric. His one shrill scream echoed through the atrium, sending a chill down my spine. I didn’t let it distract my focus, though. Spotting two more mutants, I quickly dispatched them as well.

Heads started to turn, the screams attracting the attention of the other vampires. Soon enough, they’d figure out the fate I had in store for them. Then I’d have mass hysteria and vampires hiding in every nook and cranny of Viggo’s palace. I didn’t have time to hunt them all down individually for dispatch.

I hurled sparks of fire freely from my fingertips toward any vampire in sight. Within seconds, dozens of flaming bodies crumpled to thrash on the ground, scorching the leaves and petals of the atrium’s plants and engulfing any vampires caught in their proximity. But I knew there were more vampires out there, blocked from my view within Viggo’s urban jungle.

There was only one thing left to do. I had to torch the entire atrium—and hope I could control the fire well enough to prevent the entire building from going up in flames. Inhaling deeply, reconciled to the plan, I raised both hands—

Only to be distracted by a body lying on the ground, bound by Merth—a vampire with jet-black hair and lemon eyes.

Rachel.

Jaw clenched, I pictured myself slowly tearing the flesh off her body as she screamed, only to allow it to grow back so I could do it again . . .

But there was no time for that. Sighing my disappointment, I raised a finger toward her, preparing to rid everyone of the viper once and for all.

“Caden, no!”

The scream stilled the spark about to fly from my hand. My eyes swung to the four flame-encircled figures in time to see Caden, his expression lost, vacant, step toward the flames. I gasped. He was going to kill himself!

With the last bit of magic I had left after Evangeline’s complicated transportation spell, I instantly extinguished every flame in the atrium before he could succeed. Caden stared back at me, resentment marring his stunning face—but unharmed. That’s okay. You can hate me. You’re safe.

A powerful hand grabbed me by the neck and hoisted me into the air. “Where is she?” Viggo growled, rage blazing in his eyes.

Despite everything, I laughed. I continued to laugh as I sailed through the air and slammed into a brick wall sixty feet away, my bones splintering on impact. Pain ripped through my body as I tumbled to the ground and lay in a heap, my face twisted in agony, awaiting the second attack that would surely begin before my bones had a chance to heal.

I was right.

Mortimer wrapped a hand around a fistful of my hair and yanked my head back. He crouched in front of me, his chocolate-brown eyes smoldering with rage. “I knew we were fools to trust you,” he growled through gritted teeth. “What else do you have up your sleeve, witch?”

“I had no choice,” I managed to whisper, pain making me wince with each word.

“Lies!” Mortimer boomed. With a fierce shove, he propelled me facedown onto the cobblestones. I felt my forehead split open and my delicate nose explode. A metallic taste filled my mouth as blood poured in.

Normally I used my sorcerous powers to numb the pain of my physical scuffles with Viggo and Mortimer. But until my magic had time to rejuvenate, I would have to endure for the next few minutes. With great difficulty, I turned my head to rest my cheek on the stone. I lay unmoving on my stomach, focusing all of my attention on the destruction around the atrium and on the spectators, only half hiding, intrigued by this violent exchange. I just needed five seconds, and my face would regenerate. Within ten seconds, I’d be as good as new. Relax, Sofie. You can handle ten seconds . . .

I gasped as a blunt object tore through the middle of my back, through my ribcage, to exit through my stomach and thud against the cobblestones beneath me. Viggo’s signature move. Bastard!

It made healing hard. I had to get it out. Gritting my teeth, I flexed my arms and pushed my broken body up until I rested on my knees. I grasped the jagged end of the steel pipe with shaking hands, took a deep breath—One . . . two—and jerked it forward. My scream filled the silent atrium as the steel slid through my flesh. Again . . . I had no choice. I had to get it out now. Clenching my teeth, I prepared for another tug.

A swift kick between my shoulder blades sent me sprawling on my stomach again, shoving the pipe back into my stomach. Another lightning bolt of agony raced through my battered body. Something against my back—presumably a foot—pinned me down.

“I’m sure Sofie can explain everything,” a musical but authoritative female voice called out above me, adding, “once you stop torturing her.”

From my position, I could see Evangeline’s two female friends—Fiona and Amelie—standing forty feet away. It clearly wasn’t either of them speaking. Evangeline had no other friends. The hairs on the back of my neck spiked. How does this vampire know my name? “Who—” I began, then gasped as someone ripped the pipe out of my body and tossed it clattering onto the stones beside me. The weight lifted off my back. Again I lay waiting until my regenerative abilities—a magnificent vampirism—kicked in, praying that Viggo and Mortimer would allow me time to heal. This time, they did.

Once mended, I flew to my feet to assess the scene before me: the players, the situation, the threat. The atrium was no longer the scene of bedlam it had been only minutes ago. It was now a scene of silent chaos. Charred heaps—the remains of unlucky vampires—littered the ground. Scorched foliage and billowing smoke filled the once-picturesque atrium. I scanned the crowd, quickly counting the remaining Ratheus vampires. Forty. They were scattered, appearing ready to dive behind benches and statues at the first sign of a magical assault. Forty blood-crazed vampires, their eyes dancing wildly as they searched the atrium for humans. If only I had a few sparks of magic, I could level the rest of them. I could—

“Right, Sofie?” the unknown vampiress said, interrupting my plotting.

I turned toward the voice to find Viggo and Mortimer squared off opposite a diminutive, Asian-looking woman with porcelain skin and juicy red lips.

“Right . . . Sofie?” the woman repeated, regarding me with black, almond-shaped eyes. “I’m sure there’s a good reason why Evangeline vanished into thin air and you just charred seventy of your own kind?”

Gritting my teeth, I forced a small smile. You are not my kind. “Right,” I answered as levelly as I could, determined to match her confidence. The problem was, I couldn’t. I couldn’t even answer her by name. Who is she? I needed information—quick. Reaching inside once again, I scoured my body for a magical helix. Just one. Normally I had thousands of tiny purple coils floating around my body, ready to be plucked for various spells. I just needed one to send out a probe, to dissect this vampire’s very core, to grasp her true intentions, to know everything there was to know about her. But I was empty. I had drained my magical tank and until it began to regenerate I would need to rely on my wits. Damn it!

Viggo’s smooth croon broke the silence. “Of course there is! Excuse my rudeness. My desperation got the better of me.” He flashed one of his brilliant smiles. “So sorry, Sofie. That was barbaric of me.”

I sneered in response, his charming façade kindling a desire to punch him in his perfect nose. It was the same façade he had used to lure Evangeline in, to gain her trust. Worse, I had to stand by and watch him spin his repulsive web, powerless to stop him for fear of how he would punish her for my interference. I had learned that horrible lesson five years ago. The last time I overtly crossed him, he murdered Evangeline’s mother, leaving her orphaned.

But he couldn’t hurt her now. She was buried deep within the untouched mountains of Siberia, surrounded by miles of remote wilderness, warm and comfortable in the haven I had spent ten years building. I no longer needed to give Viggo satisfaction by playing along. “You’ll never see Evangeline again!” I sang out, mustering my most obnoxious grin, feeling suddenly giddy.

Viggo’s jaw clenched. Finally, a ripple in that handsome, iron-cast mask. “Is that so?” He took a rigid step toward me but a pale, delicate hand flew to his chest, stopping him. It didn’t actually touch him; it hovered, palm out, inches in front of his charcoal wool suit. Intrigued, I watched Viggo’s cobalt-blue eyes study the little hand for a long moment before sliding up to meet the owner—this undaunted, mysterious female leader who knew my name.

He doesn’t know what to think of her either. I knew how Viggo’s psychopathic mind worked. I had spent a hundred and twenty years with him breathing down my neck. He wondered how old she was. More precisely, he wondered if she could be stronger than him—the oldest vampire on Earth—given that she’d had no human nourishment for seven hundred years. I caught the curious sparkle in his eyes. He was wondering if he should test her. If he failed, he would prove inferior in front of an atrium full of witnesses. Any edge would be lost.

Do it, Viggo, I silently prayed. Not because I wanted to see him fall—though I so desperately did—but because I needed to see what this vampiress was made of.

“Where is Evangeline?” Mortimer’s deep Parisian voice cut through the tension like a sharp blade. It took the tall, dark-haired vampire only half a dozen strides to tower ominously over me. “What is this new game you’re playing with us? Have we not suffered enough?” Mortimer didn’t bother with an act, which was a refreshing change, despite his naturally unpleasant demeanor. He hadn’t always been surly. It had slowly crept in over the years as he waited for my sister’s release from the magical tomb where I had put her. Between the long wait and the anxiety that she would choose Viggo over him, the being my sister had fallen in love with had vanished. Deep down, I pitied him. What a terrible unknown to endure.