Friday, November 22, 2013

Flash Fiction Friday! The Great Mage: Week 17

Hello all!  How are we doing this Friday evening?  We’re back again with another Flash Fiction Friday and I hope you’re ready.  This week’s prompt was:

Elements – Pick one of the following (adjusted) elements and utilize it in your chapter/story:

·        Fire

·        Air

·        Water

·        Earth

·        Time

·        Magic

As always make sure to visit the other bloggers after reading this week’s The Great Mage, and leave them some love.  Please note that next week there will be no FFF due to Thanksgiving.  Thanks!  *hugs*


Flash Fiction Friday Bloggers:


Archers aided them over the ledge and onto the gallery high atop the castle wall.  The smell of their sweat and the warmth of the fire burning from their torches added to the feel of battle in the air.  Aneris found himself too hot to continue on with his cape, stuffing it into his pack so the night air could cool his bare skin.  He wondered how Seth managed under his armor with the heat.  But Seth seemed unconcerned by the temperature.

Seth pointed to the sky above the treetops where the moon burned white.  Silhouetted against the night were black shadows, wings flapping in the distance.  “The Tribes are coming.”

“I thought they wouldn’t reach us until morning.”  Aneris shouted over the ruckus below.

“That is nowhere near the entirety of the Tribes.”  Seth tugged Aneris along, weaving them in and out of the crowd of Archers.  “They must have heard his call and sent what they could ahead of the others.”  Seth looked up at Killian’s massive form still guarding the sky above the castle.  “He would be pretty hard to ignore.”

“Do you think it’s safe to leave him up there?  Should he shift before they arrive?  They don’t know him!”  Aneris had to skip a few steps to keep up with Seth’s pace.  They ran toward a turret that contained a set of stairs leading down.  It was dark and cold, musty and old, and both of them slowed down in case they were attacked from below.  Seth held his sword high, allowing the fire along the metal to light their way.

“Shifters will recognize their own.  I believe he is who he says he is, Aneris—one of the oldest of our kind.  And what happened was not his fault.  He will be revered for his sacrifice to protect the temple in the valley.  They will not harm him, especially when the others out there tell of his help to gain the Trolls as our allies.  Not an easy achievement.”  Seth stopped cold.  Aneris melted to his back, shivering as the cool metal pressed into his bare chest.

Aneris felt the reason for the pause then.  Magic, strong white magic pricked his skin, warning them both of what was near.  “Seth?”

“We’re close to the Keep.  It still holds… for now.”  Seth turned them both into a darkened alcove with a window looking out over the war zone.  “I need a second.”

“Are you scared?”  Aneris reached up and lifted Seth’s visor.  He stared into Seth’s blazing yellow eyes.  There was no fear there, which confused him.

“Not for me.  If I die to protect you and my kingdom, it has been an honor of the highest kind, Aneris.  You are everything the Gamemaster said and more.  You are strong and brave.  You are handsome yet humble.  You would do anything to save the ones you care about, and even the ones you don’t know you care about yet.”  Seth used his free hand to touch Aneris’s cheek.  “I know you don’t buy into love at first sight.  I would think it ridiculous myself if I hadn’t fallen victim.  But you are my mate, Mage.  You are my world that I have yet to live in.  And if there is a single chance in all of this that we survive this night, I shall spend the rest of my days loving you.”

Before his days in the Silver Realm, the most Aneris had hoped for was a guy to like him at the very least.  Take him for coffee, play a video game with him, possibly share a kiss because he knew no one ever thought of him as someone to take any further.  All of that changed after spending his adventure with Seth, Setherum the Red Knight of the Silver Realm.  His own personal knight in shining armor had done more than just kiss him.  Seth had made Aneris feel special, made him feel respected.  He made him confident and strong, gave him something to look forward to.  Seth just looked at him and Aneris got shivers.

There was a connection between them, one that existed because of more than sexual attraction.  And they’d been going so fast and hard on their journey that they hadn’t really had time to explore what exactly that connection was.  But he’d be damned if he let Seth go down there into the thick of battle, thinking Aneris had only stayed with him out of necessity.  Life without Seth would be truly painful.

Aneris grabbed Seth’s hand on his cheek and tugged him close.  His heart pounded away to the sound of screams and metal clashing.  He pushed up on his toes a bit and pulled at the bottom of Seth’s helmet until his lips were revealed.  And he kissed his knight in reply.

Seth’s armor didn’t seem cold any longer, heated by his body underneath and the sword crushed against the wall behind Aneris’s head.  They clung to each other, a last moment before the unknown swallowed them and forced them to grow up just a little bit more.  If they survived Sylvius, his reputation far from worthy, Aneris promised he would bask in these kisses every moment he could.

They were both aware of the ancient magic calling to them, warning them to get there in time to protect the king.  But for just a few seconds longer they needed each other more.  Aneris whimpered as Seth’s tongue departed, leaving him empty and cold again.  He shuddered as Seth stepped away.  He never wanted to feel that distance again, the distance that spoke of possible goodbyes and a not-so-happily ever after.

“We’ll do whatever we can,” Seth husked.  “I’ll do anything.”  His fingers were the last thing to slip away.

“We.  We will do anything.  Maybe I do believe in romance after all.”  Aneris turned toward the slice of alcove window.  He looked down upon the swelling war, noting how many of each side had fallen.  It made his stomach turn and his anger rise.  “I believe we should fight for things we love.  Our hearts, our land, our people, and our future—those are things that would kill us if they didn’t exist.  It’s not just a game anymore to me. This is my life, Seth. You are a part of that life.”

The bands on Aneris’s chest and arms flashed gold.  His body was prepared for what was to come, had in fact been waiting all this time to deliver justice so powerful it would not be forgotten.  His magic unsheathed to Seth’s eyes at such a time as this was what the Red Knight needed to go on.  He had his answer.  He had his mate in the flesh, no longer a one-sided relationship or a just physical presence to release his carnal desires.  Aneris claimed him too.

Seth lifted his gloved hand to his mate.  Aneris took it.  “Into hell I will walk with you.  And out of hell I will take you.”  He kissed Aneri’s hand, and then slammed his visor down.  “As you would say, let’s go kick some ass.”

Aneris smiled and let himself be lead into the stone courtyard with a midnight sky ceiling.


The Keep was barely standing.  Hardly a structure deemed worthy of safekeeping the King and his family.  But between the ruins of stone and wood were flickers of gold and green, and red and blue that acted as walls to keep out the enemy.  Fire blazed down in short spurts from Killian, directed at the black knights fighting with the King’s most trusted warriors.  A few bodies with gleaming silver shields had already fallen.  Blood had been spilled.  Fire licked at the scarlet liquid splashed across the stone courtyard.

Seth quietly led Aneris through the shadows under the pillared awning leading to the Keep.  Figures stirred inside the magical holding.  A male face appeared the closer they came.  Between the keep and the pillars, Seth went to one knee and bowed his head.  “My King.”

The man on the other side of the magical barrier was dirty and bloodied.  His hair was disheveled and his beard full, but his eyes were alert and bright with relief.  “I knew he would not fail us.  I had begun to think the Gamemaster relieved himself of his duties and his loyalty.  But I think not any longer.  Come closer, boy.  Let me see the face of the Mage who would die to protect his kingdom.”  The King beckoned Aneris closer with his fingers, careful not to touch the precious magic protecting his family.

Aneris searched the small room beyond the King.  Huddled in the corner farthest away from the bloodshed were a woman and two young boys.  They cried softly into her neck while she looked at her husband for answers.  This was a family.  They had futures too.  Aneris knew right then and there he couldn’t allow them to die.  Loyalty had nothing to do with it.  Humanity did.

“My King, I am Aneris.  And I have come to help.”  Aneris walked up to the wall of magic.  He instinctively put his hands up to greet the dancing slivers of light.  They raced towards his palms and he shied away.   His eyes met the King’s.  The King nodded.

“Aneris, my loyal Mage, I see you understand now the predicament we find ourselves in.”  He smiled sadly.  “Once you breach these walls, a powerful wielder of magic, we are no longer protected by this Keep.  We will be solely protected by you.  It is what won the last war, the Gamemaster wielding these ancient ties to all four elements as well as his own. What is leftover will be become a part of you the moment you touch it.”

It was like being asked to touch a bomb seconds from it detonating.  Not knowing what kind of repercussions there would be or what to do with such power, scared Aneris.  But now wasn’t the time to be scared.  It was either fight or die.  Or fight and then die.  Either way he had to think above his own needs.  He had to think of this family and the people out there dying to protect everything they loved.

Aneris looked down at Seth.  “When I touch the barrier, you guard them with everything you have.”

“Aneris, I’m supposed to—”

“No. Don’t you see?  Our knights are going to be outnumbered soon.”  Aneris pointed to the corner of the courtyard where a black portal widened and popped out another black knight.  “Sylvius is doing this.  If I go after Sylvius, there will be no one else that can reach the family in time to save them.  You are the best knight here, Seth.  I’ve seen you fight, more than once.  And I know the power you hold back.”  Aneris kept his voice even.  Inside he was breaking.  “You have to let me do this.  You can’t always protect me.”


“I love you, Setherum.”  Because he knew Seth wouldn’t agree to this plan, Aneris quickly touched the barrier and choked on his own breath.  All four elements invaded his body, filling him to the brim with ancient magic long forgotten.  He was numb for what felt like an eternity, hands reaching out for something he couldn’t touch.  His toes curled in his boots.  Runes whispered from his mouth, from his palms.  Light welled in his eyes.  And when the magic became too much to keep inside, he threw his head back and screamed, “Sylvius!”

To be continued…

Friday, November 15, 2013

Flash Fiction Friday! The Great Mage: Week 16

Hello there!  I hope you’re all happy the weekend is here.  And for those of you like myself where a weekend means more work, then I hope this little piece of FFF gets you by.  :)

This week’s prompt was:

1.     Ancient Ruins – Use a set of ruins (fictional or a real location) as a key location in your chapter/story.

I twisted this up a bit for the sake of the storyline and used the Keep as my ruins. I hope you enjoy this week’s The Great Mage.  Be sure to visit our other wonderful bloggers to see what they’ve cooked up this week. Stay warm.  Keep safe.  Love you all.


Flash Fiction Friday Bloggers:


The Great Mage: Week 16


The White Mage, formerly trapped in the body of a dove, was now a force to be reckoned with.  With his palms raised toward the outpour of Ghouls rushing from the trees, white light surged from his hands like fire.  Inside the swirling flames were dancing black ruins, dark magic protected by Aneris’s gift of white blaze.  And because the man hadn’t used his gifts in so long they rushed out of his body with such speed and anger that the Ghouls didn’t stand a chance.  The trees were engulfed in white.  Screams lit up the night.  But above all other voices, Aneris heard the White Mage’s bellow of fury, heard his pain and suffering and need to rise above it.

Aneris growled, understanding that kind of ire, capable of it himself.  He forced himself to turn away from the battle that had begun and held onto Seth tightly as they rode towards the wall.  Flames sizzled in long streaks against the night, aimed down into the muddy mote bordering the castle.  Unease tickled Aneris’s memory, tugging forth something he remembered said not too long ago.  Swamp maids lived in mud.  Their song beckoned forth the strongest soldiers to lure them to their death.

He knew for a fact this mote hadn’t been filled with mud before this night.  Mud was dark and dirty, nothing representative of white magic or a white kingdom.  The once sparkling waters were black and bubbling, smoking with a stench Aneris wriggled his nose at.  He had no way to warn the others of this recent development.  At least that was what he thought until he spied the blue orbs shooting past him.

“Fae! Seth, stop!”  Aneris slapped Seth’s chest.  “It’s a trap.  We have to warn them.”

“What are you talking about?”  Seth glanced over his shoulder, but rode up the hill, commanding Fia faster.

“Fae, stop and listen to me!”  Aneris lifted his hand and a Fae lantern grazed across his fingers.  It swirled in his palm, the essence of a warrior ready for battle.  Once he was sure he had its attention, he brought his hand close to his eyes.  “The moat is filled with mud.  It’s a trap for us all.  Swamp—“

All at once an ethereal chant pierced the air.  A haunting melody that made Aneris’s heart constrict in his chest.  He tried to cover his ears but his hands were too heavy and his brain seemed slow.  The Fae lantern in his hand bobbed urgently in an attempt to regain his attention.  Nevertheless Aneris was enchanted with the song that filled his ears, as was Seth who tried to dismount Fia’s back.  The horse wasn’t having any of it.  She wasn’t a male warrior.  She could hear the song for what it really was.  She swerved to the left, keeping her masters aboard her back for as long as she could against the Swamp Maids’ spell.

The Fae lantern sliced through the air, coming at them full speed until it smacked into Aneris’s face, covering he and Seth in brilliant blue light.  Aneris gasped, his chest filling with air as if lungs had been prisoner to something he couldn’t overcome.  He patted the wall of blue light that caged them on Fia’s back.  And it dawned on him then what they had to do.

The Fae were warriors, yes, but they were creatures made of magic, not just men who could be easily enticed.  They were immune to the Swamp Maid’s song.  And it was apparent that Sylvius had not intended Aneris to gain their help in this battle.  Or the Trolls, who also were immune to such enchantments—seeing as how the ground vibrated with their feet, and their movements were still their own, and the Ghouls still screamed for mercy.  Trolls and Fae were the eldest of the creatures in Aneris’s army.  They were created by nature, made to withstand the test of time, and the Guardians of these lands.  Sylvius had judged them wrongly.  Aneris had never looked at them any different for what they were.  He’d eyed them with respect, thankful for their help and acknowledged them with murmured praises.  He’d given both races a chance to be a part of something big, to unite instead of break down what these lands were made of.  He’d made the right choice once again and his reward was protection within the arms of these two powerful races.

And so it was with great pleasure that Aneris watched the two races converge with a plan.  The Fae lanterns, untouchable male warriors who lit the way with the core of their souls, blanketed the moat and spread their light until the muddy waters were sealed.  And the sickly green faces of the Swamp Maids melted into the earth under the pressure of such old magic.  The Trolls did their part, asking the trees and the earth for help.  Roots separated from their richly soiled homes and crawled like tendrils across the grassy slope, dragging their heavy trunked and branched counterparts with them.

It took some time for the trees to bend and twist to their destination.  The wooded shelter for Sylvius’s minions’ attack relocating until one giant spider web of bark and foliage tangled against the walls of the castle on all sides.  Imprisoned beneath the moat, held captive in ancient roots that dove back beneath the soil were the Swamp Maids Sylvius had brought to this war.

The Fae lanterns flitted out from between the dark crevices of the newly made walls, bursting into the night like lightning bugs but much brighter.  Now the Archers atop the galleys could focus their efforts on the Black King’s knights who had been exposed without a shelter to hide them.  Their fire tipped arrows pierced jet black armor, scoring points with each shriek from their enemy’s lips; bodies doubly scorched when the White Mage blasted them for good measure.

And Aneris was sure this was meant to be.  Everyone had a part to play.  The Trolls had guarded their lands by relying on their Mother.  The Fae had taken out an unnatural race of swamp dwelling demons who had desecrated their lands for centuries.  The White Mage earned Aneris’s respect by never turning away from the fire, keeping his magic burning bright hit after hit as if to take years of abuse out on the King who had never appreciated him.

The White King’s knights flooded the grassy hill to take up arms in their king’s name.  Swords clinked.  Men cried out for mercy.  Fires blazed.  Blood was shed.  And Aneris refused to sit their protected when he and Seth had the hardest job to do of all.  He stared up at the steep lattice like wall of trees so old he couldn’t fathom how long they’d been there.  And he knew where he was needed.

“They guard the Keep strongly.  If it takes one more blow it will fall and our king will be no more.”  Seth stared over his shoulder.  “It is the oldest structure in our world, ruins to most, and once a temple for all four elementals until they parted ways.”

“I thought you said it was strong!”  Aneris climbed off of Fia, noticing how the Trolls surrounded them at once, backs facing he and Seth to shelter them for the next leg of their journey.

“It is…for now.  The magic there hasn’t been used in centuries.  It is precious because of how little remains of the four elementals’ combined force.  It is what is holding up what’s left of the walls, only activated when the king is in dire need.  They sought to give him protection in the Great War and he and his family were sheltered there for so long it is rumored that if another war were to start, they would not survive.  I have no idea how long it will hold this time, Aneris.”  Seth’s concern was clear by the hitch in his voice.  His eyes lit up gold behind his helmet.  And suddenly his feet were planted on the ground, his hands clutching Fia’s reins as if it were his lifeline.

“We have to save them, Seth.  If Sylvius is trying to keep us out and it’s rumored the walls of the Keep won’t hold for long…”  Aneris choked on his words and his gaze shot up to the top of the wall.

“Sylvius is going in there,” Seth supplied in horror.  He turned to his horse, his beloved friend until the end.  Fia couldn’t go with them for this part of the battle.  And neither of them knew when they’d see each other again.  Seth ran his hand over her fiery mane with a loving caress.  “It has been good, old friend.  Shall I not see you again…know I hold your spirit in my heart.”  He nuzzled his helmet along her muzzle, and hugged her neck with a warm embrace.  The fire along her tail and mane brightened.  She was sad and angry.  Aneris felt it in the depths of his soul as Seth took a step back.

Aneris walked up to Fia.  He put his bare hand between her ears, tickled by the fire that would never burn him.  He kissed her muzzle, his hand lingering along her fire as he closed his eyes.  “Thank you, Fia.  Thank you for keeping him safe for me all these years.  I promise I’ll bring him back to you.  I promise you that,” Aneris murmured.  Before he cried his anguish at his mate’s loss, at his, Aneris turned away from Fia.  His cape billowed around him in the wind.  The bands along his arms and chest glowed strong with his magic, as did his eyes and the light in his palms. 

He turned to his mate, taking a deep breath. “We go where he goes.   This ends tonight.”  Aneris put a foot into the gnarled loop of tree near the base of the wall and lifted himself up.

Seth shuddered with one last look at his loyal friend, his treasured Fia, before he swatted her side.  “Go!”

Fia burst into flames, her entire body covered in angry fire she chose to share with the world.  She raced through the wall of Trolls and into the thick of battle where her flames could be seen from afar.  Fia would be just fine. She would keep distracted by the rage and violence she’d inflict while her masters were away.  But Seth wondered as he joined his mate at the wall to hoist himself up, whether he and Aneris would be.

A roar ripped through the sky.  A leathery mass of black swooped over the castle, wings flapping with a deafening clap.  Fire shot from Killian’s nostrils as he swirled overhead, granting them safe passage for the time being.  Seth narrowed his eyes at his mate and sheathed his sword at his back.  “Let’s do this.”

Aneris smiled, nodded, and began the long climb to the top of the wall.

To be continued…

Monday, November 11, 2013

Second City Tales # 2: Whispers in Silence - Part 1

Hello all!  I'm starting to come out of the flu funk, and thought I'd celebrate with by starting the next Second City Tale. 

First I wanted to update you on something else.  Now I know I've postponed Hedgewater several times.  To those of you who follow the story: I'm sorry you've waited so long.  From the very beginning I knew exactly what was going to happen, and had a pretty firm outline.  But now I've hit a snag and I'm blocked on how I'm going to fix it.  I don't want to push out a crappy story because I rushed it.  I love the complexity of Hedgewater and I intend to keep it that way.  Therefore I have made the decision to push Hedgewater back until I'm ready to write it again.  I've never done that with an ongoing story before, and again I'm sorry to those of you who were waiting for Season 2.  It will be back.  I do promise you that.  I just need time to write it, and some creative mojo to stir my imagination.  Thank you for being patient.  I really do appreciate it.

Onto the reason you're here.  I have to say that this next story from the Second City Tales collection is going to be one of my favorites.  I loved Trey and Greg, but for some reason, these next two MCs are completely different than what I'm used to.  I'm excited.  I have a lot of ideas and a pretty good grasp on the plot this time around.  Writing about a deaf assassin for the queen has been a challenge, but in the best kind of way.  Adrian is just an awesome character to me.  So I'm glad I get to share him with you.

Just a warning: I've researched using sign language as dialogue and there are a few ways to do it.  I've decided, because I already use italics for my character's thoughts, I am going to use italics and quotations for signing.  I didn't want anyone confused.  But I read through the signing parts quite a few times and I believe it's all pretty easy to understand, even without this warning.  Like I said, just wanted you to know.  :)

Okay, I'm gonna shut up now and let you read.  No playlist this installment.  Just your imagination.  Let me know what you think!  I look forward to hearing from you guys.  :D


Whispers in Silence: Part 1


2023. 10 miles north of Surgut, Russia

Fourteen-year-old Adrian remained still. His body blended into a crisp line of Scots Pines that bordered the forest. Knee deep in snow he scoured the blustering tundra for signs of movement other than the swirling cyclones of white battling it out in the air. A fur lined hood tickled his forehead. Brassy curls fluttered against his brows with every icy gust.  His breath was warm, circulating over his nose and lips beneath his protective fleece covering.

Arms crossed over one another, Adrian fisted his weapons near his shoulders, blades ready for the poor soul who attempted to attack him from behind.  His knives had been handed down to him by his father, crafted by a small Russian forge revered for their quality and beautiful design.  Not only were the eleven inch weapons pretty to the eye like antiquated masterpieces meant for an immortal existence behind glass, but they were made to be used.  His matte metal hunting knives had six inch full, clip-pointed blades with intricately carved birch handles and inlaid ivory filigree.  Wenge spacers and cast nickel silver fittings made these weapons works of art; each circle of metal hand designed and one of a kind.  And since the forge had long since gone out of business, with only one of the grandsons still practicing his family’s craft by exclusive appointment, the knives were very hard to come by.

They were one of the few material possessions Adrian actually cared about, gifted to him by his father—a reward after his first night as a Hunter at the age of ten.  Precious to Adrian, he gripped them with purpose, lifting the ends outward to test the tension of the thin, leather lanyards attached to his wrists.  The subarctic chill bit into his wrist when it was exposed, causing him to release the tension on the leather in exchange for the warmth married between his glove and coat arm.

He looked over the windy terrain for the hundredth time that night.  Snow drifted in giant shifts of air, sending in mass speckles of white across the papery flat plain.  If he hadn’t been trained to look past a location’s aesthetically pleasing points, he would have dubbed the place idyllic, like a moment captured inside of a snow globe.  But he wasn’t a tourist who frivolously wasted cash on cheap trinkets.  And even tourists didn’t venture out to these parts with a death wish; the elements sure to claim their body heat and their last breath. No. Adrian was someone far from the norm, far from snow globes and unplanned artic getaways of death. 

Although every slice of wind whipped across his face, battering the inches of exposed skin on his face, Adrian did not hear the wind.  He did not hear the howl that should have called to him.  He could not hear his own breath pant beneath the fleece, or the sound of his heartbeat pulsating in his head in time with the organ pumping in his chest.  Adrian didn’t hear a thing because he was deaf. 

Born to two Royal vampires Adrian was an anomaly amongst his kind, more precisely to those who were deigned to know of his affliction.  And only three vampires knew of his “handicap”.  Should it be widespread before he was of age to set out on his own, surely the others would flock to him, take him away, and test him in a lab to make sure whatever was wrong with him did not trouble their children in the future.  To have a physical weakness was a flaw to vampires.  It was a mark upon one’s name for the rest of their life and a reason for the distinguished to shun an innocent creature.  Thankfully Adrian had been spared of their whispers and looks, hid away from his kind and hardened before maturity into a stone cold killer.

One of the three people to know of his inability to hear was his mother, and she had taken his secret to the grave after a mission gone wrong in Prague when Adrian was four.  His parents belonged to a group of the Queen’s Guard, a black ops sect of her army in Europe and bordering continents that looked for traces of the enemy.  With a heavy presence of Assassins and traitorous Royals in New York City and along the East Coast, most of the Royals believed the threat to be concentrated there.  It just wasn’t so.  Adrian’s mother was proof of that.

Adrian’s father, Davide, was one of a dozen Hunters for the Queen, and he taught his son everything he knew—even if Adrian couldn’t hear him.  Adrian still had the ability to see, to touch, to think, and to breathe.  He was just as capable as any other.  Up until now he’d spent his life showing the outside world just that, although he reserved a deep seated hatred for his voice and refused to speak for fear of the awkward way it sounded to others.  He considered it a weakness, hated the vibration in his throat with no reward.  He loathed the strange looks he’d catch when he tried to say anything.  He already had points against him a child of two vampires, he didn’t think it necessary to continue making a list.  So Adrian had stopped talking and read their lips, using other ways to communicate.

The two people he usually conversed with knew sign language, ASL as it was often called.  Nevertheless, his father had maintained other resources for him to communicate so he wouldn’t become dependent on signing in the presence of non-signing people. He was thankful for being born in to an age of such technological advancement, using texting and emails to get his point across.  And if need be, he used a notebook and pen to converse. But he hated the amount of time writing took.  It was frustrating to have something to say, built upon the rush of need to get it out, and have to scribble the words when all he wanted to do was stab the paper right through and scream.

However, none of his communication skills mattered at the moment.  Only the ability to feel the air shift around him and the sixth sense he possessed were necessary.  He and Davide had shadowed a group of four traitors since last week.  Adrian, even as young as he was in age was more than skilled at defending himself.  And he was a pre-turn who looked and smelled human to any creature, vampire or otherwise, and that was a valuable asset in more ways than one.  Undetectable, he could slip by and collect quality information or go in for a kill and the traitors would be none the wiser.  The more time Adrian spent in the field the more self-sufficient he became, and the less his father worried about him should something tragic befall Davide, hence the reason he was hiding out in the trees, waiting to kill on his own. His father trusted him.  Davide trusted his son’s skill.  Adrian was a good Hunter.

Adrian had another secret too, one that worked in his favor more than his fighting skills or his deadly aim.  It was true what they said about losing one sense only to have the others heightened.  In his case he’d been born with a rare ability not even his deafness could explain away.  And when he sought to use it, it was the only time he had ever heard other people speak to him.

Right now he refused to call on his gift.  That took a lot of focus and a safe place to do so, not in the middle of a tundra where anything could surface, things he wasn’t prepared for.  Plus it drained his energy completely.  He needed to devote his attention to the vehicle that, according to schedule, should be moving into view anytime now.  The large, all-terrain truck would carry the four traitors to Surgut during the storm to meet up with an enemy informant, securing the traitors safe passage to the states in a private jet sitting on Russian tarmac.

Adrian’s mission was to take out the vehicle’s tires, guaranteeing the Royal traitors and their driver would be trapped on the tundra with nowhere to go. Running would be pointless for them as Adrian’s father waited on the other end of the tree line, about five hundred meters to the west.  Davide would see the entire ordeal through the scope of his rifle and strike.  Enough holes would be made to keep the Royals down long enough that Adrian and Davide could attack in full, taking their traitorous heads.  Then Davide would meet up with three other Hunters waiting for his call in Surgut, posing as the dead Royals to rendezvous with the enemy informant.  They would blow the entire operation to pieces and pounce on the scattering traitors who tried to leave the city once their plan fell through.

The plan was foolproof, no foreseen contingencies Adrian could think of.  There was no one around to help the traitors once Davide and Adrian began their task.  The pair of them was confident enough with their situation to keep going.

Adrian took to his knee as the first wave of unnatural light swept across the tree line.  He didn’t blink when the light hit his eyes, coming from the headlights of a large vehicle.  They were too far away to see the flash of Adrian’s pale blue irises as he clipped his knives into the brackets at the sides of his rifle.  He raised the adjoining tripod up, leveling his rifle with their tires.  Two hundred meters away the vehicle rolled slowly over the barely traveled road in the tundra, a sluggish ride for them due to the fresh snow blurring their path. The monitor below Adrian’s rifle gave him a clear view of the vehicle up close.  The camera embedded within his scope zoomed in and recorded the short distance until his desired trigger point.

When a red cross blinked across his monitor, lining up his shot with a series of configurations via the scope’s objective lens, Adrian pulled the trigger.  In a succession of rapid fire, jerking the rifle from left to right in perfect accuracy under pressure, Adrian took out all four wheels of the SUV.  Metal skidded over ice, the hubcaps warped, and the undercarriage hit ground.  The vehicle’s cab spun in three wild rotations across the tundra before it lurched to a halt.

Adrian didn’t hear the tires blow.  He didn’t hear the doors open when they did.  But he saw the men exit the vehicle quickly before they searched their surroundings for the source of gunfire.  It would only be a matter of time until they caught onto his scent and homed in on his heartbeat.

Adrian clipped the tripod legs together with ease, pushing down until they disappeared into a hollow canister underneath his weapon.  He flipped the monitor into a holding bracket, sheathed his blades on the belt around his coat waist, and then flung the rifle set-up over his shoulder with the help of a chest strap.  He headed west in the safety of the dark tree line, glancing to the left every few meters to study the group of traitors searching the night.  A previously dug trench allowed him to run at top speed, using every bit of his youthful finesse to track light and quick over the icy ground.

When the wind sent his scent towards the group it would be too late for them to react.  Adrian made out his father’s shadowy figure as he ran faster.  Dressed in white to blend in with their surroundings, any other person wouldn’t know what to look for.  But Adrian saw Davide’s form shift ever-so-slightly against the trees.

Adrian was almost to his father when something ripped through the air to his left, disorientating natural wind patterns around them.  A tunnel of vibration hurdled towards them as he reached for his father in warning.  Just as his father’s hazel eyes slipped into the moonlight, wide with fear, Davide’s hands shot out and pushed Adrian back hard.  Adrian conceded to every ounce of his father’s Royal strength with that push, sending him through the air to his back.  Snow fluffed, drifting up in slow motion like reversed rain around him.

A heavy blast rocked the ground.  Adrian ignored the sprout of pain in his chest to scramble through the feet of snow outside their trench.  It was more important to get to his father, to see what had happened.  Fire punctuated the darkness, more accurately, a man on fire lit up the forest.  His arms flailed to dance the flames away. But another blast sent him staggering from his knees to his back, another shot from a precision fire cannon atop the shoulder of one of their enemies.  The enemy had been prepared for this ambush. 

How?  If they knew we were coming, then… One of their own was not who they seemed.  It was the only logical explanation, one Adrian was certain of as Hunters lived and breathed on confidentiality.  They were, after all, a handpicked team of cloak and dagger killers.

Horror seeped into his soul.  Adrian realized his father was burning alive.  His worst nightmare, losing the one person he trusted to call family was now gone.  His father’s instructions from earlier drifted through his mind.  Adrian replayed every slow movement of Davide’s fingers, only now realizing the emotion behind them as they signed each terrifying word.  If something happens to me, you run.  Run, Adrian, and don’t look back.  Davide had been nervous.  It was now that Adrian understood that.


When his father stopped moving, the flames engulfing his still form and the scent of roasted flesh pungent through Adrian’s fleece, he knew his father was gone—even if Davide was taking his last painful breaths.  Adrian stood there in the snow, permitting the fierce cold to wrap around his heart.  He eyed the traitors who had done this.  They were running towards the trees, coming for their prize.  Adrian wanted to stand his ground and fight.  However, he wasn’t so prideful to admit he didn’t have the will to overpower them alone with his soul in so much agony.  None of his training could’ve prepared him for a broken heart.  He wasn’t taught to have one.  Except now he’d been crushed with reality.  He loved his father.  And now he would never communicate that love again.

He sneered, fighting back tears he refused to shed.  He may be scared and young, but he’d seen things that would give any other fourteen-year-old nightmares for the rest of their life.  He would overcome this.  He would be stronger for it.  But yet, he grieved for his father in those last seconds he had remaining to run.  He longed to kneel next to his father’s body and touch his gloved hands to what lingered.

Run, Adrian. 

Adrian stifled a gasp, biting the inside of cheek until he tasted blood.  The voices.  One voice he had never heard but had longed to since he was born, whispered through his mind.  He didn’t question who it was, he knew deep in his heart the owner of that voice.

Run and I will always find you.  I will always be with you.

Adrian’s tears gathered in the protective fleece over half his face.  He took off into the trees, knowing now his father was officially dead.  Every few meters he saw the shadow of a man blink into existence and guide him ahead.  Adrian wasn’t dreaming.  This wasn’t the first time he’d seen this.  Although this time, more than any other experience in the past, he was scared to see the shadow’s face because of the way he would always remember it, the way he always saw them.  His gift offered up no exceptions in all the times he’d pleaded to see anything other than the carnage, the sometimes barren eyes, or the warped perception of someone’s last thoughts mad physical.  It was the way of things, of his ability, nothing he could change.

Over an hour later, when he fell to his knees at the edge of a clearing in the woods, safely out on the outskirts of Surgut, he saw his guiding savior just out of reach.  Burned from head to toe, savagely crisped except for the beauty of his hazel eyes, the solid ghost of Adrian’s father smiled.  With one last swirl of his eyes, Davide’s ghost turned to the woods and disappeared into the dark.  He was gone without a single word for his son, only leaving behind a faint inkling of what must be done. Cold, shaking, and his heart pounding, Adrian sneered at the lights piercing through the snowy rain.  He tossed his rifle setup into the snow, readjusted his pack, and then ripped his knives from the belt at his waist as he stalked toward Surgut with death in his heart.

Adrian never heard from Davide again after that bloody night in Surgut.  But he heard the others.  They always had something to say, and it was his gift to reluctantly hear them out. 

                                                                      Chapter 1

2032.  Present day New York City.
SCCB–Second City Crimes Bureau— Senior Detective Wesley Durren shouldered his way through the shift change of warm bodies in the narrow hallway at the Bureau headquarters.  The Manhattan office building was seven stories of grand, historic realty, but small where it counted for larger guys like him, such as the low doorways of an old building and tiny as hell hallways.  He didn’t even want to think about the size of the fucking half-stalls in the bathroom.  He hated those damn things, made him feel like a giant in a preschool bathroom. 

Towering over the others, Wesley gave off a dangerous vibe that had everything to do with his six-foot five-inch height and his two hundred and eighty pounds of pure muscle.  He started ripping at the Kevlar vest still fitted to his chest, growling under his breath.  One of the Guards narrowly missed getting slammed in the chest with his elbow as it jutted out when Wesley yanked at the Velcro.  Wesley rumbled incoherently at the Guard, who was only slightly smaller than him, but scared all the same.  Wesley’s square jaw twitched and the Guard, without a word, took off quickly. 

Finally able to get the straps undone, Wesley yanked the vest off and held it in a tight grip, nearing the end of the hallway.  He made no stop to calm his inferno of rage before he flung open the original mahogany door with its stupid frosted glass window, signifying the Captain’s office.  He filled Captain Sutton Donohue’s doorway and exhaled noisily, letting his extreme presence be known; as if the door bursting open hadn’t offered his Captain a clue.

Before Captain Donohue could care, Wesley pitched his vest at one of the chairs in front of him.  “I am sick and tired, Sutt, of you giving me these damn infants to work with.  That rosy-cheeked, three-inch cock carrying, stun gun toting motherfucker let our perp get away because he froze.  He fucking froze like a little bitch who was about to piss all over the street.  “I can handle this,” he says.  “I’m trained to take those bitches down,” he told me.  Apparently, he can’t and he’s not, because he stood like there like an idiot while the only dealer with valuable intel on that lab ran into the city like a mouse in the field.  And now said dealer is off telling his boss we’re on to them, and the lab will disappear like smoke on the wind and we’ll be back to square one.  Six months we’ve been trying to crack this case, and that’s in between all this side bullshit you’ve had us working.  Six fucking months and you shackle me to that newborn!  What the hell were you thinking?”

Captain Donohue finally looked up from his computer screen. He didn’t look a day over twenty-three with his slicked back black hair and flawless skin.  A long, narrow nose and elfish face gave him the appeal of male model or a mischievous aristocrat from old money.  His unreadable brown eyes twinkled, trained on Wesley.  He sighed noisily.  “Anything else?”  He cocked his head, flicking his fingers flippantly.

“Anything else,” Wesley repeated flatly.  “Are you kidding me, Sutt?”

Donohue’s eyes flicked to the hallway.  “Shut the door, Detective.  You’re distracting my Guards from valuable work time,” his voice raised in warning to the Guards gathering in their doorways to listen.

Never looking away, Wesley reached behind him and slammed the door shut.  One of his eyes twitched.  “I’m waiting, Sutt.”

“I could give you some I’m-your-superior-speech, but we both know it could have been you sitting in this chair had you accepted Yuri’s promotion. I won’t get into the semantics of his decision, as you were well aware of the need to promote Royals and human-turns being a united front in these times.   But you turned him down and I’m the one who has to make the hard choices for all our sakes.”  Donohue calmly gestured to one of the chairs before his desk.  “Sit.”

“Why?”  Wesley’s charcoal-colored brows furrowed, a brief uni-brow set deep above his eyes.  “Tell me why you keep doing this to me first.  I thought we were friends.  I thought my skills and experience meant more to you than this babysitting work.  I fought in the war overseas as a human-turn.  I killed my Queen’s enemy over and over for the safety of our children’s future.  I have never once failed a case, and yet, you seem to want to prove something by failing me.”

“Oh, Wesley, tone down the theatrics.” Rolling his chair back a few inches, Donohue leaned away from his desk and gave Wesley an unforgiving stare.  “These freshie academy kids are our future, Wesley.  Who are you to deny them the privilege of working at your side, of learning from the best so they can be the best when they’re your age?  You scare the shit out of the rookies, but they respect you for reasons you just relayed.  Every year the freshies from the academy beg to be your partner.  They take bets to see who can stick it out with you and claim who the real men are among the weak, because to them you are the ideal man they seek to be.  Did you know that?”

Wesley’s incredulous stare spoke volumes.  He gripped the armrests of his newly found seat.  “Say what?”

“Seems you have a fan club on your hands.”  Donohue smirked.  His manicured fingers drummed on his desk.  “I might think about printing up one of those sexiest men of the force calendars with you on the cover, start making money back from all the shit you’ve cost the Bureau.  Flex for the camera without a shirt and bam, I’ve got myself a replacement for that SUV you blew sky high last month.”

Jaw dropped, Wesley breathed. “That piece of crap set of wheels was asking for it and you know it, sending me to Battery Park with a baby and his pistol to square off with a gang of dealers.  And now you want me to take my shirt off.  You’ve lost your damn mind!  You’re fucking with me, aren’t you?”

Donohue hummed.  “I believe I told you, more than once in fact, to call for backup.  And the whole calendar idea could be enterprising.  I’ll pocket the idea for a later date.”

Wesley mustered a growl.  “You ask me to take my shirt off for some sexy picture and you’re dinner, Donohue.  I don’t care how far back we go.  I’ll snap you like a twig.”

“Aww, what’s the matter, Wes?  Am I not you’re type?”  Donohue chuckled.  “Relax. I had Montgomery’s team posted rooftop.  They cut the kid off before he went ghost.  He’s in lockup downstairs being given the Royal treatment.  He got a nice facial from Junior Guard Feist for spitting in his face.  And I’m sure Feist is itching to give him a deep-tissue massage next.”

Wesley’s eyes were flinty.  His faced bloomed red, a fiery scarlet that complimented the veins snapping to attention at his temples.  He cracked his knuckles.  “You had me covered like some newb?  I’m warning you, Donohue, I might just snap crackle pop all over this fucking office.  That was my catch and you know it.”

“I allowed you to take your partner to stretch his legs, get a feel for things on his first day.  I had no intention of letting a freshie get his feet wet on his very first ten hour shift, especially to face down with the only rat we have on this case. Surely you knew that, being the capable, knowledgeable Detective you are.”

“So that’s it?  I’m the Bureau’s freshie-sitter from here on out because those kids got a pre-fang tween boner for me?  Fuck that, Sutt.  I’ll resign before I get with this.”  Wesley rose. 

He looked past Donohue’s head to wrap his mind around the situation. If he stormed out he knew he’d just come groveling back like a loser.  The Bureau was Wesley’s life.  Getting it together and counting to ten so he could come to some logical agreement with Sutt was their game, and Sutt knew it.  The Captain allowed him a moment of silence as Wesley studied the organized bookshelf behind Sutt with his icy gaze.  Royal Law references, historical briefings, a bunch of files all neatly tucked away. Organized.  Perfect.  Just like Sutton Donohue. 

A brass globe, a miniature flag set that held the Queen’s insignia along with others from around the world, Donohue’s first blade in a glass box, and then a simple picture frame.  Donohue never spoke of the happy couple framed on his bookshelf—even though he’d been asked plenty about them by his subordinates and colleagues.

The women smiled wide as her husband kissed her cheek on some tropical beach.  The man’s profile allowed his brilliant hazel eye color to be seen, gazing adoringly at what must be his mate. Only mates could smile like that and deliver such sincerity.   His windblown brown hair swept over her brassy curls.  Her pale blue eyes looked directly at the camera they both held.  So much mystery and an equal amount of warmth overcame Wesley every time he saw the picture.  He couldn’t explain the flirtatious unease that tickled his stomach whenever he looked at the couple. It was as if he knew them.  But he didn’t, in fact, know them at all.

Donohue reached behind and pushed the frame on its face, raising a brow at Wesley.  “I’m going to put your fears to bed, Wes.  It’s obvious you can’t handle molding our future, so I’m going to work on shaping your attitude.  As your friend and now superior it’s my job to tell you when you’re going off the deep end.  Each of the young men I’ve shackled you to were some of the highest ranking students at the academy overseas.  If you can’t be charitable enough to help them along while you lose your shit, I can’t very well continue to watch you scare them into resignation.

“This is your last chance to cooperate before I put you on mandatory unpaid leave, Wes.  You’ve been at this for over a century.  You’ve stood tall next to Royals on the field for so long they think of you as one of them.  I think of you as one of us, as my brother in arms and my friend, and I would trust you with my life under any set of circumstances.  But you’re wearing thin from the monotony of it all here in the states.  It’s the same catch and kill every night with you.  There’s no challenge to it anymore and you’ve grown aggressive towards your fellow Guards instead of reserving that anger for the enemy.  I can’t distinguish the difference anymore.

“Sutton, I’m sorry.”  Wes exhaled, looking at the ground.  For his oldest friend to deliver that kind of blow, carefully at that, made the situation clear to Wes. Sutton never walked on eggshells for him.  In fact, most of the time, he was yelling and cracking jokes on Wes’s behalf, jokes that would hurt his feelings had he been a softer man.  He didn’t like this side of Sutton.  He didn’t like to get delicate and tip toe around real problems.  More importantly, Wes didn’t like being a problem.  Up until now he’d been proud of his achievements and the fear others regarded him with.  He’d made it to the top.  Short of being a Guardian, Wes was as decorated as a vampire could be… for a human-turn.

Donohue snorted.  “Don’t cry on me, Wes.  I’ve seen you at your worst and I don’t care to see it now.  Just stop.  Get yourself together, man.  Stop giving the freshies shit for being young.  They can’t help it, but you can help them.  I’m done pairing you with men and women who can’t ride the same wavelength as you.  It just can’t be done, apparently.”

The air whooshed out of Wes’s lungs in relief.  “Thank fuck.  Can I get someone a little grizzled please?”

“Grizzled?  I don’t even want to know what you mean by that.”  Donohue laughed it off, although, his eyes gleamed with interest.  He sniffed and reached behind him.  “What you need is a hobby, a little something to do with the week of downtime coming your way before I hand you any more fresh meat.”

“A hobby,” Wes said dryly.  “I’m not knitting you a scarf, Sutt.  Forget the week off too.  I want to sink my teeth into something.  I can’t sit around without anything to do, it’ll drive me nuts.”

When Donohue turned around he held a book.  He dropped it on the desk and slid it to Wes.  “You’ll take a week off because I said so and because you owe me a few days to breathe without shit blowing up around me or a dead freshie in the locker room.  While I’m away at the graduation service, a reminder since you’ve obviously been neglecting your calendar, I want you to take a look at this.”  He nodded at the book.

Wes snarled and slapped the book, pulling it into his lap.  “The fuck is this, Sign Language for Beginners?  I am not about to read this crap.”

Donohue tensed.  His chair creaked as he leaned over his desk and growled.  “Have some respect, Wesley.  That book is not crap.  One more derogatory suggestion towards the hearing or vocally impaired and I will snap you like a twig.  Understood?”

Wes frowned, tilting his head. Sutt’s eyes were cold; an icy veil that alluded to a sore spot Wesley had poked at. “What’s up your ass, Sutt?  The fuck you care about this?”  He lifted the book, his brows raised.

Easing back into his chair, Donohue laced his hands together, propping his elbows on the armrests.  His nostrils flared once before he composed himself.  The icy melted from his eyes like he hadn’t been angry to begin with.  “You have one week to learn that book from front to back.  I’ve seen you learn nearly dead languages in less time with that damn photographic memory of yours.  So don’t give me that look.  You’ll work with Constance in Public Affairs in the evenings.  I have it on good account she knows her ASL.  She’ll test you after you read each section and give you a crash course of modern slang gestures so you don’t look too stiff.”

Closing his eyes with a huff, Wes flopped back in his chair and held his scruffy chin.  He shook his head a little, reining in his irritation.  “Are you for real, Sutt?” he asked softly.

“I’m very serious on this.  You’re a man of many talents, Wesley, taking challenges head on being one of them.  You want to work a good case? Then you’ll do as you’re told and read the damn book.  I’ve phoned ahead.”  Wesley caught the scent of lies before it was whisked away.  Donohue snapped his fingers.  “Constance is waiting for you on the first floor to give you a very quick rundown tonight before you begin reading.”

“This isn’t a joke?”

“Am I laughing?”

Wes’s gaze slid up to Donohue before landing in his lap again.  He shrugged.  “Maybe you haven’t got to the punch line yet.”

“No punch line, Durren.  Read the book.  Get with Constance.  I’ll set up another meeting with you on the matter once your week is up.”  Donohue aired out the collar of his dress shirt with his fingers, and then returned his attention to his monitor, physically exhausted.  “That means now, Wesley.  I have to conference in with Yuri to let him know our dealer has been taken into custody, unless you’d like to stick around and engage the Russian with your freshie woes.  I’m sure he’ll be thrilled to hear them.  Hell, I’m sure he’ll be elated to speak with me and I’m the Captain of the Bureau.”

Knowing Yuri, the Russian as he was called at the Bureau, would rather spit nails at Wesley’s face than see him hovering in the background of Sutton’s office, let alone talk to him, he shook his head in resignation.  Wes looked at the book, up at Sutt, then at the book again.  He sighed heavily.  Sutt wasn’t going to back down.  “Wanna get a beer at Webster’s, an hour?” he asked instead.

The faintest trace of a smile touched Donohue’s lips.  “I’ll meet you there. Save me the good stool.”

Wes grabbed his vest off of the other chair.  He stood with the book in his other hand.  He smirked, tapping the book on the desk.  “Jackass.”

As he opened the door to leave, Donohue chuckled.  “Blow me, Durren.”

“Only if you were my type, buttercup,” Wes called over his shoulder, wearing a shit eating grin.  He closed the door and put his scowl back in place just to fuck with the eavesdropping morons who scampered away.  He stomped down the hallway, sneering at anyone who got too close.  Once he reached the safety of the elevator, behind the closing doors, Wes let his scowl drop and looked at the book.  Sign Language?  Really?

When Wesley made it to Constance’s office, Constance the loudmouthed Public Affairs Manager who everyone loathed, he caught the end of her surprised phone conversation. 

“Yes, Captain. Of course, Captain.  He’s here,” she hissed through fuchsia painted lips.  She slammed the receiver down, grinning like she’d been caught with her hand in the cookie jar, and then gestured him inside her first floor office of nightmares.  Two leopard print chairs faced her desk.  A glittery red pen cup held her writing utensils that were probably scented and lit up when in use. Even her hair clip was blinged out, pierced through her teased coif of blond extensions.

“Well, well, Wesley Durren.”  She grinned, exposing a bit of purplish lipstick on her front teeth.  “I hear you’d like to learn a bit of sign language.”

“I’d rather not.”

She snorted, looked up at him with devilish green eyes rimmed in black liner.  “But you will.  Captain’s orders.  And I just love following orders.”  Constance took a noisy sip from her iced coffee with all the trimmings, prolonging the inevitable just because she could.  It was her punishment for the way they avoided her cave of rainbows the way one would avoid the Boogie Man or the end of a loaded shotgun.  And also retribution for Wesley siding with the rumor mill, that spread on a constant basis, Constance Thursgoode was clinically insane, one Hello Kitty eraser away from the edge of bat shit.

Wesley sighed like his soul was leaving his body and plopped into the chair that had once been a large cat.  He could almost feel its ghostly paws running up his spine.  He shuddered, crossing his legs only to find glitter on the sole of his boot, a shiny speck of red that had fled the pen cup out of shame.  “Fuck.  Me.”

Constance purred, “Oh, don’t I wish, darlin’.”

Chapter 2

2 hours east of Paris, France.  The Queen’s Guard Academy

Adrian stood front and center, fifteen pre-turns at his back in the sizable gym they used for training exercises every day.  In the center of the group of idiots were two Royals who had turned within the last two weeks. The others, who weren’t of Royal blood, would pay their debt by having a year of Bureau experience under their belts before they were offered the gift of “everlasting life”.  Adrian didn’t have that problem.  His fangs would find him eventually.   Until that shining moment came, he had to play like the rest of them: a nobody with gleeful hopes of being a good little Guard.  Good was not part of these assholes’ vocabularies.  They were a pack of middle school bullies, whispering and taunting, pointing and leering to rile Adrian up.

Yeah, right. Good my ass. Fuck them all. 

He didn’t hear their murmuring side conversations.  Then again he wasn’t here to make friends and whisper with his school chums.  He had no chums here.  He didn’t befriend farm animals who could speak, which was how he perceived his peers.  Adrian didn’t make friends with anyone for that matter.

His eyes were trained on his instructor’s lips, gathering information for their last drill before graduation.  It was the final test, a joke of a final if you asked Adrian, but it was tradition and vamps were big on their stupid traditions.  He was ready to get it over with so he could board a flight and get the fuck on with life as a Hunter.  He’d played his cards right for the queen’s watchful eyes lurking around.  He’d served his time here at this worthless institution.  Now it was time the queen paid up and gave him something good to do, some scumbag to decapitate, or an enemy coven to blow to smithereens.  That was the deal.  Cool off for four years, bag some “training”, and when she was content that Adrian hadn’t lost his mind or his humanity then she would green light his Hunter status. 

He was so ready.  He could almost taste his freedom.

“You will be paired off with one the vampires over there.” Briggs hitched his thumb to the back wall where a line of Guards stood.  “The Bureau has been nice enough to lend us a few Guards for the occasion, so don’t show your ass because you’ll get it handed to you.  Your objective is to take your partner out of bounds within the five minutes given to you.  You will get no second chances today if your partner takes you out of bounds.  Should you fail this exam, you will be eligible to reapply for your final in six months with the next graduating class.  This is it, ladies.  Keep it clean.”  Briggs clapped his hands once under Adrian’s watchful eyes, and then gestured Adrian forward.

Best for last is a bunch of bullshit to make the weak feel better.  I don’t have to hold back for any of you anymore.  This is how it’s done, fuckers.

Dressed in his Guard Academy issued black sweat pants and matching black cross trainers, Adrian approached the blue mat with a large white circle on it. Briggs gripped Adrian’s bare shoulder.  He stared him right in the eye.  “Ready for this?”

Adrian nodded once.  His eyes strayed to his classmates.  They were trying not to laugh.  Covering their mouths and leaning in to whisper shit about him right in the open as if he was also blind.  He narrowed his eyes at Carson Maloy, the leader of the assholes and the biggest daddy’s boy of the bunch, wel,l more like uncle, but who the fuck cared? He was still spoiled and a pain in Adrian’s side.  If Adrian hadn’t been warned more than once to keep his ass in line at the academy and blend in, he would’ve ripped Carson’s smug face off a long time ago. 

Carson flicked him off subtly, grinning like he wanted his newly dropped fangs knocked out.  He’d taken to the turn a little over a week ago and thought he was the hotshot now that he’d acquired super strength and speed.  Like he knows how to use it.  Dumb jock.  But Adrian had been training to kill fucks like Carson since he could walk, Royals stronger than Carson could imagine.  Adrian smiled back at the middle finger flipped his way, putting a cold twist to his lips.  Oh, really?  I’d love to.  Adrian cracked his knuckles.

Carson’s smile faded.  He licked his fangs.  Carson’s eyes became slits, a power hungry infant who wanted to keep his peasants impressed.  Adrian fished his text to voice translator out of his pocket and started typing.  Under Brigg’s waiting presence, Adrian hit enter.  “May I spar with Carson for my test, sir?” a recorded male voice asked.

Briggs pursed his lips and shook his head.  “Can you handle that?”

“Yes, sir,” he typed.

Adrian waited for his instructor to reject the idea.  But to his surprise, Briggs grinned and nodded.  “Carson! Front and center.”

Adrian didn’t catch the quick argument from Carson, because the vampire had deliberately turned his head as he spoke with Briggs.  Instead, Adrian studied his would-be opponent’s body language.  His hands were fisted, nails biting into his palms.  His back tense, shoulders rigid, a knot of muscle bunched between them.  Carson kept checking over his shoulder quickly, black eyes unsure as they turned back to Briggs.  Adrian smiled wickedly and stepped away.  Carson Maloy was nervous to fight him—even as a pureblooded vampire now.

 What now, you son of a bitch?  It’s my turn to show you. The fuck do I care anymore about playing nice?  I’m done with this place.  Adrian cracked his neck, rolling his head back while shaking his hands.  He centered himself, taking a nice deep breath to clear his mind.  Briggs stepped outside of the white circle. Carson stepped in. Apparently the new vampire decided he was man enough to entertain Adrian’s request. He was a vampire now, right?  So this final was legit to academy specs and already stamped with a big fat pass as far as Adrian was concerned.

Standing at four inches over six feet Carson was a big guy, just a few inches taller than Adrian.  Unlike Adrian, Carson was built like a mountain, a farm boy on steroids look-a-like with wide shoulders and bulky arms and thighs sculpted identical to a bodybuilder.  Adrian knew Carson’s strength from prior encounters during their “training” together.  But what Carson didn’t know was Adrian had held back the entire time, suffering under the pressure of his queen’s orders.  This time Adrian was going to lose the good little boy pretense and use his sinewy body’s advantages to bring Carson Maloy to his knees, preferably with a fair amount of blood.  And if Carson wanted to stay on his knees after the fact, for a little begging of worth via mouth to cock, Adrian didn’t have any qualms about it.

Carson cocked his head at Briggs, rolling his shoulders back in wait.  It was a big mistake to be distracted with Briggs when a killer was a few feet from him, just waiting for the signal.  Adrian didn’t have to hear Briggs’s go ahead, he simply moved in when Carson turned back to him.  The vampire was unprepared for Adrian’s body hurdling towards him.  Carson attempted to spin out, but even for a predator he was slow and new to the game, plus he didn’t have the room within the circle’s boundaries to step out with that wide of a stance.  Adrian was already on him, head butting Carson in the stomach to ram him to the ground.

Nails dug into Adrian’s shoulder, slicing through his skin.  He smelled his blood, a metallic scent he could identify with merely a drop to go on.  He was going to return the favor with his preferred self-defense techniques.  A long time ago Adrian’s father had introduced him to the art of Krav Maga, among other fighting styles, but Krav Maga held a special place in his heart.  It was his first love, his first step into the world of death, and also his father’s favorite.  Although Adrian had been presented to the style for the purpose of self-preservation and defense, he preferred the other side of the art—delivering as much damage in the shortest amount of time possible.  But he wouldn’t let Carson know what he had in store.  It was so much better to see the shock on his face.

When dealing with an opponent, Adrian knew better than to beat them into submission physically.  It wasted time and energy, and if he wore out, a vampire would more than likely win unless Adrian was saved by some miraculous act of god.  In Adrian’s world there was no god, so, no—he needed the upper hand, which meant he had to test Carson psychologically by drawing on the vampire’s thought process and occupying his mind.  And that was what he’d just done.

Rushing a vampire around the middle was an amateur move.  It left the back open and an easy escape for the bigger predator to turn out or jump over.  Or worse, with a vampire’s strength and the right weapon, damage a human’s spine and leave him for dead.  And Adrian wasn’t stupid, he just knew Carson was.  He flung his upper body back, twisting out of Carson’s arms.  He made sure to grace the vamp with a silly little look of fear and dwell on the expression so his body would reek of terror.

Look at me, I’m so scared.  Not.

Let Carson think Adrian had made a mistake.  It was so much fun that way.  Plus, by rushing Carson, Adrian had gauged Carson’s weight and the force it would take to send him the distance over the line.  They had come less than two feet from the edge of the circle.  Close.  But not close enough.

Carson kicked out as Adrian flipped backward by bending and pushing up with his hands.  The Hunter didn’t miss the perplexed look on Carson’s face.  Adrian spun out, fisting his hand to send at Carson’s midsection again, missing him by inches on purpose.  If Carson was of the mind that Adrian was fixated on going for his solar plexus, then Carson would indefinitely protect his chest and stomach first out of instinct, learned instinct that was in fact a trick of the mind.

As Adrian predicted, going in for another punch with the same fist, Carson bowed his body protectively, arms bent at the elbow in a boxer’s pose, whereas his fists should have been higher and more together to hide his face from the left jab Adrian delivered to his neck.  Carson howled, silently to Adrian’s ears.  His fangs slid down, bared to the Hunter who could have cared less.  To Adrian, fangs were just another weapon, a smaller one that was part of the body for vampires.

They couldn’t do anything with their fangs if they didn’t get near the neck, the wrist, or the thighs to sever obvious venous systems that could bleed a human out.   Adrian looked at fangs as a sign he’d pissed off his opponent and nothing more, not to say he didn’t know to protect his blood at all costs or avert his eyes from direct contact with a vamp’s, so as not to be under their control.

Carson moved like a boxer instead of channeling his beast too, keeping his fists up and his knees bent, shuffling around the mat in a clockwise direction from Adrian.  The vamp knew he couldn’t use his fangs during this exam or use his eyes, but he looked pissed enough to do it.  Adrian just smiled and winked, and then he opened his fists to reveal his palms.  He staggered his movements in an irregular path to throw Carson off and to open the floodgates of Carson’s rage.  If there was one thing that pissed Carson off more than anything, it was being shown up in front of his crew.

Too bad Adrian was going to be the bearer of bad news today, because Carson was going over the side of the mat if it was the last thing Adrian did.  The vampire grew tired of the dance and lunged forward to test Adrian’s boundaries.  He jabbed near Adrian’s hands to see how he would react.  And Adrian let him, but nipped at Carson’s fists with his fingers and kept his legs wide apart, seemingly open and defenseless.

Carson made a mistake when he flicked his eyes to Adrian’s feet.  He brought his leg out, thinking he’d spotted an opening to end the madness by crushing Adrian’s nuts with his knee, but the Hunter wasn’t a fool.  Adrian faked a punch to the left, hopping back as Carson went to connect his knee.  Carson’s head fell back to avoid the faux blow to the face, but his right fist clipped Adrian in the shoulder.  Just fine with Adrian, because the force of that hit sent him spinning in a backward circle just like he wanted.  Through the throb in his shoulder, Adrian brought his left elbow up into Carson’s face.  He felt the crack and his mind journeyed to a different place, another time.

A time when he’d cracked a man’s nose in the dark four years ago.  A man who’d snuck into his flat to kill him as he slept.  The enemy intruder had received a bullet to the back of his head as he spun to the floor.  But Carson was treated to something far crueler than that.  Adrian slid into that dark place, forgetting himself or where he was, his eyes flinty as he rounded to Carson’s back in less than a second. 

Blood dripped to the mat.  Sweat gathered on Adrian’s chest.  He struck out.  One. Two. Jab in the kidneys with the excruciating pressure of his rigid fingers.  Knee to the lower back and Carson arched in pain. Open palm, fingers stiff together, Adrian chopped down at the spot where neck met shoulder, sending Carson to his knees and his vampire nervous system into momentary shock.  Adrian was unrelenting, suddenly a soldier and not a student.  Mid fall, Adrian ducked to hook his hand around Carson’s neck and sent the vamp’s large body spinning right out of the circle.

The white line didn’t end things for Adrian.  He saw a different face on the blond hulk of man sitting up on the floor, blood lines marking his chin and chest.  The vamp bared his fangs and pushed to his feet.  Adrian stood there waiting.  He opened his arms and took the force, digging his heels into the mat and levering the blow with his fingers clamped onto the vamp’s shoulders.  His heels burned against the mat.  His knuckles white.

They stopped, teetering for balance, and Adrian struck.  He slammed his forehead into Carson’s face, lifted his head, and punched Carson right in the jaw.  Snap.  Knee to balls.  Carson bent over.  Adrian fisted Carson’s hair and connected his knee to Carson’s stomach, over and over until several pairs of hands tried to pry him off of the vampire.  He screamed, completely unconscious at the moment over how haunting his voice sounded.  Carson breathed in and stood up all in one move, like the dead rising.  Adrian exhaled, spun and kicked the vampire in the head.  And Carson fell over in slow motion, blood arcing from his mouth.

Adrian was pinned to the ground by four Guards, yanked back into the real world from his momentary lapse.  He gasped and struggled to get free.  Nevertheless it wasn’t until he settled, breathing fixed to a normal rhythm, that four faces stared down at him.  The Guards finally loosened their grips on his body.  Briggs’s face appeared above him, shaking his shoulders in concern.

Adrian pushed up to sit.  He sat there and breathed it out, wiping the sweat out of his eyes.  Guards crouched around him, waiting to take action should he freak out again.  But Adrian continued to sit, staring at his stunned instructor.  He had no idea what the man was thinking.  If Adrian was in Briggs’s position, he’d have sent Adrian straight to a cage for animals.  It had been a long time since Adrian stepped out of his body like that.  The last time he’d done it, he’d ended up in this place.  And now he had the sinking feeling he was no closer to getting out than he was the first day he’d set foot on the academy premises.

He’d lost his mind.  He’d almost killed a vampire, a new vampire that didn’t know what to do with his strength yet, how to wield his body unlike a human.  Adrian had taken advantage of his fellow student’s anger just to show him up and blow off some steam.  He’d fucked up.  The queen would hear about this now, and Adrian’s name would be whispered among his peers and their families, fucking his low key identity all to hell.  There was no way he could back to his Hunter life now.  He’d almost killed a male of an affluent family, someone of importance.  That was the kind of shit no one could cover up.  There were too many witnesses.

Briggs lifted Adrian’s chin.  His brows shot up expectantly.  Adrian sighed and shook his head.  “Fine,” he mouthed.


Not in the least.  Adrian nodded.  He accepted Briggs’s hand and was pulled to his feet.  The first thing he noticed outside the circle of Guards was the men, his peers, standing there with wide eyes.  No one was whispering this time.  No one looked away from him.  Adrian stepped forward on shaky legs to grab a water bottle from the table and the group moved away as one.  He stopped when a hand landed on his shoulder.  Briggs turned him around and Adrian just knew this was it.  They were taking him into custody where he’d never be heard from again, deemed too hardcore a human to handle, and a menace to society once he finally did turn.

“Hit the showers.  I’ll do what I can.”

This is worse than bad.  He’ll do what he can?  I’m so fucked.  Adrian just nodded.  He grabbed his water bottle and headed out.  Two things made him linger near the gym exit.  First, the Guard positioned at the door, watching the show.  He smiled at Adrian.  It was a subtle smile, but it was there.  Did he like what he saw or was he impressed?  Adrian didn’t know.  But the second thing to make him stop was the exit door slamming open for Carson, who had cleaned his face and chest in the hallway.  Water rivulets dripped down his skin and spiked his hair all over the place.  His cuts and bruises and twisted nose were pink, healing quickly because of his DNA.

Adrian stood his ground.  He didn’t flinch as Carson stalked by, brushing Adrian’s arm instead of smacking into him, which was even scarier.  Adrian hid his surprise, his face empty of emotion.  He glanced at the Guard, who shrugged.  Then the Guard nodded in the direction Adrian had come.  Spinning around, Adrian was shocked to find Carson was back on the mat, opposite a Guard.  Briggs held the stopwatch in his hand, meaning Carson was next up for his exam.

He’s going to fight after that?  Finally Adrian showed emotion.  He grinned at Carson’s back, overcome with respect for the new vampire, his former enemy.  His smile didn’t last long.  Once again, and as always, Adrian masked what he was thinking and exited the gym.  Sticking around to watch Carson fight would be bad.  Adrian would spend the entire five minutes wondering what the hell had just happened and why Carson didn’t retaliate because that kind of blasé reaction wasn’t normal for anyone. 

Adrian didn’t dwell on things like that, or people like Carson.  He just didn’t do it.  Deciphering a person’s reasoning and motive was to form an attachment.  In Adrian’s world people did and they didn’t.  It didn’t matter why unless it was the key to life or death.  Questioning his beliefs for one person, no matter how out of character Carson was acting, was a dangerous thing.  Besides, he needed to sulk in peace.  His world was about to be pulled out of his grasp.  They wouldn’t let him return to his former life; to the thing he loved doing the most, to being the keeper of justice in a world with never ending crime.  Being a Hunter was who he was.  They couldn’t take his identity away from him, could they?

In his own world, Adrian walked down the hall.  He placed his palm on a door at the end of the tiled corridor and pushed, realizing too late where he was.  When it clicked, he was already inside the gym’s locker room with the door shut behind him.  Adrian swallowed past the panic he felt and sucked it up.  He was going to have to clean out the locker he hadn’t touched since the first week he’d been at the academy.  His other workout uniform was still in the plastic on the shelves, and the gym bag he’d ditched after the first time here probably reeked of sweaty socks.

Two rows of lockers trailed back into the dim room with long padded benches between them.  Enough metal storage for two hundred students that were divided by year and branch of study within the Bureau.  Adrian’s class was made up of seventeen men training to be detectives.  And wasn’t it just grand that their class’s lockers were located at the very back of the room.

The guys thought Adrian was a freak already.  He couldn’t hear for one.  And secondly, after his first trip to the communal locker room, he’d flipped the fuck out for reasons publicly unknown and had never set foot in here again.  For four years he had walked all the way back to his private dorm room just to shower, stinking up the halls because he couldn’t stand the thought of having a repeat episode.  Not one of his instructors said a thing about it.  He was just the resident freak, best not to poke at.  Unless you were Carson and his worshippers.  They didn’t really give a shit about unspoken rules.

Locker rooms had never scared Adrian before.  It wasn’t the lockers or the smell, or even the idea of undressing and showering with seventeen fit as hell men that set him off.  He fucking wished he could have snuck in some naked eye candy time to jerk off to later in the privacy of his room.  Gay didn’t define you in the vampire world.  No one batted an eye over sexuality, unless you weren’t exploring your sexual opportunities. Then you were just weird.

No, it wasn’t any of those things that haunted him about this room.  It was something none of the others could see or hear.  To be precise, it was someone who freaked Adrian out.  Someone no one but he could see.

Stop being a pussy and just get your stuff.  You’ll never have to come back here again.  A few minutes and you can run like hell.  Adrian checked around the corner for anyone in the large open shower room.  Steam clouded the area after the first year class had cleared out from their midafternoon run.  But they had zipped in and out before the senior exam, knowing to stay away if someone failed to make the cut.

Thinking along the same lines, Adrian didn’t want to be around anyone right now should he have an episode.  He had to make this quick.  He turned back to the door and clicked the security lock into place, the one used for lockdown drills.  After a few seconds he proceeded to walk down the farthest left of the three aisles.  He treated each wall of lockers like a danger zone, putting his back to the metal until he could peer around to the open bench space between.  He let out a sigh after the first set was clear of anyone and started up again.

Seven more to go, jackass.  You can do this.  You’ve been through worse.  Much worse.

The second set of lockers loomed ahead.  Adrian lifted his head high and marched up to it, set on not checking the danger zone before he kept going.  He was passing the second set of benches when out of the corner of his eye he saw a man.  When he whipped around, only two benches and lockers on each side were there.  Adrian’s heart rate spiked as he pressed two fingers to his wrist, making sure his heart wasn’t going to explode.  He checked both sides of the aisle he stood in to discover them just as empty.

The lights flickered above him.    A locker door at the end of the wall slowly opened with no one there to touch it.  Adrian put his back to the aisle wall and kept walking sideways.  Many times in his life he’d experienced this kind of fear, fear of the unknown, fear of the people who appeared out of thin air to talk to him.  He never knew where they’d be or when their whispers would breach his deaf ears to be heard, to beg for his help, or just to make him feel as miserable as they did.

His father had called it a gift.  But Adrian saw it as a curse most of the time.  It was rare he encountered a spirit with no intentions of terrorizing the ever loving crap out of him.  To seek an intelligent spirit, he had to focus to call them out.  It took time and energy, and when they appeared it took more time to establish a connection and settle their issue with the afterlife.  Sometimes they didn’t know they were dead and other times they did, but zapped his energy to retain a direct line in the real world.  Although no matter how they appeared, they always came to him looking exactly as they did when they died.  Victims of heart attacks or internal sickness were his favorites.  They scared him, sure, but there wasn’t anything horrifying about their appearance.
But here in the locker room, he just knew the spirit creeping around had died a tragic death.  Adrian could sense it, the shock the spirit experienced in those last moments, the fear and the confusion.  When Adrian’s breath rolled out of his mouth in a cloud and goose bumps rose on his arms, he was certain the spirit was making contact.  Adrian didn’t want to.  There was nothing this spirit could say that would make him stick around, and the need to gather his things from his old locker just didn’t matter anymore.  He was about to run to the door when all the lights died in the room.
Adrian shivered.  He slapped at the tile wall at his back and tried to move in the direction of the door.  When the lights zapped back on, a man was standing three feet from him.  Adrian slapped a hand to his mouth to muffle his scream. 
He had short blond hair.  A crew cut matted with blood on the right, and had one piercing blue eye set in his sharp, angular face.  The other eye was bloodshot with broken blood vessels and a tangle of busted capillaries around the socket. Scarlet rivulets dripped down his neck from his right ear, blood welling in the gray academy issued shirt he wore.  Adrian glanced down because he couldn’t look into those eyes anymore.  He couldn’t stand to see the anger in them.  That was when he noticed that the dead student was only wearing a pair of white cotton briefs and water pooled around his bare feet.
Can you hear me? Adrian thought about anything other than death: kittens, parking tickets, and that roast beef sandwich he’d had for lunch.  I know you can hear me! Adrian shuddered at the spirit’s deep voice rolling through his mind.  He shook his head and backed away.  The solid ghost took a step forward, reaching out with his wet hand.  Please.  Tell him.
Adrian shook his head vehemently.  He wasn’t delivering messages from the other side tonight.  His body ached and his heart rate was about to sky rocket, landing him in a grave if he wasn’t careful.  No!  Go away!
The name in his head made Adrian look up.  Spirit Boy backed away to give Adrian space and turned his head to sulk.  There on the right side of the ghost’s head was a rectangular crater.  Brain matter compacted tight in his skull, framed by shards of bone and a never ending well of blood that spilled onto his neck and shoulder.  Adrian bit back the bile rising in his throat.  He may have seen death, been the deliverer many times, but he’d never stuck around to survey the damage for long.  Seeing a man’s skull cracked open so hard it left an imprint in the brain from the obviously large murder weapon was disgusting.
Adrian regained his composure, some it anyway.  The ghost was still there, leaning against the wall, dripping blood and water on the floor, vulnerable in a shirt and his underwear with no one else to hear him.  So maybe Adrian had been wrong thinking the ghost wanted to hurt him or scare him.  Maybe he’d just been waiting for four years for Adrian to come back so he could talk, to deliver his message.  How Carson played a part in the spirit’s death was a mystery, but Adrian’s gut told him to listen.  He hated his gut.  And he hated listening.  But for some reason he felt like he owed Carson a debt for handing him ass like that, for crossing the line after the line had been crossed.
Adrian wasn’t usually a sentimental person.  Love and other emotions were considered weaknesses to him.  Nevertheless, he felt the spirit’s suffering as if it were his own.  For a moment, Adrian felt human again.  He felt naked, stripped of his Hunter upbringing and bared to the world in a blink. Who are you?
Toby.  The spirit was intelligent after all.  He even blinked unlike some of the full body apparitions Adrian had encountered in the past.  Adrian nodded and rested against the tile wall.  He kept a few feet between them.  So far so good.  I’m Carson’s older brother.
Say what?  Not good.  Adrian went slack jawed with the admission. 
He turned to Toby and Toby nodded back.  He came here because of me.  He wanted to be just like me.
So Carson had a dead older brother.  Great.  Just great.  And apparently Carson wanted to follow in his brother’s footsteps and try to make it as a Guard.  Question was: why?  When their family was prominent and rich in the vampire community, why would both boys want to be Guards of all things?  Guards were respected, yes, but they didn’t hold much weight among the rich.  They were shadows that protected in the background, served others so the wealthy, comfortable vamps didn’t have to see the bloodshed and the mayhem.
Why here?  Why you?
Toby seemed to understand what Adrian was thinking.  He stared off into the line of lockers and started to walk towards the showers.  No mention for Adrien to follow.  He just did.  I wanted out after our father was killed here in Europe.  I wanted to have something for myself out from under my Uncle, who was given custody of us.  And once I graduated, I was going to get a job and a place to live.  I was going to bring Carson with me.  I didn’t want him to finish school there.  Our Uncle… he…
Adrian got the picture when Toby fisted his hands.  The room swam with his anger, piercing Adrian in the heart.  He abused you.
Both of us.  He touched my baby brother when I was gone.  Carson didn’t have anyone to protect him.  That fucker touched him just like he touched me.  Toby stormed into the showers and whirled around.  Every shower head burst to life, hitting his solid form with sprays of water.  He’s going to come here to see Carson walk that stage like he deserves to, like he did something to help Carson become somebody.  He doesn’t deserve to breathe!
The water turned red, blood splashing against the pristine white shower tiles.  Adrian’s insides curled at the sight, but he had seen much worse where the spirits were concerned. They had a penchant for the theatrics, morbid theatrics.   What do you need me to do? He’d do pretty much anything at this point to make the scenery revert to normal.  He could handle blood.  Just not this much.
Carson can’t walk the stage like that, with him watching, knowing what he did.  He needs the strength to go on.  After my death he almost lost his mind.  I don’t think he’ll be able to go on after this.  He’s barely hanging on. He can’t hear me.  I’ve tried to tell him how proud… The blood stopped raining from the showers.  In a blink only water remained, cool and clean against the metal drains.  Toby sagged to his knees.  He put his face in his hands.  I’m stuck.  I can’t help him.  But you can.
What am I supposed to do for him, huh?  I kicked his ass about ten minutes ago.  I doubt he’ll listen to anything I have to say. Adrian grew frustrated.  What was he going to do, give Carson a pep talk by signing to him?  He wasn’t about to talk, that was for sure.  Carson already had it out for him.  Just let the guy hear him speak.  That would be fun.  Not.  And what was up with Toby?  How did he die?  It was beginning to look like the Uncle wanted Toby gone to clean up his act, when Toby pointed to the padded bench behind Adrian.
It was really early in the morning, not even four.  I told Briggs I’d clock in a run on the indoor circuit so I could miss the first two hours of training.  He could view the tapes later if he didn’t believe me.  Toby rubbed his face.  Blood came away on his hand and he sighed, used to it.  But he allowed it, said I was good for it.  I miss his sorry ass, you know?
Sure. Keep going.  I don’t have all night, man.
Toby smirked. I didn’t either.  I had to pick up my girl from the airport.
A girl?  This kept getting stranger and stranger.
She was a flight attendant—met her on a weekend trip to the UK with some of the guys.  I’ll never know for sure, but my gut says she was the one.  My mate.
Whatever.  I don’t believe in that shit.  How the hell does she factor in to your death?  That’s what I need to know.  Adrian cocked his head.  He glanced at the locked door.  Any minute Carson was going to come to the locker room only to find the door unable to open.  Then he’d get Briggs and shit would hit the fan.
I had to get showered and changed to go pick her up.  I was going to have breakfast with her at this little place I knew and then get back to the academy.  And after class I was gonna spend the night at her place to celebrate before I had graduation the next night.  She was going to meet Carson for the first time.  They were going to be my support while that fucker sat in the audience as I crossed the stage.
Adrian didn’t dwell on the emotional details or the fact that Toby had died the night before graduation.  He wanted to feel for him, but he just couldn’t.  Feeling was dangerous.  Getting involved with feelings meant Adrian had them.  Adrian finally snapped.  Will you get to the fucking point?  How did you die? Who killed you?  That’s what you want, right?  For me to call in the details at the Bureau and get the fucker brought in on murder?
No one killed me.  My phone was right there on that bench.  I heard her ringtone and got excited, I guess.  I was in the middle of warming up the shower, ran to the phone and slipped.  That corner right there got me right here. Toby pointed to gaping hole in his head.  I guess I went down pretty hard because I don’t remember anything after that.  But I do know I’m the reason they padded the benches.
Motherfucker.  You slipped?  That’s it!  I’ve been avoiding this damn shower and all that ass for four years because you slipped?  Dammit!  Adrian kicked the locker nearest him and threw his fists down to his side.  Fuck!
All that ass, huh?  Toby appeared in front of him, startling Adrian.  Sorry about that.  But I’ve been waiting four years to see you again, and I need you to do something for me.  I know who you are, Adrian.  I know what you can do.
Adrian blanched.  What the fuck are you talking about?  How could you possibly know who or what I am?
An odd expression crossed Toby’s face, somewhere between amusement and a serious calm that scared even Adrian.  I’m not the first one you’ve talked to.
Adrian shivered.  The others.  Adrian had often wondered whether or not the other spirits had just sensed what he could do or whether they could talk amongst themselves freely, like a network of hoodoo voodoo.  Guess he knew now.  Would’ve been nice to know a long time ago.  Fine.  You know.  What do you want then?
I told Carson a thousand times I’d make the pain stop so we could live free.  You know exactly what I want you to do.  You have two days until graduation.  Make the pain stop, Adrian.  Toby nodded at the door to the locker room that had begun to shake, the handle twisting up and down.  When Adrian looked back at Toby, the spirit was gone.  So was the icy chill of the undead, but not the image of Toby’s inverted cranium and the brain goo leaking out of his head.
Fuck. Me.  Adrian stormed to the door and unlocked it, almost tackled by Carson as he fell against the open door.  He looked up at the massive blond, now seeing the distinct similarities between Carson and Toby.  Their blue eyes and their long nose, traits no doubt passed down the family by someone with dominant genes—maybe their father who was dead, leaving them alone with their twisted uncle and a life full of unwanted sexual exploitation.   Adrian realized Carson was holding him upright, trapped between those muscular arms and that broad chest. 
Although he was attracted to men larger than him—the process of overpowering them always turned him on—he had no intention of letting his interest become more than curiosity with Carson.  The guy didn’t deserve a bang and break.  He was the settle down type, someone who held a heart, feelings, and a fucked up past.  No need to put another ding in Carson’s armor.
Adrian stared up at Carson and nodded to himself, his mind made up.  There was a reason why Carson was a bully.  Not just because he was big, but because he needed to feel big after he’d been made small, time and time again by his uncle’s vile debauchery.  No one that big should be that helpless, yet still, it happened every day to thousands of people who didn’t know their own strength.  Didn’t know how to fight back because they were too focused on the fact that it was their family member dishing out the abuse; the ones who were supposed to love them, to care for them, were hurting them, but why?  Many victims spent years asking themselves that very question, while trying to prove their worth to their abuser, to make them love them, to learn from the wrongs they’d never done.   
And Adrian, with his vigilante whack job psyche, had been righting the world’s wrongs for years.  One more time couldn’t hurt.  With the added incentive of never seeing Toby’s bloody head again, Adrian patted Carson’s washboard stomach and slipped under his arm to exit the locker room.  The academy could keep their crappy socks and shitty gym bag.  He was never going in that locker room again.

Chapter 3
After doing a bit of research outside the academy’s secure online network, Adrian had hopped the bus into town with his fellow classmates.  He kept to the very front seat, understanding from their gestures boarding the local transport that they were either going to get fairly drunk, or find a warm body to bang, or a combination of both.  This was supposed to be their free night to enjoy because they’d all passed their final.  While Adrian avoided Carson like the plague and had no intentions of getting plastered this evening, or bedding anyone for that matter, he did look forward to enjoying something this evening.  But his definition of fun immensely differed from his classmates.
After getting off the bus, Adrian lingered outside the bar for the pack of students that weren’t out to drink this evening, the serious ones who thought the others were a bunch of frat wannabes.  Those who were much more concerned with their ten year plan to mingle with “the boys”.  Six males split from Carson’s crew and headed three doors down to an antiquated theater that had been running since World War II, showing films to evacuees to keep their minds off the devastating war at home.  Or so the ticket taker had once told Adrian.  The dusty brick building wasn’t anything as majestic as Le Grand Rex in Paris, one of Adrian’s favorite places to let time slip away, also established in the 1930s and a good two hours away.
For what it was though, this small town theater with its faded movie posters, cheap tickets, and poorly lit marquee was all right.  They sold cigarettes and chocolate at the counter, and had wide seats in the back row—something of an attraction to Adrian as he liked to stretch out.   The theater was now a sort of hipster hangout for the younger locals, and an ode to a different time, only showing foreign films from at least two decades ago.  Nonetheless it was dark and the patrons were nice and drunk before the lights dimmed, too bleary eyed from their cigarette hazed air to notice when he slipped out as the vintage previews began.  Adrian had made sure Briggs and the group of men he’d followed in had seen him enter the theater and sit down in the back row, so when a dead body appeared the next day he wouldn’t catch any questioning.  He had approximately ninety minutes to get in, get the job done, and get out before anyone noticed him gone.
Adrian exited out the side entrance in the hall, into an alley and followed the dark, winding brick walls to a street on the other side of the theater.  This particular French community was older.  Most of them turned in early so they could wake at the crack of dawn to open shop, the area thick with family run commerce and  steeped in religious morals that sent them to bed like good little boys and girls.  Aside from the two hole in the wall bars near the theater, the streets were fairly quiet and the lampposts were far and few between.  Adrian kept to the shadows, feeling the call of lost souls in the vicinity because of the gated cemetery up the hill.  But he didn’t focus on them.  Drawing attention by noticing would only give him away.  He’d learned that fairly young. Once you made contact, there was no going back.
His attention was set on the lone hotel settled on the edge of the short downtown drag. A cream building was attached to the apartment buildings on either side of it, seated on a corner lot.  Its rounded edges, intricate balconies on all three floors, and historical appeal made for a perfect place to lodge a bunch of vampires who had come to see their students graduate.  Adrian steered clear of the well-lit entrance and the line of expensive rental cars tucked against the curb.  A doorman looked half asleep on a stool at the front door, but stirred when a man exited the building with an entire fleet of men behind him.
Adrian sucked in air.  He flattened himself to the building and waited.  His Uncle, Captain Sutton Donohue stopped between two cars and waved at the men in his posse.  Adrian didn’t dare make a peep or a scuffle of his shoes for fear his Uncle would notice.  He’d avoided Sutton for as long as he could remember, rarely replying to his Uncle’s concerned texts and ignoring surprise video-chat calls from his cousin Quinton.  His cousin that was only calling so Sutton could know what was going on.  Seeing Sutton Donohue was like digging Adrian’s father up from the grave.  They had the same face.  They had the same mannerisms and subtle gestures.  They even shared the same look of concern.
Adrian had already mourned one Donohue.  He wasn’t about to get close to another, just to watch him fall.  It was better for everyone if Adrian stayed away from the family who had it all together.  He was far different from them in every way.  It wouldn’t work.  He’d cut and run because the pressure to be normal would be too much to bear.  But there he was: Sutton Donohue, Captain of the fucking Bureau and Adrian’s Uncle, just yards away.
Adrian should have known his Uncle was coming to graduation.  He did it every year.  Why would this year be any different?  Unlike the previous three years, Adrian was now a part of the graduation.  He couldn’t just book a seat on the train and disappear for a few days until Sutton left this time.  No.  This time he’d have to shake his Uncle’s hand and actually look him in the eye, the same eyes his father had in life.  To Adrian, Sutton Donohue was a living ghost, one Adrian couldn’t will away.
Before he got worked up, Adrian closed calmed and waited until the cars pulled away from the curb.  Once the expensive fleet had driven far enough away, Adrian huddled down into the basement service entrance, a set of stairs going down from the street.  His pulled a penlight from out of his jacket and bit it between his teeth to illuminate the basement door lock.  They must have been trying to keep out the medicated elderly, because Adrian easily broke in with a low grade pick he kept on the ring next to his dorm key.  No chain to cut or security personnel to stab, Adrian slipped inside to the vibration of the heating vent on his left and the chill of the concrete basement.
Like everything else in this town, the buildings were old, some of them built in the 1700s.  This one was somewhere around there, a maze of vaulted hallways, dark brick archways, with modern fixtures and additions applied to bring them up to date.  It smelled earthy and musty even though the paint was fresh, within the last couple of years, and concrete had been poured and smoothed over the floors within the last ten. And like most older buildings, they had a lot of history, which meant a lot of death.  Adrian kept cool, and thought about the reason he was here instead of the things lurking within the walls or moving out of the corner of his eye.
He moved in a slow heel to toe walk out of habit.  He was unable to hear his shoes squeak over the shiny painted concrete.  There was no need to run, he didn’t want to push his luck and be discovered over something ridiculous and preventable.  He passed storage lockers with holiday decorations, freezers used by the kitchen, and the open room where housekeeping did the laundry.  The dumbwaiter next to a service telephone opened slightly, but not all the way. A foggy chill wafted out from under the cabinet sized door.  He didn’t stick around to see why.  Call it a feeling he had.
The closer he moved to the service elevator, the more aware Adrian became.  He had to be very careful from here on out with a building full of vampires.  He’d stuck around the theater long enough to soak his clothes in cigarette smoke, and he kept his hood up as he boarded the elevator so at first glance no one would note his most detectable features.  
Sight and scent were the first things a vampire took in.  If he smelled familiar or like other vampires, they would stop and want to know more.  It was a part of their nature, a part he had to be prepared for.  The second thing a vampire did was subtly read a human as they passed.  Not in all situations, because a large crowd tended to flit by unnoticed, but a lone human walking the halls of a vampire flooded hotel was bound to be read.
Adrian mentally went down his list of things to think about, clouding his mind over if he was indeed read.  Tourism was his best bet.  The sites and the restaurants he wanted to visit here in town.  Whether he had enough battery to go another day on his camera or whether he should charge it.  How nice the man had been at the front door when he’d entered.  How much should he tip the valet?  He stepped into the mind of a tourist as the elevator doors opened on the first floor. If discovered he’d just be a lost little human looking for lodging.
The narrow service hallway held a few offices and more storage, and a back entrance to the kitchen that swung back into place as if someone had just gone through. Meant the kitchen was still working after dinner and was off limits on his little tour.  On his left was a peek at the lobby.  Red carpeting with a creamy floral laid underneath a ring of polished mahogany sofas with plush cream upholstery.  They even had a chandelier over the concierge desk.  Of course they have a chandelier.
Adrian shook his head at the sniveling man behind the desk, who was obviously nervous and overeager to help… Sutton.  Shit.  I thought he left!  Adrian stayed levelheaded and popped back around the corner to hide.  Sutton got one whiff of Adrian, or felt his panic and he’d investigate.  It was why he was head of the Bureau, Sutton Donohue was an investigator with a nose for trouble—he’d sniff out the tiniest feeling in his gut and follow through until he found resolve.
Skirting around a tea service tray, which was most likely for a vampire guest, because who the fuck had tea this late at night, Adrian glimpsed the staircase through a series of columns leading towards the dining room.  Sutton tapped his fingers against banister pole.  His brows drew tight—his look of thought.  Adrian held his breath until Sutton slowly ascended the stairs.  He delayed until the concierge ducked out of the now empty lobby to have a cigarette with the doorman, and then Adrian rushed across the cushy carpeting and up the stairs.
Through his research on his private laptop at the academy, Adrian had hacked every possible hotel database within an hour radius until he’d confirmed Ulysses Maloy checked in at Le Cheval Rouge; the little hotel that had once been owned by a wealthy horse breeder, hence the name, The Red Horse.  Adrian didn’t give a rat’s ass about the history, but he’d done all the research he could on the suite layouts posted at the hotel’s website, and from recent tourist pictures stupid visitors had displayed for anyone to see.
Every floor was marked by a golden horse ornament with a corresponding number.  As if there were so many floors they couldn’t possibly keep count.  Adrian rolled his eyes at the pointless decoration and continued his quiet trek up the stairs.  So far he had yet to run into his Uncle, but at the third floor he detected movement around the corner.  Shadows played against the sconce fixtures dotting the walls.  Adrian opened a door marked private and shut the door to the darkened room, just enough not to be seen.  He pulled deep breaths in, letting them go through his nose.
His fingers met his wrist and he counted his heart’s beat per minute, slowly willing his body to calm.  He’d been trained from an early age how to talk to his body, how not to give away the spike of his heartbeat and how to control his facial expressions against internal forces of natural instinct.  Viewing through the crack of open door space, Adrian watched in his safe space as Sutton talked with a young boy, maybe fifteen and evidently human.  He couldn’t possibly belong to a Royal.  Dirt clung to his malnourished arms and streaked his cheeks like he’d just skidded into home plate.  His clothes were outdated, probably thrift store bargains, and too short in the pants and sleeves.  But he had pretty eyes and a boyish innocence.  A face out of place that Sutton would feel the need to investigate.
Sutton put his hand on the boy’s shoulder and said something again, but Adrian couldn’t make out the words.  The boy shook his head, stepping away sharply.  It was too dim from his side of the hall and too far away to understand what was happening.  But Sutton eventually let the boy go down one hall while he stood there watching him go.  Whatever the boy had said distressed Sutton far more than he let on.  Those dark brows knit tightly together like Adrian’s father’s had long ago, a look of a man pondering his next move.  Something was afoot and Sutton’s eyes stayed locked on the hall around the corner, tracking like a dog about to jump at his scurrying prey.
Adrian glanced at his phone.  From the dark closet that smelled like bleach, Adrian noted he only had an hour left before he would be suspect after Ulysses’s body turned up dead.  He mentally told Sutton to fuck off and move along, but Adrian’s Uncle stood sentry at the staircase, waiting for something Adrian couldn’t see.  The hair on the back of Adrian’s neck rose when Sutton looked directly at his hiding place and placed his finger to his lips.
The fuck was that?  He can’t possibly see me.  Can he?  Sure enough Sutton crooked his finger at the closet Adrian was hiding in.  No way.  No fucking way is this happening right now.
Adrian waited for another vampire to walk by the closet and his worst nightmare to end.  Sutton was just waiting for someone.  That had to be it.  But as the minutes ticked on and no one came by, and Sutton continued staring at the closet, Adrian knew he’d been made.  All of his tiptoeing around had made no difference.  His confidence as a spy, as a Hunter dwindled just a bit.  If his Uncle could spot him, then most likely anyone could.
Fuck him.  I’m a goddamn good Hunter.  I’ve done this a thousand times.  I can…  Sutton huffed and waved Adrian out of the closet.  He tapped his watch and cocked his head.  I hate him.
Fuming mad, Adrian stood in the dark closet and slipped into the hall.  He shut the door behind him.  A staring match ensued.  If his eyes could shoot lasers Sutton Donohue would have been obliterated.  Years stood between them, a distance no amount of family blood would close.  Adrian had no desire to stand face to face with his Uncle or speak with him.  He wanted to cut ties with all familial connections and be free of everything.  All he wanted in life was to get his revenge on the traitors who had taken his mother and his father.  He wanted to follow in their footsteps, to take up arms in the name of the queen they so loved, and paint the streets and the whispering shadows with traitorous blood.  He didn’t want to have to answer to anyone except the woman funding his mad search of the globe, the one who held his precious resources.
Adrian wanted to go it alone.  He was a one man army.
Sutton shook his head, humor manifesting in his dark eyes.  Putting his middle finger down on one hand, Sutton touched his chest and gestured forward with his hand.  “What’s up?”  He signed casually as if he were a teenager and he hadn’t just caught his nephew sneaking into a hotel full of Royal vampires.
Adrian snarled, and held up his middle finger.  He walked over and slapped Sutton’s hand down.  Adrian tapped his mouth, his way of telling his Uncle to speak and that he wasn’t an idiot.  He hated sign language, even though there was a comforting familiarity when he used it.  But that was exactly why he hated it.  He and his father had signed back and forth for hours when Davide was alive.  It was their thing.  Not his and Sutton’s thing.  Signing with his Uncle felt like a betrayal of sorts.  And Adrian wasn’t having it.
“Fine.  Mind telling me what you are doing here?”  Sutton raised a brow.  He gripped Adrian’s ready hands.  “I could smell you outside.  You smell just like him.”  Sutton leaned in and yanked Adrian’s jacket to his nose.  He looked up.  “And an ashtray.”
Angrier with every passing second, Adrian yanked his jacket out of Sutton’s hand.  His nostrils flared.  So much for masking his emotions; Sutton had a way of pissing him off that no amount of meditation could hide.  “What do you want?” He gave in, his fingers moving furiously.  He didn’t have time to waste by texting and Sutton knew ASL anyway.  But Adrian didn’t have to like it.  In fact, he hated it just like he hated Sutton.
“What do I want?  What do you want?  You came to see me.”  Sutton frowned.  He looked Adrian up and down.  “Didn’t you?”
Adrian clucked his tongue and waved Sutton off.  Don’t flatter yourself, asshole.  He shook his head and started scoping the room numbers out.  Six suites with little gold placards on each door.  He craned his neck to peek around the corner.  Suite 6 was at the end of the hall.   That was where he needed to be, not with fucking Sutton and his ego.
Sutton grabbed Adrian’s chin and brought his face around.  “Did you follow that boy up here?”
Adrian raised his hand to his forehead, touching his fingers as if he were grabbing the brim of a baseball cap and tapped them together.  He shrugged, questioning Sutton with his shoulders.  Boy?”
“I know you saw him.”  Sutton leaned in. “6.” He held up his fingers and pointed.  “Did she send you here?”
“Who?” Now Adrian was really confused.  What the hell does this boy have to do with anything?  Who did Sutton think sent me?  And why was Sutton talking about suite 6, the suite I’m supposed to…  Fuck it all to hell!  Adrian connected the dots.  He growled at door number 6 and whipped back to Sutton.  “N-I-N-A does not know I am here. I did not know you were here either.”
Sutton’s face fell.  He put a hand to his mouth, giving Adrian his back for a moment.  When he turned around Sutton had his shit together again.  Who?  Don’t lie to me.”  Sutton pushed Adrian with his palm to show he was serious.  Name.”
Adrian shook his head and scowled, flipping Sutton off.  His Uncle wasn’t deterred.  He pushed again until Adrian was forced to step back.  “Who?”
“A man who deserves it.” Adrian defiantly lifted his chin.  He had one weapon on him and it wasn’t to use on his Uncle to cover up his premeditated crime.  He knew better than to attack Sutton anyhow.  After all, Sutton Donohue used to be a Hunter himself.
Sutton grabbed Adrian by the back of the neck to bring their foreheads together.  “Who?”
Adrian pushed against his Uncle’s lean chest to get away.  He met resistance as the hand on his neck tightened.  Adrian sagged in defeat.  He twisted away when Sutton’s fingers released him.  “Please, A-D-R-I-A-N.  Tell me why I should cover for you.”
“You don’t have to.  I will not owe you.”  Adrian pulled his hood back up.
Sutton yanked it back down.  He blocked Adrian’s path.  “I am your family whether you like it or not.  I will cover for you because you are my blood.  Tell me who and you can go,” he mouthed.  With rooms full of vampires, Adrian knew his Uncle would never dare say such things out loud.
Adrian brought his hand up to the side of his head, and then brought his hand down with his pinky and thumb out, the rest of his fingers turned toward his palm.  His eyes revealed so much anger, along with a well of confusion.  “Why?”
“You are impossible.  All you had to do was tell me who.  That is all I asked.”  Sutton rubbed his face.  He looked at Adrian and then at suite 6, signaling his nephew ahead.
Impossible was exactly what Adrian strived to be.  It took work and a level of independence that bordered on depressive, but he did what it took to be the best Hunter his queen had ever seen, a male his parents would deem worthy if they were here to watch him serve his brand of justice as a simple pre-turn.  The feats he’d performed were extraordinary. Yet no one knew of his past or who he actually was to praise him for them.  The only man besides his queen and the few that had fought beside him stood before him, resigned to the fact Adrian held no feelings for his own family, the ones who would be proud to give him the praise he deserved.
For a single moment, Adrian caved to his humanity.  Offing a pedophile wasn’t a mission Adrian deemed humane, because the bastard was going to suffer for what he’d done.  But giving Sutton a bit of grace, if only to get him off of Adrian’s back was.  U-Y-L-S-S-E-S.  Young boys.”
Davide had often talked about his brother’s beast, and how sometimes when they were children he’d feared for his life if he’d pissed his brother off.  But Adrian had never seen that creature for himself.  He saw it now, gradually swirling through the dark irises of Sutton’s eyes in ribbons of gold, and clamoring to be set free through Sutton’s rigid fingers now curling into fists.  Sutton licked his fangs, eyeing suite 6 like it was to be dinner served on a silver platter. If Adrian was a betting man he’d say Sutton was withholding his power with everything he had so he didn’t attract attention from the others in their rooms.
Adrian waved his hand in front of Sutton’s face, snapping his Uncle’s attention to him.  Sutton nodded.  “I’ll deal with the boy.  Make it quick and painful.”
Sutton’s hand gestures were rigid, his fingers like knives as they sliced through the air.  Adrian could deal with this Sutton Donohue, he even felt a bit of himself in those hands, hazardously associating himself with his Uncle for a minute as the tension grew thick between them.  Not only DNA made them part of the same line, so did the mercenary that lurked under their skin, a kindred bond only few understood and even less had lived to tell about.
Adrian pulled up his hood once more, this time unconcerned Sutton would try and stop him.  He slipped his hand to his pocket where he found a pair of black leather gloves, a needle, and a thin coil of wire.  The gloves went on with a perfect fit as he stopped in front of suite 6 and knocked.  The door opened for a male about twenty-five in appearance, wearing a dark red robe tied in the front.  Ulysses Maloy looked like a Ken doll, meticulously groomed and attractive as if he just stepped out of his cardboard box for a stroll.  From what Adrian could see, his chest and legs were waxed and oiled, the baby powder scent hitting Adrian hard enough to make him nauseous.
Maloy’s blond hair was brushed back around his ears and wet, freshly showered.  But what grabbed Adrian in the gut about Uncle Maloy were his blue eyes that the family seemed to pass down from generation to generation. The same blue eyes Toby and Carson had shed tears from, had watched from in horror as their Uncle violated their bodies and ruined their lives. 
Adrian’s lips twisted into a cruel smile as he spoke without caring of the way his voice sounded.  “I heard you like little boys.”  He flicked the cap off of the needle he’d taken from the infirmary while the nurse was gone to lunch.
 “Excuse me? Who the fuck are you?”  Maloy looked him up and down, muttering something Adrian couldn’t read.
Adrian winked.  “Death.”  His hand shot out, stabbing the vampire in the chest, and he pushed the paralyzing agent used for new turns into Maloy’s body.  It was developed by vampires for vampires, normally to ease the transition from human to other, to give the nurse a safe way to issue the painkiller if they reacted strongly to the turn.  In this case, Adrian was going to use the agent as a way to keep Maloy awake yet immobile while he killed him.
Maloy drew in a breath, stiffened and went down onto his back, flat as a board from head to toe.  Adrian stepped over Maloy’s body, smiling down at him and then dragged the male into the room. He let Maloy drop near the bathroom door.  He left the front door open for Sutton to slip in as Adrian continued what he’d started.  In the corner the young teenage boy from earlier cowered behind a blanket.  He quickly covered up his naked body and huddled near the floor, tears wetting his cheeks.
Adrian looked back at Maloy, his eyes full of hatred.  He didn’t have to say anything else at this point.  He had permission from the head of the Bureau—not that he needed it because Maloy deserved everything he had coming to him. and Adrian wasn’t under the academy’s thumb now that he’d passed his final.  But Sutton’s help allowed him to focus on his prey without distractions of being caught or how to clean up the mess.
It was like old times; Adrian stepped into the role of a Hunter, a killer for justice.  He kneeled next to Ulysses before he glanced at the poor boy Sutton was comforting out of the corner.  The teenager wiped his eyes. He stared back at Adrian while trying to cover his ankles with the blanket.  It was then Adrian noticed what he hadn’t been able to hear, the clank of cuffs against the chain tethering the boy’s ankles together.  He noted the boy’s wet hair and skin scrubbed to pink as if he’d been roughly rubbed down of the grime from the street.  His cheap clothing had been taken off in haste, marking a trail to the bathroom that lent a strong soapy scent to the bedroom.  Judging by his thin arms and the bruises on his wrists and neck, this boy had come here as a street kid being offered a room for the night by the rich and charming male paralyzed on the floor, most likely seduced with Maloy’s vampire control.  
Instead he’d been chained and scrubbed of his filth, prepared for a sexual nightmare he’d never forget.
Although he was still human, Adrian growled as he turned to Ulysses Maloy.  He gave in to the urge and punched the Royal in the face, over and over until he was barely able to breathe.  Maloy’s face was bloody, but his splits and breaks healed in minutes.  Adrian wanted the damage to be permanent.  He wanted to end Maloy’s predatory streak to save the world of another piece of trash.  While there wasn’t much of a game to Adrian’s mission, dancing around to figure out his target’s next move, this time he didn’t care.  This was for Toby, the man who never got to see what that new life would be like.  This was for Carson, the strong male who felt weak in his own skin, who needed to be able to walk across that stage into the life his brother had wanted for him.  This was for Adrian, because if Davide had been here, his father would have done the exact same thing.
Adrian pushed to his feet.  He pulled Ulysses’s robe up, exposing his nude body, and wrapped the fabric around Ulysses’s head so the carpet wouldn’t stain, and then dragged him by the arms to the bathroom.  The tub would be easier to clean up than the bedroom.  Too much fabric.  Too much evidence.
Looking into the bedroom before closing the door, Adrian gave the boy and Sutton a dark nod of assurance.  His eyes received the boy’s fear.  He’d make this right.  Not just because it was a ghost’s last wish.  But because it needed to be done.  Sutton hoisted the boy into his arms, the chains slinking down to slap against his hip as he turned with his cargo.  Whatever his Uncle had said to the boy, the teen now appeared calm and sleepy.  He’d awake the next day with no memory of this.  Just as well not to remember what could have happened.
Adrian slammed the door, cutting off his connection with his Uncle.  He pivoted to the tub where Maloy’s long legs were sprawled, bent stiffly because they had no room to stretch out.  He looked every bit the fool he was with his robe pulled over his head.  And his eyes still registered shock when the robe was yanked away.  Adrian removed his jacket.  He removed his t-shirt and shoes, piling them together under the sink where they’d be free of blood.  He smiled at Maloy as he took off his pants, and stepped out of them so they could join the rest of his belongings.
Adrian took the wire in his still gloved hands.  He unfolded the wire and pulled the length tight between his fingers.  “Do you still like young boys now?”
Ulysses could only flick his eyes back and forth.  The Royal knew what was about to happen.  And he could only watch; his body unable to fight back.  Just like his victims had been weak against his strength in the past.  Adrian stepped up to the tub and crossed over the porcelain edge with his long legs.  Standing above Maloy in his vulnerable state, Adrian eyed the man’s groin.  He knew exactly where to start.

Chapter 4

Graduation night came.  The common rooms were packed with families and friends, distinguished Royals, instructors, and students who chatted amongst each other.  But the spotlight centered around the Guardians who had flown in for the occasion, specifically the Original and his mate who shook hands with eager students.  They stuck out in the crowd, dressed in tailored tuxes with red sashes and gold embellishments, tagging them as the Queen’s right hand.  For all the good they’d done, Adrian couldn’t help but be jealous of them.  He’d never know that kind of publicized rank, never wear a sash with his accomplishments, nor would his father, who had made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.  No one would ever hear about his dutiful heroism.
Adrian slipped out of the gala room.  He straightened his black service cap, careful not to smudge the high gloss visor or jostle the twin gold tassels on top.  His Queen’s insignia was polished to shine, gold and almost weightless sitting on top of his visor.  With subtle pride, Adrian ran his hands down his form fitting black jacket, with the double row of gold buttons that disappeared under the red belt around his waist, and stopped at his belt buckle.  His crisply pressed black pants also had a stripe of red down the side of each leg, all the way to his polished black dress shoes.
He looked like a soldier, a man about to be presented as a Guard into vampire society.  Most would miss seeing this occasion, one of the only times in a Guard’s life where he or she would be recognized as significant.  They would be issued their service weapons with their initials engraved into the metal.  They would shake hands with the Original, acknowledged as one of his men or women in the fight that never ended.  They would be given their orders and be expected to follow through without complaint, because this was the life they had chosen, this was their sacrifice to their people—even if they were never thanked another day in their life for it.
Adrian felt a certain peace settle in his chest as he walked to the private dorm at the back of the facility.  The more he thought on it, the more he realized that these Guards weren’t so different from him.  They may not have been raised to kill and had led normal lives until brought into the fold, but they too would never openly ask for praise.  They didn’t need it.  They were stronger in their silence.  They were just as deadly, except for a few who wouldn’t make it very far.  But those lives, however unprepared they were to be a soldier for the queen, were just as important because they had wanted to make a difference.
Just like Adrian.  At one time in his life, when he was little, he’d looked up to his Father and his Uncle as superheroes.  He had been under the impression they saved people from evil and righted the wrongs of the world one bad guy at a time.  He had wanted to be just like them, crusaders in the fight without a cape.  Then he’d grown and saw the world for what it was; a bloody mess that took and took and never gave back.  Taking became Adrian’s life.  He took because the world took from him.  Over and over she never gave him back the people he was told he didn’t need, but needed more than anything in his life to continue on.  When he’d come to the conclusion that emotions weakened his drive for revenge, he’d stopped caring for anything with a heartbeat.
But there were times—Instances like when Toby had bared his need to him—Adrian couldn’t ignore the flicker of sadness that questioned his steadfast anger.  In those moments, he merged what humanity he had left with the Hunter that needed out.  He let the two do their magic to satiate his sorrow until he was okay to go on again.  That was the moment he was the superhero he’d dreamed of being.  The rest of the time he was a killer, a cold blooded killer who only abided by the rule of silent revenge.
His clipped steps gave him something to focus on because he refused to linger over the details of the other night.  Ulysses Maloy’s death had been ruled a suicide by the Bureau. The remains marked with the highest level of security under the queen’s command. Sutton had found him standing over what was left and quickly called it in to someone he trusted.  To her.  He’d called her.  And surprisingly, after Adrian had bathed and dressed and was left with the after-numb of what he’d done, Sutton hadn’t said a word about it.  No one was questioned.  The only witness had been escorted to his grandmother in a nearby town and left with no memory of the incident.
Ulysses Maloy’s remains were zipped into a bag, carted down the stairs by a group of men, and taken into the service elevator, and then burned.  A suicide was what he’d always be.  And Carson had believed every word when Sutton sat him down to tell him the news.  His last remaining family member was dead.  Carson had looked sad, haunted was a better description, but then…he’d looked relieved.
Adrian’s mind was on Carson when he slipped on his white dress gloves and then pulled the intricate stationary envelope out of his pocket.  The last of his mission had yet to be delivered.  And while he wasn’t a rule enforcer by any means, he still believed carrying out the dead’s wishes, if he chose to do so, should be done right and all the way through.
He stopped in front of Carson’s open door, finding the blond seated at the edge of his perfectly made bed.  A single suitcase was propped up by the door.  The rest of the room was spotless and devoid of any personality, ready for the next student to take Carson’s place after tonight.  Adrian rapped his knuckles against the open door.  He braced for a fight or a sneer at the very least, but Carson simply looked at him and reached for his hat.
“Briggs need me?”  Carson said slowly.  It was the first time Carson had cared if Adrian understood him or not.  The larger male held his hat with both hands against his chest.  He looked pitiful, broken, and like he hadn’t slept a wink the night before.
Adrian stepped into the room carrying the envelope in front of him.  He swallowed.  “Not yet,” he said and Carson’s mouth opened before he could hide his surprise.  Adrian never spoke to the other students. Screamed, yes, but never said anything.  “Delivery.”  He handed the envelope to Carson.
Carson took the gift with a gloved hand.  He put his hat on, visor aligned with his eyebrows so he looked every bit the dashing soldier he was meant to be.  “Thanks.”
Adrian nodded.  He wanted to say more, although he didn’t.  By speaking he’d said enough already to Carson Maloy.  The Hunter turned around, knowing he’d never lay eyes on Carson again.  He’d wonder some day in the future where the blond ended up, what his life was like and if he had a family now, if he’d gotten over the death that clung to him like a disease and made something of his existence.  For now Adrian just walked away.  He walked away from his finished mission with pride.  One brother had died. The other would live.  And he would know how much his brother loved him—even though love wasn’t in Adrian’s vocabulary.  He left that to people who could live with a weakness. Or people who could move on with their lives after reading a simple piece of stationary.
I promised you freedom, a promise I would never break.  Walk across that stage as a free man. Hold your head high and know that everyone in that room is proud of you, including me.