Midnight Awakening (Chapter Ten)

Elise fought to keep pace with Tegan as they cut down one dark street, then another. She knew he was slowed by her; no human was any match for the incredible speed that those of the Breed possessed. The Rogue who was fresh on their trail was deadly fast too. No sooner did Tegan end his call to the compound than he spotted the new threat on their heels.

This way, he said, grabbing for her hand and pulling her onto a narrow lane between two Colonial-era buildings.

Behind them, Elise heard heavy boot falls, then sudden, empty silence, followed a second later by a hard metallic clank. She threw a glance over her shoulder and saw that another Rogue was onto them now. The large vampire had gone airborne, leaping up and landing on a metal fire escape that clung to the side of the old brick structure. It leaped again, then swung up onto the roof to track them from above.

Tegan–up there!

I know.

His voice was grim, his hand clamped firmly around hers as they neared the end of the lane. That grip was solid as iron, an unspoken promise that he was not about to let go of her. Elise drew from his strength, forcing her legs to work harder, ignoring her screaming lungs and the burn in her arm where the Rogue who attacked her had laced her open.

As they cleared the lane and spilled out onto the adjacent street, a dark SUV came roaring up from the traffic light and pulled a hard, skidding stop in front of them at the slushy curb. The back door flew open.

Get in. Tegan let go only to push her into the vehicle, and Elise scrambled onto the leather bench seat, her heart pounding in her chest. In a move so fast it hardly registered to her, he pivoted around, drew a dagger, and let it fly down the alleyway. From somewhere in the darkness came a shout of pain, then the low, anguished howl of a Rogue meeting its demise at the end of Tegan's titanium blade.

Tegan ped into the SUV next to Elise and slammed the back door shut. Make us gone, Dante. There's more on the way. Coming at us from above–

At that instant something heavy hit the roof of the vehicle. In a peal of screeching tires, Dante threw the SUV into reverse, dislodging the Rogue onto the hood. A fast zigzagging maneuver threw it off the car completely, and as the feral vampire came up from its roll on the street, the leather-clad warrior in the passenger seat leaned out his open window and filled the Rogue with a merciless hail of bullets. The warrior squeezing the trigger shouted a coarse battle cry as a seemingly endless blast of gunfire ripped like thunder into the night.

When it finally ceased, Dante exhaled a wry oath. Just a tad excessive there, buddy. But I think the suckhead got your point.

There was no answering humor from the grim one seated next to Dante, only the cold metallic clack and grate of a weapon being reloaded.

You okay? Tegan asked from beside Elise, drawing her attention away from the violence.

She nodded, breathing too hard to speak, fear still making her heart race within her breast. She was too aware of Tegan's body next to her, the heat of him an odd comfort. His muscled thigh pressed alongside hers, his arm slung casually over the back of the bench seat behind her. Elise knew that propriety demanded she put space between them, but she was too shaken to make herself move.

And as the SUV sped into the night, her mind absorbed the din of the city's corruption, her talent cracking her wide open.

Come here, Tegan murmured. He pressed his palm lightly to her brow, trancing her with a touch and silencing her pain before it could really begin. His hands were gentle on her, even though his face was dispassionately cool. Is that better?

She couldn't hold back her relieved sigh. Yes, much better.

It took him a moment to draw his hand away. When he did, Elise felt a pair of eyes fixed on her from the front passenger side of the vehicle. She glanced up and met the measuring stare of the warrior seated there. The blue gaze was intense beneath the light brows and black knit cap, but not quite friendly.

Dear Lord.

Sterling, she whispered, astonished.

He said nothing, the silence stretching interminably.

She hadn't seen him for four months–not since Camden's death that terrible night outside their home. Sterling had walked off alone that night, the last anyone at the Darkhavens had heard from him. Elise knew he blamed himself for taking Camden's life–she had too. That blame was misplaced, however, and seeing him so unexpectedly now made her heart ache to tell him how sorry she was…for everything.

But the eyes that once looked at her with noble compassion, even affection, now dismissed her with a slow blink and a turn of his head. Sterling Chase was no longer her brother-by- marriage. He was a warrior, and if she hoped to reclaim him as her ally–as her last remaining kin–that hope bled away as the SUV roared out of the city, toward the Order's headquarters.

Is Lucan still topside? Tegan asked as Gideon met him and the others upon their arrival at the compound.

He came in from patrol about twenty minutes ago. Decided to stick around after you called in.

Good. I need to see him. The tech lab?

Gideon shook his head. He's in his quarters with Gabrielle. What the hell is going on, T?

See that she gets medical help for that wound, he said instead of answering, gesturing to Elise's bloodied arm and already heading off with the book she'd intercepted, down the corridor toward Lucan's private apartments in the compound.

He found the Gen One leader of the Order in the room his Breedmate favored most: the library study that was lined with floor-to-ceiling bookcases and a handcrafted tapestry depicting Lucan himself in chain mail armor and astride a rearing medieval warhorse beneath a cloud-streaked crescent moon. There was a hilltop castle burning in the background, its parapet smoking and under siege– a declaration of war instigated by Lucan.

Tegan remembered the night represented in the intricately rendered needlework. He remembered the carnage that had come before. And afterward. He'd been there with Lucan when the Order was conceived in blood and fury–the two of them and six others banding together in a pledge to fight for the future of their race, the Breed. Jesus, that had been a lifetime ago. Several lifetimes ago.

A lot of death had followed the Order to this moment, both within their ranks and without. Most of the original warriors were lost to time and combat. Only Tegan, Lucan, and Lucan's elder brother Marek–now their most dangerous adversary, having recently resurfaced to anoint himself leader of the Rogues–had survived of the original cadre of eight.

As Tegan paused in the open doorway of the library, Lucan looked up from an array of color photographs that Gabrielle spread out before him on the squat table in the center of the room. She had a gift that extended beyond her artist's eye for beauty: Gabrielle's camera lens was often drawn to vampire locations, both Breed and Rogue. It was in part how she and Lucan met the past summer; now it wasn't unusual for the Breedmate to return from occasional daytime outings to the city and suburbs with pictures that proved useful to the Order's recon efforts topside.

But this particular collection was something different.

Even from a distance, Tegan's eye was drawn to vibrant, sunlit images of the mansion's winter grounds and gardens. Ice glistened on branches like diamonds, and in one of the shots a red cardinal was captured close-up, a blast of shocking color amid a field of fresh white snow. A few of the pictures were taken in the city, some showing children in one of the area parks, bundled up in bright snowsuits, rolling large snowballs for a family of snowmen that stood half-completed nearby.

All things that those of the Breed didn't often get a chance to see, the warriors especially. Lucan's woman had taken the photos simply for his pleasure, bringing him images of a vivid daylight world that existed just out of his reach.

Tegan glanced away from the pictures with a mental shrug; it didn't feel right for him to share in this joy. It didn't belong to him, and he sure as hell hadn't come here looking for warm fuzzies.

Not like you to call in the cavalry, Tegan, Lucan drawled. There had been a smile lingering in the formidable warrior's gray eyes as he met Tegan's gaze from across the room, but he sobered instantly. We have new trouble coming our way?

It could be.

The Gen One leader of the Order nodded gravely, understanding from a single exchanged look that the night was about to head south.

Way south, Tegan thought. He held the curious journal under his arm, but ancient protocol made him hesitant to discuss potentially disturbing Order business in front of a female. It did not escape his notice that instead of getting up from the room or requesting privacy from Gabrielle, Lucan reached out to take her hand in his. The slight nod he gave her as she sat back down beside him was one of respect and solidarity.

The statement was clear: they were a unit, and while Lucan would walk through fire to protect her, the venerable warrior kept no secrets from her. No doubt the female would have it no other way.

It had been like that between the couple from the day she arrived at the compound as Lucan's mate. The same could be said of Gideon and Savannah, who were paired more than thirty years and an equally solid match. Dante and Tess were two halves of one whole as well, though they had only been together a few short months. Breedmates had their freedoms, even those bonded to members of the Order, but there wasn't a male among the entire vampire nation who would stand by and condone what Elise had been doing the past few months she'd been living topside. What she intended to keep on doing, even if it killed her.

Tell me what this is about, Lucan said, indicating for Tegan to come into the library chamber. Gideon said you phoned in that you were with an injured Darkhaven female.

Tegan arched a brow in acknowledgment. Elise Chase. No longer of the Darkhavens, as it turns out.

She left?

After the death of her son. She's been living in the city by herself.

Jesus. What happened to her tonight?

Tegan smirked, still disbelieving the woman's tenacity. She attracted some unwanted attention from the Rogues. They came gunning for her at her apartment.

He left out the fact that one of the bastards got to her before he could stop it. The thought still burned in him, self-directed anger seething beneath his cool veneer.

Gabrielle frowned. What would they want with Elise?

This. Tegan held the book out and Lucan took it, scowling as he touched the faded tooling on the aged cover, then flipped through some of the yellowed pages. It was waiting for overnight pickup by a Minion. Somebody was in a big rush to have it.

Lucan's look was grave. No question as to who the somebody was.

And the Darkhaven woman?

She intercepted it. Christ. What about Marek's human mule?

The Minion is dead, Tegan stated simply. Marek must have gotten wind of that fact and unleashed his hounds to retrieve the book. It would have been easy enough to track down Elise from the store's closed-circuit feed.

What is it, some kind of diary? Gabrielle asked, peering past Lucan at the fanning pages.

Appears to be, Tegan said. Apparently it belonged to a family named Odolf. You ever hear of them, Lucan?

The vampire shook his dark head as he ran through the journal again. Before Tegan could direct him to the disturbing symbol at the back of the text, Lucan flipped to the page himself. As soon as his eye lit upon the hand-drawn dermaglyphic marking, he muttered a curse. Holy hell. Is this what I think it is?

Tegan gave a grim nod. No doubt you recognize the pattern.

Dragos, Lucan said, a dark weight hanging on that one word.

Who is Dragos? Gabrielle asked, peering past Lucan at the glyph scrawled onto the page.

Dragos is a very old Breed name, Lucan explained. He was one of the original members of the Order–a first generation vampire. Like Tegan and me, Dragos was sired by one of the ancient creatures who began the vampire race as we know it. Dragos fought alongside us when the Order declared war on our alien fathers.

Gabrielle nodded, showing no surprise or confusion. Evidently Lucan had already filled her in on the otherworldly origins of the Breed, as well as the bloody war that arose within the Breed during the fourteenth century of the human era.

It was a tumultuous time, rife with treachery and violence–most of it carried out by the long- lived, savage creatures from a distant planet who prowled the night and fed without discretion, sometimes wiping out entire villages of humankind. The Ancients were ravenous and brutal, supremely powerful. Without the Order to intervene, they'd been a bloodthirsty pestilence that made even the worst Rogue look like a misbehaving frat boy.

Gabrielle's gaze went from Lucan to Tegan. What happened to Dragos?

Killed in battle a few years into the war with the Ancients, Tegan supplied.

Can you be sure of that? she asked. Until last summer, everyone believed that Marek was dead too…

Lucan gave a firm nod. Dragos is dead, love. I saw his body with my own eyes. None of the Breed can resurrect when their head is taken.

Tegan recalled that night as well. It was a moment that marked many losses, starting with Dragos's Breedmate, who took her own life upon hearing the news of his death. Kassia had been a good, caring woman, as close as a sister to Sorcha. It wasn't long after Kassia's death that Tegan lost Sorcha as well. Dark times that he preferred not to think on, even now. He'd learned to suppress the pain, but he still had so many memories…

Tegan sharply cleared his throat. Which brings us back to the name Odolf. Who is it? And what can it mean to Marek?

Maybe Gideon can turn something up in the IID, Lucan suggested, handing the book back to Tegan as he got to his feet. The database isn't a complete record, but it's all we've got.

You two run your search, Gabrielle interjected when they reached the corridor outside. I'm going to check in on Elise. It sounds like she's been through a lot tonight. Maybe she could use some company and something to eat.

Lucan's eyes darkened as he held his woman's gaze. He whispered something low in her ear, then pressed a kiss to her lips. There was a faint pink tint to her cheeks as she broke the embrace.

Tegan glanced away from the exchange and started the trek toward Gideon's lab. Lucan was behind him in no time, Gabrielle heading in the opposite direction to look for Elise.

It was impossible not to notice the calm that enveloped the warrior whenever he was around his Breedmate. Not that long ago, Lucan had been a powder keg just looking for an open flame. He'd pretended an iron control, but Tegan knew him longer than any of the others at the compound, and he knew that Lucan had been only a few steps away from total disaster.

Bloodlust was the fatal flaw of all the Breed–a tipping point that could push even the most stable vampire over the edge into a permanent addiction. All of the Breed needed to consume blood to survive, but some took it too far. Some turned Rogue, and it had stunned Tegan to discover that Lucan was teetering on the very knife-edge of that abyss. He'd been nearly lost.

Until Gabrielle.

She grounded him somehow, gave Lucan what he needed through their blood bond, yet trusted him not to fall. She'd saved the warrior, and it was clear that she continued to do so every moment they shared together.

You're well mated, Tegan said as Lucan caught up to him and strode along at his side in the corridor.

He'd meant it in praise, but it came out sounding harsh, almost an accusation. Lucan didn't seem surprised by the rough tone, but he didn't rise to the bait like he might have at one time either. I think about you and Sorcha sometimes, when I look at Gabrielle and imagine what my life would be like without her. It's sure as hell not a place I like to visit often. How you ever got through it–

It passes, Tegan murmured, a bit too tightly even to his own ears. And the only ghost I'm interested in talking about right now is Dragos.

Lucan dropped the subject as the two of them entered the tech lab. Gideon was at his usual post behind the long console, keying something into one of the many computers. What've you got? he asked the moment they strode in, his eyes and fingers never leaving his task.

Tegan put the airbill and journal down on the table. Need you to check the origin of this package, but first run a search of the IID records for the name Odolf.

You got it. The vampire grabbed a wireless keyboard, dropped it into his lap, and started typing. Am I looking for criminal records, birth records, death records…?

Any of the above, Tegan said, watching the monitor screen fill with a scrolling list of data. It kept running and running, turning up zilch. Then one record stuck at the top of the screen while the program scrolled for more results. You got one?

Deceased, Gideon replied. A one Reinhardt Odolf, of the Munich Darkhaven. Went Rogue in May 1946. Deceased the following year by solar suicide. Another entry, this one for Alfred Odolf, lost to Bloodlust in 1981. Hans Odolf, Bloodlust, 1993. A couple of missing persons on record…here's one more for you: Petrov Odolf, Berlin Darkhaven. Lucan moved in to get a better look at the computer. Also deceased?

Actually no. Not yet, anyway. Petrov Odolf, institutionalized for rehabilitation. According to the record, this boy's been Rogue for the past few years and a ward of the Enforcement Agency in Germany.

Is he coherent? Tegan demanded. Can he be questioned? More importantly, can his answers be trusted to be valid?

Gideon shook his head. The record's not complete about his current condition, other than he's breathing and under the supervision of the institution in Berlin.

Berlin, eh? Lucan turned a questioning look on Tegan. Think you can call in any favors over there?

Tegan turned away from the monitor and pulled out his cell phone. Guess it's as good a time as any to find out.