فصل 35

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فصل 35

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  • زمان مطالعه 13 دقیقه
  • سطح خیلی سخت

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35

“You are so pathetically predictable.” Benjamin’s voice penetrated the dull fog that had settled over Matthew’s brain. “I can only pray that your wife is equally easy to manipulate.”

A searing pain shot through his arm, and Matthew cried out, unable to stop himself. The reaction only encouraged Benjamin. Matthew pressed his lips together, determined not to give his son further satisfaction.

A hammer struck iron—a familiar, homely sound he remembered from his childhood. Matthew felt the ring of the metal as a vibration in the marrow of his bones.

“There. That should hold you.” Cold fingers gripped his chin. “Open your eyes, Father. If I have to open them for you, I don’t think you will like it.”

Matthew forced his lids open. Benjamin’s inscrutable face was inches away. His son made a soft, regretful sound.

“Too bad. I’d hoped you would resist me. Still, this is only the first act.” Benjamin twisted Matthew’s head down.

A long, red-hot iron spike was driven through Matthew’s right forearm and into the wooden chair beneath him. As it cooled, the stench of burning flesh and bone lessened somewhat. He did not have to see the other arm to know that it had undergone a similar treatment.

“Smile. We don’t want the family back home to miss a minute of our reunion.” Benjamin grabbed him by the hair and wrenched his head up. Matthew heard the whirring of a camera.

“A few warnings: First, that spike has been positioned carefully between the ulna and the radius.

The hot metal will have fused to the surrounding bones just enough that if you struggle, they will splinter. I’m led to believe it’s quite painful.” Benjamin kicked the chair leg, and Matthew’s jaw clamped shut as a terrible pain shot down into his hand. “See? Second, I have no interest in killing you.

There is nothing you can do, say, or threaten that will make me deliver you into death’s gentler hands. I want to banquet on your agony and savor it.”

Matthew knew that Benjamin was expecting him to ask a particular question, but his thick tongue would not obey his brain’s commands. Still he persisted. Everything depended on it.

“Where. Is. Diana?”

“Peter tells me she is in Oxford. Knox may not be the most powerful witch to have ever lived, but he has ways of tracking her location. I would let you talk to him directly, but that would spoil the unfolding drama for our viewers back home. By the way, they can’t hear you. Yet. I’m saving that for when you break down and beg.” Benjamin had carefully position himself so his back was to the camera.

That way, his lips couldn’t be read.

“Diana. Not. Here?” Matthew formed each syllable carefully. He needed whoever might be watching to know that his wife was still free.

“The Diana you saw was a mirage, Matthew,” Benjamin chortled. “Knox cast a spell, projecting an image of her into that empty room upstairs. Had you watched for a bit longer, you would have seen it loop back to the beginning, like a film.”

Matthew had known it was an illusion. The image of Diana was blond, for Knox had not seen his wife since they’d returned from the past. Even had the hair color been right, Matthew would have known that it was not really Diana, for no spark of animation or warmth drew him to her. Matthew had entered Benjamin’s compound knowing he would be taken. It was the only way to force Benjamin to make his next move and bring his twisted game to a close.

“If only you had been immune to love, you might have been a great man. Instead you are ruled by that worthless emotion.” Benjamin leaned closer, and Matthew could smell the scent of blood on his lips. “It is your great weakness, Father.” Matthew’s hand clenched reflexively at the insult, and his forearm paid the price, the ulna cracking like arid clay beneath a baking sun.

“That was foolish, wasn’t it? You accomplished nothing. Your body is already suffering enormous stress, your mind filled with anxieties about your wife and children. It will take you twice as long to heal under these conditions.” Benjamin forced Matthew’s jaws open, studying his gums and tongue. “You’re thirsty. Hungry, too. I have a child downstairs—a girl, three or four. When you’re ready to feed on her, let me know. I’m trying to determine if the blood of virgins is more restorative than the blood of whores.

So far the data is inconclusive.” Benjamin made a note on a medical chart attached to a clipboard.

“Never.”

“Never is a long time. Your father taught me that,” Benjamin said. “We’ll see how you feel later.

No matter what you decide, your responses will help me answer another research question: How long does it take to starve the piety out of a vampire so that he stops believing that God will save him?”

A very long time, Matthew thought.

“Your vital signs are still surprisingly strong, considering all the drugs I’ve pumped into your system. I like the disorientation and sluggishness they provoke. Most prey experience acute anxiety when their reactions and instincts are dulled. I see some evidence of that here, but not enough for my purposes. I’ll have to up the dose.” Benjamin threw the clipboard onto a small metal cabinet on wheels.

It looked to be from World War II. Matthew noticed the metal chair next to the cabinet. The coat on it looked familiar.

His nostrils flared.

Peter Knox. He wasn’t in the room now, but he was nearby. Benjamin was not lying about that.

“I’d like to get to know you better, Father. Observation can only help me to discover surface truths.

Even ordinary vampires keep so many secrets. And you, my sire, are anything but ordinary.” Benjamin advanced on him. He tore open Matthew’s shirt, exposing his neck and shoulders. “Over the years I’ve learned how to maximize the information I glean from a creature’s blood. It’s all about the pace, you see. One must not rush. Or be too greedy.”

“No.” Matthew had expected that Benjamin would violate his mind, but it was impossible not to react instinctively against the intrusion. He scrambled against the chair. One forearm snapped. Then the other.

“If you break the same bones over and over, they never heal. Think about that, Matthew, before you try to escape from me again. It’s futile. And I can drive spikes between your tibia and fibula to prove it.”

Benjamin’s sharp nail scored Matthew’s skin. The blood welled to the surface, cold and wet.

“Before we are done, Matthew, I will know everything about you and your witch. Given enough time—and vampires have plenty of that—I will be able to witness every touch you’ve bestowed upon her. I will know what brings her pleasure as well as pain. I will know the power she wields and the secrets of her body. Her vulnerabilities will be as open to me as if her soul were a book.” Benjamin stroked Matthew’s skin, gradually increasing the circulation to his neck. “I could smell her fear in the Bodleian, of course, but now I want to understand it. So afraid, yet so remarkably brave. It will be thrilling to break her.”

Hearts cannot be broken, Matthew reminded himself.

“As I learn about your mate, I will discover so much about you as well,” Benjamin continued.

“There is no better way to know a man than to understand his woman. I learned that from Philippe, as well.”

The gears in Matthew’s brain clinked and clunked. Some awful truth was fighting to make itself known.

“Was Philippe able to tell you about the time he and I spent together during the war? It didn’t go according to my plans. Philippe spoiled so many of them when he visited the witch in the camp—an old Gypsy woman,” Benjamin explained. “Someone tipped him off to my presence, and as usual Philippe took matters into his own hands. The witch stole most of his thoughts, scrambled the rest like eggs, and then hanged herself. It was a setback, to be sure. He had always had such an orderly mind. I had been looking forward to exploring it, in all its complex beauty.”

Matthew’s roar of protest came out as a croak, but the screaming in his head went on and on. This he had not expected.

It had been Benjamin—his son—who had tortured Philippe during the war and not some Nazi functionary.

Benjamin struck Matthew across the face, breaking his cheekbone.

“Quiet. I am telling you a bedtime story.” Benjamin’s fingers pressed into the broken bones of Matthew’s face, playing them like an instrument whose only music was pain. “By the time the commander at Auschwitz released Philippe into my custody, it was too late. After the witch there was only one coherent thing left in that once brilliant mind: Ysabeau. She can be surprisingly sensual, I discovered, for someone so cold.”

As much as Matthew wanted to stop his ears against the words, there was no way to do so.

“Philippe hated his own weakness, but he could not let her go,” Benjamin continued. “Even in the midst of his madness, weeping like a baby, he thought of Ysabeau—all the while knowing I was sharing in his pleasure.” Benjamin smiled, displaying his sharp teeth. “But that’s enough family talk for now. Prepare yourself, Matthew. This is going to hurt.”

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