A/N: As we wind down towards the end of the story, things will get pretty tense: both the situations and the people involved. This will probably be the last graphically violent chapter though there are still a couple of large battles left to be fought. Before the battles and the violence, however, there is planning...and that's where we begin...
There's a Fine Line...
At the bottom of a small hill, the crowd of nonhumans was steadily growing in number. Blake, along with Sapphire, Opal, Devereux, and the councilwoman, Karen Walker, had arrived the day following the attack on the Simons Enterprises building. The rapidly growing number of tents, crates, people, and security measures caused curiosity and some suspicion amongst those in the small town and, by noon, the local police force arrived to investigate. With the formidable vampire ready to tear the throat of any who delayed his planned rescue of his mate, the pixies intercepted the officers and used their fey magic to ‘persuade’ them that the camp was part of a routine exercise by Homeland Security. They even accompanied the officers back to their captain and ‘showed’ him their credentials and permits until he assured them there would be no further trouble from his people. In a show of unity, he drove the pixies back to the camp and then blocked the roads so the locals couldn't interfere.
Meanwhile, Blake paced. He paced and hissed and rode the very edge of control over his feral nature. Without the full vampiric bond most mates enjoyed, he didn't know if Alicia was alive or dead, injured or well, or suffering any of the thousands of indignities his fertile mind could conjure forth. The delay in bringing the necessary numbers to attack the stronghold was tearing him apart as he alternated between praying to a God he’d never fully believed in to bring his mate out whole and well and cursing that very same God for subjecting her to even more torments.
“Blake?” Elizabeth approached the volatile vampire and handed him a glass of Sangue Vino. “Augustin called. He will be arriving tomorrow with ten of the best warriors the al Zarqua coven out of Persia has to offer. They should get here about the same time as the eight constituents from the local Vampire Council, though they will be of unknown age or abilities. Also arriving are five from the New Orleans Council and twelve from the Kovalensky Coven of Moscow. Those who owe you and me favors consider this trip payment in full.”
“Understood.” Blake drained the warmed bloodwine and did a quick tally of the numbers. “This will give us forty-one vampires of various ages and power. Have the pixies heard from Lysavar?”
“The Royal Advisor is still in the elven lands handling a few issues that stemmed from an issue with Michael’s mating. He has promised to return no later than Wednesday night but is hopeful that he’ll be able to arrive that morning. The king has promised at least one unit of elven warriors and they were going to appeal to the Academy for mages.”
“The elf is cutting it close,” Blake growled and sat his empty glass on a crate and started walking towards one of the large canvas tents. “I’m not waiting for him to decide to stop playing the lovesick fool for Urúvion. We’ll attack at dawn on Thursday as planned whether he’s deigned to join us or not.”
“He’ll be here, Blake.” Elizabeth followed Blake into a tent where a human quartermaster was organizing the weaponry and rationing out the ammunition. “Lysavar has always been exceedingly fond of you. He won’t let you fight this battle alone.”
“Ms. Pierce?” A youngling vampire hurried into the tent and handed the petite brunette a cellphone before casting a wary look at her intimidating companion and exiting just as quickly. The call was short but brought a fierce smile to the vampire lady’s face.
“Tomorrow will also see the arrival of ten of the Leroux Pack’s finest betas, four fox scouts from the Ingram Troop, six of the finest hunters from the Eurytion Herd of centaurs, and seven toms from the Obasanjo Pride of tigers.”
“More political maneuvering from the Summit, Elizabeth?”
“Not at all or, at least, not entirely. Each family had a child taken by the Colonel and your mate was instrumental in helping them escape. They are eager to return the favor.”
Blake’s lips curled as his pride in his beautiful mate swelled. She had always dismissed the things she’d done during her captivity and escape as necessary and unimpressive. His tiefling didn’t realize how much her actions had affected those around her. He would be certain to impress upon her again just how incredibly special she was, and to more than just him. After he’d spent at least a month checking every inch of her delightful body for signs of trauma.
“What of the Celestial?” The vampire forced his mind away from the pleasurable thoughts of having his enchanting mate in his playroom and back to the situation at hand.
“Devereux assures me that Camael will return on the morrow. The Celestial is reporting to its Gatekeeper in the hopes of securing at least a few warriors for the battle.” Elizabeth picked up one of the semiautomatic handguns, a Glock 19, pulled back the slide and ejected the magazine for a quick check before snapping it back into place and sighting down the barrel. Satisfied at the weight and balance of the weapon, she nodded to the human armorer and placed it back in the crate. “It’s also requesting a second sunblade for you to carry, though Devereux feels that will be categorically denied.”
“How is he doing?” Blake nodded to the human workmen before escorting his friend from the tent. He followed Elizabeth to the RV she shared with Johannes and accepted another glass of bloodwine.
“He is amazingly well, all things considered.” She gestured towards a confined sitting area and sighed in relief when her agitated friend actually sat. “He’s fully recovered from both the battle as well as the blood poisoning.”
“And mentally? I know the Celestial has claimed him as mate but Armentage didn’t look too keen on the idea. We can’t afford the two of them having some kind of personal meltdown when the situation turns critical.”
“Devereux has a personal stake in this fight, Blake. His focus is probably better than yours right now.”
“What the hell do you mean by that, Elizabeth?” The fierce hiss through rapidly elongating fangs had the petite vampire rolling her eyes in exasperation. “There is nothing more important to me than rescuing my mate!”
“You know exactly what I mean! When was the last time you slept, Blake? Had more than just a sip or two of blood? You won’t do Alicia any good if you’re on the verge of going feral by the time we attack. You’re skirting that edge already and every day I see you inching closer.”
“I can’t feel her, Elizabeth! I don’t know if she’s alive or dead. I don’t know if she’s injured or well. I don’t even know what that fucking demon is doing to her.” Blake pushed up from the chair to pace the cramped area, plunging his hands into his hair and giving it an aggravated tug. “It is driving me insane.”
“And I have lost forever one of the only two Children I have ever Sired.” Rising to step directly into his path, Elizabeth’s crimson eyes flashed with devastated fury. “Every single second since his death I have felt a hole in my very being where my Francisco once lay, but I refuse to give in to the pain. I don’t have time for the luxury of grief; not yet. Not if I want my vengeance. Grieve on Friday if she is truly lost, Blake, but keep your wits about you until the coming battle. It will get you killed if you don’t regain control.”
Blake raised himself to his full height and glared down at the petite vampire who challenged him. His bearing was that of a feudal lord of the Dark Ages. His anger and power as a Primary Investigator for the Primus Concilium swirled around him like a maelstrom. Elizabeth never twitched, never blinked or looked away. The air grew thick with suppressed violence and coiled tension.
“I am in complete control, Lady Pierce,” he bit out through clenched teeth. With a snarl of fury, he stormed from the small trailer and into the dappled sunlight that filtered through the towering pines.
“Damn you, Blake Simons,” Elizabeth whispered. “I refuse to lose you as well.” Slipping from the trailer, she stalked through the camp looking for someone who might be able to get through to the stubborn vampire.