Edge of Dawn (Chapter Twenty-Nine)

MIRA GAPED IN ASTONISHMENT AS CROWE'S PUNCTURED throat and chest repaired themselves in a matter of instants.

Who – or what – was he?

Whatever the answer, there seemed to be no stopping him.

But that didn't keep Kellan from trying.

He launched himself at Crowe, a full-body assault that sent both males slamming into the side of the stairwell door of the service building on the roof. The heavy steel panel crushed inward with the impact, groaning on its industrial-grade hinges.

Crowe chuckled. "Not used to being beaten by someone lesser than your own Breed, are you, warrior? That would be your mistake, assuming I was anything less than your equal."

Kellan went at him again, throwing Crowe into the side of the rooftop building. For all the good it did. Crowe wheeled around in midair, taking Kellan with him. He thrust forward, propelling them both into a frightening tumble across the wide plain of asphalt, nearly to the edge.

"Your kind is an abomination. Bastards, born of mixed blood between the ones you called Ancients and the female halflings spawned by humans and the profane defectors of my own race. The Breed does not deserve to inhabit this planet, no more than the humans do. Your Ancient forebears thought they'd defeated us when they drove us from our own world, down to this crude rock. They thought they'd won again when they hunted us here and destroyed our perfect Atlantis, forcing our queen into exile. But we've only been waiting for our chance to rise again. We will have it, and soon. The wheels are already in motion."

Mira listened as she scrambled for a way to help Kellan defeat Crowe. She'd heard the theories over the past couple of decades that Breedmates like her were the offspring of an immortal race who'd built a civilization human legends would eventually call Atlantis. Jenna's journals back at the Order's headquarters archives were filled with entries about that stunning probability. But no one had ever knowingly been face-to-face with an Atlantean until now.

The things Crowe was saying, the revelation that his kind had not only survived the destruction of Atlantis but were flourishing in secret, plotting their own war, was astonishing. It was terrifying. The prospect of war with another immortal race put a marrow-deep shiver in Mira's bones.

But her more immediate concern was keeping Kellan alive.

Her blades were of no help in slowing Crowe down, so Mira grabbed for her pistol. She knew bullets were hardly a sure thing in this fight either, but it was all she had.

If only she could find a clear shot.

Kellan and Crowe fought hand to hand, alternating between bone-crushing fists and violent body slams. They moved so fast, each gifted with a speed that was nothing close to human, Mira could hardly track them, let alone get a decent opportunity to fire on Crowe. She couldn't risk hitting Kellan. She'd seen him shot already today. She didn't have the heart to be the one pulling the trigger if he was in her line of fire.

After several aborted aims, she realized there was nothing for her to do but join in the fray.

She jumped on Crowe, tried to get her gun flush and steady against his head. One bullet into his head hadn't slowed him down, but she was prepared to squeeze off the entire magazine if he'd hold still long enough for her to attempt it.

She didn't get the chance to pull the trigger.

Crowe reared back and threw her off. He dropped his hold on Kellan, shifting around to face her as she fell to the rough asphalt of the rooftop and her gun clattered out of her grasp. Crowe fumed now, his features seeming to tighten across the bones of his face.

He looked utterly inhuman. Unearthly. She realized only now how true that observation was.

With a snarl, Crowe seized her, yanking her up off the ground and bringing her around in front of him like a shield. Kellan had her gun raised on Crowe, but somehow Crowe had acted equally fast, having retrieved a weapon off one of his fallen security detail before Mira had even registered his movements.

He put the cold nose of the pistol against Mira's temple as he started backing toward his waiting helicopter.

"Put her down," Kellan commanded.

"Oh, I don't think so." Crowe kept retreating, edging closer to the aircraft. The breeze off the slowly rotating blades stirred Mira's hair, sent wisps loose from her braid and blew them across her face.

She stared at Kellan, imploring him with her eyes, hoping he'd see that she wanted him to take his shot. Hoping he'd feel through their blood bond that she wasn't afraid. She trusted he could hit Crowe.

Do it. Take this bastard out before he reaches that bird.

She saw Kellan's finger tighten on the trigger. Felt his pulse kick with fear of harming her and the icy need to kill the one holding her. But at the last moment Kellan shifted his aim, shooting past Crowe and hitting his pilot.

The human rocked back in his seat with the impact before slumping down over the controls. The engine choked, and the blades lost some of their speed.

Crowe barked a laugh, unfazed. "You think after a few thousand years on this chunk of stone I haven't learned to fly your crude machinery? Please." He was still backing up, preparing to make his escape and keeping a firm hold on Mira the whole way.

She couldn't do much to get loose. His grip was iron around her middle. The metal nose of the gun bored into her right temple like ice. She swallowed her mounting panic as her ears filled with the steady chop-chop-chop of the rotor coming closer.

"A pity I'll only get to kill one of you before I have to go," Crowe taunted at Kellan. "I guess it'll have to be you."

Mira felt Crowe's muscles twitch nearly imperceptibly as he readied to take aim on Kellan. The instant the pressure eased from her temple, Mira broke loose from Crowe's hold and knocked his arm up, twisting out of his reach at the same time. She felt the sudden force of something heavy hitting him. Heard the low crunch as the propeller blade took his hand off at the wrist.

Crowe staggered, mouth slack as he gaped at his severed limb.

Then he looked back to Mira.

Something strange crossed his features as he stared into her eyes. He no longer seemed to notice the terrible wound that wasn't healing itself. His lost hand lay on the asphalt next to his gun, blood pumping down his forearm and onto the black rooftop. And yet Crowe stared at her eyes, utterly transfixed.

Her eyes . . .

She felt the tickle of one of her lenses where it clung to her cheek. It must have popped out during the struggle, unveiling the hypnotic mirror of her iris. Crowe didn't seem able to tear himself away from her gaze.

But he was still drifting backward, his steps sluggish now that he was caught in the power of her visions.

She didn't know what he saw.

She didn't think she'd want to know.

And in that next instant, it no longer mattered.

Crowe – or whatever his true, Atlantean name was – stumbled back on his heels. He was too close to the blades. Too tall, when the slowing rotors had started to droop with their loss of momentum.

Crowe turned his head then, almost as if some stronger part of his subconscious recognized the threat his waking mind couldn't see under the spell of Mira's gaze. He glanced behind him . . . just as the helicopter blade swung toward him, cleaving his head away from his neck.

Mira averted her eyes, but it was impossible to shut out the horror of what just happened.

Then, as Crowe's body crumpled to the ground, a bright light began to swell inside him. It rushed through his limbs and poured out of his neck, intense and pure and otherworldly. And in the center of his intact palm, a symbol began to take shape, illuminated from within.

It was in the shape of a teardrop falling into the cradle of a crescent moon.

The same symbol Mira and every other Breedmate bore as a birthmark somewhere on their bodies.

There could be no doubting it now.

The Atlanteans were real, the otherworldly fathers of the Breedmates.

The Atlanteans were alive, an unknown number of them, hiding in secret with their banished queen. Lying in wait for their chance to rise up against the Breed and mankind.

They were immortal and deadly.

They were the enemy.

Lucan crashed through the battered door of the rooftop service stairwell, Darion and Nathan right behind him. It seemed the only feasible place for Crowe to have fled, but the situation that greeted Lucan at the top of the GNC building was nothing he would have expected.

Mira and Kellan stood together in the darkness, she wrapped tightly around the Breed male, her blond head nestled into his chest, his muscled arms holding her close.

Two of Crowe's uniformed security men lay dead on the black asphalt in front of him. Across the way, a helicopter idled, its pilot slumped forward in his seat, engine winding down to an unmanned stop.

And lying under the slowing rotor blades, the headless body of Reginald Crowe.

Lucan stared, uncertain if he was seeing right, as a glow that seemed to light Crowe's limbs and torso from within now faded away before his eyes.

Behind Lucan, both Dare and Nathan murmured their disbelief.

Lucan glanced back to Mira and Kellan. "What the hell just happened?"

As the pair began explaining, more of the Order arrived behind Nathan and Dare. The younger teams, and the warriors who'd been with Lucan nearly from the start of the Order's founding. Gabrielle and the other Breedmates soon arrived as well, until Lucan found himself surrounded by the kith and kin who meant the most to him.

They all listened in silent astonishment as Mira and Kellan described what Crowe had done, who he was . . . and the things the immortal had revealed in his final breaths.

That Mira and Kellan had defeated Crowe by themselves was commendable, even if the leader in Lucan wanted to take the pair to task for the maverick move undertaken without his knowledge or permission. Perhaps that was the rebel in Kellan, the leader unafraid to charge to the head of any battle. God knew, Mira had never been known for her willingness to color within the lines.

Tonight they had been a united front. A team of two, stronger together. It felt right, seeing them joined as a mated couple. A partnership that had been tested more than most, and hard-won.

Lucan walked over and extended his hand to them, first to Mira, whom he couldn't resist dragging into a brief embrace, feeling fatherly and proud of the little girl who had become such a valuable member of the Order's team. As they drew apart, Lucan clasped her hand in his firm grasp. "You honor us well, warrior."

To Kellan, he gave a nod of gratitude as he shook the Breed male's strong hand. "You as well," he said. "Maybe there's a place for a rebel ghost within the Order's ranks after all."

Kellan grinned, drawing Mira a bit closer to his side as he nodded in acceptance of Lucan's offer.

Lucan looked at them, then at his son and the younger warriors surrounding him. He was looking at the shape of the Order's future. A new generation, already stepping up to the plate.

And they would be needed, all of them.

Lucan glanced down at Reginald Crowe, realizing he was looking at something new there too: an enemy the Order had never confronted before, one that was clearly playing by its own set of rules now.

"What happened here tonight marks a new beginning," he told the men and women of the Order standing with him under the dark night sky. "This marks a new war . . . one we must win."

A round of agreeing voices answered him, grim faces filled with determination and fire.

Lucan met each fierce gaze, man and woman alike. "From this moment forward, we play by our own rules. Whatever it takes, whatever the cost. Our new mission begins now."