Ashes of Midnight (Chapter Thirty-Five)

It's been five days, Lucan. We have some decisions that will need to be made, and made quickly." Lucan nodded solemnly and glanced over to the worried gaze of Dante's mate, Tess. She had been the one to discover Claire unconscious at Reichen's side the day after the explosion at Dragos's bunker. In the time since, Tess had been keeping a close watch on both Reichen and Claire, ensuring that they were kept warm and comfortable in the bed the couple shared, and looking for some way to help bring one or both of them around. So far, nothing had worked. "Andreas's Breed metabolism is stronger than Claire's human one," she said. "He can probably survive another few weeks or more without sustenance, but Claire is dehydrating quickly. Unless we get some fluids into her, vital organs are going to start failing soon." Lucan stared down at the woman sleeping in the bed.

Her petite frame was nestled tightly against Reichen's body, her arms wrapped lovingly around him, holding him in what looked to be a fiercely protective embrace. Her sleep seemed vastly different from Reichen's. Where he lay motionless, unresponsive, Claire's eyes flickered rapidly behind her closed lids. Her fine muscles twitched now and again, as though she were caught in a brief doze, not dead to the world for the past several days. "You've tried everything to attempt to wake her?" he asked Tess. "Everything, Lucan. It's as if her body–as well as her heart and mind–simply refuses to come back to consciousness.

She's willing herself to remain asleep, I'm certain of it." He scowled, watching Claire's eyelids twitch with the movement of her eyes beneath them. "She's been dreaming this whole time?" "Yes, since the moment I found her like this. I have to believe she's using her talent to be with Andreas." Lucan huffed out a heavy sigh. "Even if it kills her in the process?" "You saw them together, didn't you?" Tess's voice was gentle with sympathy and not a little awe. "I suppose I can understand the depth of devotion–of pure, unshakable love–that would inspire this kind of sacrifice. If it were Dante on that bed and I thought I could reach him in some way–in any way–I'd be right in there, too. For however long it might take. I know if it were Gabrielle, you would do the same for her." He was hardly going to stand there and deny it.

But neither could he stand by and knowingly allow Claire, or Reichen, to waste away while he watched. He glanced back to Tess and gave the Breedmate a tight nod. "Gather whatever you need from the infirmary to get her hydrated. I'll go inform everyone of the situation."

Several thousand miles away from Boston, on a remote stretch of railroad track that led into the frozen heart of Alaska's interior, the wrecked remains of a large, refrigerated cargo container lay open and abandoned to the elements. It had made the journey from the industrial yard in Albany, New York, to the rail station that sent it westward across the country, arriving as planned four days ago at the port of Seattle.

From there, it had been loaded without incident onto a barge and shipped north, where it was scheduled to reach its final destination just a mere eighteen hours later. By the time the first inklings of trouble had been detected by Dragos's lieutenant and the cadre of Gen One guards escorting the dangerous cargo, it was already far too late to stop what was about to occur. Now that dangerous cargo was gone. The container was empty, aside from the savaged, bloodied bodies that littered its floor and the snow-covered ground outside. And leading away from the moonlit tracks, into the tree-choked, frozen wilderness beyond, was a trail of huge footprints made by a feral, deadly creature not of this world. A creature that had been biding its time through weeks of starvation and drugging, feigning lethargy and compliance, while waiting for its chance to escape.