Midnight Awakening (Chapter Twenty-eight)

They slept most of the trip back to Boston, Elise contentedly curled up in Tegan's arms. He'd told her that the Minion who attacked her at Irina's was dead. He'd also informed her that the human mind slave was just one of several in Berlin who'd been given orders by Marek to hunt her down. Elise had accepted the news with her usual calm understanding, but Tegan couldn't help holding her a bit tighter as she dozed across his lap.

Marek was a treacherous enemy. He'd been a formidable warrior, ruthless in battle, often unnecessarily cruel. Tegan had known Lucan's elder brother well, had trusted him with his life more than once on the field. They'd fought side by side in the Old Times, when the Breed was young and trouble with Rogues was commonplace. Marek had been one of the original members of the Order, but he'd always been the renegade. He balked at his younger brother's command–Lucan was founder of the warrior class and a natural-born leader, two things Marek seemed unable to accept. Impatience and arrogance were Marek's strongest traits, and the two things that prevented him from getting the respect he felt he deserved.

The fact that he'd been presumed dead for so long–some six centuries–only to resurface in Boston with obvious plans to target the Order, seemed to indicate that Marek had somehow learned to bide his time. He'd shown great patience in staying hidden as long as he had, and Tegan had no doubt that the vampire had been using those years to his benefit. He had a plan, and he was slowly but surely putting it into motion. That the name Dragos was suddenly in the mix, along with the Odolfs' cryptic ramblings, hinted at trouble of a very old nature.

Tegan flipped open the journal and read the strange passages again. It had to be a location, but where? And what did it signify?

That's where he's hiding, Odolf had blurted.

Tegan didn't think it referred to Marek. But could it possibly be Dragos? Or might it be someone else who wasn't even on the Order's radar yet?

Whatever Marek was after, and whatever secret it was that haunted Petrov Odolf and his kin, it did not bode well for anyone.

As the jet touched down in Boston, Tegan phoned the compound and told Gideon to assemble the others for a meeting. They were going to have to rout out Marek, wherever he'd run to, and make sure that the Order stayed one step ahead of him.

One of his Minions was dead, according to the latest report out of Berlin. Marek was enraged to lose another of his pawns, but since the human had failed to carry out his task, Marek could only hope that the Minion was made to suffer in his final moments of life. The savagery of the killing left little doubt that he had suffered greatly, his body broken and bloodied almost beyond recognition. And that fact was surprising in itself, considering the Minion's executioner had most certainly been Tegan. He had killed the Minion that Marek had dispatched to get rid of the Darkhaven female–not with the immaculate, cold efficiency the warrior was known for, but with a clearly evidenced rage.

Tegan had killed with a vengeance.

That he'd acted in retaliation over the female could mean only one thing: Tegan cared for her.

Marek could hardly wait for the chance to exploit that weakness in the warrior. He'd nearly destroyed Tegan once through his love of a woman; how gratifying it would be to use this new affection to finally finish him off for good.

How satisfying it would be to finish off all the Order, and to assume his rightful place as the ruler of all the Breed. It was what he'd been working toward all along, a plan that had required more patience than Marek had thought himself capable of.

He'd been dreaming of his crowning moment for centuries–ever since the warrior Dragos had confided in him a powerful, damning secret.

Marek got up from his desk and paced to the tall window that overlooked a moonlit Berkshires valley in the distance. The woods were thick out here, as dense as any medieval forest. The landscape reminded him of the Old Times, his thoughts returning to the Order's long-ago past.

Back then, a war had been raging within the vampire nation. It pitted father against son, except the fathers in this scenario were the band of vicious otherworlders–the Ancients, alien creatures who arrived on Earth thousands of years ago and preyed on human blood for their survival. Their eventual sons, the hybrid progeny born of alien seed carried by human mothers, formed the first generation of the Breed. Marek, Lucan, and Tegan were among those rare Gen One sons. They saw firsthand the savagery perpetrated by the Ancients on humankind, the wholesale slaughter of entire villages at times, lives lost to ravenous vampire appetites. The carnage had never disturbed Marek the way it did his younger brother.

While Lucan despised the terror the Ancients delivered, Marek often indulged in it himself. The power to stir panic and kill without recourse was heady stuff, and more than once he wondered why the Breed shouldn't simply enslave their human Hosts and claim the planet for their own. Marek had been feeding those seeds of discontent to the Ancients for some time when all of his plans were thrown into a tailspin.

In a fit of Bloodlust, his alien sire took the life of Marek and Lucan's mother. The creature slaughtered her, and Lucan, claiming justice, took the vampire's head in exchange. With that killing of an Ancient, Lucan declared war on the remaining few like him and any who served them. Lucan formed the Order, pulling Marek into the fold as well, along with Tegan and five other Gen One vampires all pledged to end the mass carnage and start a new way of life for the Breed.

Such noble, lofty intentions.

Marek could hardly contain his derisive chuckle, even now. He hadn't been the only one of the Order to bristle at Lucan's vision of a peaceful coexistence with humankind. Another warrior, Dragos, eventually confided in Marek that he had different ideas for the future of the Breed.

And even more intriguing, he'd actually taken steps to ensure that future.

While the Order waged war on the surviving Ancients, hunting them down one by one in a battle that took years to complete, one of those deadly creatures remained.

Dragos and his alien sire had made a pact. Instead of killing the vampire, Dragos had helped to hide him away.

It wasn't until sometime later, after Dragos was mortally injured in combat, that he chose to spill his secret to Marek. But the bastard wouldn't surrender all of it. Dragos refused to give Marek the location of the crypt where the Ancient slept in a state of prolonged hibernation.

Marek's rage over that omission had been uncontrollable. He put a blade to Dragos's neck, and with one furious blow, he sent the vampire– and that crucial bit of information–to the grave.

Marek had gone after the only other person who might have been of use to him: Dragos's Breedmate Kassia. But the female was shrewd, and in the moment her mate perished at Marek's hand, she must have known the same danger would soon be coming to her doorstep.

By the time Marek arrived at Dragos's castle to drain the secret out of her–literally, as it were–Kassia had thwarted him by taking her own life.

In the time since, Marek had been on a single-minded quest to find Dragos's secret. He'd willingly tortured and killed for it. He'd long ago tossed away his honor, pretended his own death, and betrayed his kin, all for the chance to be the one to unleash the ancient terror and use it to serve his own whims.

Finally, after an endless time of searching, he'd recently come upon the first truly useful clue: it was the name of Odolf, a Breed family from the Old Times who'd had ties with Dragos's mate, Kassia. She had given them something of great worth all those centuries ago, but not even torture had given Marek the answers he needed.

And now the Order was getting closer to the truth every moment. Marek's jaw clamped tight at the thought. He hadn't worked this hard, waited this long, just to let everything slip through his fingers. He refused to consider it might even be a possibility.

He was going to win.

The real battle was only beginning.

A few minutes after they arrived at the compound, Tegan showed Elise to his quarters so she could shower and relax while he headed for the tech lab, where the Order had assembled at his request. As he walked in, Lucan gave him a knowing nod from where he stood next to Gideon at the bank of computers. Niko, Kade, and Brock sat around the table at the center of the room, the two newbies fitting right in as they traded gibes with Dante and Chase about the week's Rogue tallies and which of them had the sharper eye.

But it was the sight of Rio that made Tegan's mouth lift in surprise and satisfaction. The Spaniard leaned against the back wall of the lab, apart from the others, broody but alert. Determination rolled off him like an electrical charge. He lifted his chin to acknowledge Tegan's arrival, the scarred side of his face stretching taut with his grim smile.

The once-lively topaz eyes were flinty now, sober as the grave.

Tegan looked at his brethren, some of whom had fought at his side for centuries, others who had yet to be truly tested, and he couldn't help feeling a sense of pride to be included among their ranks. For a long time, he'd thought of himself as being alone in this war. Sure, Lucan and the others always had his back, as he had theirs, but Tegan fought every battle as if it belonged to him alone.

He'd lived every day wallowing in his own dark isolation…until a courageous beauty taught him not to fear the light. Now that he'd found her, he wanted to make sure the darkness he'd known would never touch her.

And that meant keeping her safe from Marek.

What's the word out of Petrov Odolf? Lucan asked as Tegan set his duffel bag of gear down on the table.

Most of the time, the word is crazy. The rest of the time, he's catatonic. Tegan pulled out the handwritten pages they'd gotten from Irina. He handed them to Lucan. Before he went Rogue, Odolf had been writing compulsively and in secret. Evidently his brother, who also went Rogue sometime before him, had been obsessed with a similar habit. Look familiar?

Shit. The same thing we found in the journal Marek was after.

Tegan nodded. Odolf said something odd in one of his rare moments of clarity. When Elise and I asked him what the riddle meant, he said, That's where he's hiding.'

That's where who's hiding? Gideon asked, taking the pages from Lucan and giving them a quick visual scan. He read one of the verses aloud. Does this reference some kind of location?

Maybe. Odolf wouldn't say. Maybe he doesn't know. Tegan shrugged. That's all he gave us, just started rambling after that. We didn't get any further with him.

Dante came out of his loose recline at the table, putting his feet down on the floor with a thump. Whatever it means, it's big enough to get Marek's interest. No good ever came out of that. And he's willing to kill anyone who gets in his way, Tegan added. After he found out we were in Berlin, Marek put out orders to some of his Minions in the city to kill Elise. One of them got damn close.

Son of a bitch, Lucan hissed, his features hardening in anger.

She injured the bastard and thankfully managed to get away. That night I went out and finished him off. Tegan felt Chase's stare from across the room, and he turned a sincere look on the male. Elise has become…very precious to me. I'm not about to let anything happen to her. I'd give my life to keep her safe.

Chase looked at him for a long while, then he nodded tightly. What about the glyph you found in the journal? That symbol belonged to one of the first warriors, didn't it–a Gen One male called Dragos?

Yeah, Tegan said. There's got to be a connection, but I'm not sure what it is. I know Dragos is dead. Lucan can vouch for that since he saw the body.

The Order's leader inclined his head in agreement. His Breedmate saw it too. Evidently seeing her mate dead must have been too much for Kassia. That same night, she took her own life.

Nikolai grunted. So, what have we got to work with here? Our own Romeo and Juliet scenario, a batshit Rogue talking riddles, a dead- end glyph scribbled into the margin of a musty old book, and Marek somehow in the middle of it all.

Get to Marek, and you'll start getting answers, Dante put in, his voice low and deadly.

Tegan nodded. Right. But first we need to find him. No hard leads there, Gideon said. He's gone deep underground since we ran up against him last summer.

So we hunt him down like the vermin he is, Rio snarled. We root him out and smoke the son of a bitch.

Tegan glanced over at Lucan, who was absorbing the conversation in stoic silence. Amid the talk of enemies and battles to come, it was sometimes easy to forget that Lucan and Marek were blood kin. You cool with all this?

The silver stare that held Tegan's eyes was unwavering. Whatever Marek is up to, he has to be stopped. The question isn't if, but when. And by any means.