Ahhh, all those wonderful Lit comments made me smile so much. Not just because they were so supportive towards the chapter but also because the readers were so looking forward to Andrei and Mac meeting up in the next chapter. So this one is going to be a complete curveball for everyone, and yes, it does make me smile imagining the curses I'll most likely get for this.
On to Europe we go...
Pietro groaned, trying to force his eyes to open and shuddering when pain greeted his attempts. Something was very wrong. Something so frightening that he knew he needed to stay alive at least long enough to alert the Council and to warn Mac when he arrived, so that one of them could get the information out.
The damage to his body was severe. It was enough to tell him that the likelihood he would be the one escaping was pretty low. They’d done something to him that slowed, if not completely halted, his vampiric healing abilities. Each wound healed slower than the last time. Some of them were still weeping blood as he hung from the steel chains in the ceiling, his feet barely touching the cold stone floor.
He cast his mind back trying to work out how long they’d held him. He knew it was at least one day, possibly even two, since he’d sent Mac the information he’d asked for. It had been shortly after that Pietro had become aware of a feeling of lethargy seeping into his movements. It had been so subtle at first he hadn’t really noticed it.
Something about the way Michael and Bruce had been looking at him whilst trying not to look at him had sparked his suspicion that something wasn’t right. By that time it had been too late. He’d already drunk the contents of the bottled blood.
It had to have been contaminated with something. Whatever substance they had put in it that was capable of incapacitating a vampire, had already been creeping through his blood, making him sluggish and weak.
It should have been impossible. A vampire’s metabolism broke down all foreign substances instantly rendering them harmless. But those two had found something that even vampires couldn’t protect themselves from.
The thought of being brought low by the two other males made his blood boil. Even as he conceded they’d been intelligent enough to come up with the unknown substance, he knew deep down they were too stupid to do so on their own. They were followers, monkeys. Someone else was directing their actions, the true organ grinder Pietro had yet to meet.
He should never have underestimated them. It was a rookie mistake and something a Youngling would do. He’d been around too long to fall for anything so obvious and yet he had. His pride had been his downfall, his belief in his superiority over them. And they had played him hook, line and sinker. They’d counted on him underestimating them and he’d played right into their hands.
He deserved to be in his current predicament but Mac didn’t deserve to be pulled into the same trap. His captors wanted something from him which was the only reason he was still alive. He was too weak to defend himself. Killing him would be like taking candy from a baby.
Pietro had never felt so disgusted with himself or ashamed. If he was responsible for anyone else’s death he’d be pissed as hell. He’d be dead himself so it was stupid even to worry about it, but all he had left was his rage, be it at himself or at his captors. They had taken everything else from him but he would hold onto that rage with every last fibre of his being.
The key turned in the lock and Pietro stiffened as the steel door slid back to reveal not one of the males but a female this time. Through his one working eye he could just about make out her features in the darkness. She was pretty and looked to be in her mid twenties but he could scent the age on her.
He stiffened when he realised she was close to Ancient, at least five centuries older than he was. In all their history, no European vampire had lived that long. They were wilder, more isolated, preferring to live in secluded covens and warring secretly over territory. How any of them could have reached close to eighteen hundred years old was a shock.
She had to be European because the Council knew of all Elders stateside. The general practice was to present any newly made vampires to the Council once they’d achieved their first year without losing their heads. The population was recorded meticulously. If this woman had been one of them then her identity would be known and Pietro had never seen or scented her before.
He watched her close the door behind her not the least concerned at being in the room with him on her own. The thought almost made him smile in derision. What would she have to feel concerned about? A naked male hanging limply in chains with one shoulder dislocated?
Just about every one of his ribs were broken, blood seeping from the mass of cuts covering every inch of his flesh. One of his eyes was swollen shut, hell for all he knew maybe he was missing the eye completely. With his hair matted with blood hanging dank and limp against his bruised face, he didn’t think he cut a very scary figure.
The woman came closer and he could see her skin with a light caramel colour hinting of some kind of mixed heritage in her family. She was curvy in all the right places and he was male enough to admit she was pleasing on the eye.
Her face was expressionless as she slowly ran her grey eyes over his body, walking around him as she did so, her breathing never once changing its rhythm. If she was pleased or unhappy about the damage to his body she gave no clear indication of it.
Not until she was once more looking up at him, then a small frown furrowed her brow and she tsked under her breath. “The boys were a little enthusiastic, I see. They were unsure of how much of the poison to slip into your drink given your age. They may have applied a little too much as your wounds are not healing.”
Her voice was light with a musical lilt to it. Under other circumstances Pietro might even have found it pleasing. “If you hire monkeys you have to live with their failings,” he managed to grind out through his swollen lips. It hurt to talk but he wasn’t going to let her know it.
She smiled and her face transformed into something so beautiful it seemed at odds with the room of horrors they were both standing in. “Ah, I see they may have broken your body but not your spirit.” She appeared pleased by his strong will.
Pietro remained silent watching as she moved away from him to retrieve a chair from one of the corners and place it in front of him. He was still trying to process the knowledge that they had some type of poison which, when introduced into a vampire’s blood stream, did irreparable harm. He watched as she sank down onto the chair with a grace that screamed of an era long gone, of flowing dresses and elegant manners.
He was uncomfortably aware that her new position brought her eye level with his genitals. He wasn’t normally concerned about a woman enjoying his ample view but the way her eyes ran over his limp shaft made him feel uneasy. So far that had been one area the males had surprisingly stayed away from.
“Such a pity,” she sighed softly. “You really are a very impressive male. I so abhor waste but I suppose in your case it can’t be helped.”
Her grey eyes slid up to meet his, a smile still teasing her lips. “I would have liked to have spent a little time with you before now but I was occupied elsewhere. I think I would have enjoyed sampling your lovely cock before we reached this stage.”
If she thought her words would shock or embarrass him she was in for a disappointment. Pietro was male enough to admit that if she’d shown up and made some plausible argument to explain her age, he’d have quite happily have ridden between her thighs with no real need to be tempted into it. Sex was a way of life for him just as it was for most vampires.
The woman admired his body a moment longer and then she sighed and closed her eyes. “The arrogance of you vampires stateside is quite appalling,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone. “You, with your little Council and rules and regulations, expecting everyone to obey your word as law. I’m quite staggered by just how arrogant you are.”
Pietro listened to her speak trying to place her accent. He guessed she was definitely from the UK but it was hard to determine if she was from Scotland but had lived in England too long or vice-versa. Her accent mostly sounded English but there was a faint Scottish lilt to it.
“The arrogance isn’t a regional thing,” he finally drawled. “More of a male thing. We can’t seem to help ourselves.”
His answer pleased her because her smile lit up the room again and she tilted her head back with amusement dancing in her eyes. Silky midnight tresses fanned her face to trail down to the top of her shoulders. She looked exotic and tempting and he felt his body start to react to her on a primal level.
He tried to stifle his reaction, concentrating on the broken ribs which hurt like a bitch. It did the trick thankfully and he heard her laugh softly as he once more went limp.
“Almost had you there, Pietro,” she laughed, not the least disappointed that he’d resisted her charms.
He’d closed his eyes to concentrate on his pain, now they flew open and his rage surfaced sharply. Pain exploded in his right eye which refused to see but his left was full of hatred as he glared down at her.
“Is this how you intend to torture me?” His fury seeped into his words. “Have your boys left you no room to mark my skin so you’re going to try and rape me into telling you what you want?”
She hissed loudly, her pretty features twisting into a hard expression. “You can’t rape the willing, vampire. I did nothing to you except look and enjoy. If you liked me looking then that’s your issue not mine.”
She appeared truly offended by his words, so offended he decided her emotions were genuine. Whatever else she was, this female considered herself to be honourable. Her brand of honour differed greatly from his but she set store in whatever values she applied to herself.
And that was what made her the most frightening woman he had ever come across.
She believed as only a zealot could. Whatever course of action she was on she felt she had the right of it which meant she would stop at nothing to achieve her goals. If her target was the Vârcolac she would stop at nothing until she reached them, harmed them. He prayed he lived long enough to alert someone; anyone to what was coming their way.
She appeared to gather herself, her expression smoothing out to become pleasant again. “I forgive you your harsh words, Pietro. The boys have been too severe with you and you are obviously in a lot of pain. I can alleviate your discomfort if you answer just a few questions for me. The most important one being how I can gain access to the abominations?”
Abominations? For a moment Pietro couldn’t work out what she meant and then he realised she was referring to the children. He fought to keep his expression neutral as a wave of horror washed through him. If she viewed the hybrids as monsters then the perceived threat to them was worse than any of them had imagined.
This female was old enough and contained enough power that if she was able to pull the other vampires into her scheming, if she could unite them as one, then it would mean all out war with the Council, the Weres…everyone. There would be no way in hell they’d be able to keep the humans from learning of the existence of their paranormal neighbours. The fallout could lead to the total extinction of some species.
Despite keeping his expression calm she obviously sensed his concern somehow. “You care about them.” She uttered the words flatly, plainly disappointed in him. “They should not exist. They are against everything which is natural. Surely you’re intelligent enough to see that?”
“They shouldn’t exist because you decree it?” he found himself arguing back. “Who died and made you God? You’re just some crazy-assed bitch who has delusions of grandeur. You’re not even an Ancient. You think you can take us on and win? I’m furious I’m not going to be around to see your downfall.”
Her lips tightened at his tirade and she stood up placing the chair back in the corner. She came to stand before him again her face now suffused with sadness.
“It’s your Council who have delusions of grandeur, pretty vampire,” she sighed quietly. “They’ve spent so long believing they’re the most powerful of us all that they’ve neglected to pay attention to what was happening on other continents. They will learn at their peril.”
She sighed again and ran a finger slowly along one of the larger wounds on his chest. “I am sorry you have suffered so much. I would have preferred your end to be less painful but you are such a stubborn male I can see you will not volunteer any information to me willingly. I wish things could have been different.”
Pietro held his silence, ignored her touch until she stepped back and gave him one last appraising look. Without another word, the woman turned and walked out of the cell, locking the door after it clanged shut.
As the door clanked shut Reasa sagged against the wall as Michael locked it. Christ, the vampire had been strong, forcing her to use her abilities at such a high level that she’d been fighting to maintain it at the end of their brief meeting.
She pressed a shaky hand against her stomach as she tried to gather herself, accepting Michael’s arm as they moved silently up the stone steps into the kitchen of the cottage they were renting. Bruce quirked an eyebrow at her pallor and went to rise from the table but she shooed him down and lowered herself into another of the wooden chairs around the table.
“I’m fine,” she reassured them, accepting the glass of water Michael handed her before he sat down beside Bruce. “His mental shields were some of the strongest I’ve encountered. Even with the damage to his body, I had to fight to slip inside unnoticed.”
When she’d first seen what they’d done to the male she’d been ready to berate them for their overzealousness, now she was thankful for it. If Pietro had been in more control, there would have been slim to no chance of her breaching his shields unnoticed and she’d have had to force her way in. It would have fried his brain.
She was under no illusions the vampire would not leave the cottage alive but that didn’t mean she wanted his death to be at her hands. That was why Michael and Bruce were here. It was their job to clean up the mess and hers to gain the information before they did so.
Getting into a vampire’s mind was generally judged as impossible to do without destroying their personality. Reasa could and did regularly invade vampiric minds, utilising her skill for her coven leader as directed. She wasn’t completely happy with this current assignment though.
Why Louis had agreed to this was a mystery to her. He didn’t usually get involved in the politics of their kind and she knew he even had some respect for a few of their overseas brethren. Maybe he was genuinely concerned about the hybrid children and what it meant for their species.
That was the only part of this mission Reasa did agree with. She’d had no major issues when she’d heard about the matings but producing abominations was something she just couldn’t tolerate. If they had just stayed barren everything would have been fine. Maybe Louis felt the same way?
What made her so uncomfortable about her task was the need to hurt a fellow vampire. Sure, discipline was required within a coven and in extreme circumstances like a vampire crossing over, then death was the only solution. But to harm their own kind for no good reason didn’t sit well with her.
And that was going to be inevitable. The stateside vampires and Weres weren’t going to surrender their young to be put down like the animals they were. There would be some casualties but she lived in hope she could do what she needed without having to take out her people as collateral damage.
“So what did you learn?” Michael interrupted her thoughts and she pulled herself together enough to report.
“A name…someone called Mac. He’s expecting him to arrive soon and was worried about him walking into a trap. His thoughts were hazy but I got the impression that they’ve set up some kind of elite guard to protect the hybrids. I’m not going to get anything further from him so I think it’s best if we wait for this Mac to arrive and see if we can learn anything from him.”
“Should we kill the vampire?” Bruce asked, his eyes shining with excitement at the prospect. He was looking forward to killing Pietro. His superior attitude had been driving him insane for months now. It would be satisfying for him to be the one having the last laugh over the smug bastard.
“No, we need him alive until his friend arrives,” Reasa sighed, thankful for being the one in charge but knowing she’d regret that position fairly soon. For the moment she could keep Pietro alive.
Given his injuries she didn’t know if he would class that as a blessing or a curse. A part of her hoped he counted it as a blessing. As long as he was alive he’d have hope of escaping. Maybe he’d even manage to achieve it and she could be spared the final decision on his fate.
It was stupid to think that way and she knew it. Sometimes hard decisions had to be made and a true leader made them despite having to hate themselves afterwards. “Give him some blood. He’s dangerously low and it may ignite his healing process a bit. If things continue as they are, he’ll be dead within the day.”
“He’s dead anyway, Reasa,” Michael snorted. “The poison is eating his internal organs. No amount of blood is going to stop that from happening. We had no idea how potent the stuff was.”
The excuse was pathetic. The formula for Amort was a closely guarded secret known only to a handful of coven leaders. She only knew how to make it because Louis hadn’t had any on hand and he’d had to give her the ingredients to mix it.
Amort didn’t play favourites…it targeted all vampires, so keeping knowledge of it out of the public domain was crucial. Still, Louis had been adamant of the dosage to use and she’d reiterated that information to the two males before she left them.
Reasa’s mental fatigue made her lose control and she glared at the two males in front of her. Pietro was right…hire monkeys and you had to put up with their failings. She’d be having a word with Louis about these two.
“You mean you were both such cowards you overdosed him because he scared you witless,” she corrected him icily. “Louis told you two drops would be sufficient. He is your coven leader and you disobeyed him. How many drops did you give Pietro?”
Michael at least had the grace to look away. He wasn’t pleased about being called to account but he didn’t argue with the chain of command. Maybe there was some hope for him after all.
Bruce was unrepentant. “I gave him five,” he admitted. “I hate that smug bastard. I’m glad he’s suffering.”
“I’ll be sure to inform Louis of how well you obeyed him,” Reasa snapped secretly appalled at how the vampire in the basement must be suffering. An extra drop would have been bad enough but more than a double dose?
Bruce frowned and started to look less sure of himself. Their coven leader could be brutal when angered though he was generally fair in most instances. “Come on, Reasa. He’s the bloody enemy.”
“The abominations are the enemy!” She was shrieking now, the two males wincing as her shields cracked and she began projecting her emotions. “Louis hasn’t even openly declared his intent to join with the other covens. Until such time as he gives that order this was an intelligence gathering mission which has already gone to shit and will lead to the death of one of our kind possibly two.”
The fatigue of being in Pietro’s mind was so strong she was holding onto herself by a hairsbreadth. Any more stress and she was liable to lose all her mental shields and then they’d know all about it.
Convincing Pietro she was almost an Ancient, playing with his male emotions to try and tempt him, as well as listening into his thoughts as she’d distracted him had been far too much given his own mental strength. If her shields shattered under her weariness, all her fury and pain would blast out and everyone would be shrieking under the weight of her agony.
Taking a deep breath Reasa stood up trying to calm her breathing. “I’m going to call Louis. Give Pietro at least three bottles of chilled blood if he’ll take it. If he wants more give it to him. And see if you can convince him to take from source. You can each donate one of your little harem members if he’s willing. Just keep him alive until we get clear instructions on how to proceed.”