Blood Bonds Pt. 11


"What does it look like to you?"

"Our night vision isn't half as good as theirs," he whispered. "It's more the sounds and scents of the place. It's so full of life. Little...bugs and rodents and the like rustling around under all the leaves and fronds. You're seeing as they do, which is more of the electromagnetic spectrum than probably any other creature, from infrared to the limits of ultraviolet. But they don't have the noses we do. Not sure about their hearing..."

"You sound like my freshman bio professor," she chuckled softly, tracing the outline of one of his ears.

"And you without your lists," Talera noted dryly, appearing beside Sarah, looking around, eyes narrowing then widening once more.

"Speaking of lists," Sarah prompted, face hopeful. "Pershing mentioned you have a...he called it 'battle mode.' Explain."

"Show," Kevin corrected, giving Sarah a look.

"This is what you think about right now?" Talera snorted. "Can't I have a secret or two?"

"You have more secrets than all of us put together times a million," Sarah laughed.

Talera shrugged, then showed her wings, spreading them high and wide, a solid black shadow behind her, flames of her eyes flickering against the darkness. She flashed them a slightly open-mouthed grin, showing her teeth, which grew four more fangs where her lateral incisors had been. With the same metallic whisper as her emerging claws, only magnified, spikes ranging from a hand's-breadth to over a foot tall slid out along the tops of her wings and at the joints along the bottoms.

"You're one scary beast, Miss Garretson," Kevin chortled, shaking his head.

"I second that," Sarah concurred, laughing a little.

"Aww, thank you, both," Talera drawled sweetly, turning her head coyly as if she were capable of blushing.

"Where did you go?" Sarah asked.

"Little meth lab a few valleys over," the demon noted with a turn of her top lip. "They're like a disease around here."

"Did you kill someone just now?" the girl asked, mouth falling open.

Talera shrugged a nod, reaching out to take Kevin's hand, letting him pull her right up against his body.

"I'd say more than one," he noted, sniffing pointedly.

"Well, you know," Talera snorted. "Half-assed isn't my style."

"How many?" Sarah asked, gaping down at her.

"It doesn't matter," the demon said, shaking her head, glancing up at her friend.

"I'm not...appalled," the girl shot back, shaking her head as well. "I'm just curious what you can do. Come on, tell me."

The other held up one hand, all five fingers outstretched for a second, talons glinting in the moonlight as she curled all fingers under then flashed another four.

"That's amazing," the girl said in wonder. "Scary, but amazing."

"You didn't ingest any of the drug, did you?" Kevin asked, eyeing her hard.

"Give me a little credit," the vampire huffed, lifting a brow at him. "That blood tastes like burnt...well, it just smells disgusting. The users went down in the fire... Amphetamines and vampires do not mix well. At all. Ever."

The last was directed to Sarah, who was looking at them in fascination.

"The glamorous world of the vampire! The wonders never cease," Talera exclaimed, moving a hand in an arc in front of her, face fixed in an expression of coy mystery. Sarah burst into laughter, feeling her face redden.

"I can't help it," she giggled. "It's interesting to me. I feel like I'm in some bizarre version of The Real World half the time."

"Which archetype am I? Southern bad boy?" Pershing asked from their left.

"You watch the Real World?" Talera asked, brows rising.

"Not since Las Vegas. That nightclub wasn't as good in person," the Alpha noted, face thoughtful, then he scowled at her. "You know it creeps me out when you look like you have a hell-bound pterodactyl sitting on your shoulders."

"I think I'm insulted," the demon managed through a burst of laughter.

The Alpha glared at her until the spikes slid back in, nodded once, then went serious. "We're all here."

Kevin was on his feet in one fluid movement, stepping in front of the two females, nodding, straightening his jacket and running a hand through his hair. Pershing fixed Talera in a hard stare.

"No interference, got it?" he said sternly, no trace of humor in his face. "I don't care who or what you are, don't pull any shit with me tonight. He comes into this exactly as he is at this moment. No tricks later. You mess with this process and he'll either die or be a rogue the rest of his life, and nothing I can do will save him from either fate."

Talera clenched her jaw, but only nodded solemnly.

"Exactly as he is," the vampire confirmed, fires in her eyes arcing out suddenly. Kevin sucked in a hard breath, eyelids fluttering, ducking his chin, then releasing a sharp hissing sigh. Pershing looked between the two of them, shook his head once, then turned.

Sarah linked one of her arms through the vampire's, locking them side by side as the Alpha led them back out into the circle of buildings. Fires from several pits lighted the center, open area, bright to Sarah's borrowed sight. As they emerged from the darkness of the oaks, Talera opened her wings, pressing one against Sarah's back.

The area was filled with bodies, human and wolf, all staring with eerie red eyes at the newcomers, mostly at Kevin, though all had a curious glance for the two females. Sarah glanced at Quentin, who was gathered in a loose huddle with most of the Wolves the girl had met not long ago. People and animals crowded around, crouching on rooftops, above the pavilion, some on low branches.

"My family, my Pack," Pershing called, striding to the center of the circle of people. "Welcome our guests to our Hunting Grounds. Sarah. Lady Talera."

Sarah nodded an acknowledgement to the introduction, watching Talera do much the same, flames licking out into the firelight.

"This is an important night," Pershing continued. "We test a new brother tonight. He is my own. Born of my blood. Accepted by the moon. Now he awaits only your judgment. Kevin, known as Ayers, come forward and face my Pack."

The big blonde strode forward without hesitation, meeting each set of eyes in a sweeping glance. He stood with his arms at his sides, confident but not overtly challenging. Sarah felt Talera's body tense just a little.

"You gave him your father's name," called one of the younger-looking men, perched above the proceedings on an overhanging limb. "Ayers was a bold leader for a century."

Pershing only nodded, though his eyes were wary.

"As is his right. The boy is an Alpha, worthy of the name without further qualification," noted a woman with a steel-gray shoulder-length bob and a genteel coastal Georgia accent. "Young man, you're a Born Hunter. With which organization were you affiliated, and do you maintain contact?"

"I was trained by Jobias Thompson himself," Kevin replied, voice even, his accent odd against the collection of Southern inflections. "I've not communicated in any way with either him or his organization in over two years, nor have I contact with any other. Talera can vouch for my honesty in this matter."

All eyes turned to the demon, who nodded once, meeting the gaze of the woman, who nodded in return, satisfied.

"That's quite the pedigree," called a man who looked to be in his mid-forties, his voice tinged with what sounded like French. "And the company you keep is... formidable. Are you Marked by this Blood Drinker? Remove your jacket, if you please, so that we may see where your loyalties lie."

Kevin complied without comment, stripping off his jacket and shirt, letting them drop to the ground. Naked from the waist up, skin gleaming in the wavering light, he was more impressive than before. The Mark on the inside of his left wrist writhed still, burning darkly against his skin. Kevin held up his arm so that all could see.

"That's not a Mark, Philippe," called the woman who'd spoken earlier. "That's its Blood Bond."

"I know what it is, Katherine," the man shot back, sneering at her. "Do you know how to use that, boy?"

"My name is Ayers," Kevin growled. The Mark flared suddenly, flames leaping into his eyes, and the wind whipped around the gathered, gathering a vortex of leaves just above them. Talera tensed at Sarah's side, visibly gritting her teeth, eyes narrowing. Sarah looked between both of her friends with concern.

Kevin moved his upraised arm to the side, clenching his hand into a fist, sending the leaves rocketing into the sky. When he released his fingers, the greenery rained down on the gathered, drifting in the now absolutely still air. Talera wobbled just a little, her weight bearing on Sarah's arm for a heartbeat.

"It's a true Bond," tinkled a girlish voice, which issued from a young woman who looked like she'd stepped off the pages of a teen magazine, long blonde hair pulled into a high ponytail, white leather jacket gleaming in the night. A big gray wolf sat nearly on her feet, its eyes going between her and Kevin. "Interesting. I've never seen a Blood Drinker give its power to anyone outside its own clan. Tell me, Ayers: do you seek to lead us?"

"No," Kevin replied levelly, arms back at his sides.

"Then what is it that you seek?" the girl continued, face curious, copper-red eyes sparkling.

"Only acceptance," the blonde man answered. "Pershing did me a great honor. He also saved my life. I would like to repay the kindness, with my own life if need be."

Sarah felt herself growing impatient as the questions continued like a supernatural press conference. It was clear that the Pack was split down the middle. The tones of the questioners ranged from impressed geniality to downright hostile.

Without warning, one of the wolves atop the pavilion leapt down into the circle, landing a few inches from Kevin. He barely reacted other than to stare it down. With a roar it lunged at him, crimson eyes full of death. Kevin sidestepped with amazing grace, slashing out with one foot in a kick so swift Sarah barely caught it, sending the animal sailing into a distant tree, over the heads of Pershing's top wolves. Sarah could just make out the animal dragging itself to its feet and limping off into the trees.

The man Sarah took to be Philippe lunged forward suddenly, clothes ripping as he launched himself into the half-half form that sent a shudder down Sarah's spine. All at once, there was a flurry of tearing cloth and rumbling growls as at least ten more men and women changed into the same form, all rushing Kevin at once.

Sarah opened her mouth to shriek, but Talera silenced her with a look.

-He has to fight them in human form because they consider it the weakest of the three. He's going to be fine. With all the power in his system, they look to Kevin like they're slogging through waist-deep snow. -

The girl cast a frightened look at her friend, but nodded. Talera shivered suddenly, face tight with pain. Kevin's eyes flared with her flames, and he suddenly moved with speed beyond any others, flashing out of the melee. With a series of leaps, punches, and kicks, he had all the attackers down in a muddle of bodies with only a few spare movements. He towered over them all, face filled with wrath, fangs bared. Talera bared all her teeth as well, a low rumble coming from her chest.

Pershing appeared at his side, catching Kevin by the throat with one long-fingered hand.

"Enough, Ayers," the Alpha commanded. "You've proven yourself."

The big blonde stood his ground for a single blink, then stood down, closing his eyes and bowing his head until Pershing released him.

"Anyone else?"" the Alpha called. When no one challenged further, Pershing nodded. Sarah could see the veiled relief in his black eyes as he clapped Kevin on the shoulder and declared that the newcomer was welcome in his Pack. Talera released a silent sigh of relief, the wing at Sarah's back relaxing slightly.

As if a giant fight hadn't just happened, everyone seemed to burst into laughter and conversation. All went to Kevin and greeted him with a thump on the back, kiss on the cheek or hearty handshake. Wolves reverted to human form, people who had been on two feet suddenly stood on four. Naked, clothed, no one much seemed to care.

A pack of children burst into the clearing, shrieking and giggling, ogling Kevin, running to meet him, sniff him over. All had a wide-eyed stare for Talera, before their mothers shooed them off into the trees. Sarah was surprised to see that not a one seemed to have a problem shifting into wolf form as well and there was soon a gaggle of puppies yelping and howling up and down the valleys around the cabins.

Kevin returned to Sarah's side, giving her shoulders a tight squeeze and flashing a rueful smile. With a sigh, Talera vanished her wings, reaching across Sarah to lay a hand over Kev's Mark.

Pershing had bounded over to the covered pavilion, two screeching little girls on his shoulders, their tiny hands catching in his long black hair, faces alight with childish mirth and enjoyment. He swung them both down with a hand on each of their collars, motioning them towards their families, but each grabbed a leg below his knees and wrapped themselves around it. He barked a laugh, play-shook one foot, then the other, then gave up and made his way, squirming legwarmers and all, over to where a giant of a man with shaggy ice-blond hair was firing up charcoal in no less than five industrial-sized grills.

Quentin had planted himself at Kevin's side and was making surprisingly friendly conversation, their combined accents, so similar, flowing musically as they discussed some motorcycle the black Lycan was thinking of buying. One of the men who'd leapt at Kevin earlier, now back in human form and dressed, no evidence of his attack other than an impressive shiner, joined the discussion, and soon there were seven or eight men and women who'd just tried to maim each other talking together as if they'd known each other for years.

Sarah watched as one woman stepped from a larger cabin that looked to be a kitchen, holding an overflowing tray of hamburger patties like a diner waitress. Another man followed behind with two wheels of cheese and a palette of tomatoes. He sidestepped smoothly as a line of kids shot in front of him, chasing an adolescent brown wolf into one of the cabins.

"It's always a madhouse with the kids here," came a soft voice, a light chuckle under the words. "Pershing lets them come every other month, so they won't drive their mommas crazy at home."

Sarah turned just a little to find the grey-haired woman from earlier approaching from the right.

"Talera," the Lycan said, giving the demon a shallow bow. "Always a pleasure."

"Pleasure's mine," Talera returned smoothly, her accent fully out, similar to the other's, though sharper, vowels not as butter-smooth. "Kitty, please meet Sarah Phillips."

Sarah paused for half a second, unsure of how to greet the imposing woman, small though she was. With a mischievous grin, the Lycan woman held out a hand.

"We usually stick to human gestures," Kitty drawled. "Though I could sniff your crotch if you'd feel more comfortable."

Sarah stared open-mouthed for a half a breath, then laughed with the other woman as she burst into a dignified giggle. Taking the outstretched hand, the human shook it, noting that her skin was as warm, if not hotter, than Kevin's.

"Kitty?" the girl asked, raising a brow.

"Yes," laughed the other. "We have a strong sense of irony. It's actually short for Caterina diColombrino."

"Little dove," Sarah translated, eyes intent, fascinated.

"Yes, it's poetic isn't it?" the Lycan sighed. "My father was a gamekeeper on a Medici estate. That was a number of years ago, obviously."

"Are you running with the others tomorrow night?" Talera asked. "I know you don't like to get your paws dirty...."

Sarah fell to looking around at the gathered people as someone cranked up a stereo, filling the field and surrounding valleys with an eclectic blend of music that ranged from hard rock to classical to bluegrass to African folk. Several couples were dancing out under the moon, swaying to their own beats, smiling at each other. Others crowded around Pershing at the grills, laughing as he artfully flipped burgers, his long hair flowing as he turned to another grill. He still had his passengers around his ankles, though they had moved from just hanging on to actively tickling him behind the knees. One leg buckled as a girl hit a sensitive spot, which sent her into endless spasms of laughter, tumbling onto the floor, taking her friend with her. Pershing stomped a foot at them, growling inaudibly and they both shot into the trees, shrieking with victory and giggling like mad.

"...of the boys from one of the local Nations are coming down too next month. Want to play laser tag or some other nonsense. Prove themselves," Kitty was saying with a roll of her dark blue eyes. "Pershing agreed as long as the elders were in on it. And as long as all parties involved were clear that no one is to be shot or eaten."

"Just your basic ground rules for a night out," Talera said with a deadpan shrug.

Kevin came back to them, face alight, bowing grandly over Kitty's hand, kissing it like a hero from a period movie. She mock-swooned, giving him a kiss on one cheek, before excusing herself when someone hollered her name.

"What? She's Italian," Kevin said when he caught the expression on Sarah's face.


Sarah looked up at the unassuming façade of the house in the middle of the bustling suburban subdivision. It was in the center of the street, bordered on all sides by varied versions of the same plan, boxwoods trimmed neatly, marigolds and petunias peeking out brightly from a fresh layer of pine bark mulch. Children shrieked and chased each other in a nearby yard, a little girl holding a running hose and chasing a much smaller boy. The sunlight sparkled off the water, shone on their smiling, wet faces. A pack of older kids on bikes shot around the bend, shouting to each other gleefully, racing to the community pool. A man behind a noisy green lawnmower did laps back and forth in a yard across the street, singing loudly to himself as he cut the grass while his wife planted flaming red salvia and trailing chartreuse ipomoea in concrete planters by the front door.

"This is...not what I expected," Sarah said softly, raising a brow across the top of the car at Talera.

The demon rested her arms on the top of her open door, chin on her arms, dark hair shimmering inhumanly platinum in the bright light. The black flames in her eyes roiled unreadably, face impassive.

Straightening, she lifted a hand, shading her eyes. The flames flickered out, leaving her bright green irises shining for a long moment, though she squinted mightily against the bright blue sky in the backdrop.

"Shit," she hissed, clamping her eyelids closed again, the flames returning at once.

"I have to tell you," Sarah laughed softly. "When I pictured your origins, this is not at all what I had in mind. It's so...normal. How do you go from this to immortal superbeing?"

Talera chuckled gently, lowering her head enough so that her hair fell over her face, concealing her teeth. With a sigh, she stepped back, shutting her door. Looking around at the yard once more, she shook her head just a little, reaching up to swipe bloody tears out of her hurting eyes.

"You might want to put these on," Sarah suggested, holding out a pair of very dark sunglasses. "The neighbors are starting to stare."

"Yeah," Talera sighed, sliding the dark frames over her eyes. "Most of them know who I am, even if they don't recognize me yet. Word will get out fast. See the people in the doorway two houses down? That's Pete Compton and Bhairavi Porter. I went to high school with them. And, shit, they just realized who I am. Let's get inside. They're going to call everyone I ever knew before I was sixteen. Facebook will be abuzz today."

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