Before the Sun Rises Series
Nicola C. Matthews
all rights reserved
Ash settled back into the seat of Altania’s black SUV. He tilted his head slightly in thought as the streetlights zoomed by them in the night. “This is going to be a bit of a long story, but we have a long road ahead of us, pun intended.”
His attempt at humor reminded her of a question that had been on her mind since before she had arrived at The Council’s stronghold. “Where are we going, anyway?”
“First, we stop at my place. After that, we have to go by the old S.H.i.E.L.D. headquarters to get a few answers Tannitha’s notes did not divulge. What we learn at HQ will determine our next move.” He glanced over at Altania, eyeing her black slacks, business-like overcoat and stiletto heels. “Did The Council have the good sense to tell you to pack?”
Altania had pulled out the little PDA again, flipping through the files as they drove along the darkened streets. She looked up at him briefly, frowning. “Yes, my bags are in the back of the truck.” She moved her attention back to the handheld computer. “I take it you don’t approve of my current attire.”
Ash shrugged as he made a sharp right, pulling into the parking lot of Melody Lane Apartments. “No, you look good, but it’s going to be very inappropriate for the job we have to do tonight,” he said as he pulled into a vacant parking spot.
“What job?” she asked as she looked up at the three story tall complex. “And how the hell did you manage to get an apartment at Melody Lane?” she asked in astonishment. “I’ve been trying to get an apartment in this place for years. The manager keeps telling me there aren’t any vacancies, which I find incredibly unlikely, given as how people don’t normally take up residence in a little town like this.”
He put the truck into the parking gear and killed the engine. His face was a mixture of surprise and amusement as he asked, “Are you serious?”
The young woman snorted as she looked back down at the PDA. “What? I’m not good enough for Melody Lane or something?” she asked, crossing her arms over her chest in a defensive gesture.
Ash rolled his eyes and then laughed. “Alty,” he said, “Melody Lane is owned by The High Council. There’s nothing housed here but vampires. Humans are strictly forbidden.”
Altania uncrossed her arms and stared at him with wide-eyed astonishment. Ash opened the door to the SUV, laughing as he did. “Stay in the truck, and keep it locked. I’ll only be gone a few seconds.”
He flicked the electronic lock on the vehicle and shut the door. He looked inside the truck to make sure she wasn’t going to come after him, and then he vanished quickly into the deepening darkness.
She blinked, forgetting for a moment that Ash was now a member of the undead. It always freaked her out how they seemed to disappear into thin air. They didn’t really disappear, of course; they moved so fast, the human eye could not keep up with them. It still annoyed her to no end. It always made her feel like the sucker at the magic show who knew there was a simple explanation to the trick, but unable to get her mind to grasp the simple concept.
She sighed, looking back at the file she had opened on the computer. She had not even read the first word on the screen when a light tapping came at the driver-side window.
Altania screamed, her whole body jerking as she looked fearfully at the other side of the truck, the PDA falling unforgotten into the floorboard. Ash was standing there holding a duffle bag and a sledgehammer, looking at her expectantly.
“Shit,” she said under her breath. She reached down and unlocked the door.
Ash slung his bag into the back seat. “Sorry,” he apologized. “Didn’t mean to scare you, but I said I was only going to be gone for a few seconds.”
“Yeah, I know,” she said, retrieving the PDA from the floor of the truck. “I hate it when vampires pull the whole ‘disappearing into thin air’ trick. Freaks me out,” she mumbled.
“Can’t be helped,” he said as he settled into his seat and pointed the truck eastward.
“Now why are we going to the old S.H.i.E.L.D. building?” Altania asked. “I thought it was destroyed a few years ago.”
“It was,” Ash said. “The Council had the place cleaned up real nice too. We thought the destruction of the building would be the end of it, but after the CRNH sent us Tannitha’s PDA, they realized S.H.i.E.L.D. had a lot of buried secrets where that building used to be.”
“You are talking way above my head,” she said. “You plan on filling me in on what you know, or do you plan to keep me in the dark the whole time?”
He gave her a lopsided grin. “Okay,” he said, “in the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth.”
Altania scowled at him, resisting the urge to smack him in the back of his head. “That’s not funny,” she said.
Ash laughed. “Yeah, I know, bad joke.” He cleared his throat. “S.H.i.E.L.D. was brought together by former Sergeant First Class Steven Hall. That was a good, oh, I don’t know, fifteen years ago or better, maybe even twenty. No one really knows when he actually started the organization. But anyway, in the early days, I was contracted by the agency to, um, interrogate their prisoners.”
“You mean you tortured vampires and werewolves to get answers for S.H.i.E.L.D.,” Altania said flatly.
Ash sighed. “Yes, Altania, if you wish to be so blunt, I tortured dozens of supernatural creatures in order to further the knowledge S.H.i.E.L.D. had managed to gather by experimenting on those same supernaturals, both living and dead.”
He glanced over at his passenger. She looked like she had paled considerably. “You want me to finish or what?” he asked harshly.
“Yes,” she hissed at him, turning to look out the window so he wouldn’t see the parade of emotions marching across her face. She hated that their government did not consider the supernatural beings of this great nation to be citizens; it was even worse so many humans had never been brought to justice for killing them because the government did not consider it murder. It was disgusting, plain and simple. Every single lycan and vampire started out human; the fact they were now something science could not readily explain shouldn’t make it any less illegal when one of them came up dead by another’s hand.
“Fine,” he said, his voice a bit more callous than he intended. “Before I do, Alty, you need to get something straight. I’ve always worked for whoever had the deepest pockets. Now, money means very little to me. My life, however, does, and since I am a formal member of the immortals and a sanctioned assassin, my life is all I have left to me, so I will do what I am told when I am told and how I am told. I have my orders and I will follow them to the letter. I’ve been given clearance by The Council to do whatever it takes to bring the subject into custody. Whatever it takes. Get it? So you better get used to playing hardball because in this game, there is no room for error … for either of us.”
Altania shuddered at both his tone and words. “Okay, Ash, I get it. Step up or move aside, right?”
Ash nodded his head. “Right.” His voice softened a bit as he continued, “I’m sorry, Alty, really I am, but this is the way it has to be. You’re an ex-cop. You know how to follow orders, so you either do what The Council tells you or you can be easily replaced. And you don’t want to be replaced, Altania. Trust me. You know what happens to people when they are no longer of any use to The Council.”
The woman swallowed down the discomfort that had come over her. She knew Ash spoke the truth, knew it even before she agreed to this mission. She guessed, somehow, she hadn’t really thought the rules applied to her.
She had gotten away with so much while being a detective. Her captain had covered her ass more times than she could count. But after hearing about Ash’s five year stint with The Council, she now had absolutely no doubts whatsoever that if she did not follow her orders, then she would be taking a long walk down a very, very short road.
Satisfied the woman beside him understood the gravity of their situation, Ash continued his story. “I was only brought inside the agency’s many buildings a few times over the years I worked for them. One of those times was when I brought Tannitha Johnson the PDA. That’s why I’m sure she was the one who sent it. I don’t think she quite agreed with the methods of the agency.”
“Then why was she working there?” Altania asked more to herself than to Ash.
“I think she had a thing for Dakota Hall.”
Altania’s head snapped around. “I would ask, but I’m assuming you will be getting to all of this?” she asked.
He nodded his head again as he pulled into a long driveway lined with small magnolia trees. It would have been pretty, had it not been the site of so much pain, destruction, and heartache.
“S.H.i.E.L.D. learned all about how the vampire and lycanthrope bodies work. They experimented with blood and various drugs and even did DNA splicing until they had created their own little fucked-up army of hybrids. I think Tannitha was curious at first, but the longer she stayed, the more she realized Sergeant Hall was totally bat-shit crazy. By that time, she had already fallen in love with Dakota, who had also become a prisoner of the agency. Even if she had not loved Dakota and wanted to leave, she couldn’t. Steven Hall ran his organization much like The Council. You are either in, or you are out, and if you go against them or are of no further use to them, then you are out. And ‘out’ is not what you want to be in either of these instances.”
Ash pulled into what used to be the parking lot of S.H.i.E.L.D. headquarters. He parked the truck and reached into the backseat for his bag. He rummaged around for a flashlight, pushing the button a few times to make sure it worked before tossing the bag back into the backseat.
The two of them got out of the truck. Ash stuck the flashlight in his back pocket and opened the backdoor, pulling the sledgehammer out and slinging it over his shoulder.
Altania wondered what the hammer was for, but figured she would find out soon enough. For now, she allowed Ash to continue his story as they walked.
He led the way towards a large statue sitting towards the far end of the grass-covered field. “Dakota had volunteered for one of the agency’s experiments. Tannitha thought she could stop the internal decay caused by injecting vampire blood into the soldiers. She was wrong, of course, and by the time she realized it, Dakota was already dying. She forced one of the vampire prisoners to embrace him. It was risky, seeing as how Steven Hall hated all ‘pure’ supernaturals. But Dakota was his son, so he kept him on as another variant of the experiment, to see if any of Dakota’s personality traits and morals would still be intact after he was turned.”
“The vampire who embraced Dakota was named Viktor,” Ash said as they neared the far end of the grassy plain. “He initially refused Tannitha’s demands. That’s when they brought me back in to see if he couldn’t be persuaded to cooperate.”
Arriving at the statue, Ash felt around the base of the marble figure until his finger found the hidden mechanism. The entire statue rumbled slightly, and then slowly began to move, the grating sound of marble against cement eventually revealing a hidden stairwell beneath the monument.
“Holy hell,” Altania whispered.
Ash took the flashlight from his pocket, flicking the switch to the ‘on’ position and shining the narrow beam of light down into the dark hole. He didn’t need the illumination, but Altania would.
He handed the flashlight over to the woman as he descended the stairs, the sledgehammer dangling from his hand as he walked. “The agency was two stories when it was still standing, one at ground level, and a basement. The Council cleaned out the bottom floor and rebuilt the ceiling at ground level, hiding the entrance with the statue. They figured it might come in handy some day. After receiving Tannitha’s notes, they were glad they didn’t fill it in with cement like they originally planned.”
Altania followed Ash down the pitch-black staircase. She tripped a few times, causing Ash to finally wrap an arm around her waist to keep her from falling down the stairs. She protested, but he only laughed as he took the flashlight from her, somehow managing to manipulate both the light and the hammer in one hand. “I told you that you would regret your choice of wardrobe,” he said jokingly.
She sighed, allowing him to help her down the steep tunnel. She tried not to think about his lean body moving next to hers, the feel of the muscles beneath the skin brushing against her side as they walked. She shuddered, but it had nothing to do with the dark, or the fact that a vampire was escorting her down into a virtual crypt, and everything to do with the fact that there was a hard, muscled male body pressed against hers, something she had not felt in nearly six years.
“As I was saying, Tannitha forced Viktor to embrace Dakota. I had seen Dakota around the agency a few times, but I thought he was a regular vampire like all the others. S.H.i.E.L.D. kept a tight hold on him, like they did with all of their experiments. He was still allowed to go on missions, but the agency kept a careful watch over him, making sure he didn’t snack on one of his fellow agents, or go on a crazed killing spree. It wasn’t until the CRNH sent us the file from the PDA that The Council realized Dakota was not a regular vampire.”
“What do you mean, a ‘regular’ vampire? I thought vampires came in one variety – the blood sucking kind,” she said.
Ash shook his head, ignoring her sarcasm as he eased Alty down the last few steps, finally letting go of her waist. She shuddered again, this time from both the cool air, and the sudden loss of his touch.
“Yeah, me too, until I was briefed for this mission.” He handed the flashlight back to her as he led the way down the remnants of a hallway.
“Legend has it, centuries ago, a vampire named Tao had a human lover named Addalynne,” Ash said. “She wasn’t a typical human companion, but an actual lover, someone he did not feed from, which is incredibly rare.”
“I’ve heard this legend told more ways than I can count. The only kernel of truth which has stayed the same throughout the decades is this Addalynne kept getting hurt over the years,” he continued. “Many times she became mortally wounded, but instead of letting her die, or embracing her, Tao decided to do a little experiment. He fed her his own blood. As he had hoped, the blood allowed her body to heal. What he hadn’t counted on, was his blood slowly killing her. Once he realized she was dying, he embraced her as a last ditch effort to keep her with him. What she turned into was not a regular vampire cable of feeding on human blood. The Elders call her Il Vampiro Vivente. Tannitha would refer to her as a metavampire, the same thing Dakota has become.”
“So what’s a metavampire then?” Altania asked, her voice echoing delicately off the tile which still clung to the walls.
“From what I have gathered, it’s a vampire who can only feed off of vampire blood. They are an anomaly, a fluke if you will, something which rarely happens. Either way, it’s what Tannitha accidently created when she allowed Dakota to be embraced.”
Her steps faltered as she absorbed this new information. “But wouldn’t that be a good thing?” she asked. “A vampire who feeds off of other vampires wouldn’t be a threat to humans.”
“In theory, yes,” Ash said. “But aside from Dakota, this Addalynne was the only other meta-vampire in existence, so far as any of us knows, anyway.”
“So what happened to her?” she asked.
“She killed her sire in a fit of bloodlust.”
“Oh,” she breathed. “Well that explains a lot.”
He smiled, although she couldn’t see the fangy grin in the dark. “Yeah, after that happened, The Council hunted her down and had her destroyed, along with any record of the two’s existence. They didn’t know if Addalynne could control her hunger, and they didn’t want to risk anyone using her as a weapon against them. This is why we have been sent to recover Dakota. Destroying Addalynne may have been a mistake, one The Council is not eager to repeat. Allowing him to stay out in the world, however, could prove to be an even bigger mistake, if he falls into the wrong hands. Someone like Steven Hall could very well figure out how to create them en mass, and that’s the last thing The Council wants happening.”
Ash stopped at the back wall, handing Altania the flashlight so he could run his hand over the tiles. He moved a few feet to his right, nodding his head as he felt the unseen groove in the wall. “The Council does not know exactly how much information Viktor told Tannitha before she had him entombed.”
He raised the sledgehammer, pivoting his shoulders so he could get a good swing. “That’s what we’re here to find out.”
Ash swung the hammer hard and fast, the tile and concrete exploding out from the wall in a shower of dust and debris. “You might want to move back,” he said as he aimed the hammer for another blow.
Altania obliged him, moving several feet away from the thunderous explosions and flying particles. The sound of crumbling building material lasted for less than a minute before he was calling for her to return to his side.
She moved back to where he had been, taking note of the gaping hole which was now marring the far wall.
“Oh, score!” She heard Ash’s voice drift from within the hole, sounding very happy. “I was afraid I was going to have to go back to the truck for my little bag of tricks!”
Alty stepped carefully through the hole, trying to avoid as much of the rubble as possible.
“Wait just a sec,” he said from somewhere off to her side. A split second later she was blinded by blinking florescent lights.
“He said they hadn’t cut the power, but I wasn’t sure it would work,” Ash said.
It took a few seconds for Altania’s eyes to adjust to the sudden glare of light. When she was finally able to look around the room, she was totally unprepared for the sight awaiting her.
A metal table was secured to the center of the room. Upon that table laid the shriveled body of the vampire known as Viktor. His body had been stripped nude and chained to the table, the skin coated in dried blood which had long since turned black. The congealed and dried-up mess was all over the table, covering half of the floor and spattered all over the walls, mixing with the dust that had settled within the room.
Altania felt sick again, her head dizzy from the gory scene spread out before her.
Ash was immediately at her side, wrapping his arm around her waist. “Easy,” he said quietly as he waited for the faintness to disappear.
“Is he dead?” she whispered.
“No,” he answered, walking her towards the table, his arm never leaving her waist.
The vampire’s skin was shriveled, grey, almost mummified. Despite the massive amounts of blood, Viktor’s body was pretty much intact, save for a large wound in the middle of his stomach. His eyes were glazed over, white, unseeing in a face with hollowed cheeks. The lips had receded from the teeth and fangs, the grey skin cracked. He looked pretty dead to Altania.
“Are you sure?” she whispered.
“Yes,” he said. “There’s only two ways to kill a vampire, despite what S.H.i.E.L.D. thought, or what the humans have been lead to believe.”
Altania looked at him, waiting for him to tell her what he knew. He looked at her blankly before he grunted. “What, you thought I was going to tell you?” He laughed at the irony. “There’s no way in hell I’m going to tell you how to end my immortal life.”
She snorted in anger, opening her mouth to retort. But before she could take a breath in, he interrupted. “Trust me,” he said, “Viktor is not dead. He’s hibernating, as we like to say.”
Altania looked back down at the dead-looking thing on the table. She would have to take his word for it.
Ash picked up her right arm in his hand, raising it to his lips. She looked up at him in time to see him draw back his lips, his fangs elongating as he moved her wrist closer to his mouth.
She screamed, struggling to pull both her arm and her waist out of his grip as she asked, “What the fuck are you doing?”
His hold on her waist tightened, but he allowed her arm to drop away from his lips. “We have to revive him, Alty,” he said calmly.
Altania shook her head. “What do you mean?”
She was shaking, her heart hammering loudly in her ears. Ash picked up the sound of the enticing tattoo, causing him to lick his lips absently.
“I told you,” he said quietly. “Viktor is not dead, despite his appearance. Vampires don’t sit around looking all perfect when they have been starved. Their bodies shrink up, mummifies, the heart stops beating and all bodily functions stop.”
“But they aren’t dead,” he explained. “Giving them fresh blood allows their bodies to heal, starts their vital signs again. A few ounces and he’ll be coherent enough to answer my questions.”
Alty was still trying to pull out of Ash’s grip. She pushed against his shoulders, her wrist right below his chin. If he had wanted to bite her, all he had to do was dip his head.
She shook her head at his words. “Then give him your blood, and leave mine right where it is.”
He sighed, rolling his eyes slightly. “Vampire blood won’t do any good,” he explained patiently. “Weren’t you paying attention when The Council recruited you?”
She looked back at him, fear still in her eyes. Yes, she knew vampire blood would not sustain a vampire. They needed fresh blood, human blood, blood like hers in order to survive.
She swallowed, looking at the shriveled up corpse strapped to the table. Her wide, blue eyes looked back at Ash. “What guarantee do I have you can control yourself enough to not suck me dry where I stand?”
He would have laughed, had the situation not been so serious. “Besides my word?” he asked. He looked at her sternly as he said, “Before I was allowed outside the walls of my prison, The Council had to make sure I could control my hunger around humans. So one day they brought a young woman, not more than eighteen years old, whom they had lashed repeatedly in order to draw blood. Then they tossed her into my cell, still bleeding, after they had been starving me for over three months. She stayed in my bed for two weeks, until her body had finally healed.”
“A few weeks later, they brought in a young boy who had sustained a compound fracture to his left leg. I moved him to my bed, tended his wounds, and was forced to hold the boy down while I reset the bone. I fed him the food they left until he had finally healed up as well. They took him away after six weeks.”
“By then I hadn’t received any nourishment for over half a year. I was having a hard time concentrating. I was hallucinating, imagined every little sound was the mouth-watering thud of a human heartbeat. It was then they issued the ultimate challenge to me.” Ash’s eyes had taken on a faraway look as he relived the last few days in his cell. “They served to me an infant child, coated in human blood.”
Ash swallowed hard, the memory causing the bile to rise in the back of his throat. “I cleaned the blood off his tiny body as he screamed. After nearly two days I began screaming along with him, wanting to know when they were going to give me something to feed him. I rocked him, and sang to him, and paced around the room. I could feel his little tummy growling around, his tiny little heart beating frantically from the hunger.”
“One of the Elders finally appeared after the first night and told me I could either kill the child by drinking his blood, or let him starve to death. Either way, they refused to provide any milk for him.”
Altania stood riveted to her spot, still held tightly in Ash’s arms, listening intently to the story. She felt her heart lurch at the tale, the thought of him being forced to kill an infant more than she could bear. She felt sick to her stomach, but she had to know. She almost held her breath as she waited for him to finish the story.
“What did you do?” she asked, her voice little more than a whisper.
Ash smiled, a dry, ironic smile. “I broke the door off its tungsten hinges, sliced the Elder’s throat with my nails, and told him he could either point me in the direction of the nearest baby formula or die where he stood.”
He glanced down at Altania’s wide-eyed face. “He handed me the baby bottle he had hidden in his cloak. It was only then they finally stopped trying to temp me, and allowed me to feed from a willing donor.”
His voice had faded to a murmur, but in his words were laced the unbearable pain of having food so close, yet forbidden to touch it. She searched his face for some sign he was lying, but somehow she knew he spoke the truth.
“Alright,” she said, nodding her head. “Do it.”
Ash paused, before he raised her wrist to his mouth, slowly, his gold-flecked eyes holding hers as he lowered his mouth, his lips pulling back from his fangs. She stiffened her body against the coming pain, but Ash’s bite into her flesh was so slow and delicate the sharp pain she expected never came.
He removed his fangs from her flesh, slowly licking the droplets of blood from his lips, his eyes never leaving hers. His body shuddered involuntarily from the taste of the sweet nectar.
Ash moved her closer to the table, holding her wrist above the shriveled hole that used to be Viktor’s mouth. He applied a bit of pressure to the wounds, allowing the blood to drip.
He moved behind her, his left arm wrapped tightly around her waist, his right hand holding out her arm as the blood flowed from the delicate puncture wounds. He pressed himself against her back, his arm tightening on her waist as the aroma of her blood came to his nose. She gasped as she felt the very distinctive bulge against her lower back. She struggled slightly in his embrace, the fear and panic urging her to be free of the feel of his body against hers.
“Ash,” she said, his name on her tongue sounding more like a low moan than a word.
“Shhhh,” he hissed quietly. “It’s the smell of the blood.” He pressed his face into the side of her neck, his lips lightly grazing the delicate skin stretched over her jugular. His left hand moved to the inside of her thigh, the nails of his hand digging into the soft flesh.
Her hand moved over his, her own nails digging into the back of his hand. She wasn’t sure if she was trying to move his hand away from her body, or closer, as her heartbeat quickened in her ears. Her entire body stiffened as his mouth hovered over the vein in her neck. Her breath was becoming ragged, both from the feel of his body pressed so closely against hers, and the fear causing her heart to pump erratically inside of her chest.
“The Council explained about our feeding habits,” Ash said quietly, his hips moving slightly, his erection rubbing against her lower back slowly. She tried to pull away from him again, the mixture of fear and unwanted lust causing her brain to urge her body to run.
“Be still, Altania,” he whispered. “I may be able to control myself around blood, but I am still a predator, after all. You move suddenly, and I may not be able to control my basic instincts.”
She shuddered at his words, knowing vampires often got sexual urges and the blinding thirst for blood mixed up in their minds, one desire being the same as the other. Her blood was flowing from her body, and his instincts told him he should feed both desires at once. It was hard enough to control the bloodlust, but controlling the thirst for blood, along with carnal lust, was requiring superhuman effort on his part.
Ash’s breathing quickened slightly, his arm pulling her hard against his body. His nails were digging so deeply into her flesh, they were almost drawing blood on their own. He groaned, the sound low and harsh. His left hand moved from her thigh to cup the scorching heat between her legs. Altania gasped, her entire body jerking violently at the feel of his fingers curled around her pubic mound.
Ash could feel his release mounting inside of him, the desire so overwhelming he could barely think of anything other than quenching his lusts. In his mind he could see himself tossing the young woman to the floor and taking what he had dreamt of for so many years. His body screamed out for him to give in to his desires, while his mind held the rest of him in check, constantly reminding him to do so would mean his demise.
“Alty, how do you do this to me?” he asked in hushed tones, his lips still lightly grazing the skin of her neck. He pulled her closer to him, knowing in the back of his mind that, while his body wanted to feel itself buried balls deep inside of her warm confines, his pride and heart wanted her begging him for release.
Alty’s breath was coming in short bursts, the growing mixture of heat and pain in her groin spreading out to her lower stomach. Her hand was still over his where it cupped the warmth between her legs, holding it closer to her body.
She blinked, and for one second she saw herself turning in his arms, giving in to this crazy mixture of unbridled need to feel his naked body pressed against her own.
Suddenly Ash jerked her right hand back to his mouth to lick the wounds before shoving her away from him. His right hand wrapped around the neck of the vampire who was still shackled to the table, the shriveled body beginning to show signs of movement.
“Go to the door,” he told her harshly, his eyes fevered inside of his head.
Altania cradled her injured hand against her chest, stumbling in her stilettos as she moved toward the door. Her heart was pounding in her chest, but it was less from fear, and more from some unsettled desire she had never felt before in her life. The thought she had enjoyed Ash’s rough treatment, that she was shaking more from lust than from fear, had her disgusted with herself, and feeling sick to her stomach all over again.
She wondered how on earth she was supposed to get through this mission when everything she had known was now turned on its head. The enemy was no longer the enemy, and if he was not someone she was supposed to be fighting, then where did that leave her, and her five years worth of revenge?
Altania moved away from Ash, and the now fully conscious Viktor, her eyes scanning her skin for his bite mark. For a moment she stared at her arm in confusion, not fully understanding why the marks were nearly closed. She realized Ash had licked the wounds a split second before he had shoved her away, the enzymes in his saliva helping heal the small wounds.
He had not only bitten into her flesh and fed her life’s blood to a hibernating vampire, but he had also virtually gotten himself off simply by rubbing his body against hers, all while she shuddered at his touch. To top off the whole lurid affair, he had managed to lick her wounds without her having even felt the soft touch of his tongue.
She shivered involuntarily yet again. His touch was so slight he could lick her arm, while she watched, and her not even feel it. What would it mean for her once she fell asleep? Would he be so good at being the predator he was, he could drink his fill from her body while she slept, and her never know it?
Note to self, she thought, only sleep during the day. As she saw it, if she was awake when he was, he couldn’t very well sneak up on her. Well, it would make it more difficult, anyway.
Her attention was brought back sharply into focus by the inhuman screams coming from within the room. Viktor was thrashing on the table, Ash’s hand still wrapped firmly around his throat. It took a few minutes before the fresh blood had cleared Viktor’s mind enough for him to calm down and speak normally. By then his white-blonde hair was once again full upon his head, his shriveled skin a pale milk-white under the glare of the florescent lighting.
“I’m going to remove my hand now, Viktor,” Ash said quietly, squeezing the vampire’s neck briefly to make sure the vampire on the table understood.
Viktor’s blue eyes darted around the room, locking onto Altania as she crept closer to the table, then those wandering eyes darted back to Ash. Viktor glared at the other vampire, his fangs barred as he hissed a warning.
Ash winced slightly at the piercing pain which shot through his head. He removed his hand from Viktor’s throat, the enraged vampire on the table cursing him with ever fiber in his being. His arms and legs pulled hard against the straps which kept him firmly shackled to the table.
“I’m going to kill you, Ashton!” he screamed, the high-pitched voice echoing off the walls as he pulled viciously against his bonds, the manacles digging into his flesh. “I’m going to slit open your belly, pull your intestines out inch by inch, and watch as you slowly bleed to death!”
Altania smiled slightly as she moved closer to the table. Viktor had a burning hatred for Ash that ran almost as deeply as her own. Had things been different, she and Viktor might have been comrades with a common goal.
Viktor hissed at Ash again, the sound being a bit too high-pitched for Altania to hear. The sound caused little more than a slight ringing in her ears. Ash, however, with his delicate vampire hearing, openly grimaced again, his own lips peeling back from his fangs as he returned the high-pitched warning. He reached out, wrapping his fingers around Viktor’s throat again; the movement was so quick Altania did not even see him move. She was so shocked to see Ash virtually appear at Viktor’s side, she stopped a few inches from the table, not sure she should get any closer.
“Stop hissing at me, Viktor,” Ash said between clenched fangs. “We are the only two vampires left in this place, and, quite frankly, you’re giving me a headache.”
Viktor’s pale eyes grew wide at Ash’s words, the realization his tormentor had now joined the ranks of the undead sending him into a fit of rage. He had grown still when Ash’s hand had appeared around his throat. Now, he roared in his anger, his right arm jerking up so quickly and with so much force that the tungsten chains broke beneath the strain, sending the twelve-inch long links flying outward.
Altania had only a split second to move her head over far enough so the chain missed plowing into her skull. The flailing strand wrapped itself around the top of her shoulder, the links slicing through her shirt and into the skin of her upper back. Her clavicle fractured slightly beneath the weight of the metal. She screamed, her arms wrapping around her upper body as she crumpled to the floor in agony.
Ash grabbed hold of the chain as it flew towards his own head, his hand allowing the chain to wrap around his wrist a few times. He turned his head slowly to see Altania curled up on the floor, the blood seeping through the remnants of her shirt. She was sobbing quietly, the tears etching lines into her makeup as they slid down her cheeks. These were not the sobs of desperation that his mild torture of the woman had elicited all those years ago. These were the sounds of a woman who had been physically wounded, to the point of needing medical attention.
Seeing Alty crouched down in pain caused something to snap inside of him. It was a strange sensation, something that brought about conflicting emotions inside of him. He longed to inflict physical pain on her, to see her blood spill forth from multiple wounds, but he wanted the pain to be something he inflicted. He had spent days torturing her and her twin, but never did he cause such physical harm to Alty which would require a visit to the hospital.
Her sister, however, he had been brutal with her. He never saw any of his victims as anything more than another random bag of flesh to play with, until they finally succumbed to death. Altania, however, she was different. To see her injured by someone else sent a rage pouring through him, the white-hot fury nearly blinding him in its intensity.
Ash returned the roar of anger, wrapping the chain around Viktor’s neck. His other hand reached down into the half-healed hole in Viktor’s abdomen, his fist clutching at the intestines. He pulled hard on the slippery innards, doing the very thing to Viktor he had threatened to do to Ash only moments before.
Not nearly satisfied, he tightened his grip on the chain around Viktor’s neck, his free hand soaked in congealed vampire blood. He grabbed hold of the vampire’s flailing arm, his nails digging into the flesh as his grip constricted. Ash braced his right foot against the table and pulled as hard as he could, Viktor’s arm ripping from his body at the joint, the blood spraying out in a fine mist, coating the floor and hitting the far wall.
Ash slung the arm across the room and straightened up, his eyes shining in delight as Viktor thrashed on the table, the gaping wound in his body squirting blood as the vampire shrieked in agony. He smiled to himself; Viktor never was one to have a high threshold for pain.
Altania watched Ash’s little tantrum from her spot on the floor, her arms still wrapped around her shoulder as she rocked slightly to and fro, trying to soothe herself. She almost enjoyed watching Ash dish out his vengeance on Viktor, oddly happy to see him hurt as he had hurt her. Seeing the half-crazed smile on Ash’s face, she realized how much he was enjoying inflicting so much physical damage to the other vampire. She felt a cold fear grip her soul. She stumbled to her feet and easer her way closer to the door, trying to put a little distance between herself and the man-turned-vampire she feared might turn all his warped enjoyment onto her.
Ash jumped up onto the table, his body straddling Viktor’s legs. His left hand held Viktor down by the stump of a shoulder which still poured blood onto the table and floor. Ash shoved his other hand back into the vampire’s abdomen, his hand pushing aside liver and stomach as it inched its way into the thoracic cavity. Reaching his target, his hand tightened around the still barely pulsating organ that was Viktor’s heart, giving it a hard squeeze.
Viktor roared in agony, his eyes growing wide as he realized what Ash had in mind to do.
Ash moved his face closer to Viktor’s. “Now, you are going to tell me what I want to know, or I am going to rip your still beating heart from your chest, and watch as you slowly wither and die the death I should have bestowed upon your sorry caucus all those years ago, when I was still being paid a decent salary to torture and kill.” He twisted his hand slightly inside the vampire’s body, twisting and tearing the delicate tissue of the heart as he talked. “You got me?”
Viktor hissed slightly but nodded his head in understanding, his body writhing in pain upon the table.
“Now,” he said as he settled down on top of the other man, “I want to know what you overheard while you were entombed in here. I left you still conscious, and with enough blood in your system to keep you alert and awake for many months, if not a good solid year. I want to know everything you heard about Dakota Hall after you embraced him.”
Viktor looked at Ash with confusion on his face. “I don’t … I can’t …” Viktor mumbled almost incoherently, pausing briefly before he finally asked, “What is it you want to know about him?”
“I want to know what he is,” Ash said, giving Viktor’s heart a little tug. “And don’t tell me he’s a vampire. He’s not like you and me. I want to know what those freaks at S.H.i.E.L.D. turned him into. What did you tell them?”
Viktor shook his head, opening his mouth to object, but Ash did not give him a chance. He squeezed the vampire’s heart harder, pulling down and allowing the aorta to tear slightly. The vampire thrashed around on the table again, the high-pitched screech echoing off the tiled walls.
Ash held the vampire down, one knee across his shoulders, the other across his upper thighs. “Don’t you even think about lying to me, Viktor. You are the one who told Tannitha how to save him. It was you who embraced him. Now, I want to know what it is you didn’t tell S.H.i.E.L.D.”
Viktor tried to laugh, but the pressure on his chest was constricting his breathing so much the sound came out strangled. “What’s wrong, Ashton?” Viktor asked as he choked on the blood inching its way up into his windpipe. “Your beloved High Council refusing to share all of their dirty little secrets with you?”
Ash tightened his grip on the vampire’s heart, his nails tearing into the delicate flesh and surrounding organs. This time Viktor did manage to get a short chuckle out, the blood bubbling up from within his lungs. “They sent you after something they didn’t even bother to brief you on? And you think S.H.i.E.L.D. is the enemy?”
“It’s not a matter of who the enemy is, Viktor,” he said as he leaned in closer. “All that matters right now, is me completing my mission, fulfilling my debt to The Council, and getting what has been promised me.”
“And once you have this information, Ashton, then what?” Viktor asked. “Will you finally destroy me, or do you plan to chain me to this table again and leave me to slowly starve to death?”
Ash stared at the other vampire for a few seconds. He had been ordered by The Council to rip the vampire’s heart from his chest and seal Viktor’s body back inside the room. Now that he had been faced with the question head on, however, he quickly realized destroying Viktor would not accomplish anything other than forever silencing one of the very few people on this earth who could answer some of his many questions about S.H.i.E.L.D., and The Council.
“I don’t know, Viktor,” Ash said. “You tell me what you know, and then I’ll decide if the information is worth your miserable life. If it is, I’ll leave you strapped to this table, alive, with my word that I’ll come back and release you once my mission has been completed, and my questions have been answered. If not, I’ll follow my orders, and rip your heart from your chest where you lay. Deal?”
Viktor’s wide eyes stared back at Ash. He didn’t really like either of those options, but from where he was sitting, he had very little choice. “Do I have your word you will come back to release me?”
Ash returned Viktor’s stare. He slowly nodded his head. “You have my word,” he said, his voice solemn but full of conviction.
Viktor decided it would have to do. “Okay,” he said. “I’ll tell you, Ashton, but you have to realize what I’m about to tell you is not supposed to be known outside of The Council. If they discover you have this knowledge, you will be marked for death.”
Ash grunted at his words, rolling his eyes slightly. “I’m already marked for death,” he said. “Tell me something I don’t know.”
“Make no mistake, Ashton,” Viktor said, “The Council will protect this knowledge at any cost. They do not care who has to die in order to keep their secrets.”
“Secret? Secret from whom, the psychotic scientists of S.H.i.E.L.D., or the demented doctors of the humans?” he asked. “What is so damn special about Dakota Hall The Council would send a vampire assassin after him, and then slaughter that assassin where he stood?”
Viktor began laughing in earnest, choking on the congealed blood welling up from his lungs. “What’s so damn important about Dakota Hall is The Council fears him, fears what he has become,” the vampire said.
“Why would they fear another vampire?” Ash asked, his hand once again squeezing Viktor’s heart.
Viktor grimaced, but the deranged smile remained on his face. “He’s not just another vampire, Ashton. But you already know that, don’t you?”
“Yes, I realize he is what S.H.i.E.L.D. calls a metavampire,” Ash said. “I already know that, know he feeds off of vampire blood. Now tell me something useful.”
Viktor coughed, almost choking on the mass of blood sticking in his windpipe. “Think about it, Ashton. What would happen if someone created an army of these metavampires? What would happen to the vampire population if a group of them were let loose on the world? What would happen to the likes of us, if we suddenly became the food, and the humans were no longer in danger?” Viktor stared hard at Ash, allowing the information to sink in for a moment before adding quietly, “Think about that for a few minutes. What happens when The Council is no longer in charge of the highest predator on the food chain?”
Ash let go of Viktor’s neck abruptly, jumping off the table and moving quickly towards the door. He reached down and hauled Altania to her feet as he rushed her through the doorway, hitting a few keys on the keypad. He dragged the small woman out of the room before the secondary emergency tungsten door slammed down behind them.
Altania groaned as Ash pulled her along beside him, her feet tripping from time to time over the ruble strewn about the hallway. “Ash,” Altania’s voice was low, tense with pain. “Please stop, I think I’m going to be sick.”
Her hushed tones reminded the vampire she had been injured by Viktor when he tried to escape. The memory shot through his brain, bringing with it the same blinding rage. He pushed Alty up against the wall, the smaller woman’s head lolling to the side slightly before falling forward to rest on his chest. She moaned again, her entire body trembling as she struggled to breathe through the pain.
He propped her limp body against the wall, his own pinning her in place as he pulled her nearly shredded top away from the injured shoulder. The bleeding had almost stopped, but the real damage was on the inside.
“Alty,” he said quietly, “I think the bone is fractured. I might be able to patch it up, but you are not going to like it.”
Altania rolled her head back and forth, her breathing becoming increasingly labored from the pain.”Just do it, Ash, whatever it is. If it will help stop the pain enough so I can think straight again, then get it over with.”
“Okay,” he almost whispered, moving his body over hers so she could not move. He put his left forearm over the good shoulder, his hand wrapping around her neck to keep her from moving her head. He held her other arm in place, moving his face over the injury.
He inhaled deeply, allowing the fragrance of her skin and the tantalizing aroma of her blood to linger in his nostrils for a few moments. He glanced up at her long enough to say, “This is going to hurt,” before he wrapped his mouth around the wound, and shoved his tongue inside, the appendage moving around rapidly to lap at all the torn flesh, digging around until it found and flicked over the fractured bone several times.
Altania screamed in agony, the exposed flesh tingling with raw nerve endings for the first few seconds before the anesthetic effects of his saliva began to take effect. “Oh, God,” she groaned, her hands wrapping around Ash’s waist as her nails dug into his flesh. Everywhere he touched was tingling as the warmth spread throughout the wound. It was painful but pleasurable at the same time, like messaging the soreness out of a muscle.
Her words brought a smile to his face, reminding him of the little necromancer who had brought him out of his grave. He could have had a lot of fun with that little number, if he had still been up to his old tricks.
“Ash,” Alty’s moan brought him back to himself and the painful throbbing in his groin. He loosened his grip on her chest and arm, his body relaxing into hers. He allowed his tongue to retract from the wound, which was already beginning to knit back together. He relished the delicious taste of her blood on his lips as he pulled her into his arms, giving her body the few minutes it required to heal.
“What did you just do?” Altania whispered after a few moments had passed. She did not resist his embrace, allowing her head to rest over his heart as she felt her own body becoming stronger, the pain slowly subsiding.
He laid his cheek against her temple, his hand absently rubbing the back of the injured shoulder. “Our saliva has an enzyme in it that speeds up the healing process, and it has some anesthetic benefits as well.”
His hand continued to make small circles on the bare flesh of her back as he talked. “The enzyme which allows us to heal so quickly is transmitted in all of our bodily fluids. It keeps our donors from feeling pain when we feed, and allows them to heal up so they don’t bleed to death afterwards.”
A slow smile spread across his face. He wasn’t sure she would like this next part, but he felt it was something he should tell her anyway. “There’s something else, another property that one of our fluids holds, but I don’t think you will like it.”
He was smiling, she could tell, and he was right. She didn’t like his tone, and she was pretty sure whatever it was he was about to say would piss her off. “You’re right, I don’t want to know,” she said flatly, jerking her head back and glaring up at him.
He returned her stare, that lop-sided smile still turning up the corners of his mouth. “Okay, it will wait, but I think it is only fair that you should-”
A low rumbling came to his ears, faint at first, but building up in speed and frequency so fast Altania did not have time to question what was wrong before she, too, not only heard the resonating boom, but also felt the earth shake beneath her feet.
“What the hell was that?” she asked after the ground settled back down. Ash did not answer. He took her by the arm and pulled her down the corridor, helping her back up the steps they had descended earlier. They moved back toward the other end of the field, back toward the SUV, and then stopped short, both of them staring in disbelief at the huge hole which had opened up to the night sky.
“What happened?” Alty asked. She coughed a bit as the dust settled around them. “Did the roof collapse?”
Ash slowly shook his head. “It didn’t fall in,” he said, pulling her back away from the hole.
“If it didn’t fall in, then why is there a giant hole in the ground?” Alty asked, her voice taking on a mocking tone.
“Something didn’t fall in, Altania,” Ash said. “Something busted out.”
Altania’s mouth popped open. “What else was in there besides Viktor?” she asked, taking an involuntary step away from the hole.
Ash shook his head. “Nothing. At least, nothing else was supposed to be in there. The Council had everything removed, the bodies of the S.H.i.E.L.D. agents were destroyed, those of Joshua’s pack and the vampires were claimed and given a proper memorial. All of the equipment and files were taken back to one of The Council’s secured buildings and stored.”
“All the files were taken?” Alty asked as she moved around the hole, bending to pick up something off the ground. She held up the blackened piece of paper. “Then what the hell is this?” she asked.
Ash moved to her side, taking the piece of paper from her and peering at it intently. He could smell the very distinct but vague scent of lycan blood, no doubt the reason why the paper had turned black.
Alty moved closer to the hole, pointing the flashlight down into its depths. “Ash,” she said quietly, “there’s another floor down there, below the one we were on.”
Ash looked down into the hole, the meager illumination from the flashlight barely penetrating the darkness below their feet. “Looks like there’s a subbasement down there,” he said, his eyes and ears scanning for any indication of life. “Stay here.”
He jumped down into the darkness, his body disappearing from view. She could not hear anything, not a rustle of paper or footsteps. She peered intently into the hole, growing uneasy with each passing second.
A blur and rush of wind was the only indication he had jumped back out of the hole, his body instantly materializing out of thin air again, suddenly standing beside her as she stood stooped over the gaping hole.
“Shit, fire!” she said as she fell back onto the ground, Ash’s appearance startling her. “Dammit, Ash, I told you I hate it when you do that.”
“Sorry, how else was getting out of the hole? It’s not like there’s an elevator in there, not that I could I see, anyway,” he said apologetically, helping her back to her feet as she brushed the bits of grass from her pants.
“So what is down there?” she asked, trying to calm her racing heart.
Alty looked at him expectantly. When he did not volunteer any more information she finally asked, “Can you be a little bit more specific? What do you mean, ‘paper?’”
Ash shrugged. “It looks like it’s an old storage closet of some kind, like a file room. Not very big, and no doors that I could find.”
She shined the light down into the hole again. “So there are still files down there?”
“Yeah, lots of them. You want to have a look?”
She glanced at him. “How am I supposed to get down there?”
“Same way I did,” he replied. “I’ll take you down with me.”
She looked from him to the hole and back again. “Um, are you sure about that?”
Ash almost snorted as he picked her up in his arms. “Nope, I’m a vampire who can’t handle the weight of a one-hundred thirty-pound woman.” He bent down, glancing at her as he said, “You might want to hold on.”
Alty wrapped her arms around his neck as he catapulted the two of them into the air, and then down into the inky blackness. Two seconds later he landed lightly on his feet.
He reluctantly let Altania slide to the floor, her flashlight moving around the small room. It was about the size of a supply closet, filled from top to bottom on all four sides with shelves and boxes full of files and multi-colored paper. A large amount of the boxes had fallen onto the floor, their contents scattered across the tile.
She bent down, rustling through the papers. There was a giant mass of papers towards one corner which had been balled up and trampled on, the writing long since eradicated by something black smeared all over much of what was lying on the floor.
“What is all this?” she asked, holding up several of the pagers to the flashlight.
Ash looked around. This place didn’t fit right with him. “I think it’s lycan blood,” he said.
“Lycan blood?” She moved more and more of the papers from the mound on the floor. “Why would there be lycan blood in an old filing room?”
He knelt down beside her, his nose moving closer to the pile of paper. “I have no idea. The Council cleaned out every inch of this place. There was never any mention of finding rooms or floors below the basement.”
She pulled more of the papers down from some of the boxes, rifling through the manila files. “These are all notes on experiments. Look at the dates.” She held out one of the faded pieces of paper. “This is dated more than ten years ago.”
Altania pulled more boxes down from the shelves, looking at dates as she went. “This one is from a year before that, and here, this one is nearly fifteen years old.” She continued pulling boxes, stacking them on top of each other. “Christ, does The Council even know about this place?”
Ash continued to stare at the mound of blood-soaked paper and boxes in the corner. “No. They would have cleaned it out if they had found it.”
He backed up from the strange pile, picking Alty up in his arms and jumping straight up, the two of them shooting through the air to land quietly on the grass two levels above them. “We have to go,” he said as he placed her on the ground before taking her by the arm.
“But what about the room? We need to get those files out of there before someone finds them. There could be some very valuable information that could help us defeat S.H.i.E.L.D. once and for all.”
He was already fidgeting with his cell phone, his fingers moving lightning fast across the keys as he texted. “I know. The Council is sending someone to clean this up. It’s not safe here, and we have our orders.”
“What do you mean it’s not safe?” she asked crossly, trying to keep up with him as she stumbled in her stilettos.
“I mean there was an injured lycan in there at some point, in a room that had been sealed for who knows how long, and for which there may or may not have been a way out of it. Whatever it was busted its way through two levels of cement and brick.” He kept the stumbling woman on her feet as he propelled her towards the truck. “I don’t know what was in there or how long it had been in there, but I do know we don’t need to be here if it decides to come back.”
Ash hit the electronic locks on the SUV and helped Alty into the passenger seat. She grabbed hold of the door handle as Ash peeled out of the old parking lot and headed east. “Ok, so where are we going, Ash?” she asked.
He gunned the engine as he pulled out onto Main Street. “There’s only one place around here Dakota could have gone, someplace which has enough vampires to feed off of, and not bring attention to himself in the process.”
“And where the hell is that?” Alty asked crossly as she struggled to latch her seatbelt inside the lurching vehicle.
“Abyss City,” the vampire replied.