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Midnight Awakening (Chapter Thirty-three)

The flight to Berlin was long and taxing. Elise took each hard minute, every hour, as it came, determined that she would be stronger than the ability that had owned her for so long. She had Tegan to thank for helping her overcome the worst of it–not only his showing her how to manage the psychic talent, but also the love she had for him, which drove her forward even as the familiar, vicious migraine began to pound in her temples barely an hour into the flight.

Elise got through it because she had to. Because Tegan's life might very well depend on her now.

God, she could not fail in this.

She could handle anything except losing him.

As soon as the jet's wheels touched ground that evening, Elise's determination to find Tegan– and bring him home safely–redoubled. She ran out of the terminal and met Lucan outside at the curb, where he waited with one of Reichen's vehicles.

You realize that if we do find him, Tegan's going to kill me for bringing you in on this, Lucan said as she approached the car. He said it kind of jokingly, but she didn't miss the fact that there was no humor at all in his gray eyes.

When we find him, Lucan. There can't be any ifs. She tossed her carry-on bag into the back and climbed into the passenger seat. Let's get started. I don't want to rest tonight until we cover every street in this city.

Dante, Reichen, and the rest of the Order pulled the two SUVs to a stop just off a moonlit, wooded stretch of road an hour outside Prague. The forest was thick here, only the smallest light from a few remote homes glowing in the darkness. They got out, all seven of them garbed in black fatigues and armed to the teeth with guns, thousands of titanium rounds, and a healthy cache of C-4 explosives.

Each Breed male also carried a sheathed broadsword strapped on his back–unconventional weaponry for modern warfare, but totally necessary hardware when you were dealing with something as nasty and powerful as the creature they were intending to rouse out of its slumber.

That's got be the place, Dante said, pointing to the jagged silhouette of the mountains ahead of them. The outline is a perfect match for the design in Kassia's tapestry.

Probably take us a couple of hours to make the hike up there, Niko put in. His cheeks dimpled with his eager grin, the white glint of his teeth bright against the cover of night. What are we waiting for? Let's go bag the motherfucker.

Dante held him back with a firm hand, scowling at the young warrior's zeal. Hold up, all of you. This is not a fucking game. It's not like any other mission we've done. That thing that was sealed away in this mountain is not your garden- variety vampire. You take Lucan and Tegan and put them together–shit, throw Marek in there too–and you still aren't coming close to what this creature can do. He's Gen One times a hundred.

But his head can be separated from his body, same as any one of us, Rio pointed out in a low, deadly voice. The fastest way to kill a vampire.

Dante nodded. And we're gonna have one shot at him, no more. Once we find the crypt and get inside, first priority is putting three feet of razor-sharp steel through the bastard's neck.

And we'll need to do it before it has a chance to get up, Chase added. If we let this thing rouse before we're in place and ready to kill it, there's very good odds we won't all make it out of there.

Someone remind me why I didn't want to be an accountant when I grew up, Brock drawled.

Niko chuckled. Because accountants don't get to make things go boom.

They don't get to smoke many suckheads either, Kade added, sharing in the joke.

Brock's answering grin was big and bright white. Oh, yeah. Now I remember.

Dante let everyone settle in to the plan, the younger males blowing off nervous energy with humor and smacktalk. But as the team of them started up the wooded side of the rocky incline, they fell silent and serious. None of them were certain what lay at the end of this journey, but they were all prepared to meet it together.

Elise wasn't sure how long they'd been driving. Easily hours. They navigated through each section of the city, the affluent and the derelict, stopping at regular intervals to let her listen to the darkened streets and alleyways. Waiting for her veins to prickle with the awareness–the fervent hope–that Tegan was near.

She didn't want to give up.

Not even as the night began to wane toward dawn.

We can make another circuit through town, Lucan said, the Gen One warrior no more inclined to abandon Tegan than she was. Even though the coming daylight was as much a threat as any deadly enemy.

Elise reached over and touched the large hand that turned the steering wheel onto yet another street. Thank you, Lucan.

He nodded. You love him a great deal, do you? Yes, I do. He is…everything to me.

Then we'd better not lose him, eh?

She smiled and shook her head. No, we'd better not…oh, my God…Lucan. Slow down. Stop the car!

He braked at once, and pulled over near a tree-lined, elegant residential street. As the vehicle came to a halt, Elise put down her window. A cold February breeze rushed inside.

Down here, she said, her veins tingling.

She focused on the sensation, pulling it into her, trying to pine its source. It was Tegan; she had no doubt. And the heat that traveled her bloodstream was not a pleasant warmth, but an acid burn.

The searing heat of pain.

Oh, God. Lucan, he's being held somewhere on this street–I'm sure of it. And he's hurting. He's hurting…very badly. She closed her eyes, feeling it even more now that the car was turning onto the pleasant drive. Hurry, Lucan. He's being tortured.

She felt queasy, both with the idea of Tegan being abused, and with the twisting anguish coursing through every cell in her body. But she held on, searching for any sign that they were getting close. The white-hot spike of pain that hit her as they drew up on an old stone-and-timber manor house told her they had found him.

The house was set back from the street, quiet, but well tended. Obviously lived in. A white Audi sedan was parked at the carriage house garage. There was birdseed in the feeder hanging from a pine bough in the center of the yard. A kid's sled lay on the snowy front walk.

Right here, she told Lucan. He's in that house. Lucan frowned as he took in the same details she had, but he cut the headlights and killed the engine. You're certain?

Yes. Tegan is being held inside.

She watched as Lucan armed himself. He was already wearing an arsenal of weapons–two large handguns and a pair of sheathed daggers–but he grabbed a leather satchel from behind the passenger seat and unzipped the bag to reveal even more.

He glanced up at her and muttered a ripe curse. I'm not sure it would be safe for you to wait–

That's good, she said, because I don't plan to. I can help you find him once we get in.

No way, Elise. It's too fucking dangerous. I can't take you in there. I won't. He slapped a clip into one of his guns and holstered it. Then he pulled another knife and a coil of wire from the duffel and stuffed both into a pocket of his combat jacket. As soon as I head for the house, I want you to slide over and take the wheel. Drive out to the–

Lucan. Elise met his stern gray gaze and held it firmly. Four months ago I thought my life had ended. My heart was ripped out by Marek and the Rogues who serve him. Now, by some miracle of fate, I'm happy again. I never dreamed I could be. I've never known this kind of love–the love I have for Tegan. So, if you think I'm going to sit out here and wait, or run out of harm's way when I know he's in trouble–when I know he's in pain– well, I'm sorry, but you can forget it.

If my brother is the one holding him–and let's be goddamn clear about this, we both know it's got to be Marek–then there's no telling what we're going to find in there. Or what might come out of there when the dust finally settles. Tegan could already be lost.

I need to know, Lucan. I'd rather die trying to help him than stand by or walk away.

A slow grin spread over the face of the Order's fearsome leader. Anyone ever tell you that you're one stubborn female?

Tegan might have said so once or twice, she admitted wryly.

Then I guess he'll have to understand what I was up against when he sees you with me. He handed her a sheathed dagger attached to a leather belt.

Elise strapped the weapon around her waist and cinched the buckle. I'm ready when you are, Lucan.

Okay, he said, shaking his head in defeat. Let's go get our boy.

They exited the car and swiftly, cautiously approached the human residence. As they neared the place, Elise was assaulted with both the pain of Tegan's suffering and the growing awareness of Minions on the property. Her mind filled with a concert of corrupt thoughts, ugly voices pounding into her consciousness.

Lucan, she whispered, mouthing a warning to him. Minions inside–more than one.

He nodded, and motioned for her to come up near him. He gripped a wooden trellis that climbed up the side of the house, testing its strength. Can you climb it?

She took hold of the makeshift ladder and started pulling herself up. Lucan met her at the top; all it took for him to reach the level roof of the second-floor terrace was a powerful flex of his legs. He landed soundlessly from his fluid leap and thrust his hand down to help pull her up the rest of the way. A pair of French doors were open onto the tiled patio, the wispy white curtains riffling out like ghosts. Elise could see a woman in a nightgown lying motionless on the floor inside the room. Her arm was outstretched, unmoving, the wrist savaged and resting in a pool of spilled blood.

Marek, Lucan said softly, in explanation of the carnage. Will you be all right walking through there?

Elise nodded. She followed him in through the scene of recent violence, past the dead human woman and the husband who had evidently tried without success to fend off the vicious vampire attack. Bile rose in Elise's throat as they stepped out into the hallway and found the body of a young boy.

Oh, God.

Marek had broken in and killed them all.

Lucan ushered her past the child, taking her wrist and holding her behind him as he made a quick visual check of the hallway. She felt the sudden blast of mental pain, but had not seen the Minion coming until he was on them, having come out of another room just as they approached. Lucan silenced Marek's mind slave before the human had a chance to scream a warning. With a dagger slicing deeply across the Minion's throat, it sputtered in shock, then dropped in a lifeless heap to the floor. Lucan gave it no pause at all. He stepped over the corpse, waiting for Elise to do the same.

As they neared a stairwell that led to an upper floor of the house, Elise's veins lit up with an electric kind of intuition. She could almost feel Tegan's heart beating inside her own body, his labored breath a constriction in her own lungs.

Lucan, she whispered, pointing to the open door. It's Tegan. Up there. He moved into the unlit well and peered up the stairs. Stay close, and stay behind me.

Together they climbed the steep, narrow steps. At the top was a barred door. Lucan lifted the metal lock. He glanced back at her, and even in the darkness she could see the expression that seemed to caution her to brace herself for whatever they might find on the other side.

Tegan was alive behind that closed door– that much she was sure of–and that's all she needed to know. Do it, Lucan, she whispered.

He pushed the door open and barreled through like a freight train, drawing a large blade and burying it into the Minion guard who pounded toward them in attack. Elise held back her scream as another one moved in and got like reward, going down in a bleeding, heavy crumble to the wood- planked floor.

But it was the sight of Tegan that nearly ripped a keening howl from her throat. Shackled to a pair of thick beams with irons on both wrists and ankles, his body bowed out, hanging limply from its restraints. His beautiful face was nearly concealed by the lank droop of his sweat-soaked, blood-coated hair, but Elise could still see the damage there. He was bloodied and beaten all over from a recent bout of torture, his body not yet having the time to speed healing to the abused tissue and bones.

She thought him unconscious until a visible tension suddenly crept over his muscles. He knew she was there. He felt her presence just as she would know his anywhere.

Tegan… She started to run to him, but drew back sharply when he lifted his head and she saw the razor-edged glint of fury in his eyes. Oh, God…Tegan. Get out of here! His voice was raw gravel. The amber eyes glaring at her from under the bruised brow were filled with animal rage and pain. His fangs were enormous, more deadly than she'd ever seen them. He railed against the chains that held him. Goddamn it! Get the fuck out of here now!

Tegan. Lucan stepped up now, approaching warily but without hesitation. He reached out to take hold of one of the manacles fastened to Tegan's wrist. We're taking you out of this place.

Get back, he growled.

Lucan sniffed at the air. What the fuck? He wiped his thumb under Tegan's nose, where a faint pink crust had collected. Ah, Christ, Tegan. Crimson?

Marek…he gave me a lot of the shit, Lucan… Tegan grunted, the slits of his pupils going thinner in the middle of all that glowing amber. You get it now? It's Bloodlust. I'm too far gone.

No, you're not, Elise told him.

Jesus, he hissed through the huge fangs. Leave me–both of you! If you want to help me, Lucan, get her the hell out of here. Get her far away from here.

Elise walked up to him and gently touched his matted hair. I'm not going anywhere. I love you.

As she tried to soothe Tegan, Lucan tore the shackle and chain free from the post with a mighty yank of his arm. Tegan's right arm dropped down loosely, metal clanking. When he reached for the other, it was Tegan who growled a warning.

"Lucan–"

Too late. The gun blast cracked sharply in the dim room, an orange explosion coming from near the stairwell. Lucan took the hit in his back and went down on one knee. Another shot rang out, but the reporting ping said it missed the target and hit stone instead.

More gunfire erupted as two Minions and a Rogue–Marek's henchman, all of them armed with semiautomatic weapons–poured in and started squeezing off rounds. Elise felt a heavy weight curl down around her, pulling her into the shelter of hard muscle. Tegan's breath sawed roughly in her ear, but his free arm was wrapped around her, his body arched over her to protect her from the fray.

She felt helpless, watching Lucan battle three opponents while she cowered in the cage of Tegan's body. Lucan dodged many of the rapid-fire rounds, but a good lot of them hit their mark. The Gen One warrior weathered the assault, returning fire as the dance of combat put the room in a smoke-filled, ear-splitting chaos. The Rogue went down in the fray, killed by Lucan's titaniumlaced bullets. The body sizzled and convulsed on the floor, writhing as death swiftly claimed it.

When one of the Minions came in closer, his sights trained on Lucan, who was eluding the gunfire of another and sending back more of the same, Elise reached down to feel for the hilt of her dagger. She pulled it loose of the sheath, knowing she would have to throw it, and she would have only one shot.

Tegan growled her name in warning as she rolled free of his arms. She came up to her feet and took quick aim, then brought her hand back and let the blade fly.

The Minion roared as the dagger embedded deep under his arm. He fell back with his weapon still firing, sending a spray of bullets high into the rafters. Some of them hit the black ceiling, the sound of shattering glass an ominous counterpoint to the battle taking place below.

Oh, God, Elise gasped as painted shards dropped from the broken skylights.

The ceiling was glass–recently coated with black paint to blot out the sun. Marek must have taken that immediate precaution when he set up camp in the humans' house.

Now, as another large piece of glass broke away and fell to the floor, Elise stared up at the sky overhead.

A sky that was slowly pinkening with the first early light of dawn.

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