Off the Grid
[Monday, June 24]
The Ministry police had been investigating a minor crime gang the previous week, and on Monday, discovered their base of operations. However, they were surprised to find the house heavily warded and full of magical booby-traps. It wasn’t surprising, then, that they placed a call in to the AMRS, and Caroline and Dermott were promptly dispatched to help out with what they did best—reverse and fiddle with spells. They had finally cleared most of the traps, as there didn’t seem to be something really completely innovative there, and were working in a room with a particularly strong one.
Suddenly, there was a shout from the next room, which Officer Abbott had been checking over. A few people ran by, and Caroline and Dermott started after them as the officer yelled for them to stop. The men darted around a corner, and three almost bowled them over—they’d almost stopped. Caroline got a hand on one, wand ready, when everything twisted and blurred.
Caroline hit the ground as she realized the men had been running for a portkey, and rolled quickly, coming up behind a shield with her wand ready, as people yelled and there were definitely spells being casted. She sent one of her special stunners at the nearest criminal and made for the guys, snaring a woman whose back was turned with a vine that bound her legs together. Then the officer went flying, and she had nearly made it to Dermott when something hit her.
They were somewhere in a dark place, very close together, as she could smell Dermottt’s aftershave. But that was quickly overpowered by a fowl sort of smell she couldn’t rightly identify. Then she felt the bars against her back, and the sharp pricks on her arms, which were tied behind her. That got her awake fast, and she struggled to move away.
‘Huh? Carr? Stop it, get off her!’ he yelled at whatever it was as he swung around to face them.
‘Why should we?’ a voice hissed, and Caroline knew whatever it was, it was bad, and pulled harder, but the cold hands holding her didn’t budge.
‘We should work together to get out of here,’ the officer tried.
‘You’re captured, and we’re hungry.’
‘Because we still have wands,’ Dermott whispered.
‘You lie!’ But whatever was making her arms hurt stopped. Soon she felt a warm liquid drip down her arms.
Blood? Vampires. A cold shiver went up her spine. If—but they had stopped, for the moment.
‘He called her Carr,’ a different voice said now.
‘What of it?’
‘There’s a Carr at the ministry who has worked with the representatives.’
‘Yes, that’s my father!’ she tried, knowing he had worked with vampires many times regarding their treaty and treatment.
‘Kerry Carr,’ Dermott said. ‘I know he is a friend to you.’
There were hushed voices, and in a moment a lot less hands were holding her.
‘Prove to us you have wands.’
‘There is a reason people don’t know we carry two for AMRS,’ Dermott said. ‘Sometimes we end up dealing with people who shouldn’t know, like these creeps. But I can’t reach mine.’
‘Mine’s in a magic section in my back right pocket,’ Caroline whispered. ‘You have to concentrate to access it.’
The bottom of her shirt was lifted, and she felt cold fingers rooting around in her pocket. It was a few long moments before she felt the longer wand being pulled out.
‘You were speaking the truth. I take it you have two wands between you?’
‘Yes,’ Dermott said.
‘Then we will work together. However, you will feed us in return.’
‘Feed you? How do we know you won’t kill us?’ Abbott questioned.
‘We need each other to get out,’ Dermott said. ‘Carr?’
‘We’ll want them strong. How long will it take? None of us can be that weak when we do it.’
‘There are eleven of us. We can go for many days on a pint of blood. It will take several days if you also need to fight at the end. It will, however, give us time to plan.’
‘And to see what they’re up to here,’ Abbott said.
‘What if they try to do something to us sooner?’ Caroline asked.
‘Then we will have to move up our plans. We will cut your bonds when it is necessary. Let her go.’
She felt the wand being put back into the pocket, and then the cold hands let her go, and she moved away from the bars quickly towards the others. They were in a cave, the dim light from the adjoining one showing little else besides cold, shiny eyes that stared at them hungrily. The glimpses provided by the light of their bodies didn’t leave her feeling any better.
‘Are you alright?’ Dermott asked, trying to look at her arm despite the darkness.
‘Yes, just…a little sluggish.’
Soft hissing voices were speaking, hushed, in the cage next to them, and they knew the vampires were also talking to each other. The effect in the cave was unsettling, and the three glance at each other.
‘It sounds as if they’ve been starved. I wonder how long they’ve been here? Can they really restrain themselves?’ Dermott wondered.
‘Sh,’ Caroline warned. ‘They might be able to hear you.’
‘And smell you,’ one of them said. ‘But we are vampires, we are used to such things.’
‘I gave you our word, and I will hold them to it.’
‘We appreciate it,’ Dermott said, moving over to the side they shared with the vampires’ cage. ‘Let’s not waste time. Who’s first?’
‘I shall go first,’ the leader said. ‘The older we are, the stronger, and the longer your blood will last.’
‘So you’re…the oldest, or something?’ Caroline asked, suddenly beginning to feel very lightheaded.
‘Perhaps you should lie down,’ was all he said, before pulling Dermott’s arms between the bars to sink his teeth in.
Abbott, Dermott, and the lead vampire were talking in hushed voices when Caroline came to, and as she felt sluggish and tired, just listened for a while.
‘So Amphere is made from vampire blood? That must be some potion work.’
‘We don’t know how they do it, as none of us have seen it. But some of us have been here for months. They starve us, then give us…large meals..and take our blood immediately afterwards. Our blood is very excited and potent at that time.’
‘That sounds ghastly, all around.’
‘Any idea what kind of spells they have on these cages?’
‘I’m certain any of your normal spells will be ineffective. Further, the bars have been spelled to give off the feeling of sunlight when touched. While not the same, it is likewise not pleasant.’
‘I imagine not,’ Abbott said.
‘Your friend has awoken.’
Dermott nodded, understanding what that meant. She was about to move over to join them when several of their captors came into the cave.
‘Oi! Get away from each other! No talking!’ one shouted at them, and soon the three were drug out into the cave at wandpoint. The woman raised an eyebrow when she saw Caroline’s arms with all the bite marks.
‘Hah! You’re lucky they’ve been fed recently, or you’d be dead now, wouldn’t you?’ she said condescendingly, and the three of them just kept their mouths shut. ‘Take her first.’
Two of the men picked her up by the arms, which were still behind her back and really starting to hurt, and hustled her into a side chamber, where there was a chair and a bucket of water. In whatever was going on with this group, these were clearly the thugs. Or perhaps mercenaries. They sat her down unceremoniously in the chair so that she nearly fell off, and a new man with a different bearing than the others, one she didn’t remember seeing before, came into the room.
‘Who are you?’ she asked.
‘You have no need to ask other questions here. Now, your fate is sealed as far as we’re concerned, so save yourself the trouble of enduring pain, and just tell us what we want to know.’
‘If it’s about whatever’s going on here, don’t bother. We know nothing we haven’t surmised since we ended up here.’
‘I find that highly unlikely, Ms...’
She kept her mouth shut. With no idea what he wanted, it was better not to volunteer anything. ‘It’s also highly unlikely you don’t already know that.’
‘Miss Caroline Carr, then. Why were you and your partner there assisting the police? Simply because they ask?’
‘They often request our services without saying why. Many people do. Since we don’t know anything else, questioning us is useless.’
‘We shall see about that, shan’t we?’
He struck her across the face, hard, but besides an initial grunt, she determined to keep her mouth shut, not matter what. This was just a slap, but there were far worse things he could do, without even laying a hand on her. So long as she kept her mouth shut and stayed alive long enough to get out or be found, Rai could fix her. It was clear from the state of her phone—tucked in a deep pocked and seemingly dead, that wherever they were, the stone or the heavy magical wards were blocking any help Aes could muster. But there wasn’t time to think of what if they were never found now, as pain alternated with questions she refused to answer.
It was dark again, and she felt the bars of the cage pressed against her side. Except she had the feeling of a bright day, which woke her up quickly. Why…even though it was dark? Something wet moved against her face, but instinct told her it wasn’t a MGT cub. She started to sit up, but her whole body ached, like—no, it was best not to think about it.
‘Be easy,’ a vampire voice said. ‘You will not be harmed.’ Although whatever they were doing stung, it was not unbearable, so she shut her eyes tightly and tried to hold still. Where were the others? Dermott, and Abbott? She couldn’t sense them near…
‘They have the Officer now, and your friend looks fairly worse off than you. We are tending to him, as well. Go back to sleep.’
Try as she might, she couldn’t stay awake after that, and spent only a few moments trying to fight it. Her last thought was that she detested telepaths looking into her head…
She felt much better the next time she awoke, and sat up Dermott was still unconscious, and Abbott was back, also out. The vampires were crouched around their cage, silent and waiting. Slowly moving over there, she stuck her hands through the bar, and sure enough, one of them came to feed. That was when their leader began whispering a plan into her ear.
The spells on the vampires’ cage had been strong, but not overly complicated. After all, the brutes needed to be able to work with it. It took the two of them only a few hours to figure it out, and although they were able to dampen the sunlight effect on the cage, they couldn’t do so entirely. But the assurance that a ‘regular’ feeding time was coming up had them all a little anxious. None of them could afford for this to go wrong. They did, however, submit to another feeding themselves, so that each vampire got a few mouthfuls. They wanted them strong when they escaped. The Humans used the two wands for some drinking water, as well, and then they waited.
The Vampires knew first, smelling new humans—and fresh blood—while they were still on the way. Caroline and Dermott both drew their wands, keeping them hidden but ready for action. The vampires presumably acted as they usually did, staying in the middle of the cage away from the bars. There were four brutes, and two captives, blindfolded and stumbling as they were pushed in front of the others.
‘Look what we’ve got,’ one of the thugs called out . ‘It’s dinner time for the Vamps.’
The others offered jeers and taunts as the group took their time crossing the cavern. Caroline and Dermott clenched their wands behind their backs as their allies hissed in the next cage, causing even the thugs to go silent. Finally, the leader was about to undo the lock spell, almost close enough to reach through the bars. The lead vampire didn’t wait; he leapt out of the cage so fast it took a moment to register, and Dermott sprang into action with the door of their own cage.
The thugs were overtaken quickly, and they found themselves hard pressed to keep up with the promised cover as the vampires swarmed the large outer cave. Spells flew every which way amid nearly wild takedowns by the younger vampires and the almost elegant dispatches of the older ones. Some spells hit the elaborate laboratory setup, sending chemicals and shards of glass flying. Not everyone got a shield up in time, but Caroline and Dermott were able to contain most of it. Dermott was closest, and she saw a few curls of smoke rise up from his pant leg.
Then someone smashed into her, and she went tumbling with a woman in protective lab gear. Much stronger than Caroline, she quickly had her pinned, hands around her throat when Caroline got a knee in her gut, and then with a whoosh she was gone. One of the others pulled her up, and ran her to a tunnel, where members of the operation were beginning to run away.
The spell hit a strong shield a few feet into the tunnel, and they stopped short.
‘That’s going to take some undoing. How many have we got already?’
‘Plenty, but not someone in charge,’ the lead Vampire said, suddenly next to her. ‘We are restraining them. How long will it take to get all the enchantments down?’
‘I have no idea, probably a while. Give us a breather and then we’ll get to work. I don’t suppose they left any food?’
‘I’ll see what I can find,’ Abbott said, limping off to look through some of the wreckage.
Caroline tried accio for her cell, and in a few moments it appeared from inside someone else’s pocket. It was off, and she debated turning it on without knowing how much power was left before they even started with the enchantments. So she pocketed it for now, and went to sit by Dermott.
It was several hours before Caroline turned on her mobile, and it took several more tries before she suddenly started receiving messages. By that time, a few of the vampires had taken Abbott up to the surface, but had yet to return.
Aes’ first response brought a great sense of relief, and soon after that police officers and ministry officials began to appear—they must have made it to the surface and made contact. Among them was her father, who was indeed very popular with the vampires, and then medical assistance arrived. It was easier for them to take memories for a penseive since the investigation was going to take a long time, and then they were told they could go.
‘Are you sure you’ll be alright?’ her dad asked when they had cleared her to go. ‘I know what it’s like after a Vampire feeds on you, it’s going to be quite a while until your energy is back to normal.’
‘So I’ve been told. But I’m exhausted and need a bath, and food, and a hug.’
‘Make sure Silla feeds you well. Mum will come see you, I’m sure; she’s been worried sick.’
‘I’ll talk to her.’
After exchanging kisses, she and Dermott were escorted to the surface, and from there Aes had no trouble giving either of them a lift.
Pulling on a pair of fingerless gloves over the holes in her arm and hand, Caroline looked in on Viir. He was finally asleep, and she couldn’t help but be warmed by the welcome he’d given her. She was sure he hadn’t wanted to lose another parent. Closing the door, she went downstairs for a pair of soft shoes and long sweater coat. She sure didn’t feel like sleeping, tired as she was. Just getting clean had exhausted her, and the mirror had told her she’d have some bruises for a while. At least most of it could be hidden under her clothes, even if her face was still roughed up. Hopefully it wouldn’t freak Rai out too much.
‘You go to see Master Raihosha?’ Silla asked, peering up at her bruised face while handing her a rather large container which smelled delicious. Next came a pudding, with the foil still under the clear plastic lid.
‘Yes, I’m sure he’ll insist on fixing me up, as well. Thanks, this smells amazing. I’m not sure where I’m going to end up tonight, but let Viir sleep as long as he needs.’
‘Silla will to so, Mistress! Mistress’ bed will be ready if she needs it.’
‘Thank you, Silla. What would I do without you? Make sure to give yourself a break and do something you enjoy as well.’
The house-elf pursed her lips, nodded, and turned back into the kitchen while Caroline texted Aes for a lift to the Hotel.
While at the hotel with everyone else, Rai had restrained himself from commenting much on her appearance, but as they got up to leave he ordered a medkit for Aes to send to the cottage. The way she leaned against him was worrying, but he understood the need for comfort after a traumatic event, even before other things. Sitting her down on the bed after transport, he lost no time in opening the kit.
‘I’ve been looked at…’
‘Not at this level, dear. Now let me see...’ he gently tilted her head to examine the bruises on her face. She just sat, letting him do what he wanted. ‘These look fairly fresh.’
‘We had quite a bit of fighting after escaping, not all magical.’
‘It’s not too bad, mostly small cuts.’
‘There was a bit of exploding glass…’
A thorough exam with the medical scanner came next. He looked at her a minute, and then back to the readings a moment, not sure what to make of the readings.
‘Your blood has some…unusual compounds in it. Is that from magical healing?’
‘Oh. The Vampires, I guess. We were..um..interrogated, fairly early on, and they fixed us up a bit…’
‘Vampires? Oh Caroline, what happened?’ he put the scanner aside, sitting next to her and leaning her against him a while.
‘The criminals we followed are part of the drug ring behind Amphere, one of the popular new drugs. It’s made from Vampire blood. They had about ten there, in a spelled cage. They were next to us.’
‘So you helped each other out, it seems. And this interrogation?’
‘Most of it wasn’t, um…physical. You tend to block it out. But I imagine I looked more beat up then.’
‘I’m so sorry. I wish I could have protected you.’
‘It’s not your fault. We know what the risks are when we sign up, and well, it wasn’t the first time.’
He squeezed her hand, producing a wince.
‘Did you hurt your hand?’
‘I don’t think so, but…’ she pulled off a glove, a length of medical cloth underneath wrapped securely around her hand, wrist, and lower arm.
She nodded, and he carefully unwrapped it to reveal all the fang marks—some of them quite deep—on her hand and forearm. ‘Both arms?’
‘We made a deal. It’s not generally known AMRS members carry two wands, so they didn’t check for more. The fact Dermott and I still had them is the only reason they helped us.’
‘Instead of eating you for dinner, I imagine.’
‘Vampires are fast and strong—when they’re fed. We did what we had to do. Dad said it’ll heal slowly, and I’ll won’t feel up to my normal level of energy for weeks.’
‘Let me know if you find you could use a boost. We’ll go with some nanites for now, and see how you feel in the morning. Do you want a sleep aid?’
‘No, I don’t think so. Not if you stay a while.’
‘Until you fall asleep. But you’ll feel better without me moving around and waking you. Sleep as long as you want, but let Aes know when you get up.’ He injected the hypospray as he talked, and she blinked a bit as the pain killer he’ included took effect.
‘Now, let’s get you ready for bed.’
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