Ashes of Midnight (Chapter Twenty-Two)

The Order's compound in Boston was an architectural and technological marvel. Even in spite of the gravity of Claire's reasons for being there, she couldn't help but be impressed by the subterranean network of sprawling corridors and chambers hidden beneath the grand limestone mansion at street level. The Order lived in unquestionable comfort, but it was clear that this was a tactical location. Their headquarters' primary function–the neurological center of the entire location–was the tech lab, with its banks of computers, surveillance equipment, wall charts, and strategical maps of key cities in the United States and abroad. She had entered a war room, and even though she had been welcomed there as a guest by everyone she'd met so far, as she sat at the large conference table, she was acutely aware of the fact that she was still Wilhelm Roth's mate and the closest link to an inpidual in alliance with the Order's most treacherous enemy. "Everyone's on the way," Gideon said as he ended a call to summon the rest of the warriors and their mates to hear what Claire had to tell them.

One of the compound's female residents, a regal-looking, auburn-haired young woman, placed her hand over Claire's in a show of feminine support. Her name was Gabrielle, and she was the Breedmate of the Order's leader, Lucan, who had been the first to learn of the disturbing news Claire had reported after her dreamwalk to Wilhelm Roth earlier today. The big Gen One vampire began a pace of the room, his long legs carrying him across the width of the place in no more than half a dozen strides while Rio and Dylan watched from the other side of the table. Claire hadn't known what to expect of the Order, and frankly had been more than a little apprehensive when she'd first arrived at their Boston headquarters last night. It surprised her to see that they were not the crude lot their reputation among the general Breed population painted them to be, but rather a professional, close-knit cadre of brothers in arms. With their Breedmates, who lived in the compound with them, the Order was a community not unlike any of the Darkhavens Claire had known.

The warriors and their mates obviously looked out for one another, cared for one another. They were a family. Claire registered a small pang of envy for that, but even more guilt when she considered the fact that Wilhelm Roth might have anything to do with the danger threatening the warriors now. After the horror of what she'd seen in her dream a short time ago, she was suddenly, unwaveringly, committed to the Order's cause. Whatever she could do to prevent Roth–or Dragos–from inflicting more harm, she would. Unfortunately, since sundown today, her blood-bond link to Roth seemed to be progressively diminishing. He was on the move; she was certain of it. He might have been in Boston a couple of nights ago when she'd first arrived with Reichen from Europe, and even as recently as last night, when they'd been driving up from Newport, but her senses told her that he wasn't in the city anymore. She'd been explaining that very fact to Gideon and the others who were gathered in the tech lab before the start of the night's patrols. "Do you have any idea where Roth might go?" Savannah, Gideon's mate, sat beside him near the computer workstations. The tall black female was a calming presence in the room, a source of serene strength that seemed a good counterpoint to Gideon's frenetic energy. "Were there any recognizable landmarks in the dream?" Claire shook her head. "Nothing that I could point to, unfortunately. I wish there were."

"Do you think he's aware that you knew he was in Boston?" Rio asked, his voice rolling with a rich Spanish accent, his dark brows lowered over smoky topaz eyes. "It's possible that he might have suspected I was," Claire guessed. "And if I sensed him, I have to assume he sensed my presence in the city as well." Gideon nodded. "That could be reason enough for him to leave town, if he also thinks you might be persuaded to turn over that information to us." "And if he's carrying out orders for Dragos," Dylan piped in from next to Rio, "then it could be that he's moved himself somewhere near Dragos's lair. Maybe if we find out where he is now, we'll find Dragos, too." Gideon scowled pensively, then glanced to Claire. "Let's go over again what you saw in your dream. Maybe Roth left us some further clues to help us find him." Claire started to rehash her dreamwalk from the beginning. As she recounted the details of her confrontation with Roth, the glass doors of the tech lab slid open and in walked Tegan with a few other warriors, all of them dressed for combat in head-to-toe black. And behind them was Andreas, dressed similarly and looking every bit as lethal as his heavily armed companions. Claire's heart stuttered at the sight of him.

She'd considered going to him directly after her dreamwalk with Roth, but she didn't think she could bear to be near him after the way they'd parted in the chapel. And a more cowardly part of her knew that he would be furious to find out what she'd done. The look he gave her as he entered the room with Tegan could hardly be described as friendly. Evidently he'd already been informed of the purpose behind this impromptu meeting of the Order. "What else do you recall, Claire?" Gideon asked her now. "You said you saw chemistry equipment and tables lined with laboratory supplies." She nodded. "Yes, there were microscopes, computers and beakers, and lots of chemical vials. It all seemed very state of the art, but I couldn't tell you what kind of experiments were being conducted there." "And past the lab there were the barred cells," Gideon prompted.

"Yes. Rows of cells containing captive women. Breedmates. Some of them were pregnant." Claire felt Andreas's gaze fixed on her as she spoke. It burned, the way he stared at her in simmering silence from across the room. "To hear Roth speak, I got the distinct impression that the Breedmates were being given to the creature." "For mating purposes," Gideon said, sending a grim look in Tegan's direction. "A new generation of Breed males, spawned off an Ancient." Claire relived the sick feeling she'd had after seeing them and hearing what Roth had told her. "He said he'd been supplying Dragos with Breedmates since well before I met him, which was thirty years ago." "Jesus," Tegan hissed. "How many Gen Ones could he create over the course of a few decades?" "If he had a continuous supply of Breedmates?" Gideon replied.

"I shudder to imagine." "And who's to say Roth was the only one supplying him?" Rio added gravely. He glanced over to Dylan. "How many missing persons' reports on Breedmates have you collected from the Darkhavens' records, babe?" "Going how far back?" she replied, her expression sober. "Although the numbers have increased significantly in recent times, we've found reports stretching back to the turn of the last century. That doesn't even count the number of women who vanish out of the human populations every year who might be Breedmates, as well." She turned to Claire to explain. "A few months ago, when Rio and I met, I discovered that my special talent is seeing dead people. Well, dead people who happen to be Breedmates, that is. I saw several at the shelter where my mom used to work. They asked me to help their captive sisters–to save them before he killed them all.

They told me there were more, still alive, being kept underground, in darkness. They gave me the name of their captor, too: Dragos." "Oh, my God," Claire whispered, astonished. "Finding them has become a bit of an obsession for me. Ever since then, we've been searching missing persons' records, trying to follow up on leads to see where some of these women might have last been seen, where they might have gone. Maybe we can find them. If we can save just one life, it will be worth it." "I will help you however I can," Claire said. "If I have to cover the entire length and breadth of the United States and Germany combined to find Wilhelm Roth and force him to give up Dragos, then I'll do it." Dylan smiled. "I like you already." "That's not a bad idea, you know." Gideon launched out of his swivel chair and jogged over to one of the large New England maps that hung on the wall. He pointed to a red pin stuck into a location near the New York and Connecticut border. "We know where Dragos has been seen recently. We know that he once had a residence in New York under one of his aliases. If we start searching in this region and sweep out toward the coast, maybe we'll find something." He looked at Claire.

"It's too close to dawn to do anything tonight yet, but would you be willing to come along on a recon sweep and use your blood bond to see if you can get a reading on Roth's whereabouts?" "Of course." She pretended she couldn't hear the low, barely audible growl that emanated from Andreas's direction. He could try to dissuade her, but her mind was made up. She was in this battle now, too, no matter if he liked it or not. "I can be ready anytime."