Alaric had done his best to continue as normal in hopes that the promised phone call was an empty threat, or at least something that would be a long time coming, so when the sound of his cell phone going off flooded the former relative silence of his apartment he frozen midway through turning the page of the language primer he had chosen. Sergio, formerly curled up beside him, raised his head with eyes wide and ears straight up before leaping off of the couch and fleeing from the room.
He hesitated for as long as he dared to, staring at the phone until it started its final ring, at which point he snatched it off the table and quickly checked the caller ID to confirm his fears before answering it.
“Your presence is requested in Lord Kharon’s office immediately. He’d like to speak to you on matters of urgent importance.” The female voice on the other end of the line was one he didn’t recognize, and could only assume belonged to the secretary Kennina had described to him.
“I’ll head over right away,” with how dry his mouth had gone it was a wonder he could still audibly speak. “I should reach the main building in about...15 minutes, traffic permitting.”
“You’ll be expected then.” She hung up on him, leaving a resigned Alaric to grab his coat and keys and trudge out to his car.
It suddenly seemed so fitting that it was a graveyard he had to pass through to make it into the little church where the doorway into the headquarters of the New York branch was hidden. Nervousness was pressing down on his chest, fear coiling tight in his stomach, as he stepped into the elevator and Alaric couldn’t help but wonder if this had been how she had felt on her last ride up the very same elevator to the very same office.
Would there be a plane ticket waiting for him too?
The metal door slid open with a soft chime to allow him into the lobby room.
“The Guild Master is waiting for you, hunter, in his office.” The woman behind the desk informed him, casting only a cursory glance at him over the rim of her glasses as he walked passed the desk and headed down the hall through the door standing open at the end.
The office on the other side was empty, the top of the desk standing in the middle of the floor scattered with various official documents. His heart rate sped slightly as he glanced back over his shoulder to make sure no one was watching before quickly crossing to the desk and beginning to shuffle through them. Financial records. Mission reports. A red flier inscribed with the names of his murdered friend and the other members of the London team.
A massive force crashed into him from behind, bending him over the desk and slamming his face against the wood effectively pinning him in place.
“Humans. So very predictable. So very fragile. But those two things are why your wretched kind is so easy to control.” Kharon released him only long enough to flip him over, grabbing him by the throat instead. “You’re smart, but unlike your precious friend Lane you’re not exactly careful. Not that that saved her.” His formerly grey eyes were solid black now, pupils slitted to pinpricks of red; pale lips pulled back over long fangs as he sneered down at him. “But, as I told you, we’ve already lost the top graduate from your class. Losing the second and third as well would hardly be of help to our little...operation. So, now that you know about the truth of things, about what we really are, you have a choice to make.”
“And what would that be?” he had to force the words out through the crushing force around his neck.
“Continue in your stupidity or remember your place and be rewarded.”
“You really expect me to fall back in line knowing what you are? After what you did to her?” Though not possessed of anything close to the impressive fangs of the Vampire that held him down, Alaric bared his teeth in the most vicious snarl he could muster. “You want to kill me, Dhampir bastard, fine. But I will never bow to you!”
“Funny. I’ve heard that one before, just over 500 years ago now.” Rather than attack him, Kharon only laughed; a threatening sound rumbling deep in his chest. “There’s certainly something to be said for the indomitable human spirit. But morality and loyalty make your kind so easily broken.” His hand tightened momentarily, completely cutting off his air. “If you continue this refusal it won’t be you that we kill. Keep resisting and I’ll send my siblings out to kill not just the girl but every member of your graduating class. Every person who you could have possibly had contact with. Could have possibly talked to about knowledge that you have no right to possess. So tell me, ‘Archer’, which is more important to you? Their lives, or your promise to the dead?”
The Guild Master released him and stepped back, allowing his captive to sink down to his knees clutching at his bruised throat and gasping for breath.
“There’s no need for you to decide your future, and theirs, now.” A folded strip of paper was dropped into his lap. “Inclosed is an address, date and time. Be sure to arrive in a punctual manner, or else. Now,” he pulled the chair out sharply from beneath the desk and sat down, “get out of my sight worm!”
Alaric had to fight for his footing, dragging himself upright and wobbling back to the elevator with the paper that he had been given tightly clutched in one hand. He couldn’t get out of the building fast enough, fleeing through the graveyard outside back to his car and locking the doors before slumping over the wheel.
It was dark and cold and quiet in the little church’s tiny parking lot, the fake leather smooth against his cheek as the throbbing bruises began to fade into the background and his panic died down. He peered over the steering column at the dark trees swaying in the shadows outside the windshield for a while before the silence became too much for him to bare.
“What I wouldn’t give you have you here, Kennina. You were never afraid of doing what you had to; no matter what the consequences were, to you or anyone else, you never backed down from doing what you thought was right.” She had been the strongest out of all of them, and not just because she had scored the highest in their class. Small as she had been, her personality was as fiery as her long red hair and her heart was fierce; she truly had earned the moniker of ‘lioness’ and it was no small wonder that they’d felt the need to get rid of her. Permanently.
Because, unlike the rest of them, she wouldn’t be broken.
“What am I supposed to do now? What would you do, if you were the one put in this position?” But the ghost of his friend didn’t offer any answers, not that he’d expected them. The hell am I sitting out here for? Regardless of what I end up deciding to do, I should probably be getting home.
As he turned to grab his keys from where he’d left them sitting in the cupholder something slammed against the driver’s side window; jumping high enough to hit his head on the roof of the car and swearing under his breath as he glanced out of the window, Alaric frowned and opened his door.
“Are you trying to give me a heart attack, Etain?”
The brunet snorted at him in reply, her hands planted on cokced hips. “No. But I am wondering what the hell you’re doing here, and what’s gotten you so jumpy. You walked right passed me without stopping; I chased after you all the way out here, calling your name, and you didn’t react!”
“Get in! We need to talk!”
Another few seconds passed before she nodded and hurried around to the other side of the car, pulling open the passenger door and climbing into the seat. “Now will you tell me what is going on?”
“Not here,” he told her, sliding the keys into the ignition and forcing the engine to life.
“No. No, no! not you too! He did not give you a-.”
“Plane ticket? No, he didn’t, but I almost wish he had.” His reply was almost harsh, as he glanced into the rearview mirror before throwing the car into reverse and backing out. “But, like I told you, not here.” Alaric refused to say more and after a few minutes Etain gave up on trying to pry answers out of him.
The Jeep finally rolled to a stop on the Southernmost end of the Long Island Sound; cutting the ignition, he threw open the car door and got out.
“Alaric, wait!” But he ignored her, closing the door and heading down towards the water. “Damn it!” Etain muttered under her breath, unbuckling her seat belt before leaping out of the car as well and running after him down the little path through the tall grass, her feet throwing up clouds of pale sand. “First Lane, now you?” she demanded when she finally caught up with her friend. “You’re not acting like yourself and it’s starting to scare me!”
“Not myself? I guess you could say that.” The cold water of the Sound lapped at his ankles as he stood on the hard-packed sand, the red light of the rapidly dying sun reflecting off of the thick cloud covering above them and in his blue eyes.
“For God’s sake, humor me! I’ve let you drag me out here to the beach, of all places, in the middle of January so the least that you can do is tell me what the everliving hell is going on!” Instead of answering, he held out the paper that he’d been given. Taking it and opening it up, she read the contents before demanding “and this is?”
“An ultimatum. It’s over; they’ve won.”
“Won?” Etain spluttered. “How can you say that? What happened in that office, Alaric? Where did you get those bruises?”
“From him. When he attacked me, fangs and all.” With a bitter sounding half-laugh, he shook his head. “‘It is morality and loyalty that make you so easily broken. Fall back in line, or I’ll send my siblings out to kill not just the girl but everyone you might have had contact with; your entire graduating class.’ That’s over 100 people Etain.” When Alaric finally turned to face her again it was with eyes filled with uncertainty and fear. “I can’t let them do it, but at the same time I don’t know what it is that they want from me or what they plan to do. I don’t know what I should do.”
“You’re right that we can’t let them do it, and we won’t.” She reassured him gently, resting a hand on his arm in an effort to provide some comfort however futile. “It’s also true that we have not the slightest clue what they want, as you said, but as things stand now I don’t see how we have any other choice in matters but to go along with what they want. We’re warriors; we stand on the front lines to protect others. Take risks to protect others. And this is one such risk that we have no other option but to undertake.”
“And if it’s a trap?”
Both hunters looked out over the calm water as the last of the sun’s glow faded into darkness. “We can’t win the game if we don’t play it first. I think we both know that.”
After a long pause in which the only sounds were the breakers crashing onto shore, Alaric nodded. “You’re right.”
“Of course I am.”
That was enough to make him almost smile. “The date marked on that paper is tomorrow’s, at close to midnight. If I don’t-.”
“Don’t bother; if they kill you they’re killing me too. Let’s not forget that Lord Fang-face is on damage control.” Etain pointed out dryly. “All the same, we need to come up with a sound plan of what we’re going to do from this point forwards. And we’ll have to wait to make it until you come back from whatever the hell this meeting really is.”
“Afterwards, if I make it out alive, I’ll meet you at your apartment. Then, we’ll talk.”ns 22.214.171.124da2