December 17, 2010

Artwork by Kyle Dean

With war standing on the doorstep, Juno and Argus both thought it was a good time to relocate. Their new host was an Elite named Hiro Chigawa who lived in what was essentially a castle located in southeast of England.

Dozens of Elite, along with their familiars and most faithful had gathered to plan for the upcoming war. Though proximity wasn't necessary for Argus to communicate with his Elite.

Elizabeth unrolled Estes's map onto a long table in a room Hiro called his early evening parlor.

 "How poetic," Dain scoffed as he eyed the marked location on the map.

Jonas shook his head and walked away from the table.

Argus followed him with his eyes.

Jonas put his hand up and waved his attention away.

Anna was considering going after him until Argus put his hand over hers. "There used to be a town there," he explained. "An immortal town."

"We penned them in and burned the place to the ground," Dain offered, for those who were unaware. "A handful escaped. We figured we'd gotten the point across, we let them go."

Argus nodded, though not in reaction to what Dain was saying. "A new town was established there a couple hundred years later," he said, slightly vacant. "And abandoned again during the Second World War. They reused many of the original foundations so the footprint hasn't changed much."

"Is their choice in location symbolic or are they truly hoping for vengeance?" Anna asked.

"Yes," Argus and Jonas answered in unison.

"Sorry," Argus said.

Jonas shook his head.

"It wasn't even a very good plan," Dain said.

"No, but it worked," Galen added.

Argus nodded again. "Kale has been scouting the location while they've been moving in. Their hauling in cannon fodder stuffed into the backs of semi-trucks and turning their familiars in mass. They're bringing in standard armaments, blades, armor but they've decided to update their arsenal with guns, grenades and some of the friendlier chemical weapons: tear gas, mace." He paused. "I'm sorry I can't offer you the intel you're hoping for," he said as if in response to a question no one in the room had asked. "Rather than block their thoughts from me, they're directing them. That along with the influx of new immortals makes it difficult to determine what's really going on, but I'm going to say that the fifty foot wooden horse is mockery."

"What do we have in the way of armor and weapons, and what do we still need?" Taylor asked.

Argus looked thoughtful for a moment. "Yes. Yes. Good. Yes."

Several heads nodded around the table.

"I'll make those arrangements," Hiro said, taking out his phone and sending a quick text.

"We'll have whatever we need, wherever we need it to be by the end of next week." Meline offered in response to the perplexed expressions of the non-Elite.

Anna's confused gaze shifted from husband to sister.

"Thank you," Argus said to Meline.

Meline offered a smile and nodded.

"We need the illusion of every advantage on their end," Argus continued.

"North side is the most convenient way in and out," Dain said. "We could funnel into the center of town then branch out in a starburst."

"So we're fighting from the inside out." Elizabeth said.

"Only until you reach the outside then you turn around and contain the situation."

"Yes," Argus nodded.

"We're not throwing the game," Galen said. "We're just stacking the first half of the deck in their favor."

Meline stopped Anna in the hallway after the meeting. "I hear the thoughts he sends," she explained. "He hears theirs in his head, then repeats them. I just noticed that he wasn't always repeating them out loud, but I imagine it must be very overwhelming to have all that going on inside your head."

"I envy you," Anna said. "I've seen him like this before, so entranced in thought it's as if he isn't even here. I suppose in a way he's not."

"Mmm," Meline said. "Galen says he may be grooming me to become an Elite. I'm not sure how to feel about that."

"I believe unsure is a perfectly reasonable way to feel," Anna said.

"You don't have to go Anna," Meline said. "I can-"

"No you can't," Anna cut her off. "You're not a fighter Meli. And I need you to look after Elias. And Eden, "she added. "She's been behaving very odd lately."

Meline slipped her arm around her sister's and put her head on her shoulder.

 

Chapter 51 - War Wounds

Argus stood over his son's bed and watched him sleep. Anna stood just inside the door and watched them both.

"There is nothing to be envied among my Elite," he said as he turned and crossed the room to her. "Telephones are common enough these days, I'm just... old fashioned."

"Meline told you."

He nodded slightly. "In her way. But I know your mind as well my love."

"Do you?" Anna eyed him, "Then tell me why do I continue to toil with speaking when you can simply pluck the thoughts from my head? Do you think it's because I enjoy the sound of my own voice?"

He chuckled softly. "I enjoy the sound of your voice. And it's not quite as simple as that," he said. "Your mind is a tangle to me, a thousand thoughts jumping and skipping about, twisting and turning in unpredictable directions. It's only when you concentrate your focus that I can make sense of it. When emotion solidifies it. When you worry for example, or dote over our son." He smiled. "Or you've decided to kill me."

"Mmm," Anna nodded, un-amused. "Can you read my thoughts now?" she asked.

He eyed her for a moment, concentrating. The corner of his mouth lifted into a smile. "Yes," he nodded, his lips meeting hers.

His kiss carried hints of peanut butter and apples. He lifted her into his arms and carried her to bed. There was no equal to the ecstasy she found in his touch or the rush of eternity when she tasted his blood. He took her to heights unimaginable while in his embrace and just as she thought she would become lost in his eternity, he would capture and possess her entirely bringing her breathlessly back to earth. Calming her with gentle kisses. Exciting her again with the taste of her blood on his lips as it mingled with hints of his blood on hers.

 

The sun was just beginning to crest in the east when their caravan was forced to stop due to crudely fashioned roadblocks nearly five miles outside of town. Some continued through the brush and grass and trees in UTV's and ATV's while others chose to walk the rest of the way into town. Lewis and Wendy drove their UTV's to within a half-mile of town before they stopped to set up a medical and communications post.

Anna recognized many of the faces as they made their way into town. Some, like Lady Della, she had met in the past. Others were newer acquaintances from her time in California and Greece, though there were far more faces she didn't recognize. Argus on the other hand greeted them all by name.

Kale joined them as they walked, taking a position near Dain, Galen, Hiro, Camille and Argus near the front of the charge. Jonas, Elizabeth and Lady Della were among those directly behind them.

Anna, Taylor, Ashe and Vaughn, broke off from the group as they entered town and secured sideline positions suitable for sniping, coordinating their positions via two-way radios.

"Should we be concerned about the shallow pools and huge vats of water I've been spotting all over the place?" Taylor's voice came as a whisper over the radio.

"Uhhm... No." Vaughn responded.

"Immortal blood is highly flammable," Ashe offered. "Water neutralizes this effect."

"Keep an eye on it," Anna added. "It's not the water we need to worry about it's their ability to contain and control a burn."

"Copy," Taylor said.
 

 

As the others neared the end of the street they were met by a front of young immortals. They lowered to one knee as they approached, unwitting pawns, revealing a row of older immortals behind them. Estes, Lucas, Patrice, and Adelaide stood directly behind them. Estes held his left hand close to his body, tightly bound in a leather glove. Danay and a now immortal Kevin stood in the crowd behind, several paces behind Adelaide.

Camille continued forward as the others stopped a good twenty feet from the rogue front line.

"My name is Camille Alexi. I speak for the immortal king, Argus," Camille said. "My king offers amnesty for all who surrender now and death to all who would take arms against his kingdom."

Dain caught sight of Danay, staring at him. Her face plead for mercy, as did many others, but they all stood their ground.

"Will no one speak?" Camille asked.

Estes began to step forward but Adelaide quickly stepped passed him. She came to stand directly behind the kneeling front line. "I am Adelaide Doyen," she said, "I will speak for my people. Near four hundred years ago Argus and his Elite slaughtered all but seven of the near nine hundred who lived here. We lived in peace, in harmony with the mortal villages around us. The seven of us who survived vowed to end the tyranny of King Argus. A promise those who stayed true to their vow," she scowled, "intend to fulfill tonight. Will your king, step forward and reveal himself, or must we be forced to eliminate you all?"

Argus stepped forward, but as he did, so did more than a dozen others.

"Very well," Adelaide placed her hand on the shoulders of the two men kneeling directly in front of her. Both stood with their weapons drawn and stepped forward as if to charge, the men on either side stood in a wave as if to follow, but did not draw their weapons.

"No!" Argus's scream broke the air as he saw their intentions. Argus and his Elite sprang into action and charged forward. Sniper fire hit both men as they charged but did not stop their course. As one man stepped past Camille, coming between her and the Elite, the other stepped forward heaving his blade and took her head clean off.

The two behind quickly scooped up her body and carried it away, the crowd behind clearing a path. Patrice, Lucas and Adelaide disappeared into the crowd as Estes led the charge of eager young immortals rushing headlong into the fray.

Blades clashed, shots and screams rang out, filling the air with the cacophony of battle. Argus's orders were to preserve life whenever possible, but the rush of adrenaline and the inexperience of what it was to be immortal kept many of the rogues fighting to their deaths.

As they fell, others would drag their bodies away into alleyways depositing them into the large tanks of water.

Dain fought ruthlessly toward Danay. Her weapons were drawn but she had not engaged in the battle. Instead she and Kevin were pushing their way back through the swarm of rogues following after Lucas, Patrice and Adelaide.

"Coward!" A rogue in blue denim yelled at her.

She turned and met her father's eyes, then turned and ran the denim jacket through. Kevin brought his blade down and finished him.

"Traitor!" A woman in black screeched at her.

Danay swung her blade and took her head off.

"Kill them!" Estes ordered.

Dain quickened his pace carving a path through the crowd with his blade in order to reach his daughter.

Danay and Kevin followed his lead and began cutting their way through any who impeded their progress.
 

 

"I'm forty-eight rounds down and I'm pretty sure they've identified my location," Vaughn's voice issued over the radio. "I'm moving to my next position."

"Copy," Anna replied.

"Southeast corner," Vaughn said the next time his voice came through the radio. "I've been compromised." His weapon fired just before his communication ended.
 

 

Meline and Eden had been left at Hiro's to care for Elias. Eden was so nervous about the battle she'd thrown up twice since they'd left. Meline did her best to allay Eden's fears by keeping her updated on the situation, although it quickly became apparent that Meline's ability to communicate between Argus and Anna had it's own benefits.

"Vaughn has been compromised," she informed Eden, opting not to tell her about the gunshots or assumptions that followed in both Argus and Anna's thoughts. "Southeast corner," Meline relayed. "No Anna, it's covered."

"Oh God," Eden covered her mouth with her hand as she tried to hold back her tears. "Please no," she said softly.
 

 

Dain was close, still following Danay. But Elizabeth, who had been following Dain, was closer. She found Vaughn beaten and bloody, but remarkably still alive.

"Vampires," Vaughn managed. "My gun. In the base-" his breath caught.

The smell of his blood was thick in the air, enticing and inviting. "We have to get you to medical," she said.

"Won't make it," Vaughn grunted.

"Yes you will," Elizabeth grabbed his hand and sank her teeth into his wrist, injecting a warm surge of euphoria.

When his breathing slowed and his body began to relax, she laid him out flat and began healing what wounds she could.

She brought her sword to the ready as someone approached. It was Dain. "What are you doing here?" she asked, alarmed. "I thought you were going after Danay."

"I lost her," he grumbled.

"I can't imagine what she's up to," Elizabeth said. "It's not like her to turn tail. She's brutal, savage, calculating."

"She's on our side," Dain said.

"That seems like a very dangerous thing to hope for. What are you not telling me?" she eyed him.

"Vampires," Vaughn breathed. "Take my head. Leave me. Tell Eden. Love her," he groaned.

"Take your head?" Dain turned to Elizabeth. "What is he on about?"

"I don't know," Elizabeth said.

Dain took a deep breath, his jaw tense, his brow furrowed in thought. "Turn him," he ordered.

"What?" she gasped.

"It'll be too late to save him in a minute. Do it now, and then get him to medical. I'll cover you."

Elizabeth nodded reluctantly then lifted Vaughn in her arms and sank her teeth deep into his jugular.
 

 

"Vaughn has been... stabilized," Meline reported to Eden.

"What does that mean?" Eden asked.

Meline bit her lip. "He'll live," she offered.
 

 

Anna emptied her guns on the horde that was descending on her location and was hacking her way toward a possible escape point when Ashe's voice came crackling through the radio, "My next three positions are unavailable," he said. "Proceeding on ground."

"Copy that," Anna replied as she shut and bolted the door of the windowless space she'd unwittingly cornered herself in on an upper floor of the building that was to have been her third position. "Four, fall back," she ordered Taylor. "I'm on my way to ground as well," she said contemplating her limited options.

Two immortals, unknowingly in transition back to mortality came barreling through the door just as Anna crashed through the crumbling wall opposite.

"Copy," Anna heard Taylor say just as the floor gave way beneath her and the two others who charged through the wall right after her.

They fell next to a mound of lacerated and beheaded immortals laying on a tarp. The floor gave way under the force of their impact and they continued their fall into the darkened basement room below.

The putrid smell of death assaulted Anna's senses as she fell through a tangle of plastic tubing and landed on a heap of twitching cadavers.

Vampires.

Long hollow-tipped spikes, driven directly into lifeless hearts protruded from the left side of their chests. These were connected to the plastic tubes that led to a large container filled with the blood of the slain immortals slowly draining into it from the floor above.

Icy hands reached out for her, their movements awkward and stiff. Glassy eyes met her gaze; mouths gaped at her pleading in wordless agony, unimaginably desperate and insatiably hungry for blood.

Anna clambered away from the heap of death until her back caught wall. She surveyed the room desperate for an escape. Stairs. On the wall to her right but there was no way around. She would have to go through.

The other two who had fallen along with Anna, a man and a woman had retreated to the other side of the room. They began to laugh at Anna's shock if not her predicament.

"Vampires," the man taunted as they attempted to edge their way around them and closer to the stairs.

Anna reached for her radio. It wasn't there. She contemplated her blades, and then the lighter in her pocket. She thought of Elias, of Ashe, of Argus and everyone else she loved and cared for. This was not how or where she was going to die. She would find another way.

"Are you hungry, darlings?" the woman cooed. "There's a lovely little meal just across the way for you."

"Anna, where are you?" she heard Meline in her thoughts.

Hell, Anna thought as she shut Meline from her mind. She needed to focus. She snarled at the two across the room. And they laughed haughtily at her in return, baring their common - mortal - teeth to her. They had made the transition back to mortality but because of the rush of adrenaline, they hadn't noticed.

Anna smirked. "You would not believe how stupid that looks," she said pulling one of her blades free she flung it as hard as she could through the dangling tubes, catching the man in the stomach. Instinctively, he pulled the sword free then fell to the ground. The gush of fresh, warm, mortal blood sent the vampires into a state of frenzy. The woman gasped as she realized something was terribly wrong. She made a desperate attempt to reach the stairs but the vampires easily overpowered them both.

Anna grabbed her other sword and began hacking at anything that wasn't her as she scrambled over vampires and cadavers toward the stairs. Warm sprays of blood gushed from the tubes as she cut her way through them.

She spotted a tank of water and remains just inside a side door leading to an alleyway between two buildings. She opened her thoughts again to Meline and focused all her thoughts on Argus, on the lighter in her hand and the inevitable explosion that was about to occur. She opened the lighter and tossed it across the room behind her as she dove into the murky water.

The other side of the room was in flames when she resurfaced, fire speeding it's way both toward her and away from her following the trail of blood she'd made. She lifted herself out of the tank and ran for the open doorway. It would only be a matter of seconds before the fire reached the vampires.

As Anna reached the street in time to see the synchronized movements of dozens of Elite directing and ducking away from the building she was running from. Except for one - Jonas - who was running toward her at full speed. She ran to meet him. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her to the ground as the building exploded in a barrage of heat and flame that brought the entire structure collapsing down on itself within minutes.

"Vampires," Anna said.

"I know," Jonas said.

They had already begun to emerge in mass from other buildings. Force in numbers, they poured into the battlefield. Subduing everything in their path merely by numbers.

"What do we do?" Anna asked, breathlessly.

"We keep fighting," Jonas said, pulling her to her feet.

Gunshot sounded from behind her. It was a rogue with Vaughn's gun. He laughed as he fired it into the crowd.

He fired of four rounds before they reached him. The first shot hit a vampire with no effect. Until he fired the second shot she wasn't aware of where he was aiming. She turned to see the bullet strike Ashe in the chest though he had been aiming for Argus. Argus pulled Ashe to the ground, shielding him from the next two rounds, as that hit him in the back.

With unthinkable fury Anna sliced the rogues arm free from his body. His head hit the ground only seconds after his hand, still gripping the gun, as Jonas finished him off.

Anna ran at full speed toward them. Argus crouched low to the ground with Ashe in his arms. Jonas ran next to her. Tears blurred her vision as she ran. There was no way of knowing what effects the DNPi would have on them.
 

 

"Ashe!" Meline gasped then fell to the ground with the realization of two bullets in her - no in Argus's back.

"Meline?" Eden rushed to her side, her eyes wide. "Meline, what happened? Is he okay?"

"I don't know," Meline shook her head. "He's been shot with the DNPi. So has Argus."
 

 

There was a distinctly discordant feel to the battlefield as Jonas, Galen, Hiro, and Anna pulled Argus and Ashe to their feet and began fighting their way out of the thick.
 

 

(c) copyright 2010-2016 Lauren T. Hart