Saturday, 17 August 2013

Tears of the Fallen Ch. 09 Teaser

Okay my faithful readers...finally I have Ch. 09 to tease you with. Thank you so much for your patience as I've worked through a challenging couple of months. I hope it's worth the wait.


 “We’re late.”

“Come on, this was the first time we could get all the Council members together,” Demetri countered, reaching for Mara’s hand and twining their fingers together as they walked up the steps into the huge glass building that hid the real purpose of its existence.

To the humans surrounding it, it looked like any other huge conglomerate building, full of glass and steel. Beneath the huge monolithic structure was the heart of the Northern American vampire nation, the Council chambers where decisions were made that impacted the entire vampire race. Their European counterparts didn’t think any of these decisions related to them, but they would soon find out that, now they had the attention of the Council; change was coming whether they wanted it or not.

“Anyway, it wasn’t my fault you bent over to pick up your shoes,” Demetri laughed, holding the glass door open for his wife. “You know what happens when you bend over, woman.”

Mara tossed her long brown hair over her shoulder, looking back to smile at him with a saucy wink. “Well, of course I do, lover. Why do you think I bent over?”

He threw his head back and bellowed out a laugh, before throwing an arm over her shoulder. His glance roamed over the reception area, and he discreetly nodded to the front desk staff, acknowledging the female vampire receptionist and four security guards close by.

“So, you’re the reason why we’re later than planned,” he continued as they moved over to a door on the left hand wall and he waited for Mara to peer into the retinal scanner first, and then place her thumb on the print scanner. When she received two green lights, she tapped in a long code on the key panel and the door opened, permitting her entry.

Demetri waited for the door to close behind her; the enhanced security that was now in place only allowed one person to enter at a time. In the past, Caleb had circumvented the security surrounding the Council chamber to allow the Weres access, but it had proven so easy, that afterwards, newer, stricter measures had been implemented.

Even though Demetri was authorised to enter unchallenged, if he’d attempted to walk through the door after Mara, his body would have been impaled by over a hundred blades fitted sideways in the wall.  They were placed strategically to ensure that no matter what height anyone was, a blade would pierce their neck and hold them immobile until released. Any attempt to continue forward or backwards would just about decapitate the intruder on the spot. Demetri liked his head just where it was.

Caleb had also ensured that no one person knew how to disable the security system. The password to shut it down was split into four segments; each part passed to an anonymous vampire, with Caleb and Annie being the only two who knew the hidden identities of the password keepers.  As if that wasn’t paranoid enough, Caleb had also tasked one of the subsidiary companies he owned with Demetri to develop a battery that outlasted anything the humans could manufacture. He had over a dozen backups in place, just in case someone managed to circumvent the security around the electricity supply and cut it off. No one could access the Council Chambers unless they passed through all of the security protocols in place.

Demetri quickly scanned his iris and thumbprint before typing in his personal code and stepping through the doorway. It was always a difficult choice for him when they entered the building. Either he allowed Mara to precede him and risk her safety from what may be waiting behind the door, or he went first and chanced that nothing dangerous followed them in from the street. He had a little more faith that his own people would be less inclined to harm his mate. They knew what the consequences of such an action would be.

He’d been apart from Mara for less than ten seconds, but he was still tense as he surveyed the corridor before them. They were alone though, and his wife’s patient expression made his lips twitch. She didn’t need to roll her eyes to show her exasperation with his over-protectiveness, she was quite capable of indicating it in spite of her neutral expression.

“Indulge me,” he growled, gathering her to his side as they began the journey down the marble steps leading to the Council chambers.

“Oh, I do, husband,” Mara responded dryly, her tone laced with amusement as she let him escort her.  He was never going to change, and she didn’t want him to.  She’d have no one to pit her wits against if he suddenly rolled over and became a teddy bear. She did so enjoy having to stay one step ahead of her man.

The large, floor to ceiling double doors to the Council chambers stood open at the end of the wide corridor, waiting for the final member of the Council to arrive. As they walked down the passageway, Mara tried to anticipate who would be the one to object the loudest to Demetri’s presence. She was sure one of the members would, but it would be to no avail. If her husband chose to be there, no one could stop him.

As they entered the huge room, the eleven members who stood around the dais at the far end all turned to look at them as the doors closed automatically behind them. Alexei and Andrei appeared unsurprised to see Demetri, but then, they were aware of what was to come at the meeting. Strangely, it was Stephan whose lips straightened in a line of displeasure as they approached. This was a closed meeting of the Council, and therefore the rows of dark wood benches shaped around the room in a wide semi-circle were devoid of any audience.  Mara and Demetri’s shoes echoed on the black and grey streaked white marble floor as they reached the dais.

“Demetri, this meeting is for Council members only,” Stephan announced, his tone cool, his hazel eyes narrowed with his displeasure. His wavy black hair was slicked back for once, aptly styled with some gel to keep it from falling across his face.

“I am here to represent the Ancient Council by Caleb’s command.”

“Andrei and Alexei are Ancients too. They could perform that function if the remainder of the Council granted them leave in that capacity.” Stephan’s counterpoint was accurate, but Demetri’s expression remained unchanged.

“I’m staying.” His tone brooked no argument and caused a murmur of sound from most of the other council members.

“Demetri, no one will harm your wife here.” Stephan tried once more to be the voice of reason, but to no avail.

“I’m staying.” This time there was a hint of threat in Demetri’s voice, enough that Mara raised an eyebrow at him.

“Fine, sit over there and try not to interfere,” she laughed softly, deliberately couching her tone into that of a long-suffering female that often indulged her overprotective husband. The few who knew her well also knew that wasn’t the case, but those vampires who still embraced the old ways would see a Youngling having to deal with her Ancient mate. They could relate to that, and would therefore be less inclined to object too strenuously.

Giving her a pointed look, Demetri strode over to the special seating area reserved for the Ancients, his gaze meeting Alexei and Andrei’s briefly. They knew with that simple glance that he was placing Mara’s safety firmly in their hands. He was a fraction of a second away from his wife, but they were closer and would be her first line of defence, if required. There were few he would cede that kind of control to; the twins ranked as two of those chosen few. Not that he expected any harm to come to Mara, but what was about to be revealed could ignite a spark no one might anticipate.

Mara stepped up to the dais and shook her head as Alexei and Andrei seated her between them. Alexei sat closest to Demetri with Andrei on her other side. Beside Andrei, Emily sat down, her brown hair pulled up into a ponytail. She shot Mara a quick smile, her green eyes laced with humour because she could relate to her frustration at being overprotected. Stephan sat down beside Emily, as was his usual place during Council meetings. She was as boxed in as Mara was by the males. It bordered on the ridiculous, yet both of them found it comforting, none-the less.

Cristoph took his seat next to Stephan and then there was a notable pause, as those still standing appeared unsure about how they wished to proceed. The more traditional Council members still clung to the old ways, where seating arrangements always set precedence and was a show of importance. Those who sat closely to the pack-aligned vampires could be viewed as declaring their allegiance to the Were treaty and Caleb.

Not all of them agreed with the treaty, but abided by it simply because it was now law. Demetri’s stubborn refusal to leave insinuated that the current topic of discussion would likely, once again, centre around one of the packs. Those who adamantly opposed the treaty didn’t wish to be close to the other side of the table.

As the pause lengthened, one of the males snorted loudly, casting a dirty look at the others. “Just sit down.”

William snorted again, his muddy green eyes hard as he sat down beside Cristoph.  Mara tried to keep her lips from twitching. She liked William, even though he didn’t go out of his way to be particularly nice to her in any fashion. He was one of the younger Council members, though not the youngest. That honour fell to her, with Emily running a close second.

William was an Elder, around the two hundred years old mark. He was a bit of an enigma, with dark hair cut short in an approximation of a human Marine’s style. He wasn’t tall like the other males either, standing around about five foot ten; however, his lack of height did nothing to diminish the aura of danger that surrounded him. The only males Mara had seen with wider shoulders and thicker arms were Nors and Liam. William was built for power, pure and simple, and yet, there was an overt sexiness about him that most females noticed instantly.

As if on cue, Corinne sat beside William as Mara had expected. One couldn’t help but notice her curves; her body was exquisitely rounded and womanly, as opposed to the slenderness of the other females sitting at the table. The buxom brunette was another mystery on the Council; she was clearly older than William, but chose always to follow his lead. It wasn’t that she was weak or easily malleable, because she could be vicious when riled, but there was something about William that appeared to attract the other woman.  Where he went, she followed and, he didn’t seem to mind her presence. What man wouldn’t love to have such a beautiful woman, small in height, with luxurious reddish-brown hair and light blue eyes as a companion?

That left only the final four more conventional vampires to take their places. Sasha sat next, her prematurely white hair a stark contrast against the bronze of her skin. It was plaited down her back, though loose strands had managed to escape and frame her face; a face that was austere in its beauty, with dark blue eyes that appeared almost black in some lights. Mara wasn’t sure how old Sasha was, but she suspected the other woman had to be past her fifth century at least.

Piers moved to take his place beside Sasha, his tall frame making him seem even larger beside the smaller woman. His blond hair was just shy of being called light brown; his grey eyes were sharp as they scanned the room taking everything in. He was another Elder who was over the five century mark; rumour had it he was closer to seven hundred years old.

Lenore took her seat next, disapproval etched on her exquisite face as she tossed her blue-black hair over her shoulder with a flick of her wrist. She was another of the younger members of the Council, similar in age to William; however, it was surprising, given her age, that she chose to adopt such an orthodox stance. Cold blue eyes stared straight ahead, her body rigid with displeasure.

Finally, Claude completed the Council, sliding in beside Lenore with more grace than some of the females present. Mara liked Claude, despite the fact he was often on the opposing end of any issue requiring a vote. He was beautiful and elegant, harking back to days of old when males wanted their good looks to rival the beauty of females. His reddish-blond hair was always immaculate, his green eyes clear and sparkling, with perfect long thick lashes that a woman would die to have. Away from the Council chambers, Claude was fun and full of laughter; he was an outrageous flirt with both men and women. In chambers, he was one of the most dogmatic members, fierce in his opinions that any deviation from their time-honoured traditions was wrong and should be avoided

“Half an hour to sit down? It’s a wonder the Council ever gets around to making any decisions.” Demetri grumbled from the sidelines.

“Demetri…” Mara’s tone was threaded with rebuke, but also held the tiniest of pleas, which only her husband and the twins would pick up.

“I’m just saying we don’t have all day here.”

“As you’re not supposed to be here at all, please feel free to leave at any time you wish,” Stephan countered in a neutral tone, drawing a pointed look from the Ancient. When Demetri held his peace, the Elder turned to Mara. “You called the meeting, Mara. Can you please enlighten the rest of us as to why we needed an emergency meeting? I presume the twins are already aware?” There was more than a hint at a dig in his tone, and a soft warning growl escaped Andrei’s lips.

Feigning innocence, Stephan gave a small shrug of his shoulders. “Am I incorrect, Andrei?”

“No, Stephan, you are not, but there is no need to be an ass about it. This matter was initially pack related, however as it affects vampires too, it is being brought to the Council. I am more than certain that should important information come to certain members of the Council’s attention, they would not be in a hurry to inform the pack unless they had no other option.”

The other man conceded the point, knowing he couldn’t deny the truth of his friend’s words. “Mara, please continue.”

“Is it Stephan’s turn to be chairperson?  He’s sure doing all the leading here.” Demetri grumbled, as Mara rose from her seat and moved over to him.

“Actually yes, we do alternate which vampire directs the meetings in an attempt retain some semblance of order, and you’re not helping things with your little asides. Be quiet or I’ll have you removed. The Council is in session, Demetri.”  She winked at him as she berated him, her stance preventing the others from seeing.

Demetri had agreed beforehand to help strengthen her personal position on the Council. Too many of them saw her only as the Youngling wife of a very powerful Ancient.  A quarter of century hadn’t changed that perception much, so they had agreed upon a strategy to amend that. Allowing the Council to witness Mara put Demetri in his place was the option they had chosen and now seemed as good a time as any.

Her husband played his part well, growling at her words, appearing as if to argue back before subsiding with his arms crossed and a scowl on his face. Trying not to laugh at his petulant expression, Mara schooled her features into a neutral expression and turned to face the Council.

“We are on the brink of a Civil War.”

For a moment, there was stunned silence; then everyone started talking at once, with the exception of the twins who remained quiet, carefully monitoring everyone’s reactions with their keen senses.

“Nonsense,” Claude responded, frowning darkly at her.

“Preposterous,” Sasha agreed, waving a hand in distain. “The new Council has done away with any attempt at civil war. We have the Ancient Council now to assist, should we become deadlocked. You are in error, Youngling.”

There were more words of disagreement, upset voices tumbling over one another until Stephan held up a hand for silence. It took a moment for everyone to become quiet but eventually the room calmed down. “Explain, Mara.”

She nodded her head to him in thanks and looked slowly at each Council member in turn, before speaking again. “Yes, Caleb set in place the tools to keep peace here in Northern America, but at the time we were so busy looking inward, we did not consider what was out there.” She waved her hand in the air, indicating a distant horizon.

“The threat is not from our side of the pond, my colleagues. The threat is from Europe.”

Again, the room erupted, William standing up and leaning on the table. “The Europeans are less than animals. What threat can they hold against us? We could march in there and take them out without even blinking.” Thick muscles bulged in his upper arms, a slow build-up of rage in the depths of his eyes. His harsh words quieted the remaining vampires, as they waited for her response.

Mara wanted to reach out and shake them all. In their arrogance, they believed nothing could touch them. They really thought all they needed to do was march over to Europe in force, and everyone would capitulate to their superiority. She fervently hoped she never turned into them. “Those animals have a toxin, William, something so deadly that it breaks down the regenerative properties in our D.N.A. This poison can not only be ingested, it can be placed in projectiles such as bullets. It’s fast acting and nothing short of a full bloodletting and transfusion will save the infected vampire’s life.”

“Impossible,” Lenore breathed out into the stunned silence following Mara’s words.

“No,” Demetri said quietly, rising to come and stand beside his wife. “You all wanted to know why I insisted on being present. Well, this is the reason why; I have witnessed this toxin at work.”

It was a testament to just how shocked the Council were that they remained silent, their pensive expressions locked with the Ancient.

“We will hear your witness,” Stephan said formally and Mara moved back to her place at the dais.

“A quarter of a century ago there was an attack on the Armand-Hanlon pack by a handful of European vampires who, apparently, disagreed with the matings between vampires and Weres. It was averted; however, Caleb was concerned by the amount of open aggression on display so he sent one of our own vampires over to see what intelligence could be gathered about the attack and who might be behind it.” Demetri paused and let his gaze slowly roam over each Council member to ensure he had their complete attention.

“We sent Pietro de la Rios, one we trusted above others, and he spent the last twenty-five years trying to determine the threat. He succeeded, but in doing so, he placed himself in direct danger, and his cover was blown. By the time I arrived, he had already been poisoned and tortured. I found him dying in a putrid mess of blackened, rotten skin. The only way to save his life was to remove all his blood and use humans to replenish him, along with Elder and my own Ancient blood. If I had been but a few minutes later…”

“Outrageous,” Corrine whispered, fury dancing in her eyes.

“Yes, it is outrageous, Corrine,” Demetri agreed, his eyes glacial. “It’s outrageous that our European brethren would develop a poison that can kill us. It’s outrageous that they have such little fear of us that they would try to murder one of our own. It’s outrageous that they seek to harm those under our protection.”

William’s head swung to the left to look at the twins and Mara. The Romanovs expressions were hard and unyielding; Mara’s expression echoed theirs.  His keen mind rapidly filled in the blanks even as his head swung back to the Ancient. “They are targeting the offspring of the mixed matings?”

“They can fucking try,” Andrei ground out. Fury blazed from his eyes as he rose and stalked around the dais. “Pietro is currently recovering in my home on pack lands. His skin is scarred, his regenerative abilities so compromised, they need additional time to strengthen. Even when saved from this powerful toxin, we are still vulnerable for a time afterwards. Any of our enemies could take us out easily.”

“There has already been a further attempt on the Vârcolac,” Mara added in a quiet voice. “A European vampire slipped through our defences and shot one of them with a bullet laced with the toxin. That’s how we know it can be used in a projectile. The Vârcolac appear to be immune to the poison, as are the Weres.”

Stephan rose slowly, glaring at Andrei and Demetri in front of him. “Let me get this straight. There has been an attack on one of our own, and an attack on the pack and this is the first we are hearing about it? This poison is directly targeted to vampire D.N.A and you have kept this from us until now?” His voice was cold and deadly, his body rigid with fury. The other Council members had a similar posture, though it was clear they were leaving it up to their elected chairperson to voice their thoughts.

Demetri sighed loudly, his eyes narrowing in displeasure. “All this has happened in the last week, Stephan. We were not deliberately keeping the Council in the dark. Caleb intended to brief the Council after we got Pietro safely home; however, we hadn’t anticipated the attack on Liam and having to deal with the fallout from that. This is the first opportunity we’ve had to brief the Council. If you recall correctly, it’s taken us all day just to get this emergency meeting set up, because the rest of you had more important things to do than attend. If we could have briefed you earlier, we would have.”

“Squabbling over timing doesn’t help us,” Mara interjected, seeing the signs of her husband’s impending explosion and knowing it wouldn’t help matters if he did lost his temper. “The point is the Council now knows of the threat and we need to come up with a strategy on how to combat it.”

“Take them all out,” William growled.

“How do we do that? Are you thinking of going over there to do it personally, William? You must be forgetting you’re a vampire and this toxin will kill you.” Corinne’s tone dripped derision and he turned to glare at her.

“And you may be forgetting who you’re speaking to,” he countered in an icy tone.

“Hardly, but sometimes you react first and think later. If the poison is deadly to us, then it’s ridiculous to even consider sending vampires over to Europe, least of all one or more of the Council. If the Weres are immune, then perhaps consideration should be given to sending them over to deal with the problem.” Corrine wasn’t as biased against the wolves as some of the other Council members.

“Seriously?” Alexei drawled the word out in a deceptively mild tone. “You think the wolves are going to descend on Europe en mass to take care of our problem because we ask them nicely?” He stood up, frowning at the rest of the seated vampires. “Most of you have been trying to wiggle out of our alliance with the wolves for decades, but now, when we’re under threat, you want to use them as cannon fodder against the European vamps? Our venom is still toxic to any Were not mated to a vampire. They’d be massacred.”

“Fine, Alexei’s point is noted,” Stephan sighed, holding up a hand to ward off any further discussion to do with the wolves. It would only end up in an argument they didn’t have time to get into. “I presume you have some kind of solution in mind?” His question was directed at Demetri.

“Send the hybrids,” Cristoph suggested which immediately drew another hiss from Alexei and a slow smile from Andrei.

Mara stifled a groan, as did Demetri. The shit was about to hit the fan as it always did when Andrei smiled one of his smiles.

“Your solution is to send one of my children into danger, Cristoph? One of Alexei’s girls? How do you think that suggestion is going to work out?” Andrei’s voice was so cold, his tone belying the smile still gracing his lips.

“No, that wasn’t what I meant, Andrei. I was merely pointing out that a hybrid would be the better choice…” Cristoph trailed off and gave an audible gulp as the more volatile Romanov twin continued to stare him down.

“What about Rayne and Gard?” There was a long hush in the room as Emily spoke for the first time. All eyes swivelled to look at her and she blinked in surprise, before stiffening her back and wiping her expression clear.

When there had been doubts raised after the children were born, Rayne had decided it was time to let the Council know that she was the first Vârcolac.  The Council had expressed concerns about the hybrids and had wanted them to be taken into vampire custody. For the first time, there had been a landslide vote against the pack-aligned Council members, pushing the Council to invoke the constitutional guidelines the Vampire Nation was governed by. If Caleb had vetoed it, there would have been a chance of civil war again and if he had agreed to it, the packs would have gone to war.

The plausible solution at the time was for Rayne to disclose her Vârcolac heritage to the Council. Gard also chose to reveal his presence, and to offer up the tiniest hint of his background. Until then, the most the Council knew about him was that he was another Ancient, albeit a very old one. The knowledge that Rayne was Vârcolac and was a well-balanced individual made it all the more difficult to find issue with the hybrids. The fact that there was a mature adult who could offer assistance to the little ones was another benefit. After that, it had become easier to turn the Council back from the path it had been headed down.

Now, they were once more focused on Gard and Rayne, but this time as a tool, which would directly benefit the vampires. When no one spoke up immediately following Emily’s suggestion, Stephan raised an eyebrow in Demetri’s direction. “Would they be willing to go to Europe?”

Andrei snorted and walked back to his chair, sharing a glance with his brother who also retook his seat. “So, now you’re asking instead of telling us what you want.”

“Clearly Cristoph’s choice of wording wasn’t ideal, Andrei, but the Council is fully aware that none of the children will be permitted to go to Europe,” Mara interjected in a reasonable tone. “Gard and Rayne are another matter though. I’m sure if we approach them with our concerns they will consider being our eyes and ears over there. They have Kothari’s safety, along with everyone else’s to think about.”

“So, you will ask them, and update us on their decision?” Stephan pressed, trying not to show his relief that some of the tension was easing in the room.

Mara nodded her assent as Claude leaned forward and directed his gaze towards Demetri. “What of the assassin?”

“Neutralised,” the Ancient responded brusquely, making it plain he had nothing further to say on the topic. “The Weres are working on trying to determine an antidote to the poison, but so far we are unsure of all the components used in it.”

“We’re really leaving it up to the wolves to find an antidote?” Lenore queried, with an incredulous note in her voice. “What’s to say they will do their utmost to succeed? They are not of our kind.”

“How many scientists do we have?” Alexei countered. “Perhaps we should give samples to the human scientists and let them work on it?”

“Don’t be absurd, Alexei, you know that isn’t what I meant.” Venom dripped from Lenore’s voice as she glared at the Ancient at the end of the table. “If the hybrids are immune, then what incentive is there for them to find the cure? Their loved ones are safe.”

“You forget that Annie is Rafe’s sister and Caleb his brother,” Mara sighed, feeling exhausted. Keeping her wits sharp around the other Council members took a lot of energy. The current session had just about wiped out her reserves with the constant bickering.

Demetri crossed behind the dais to place his hands on her shoulders, rubbing her shoulder blades to ease a little of the tension. He didn’t give a fuck what the other Council members thought of his actions; his Mara needed some of his strength and her needs were his priority. “The wolves hold many pureblood vampires as their friends and family and that is why they are working around the clock to try to find the antidote,” he growled.

“Yes, if only we all shared that same loyalty,” Mara muttered under her breath, aware that everyone could hear her.

“Okay, I think we have discussed the other points enough,” Stephan sighed, rising to his feet.  “To sum it up: Rayne and Gard will be asked to travel to Europe and report back their findings; the wolves will continue working on an antidote to the poison and update us when they are successful. I guess the main question left is do we tell our people of this present danger?”

No one answered; each vampire looked from one to another, trying to gauge his or her thoughts on Stephan’s summation.

“A vote sounds good.” Demetri finally broke the silence. “I vote no. Most of them won’t believe it and probably hare off to Europe and get themselves killed. Even if they don’t, the more people who know, the higher the likelihood it would end up alerting whomever is responsible with what we have learned thus far. That, in itself, could end up escalating whatever timetable they have established. From the intelligence we have gathered, it would seem only one assassin has managed to cross over and attempt to infiltrate our territory. No point in making them react prematurely. We have more time this way.”

Stephan laughed and it was the first humorous sound of the evening. It appeared to startle a couple of the other Council members. “Your logic is sound, Demetri, but your vote is moot. You’re not a member of the Council.”

He turned to survey the others, and took note that they had digested the Ancient’s words. “Do we need a formal vote? What Demetri says makes sense. If there is anyone who wishes to alert our people now, please speak.” He didn’t expect any dissent to the Ancient’s logic and received none.

“I declare this meeting adjourned then. Mara, how soon will we know if Rayne and Gard are in agreement to our request?”

“I’ll email everyone later tonight. The sooner we get someone over there the better. We intend to stop off to update the pack on our way home.”

The Council members began to file out of the chambers slowly. Stephan held back to ask after Alexei and Andrei’s families. There was nothing unusual about his action, as he had been their friend for centuries. 

When the others had finally gone, Demetri scowled at him. “Did you have to give me such a hard time?”

Stephan’s smile was innocent. “Of course, it would have appeared remiss of me not to.”

“Not to mention the enjoyment you took out of making him squirm!” Andrei laughed, this time his smile actually reaching his eyes.

“There is that,” his friend laughed back, his eyes twinkling. Stephan’s expression deepened as he motioned Emily to his side. “You performed excellently, Emily. Your timing was impeccable. Thank you.”

The Youngling blushed and bowed her head to hide her pleased smile. “Thank you, Stephan.”

“Do you think they bought it?” Mara asked. She had taken on more of a major role in the evening’s events, and that made it difficult for her to take stock of the other Council members’ positions.

“They bought it,” Alexei answered. “I spent most of the meeting watching their reactions. They truly think it was their decision to send Gard and Rayne to Europe. I would bet a small fortune that not one of them realised they were being herded in that direction, especially not after Andrei’s little display.”

His twin snorted. “I didn’t do anything. If I could have pounded on Cristoph’s face a little, then maybe you could have said I did something.”

“The objective was to get them around to our way of thinking not alienate them, Andrei,” Demetri admonished, his tone dry. “And anyway, just a little of that creepy smile of yours is enough to make most people run a mile. You don’t need to bash skulls to get your point across.”

“The next idiot who thinks he or she can send my children into a warzone is going to get their skulls caved in and I don’t care who they are,” his friend muttered, clearly unhappy with that part of the meeting.

Demetri sighed and bit his lip, pulling Mara close to his side. “Our work here is done, so let’s get the hell out of here for tonight. I need to let Caleb know how it went and we need to get things in motion for the trip to Europe. Thank you, Stephan, Emily, for your help tonight.”

“Your goals served our goals,” Stephan replied, nodding to the Ancient. “But let Caleb know that may not always be the case and never to think he has our vote guaranteed. As long as it serves the best interests of our people, we will consider all requests for assistance. We retain the freedom to say no at any time.”

“Acknowledged.” Demetri turned from them, leading Mara from the room, the twins following with Stephan and Emily bringing up the rear. With this first phase completed, they now they had to go set in motion the next part of their plan…to find out who was responsible for the attack on Pietro and the Vârcolac and how best to neutralise them.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Demon Hunger Ch 02

Barely a leaf rustled through the humid jungle despite the morning breeze swirling on the air. Sunlight was beginning to glow on the horizon. Night was bleeding into day; the first pale rays turning the deepest black into a midnight blue canvas across the heavens. The sunlight was eclipsed though, by a glow so effervescent the nocturnal creatures scurried away from its brightness and the early morning foragers remained hidden away. Something unnatural was coming, something so beautiful but so deadly, the natural flight instincts of all creatures in the area screamed a warning so loudly none could ignore it.

The glow pulsed brightly, coalescing into an ethereal being of indeterminate shape, and then it slowly dimmed, revealing a tall woman who stood just shy of six feet in height. For a long moment she stood there, pale grey eyes clouded, and then her gaze turned on the surrounding area and a frown marred her expression.

Serenity clicked her tongue in exasperation, surveying what had once been a vibrant village. The last time she’d paused to look down on the mortal plane, she had enjoyed the simple, ethnic way of living of Th’kana’s people. There had been a purity to their art and music, something innocent that had called to her. Now it was silenced, and it was that silence which had caught her attention.

Whatever had occurred here had happened so long ago there was nary a hint of any residual aftereffects.  Where the village had once covered a four-mile square area, there were only a handful of ruins now. She could tell that a significant period of time had passed by the local vegetation covering a lot of the evidence. Any blood scents that may have been traceable were already scattered to the winds.

By her timeline, this atrocity had happened only a day or so ago. By the mortal plane’s timeline, it appeared to be decades. Or maybe their time was the same and it was her perception of time that was out of kilter with the events? The concept of linear time was quite alien to her.

Serenity clicked her tongue again and scowled at the ruins. It would be hard to track down whoever was responsible for extinguishing all life in the village, but she was the one assigned to watch over Th’kana’s people, and it was her duty to bring them to justice.

She slowly walked around the area, using all her senses to try to pick up even the tiniest of residues from the barren ground. There were some slight lingering scents, but they were nothing that would lead her directly to the perpetrators of the crime. She could just about make out that there had been an Other presence in the vicinity, possible more than one being. Had this been a coordinated attack? It was so difficult to tell.

Completing a full circuit of the damaged area, Serenity halted abruptly, turning her gaze towards the forest. Something else had been there, someone else had witnessed what had happened, and that someone was human. It wasn’t unusual to scent a human in the area as the village had been full of them. What was unusual was this one had survived the massacre and that meant he or she had witnessed the Others.

Fury overcame her, so swift and powerful the wind picked up in a heartbeat, a strong gust shaking the surrounding trees until they bent. This was unforgivable! The Others knew the rules. No humans must know of their existence. Th’kana’s people would wreak war and havoc if the knowledge became commonplace. They feared all they didn’t understand and reacted with violence. Millions of innocents would die. How had the Others not known that a human watched them? Why had they not taken care of the problem? Now she would have to intervene more fully and she wasn’t happy about that.

Cooling her wrath, Serenity viewed the area once more as the gale force winds died down and the area became calm again. She was able to determine enough that the Others who had been here were Gh’tan’s creation. Technically, it wasn’t really her remit to chastise the demons but as she was the one on watch duty this cycle, it was up to her to bring the perpetrators to justice for their crimes.

With another vexed click of her tongue, the ethereal glow once more surrounded Serenity, before she vanished from the naked eye.


Gabe opted to stay away from the warehouse as he took on the assignment for Asher. It made sense not to lead the Advocate to their sanctuary. That was, if it was an Advocate who was causing a disturbance in the Otherworld. He wasn’t entirely sold on the idea, despite Asher’s comments. The Sleeping Gods hadn’t played a hand in the mortal plane for millennia, why they would be interested in it now was beyond him.

The balance between Other and human was evenly kept, the humans oblivious to the fact their daily lives brought them into contact with the mythical creatures they made movies about. They patted themselves on the back thinking they were so artful and imaginative coming up with such a diverse sub-set of beings when, in fact, the stories they called upon to create their worlds were based on some truths from the past.

When humans were first evolving into their current state, they had regular contact with the Others, but as time passed, and the Otherworld shrank to barely a fraction of humanity, that contact had become more secretive. The Others had retreated into myth and legend to protect themselves and remained that way to this very day.

Some humans knew of their existence and co-existed with them, but they were kept on such a tight leash there was no wiggle room available to them. It was usually the vampires who took human caretakers because of their inability to walk in sunlight. Those caretakers’ weren’t really human anymore so the Sleeping Gods permitted it. Their physiology had been altered enough by their vampires’ bites that they walked the grey area between human and Other, slaves to their Masters’ wills. Any other humans discovering the Otherworld were dealt with swiftly to preserve their secrets.

Humanity, and their level of sanity, was an enigma to Gabe and he could never quite get his head around them. He mixed with them when required to feed but preferred to stay away from them, as did Asher and the rest of his kin. Now he had to go into their world once more and he was not happy about it, but there was no choice.

If an Advocate were going to show up then they would be drawn to the densest population of Others in the city. That meant they would head towards the main Other nightclub in the city and it was to this establishment he was headed.

Handing over his Honda CR-V to the lion shifter working as valet for the night, he strode up the steps into Nightmoves and nodded to the two vampire bouncers keeping an eagle eye on the night’s proceedings.  The nightclub wasn’t like a traditional human nightclub, but had more of a resemblance to the old style gentlemen’s clubs of an era long past.

The lighting was subdued, the walls of the main room an old brick red. A myriad of seating arrangements filled the vast area, plush red and black leather sofas and armchairs towards the far wall, with upholstered seating in the same gothic colours closer to the doors. Along the right wall was the bar area, catering traditional drinks as well as a stock of chilled blood for the Others who preferred a more alternative beverage.

The floor was a dark red mahogany wood, the lighting, lamp scones attached to the brick walls with table lamps on conveniently placed side tables. To the left was a stage area with a section for dancing which was currently occupied by a shifter D.J. who was just setting up for the night. In half an hour, music would be pulsing from the hidden speakers around the room and the patrons would be up on the floor gyrating in time to the heady beat. For the moment, it was relatively quiet and Gabe could survey the area for any unknown faces.

He spotted the woman almost immediately. It was hard to miss her as she stood with her back to the bar, light grey eyes flicking from person to person as she surveyed the room. She was tall. So tall, she was barely a few inches shorter than he was. She had honey brown, wavy hair that fell halfway down her back, and her lithe form was poured into a tight red dress, that came to her knees.

She was exquisitely beautiful, slender but curvy in all the right places. Gabe felt his body stir slightly and almost stumbled in shock as he made his way over to the bar. He had just fed. He shouldn’t have been experiencing lust so quickly after a feeding. And yet, he was as he tracked the woman, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible so she wouldn’t detect his scrutiny.

The fact he noticed her on a base level was enough to alert him to her unusualness. He sampled his reaction and found it to be artificial which convinced him further that he had found who he was looking for. His lust was something he had full control over being an incubus, so he pushed away the erotic thoughts entering his head so they wouldn’t get in the way of his job. He was certain he had found the cause of the Otherworld disturbance and he couldn’t let her machinations get in the way of his goal.

“Who’s the woman?” His quiet words were for the human bartender, Archie, a native from Scotland in the UK. For a human, the red headed male was surprisingly interesting and Gabe usually shared a few words with him when he was at the club. He was fiercely loyal to his vampire Mistress, and had more autonomy than most caretakers, being closer to human than Other.

“No idea.” Archie’s deep brogue was as quiet as the question levied at him. That was one of the reasons Gabe liked the male. He had a level of common sense so many humans lacked. He kept his tone quiet because he instantly knew that the incubus didn’t want to be overheard.

“She’s been here about an hour and barely touched the drink she asked for. She scrutinises everyone coming into the club but hasn’t spoken to anyone with the exception of asking me for a glass of red wine. She noticed you the instant you walked in and now she’s trying not to look at you. I think she likes you.”

Gabe doubted it, though he was pleased that Archie had been keeping an eye on the woman and could give him as much information as he had. He would need to have a word with Asher about the bartender. Maybe they could use him for surveillance in some of their work, if his Mistress was amenable to it. The man was reliable and intelligent, plus he was built like a brick shithouse with arms so thick they were like tree trunks. Against an Other he would be no match, but if there was human surveillance involved, Archie would be an asset to have.

He made a mental note to speak to Asher about it later and took his usual beer handed to him. “Let me know if she does anything interesting,” he answered quietly before taking his beer and vanishing into the room. He intended to keep an eye on the woman himself; however, there was no harm in having a second pair on the job, just in case she slipped from his view.

Sitting in a solitary armchair, Gabe took a sip of his beer and sat back giving all the impressions of a man out for a quiet drink after a hard day. He kept track of the woman in his peripheral vision the entire time, watching her gaze flicker towards him a few times before she finally moved, picking up her glass of wine and threading her way through the other people until she reached him. Without a word, she set her glass down on the low coffee table, and moved another armchair close to his and sat down.

“You know what I am.” Soft, melodious words that weren’t a question, more of a statement.

“Yes,” he answered, keeping his voice low. In a room full of enhanced hearing abilities, it was difficult to have a private conversation, and yet, he was loath to invite her into one of the rooms at the back of the club. He was in no hurry to die today. “You’re the most beautiful woman in this room,” he tacked on, before taking another sip at his beer.

Her lips curled in a half smile and she nodded her head in acknowledgement of his compliment. “Intelligent. How refreshing. If I promise not to ravish you can we go somewhere more private?”

Gabe regarded her intently, reading her surprisingly open expression. Though their conversation appeared innocuous because of listening ears, they both knew it was anything but. In those few words, he had acknowledged he knew she was an Advocate, and she had intimated his safety was not in question if they took the conversation private. Now he just had to decide whether he could trust her or not. Her expression appeared to say he could but what if she was merely talented at hiding her true feelings?

Gabe decided it was worth the risk and stood up, setting his beer bottle on the table. “I have a private room here at the club. If you’d care to follow me?” He didn’t wait to see what her reaction was, heading towards the black door to the left of the bar area. His gaze connected with Archie who quickly placed a bottle of red wine and two glasses on the bar. Gabe collected them without breaking his stride, feeling the woman close behind him.

The private rooms at the back of the club where organised into two types; public ones patrons could book out which contained no locks, and the private ones members could rent, that had biometric scanners for entry. Gabe stopped outside a dark blue door with the number five etched on it in silver paint. He scanned his iris into the reader on the wall to the right, and the door clicked open. His companion viewed the reader with interest, the same half smile on her face.

“Ingenious,” she remarked as she entered the room and ran alert eyes over the interior.

There were no windows in the room, just a large bed on the wall directly facing the door. The bedding was entirely black which, in the muted lighting, made the room appear smaller than it actually was. To the right of the bed was an unlit fireplace with two deep red upholstered armchairs and to the left was another door to an adjoining bathroom. That door was open and the whiteness of that room was a stark contrast the bedroom.

“Do you live here?”

Gabe moved a small coffee table from its place in the corner and set it down beside the armchairs, depositing the wine bottle and glasses down on it. He turned to look at the woman, wondering if he’d made the right decision in being alone with her. Only time would tell.

“Sometimes.” He answered her question, taking a seat and opening the wine to pour them both a glass. He motioned for her to sit across from him. “It can come in handy when I need to spend prolonged periods of time in the heart of the city.”

As she sat down, her penetrating grey eyes tracked every feature on his face, her mouth maintaining her half smile. “You are Gh’tan’s creation. I have never conversed with one of his people before. Are they all as unforthcoming as you?”

It hadn’t been what he was expecting and Gabe found his own lips twitching slightly. She was struggling to read him and that was a good thing. Perhaps he might come off the better in this meeting. “Demons can be very closemouthed,” he admitted, handing her a glass of wine, which she took only because it was offered.

She set it down immediately her expression turning more curious. “Tell me what you know of my kind. How do you come to know of me when most Others are ignorant of the fact?”

It seemed harmless to tell her, so he drank some of his wine before putting it on the table beside her glass. He carefully modified what he said, keeping Asher’s identity hidden. “You are an Advocate, a Messenger of the Sleeping Gods. You are Their Voice whilst They sleep, and it is your role to ensure harmony is maintained on the mortal plane. How do I know what you are? I am old enough to remember the ancient histories taught to me when I lived in my own realm…and I can sense you. I have an affinity for all things Other, a sixth sense as the humans call it. The moment you set foot on the mortal plane, your presence disturbed that sense.”

“Fascinating,” she breathed, her smile becoming wider. “You claim such enhanced senses and yet you missed that which was most important. You were present on the African continent when Th’kana’s people were destroyed, were you not?”

Her directness was unexpected and for a moment Gabe wasn’t quite sure what to say or how much he should he tell her. They had no idea of what her purpose was in coming to the mortal plane. If it was to punish them for the loss of life in Africa, then admitting he was there could be the worst mistake he ever made. However, her words intrigued him and he was sure she’d done so on purpose. He had to know what he’d missed.

“I was there.”

The smile vanished from her face and her eyes hardened as she skewered him with her penetrating gaze. “Then, how did you miss the human who watched you slaughter the villagers?”

The words rocked him to the core and he froze in place, waiting for death to claim him. Gone was the mysterious, almost playful, woman, and in her place sat an Advocate, her expression cold and terrible in its beauty. Gabe’s heart began to race, the urge to flee strong as icy chips of granite tried to shred his soul from just a glance.

“We didn’t murder the villagers,” he ground out, his first instinct to be incensed that she presumed they had. “We were there to try to prevent their extinction, only we were too late. We failed.”

“We. So, there were more of you? I had surmised as much however, it is gratifying to have it confirmed. Who was responsible for the atrocity, if not you?”

The Advocate rose from her seat to loom over him and she appeared to be ten feet tall though she hadn’t grown a single inch since their first meeting. Gabe automatically tried to shrink back from her, but there was nowhere to go. He tried to shimmer out of the room but it was as if someone had stripped him of all of his abilities. He was trapped, unable to defend himself against the being before him who was starting to pulse with an ethereal glow surrounding her.

“Remain still and do not attempt to leave.”

Dear Gods, even her voice had taken on an edge of granite to match her eyes. Never had he felt as helpless as he did before her. Never had he felt the level of fear and dread that was surging through him, rendering him weak and defenceless, a concept that was completely alien to him.

“If you are wondering what I am doing, I am merely turning your powers back on yourself, demon. This is what your victims feel as you suck the life from them. I have opted not to include the euphoria they also experience as you mate with them. It is superfluous to my requirements. Be still and I will lessen my hold over you. I gave you my word I would not harm you if you came willingly to speak with me in private. My word is my bond.”

Could he trust her? Did he have any choice? In less than five seconds he’d gone from being one of the top predators to walk the mortal plane to being as helpless as a human child. The power radiating from the Advocate was so strong he was certain she could level the entire city if she put her mind to it. There was no choice. He was at her mercy and they both knew it.

Gabe stopped straining against her hold on him and watched her warily. Her expression remained cold but there was a lessening in the intensity of her gaze.

“You are more intelligent than I have given you credence for. I believe I am beginning to like you. I will be most aggrieved if you disappoint me, so please try to refrain from doing so. Now, I wish to view what happened to the villagers. Considerable time has passed and the trail is cold. Think about it for me. Draw on your memories of that day.”

Gabe tried not to think about what had happened, tried his hardest not to think about his brothers but he couldn’t look away from her eyes, couldn’t look away from the glowing light that appeared to surround and envelop him…


Screaming filled the air, long agonising wails so shrill Gabe’s eardrums threatened to burst from the assault of sound. Mixing with the screams was the scent of roasting meat and singeing hair, an odour so repugnant it made him want to hurl his breakfast. The demon shimmered into the heart of the village a brief second after Asher, and stopped rooted in shock at the sight that greeted him.

Razvan stood a hundred feet away from them; wielding balls of fire so huge it was evident he was drawing far too much power into his body. As Gabe watched, he relinquished the two giant fireballs he’d conjured, engulfing one reed hut and a handful of villagers who were trying to flee into the surrounding jungle. Skin blazed, features melted, and the unearthly screams ratcheted higher as the people burned to death.

Beside Gabe, Ryazan shimmered into being and let out a loud, tortured moan as he witnessed his brother’s madness. “No!”

“Ryazan! Come play!” Madness blazed from Razvan’s green eyes as he hurled more fireballs at any who tried to flee.

“No, stay here!” Asher ordered, as the other fire demon moved to try to contain his brother. “It is too late for him.”

“He’s my brother! I can stop him!”

“He is lost, Ryazan. Even you can see that.”

Gabe watched the light die in his friend’s eyes, as he couldn’t escape the dawning realisation that there would be no coming back for his brother. Razvan was insane and in his current state would slaughter anything in his path, revealing the existence of the Others. There was only one thing left to do and it was up to them to do it.

Xavier was using his powers, throwing water over the burning village as swiftly as he could, but the blaze was too far gone, the humans turning to ash before their eyes. There was no saving them; there was only the prospect of containment.

Ryazan began hurling fireballs to intercept his brother’s as Asher whipped up the wind, picking up any loose soil he could find to help extinguish the flames. Where the village once stood, their leader created a cyclone around it, keeping the fire as contained as he could to allow Gabe and Aiden to advance on Razvan. Being the two non-elemental demons, it was up to them to try to restrain their insane kin.

Razvan was now competing with his brother as opposed to destroying the village. He was bored with that task now anyway, all the humans were dead or dying. He hurled his largest fireball yet, a maniacal laugh bursting from his lips as Ryazan barely managed to deflect it, his brother sinking to his knees with the effort. He had always been the strongest, always been able to best Ryazan. Today he would show him just how strong he was. Today he would remove the other fire demon from his life and he would be the only one…

“NO!” Razvan shrieked as strong arms tackled him from behind, preventing him from raising his hands to conjure up fresh fireballs. He struggled against his captors, thrashing wildly to be free but it was to no avail, he was bound and unable to escape.

“Razvan, what have you done?” There was so much sorrow in his brother’s voice it was hard to hear it. He looked into green eyes that mirrored his own, and saw tears building that made him want to weep too. What had he done? What was so wrong that his friends looked at him with such horror on their faces?

Gabe finished binding steel chains around the fire demon, ensuring he would not be able to break free as Aiden helped him. He walked around his old friend to stand beside Asher and Ryazan, seeing a spark of lucidity in Razvan’s deranged eyes. Xavier and Aiden joined them, all five demons surveying the utter carnage surrounding them. There was only one penalty for this act, and Gabe knew they were all already mourning the loss of one of their brethren.

It was doubly hard on Ryazan, as he shared blood with their insane kin. Gabe couldn’t begin to imagine what was going through his friend’s mind as he watched his brother with tears in his eyes.

“What did I do?” Razvan asked, a confused child-like note to his voice.

“You lost the fight with your insanity, my friend,” Asher answered quietly, his expression bleak. “You have destroyed hundreds of lives and threatened our existence. You know we cannot allow this to pass, Razvan.”

The moment of lucidity vanished, and all that was left of the fire demon was a madness so intense, his eyes blazed with a heat almost as intense as the fireballs he’d hurled earlier. Spittle flecked his lips as he snarled at them, a feral growl erupting from deep within. “They are nothing but filth, vermin crawling over the earth and infecting everything they touch. They deserved to die. They all deserve to die. Release me! I must cleanse the earth of their touch!”

“You know there is no other way.” Asher’s sorrow laden words were directed at Ryazan more than the others, but they all slowly nodded their agreement, Ryazan being the final to do so.

“Be at peace, my friend,” their leader whispered as he reached inside to conjure up his elemental powers.

As Razvan screamed his insanity at them, Asher channelled the wind around them and pressed forward into the fire demon’s throat. As the sound cut off, he solidified the air in Razvan’s windpipe, cutting off his ability to breathe.

Panic set about the demon, his body thrashing wildly as he tried to escape the chains, tried to bring his hands up to his throat to release the blockage preventing him from breathing. He couldn’t loosen the chains, couldn’t do anything but stare madly at his former friends, his knees buckling and sending him convulsing to the ground.

Gabe knew Asher maintained the blockage a lot longer than was necessary. He couldn’t leave anything to chance, couldn’t allow even the smallest opportunity that Razvan might live. When their leader was certain there was no coming back for the fire demon, he withdrew his power, a single tear running down his cheek.


“Leave me!” their friend wept, moving to the body of his brother. “I will clear up here. Just go! Let me say goodbye to my brother in peace.”

He knelt down beside Razvan, cradling his corpse as he let out an anguished wail. Gabe couldn’t watch, his gaze travelling the area as he tried to give his friend his moment of grief. His eyes finally connected with Asher’s, who nodded for them to leave. As he shimmered out of existence, Gabe saw Ryazan conjure up a fireball and set his brother’s body alight…



Gabe was catapulted out of his memories at the sound of the Advocate’s voice but not before he finally registered what it was that she had alluded to his missing. As his gaze had taken once last look around the ruined village, he had glanced the tiniest of figures hidden in the trees. He hung onto that brief moment, bringing it more fully to life so he could get a better look.

A little girl had stood there watching them, a child of barely five years of age. What stood out most about the girl was she didn’t have the dark ebony skin of the villagers. The child had a skin so pale it appeared almost translucent.  How had they missed her presence? What had she been doing there so far away from home? Now he understood why the Advocate was so angry. Somewhere out there a human female was walking the planet who had witnessed Others and had the power to reveal their existence.

Gabe had no idea he had whispered out any words, until his gaze connected with the chips of granite that were the furious eyes of the Advocate. Once more, he felt fear as she held him tightly with nothing but the sheer power of her will.

“Yes. How could you have missed her…?”

To be continued…