The words swam in my mind as I tried to make sense of what I was seeing.Damon was alive.
But who knew for how long? If he had been captured, he was undoubtedly weak. How could he face a ravenous beast in a battle and survive?
Anger tore through my body, along with the familiar ache of my fangs elongating. I ripped down the sign with a snarl.
“What is it?” she hissed, her own fangs bared.
I held up the paper.
“My brother,” I said, staring without comprehension at the poster. The picture made him look like a monster. My eye twitched. “The battle is in two days.”
Lexi nodded, taking in the portrait.
“Gallagher found him,” she said, almost to herself.
I shook my head, not understanding what she meant.
She sighed. “Big businessman. He owns a lot of places in town, including a two-bit circus and freak show. Always looking for curiosities to display, and people always seem to find the money to attend. Your brother–“
“Damon,” I said, cutting her off. “His name is Damon.”
“Damon,” Lexi said gently, tracing the image with her fingers.
“He doesnt deserve this,” I said, almost to myself. “I need to help him. But ” I trailed off. But what? How could I possibly save him?
“Well need to find him,” Lexi decided. She brushed leaves and dirt from the back of her pants. “Do you trust me?”
Did I have a choice? My hunger forgotten, I followed her through the forest and back to the wide, silent streets of the city.
“Gallagher lives somewhere in the Garden District with all the other nouveaux riches. On Laurel Street, I think,” Lexi murmured as we wove our way to the center of town. “This has happened before, soon after Gallagher arrived in New Orleans five years ago.”
“What happened?” I asked, following closely behind her in the shadows.
“He found a vampire. Hes good at finding us. Or maybe were good at finding him. But the other vampire wasnt part of my family. And ” She stopped suddenly.
“What happened to him?”
But Lexi merely shook her head. Wed arrived at the Garden District, where the streets were wide and the lawns hugging the sherbet-colored Victorian houses were lush and expansive.
“Here.” She stopped at a pistachio-hued mansion enclosed by an open wrought-iron fence. Magnolias and calla lilies spilled over the gate, and the air smelled like mint. Just beyond, I could see an enormous herb garden that took up a fifth of the property. I recoiled as we walked closer, as the garden grew a generous amount of vervain.
Lexi wrinkled her nose. “He knows all the tricks,” she said wryly.
We pushed open the gate, our footsteps barely crunching the gravel on the path that circled the house. Cicadas buzzed in the sycamore trees above us, and I could hear horses pacing in the stable.
And then I heard a low moan.
“Hes out back,” I said.
Lexi gazed up at the sky. Orange streaks were starting to peek above the horizon; it was about an hour until day broke. “Its too close to dawn,” Lexi said. “I didnt realize how late it is. I have to go.”
I looked at her sharply.
“Im not protected.” Her fingers fluttered to my ring, and I glanced down self-consciously. The lapus lazuli adornment had become so much a part of me, Id forgotten that it made me different from other vampires, made me able to walk in the daylight. Katherine had arranged for both Damon and me to have this protection.
“Well come back tomorrow. The others can help us then,” Lexi insisted.
I shook my head. “I cant leave him.”
Birds chirped in the trees above us, and from somewhere nearby came the sound of glass shattering. The orange streaks in the sky grew fatter, brighter. “I understand,” Lexi said finally. “Be safe. Dont play the hero.”
I nodded, scanning the grounds for any guards or animals lying in wait to attack. When I looked up, Lexi was gone and I was alone.
Stealing quickly to the back of the house, I made my way toward the whitewashed stable. Horses pawed the ground nervously, obviously sensing my presence. The stable doors were padlocked with an iron bolt. I grabbed the chain, testing it. Even though Id barely fed since the previous evening, it would be easy enough to rend the chains with my bare hands. But something stopped me.Don’t play the hero.Lexis words echoed in my mind. She had become my guide during the past couple of days, and I knew it was in my best interest to listen to her. Better not to leave any evidence of an intruder, better to get the lay of the land before doing anything rash.
I released the chain, and it fell back against the door with a loud clanking sound. A horse whinnied. I walked to the other side of the stable, where a dusty window was open a crack.
“Brother?” I whispered hoarsely through the window. The cloying scent of vervain was everywhere, making me woozy and nauseated.
In the corner, a filthy figure struggled to sit up. Damon. His hands and feet were bound with chains, and his skin was covered in angry red welts. The chains must have been soaked in vervain. I winced in sympathy.
Damons eyes locked on mine.
“You found me,” he said, no emotion in his face. “Are you happy to see that Im close to death, brother?”
“Im here to save you,” I said simply. The horses were kicking up the sawdust around their feet in agitation; I didnt have much time before someone in the house heard the disturbance.
Damon shrugged, an effort that clearly took all his energy. His eyes were bloodshot and glassy. A large cut lined his forehead, slicing into his eyebrow. He looked awful and emaciated; it was clear he hadnt eaten in days. I glanced around, hoping I could find something–a squirrel, a rabbit, a chipmunk–to kill and toss to him, but there was nothing.
“So the cold-blooded killer is going to save me.” Damon attempted a wan smile. He leaned back against the wall, his chains rattling.
“Yes, we have to–“
Suddenly, I heard the sound of a door slamming, then a dog barking. I whirled around toward the main house.
“What do you think youre doing?” a voice yelled out. And I stood, my hands raised to the sky, unsure of who–or what–had found me this time.