Sharp fangs still bared, Hans wiped the blood from his mouth with the back of his bony hand before his dull eyes fixed on me. More bodies dropped from the ceiling and stood to their feet. Their gazes narrowed in on us.
“We have to get out of here!” Braithe wheezed. He was already the slowest of all of us, his leg having not yet fully healed after Ben injured it. His brothers held his arms and dragged him toward me and the door.
I just stood, frozen. As Hans’ siblings exited the room, I couldn’t find my feet to follow. Hans is still here. We have to take him with us. Even as the emaciated vampires began lurching toward us with alarming speed—Hans at the forefront—a manic gleam in their tiny black eyes, I still stood there, stunned. If Colin hadn’t grabbed my arm and forced me through the door, I would’ve stayed there. The brothers slammed the stone door closed after us and bolted it just as bodies hit up against the other side, scratching and clawing at the stone.
“They were all going to attack us,” Arletta gasped, clutching her chest as she breathed out.
“Hans,” I whispered, staring at the door. “He’s still in there! We have to get him out.”
Braithe, who sat on one of the stairs nursing his throat, shook his head, his face ashen. “Not until we figure out what the hell Hans has become.”
“Elder? What was that?” Frederick, Hans’ other younger brother, demanded.
The voice took a moment to reply. “Something… peculiar. Perhaps even… miraculous.”
“Miraculous?” Arletta cried. “My brother, he—” She broke down sobbing on the floor. I would’ve joined her, had I still not been so shell shocked.
“During their starvation, it appears they reached a boundary from which there was no return,” the Elder mused.
Before anyone could ask anything more of the Elder, Braithe let out a guttural roar of pain. It came so suddenly, my heart leapt into my throat and I jolted back in alarm.
Arletta scrambled up from where she’d been crumpled on the floor and gazed down at her brother, along with Frederick and Colin. Braithe slid from his seat on the stairs and tumbled to the ground. We were about to dip down and help him back up when claws protruded from his fingers and he lashed out, catching Colin’s arm.
“Braithe?” Colin gasped, staring down at the gash his brother had just ripped in his arm. “What are you doing?”
Braithe let out another roar, so loud and so anguished that one would have thought he was being murdered.
“Elder, what’s happening?” I asked, my voice trembling.
But the Elder’s presence had slipped away.
“I have no idea what’s wrong with our brother,” Frederick said, straining to contain Braithe, “but we need to get back to the ship. Before we can help Hans, we’ve got to figure out why Braithe is reacting like this.”
“But Hans is—” I began, weakly.
“Julie!” Colin snapped as he helped Frederick restrain Braithe, who was continuing to lash out. “Get a grip. Hans has been trapped in there for eighteen years. A few more hours, or even days, won’t make a difference while we gather together some blood for him so he doesn’t try to attack one of us again, and try to figure out what in heaven’s name is going on.”
Frederick and Colin wrestled Braithe up the staircase as he continued to thrash. Arletta and I followed closely behind and together, we hurried away from the chamber. The chamber I’d waited eighteen years to find. Now, I was leaving it without my love.
We stumbled along the network of tunnels and made our way back out into the open, where we headed straight for our ship.
Arletta and I helped Frederick and Colin force Braithe onto the deck and down the staircase to the level beneath. The two brothers forced Braithe inside a cabin and locked the door. Braithe banged against it. Only a few seconds later, his fist smashed through the wood, spraying splinters everywhere. We looked at each other with wide-eyed panic as he forced the door back open and launched himself toward Arletta—the nearest person to him.
“He’s lost his mind,” Frederick grunted as he forced Braithe backward, “We’re going to have to sedate him somehow… I’m sorry to do this to you, brother.” The two brothers worked together in pinning Braithe against the wall. Colin gripped the back of his neck. I looked away as he jerked it backward, snapping his brother’s neck.
Braithe fell to the floor, unconscious. The four of us picked him up and carried him back into the room. We laid him on the bed and reentered the corridor, closing the splintered door behind us.
“What now?” I croaked.
“We have maybe twelve to twenty-four hours before Braithe’s spine heals,” Frederick said. “I’m hoping his behavior was just some kind of reaction to his own brother attacking him.” He looked unsettled as he glanced through the hole in the door at the still form of Braithe lying on the bed. “Hopefully, he will have recovered by the time he comes to.”
* * *
After we paralyzed Braithe, the first thing I wanted to do was gather blood and take it to Hans. But Frederick was against it.
“I don’t think we should go anywhere near that chamber again until Braithe has recovered,” Frederick said as we made our way up to the deck. “In fact, I don’t feel comfortable staying near this beach. We’ll move further into the ocean and float there for a while.”
“Why do we need to wait?” I asked.
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