There's a Fine Line Ch. 14byMazuri©
A/N: Again, this chapter is not for the squeamish; however, there is an end in sight. It should be the final graphically violent chapter of the series. Check tags and be aware that "here there be dragons" as the old maps were wont to say.
Also, my thanks go out to my beta reading team of Mokkelke, Jaisen, and Mostera1 for keeping me sounding coherent as well as Archangel_M for ensuring the stories don't look as if they were written by a 3rd grader :) You guys rock!
At the bottom of a small hill, the crowd of nonhumans was steadily growing in number. Blake, along with Sapphire, Opal, Devereux, and the councilwoman, Karen Walker, had arrived the day following the attack on the Simons Enterprises building. The rapidly growing number of tents, crates, people, and security measures caused curiosity and some suspicion amongst those in the small town and, by noon, the local police force arrived to investigate. With the formidable vampire ready to tear the throat of any who delayed his planned rescue of his mate, the pixies intercepted the officers and used their fey magic to 'persuade' them that the camp was part of a routine exercise by Homeland Security. They even accompanied the officers back to their captain and 'showed' him their credentials and permits until he assured them there would be no further trouble from his people. In a show of unity, he drove the pixies back to the camp and then blocked the roads so the locals couldn't interfere.
Meanwhile, Blake paced. He paced and hissed and rode the very edge of control over his feral nature. Without the full vampiric bond most mates enjoyed, he didn't know if Alicia was alive or dead, injured or well, or suffering any of the thousands of indignities his fertile mind could conjure forth. The delay in bringing the necessary numbers to attack the stronghold was tearing him apart as he alternated between praying to a God he'd never fully believed in to bring his mate out whole and well and cursing that very same God for subjecting her to even more torments.
"Blake?" Elizabeth approached the volatile vampire and handed him a glass of Sangue Vino. "Augustin called. He will be arriving tomorrow with ten of the best warriors the al Zarqua coven out of Persia has to offer. They should get here about the same time as the eight constituents from the local Vampire Council, though they will be of unknown age or abilities. Also arriving are five from the New Orleans Council and twelve from the Kovalensky Coven of Moscow. Those who owe you and me favors consider this trip payment in full."
"Understood." Blake drained the warmed bloodwine and did a quick tally of the numbers. "This will give us forty-one vampires of various ages and power. Have the pixies heard from Lysavar?"
"The Royal Advisor is still in the elven lands handling a few issues that stemmed from an issue with Michael's mating. He has promised to return no later than Wednesday night but is hopeful that he'll be able to arrive that morning. The king has promised at least one unit of elven warriors and they were going to appeal to the Academy for mages."
"The elf is cutting it close," Blake growled and sat his empty glass on a crate and started walking towards one of the large canvas tents. "I'm not waiting for him to decide to stop playing the lovesick fool for Urúvion. We'll attack at dawn on Thursday as planned whether he's deigned to join us or not."
"He'll be here, Blake." Elizabeth followed Blake into a tent where a human quartermaster was organizing the weaponry and rationing out the ammunition. "Lysavar has always been exceedingly fond of you. He won't let you fight this battle alone."
"Ms. Pierce?" A youngling vampire hurried into the tent and handed the petite brunette a cellphone before casting a wary look at her intimidating companion and exiting just as quickly. The call was short but brought a fierce smile to the vampire lady's face.
"Tomorrow will also see the arrival of ten of the Leroux Pack's finest betas, four fox scouts from the Ingram Troop, six of the finest hunters from the Eurytion Herd of centaurs, and seven toms from the Obasanjo Pride of tigers."
"More political maneuvering from the Summit, Elizabeth?"
"Not at all or, at least, not entirely. Each family had a child taken by the Colonel and your mate was instrumental in helping them escape. They are eager to return the favor."
Blake's lips curled as his pride in his beautiful mate swelled. She had always dismissed the things she'd done during her captivity and escape as necessary and unimpressive. His tiefling didn't realize how much her actions had affected those around her. He would be certain to impress upon her again just how incredibly special she was, and to more than just him. After he'd spent at least a month checking every inch of her delightful body for signs of trauma.
"What of the Celestial?" The vampire forced his mind away from the pleasurable thoughts of having his enchanting mate in his playroom and back to the situation at hand.
"Devereux assures me that Camael will return on the morrow. The Celestial is reporting to its Gatekeeper in the hopes of securing at least a few warriors for the battle." Elizabeth picked up one of the semiautomatic handguns, a Glock 19, pulled back the slide and ejected the magazine for a quick check before snapping it back into place and sighting down the barrel. Satisfied at the weight and balance of the weapon, she nodded to the human armorer and placed it back in the crate. "It's also requesting a second sunblade for you to carry, though Devereux feels that will be categorically denied."
"How is he doing?" Blake nodded to the human workmen before escorting his friend from the tent. He followed Elizabeth to the RV she shared with Johannes and accepted another glass of bloodwine.
"He is amazingly well, all things considered." She gestured towards a confined sitting area and sighed in relief when her agitated friend actually sat. "He's fully recovered from both the battle as well as the blood poisoning."
"And mentally? I know the Celestial has claimed him as mate but Armentage didn't look too keen on the idea. We can't afford the two of them having some kind of personal meltdown when the situation turns critical."
"Devereux has a personal stake in this fight, Blake. His focus is probably better than yours right now."
"What the hell do you mean by that, Elizabeth?" The fierce hiss through rapidly elongating fangs had the petite vampire rolling her eyes in exasperation. "There is nothing more important to me than rescuing my mate!"
"You know exactly what I mean! When was the last time you slept, Blake? Had more than just a sip or two of blood? You won't do Alicia any good if you're on the verge of going feral by the time we attack. You're skirting that edge already and every day I see you inching closer."
"I can't feel her, Elizabeth! I don't know if she's alive or dead. I don't know if she's injured or well. I don't even know what that fucking demon is doing to her." Blake pushed up from the chair to pace the cramped area, plunging his hands into his hair and giving it an aggravated tug. "It is driving me insane."
"And I have lost forever one of the only two Children I have ever Sired." Rising to step directly into his path, Elizabeth's crimson eyes flashed with devastated fury. "Every single second since his death I have felt a hole in my very being where my Francisco once lay, but I refuse to give in to the pain. I don't have time for the luxury of grief; not yet. Not if I want my vengeance. Grieve on Friday if she is truly lost, Blake, but keep your wits about you until the coming battle. It will get you killed if you don't regain control."
Blake raised himself to his full height and glared down at the petite vampire who challenged him. His bearing was that of a feudal lord of the Dark Ages. His anger and power as a Primary Investigator for the Primus Concilium swirled around him like a maelstrom. Elizabeth never twitched, never blinked or looked away. The air grew thick with suppressed violence and coiled tension.
"I am in complete control, Lady Pierce," he bit out through clenched teeth. With a snarl of fury, he stormed from the small trailer and into the dappled sunlight that filtered through the towering pines.
"Damn you, Blake Simons," Elizabeth whispered. "I refuse to lose you as well." Slipping from the trailer, she stalked through the camp looking for someone who might be able to get through to the stubborn vampire.
The intimidating vampire stood on an outcropping of rock that towered over the growing camp and watched the bustling activity with mild indifference. His fangs ached and his beast howled its hunger, but he couldn't bring himself to feed. The mere thought of sinking his teeth into anyone but his beloved Alicia was repugnant; even the finest and freshest bottled blood or a glass of Elizabeth's prized Sangue Vino turned to dust on his tongue. He drank enough to keep the beast at bay, but no enjoyment could be found in the rich, viscous liquid. There was simply no room in his life for joy or satisfaction without his Beautiful One.
Whispering her name, Blake sank to his knees on the cool, rough stone as he desperately sought some hint of her in his heart and mind. Even in those first decades before he lost faith in the tales of a soulmate, he'd never imagined how complete he'd feel once she came into his life -- or how empty he'd feel when she was stripped away from him. He was an Investigator for the Primus. Covens shook in fear when he entered their territories. Councils deferred to his words when he spoke. And now...? One tiny slip of a tiefling had reduced him to this: a quivering mass of emotions as useless as a newling.
"You don't look so good, Pointy Teeth."
Sapphire's brilliant wings shimmered into view followed by the rest of her petite frame. The pixie was perched upon a thin branch of a pine sapling and dressed like a miniature warrior.. Her glorious blue locks were woven in a multitude of braids that were secured at the nape of her neck with a pale white ribbon. Gone were her usual flowing skirts and billowing blouses that fluttered about her tiny form as she flitted about his office; in their place was the smallest set of leather armor the vampire had seen in all his centuries upon the earth. Dyed a dull navy as dark as her wings were bright, the breastplate was molded to fit her tiny curves and trimmed with beautifully etched opalescent metal bands that reminded him of his little spy's mate. Upon her hip, she wore a sword half the size of a toothpick while another rested in the joint between her wings. By her side stood her mate, similarly armed and armored in pale grey with brilliant cerulean accents.
"I'm in no mood for your levity, pixie," Blake hissed in warning, his claws tapping an agitated rhythm on the stone.
"Well, it's a good thing I'm not gonna talk to you then, isn't it?" Sapphire pointed one tiny finger at the intimidating vampire. "Now sit down, grumpy butt, and listen."
"One day, a'mael, your mouth is going to get you into trouble." Opal grabbed his mate's hand, kissed it, and then tugged her closer to his side. "My Lord, forgive my mate's impetuousness but I believe she has only the best of intentions."
"I'm certain she does." Blake snorted but shifted to sit more comfortably on the rock.
"As impulsive and short-sighted as she may be, Sapphire is still the center of my world." The pale pixie blushed at his confession before the intimidating vampire, but was determined to force him to see how detrimental his actions appeared. "When she flew beyond the range of our bond during the Summit, it was the first time since our mating that we could not feel one another. I did my duty to my king but my heart and mind were not present. They were both seeking my a'mael, my beloved." Placing a second kiss upon his mate's hand, Opal flew to hover close to Blake.
"While she was gone, I went through the motions of my duty but I was distracted and failed to notice things that I otherwise might have caught. I have feared for a mate, Lord Simons, and felt that gaping wound of not knowing if she lives; however, my tasks were simple and my inattention caused no harm. Yours are not. Channel your pain and your emptiness into doing whatever it takes to find your mate -- be that negotiating for weapons or taking care of your physical needs."
"And yet you knew, did you not, that through it all Sapphire still lived?"
"I did. Just as you know Alicia still lives as well."
"Do I?" The vampire's tormented crimson eyes stared into the pixie's pale blue ones, as if desperate for such reassurance. "I have no such certainty with my Alicia. Something in her nature has prevented a true bond from forming and I can neither feel nor hear her, regardless of the distance between us."
"Aye, you know for you've not given up and turned feral. Though the bond may not be fully in place, it is still there. A part of you knows, else you would have stormed the demon's stronghold alone in search of death."
Blake shifted his gaze to stare at the bustling encampment as he pondered over the tiny creature's words. Did he know if Alicia still lived? Yes. He wasn't certain how or why but, deep down, he knew his mate had not yet breathed her last. A cruel smile teased the corners of his full lips and he rose from the rock, brushing the dirt and damp from his clothing. Nodding to the tiny pair, he made his way towards his tent. It was time to feed and then to plan a war.
"Do you think he understood, a'mael?" The pale pixie flew back to his mate's side and watched the vampire enter his trailer.
"I think so, meleth nîn, but he's awfully stubborn. I should go and make sure." Sapphire's tiny wings lifted her from the branch, but strong arms pulled her back down, again. Exasperated amusement lit her mate's otherwise stern face as he shook his head.
"Leave him be for now. We'll check on him later." He traced one pearly swirl that ran from her shoulder to where the elbow's articulation began. The pale blue eyes that met her vividly bright ones were clouded with worry "You will behave yourself out there, Sapphire. The battles of vampires and demons are no place for a tiny pixie -- even one of your bravery and skill."
"I will defend my friends, meleth nîn, in whatever manner I am able." She laid her blue hand upon his cheek and smiled with a hint of her normal mischief. "Besides, it'll be fun to show all those arrogant dwarf's bottoms that we are more than just tiny pests from the Fey Lands."
"You are incorrigible, and I love you more than life itself." Opal smiled in spite of his concern and turned to kiss his mate's palm. "I understand the vampire's pain. If he's experiencing even a hint of the agony I went through when I could not feel you, then he is nearly insane with worry. Don't make me worry like that again, a'mael." Leaning forward, he pressed a desperate kiss to her full lips. "Please."
"I will always come back to you, Opal. No matter how far I must fly or how long it takes, the evil Liante herself couldn't keep me from returning to you."
Cold. That was the first thing that filtered into her mind as she lay there shivering in the darkness. Cold. Damp. Silent. Dark. Something hard pressed against her side but instinct told her not to move. She was wise enough to obey. Opening her eyes to mere slits, she struggled not to panic; the darkness was so complete she feared that she'd gone blind. Searching inside her, Alicia summoned forth her nonhuman nature in an effort to detect something beyond the blackness that surrounded her. Her eyes slowly changed to match the darkness and then the crimson rings expanded to encircle their ebony pupils. Unfortunately, what she was now able to see was disheartening at best.
The 'room' was little more than a pocket hollowed out of dirt and stone. The walls were smooth and bore no trace of the tools used to remove the tons of dirt and rock from the small cavern. Even the floor was unnaturally smooth, as if worn away by time, not human demand. Her heart dropped at the thought. During her tests at the Pierce estate, natural materials and structures had proven to be unaffected by her demonic magic. That would make escape tricky at best and impossible at worst, especially since she'd been stripped of her clothing at some point between her capture by Malphas and waking up in the cavern.
She lay on her side on the cold, damp, and muddy floor and shivered as the chill settled onto her naked skin and into her very bones. Her wrists and ankles were encased in heavy metal shackles reminiscent of the days of castles with dungeons that held prisoners for months and years at a time. Her eyes followed the length of one of the chains to where it was bolted to a ring cemented into the stone. The man-made materials gave her hope that she could at least escape her bindings when the time was right.
A shudder wracked her small frame and she curled into a tighter ball against the cold. Jagged rocks bit into her tender flesh but she ignored the insignificant pain in her effort to provide some warmth to her freezing extremities. She thought of her vampire and ached to see him at least one more time. She'd never gotten a chance to look into his gorgeous brown eyes and tell him how happy she was to be with him, to be his mate, to love him as he deserved. Cool tears rolled from her eyes, further chilling her already cold cheeks.
Then there was Francisco...
Biting her lip until it bled, Alicia muffled the sobs that could not be contained. Her dearest friend was gone. Her laughing vampire - who'd protected her, teased her, and always known just how to soothe her soul and lift her spirits - had been destroyed by the demon's minions. Not just destroyed. Her mind rebelled against remembering the horrors the mephits had perpetrated upon the newling but the sounds, the scents, and the images were etched forever upon her mind. Now that he was gone, she longed to hear him call her McNugget again. Annoying as it had been at the time, now it was a cherished memory that she longed to revisit. Alicia curled as tightly into a ball as she was physically able and dug her talons into the hard-packed dirt floor. As she clawed through the dirt and stone, her tears and grief flowed unending until darkness claimed her mind as well as her sight.
The voices came to her in her sleep, invading her mind and her thoughts like insidious tendrils of rot and decay. They whispered of betrayal. They taunted her with tales of lost love and discarded playthings easily replaced. They attacked where they believed her to be the weakest. They preyed upon her childhood memories, her insecurities and tried to undermine her relationship with her mate.
"Are you going to take me to school tomorrow, Daddy?"
Innocent hazel eyes in the angelic face of a girl of five stared adoringly at a young man in his mid-twenties. The man was an older, male mirror of the little girl, though his hair was darker than her pale blonde braids and his eyes bore a haunted look the young girl couldn't understand.
"Of course, pumpkin." The work-calloused fingers brushed her soft cheek with infinite care. He helped the little girl snuggle down into the pillows and tucked her beneath the light sheet with a gentle kiss to her brow. "I wouldn't miss it for the world."
As he raised his head, the face of her beloved father twisted into the man of her nightmares. Grinning evilly, Markus Andrealphus ripped the sheets from her suddenly adult body and ran his hands over her bare skin. "Give Daddy a kiss, pumpkin, for old times' sake."
Alicia's screams brought her out of the nightmare and back into the cold, damp cavern. Sitting up, her eyes quickly shifted in order to cut through the gloom. Pulling her arms tighter around her nude breasts, she scanned the cavern for any sign of her step-father. She sighed with relief that she remained alone in the small, dark space, though it was tinged with disappointment that her father was also not really there. Settling back onto the rocky ground, the same unnatural sleep caught her once more in its insidious grasp and she faded into a new dreamscape where reality was blurred.