Acquired Taste | iii

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Avoiding the hounds, the birds they could not see and the things that undulated beneath the ground, Steele and Bile made their way to ground zero. He could not help but feel a twinge of guilt as he followed Bile. Having been there before and not knowing that Steele had made it as far as the forest before he turned back, Bile had taken the lead. This hardly seemed like the time to admit to his sins. That was for another time. His integrity would force him to come clean.

To kill what had already been released would mean nothing if they did not stop more from coming out. They both needed a clear head and they needed to work together. Nerina's role in all this still left Steele puzzled but Bile was sure of what happened. Steele asked him again.

"Tell me what happened."

"That vampire came charging in."

"To rescue you?" That had been the plan and he should have stuck with it. Maybe if he had none of this would have happened. He had left her alone in a world she had been unfamiliar with and something must have happened. One bad turn had caused another and another. He needed to know what she had done to cause such turmoil in the first place.

"No. We escaped in the confusion she brought with her. She was more concerned with killing everything that moved." He looked at Steele to get across his meaning.

"Nerina..." Steele shook his head because the whole thing still did not make any sense even with all the information he had. The more information he had, it seemed, the murkier his mind got.

"She was like a vampire in bloodlust Steele. Your friend tried to kill all of us along with the werewolves. For the most part, she succeeded."

Steele clenched his jaw. Nerina had fed before they had made it to the dungeons. There was no way she would have been in blood lust. He knew enough to know when a vampire was not feeding, when it was starving and she was not. Her mind had been clear—clearer than his.

"This all doesn't make any sense," he said more to himself than to the man who stood at his side.

"How long have you known her?" Bile could see that his friend was struggling with the information he had. It was hard to believe that someone you thought you knew was something else entirely. Bile knew what that felt like and had felt the sucking blow of it before.

To answer Bile's question, Steele shook his head looking away. He knew her but he did not know her. Nerina had certainly changed. From what he knew, she had had to. It was either that or run in fear for the rest of her life. Back then, he had not been much help either. He had run off and left her—albeit for good reason, and she had changed. Then he ran off and left her again and all this happened. Steele felt the weight of the blame for all of it.

Steele listened to all the instructions Bile gave him, knowing but not saying he did. They got in easier than they had thought they would have, realizing that everything that had been there was gone. The place was empty. That was not a good sign. It meant the spell had been lifted from the forest and the things that had been kept there were free to roam. Free to wander off into other realms and spread the bedlam like a disease.

Nerina, what have you done? Blame too landed on him. He should not have brought her. He should not have asked her for help in the first place. He should have left her with the solitary life she had carved out of the rainforest for herself. Steele shook off the thoughts to clear his head.

They entered the dungeon, Bile with his axe in hand, Steele with no weapons but his fangs and strength that came to a vampire over the years. Bodies laid strewn about, werewolves and others. Some Steele had known and been so close to rescuing. He blocked out the emotions reminding himself to focus, keep a clear head, but he could feel them crowding in, squeezing the air from his lungs. They went straight to the gate.

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