There's a Fine Line Ch. 13byMazuri©
A/N: Let me start this note by thanking you all for your patience. This chapter has been delayed due to my participation in NaNoWriMo, a writing exercise/contest that occurs every November and encourages authors to attempt to write a novel with the goal of 50,000 words in 30 days. There are prizes, write-ins, pep talks...all in all it was an awesome experience which has created, for me, several exciting projects for the future. The weekend that NaNo was over, I avoided the computer. That first Monday of December, I started working feverishly on this chapter in an effort to get it out to everyone as soon as I could.
With that said, this is another graphically violent chapter as most will be for the foreseeable future. I want to thank my lovely beta readers, Jaisen and Mokkelke, as well as my editor, Archangel_M - all of whom busted their asses in helping me get this out quickly but without sacrificing quality. I hope you enjoy it.
"Alicia!" Blake's roar echoed up the deserted stairwell. He took the stairs at preternatural speed with Augustin close at his heels. If he had met anyone on the way other than his mate, that unsuspecting soul would have met a cruel and instant death. His fangs ached to tear into his enemy. His claws screeched with every contact with the metal handrail. One hundred floors sped by but he knew in the deepest, darkest chasm of a heart few believed existed that he'd be too late. The mephits had been nothing more than a distraction, used to keep him occupied and sever loose ends while others were sent to take his mate to their master.
The vampire burst through the door with enough force to rip it from its hinges. A quick glance of the short hall revealed nothing out of the ordinary so he sped into his apartment. Blake pulled up short in the doorway, shocked by what he saw. Or rather, by what he did not see. Though he gave the living room a frantic but thorough search, nothing appeared amiss beyond a single overturned chair. The scent of blood and brimstone wafted from the master bed chamber and he stalked forward, every move that of a skilled and deadly predator.
The bedroom was reminiscent of a war zone. Plaster, glass, and shattered furniture littered the once luxurious carpet. The hand-carved bed where he'd last seen his beloved mate was missing from the room and blood, both thick pools and dark smears, coated the walls, ceiling, and floor. Inhaling deeply, he cycled through the known scents and could not detect his mate's unique and heady aroma. Her blood had not been spilled in this room. Carefully stepping around the wreckage, he advanced on the gaping hole in the exterior wall which revealed the intruders' point of entry. The lack of debris from such an opening sent a frisson of fear straight to his un-beating heart. He knew of only two beings that could perform such a feat: his mate and her ancestor -- the demon general, Daevas Malphas.
With a gesture, August caught his attention and pointed to a smaller hole in the floor nearly hidden beneath the debris. Kneeling, Blake scanned what he could see of the empty office when the faint scent of his mate wafted to his sensitive nose. With a fierce growl, he dropped through to the floor below before his Child could advise greater caution. The elderly vampire quickly followed his Sire and their senses were assaulted by the overpowering stench in the confined space. Blood and gore coated the floor in a slick, viscous mess.
The vampires separated and searched the barren room for any hints as to what had happened. It was clear there had been a life-or-death struggle. Deep gouges marred a floor and the wall also scorched by hellfire. Bits of flesh, both human and demonic in appearance, provided bloody testimony that the fight wasn't altogether one-sided. Near the door that led to the hall lay gruesome evidence of the fate of at least one of his mate's guardians. A bloodied hand had been discarded as if it was mere trash. From the amount of flesh and blood beneath the clawed fingers, the vampire had fought valiantly against the creatures.
"Damnedable cockroaches!" Augustin hissed as he picked the lifeless hand off the floor. The shattered radius protruded from the gnawed flesh of the wrist and the marrow had been sucked from the bone. "If there was ever a creature that should be extinct, they are it. I'm not too familiar with his scent, but I believe this belongs to the newling, Francisco."
"Elizabeth will be most displeased."
Blake's deep crimson eyes locked onto the door as the fire alarm suddenly went silent. From somewhere in the hall, he could hear the muffled sound of a struggle interspersed with a pair of raised voices. Pulling his weapon and flipping the safety, the vampire silently moved to the door and eased it open. The hall was dark other than the harsh glare of the orange emergency lighting. The sprinklers sprayed a constant mist creating a hazy, otherworldly atmosphere in the deserted building. Nodding to his Child, Blake slipped into the hall and moved efficiently towards the sound, zig-zagging across the hall from doorway to doorway in an effort to gain some protection from potential ambush. It was in the third such doorway that he found a second gruesome remainder of his mate's dearest friend.
When August joined the seething vampire, Blake wordlessly handed the former monk a bloodied foot still encased in a shredded leather boot. This disembodied extremity also showed signs of the mephits' barbarous appetites with sections of the tibula gnawed in half in order to reach the juicy marrow inside. The flesh around the exposed bone was as shredded as the leather that surrounded the discarded foot. Though even a newling could recover from either of the wounds in time, regenerating the missing extremity with copious amounts of fresh blood, both might prove to be more than his body could handle.
They were two doors away from the public elevator when the sounds of struggle grew louder. Alicia's alluring scent was stronger here and Blake's fingers tightened on the grip of the pistol. Nodding to August, who also drew his weapon, the dark-haired vampire turned the knob and eased open the door a crack. Wind whistled through the room and blew the scent of brimstone though the open doorway. Blake entered first, stepping to the right of the door, and was followed by August to its left. As they crept around tall stacks of cardboard boxes and metal storage cabinets, the voice became louder. Neither belonged to the powerful vampire's mate.
Alicia's scent clung to a stack of boxed equipment and discarded office chairs along with the sickening stench of sulfur. The pale light of the coming dawn shone through the yawning tear through the exterior wall and reflected off the unending mist from the sprinklers. Blake suspected that his young mate had hoped to hide from the mephits who had destroyed her friend but had been found by the demon lord himself. Judging by the sounds in the room, he was going to get an opportunity to extract a confirmation of those suppositions.
In the faint light, a pair of mephits fought over a gruesome trophy: the disembodied head of Elizabeth's newling and Alicia's friend, Francisco. With a roar of fury, Blake leaped upon the closest mephit and sank both claws and fangs deep into the creature's back. The hellspawn shrieked in furious agony and beat its leathery wings in an effort to dislodge the vampire from its back. The second mephit chortled with glee as it snatched the bloody prize from the floor. It hopped on its short bowed legs towards the door with every intention of abandoning its fellow mephit to its dire fate. Augustin, on the other hand, had other -- more creative -- ideas.
Leaping around his savage Sire and the screeching creature, August tackled the remaining mephit and brought it to the floor with a hiss of glee. Francisco's head rolled to the far corner, his lifeless eyes staring sightlessly at their battle, his handsome face forever frozen in horrified agony. The sight of the newling's remains spurred the former monk's righteous fury, reminding him of another young vampire similarly destroyed so many centuries before. Claws slashed through the mephit's wings until they were little more than bloody ribbons attached to the body by thin strings of sinew and flesh.
"Where is she?" Blake's hiss reverberated eerily in the empty room as he methodically tore his prey apart. "Where is my mate, cockroach?"
Bloody claws dug into the skin and muscle that surrounded one wings joint and slowly contracted. The longer the mephit shrieked his pain but failed to answer the vampire's question, the tighter Blake's grip became until one wing popped free. Tossing the bloody thing into a corner, Blake dug into the second joint. The mephit's clawed hands and toes scrabbled at the floor, seeking purchase in the tile in an effort to escape the pain the apoplectic vampire was inflicting.
"Where is she, roach?" Changing tactics, the vampire pulled his bloody fingers from the creature's back and began systematically breaking every necessary bone in the remaining wing. When the mephit still refused to answer, he slashed at the thin, leathery membrane before digging his claws into its back muscles once more. "Where is she?!"
"He'll have her by now, vampire," the mephit sneered through its anguish. "The General isn't happy that you've diluted her blood. He'll make her pay for that. Pay with her blood. Pay with her body. Pay with her mind."
The creature's gleeful chortle ended on a scream of excruciating pain as the shredded and mangled wing was ripped from its back with a sickening squelch. Blake tossed the useless bit of flesh and bone into a corner and dug his claws into its upper thigh. One by one, the vampire snapped the mephit's femurs like twigs beneath his boot. The mephit clawed frantically at the ceramic tile but was no longer able to move its feet. Carelessly turning it onto its back, the vampire gave it a smile of sheer, undiluted menace. Grinning wickedly, Blake reached under the small loin cloth and wrapped his claws around the base of the creature's penis and testicles. The mephit's eyes grew wide as it whimpered and begged for mercy. His claws pierced the fragile skin as he slowly ripped the shriveled genitals from the creature's body. His beast rejoiced in the mephit's renewed screams.
"Your General will be the next to feel the sting of my claws, cockroach," Blake grinned, his sharp fangs dripping with the mephit's own blood, "but I'll practice on you first." Stuffing the bloody flesh into the creature's mouth, Blake's sliced an inverted V into the creature's tender belly with his razor-sharp claws and peeled back the bleeding flesh. Reaching into the hot, moist stomach cavity, he slowly pulled rope after rope of the creature's intestines out of its body to pool onto the floor. Piercing the gory pile here and there with a single sharp claw, Blake's coal-black eyes gleamed with malicious glee at each agonized scream from his victim. He chuckled softly and wiped the blood from his hands on the creature's shoulder. The vampire dug around beneath the ribcage, piercing a lung as he searched for his ultimate prize. As the light of life faded from the mephit's eyes, he removed the still-beating heart and squeezed it beneath his fingers until it exploded in a spray of blood and gore.
"Elizabeth will be here soon." Blake rose from the mutilated corpse and kicked it out of his way. He passed the mangled and dismembered body of the second mephit that lay twitching beneath his Child without even a second glance. Stooping, he cradled the remaining piece of the newling vampire his mate had called friend and gently closed his sightless eyes. "She will have felt his passing and will have questions that I have few answers for beyond one -- her newling was an honorable vampire and I am proud to have known him."
"What of Armentage?" August tossed the bloody corpse aside and rose to check the hall for more of the hated creatures.
"I have to assume that either he, too, has been destroyed, or that he fled and left my mate and her friend to their fates. He will regret his choice for years should it transpire that he chose to flee."
Snarling in fury, Blake stormed back to his apartment to make arrangements and call in favors. If the demon wanted a battle, the vampire was willing to clean his own slate with all who owed him in order to turn that battle into a war. A war he was determined to win.
Halfway across the United States, a private jet carried a pair of vampires and pixies away from the joyful mating celebration of one of the most powerful creatures on the planet -- the Djinn Warlord, Micipsa, to his human mate, Kristiana. Just as they passed over the snow-capped Rocky Mountains, the female vampire released a wail of pure anguish before collapsing against her mate in sobbing hysterics. The newling male, not as attuned to their Child as his Sire, still wept brokenly as he held his distraught mate. They didn't know how or why but there was one thing they knew with heart-breaking certainty: their Child and lover, Francisco di Luca, was dead.
The pixies flew to the front of the plane to give the couple some privacy in their grief and to contact the Royal Advisor. If the newling had been destroyed, they were certain it was due to the maneuverings of the demon lord. The strained voice of the elf, Lysavar, came over the speaking stone and they relayed the information concerning the newling's death and their conclusions as to its cause. The Advisor and Mage instructed them to go straight to the vampire the moment they landed, and that he would join them as soon as he'd made the proper arrangements. Blake Simons might be going on the warpath, but Lysavar was determined to ensure it was not a path to suicide.
The moment they landed, the vampires leaped from the plane and rushed towards their waiting car. The driver, one of Elizabeth's human employees, closed the door behind them after getting his instructions. As he pulled away from the airport and into the swiftly flowing traffic, he called for someone else to fetch the Pierces' bags. Neither vampire was in any shape to worry about such mundane things as luggage or the short drive from the airport to the towering building of Simons Enterprises. As they approached the skyscraper, they were halted by human police keeping gawkers and media away from the ravaged building and its less-damaged neighbor. Elizabeth immediately put in a call to Blake's private cell number to demand access to both the building and answers. Intrigued by the magical traces remaining in the air, Opal fluttered out of the open window towards the unaffiliated building. Sapphire remained with the vampire couple, whose anger was starting to overcome their despair as they waited for Blake to clear them for entry.
The ride in Blake's private elevator was silent as the lingering scent of the newling in the enclosed space tormented the couple. By the time its doors had opened, Elizabeth's fangs and claws were out. Entering the apartment, she spied the dark-haired vampire and hissed angrily. Just as Blake turned to welcome his friends, the petite brunette launched at him with claws extended. They toppled over the back of the sofa and wrestled for dominance. Just as Elizabeth's claws and fangs brushed his vulnerable throat, the male butted his forehead into hers and knocked her off him. While she was off balance, he flipped her onto her back and pinned her wrists to the floor.
"Dammit, Elizabeth!" He gritted through his fangs; his beast was eager to make someone pay for the loss of its mate -- even his friend. "I didn't hurt your Child! The mephits got him."
"And where were you, Simons?" She hissed as she struggled to displace him. Her claws raked at his exposed wrists and the scent of his blood fueled her beast's anger. "Fucking your little mate while my Child perished?"
"She's gone, Elizabeth." His broken confession finally penetrated her anger where logic could not. Her struggles ceased as she watched the sheer desolation wash over him. "I was questioning Mathewson in the basement and we came under attack. By the time I got up here, she was gone. He has her, Elizabeth. Malphas has my mate."
"And Francisco?" She stared into his proud, aristocratic face and saw how close to breaking her friend really was.
"I believe he was protecting her. I found his scent everywhere I found hers until..." Blake looked up and caught August's eyes. He rose from where he'd restrained his oldest friend and offered her a hand up.
"Until what, Blake? I need to know everything."
"Until I found what was left of him." The words seemed torn from the vampire's lips and he turned from Elizabeth's searching eyes to stalk to the bar and pour a tall shot of whiskey. After tossing back two glasses of the strong spirits, he turned cold eyes onto his friend. His words were clipped and emotionless; he was under control once more. "He died honorably, Elizabeth, but not cleanly. Those immediately responsible have been shown the consequences of taking the wrong side against me. Their leader will soon follow."
"You can't do this alone, Simons." Johannes stepped forward and wrapped a comforting arm around his mate. The thought of his lover and Child suffering a horrible death upset him more than he was willing to show. The time for mourning would be later. Now was the time for vengeance.
"I don't intend to, newling." Blake sneered. "My Child and I have been busy since the attack calling in every favor owed to either of us. They will join us at the ritual site in three days' time. Malphas had best pray to his unholy god that my mate remains unharmed until I can come for her."
"I, too, have been making some telephone calls." Elizabeth stalked towards her friend, her crimson eyes flashing in fury. "I have some contacts of my own that will join us in exacting vengeance. They will pay for taking my Child from me. I will taste their blood on my fangs and watch as I crush their beating hearts in my claws."
Blake's lips curled in a cruel smile. He nodded once and offered her a glass of the amber liquid. Raising their glasses in a silent toast, the old friends resealed a centuries old pact as they tossed back the burning spirits.
"Sapphire!" Opal's mental summons was urgent, unguarded, and heard by all but the newling.
"What have you found, mate?" The brilliantly colored pixie fluttered from her perch above the door and into the destroyed bedroom. Through the gaping hole, she spied her iridescent mate hovering in the center of a smaller hole in the neighboring building.
"A vampire. Wounded, possibly dying the final death. He bears traces of the demon's magic and the tiefling's scent."
"Take me to him, Sapphire." Blake addressed his tiny friend and followed her from the room and down the private elevator to the ground floor.
They slipped past the human guards and into the office building which was, thankfully, deserted for the weekend. The powerful vampire and his pixie companion took the stairs to avoid alerting the human emergency responders that there was movement in the building. To everyone's advantage, they met no one during their trip to the ninety-fifth floor. Sapphire led the way once they'd left the stairwell, with Blake drawing his weapon and guarding the rear.
Inside what appeared to be a destroyed breakroom lay a pile of brick, glass, and metal -- rubble from a five foot diameter hole in the exterior wall. Beneath the rubble was a broken, bleeding, and barely alive Devereux Armentage. Blake cleared the debris from the slender vampire and carefully lifted him into his arms. Nodding to the pixies, they left the room and headed for the stairs.
"Can you provide a distraction for the humans when we reach the ground floor, Sapphire? I'd prefer to keep Armentage's survival a secret from our enemies." Blake nimbly maneuvered down each flight of stairs while barely rocking the critically injured vampire in his arms.