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Veil of Midnight (Chapter Thirty-one)

Dragos permitted himself to revel in the awe of his underlings as they gaped at the Ancient trapped in its UV prison cell onscreen. From the wonder on their faces – the rapt incredulity – one would think he'd managed to catch lightning in a bottle. In truth, what he had achieved these past long decades was something even greater than that.

The seven Breed males gathered with him in the room now looked upon him like a god, and rightfully so. He was the architect of a revolution that would turn the entire planet on its head. Tonight they were witnessing history, and the start of a future he had personally designed.

"How can this be?" someone murmured. "If that truly is one of the Ancients who fathered our race, how did he survive the war with the Order?"

Dragos smiled as he walked closer to the screen. "My father was an original member of the Order…but he was, first and foremost, this creature's son. During the bloodshed perpetrated by the Order when Lucan declared war on the Ancients, my father and his alien sire made a pact. In exchange for shared power in the future, my father would hide him away until the hysteria died down. Unfortunately, after making good on his promise, my father did not survive the war. But the Ancient did, as you can see." "So, you intend to carry on your father's agreement with that…thing?" Fabien asked, his expression drooping like a lapdog who'd just lost his bone to a feral wolf.

"The Ancient is entirely under my control. He is a tool that I make use of whenever and however it suits me and our cause." "How so?" asked another of the group.

"Allow me to show you." Dragos strolled to the door of the conference room. He snapped his fingers at the Hunter who waited outside, then pivoted back to his associates as the big Gen One obediently followed in on his heels. "Take off your shirt," he ordered the Hunter.

The huge male complied in silence, baring massive shoulders and a hairless chest covered in a dense, tangled network of glyphs. More than one head snapped back to the monitor to compare those hereditary skin markings to the creature contained inside the UV cell.

"They bear similar dermaglyphs," Fabien gasped. "This male is the Ancient's kin?"

"A Gen One son, bred for the sole purpose of serving the cause," Dragos said. "All of the Hunters in my personal army are the strongest, most lethal weapons in the world. They have been specially raised and trained at my direction. They are flawless killers, and they are unfailingly loyal to me."

"How can you be certain of that?" asked the Darkhaven leader from Hamburg, a shrewd male who would no doubt appreciate the realtime demonstration that Dragos had in mind.

"You notice this Hunter wears a collar. It is a GPS monitoring device, only this collar is also equipped with an ultraviolet laser. Every Hunter wears one, from the time he can walk. I can track his every move, locate him in an instant. And if he displeases me in any way," Dragos said, casting a meaningful look at the Hunter standing so rigidly stoic beside him, "all it takes is one simple remote-controlled command and the laser activates, sending a UV light as thin as a razor around the Hunter's neck, severing the head."

One or two males at the table exchanged uncomfortable looks.

It was the German who spoke up first, his gaze glittering with interest. "What should happen if the collar is tampered with, or removed?"

Dragos grinned, not at the German, but at the Hunter himself. "Let's find out, shall we?"

Although her every instinct screamed at her to creep in like a thief on the prowl, Renata strode through the west corridor of her enemies' lair as if she had every right to be there. She heard the low rumble of male conversation coming from one of the large rooms out back. Elsewhere in the house, there was nothing but quiet, until…

A child's soft sobs, drifting toward her from a stairwell leading to the second floor.

Mira.

Renata flew up the steps and followed the cries to the end of the hallway. A bedroom door had been locked from outside.

She ran her hand along the top of the frame but didn't find a key.

"Damn it," she whispered, drawing one of her blades from the twin sheaths at her sides.

She wedged the point between the door and jamb just above the lock and gave it a hard lever. The wood cracked, loosening just a bit. Twice more and finally she had enough room to jimmy the thing free. With shaking, eager hands, Renata opened the door.

Mira was in there, thank God.

Her veil was gone, and as soon as she looked up and saw the black-clad figure coming into the room, she scuttled into the corner in absolute terror.

"Mira, it's me," Renata said, flipping open her dark visor. "It's okay now, kiddo. I'm here to take you home."

"Rennie!"

Kneeling down, Renata held out her arms. With a hitching little cry, Mira flew into her embrace.

"Oh, mouse," Renata whispered, pressing relieved kisses to the top of her blond head. "I've been so worried about you. I'm sorry I didn't come sooner. Are you all right, sweetheart?"

Mira nodded, her small arms wrapped tightly around Renata's neck. "I was worried about you too, Rennie. I was afraid I'd never see you again."

"Me too, kiddo. Me too." She hated to let go, but they still had to get out of there before Fabien and his cronies caught up to them. Renata stood, lifting Mira up into her arms. "We have to run now. Hold on to me, okay?"

Renata hadn't even taken two steps with the child before the rapid blasts of automatic gunfire erupted from all directions somewhere outside the house.

Dragos was eager to demonstrate the technological beauty of the Hunter's UV collar when all hell broke loose outside the gathering. He shot a killing look at Edgar Fabien as the group leapt out of their seats in stunned alarm.

"What's going on out there?" he demanded of their host. "Is this another of your fuckups?"

Fabien's narrow face took on an unhealthy shade of pale. "I-I don't know, sire. Whatever it is, I'm sure my agents will handle – "

"Fuck your agents!" Dragos roared. He scrabbled for the radio and barked an order for the driver to bring the boat around, then got right up into the face of the Hunter. "Outside, now. Handle this. Kill anyone in your path."

The Hunter – his highly trained, flawlessly obedient soldier – just stood there, as immovable as a pillar of stone.

"Get out there. I command you!"

"No."

"What?" Dragos could not believe his ears. He felt the gazes of his underlings root on him. He could taste their disbelief, their doubt. A silence bloomed, ripe with measured expectation. "I issued you a direct order, Hunter. Do it, or I will terminate you right here and now."

With more gunfire ringing just outside the walls of the house, the Hunter had the audacity to look Dragos square in the eye and shake his head. "Either way, I am dead. If you want me to fight so you can live, disable my collar."

"How dare you even so much as suggest – "

"You waste time," he said, apparently unfazed by the chaos rising all around them. "Release me from this shackle, you arrogant son of a bitch."

Just then, one of Fabien's feeble watchmen came rushing to the open doorway. "Sir, we've got incoming shots arriving from the entire perimeter. We can't be sure yet, but there must be a damned army closing in on us from the woods."

"Oh, Jesus," Fabien gasped. "Oh, sweet Christ! We're all going to die!"

Dragos snarled in fury, not confident in the slightest that Fabien's guards could find their own asses, let alone provide adequate cover for the group of high-ranking Breed males who were currently looking to Dragos as their leader to help them make their escape. Waiting for him to call the shots that would either spare them or take them and their budding revolution down in one fell swoop.

"We're finished here," he growled. "Everyone out the back door, to the boat. Follow me."

As the group began to fall in around him, Dragos cast a glower from over his shoulder at the Hunter. Neither male said a word – mutual hatred easy enough to read in their gazes – as Dragos reached into his pocket and retrieved the device that controlled the Hunter's collar and typed in the code that would disable it.

The instant the collar clicked into neutral, the Hunter reached up and tore it off his neck. Then, with a look that was part disbelief, part cold determination, he strode out the door and toward the heart of the disruption outside.

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