"I'll talk to them."
John watched the three of them walk through another archway on the level below. He could make out other voices now, coming from that direction, but not what they were saying. As the three he was following disappeared into the other room, John quickly stuck his head around the corner and had a look. The place was huge, two levels with large pools of water below and walkways that looked down on it from above. To his right around the corner was what looked like an office with a stairway near the door.
Gotta get closer so I can hear what they're saying...
"...weaker every day. We aren't ungrateful. We know we'd be dead by now if it weren't for him. But if Mr. White wants us to win this thing we either need to move on it now or he needs to find us another source to feed from."
"I agree" said the voice of the preppy looking one John had assumed was the leader. "And fortunately the time has come to act. Mr. White is making a few final arrangements and in a couple days will be here to give you all your assignments. He also said he will need you all at full strength, so I assume he has found a way to make that possible. We're almost there. Soon those bastards won't be a threat and we will be able to make a place for ourselves with our people, who will welcome us as heros."
John didn't know what to make of what he was hearing. Someone is threatening them? Why don't they go to a Sanctuary and get help? Or the Order? Do they not know about them? That was possible, but...
The crush of human fear had become stronger when he'd stepped down to this level. Now a movement at the corner of his eye caught his attention.
Once again staying low, he quickly made his way towards the cage. He got to the last of the water pools and crouched down behind it. Peering over the top he saw that the door to the cage only had a generic key lock, something he could easily break. His main concern was how the humans were going to react to him. If any of them yell out... But he couldn't predict that so he pushed it away. He just needed to get them up the stairs and out...
John's head whipped around to see two of the men he'd been following walking towards him. Shit! Change of plans... If he was caught the humans had no chance.
"What are you doing here?" Preppy said as he looked John over with suspicion written all over his face.
He knows we're the same. What do I say? The bit of conversation he had heard was too strange. He didn't dare let them know he was with the Order until he knew what was going on.
"Well? Who are you?"
Looking at the three men surrounding him, John had an idea.
"I... I saw you, come in here. I... followed you." John stammered out, doing his best to look scared.
"Well that's obvious," Preppy said. "Why?"
"You... you're different. Like... me. I... you..." John darted his eyes over to the humans and back. For the first time ever he purposely called the memory of the night he had turned to mind and let the fear and confusion wash over him, hoping one of these three would be sensitive enough to feel it.
"Maybe... a month? Not sure. It was confusing at first, still." John picked his words carefully. They were all early turns like him. That had to mean something. If he could convince them he was just a lost early turn who had somehow slipped through the cracks, that he was like them... A trickle of real fear ran down his spine as the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. As the quiet ones eyes looked upward for a second John knew he was in trouble if they decided to get rid of him. Not only was he out-numbered, now he had nowhere to run. The sun had just come up.
"I don't have time for this right now. Look, I don't know who you are or where no came from and I don't have anything against you. It looks like your stuck here for now, but I can't have you wandering around. Not until we can talk more at least. Cal, take him to a cell."
The quiet one wrapped a hand around John's arm. On instinct he tried to pull away, only to find he couldn't budge the guy, not one inch. It was like having a solid metal statue attached to you and bolted to the floor. Good thing I didn't try to fight. I wouldn't stand a chance against this guy.
John played at stunned shock as Cal dragged him through an archway and down a long hallway that took several turns before reaching a barred doorway. Without a word he was shoved in and the door slammed shut.
Ash sighed. Just what I need, more problems.
"And he isn't coming back anytime soon. So why are you standing here like he might?"
The big warriors jaws clenched tight as his eyes filled with anger. Anyone else would have turned and gotten the hell out of there. Not Acheron. His only fear was that Hunter would force Ash to hurt him. Something he desperately didn't want to do. Maybe I made a mistake. Ash had hoped that by bringing Hunter here he could help him work through the endlessly burning fury inside him and at least come to some level of acceptance of his past. But it was turning out to be a bigger challenge than he had anticipated.
"You told me to take him to his room. I didn't. Now he's gone. My fault."
"No, not your fault. Did I tell you to guard his door once you got him to his room? No I didn't. Its a good bet he would have snuck out after you left him there anyways."
"You don't know that."
Ash thanked the gods he had centuries of experience with handling warriors who's maturity dropped to twelve when they were upset. Otherwise he'd be loosing it himself right about now.
"Look, he's upset. From what Quinn told me there's probably good reason too. He's a smart kid though. He'll blow off some steam, work it out and be back here when he's ready. In the meantime I need you and everyone else at the top of their game. There's too much going on right now. I need you Hunter."
As the icy grey eyes shifted to look down at the ground Ash new he had won, this time at least. Without a word Hunter punched the button of the elevator. Ash knew when to let things drop with him, so he turned and strode across the garage to the stairway on the other side. Taking them two at a time he hurried down to the tunnel that stretched out before him at the bottom. He hadn't dared tell Hunter that John wasn't the only one missing. But Ash was fairly certain Quinn hadn't gone far.
Ash hesitated in the doorway, remembering back to when his own ability had first reared its ugly head.
He had been even more newly turned than Quinn, still dealing with the confusion and pain caused by his suddenly heightened senses. His skin especially. The slightest brush of even the softest fabric was like broken glass being dragged across every nerve ending in his body. But that first night a female had come to his bed, Eliat, the wife of the citys Master of the Gate. Flawless sun kissed skin, eyes a shade of blue to make the sky weep with envy, and golden hair with copper highlights, a rarity among their people. She was without doubt one of the great beauties. Acheron knew his sensitive skin would make any contact painful, but he could not turn her away.
So it was with a certain level of resignation that he watched her come to him.
"Touch me Acheron, you know what I like" she had murmured. And indeed he did. No soft caresses for this lady. She liked to feel the strength of a man, be dominated by him, only to turn the tide and take control herself, make him bend to her will. Yeah, it was gonna hurt.
And it did. But not in the way he had thought it would, because the second his fingers wrapped around her arms his body went rigid with a pain that ripped through his head. He instinctively closed his eyes against it and images came flashing across his closed eyelids. Images of Eliat, as a young girl pulling the tail of a cat, then as a young woman accepting a bouquet of flowers from a stern looking man. Dozens more scenes played out in his mind until finally it came to the last. Eliat was on her knees, chained to a stake in the middle of a courtyard, naked and shivering with fear as an older version of the stern man stared down at her with cold, merciless eyes. "Save your breath female. You have discraced my name in the eyes of all, made a fool of me! I am done with you." The stern man turned and walked away as the sun crested the horizon...
His eyes had flashed open then, and as his arms had fallen to his sides like leaden weights and darkness seemed to roll over him he heard his own voice as if from far away call out "Don't go home." When he woke up Eliat was gone... yet not gone, because images of her life, past, present and, to his horror, future continued to assault him. A Master of Talents was brought to him, to teach him to control his newly emerging talent. The Master, a kindly old grandfather, had told him that a talent like his was not something to brag of, told him that others would shun him if they knew he could see all that they were and would be. And if no one would come to him... It was the first secret he had learned to keep. The first of many...
Pulling himself from his memories, he found Quinn's mismatched eyes staring at him with concern. Ash felt laughter bubbling up inside himself and did his best to swallow it down. Someone's concerned about me for once. Huh.
"I won't tell you what I saw. I won't." the young warrior said with a determined squint to his eyes. "You'll have to ask John. It's his business not mine. The fact that I know, that... I..."
"It's OK, I'm not here to talk about what you saw, but rather the fact that you did see it. Having a mind talent... I'm not going to bullshit you, it isn't easy. It will take a lot of effort on your part to get it under control. And training your mind is far more difficult than training your body because you don't have the five senses you've grown up relying on; touch, sight, sound, smell, taste will not help you. But you can control it, with practice. And it just so happens you live under the same roof as the formost expert on the subject." Quinn didn't exactly look like he was buying everything Ash was saying, but at least he didn't look like the world was coming to an end anymore. Baby steps.
Ash sighed. Truth. Give him the truth. "You'll be able to stop it from hurting. That's mostly your mind and body fighting against something unfamiliar. You'll be able to manage the visions in such a way as to not be overwhelmed by them. Imagine looking out a window thats right in front of you and then being able to slide it to the side so it is only in your peripheral vision." Ash looked away from Quinn, chewing on the inside of his cheek.
"But..." Quinn said with the sound of defeat in his voice.
"But... no. There is no off switch. I'm sorry. I know that's not what you wanted to hear."
"I don't want to know what's happening it peoples minds! Or what has happened to them or whatever! I don't want to feel..." His words choked off and he jumped up and strode to the window.
Ash felt a stab of guilt at his relief that he didn't feel his own visions. He was only a third party observer, not an actual participant. To be trapped in someones body as they died... He wanted so much to wrap his arms around the kid and tell him it would be all right. But that was the irony of his life. With the lightest, quickest brush of his skin against skin he could see peoples lives unfold before his eyes from beginning to end. Anyone except those who mattered to him that is. And it would seem Quinn mattered. But that didn't make it any less uncomfortable for Ash to be touched, by anyone.
"How... how is anyone going to want to be around me, knowing I could see their deepest, darkest secrets at any moment?"
Ash ran his fingers through his hair. "You learn to manage it. You learn to not let it show. When it happens with the people who are close to you, you don't go and tell them what you saw. You leave it up to them to decide if they want to know what you know. You make the situation as comfortable for them as you can. But most of all, you earn trust. With the people who matter in your life, it won't be your knowing that scares them, but rather that you may tell others. You earn trust, and show everyone that you would never betray that trust. You do that and you'll be fine, I promise."
Quinn turned to look at Ash, his eyes still uncertain, but not as defeated as a moment ago.
"We'll start right away, OK? First lesson, meditation. As of now, every day twice a day for an hour your going to meditate, learn to calm your mind and body on command. Its something you would have learned in class eventually, we're just moving it up a little." Ash stood up and waved a hand toward the door. "Come on, no time like the present to get started."
As Ash led one new recruit down the dimly lit tunnel, he prayed to the gods the other was okay.
"Merde," he muttered under his breath. We were so close! If it weren't for the grey eyed beast this would all be over! If only... Yeah, if only. Etienne had said that phrase so many times in the last sixteen years it had become his personal mantra. If only Mr. White's last lieutenant had cleared out of the warehouse faster. If only they had found the enemies headquarters sooner. If only he hadn't taken the shortcut between those buildings...
Still in pain and not knowing where he was, Etienne had thought it safest to play along with the man for the moment.
"You... felt my blood?"
"Yes. The pain of the beating you took, it triggered your transition into maturity. That is how I found you. I got you into my car and drove out of the city and around the countryside until it was safe to bring you here."
"Why? Why would you help me?"
"Why? My dear boy, because we are the same. You are one of my people, no matter what the rest say. It is my duty to protect you, from the others, from the humans..."
"The... humans? What... ?"
"Etienne, do not tell me you cannot feel it. Your eyes are open, now look through them, truly look through them."
He had and, it was different. Everything sharper, clearer, colors brighter. The room was full of light as if there was no ceiling and the sun was shining brightly. Yet when he looked around there was just a small bedside lamp. And he could hear... something. A faint rushing sound with a thumping over it. His stomach had clenched with a dull, throbbing pain as he had focused on the sound.
"Yes. You feel the hunger again. Do not fear, I am here to help. I will not let it overtake you, turn you into a monster."
"I... monster? What... wait. What do you mean... again?"
Monsieur Blanc's eyes seemed to glitter as he reached up and tugged off the scarf wrapped around his neck.
"Why my dear boy, you have already fed. That is how you are here now, alive." The scarf fell away to reveal two angry red marks on the mans neck. "I nourished you with my blood."
Etienne's hand had flown to his mouth as his stomach turned over. He's insane. Merde! I need to get out of... But as he lowered his hand from his mouth he froze. There across his palm was a bloody smear. And as his eyes took in the beautiful glistening color, his mouth began to water and the pain in his stomach turned to something else...
"Oh great, now what?"
"Ma vie est merdique" he muttered to himself as he strode to the office door.
"We have a problem."
Of course we do. Etienne ground his teeth together to keep from screaming his frustration.
"The next one up on rotation is getting close. I don't think they're going to make it to tonight."
"So deal with it." Etienne breathed deeply to keep his calm.
"OK, well, I just wanted to be sure since it will put us below the quota Mr. White asked for."
"Better to be one short in the herd than one short in the barracks. Just see to it."
"Je tiens simplement a rentrer chez eux."
I wonder what Acheron and the others are doing? Probably not much considering the sun was up. But they'd be working on a plan to find him, for sure. He just had to keep his wits about him until either they came and got him or he found a way to escape himself. The entrance will be difficult, he thought as he stretched a leg. With only the one way in they can easily defend...