There's a Fine Line Ch. 15byMazuri©
Let's get ready to rumble! Yup, the battle is upon us and the fighting is vicious! Hope you enjoy the lead in to the final chapters of this story as Blake and Alicia attempt to claw their way to a Happily Ever After. Again, my thanks to my awesome group of beta readers and my favorite Red Pen of Doom editor. You guys rock!
Blake stalked the encampment coiled and ready for battle. Far from settling his mind, the brief mental contact with his mate had driven his beast into a ravenous fury. He needed to see and touch and verify for himself that she was well. He needed to know why the bond had formed now and not the day they mated or in the days since. He needed her back by his side where he could keep her safe. All who stood between him and satisfying that need took their lives into their own hands, regardless of which side of the battle they favored.
It was the waiting that was driving both his human and beast insane. Though his human side understood the need, his beast chafed at the vast number of daylight hours spent amongst the humans who pestered those setting up the encampment. He and Elizabeth dodged questions from the local police, dismissed reporters, and oversaw the growing arsenal, which would arm a small Third World country. Though his beast urged him to drain the curious and concerned locals to corpses and leave them for the packs of stray dogs and other vermin, and Blake saw the advantages to having such peace, the greater attention that would garner wouldn't be worth the transient pleasure.
Elizabeth had worked alongside him for several hours after he'd communicated with Alicia but even their centuries of friendship couldn't withstand his peevishness and simmering violence. The only one who appeared unaffected by his mood was the tiny pixie, Sapphire. She sat upon his shoulder, chattering about this or that or singing in her lilting voice, until he threatened to rip off her wings and use them to plug his ears against her inane babbling. Where others cringed at the barely contained menace in his voice, his minute companion merely tsked in disapproval as she faded away. She promised to return only after he'd regained some semblance of control.
They'd heard nothing from the Royal Advisor, Lysavar, or the Celestial Camael since their meeting in the ruined Simons Building. The silence from the pair served to further erode the vampire's foul mood. Even though Sapphire and Opal had assured him that his friend would return in time for the assault on the church, Blake scowled any time the elf's name was mentioned. Devereux's faith in Camael wasn't as solid, and the normally flamboyant vampire was unusually somber. He wanted to believe his extra-planar mate's promise to return and join the fight, but their bond had yet to be firmly established and the Celestial didn't have the best track record.
Meanwhile, the Others began arriving early Wednesday afternoon. Most came by car – a large caravan of black SUVs escorted by a choice number of enspelled or nonhuman members of the state and local police forces. Before the sun had fully set, the 20'x30' canvas structure contained over sixty nonhumans from nearly half a dozen races. Such a disparate group was rarely found together outside the annual Summit, and they eyed each other with a mixture of curiosity and suspicion. None were aware that a tiny pair of spies flitted amongst them.
The vampire covens sat in distinct clusters, sipped glasses of Sangue Vino from Elizabeth's private stock, and contemplated the advantages of potential political maneuvers. Occasionally, one of each group would stand as if choreographed, glide elegantly towards one of the other covens, and sit to exchange names, business cards, and tentative promises. The Russian and Persian covens were especially keen to establish mutually beneficial ties while the New Orleans coven watched it all with amused, and affected, ennui. They all made a grand show of checking and loading their weapons as if there was a prize for who could conceal the greatest number of pistols and knives in the most creative of ways. Opal rolled his eyes at their posturing but flitted amongst the vampires to ensure their plotting wasn't against their host.
Along the back of the tent, six of the Eurytion Herd's finest Hunters checked buckles and retied cords while awaiting the start to the meeting. The centaurs carried enchanted lances, sheaths with short swords resembling Ancient Rome's gladii, and a horseman's bow with quiver slung low on their withers where their human torsos melded with their equine bodies. Each warrior wore modified horse barding crafted from a combination of metal and leather to maximize both protection and maneuverability, melded seamlessly into a metal breastplate to protect their vulnerable chests. Their tails were braided and bound to avoid tangling in the branches and underbrush surrounding the desecrated church on the hill. They ate little and spoke less, preferring to hydrate before the coming battle to offset the humidity that still lingered in the muggy autumn air.
The Shifters filled the rest of the metal folding chairs placed in the tent and performed their own rituals before battle. Scents were gathered and memorized so that recognition during battle was swift and instinctual. Craig Leroux, the alpha's younger brother, commanded the Pack's fighters and was eager to exact some measure of vengeance for the haunted look that remained in the eyes of his favorite niece. After speaking with Kazeem Obasanjo, the wolves and tigers began working out fighting tactics that utilized their particular skills. Sapphire perched upon the back of a chair as they planned herding and ambush strategies. While their tactics were sound for land-based prey, they were close to useless for the flying creatures they would encounter like mephits and demons. Clearing her tiny throat, she decided to point out the flaws in their plans and how she might be of use to them.
When the sun began to sink into the horizon, Blake and Elizabeth stepped into the tent, followed by Augustin, Johannes, Devereux and the young Karen Walker. The Investigator's crimson eyes scanned the impressive number of nonhumans with cold satisfaction. He wasn't foolish enough to believe that the battle would be easy, but he was, now, more confident that the battle could be won. As the small band of friends and compatriots moved through the crowd, a slim and regal elf entered the tent and awaited the vampire's notice.
"Lysavar." Warmth colored his voice as Blake moved to greet his elven friend. "I'm pleased to know I won't have to kill you after all, elf."
"You could try, vampire," the Royal Advisor chuckled softly and gripped his friend's forearm in welcome. "I come bearing good news, bad news, and surprising news."
"Not the time for games, Lys."
"If this is the not the time, it never will be, my friend. We laugh or else we cry, and no one wants to die with tears on their cheeks." Stepping aside, he motioned to someone just beyond the tent's lights.
Four elven warriors entered, saluted the vampire, and moved to stand just inside the flap. They were dressed in the uniform of the Royal Guard, mottled-green leather armor enchanted to be stronger than dwarven steel and yet more flexible than silk, pairs of blades sheathed upon their hips. Their long hair was woven into intricate braids and held back from their faces with silver circlets upon which further magicks had been cast. Though they looked younger than his mate, the vampire had seen similar warriors perform their elegant dances of death during the Crimean War and did not dare to underestimate them.
"This is obviously the good news. What of the rest?"
"The Academy refused to send mages to what they deemed to be an issue for the human plane," Lysavar's beautiful features darkened into a scowl as he remembered some of the arguments the elder mages had given, "but the surprise came from the Ealoren House."
"Shade and sweet water to you, vampire." Three elves entered to stand in front of the row of warriors. Instead of leather and blades, they wore flowing robes of blue and silver and bore no visible weaponry. Each had hair and eyes the color of a pale blue summer sky, though the woman's straight locks contained hints of silver. The female, an ageless beauty whose power made even Elizabeth's newling wince, bowed to Blake and was followed by the two males by her side. "I am Nystria Ealoren, matron of my family and mother to the twins, Thastria and Nythra, who were taken during the Summit. This is my husband, Layarion, and his brother, Meleythor. We offer our aid to you in your quest to rescue the human girl, Alicia, whose actions resulted in the safe return of our children."
"My mate spoke fondly of the twins, Madame, and I am honored to have you join us." Blake bowed over her proffered hand and shivered at the raw force of her power.
"Our House does not contain warriors, Master Vampire; we are enchanters and healers. Our strengths lie in what we can do for your weaponry prior to the battle and what we can do for your wounded during and afterwards."
"We appreciate both and hope, rather than believe, that your healing skills shall not be needed."
"As you say..." A squeal from the back of the tent interrupted the formal exchange and a tiny bundle of armored blue pixie sped across the distance and burrowed into the female's hair with a giggle. "I see her time with you hasn't dimmed Sapphire's exuberance."
"I'm not sure there is much that could calm that little blue demon," Blake confessed as he watched the powerful matron extract the pixie from her cerulean hair. He turned his attention to Lysavar as the two launched into an animated conversation in the language of the fey. "Any sign or word from the Celestial?"
"Not in the fey lands. He's not yet returned?"
"No. We'll have to start without him." The vampire hissed angrily as he caught the deliberately blank expression on Devereux's face. The flamboyant vampire schooled his features to those of extreme nonchalance but the growing desolation in his eyes worried Blake. If he believed himself to be abandoned by his mate, the councilman could grow reckless on the battlefield. He would have to be watched. Sighing, Blake turned away from his elven friend and moved forward to address the assembly.
The mephits attacked a few minutes before midnight. Their hellfire scorched searing paths along the dry and trampled earth and ignited fires in the dense woodland that surrounded the camp. House Ealoren doused the flames before they could spread, while the Eurytion Herd took aim to bring down the flying vermin. Several of the creatures hobbled on the ground with broken or pierced wings; the wolves and tigers took full advantage of their lack of mobility.
The Ingram Troop slipped through bushes and tangled kudzu. Their duty was reconnaissance and it was one for which they were highly trained. Splitting up, they surrounded the small church and sent their findings back to the camp. House Ealoren had the foresight to bring specially made speaking stones that were small enough to fit on a collar. The main one rested on a tripod in the tent so all could hear the foxes' mental reports. Unfortunately for them, the news was not good.
Mephits continued to pour from the church in obscene numbers. More than the small building should have allowed. There had to be an open portal to the Seventh Circle somewhere in the church. If it wasn't closed and soon, even their impressive numbers couldn't withstand an assault of that magnitude. They might be the cockroaches of Hell, but even roaches could swarm an enemy and destroy it through sheer volume.
Kaseem Obasanjo tested the weight of the pine branch beneath his paws and winced at the tell-tale sound of a groan and crack. The pliable evergreens weren't designed to hold the weight of the larger cat species but hardwood trees were few and far between in this small piece of woodland. One of his pride had already visited the healers for a broken forelimb due to a branch breaking beneath her weight. As one of the mephits made for a centaur Hunter, Kaseem pounced onto its back and rode it to the forest floor. By the time the large tiger felt the impact, the mephit was a slashed and bleeding lump of dead flesh. He roared his victory before returning to his perch in the trees.
The wolves divided into three groups, with Craig Leroux moving amongst them as needed. Though they had initially been skeptical at teaming up with a pixie, the tiny creature was as fierce as she was brash. She was also totally oblivious to the necessity of stealth. Singing a bawdy tavern song about a randy dwarven blacksmith and a voluptuous nymph, she wove between the mephits as if they were standing still. When she launched into the chorus that was unclear on whether the dwarf was banging the anvil or the nymph, Sapphire jabbed at a chosen mephit with her tiny sword and severed the tendons that controlled its wings. Once the mephit was spiraling towards the snapping jaws and dripping fangs of the pack wolves, the pixie would launch into a new verse and hunt up her next target.
Blake shook his head at the antics of the tiny pixie – and at her skill with a blade. The irreverent creature who seemed to take nothing seriously ducked and weaved and darted amongst the deadly other-planar creatures with the ease of a trained and experienced fighter. She chirped and sang and berated the mephits even as she reduced the fire-breathing minions of Hell to lumps of bloodied and shrieking heaps of quivering flesh. His respect for his little companion rose.
"You've started the party without us, Lord Simons. How rude." The melodious voice of the Celestial, Camael, interrupted the vampire's musings and he turned to see an image straight from a religious tract. Three softly-glowing angelic beings hovered several feet off the ground with their wings flapping slowly to maintain their altitude. They were armored for war, wearing pure white breastplates etched with the golden symbol of the Guardians of the Gate. The armor was crafted of the purest polished silver and the enchanted scales of a white dragon. The suits molded to their androgynous forms, changing as they did in the fading light and growing shadows. Each bore a shining blade upon its hip.
"You didn't seem inclined to join us, Celestial." Blake hissed and clicked his claws together until he felt the untrained mindtouch of his mate. Instinctively, he reined in his anger as he savored her caress.
"It wasn't easy to get the Gatekeepers to agree to even my participation, much less convince them to allow others to lend aid." Camael's colorless eyes searched the camp for its mate and grew more desperate and despondent when Devereux was nowhere to be found. "It wasn't until they saw the increase in violence since Malphas has walked this plane, and realized that unrestricted access would spell this world's doom that they approved our request."
"Well, as you can see, the demon decided not to wait for you to arrive. The Ingrams' reports suggest an open portal inside the church, as the roaches' numbers never seem to decrease no matter how many of the little bastards we kill."
"Where is my Promised Heart, Master Vampire?"
"Armentage is in the middle of the battle." Blake pointed to where the councilman stood over a wounded shifter. The vampire had tossed his pistols to the side once he'd exhausted his ammunition, and had pulled a mismatched pair of swords from their sheaths. In his left hand, he held the slim, elegant weapon of a French nobleman – an épée– while in his right, he carried a heftier Spanish sabre. Both glowed with elven enchantments, even through the amount of blood that dripped from each. "As you can see, he has grown somewhat careless due to your delay."
"Devereux." The celestial launched away from its fellow Guardians, drew its sunblade, and raced towards the growing horde of mephits surrounding its mate. Blake smirked when the French vampire batted the sunblade away from one of the creatures and impaled it upon his épée. When Sapphire joined the fray, he shook his head in wonder as the tiny pixie alternated between slicing through the mephits' wing tendons and berating the celestial for taking so long to join the battle. How such a small creature had so much energy, he simply did not know.
"And the demons?" One of the remaining two celestials posed the question with a hint of impatience. Though as changeable as the rest of its species, its supernal voice held a feminine quality that both soothed the soul and roused the libido in the nearby males.
"None have graced us with their presence as of yet. We were planning to attack when the roaches thinned ou,t but they continue to swarm."
After an Obasanjo tiger arrived to transport the wounded wolf back to the healer's tent, Devereux and Camael were free to battle their way through the mephits towards Blake. Those with the luxury of watching the pair were amazed at their deadly grace and synchrony. Even with the vampire's irritation and their lack of mating, the pair fought with an elegant beauty that appeared too choreographed to be real. Camael's sunblade had a devastating effect on the infernal minions while Devereux's twin blades carved through those mephits foolish enough to attempt to fly beneath the celestial. Their path was clear within moments.
The moment they were away from the fiercest of the fighting, the celestial sheathed its weapon and pulled the vampire into its arms. Devereux resisted the kiss at first but soon dropped his blades, wrapped his hands around his mate's long braid, and devoured Camael's lips with furious desire. The vampire hissed with frustration when they parted but a whisper from those pale and swollen lips calmed his beast for the moment. He snatched up his swords and jammed them into their sheaths before pulling the celestial in for another brutal kiss.
"Now we can go." He scowled at Blake's impatience even as he understood it. Things may not be quite settled between him and his unusual mate, but at least they stood together. That was more than the Investigator had at the moment.
"Gather your chosen warriors and make your attack." Camael pulled his sunblade, followed by its fellow Guardians, and smiled with righteous fury. "It is time to destroy the Demon Lord of the Seventh Circle forever."
Spreading their wings, the celestials launched into the sky to meet the unending stream of mephits. Their blades sliced through the leathery hides cleanly and effortlessly leaving only those flying on the perimeter to the claws and fangs and arrows of the shifters and the centaurs. Blake followed their path, flanked by his friends, the other vampires, and the elven guard.
As they advanced on the church, the battles grew fiercer. The sound of gunfire echoed in the night as the vampires helped prevent both the celestials and themselves from being overwhelmed. The mephits, not quite as mindless as many would like to believe, were diving into the small group in an effort to separate those who appeared weaker from the main body. As the winged creatures spat hellfire and raked at the vampires and elves with their claws, the vampires began to pair off for safety. Elizabeth had pressed her back to one of the Moscow vampires when mephits began to surround the group but her attention was on Johannes. Nodding to his oldest friend, Blake pulled Elizabeth's newling behind him so they were back-to-back, a protective stance to aid the inexperienced vampire. She saluted him with the barrel of her pistol and rejoined the fight with deadly focus and accuracy.
"Stay behind me, newling," Blake hissed as he fired two rounds into an oncoming mephit's gaping maw. "An exposed back is an invitation to be their next meal."