The Shadows(Black Dagger Brotherhood, book 13)(58) by J.R.Ward
He coughed as the heavy scent of lavender and something citrus-y shot into his nose. “What the hell—”
More with the spritzing. “That’s a maid’s uniform. No one will question if they happen upon the pair of us together, but your scent is too male. This should cover it up well enough for us to get by. Now crouch down—you’re too tall for the robe. We can’t have your feet showing or they’ll know. Come on.”
He followed her over to the panel, but before she could open things up, he grabbed her arm and spun her around. “You shouldn’t be doing this.”
“We don’t have time—”
“It’s going to get you killed.”
“Your brother needs help. For his mate. Do you have another solution for getting out of here to see those texts?”
When she went to turn away, he pulled her back. “What’s your name?”
“No, that’s your station. What’s your name?”
“That’s it. Now, come—enough talk,” she said urgently. “And don’t forget to crouch.”
Just like that, he was out of the cell and into the hallway. As he looked left and right, she jabbed him in the side with her elbow.
“Crouch,” she hissed. “This way.”
Bending his knees, he hunched his shoulders and followed in her wake, trying to mimic her spare movements. She was fast and decisive through the corridors, taking lefts and rights in a sequence that rendered him so turned around he was lost in the maze. Incredibly, they ran into no one, but that was the nature of mourning for the s’Hisbe. Lockdown for everybody.
Maybe she could just take him to a rear exit after this?
Yeah, but then what would happen to her?
“The security recording,” he said.
“When we’re back, you need to take care of the monitoring video files or they’ll know what you did if they ever review it.”
She didn’t answer him, just pressed on, leading him down the various corridors.
In keeping with the s’Hisbe tradition that simplicity elevated the soul, there was little signage anywhere in the palace, nothing but subtle plates up high on doorjambs to illustrate the covert entrances to various rooms and storage places and exits. Gradually, his years at the palace came back to him, and he was surprised to find he knew where they were: She was taking him the long way to the library, but it was smart. This was the rear of the palace, where if they did run into somebody, it was more likely to be a servant.
Which, considering he was masquerading as one, made the route all the better.
“Up here,” she said, taking one last right and stopping on a black marble tile square, the vein of which ran counter to the prevailing direction of all the others. Putting her palm on the wall, she triggered the door, which slid open readily.
As they stepped into the darkness, motion-sensitive lights came on, illuminating stacks upon stacks of leather-bound volumes. The air was dry and vaguely dusty, but the library was neat as a pin, the floors polished to a mirror shine, the shelving gleaming. There were no chairs and no tables if you wanted to read anything—the expectation was that you’d take whatever you needed to your quarters and sit down with it there.
Shit, how were they going to find anything in here?
“The medical journals have been moved,” she whispered, jogging forward.
He followed her once again, and didn’t bother trying to shrink his stature anymore: No one around to see, and this part of the palace was not monitored.
The cataloging system, such that it was, was noted with black-on-black numerals on the flanks of the stacks. But again, it was vague, and presumed that you already knew where to find what you were looking for.
“Here,” she said. “We go down here.”
Eventually, she stopped and indicated a row of stacks. “This is where they have been relocated.”
Frowning, he stepped in. The numbering system on the spines was no fucking help at all, so he pulled one of the volumes out and cracked the cover. When he finally got to some words in the Shadow dialect of the Old Language, he discovered he was about to read a treatise on setting broken bones.
Going down a row, he took out another random tome. Something on eyesight.
Farther on, he’d made it to pregnancy and childbirth.
“Diseases,” he muttered. “I’m looking for diseases. Or congenital defects. Or … recessive genes…”
“I shall help.” maichen began pulling out volumes. “What can you tell me about the sickness?”
“It’s called the Arrest. They freeze—they get … it’s like bone grows spontaneously … it’s supposed to be fatal…”
God, he didn’t know enough about what he was talking about.
As the two of them worked their way down the stack, the categories and organization of the volumes became clearer and clearer. Like all vampires, Shadows didn’t have to deal with human viruses or cancer, but there were plenty of other things that took them down—although not as many as the Homo sapiens had to battle against. With every book he slid out, he was aware that time was passing, and he was more worried about maichen getting caught than anything about himself.
Faster, faster with the reading, the returning, the picking another from the lineup.
There had to be something here, he thought. There just had to be.
Trez’s entire body was rigid as he remained braced against the interior of the Benz. Fritz was still proceeding down the sidewalk—which would have been great if the doggen had been a pedestrian. Squeezing a sedan the size of an ocean-faring yacht into a concrete lane built for holding four or five people at a time?
Not so great—
Selena let out some kind of a yeeeee-haw! as they came up to another corner and sent a second set of Caldwell Courier Journal boxes airborne.
He was honestly glad she was enjoying herself.
He just really fucking wished they were watching this action movie instead of living it.
“Fritz,” he yelled over the roaring engine. “Head down toward the river.”
“As you wish, sire!”
Without warning, Fritz wrenched things left and sent them flying toward a pedestrian mall that skirted another of the skyscrapers. The Benz took to the stairs like a man wearing knee braces, the bumping, jostling, disjointed ascent the kind of thing that left your molars clapping and your kidneys begging for mercy. But then they were on the flat area that gave people all kinds of choices as to which of the four different entrance points to head through.
Fritz, naturally, choose the most direct route.
Through the fucking lobby.
Glass panes exploded as the S600 plowed into a wall of see-through, shards flying forward and to the sides before landing on the slick floor and coasting away like snow across the frozen surface of a lake.
Glancing out the side window, Trez got a good look at the night watchman jumping to his feet behind the bank of desks in the lobby. Seemed impolite not to acknowledge the poor uni’d bastard, so Trez popped a Queen Elizabeth and floated a wave as they roared through the interior and busted out the other side.
Round two with the glass was just as trippin’, the Benz’s grille shattering through as they exploded back into the night.
“I believe we shall go airborne,” Fritz called out. “Do secure yourselves.”
Roger that, big guy.
Trez went rigid as they approached the lip of the set of stairs, and then—
Zero gravity, or as close as you could get to it without doing a U-ie at thirty thousand feet, happened as they soared, the ride getting super-smooth and relatively quiet, nothing but the throaty engine hitting the ear.
All that changed as they skipped over the sidewalk and landed on the paved road. The suspension absorbed as much of the impact as it could, but sparks flew out behind as some portion of the undercarriage got a dental file.
“Please forgive me,” Fritz said, looking up in the rearview.
“The terrain is hardly your fault,” Trez hollered back. “But not sure about all that glass.”
He glanced over to make sure Selena was still whoopin’ it up across the way. Yup. She was smiling and laughing, eyes bright as Christmas lights.
When Trez glanced up front again, the butler was still looking into the rearview mirror and talking to him. “Sire, I’m terribly sorry, but I must needs return home—”
“Fritz! Focus on the road, buddy!”
“Oh, yes, sire—”
Screeeeeeeeeeech as the butler course-corrected and narrowly avoided weed-whacking a lineup of parallel-parked cars.
“As I was saying, sire, I must needs return home,” the butler continued without losing a beat. “Last Meal preparations have to be supervised.”
Like this was just a video game you could put on pause? “Ah, Fritz—”
All at once the Mercedes went black inside and out, the lights extinguished. And at that very moment, from high up in the sky, a blaring light pierced down to the road, flashing over them for a split second.
“Helicopter,” Trez muttered. “Fantastic.”
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