There's a Fine Line...
Blake stalked the encampment coiled and ready for battle. Far from settling his mind, the brief mental contact with his mate had driven his beast into a ravenous fury. He needed to see and touch and verify for himself that she was well. He needed to know why the bond had formed now and not the day they mated or in the days since. He needed her back by his side where he could keep her safe. All who stood between him and satisfying that need took their lives into their own hands, regardless of which side of the battle they favored.
It was the waiting that was driving both his human and beast insane. Though his human side understood the need, his beast chafed at the vast amounts of daylight hours spent amongst the humans who pestered those setting up the encampment. He and Elizabeth dodged questions from the local police, dismissed reporters, and oversaw the growing arsenal that would outfit and arm a small Third World country. Though his beast urged him to drain the curious and concerned locals to corpses and leave them for the packs of stray dogs and other vermin, and Blake saw the advantages to having such peace, the greater attention that would garner wouldn’t be worth the transient pleasure.
Elizabeth had worked alongside him for several hours after he’d communicated with Alicia but even their centuries of friendship couldn’t withstand his peevishness and simmering violence. The only one who appeared unaffected by his mood was the tiny pixie, Sapphire. She sat upon his shoulder, chattering about this or that or singing in her lilting voice, until he threatened to rip off her wings and use them to plug his ears against her inane babbling. Where others cringed at the barely contained menace in his voice, his minute companion merely tsked in disapproval as she faded away. She promised to return only after he’d regained some semblance of control.
They’d heard nothing from the Royal Advisor, Lysavar, or the Celestial, Camael, since their meeting in the ruined Simons Building. The silence from the pair served to further degrade the vampire’s foul mood. Even though Sapphire and Opal had reassured him that his friend would return in time for the assault on the church, Blake scowled any time the elf’s name was mentioned. Devereux’s faith in Camael wasn’t as solid and the normally flamboyant vampire was unusually somber. He wanted to believe his extra-planar mate’s promise to return and join the fight but their bond had yet to be firmly established and the Celestial didn’t have the best track record.
Meanwhile, the Others began arriving early Wednesday afternoon. Most came by car – a large caravan of black SUVs escorted by a choice number of enspelled or nonhuman members of the state and local police forces. Before the sun had fully set, the 20’x30’ canvas structure contained over sixty nonhumans from nearly half a dozen races. Such a disparate group was rarely found together outside the annual Summit and they each eyed the others with a mixture of curiosity and suspicion. None were aware that a tiny pair of spies flitted amongst them.
The vampire covens sat in distinct clusters, sipped glasses of <i>Sangue Vino</i> from Elizabeth’s private stock, and contemplated the advantages of potential political maneuvers. Occasionally, one of each group would stand as if choreographed, glide elegantly towards one of the other covens, and sit to exchange names, business cards, and tentative promises. The Russian and Persian covens were especially keen to establish mutually beneficial ties while the New Orleans coven watched it all with amused, and affected, ennui. They all made a grand show of checking and loading their weapons as if there was a prize for who could conceal the greatest number of pistols and knives in the most creative of ways. Opal rolled his eyes at their posturing but flitted amongst the vampires to ensure their plotting wasn’t against their host.
Along the back of the tent, six of the Eurytion Herd’s finest Hunters checked buckles and retied cords while awaiting the start to the meeting. The centaurs carried enchanted lances, sheaths with short swords resembling Ancient Rome’s gladius, and a horseman’s bow with quiver slung low on their withers where their human torsos melded with their equine bodies. Each warrior wore modified horse barding crafted from a combination of metal and leather to maximize both protection and maneuverability that melded seamlessly into a metal breastplate to protect their vulnerable chests. Their tails were braided and bound to avoid tangling in the branches and underbrush surrounding the desecrated church on the hill. They ate little and spoke less, preferring to hydrate before the coming battle to offset the humidity that still lingered in the muggy autumn air.
The Shifters filled the rest of the metal folding chairs placed in the tent and performed their own rituals before battle. Scents were gathered and memorized so that recognition during battle was swift and instinctual. Craig Leroux, the alpha’s younger brother, commanded the Pack’s fighters and was eager to exact some measure of vengeance for the haunted look that remained in the eyes of his favorite niece. After speaking with Kazeem Obasanjo, the wolves and tigers began working out fighting tactics that utilized their particular skills. Sapphire perched upon the back of a chair as they planned herding and ambush strategies. While their tactics were sound for land-based prey, they were close to useless for the flying creatures they would encounter like mephits and demons. Clearing her tiny throat, she decided to point out the flaws in their plans and how she might be of use to them.
When the sun began to sink into the horizon, Blake and Elizabeth stepped into the tent, followed by Augustin, Johannes, Devereux and the young Karen Walker. The Investigator’s crimson eyes scanned the impressive number of nonhumans with cold satisfaction. He wasn’t foolish enough to believe that the battle would be easy, but he was now more confident that the battle could be won. As the small band of friends and compatriots moved through the crowd, a slim and regal elf entered the tent and awaited the vampire’s notice.
“Lysavar.” Warmth colored his voice as Blake moved to greet his elven friend. “I’m pleased to know I won’t have to kill you after all, elf.”
“You could try, vampire,” the Royal Advisor chuckled softly and gripped his friend’s forearm in welcome. “I come bearing good news, bad news, and surprising news.”
“Not the time for games, Lys.”