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…