Ashes of Midnight (Chapter Thirty)

Claire's heart slammed against her sternum at the sudden cacophony of gunfire that erupted over the comm device on the Rover's dashboard. She'd been tensely monitoring the team's progress inside Dragos's lair along with Dylan and Rio, fear twisting like a serpent in her stomach with each step Andreas and the others took deeper into the horrible place. Now her fear shot up her throat, exploding out of her in a scream as the sounds of ripping bullets, shouts, and chaos filled the vehicle.

"Oh, my God!" she cried, her blood freezing in her veins. "Oh, my God! No!" She made a frantic lunge for the door handle beside her in the backseat, but Rio pivoted around from in front of her and clamped his hand down on her shoulder, keeping her in place. "Stay, Claire. You can't do anything to help them," he said, his Spanish accent rolling, dark-fringed eyes grave. He hissed a curse as more gunfire cracked over the receiver. Then, another disaster, this time from the ground level post near the barn's entrance, where Renata and the male called Hunter were stationed. Renata's voice came into the vehicle in a breathless rush.

"Ah, shit. We've got company. Four guards coming into view right now outside the old barn… Fuck, I think they're Gen Ones–" Blam! Blam! Blam! More bullets began to fly the racket cutting Renata off and echoing from out of the forest like thunderclaps. "Oh, Jesus," Dylan whispered from her seat beside her mate in the front of the SUV as the Order came under attack both inside Dragos's lair and outside on ground level. "Rio… what should we do?" "Stay here, both of you," he ordered them grimly, pulling a nasty-looking pistol out of its holster on his belt and loading the chamber. He threw open the driver-side door and leapt out.

"Stay in the Rover and keep it running in case things go any further south and you need to haul ass out of here. I'm going in."

The Gen One assassins rained down a hail of bullets on Reichen and the warriors caught within the UV prison below. Returning their fire wasn't easy. The light bars were blinding and searingly hot, offering little room to dodge the incoming rounds while the warriors volleyed back shots with their own weapons.

From his periphery, Reichen saw Tegan take a bullet to the shoulder. Another grazed Nikolai in the thigh, knocking him on his ass for a second before he locked and loaded a second pistol and squeezed off several semiautomatic rounds. And up above, secure behind the bulletproof Plexiglas that shielded him from the fray, Wilhelm Roth was still watching, still gloating. Smiling, as though it were all merely entertainment and he'd already won this war. Reichen's fury churned on a swift, hard boil. Already the pyro was rising up inside him; he felt the living heat ripple over his skin, watched with nonchalant acceptance as the bullets that should have punctured his body instead fell away the instant they met the field of psychic energy that enveloped him.

"Get behind me!" he shouted to Tegan and the others, spreading his arms wide to create an even wider field of protection. "Not too close," he warned. "The heat will deflect the bullets, but it also kills." The warriors moved in as tight as was prudent, using Reichen's body like a shield as they continued to strike back at their attackers, who had the advantage of unrestricted movement and seemingly endless firepower.

Reichen's vision began to warp before his eyes. His pyro was building faster now, burning hotter than ever as he glared up at Roth. He let his rage expand, coaxed the flames to swell even bigger from within him. He summoned every ounce of fire at his command, letting it tumble and roil in his gut, willing it to strengthen as he held it down well past the point of pain. Past even the point of sanity. Some threadbare shred of instinct told him that he was courting disaster, but he shoved reason aside and stoked the flames brighter. Tasting the need for vengeance–for a final, bloody justice–like potent liquor on his tongue. "Wilhelm Roth," he bellowed darkly, centering all of his hatred, all of his white-hot energy, on the male who had taken so much from him, even before he'd called for the slaughter of Reichen's Darkhaven kin. "Tonight you die, Roth!" Focusing his talent, Reichen fisted his hand and punched it through the ultraviolet light bars of the cell. He felt no burn, other than the heat coursing through him already.

He glanced up and took great satisfaction in the sudden, slack-jawed astonishment written across Roth's face. Grinning himself now in a smile full of hatred and laser-sighted purpose, Reichen stepped out of the Ancient's cage with a roar of mingled triumph and murderous rage. The two Gen One assassins blasted at him with their useless weapons. Reichen glanced up at them, heat rippling outward from his body with nuclear intensity. He summoned power to his raised and fisted hands, then turned it loose on the pair. Twin fireballs rocketed out of his palms. The spinning white-hot orbs struck their targets in an instant, incinerating the vampires on impact, bodies and weapons reduced to a flurry of drifting ash and molten bits of metal showering down from the top of the double staircases. "Holy shit!" one of the warriors crowed from behind him, but Reichen had no time to relish the small victory. Not when Roth was staring wide-eyed in panic, backing away from the window as if he was preparing to bolt. Reichen crouched low, then sprang into the air.

In one fluid motion, fire engulfing him, he leapt off the floor and sailed up to the broad sheet of Plexiglas that separated him from his quarry. He locked eyes with Roth, curling his lip off his teeth and fangs as he smashed into the window and watched the barrier shatter inward in a million melting pebbles. Wilhelm Roth gaped at the towering pillar of hellish fire that had transformed Andreas Reichen into something too incredible for words. He'd understood the male's unique Breed-born talent was pyrokinesis, but this … this was beyond reckoning. It was awesome in its power, and Roth could not keep himself from staring, struck dumb with wonder and fear, as Reichen stalked toward him. The concrete floor scorched black beneath Reichen's boots. The fluorescent lights overhead popped and smoked as he passed under them, moving inch by inch across the viewing room. Roth retreated, feeling his hair and skin singe from the intensity of the heat rolling off Reichen. "You think you can accomplish anything by killing me?" he asked the glowing form that stalked him with obvious deadly intent. "You've seen this place, Reichen. You can figure out what it's been used for all these years. Dragos has bred his own army down here. He's done much more than that, and he cannot be stopped now. Do you actually think my death will make a difference in the grand scheme of things?" "It will make a difference to Claire," came the deep, heat-warped reply. "It will make a difference to me." Roth kept moving backward, until the gauges and switches of the UV cage's control panel behind him bit into his spine. "Let me go, and maybe your friends down there in that cell will live."

"You can't harm anyone. Not anymore." Reichen's glance bounced from point to point on the control panel. Circuits crackled, shooting off sparks and bitter, electronic smoke. Roth had to duck out of the way of the small explosions, the fallout of Reichen's searing gaze driving him deep into the corner of the room in a cower. Roth snarled, infuriated to have been sent to his knees, particularly by this male, whose death he had craved and sought for far too long. As Reichen stepped closer, murder blazing from every pore of his body, Roth made an abrupt lunge for one of the gauges on the control panel. He understood the fact that he wasn't going to walk away from this fight now, but damn if he would accept defeat alone. With a grunt of determination, Roth smashed his fist onto the panic switch that would activate the lab's emergency detonation sequence. Sirens immediately began to wail overhead. The alarms sounded from every direction, signaling the start of an irreversible countdown. Roth chuckled. "My God. It's almost worth it–knowing that I am about to die down here alongside you and the bulk of the Order. Seeing that look on your face right now… your defeat is palpable, Reichen. So is the horror and outrage–the raw, emotional pain–it's all there, in your eyes." He sighed, knowingly dramatic. "I only wish I could take Claire along with us when this whole goddamned place blows to kingdom come in the next five–ah, make that four minutes and forty-nine seconds."