"Turns out he wasn't actually much of a dog person," Kade said around the continued shrieks coming from the direction of the office.
Brock's mouth quirked at the corner. "So I hear. Anything else?"
"Yeah, unfortunately. Asshole's been trafficking Breedmates, just as our intel suggested. His client was a Minion, but he didn't know anything more than that. Never saw the mind slave up close and couldn't describe him at all."
"Shit," Brock said, running a big hand over the top of his head. "So I guess Homeboy was a dead end, huh?"
Kade cocked his head as the last of the howls cut short behind him. "He is now." Brock exhaled a rueful chuckle. "Let's get this place cleaned up and shut down. Got a text from Gideon, asking us to call in when we can. Something about a situation up north."
"Up north, as in upstate?"
"No, man. Farther north than that." Brock met his gaze and held it for longer than was comfortable.
"Something's evidently gone down in Alaska. He didn't say what exactly, just said that Lucan wants you to report in to headquarters ASAP."
Kade understood even before he and Brock arrived at the Order's compound that the news he was about to get couldn't be good. As the founder and leader of the warriors, not to mention a first-generation Breed somewhere in the vicinity of nine hundred years old, Lucan was hardly an alarmist by nature. So the fact that he saw fit to call Kade in specifically was a major clue that whatever the so-called situation was in Alaska, it was something seriously fucked up.
Speculation swirled in Kade's gut, one disturbing scenario after another, awful things that were far too easy for him to imagine and burned like bitter bile in the back of his throat. He kept his dread to himself as he and Brock parked the Rover in the fleet garage behind the heavily secured estate at ground level, then took the hangar's elevator down some three hundred feet to the subterranean nerve center of the Order's operations.
"You cool, my man?" Brock asked as he and Kade stepped out of the elevator and into the white marble corridor that connected the labyrinthine compound's many chambers like a central artery. "You know if this had anything to do with your kin back home, Lucan would have said so. I'm sure that whatever went down, everything's good with your family. No worries, yeah?"
"Yeah. No worries," Kade replied, but his mouth was on automatic pilot. He'd left his family's settlement in Alaska roughly a year ago to join the Order in Boston. It had been an abrupt departure, one spurred by the urgent summons he'd received from Nikolai, a warrior of the Order whom Kade had met decades past when his travels had taken him from Alaska's frozen tundra to that of Niko's Siberian homeland.
There were things Kade had left unfinished in Alaska. Things that haunted him still--worse, for the time and distance that had kept him away all these long months.
If anything had happened and he hadn't been there to step in ... Kade pushed the thought from his head as he and Brock turned down one of the corridors that would lead them to the tech lab.
Lucan, the dark-haired Gen One, was waiting there in the compound's glass-walled war room with Gideon, the blond, deceptively disheveled-looking resident genius who ran the Order's extensive collection of technology. The pair stood together in front of a flat-screen monitor. Lucan raked his fingers over his sternly set jaw just as the lab's transparent doors whisked open to permit Kade and Brock inside.
"How did the lead work out tonight in Roxbury?" he asked when the two warriors had entered the room.
Kade gave a brief rundown of what they found out from the skin trader, which wasn't much. But as Kade spoke, he couldn't keep his attention from drifting to the monitor behind Lucan. When the big male started to pace in that way he always did when he was either pissed off or deep in thought, Kade got his first good look at the image filling the computer screen.
It wasn't pretty.
A blurry photo--or maybe it was a freeze-framed video image--splashed garish red and white across the monitor. Blood and snow. A brutal killing in the frozen wilds of Alaska. Kade knew it instinctively, and the knowledge cut through him like the edge of a blade.
"What happened?" he asked, his voice so wooden it sounded apathetic, wholly undisturbed.
"Nasty bit of video showed up on the Internet today," Lucan said. "From what we can tell, this was captured by a cell phone camera a couple of days ago and uploaded from a Fairbanks ISP to a website that caters to crime-scene gawkers and other sick bastards who get off on viewing the dead." He gave a look to Gideon and with a click of the computer mouse, the frozen image onscreen came to vivid life. Over the excitable breathing and crunching footsteps of the person holding the camera, Kade watched as the crudely shot video showed the scene of what must have been a very brutal slaying. A bloodied body lay dead on a snow-covered, gore-stained patch of land. The lens's focus was shaky, but the operator managed to zoom in tight on the victim's wounds. Shredded clothing and skin. A number of unmistakable tears and punctures that could only have been made by some very sharp teeth. Or fangs.
"Jesus," Kade muttered, struck by the savagery of the killing--the totality of it--as the video played past the four-minute mark and moved on to document no less than three more dead in the snow and ice.
"This looks like the work of Rogues," Brock said, his deep voice as grim as his expression. It was a sorry but unavoidable fact of life that there were members of the Breed population who could not--or simply would not--control their thirst for blood. While the majority of the vampire nation abided by laws and reasonable good sense, there were others who gave in to their hungers with no thought for the consequences. Those of the Breed who fed too much, or too frequently, soon found themselves addicted, lost to Bloodlust, the disease of the Rogues. Once a vampire tipped that scale, there was little hope for him to turn himself around.
Bloodlust was almost always a one-way ticket to madness ... and death. If not by edict of the Order, then by the disease itself, which made even the most careful Breed male reckless. All a Rogue knew was his thirst. He would kill indiscriminately, take any risk, in the attempt to quench it. He would even slaughter an entire village if the opportunity was there.
"Whoever did this needs to be put down fast," Brock added. "Son of a bitch needs to be put down hard."
Lucan nodded his agreement. "The sooner, the better. That's why I called you in, Kade. The situation up there could get out of hand pretty quick, not only if we've got a Rogue problem to contend with, but also because human law enforcement has gotten wind of the killings. Gideon tracked an Alaska State Police dispatch call out of a little interior town called Harmony. Fortunately, there's fewer than a hundred people living there, but it only takes one hysterical mouth screaming the word 'vampire' to turn this whole thing into an even bigger disaster."
"Shit," Kade muttered. "Do we know who shot the video?"
"Hard to say right now," Lucan said. "Gideon's looking into it. We do know for sure there's a trooper posted in the town--he's the one who alerted the Fairbanks dispatch to the killings. Obviously, time is critical here. We need to know who's responsible for the slayings, and we need to make sure no one up there gets anywhere close to the truth about what exactly took place out there in the bush." Kade listened, his veins still jangling with the brutality of what he had just seen on the monitor. In his peripheral vision was the final frame, paused on the screen, a blurred image of a young human's bloodspattered face, his open, unseeing brown eyes clouded from the cold, ice crystals clinging to his dark eyelashes. He was just a kid, for crissake. Probably barely out of his teens, if that. It wasn't the first time Kade had seen the aftermath of a bloody slaughter in the Alaskan bush. When he'd left home all those months ago, he'd sure as hell hoped he'd never see that kind of carnage again.
"We're spread thin here with our current operations, but we can't afford to let the situation up north go unchecked," Lucan said. "I need to send someone who knows the terrain and the people, and who has connections in the Breed population up there."
Kade held Lucan's stare, knowing he could hardly refuse the assignment, even if Alaska was the last place he wanted to be. When he'd left there last year to join the Order, he'd done so with the hope that he might never return.
He wanted to forget the place where he'd been born. The wild place that had called to him like a possessive, destructive lover every moment since he'd left.
"What do you say, my man?" Lucan asked as Kade's silence grew long. He didn't see where he had any choice. He owed it to Lucan and the Order to take care of this unexpected, unpleasant business. No matter where it led him.
Even if the search for a vampire with an uncontrollable itch to kill ended up leading Kade home to a ten-thousand-acre stretch of land in the Alaskan interior. Home, to his family's own backyard. Grim with the idea, he gave the Order's leader an accepting nod. "How soon do I leave?" Forty-five minutes later, Kade was wearing a track in the rug of his private quarters, his packed duffel sitting on the end of the bed. A satellite phone lay beside the black leather bag, and for the third time in the past ten minutes, Kade reached for the device and punched in the number he hadn't called since the night he left Alaska.
This time he let the call ring through.
It was a shock to hear his father's strong voice come on the line.
"Been a while," Kade said by way of greeting, to which his father only grunted. It was a lame effort at contact after a year of being out of touch by his own doing. Then again, it wasn't as if his father had ever accused him of being responsible or reliable, or anything else for that matter. The conversation was awkward, a strained attempt at hi-how-are-you as Kade worked up the nerve to ask how everything was going back home. His father talked about the hard winter, the only benefit of the season being the fact that it kept the sun in hiding for all but three hours at midday. Kade recalled the extended darkness of the north country. His pulse kicked eagerly at the thought of so much night, so many hours of freedom in which to run.
It was obvious that his father hadn't yet heard about the recent slayings. Kade didn't mention them, nor did he speak of the mission that was sending him north. Instead, Kade cleared his throat and asked the question that had been burning in his gut since the moment he heard there had been trouble in Alaska.
"How's Seth doing? Is everything all right with him?"
Kade's blood went a bit cold in the hesitant silence that preceded his father's reply. "He is well. Why do you ask?"
Kade heard the suspicion in his father's voice, the mild disapproval that always had a way of creeping into the elder male's voice whenever Kade dared to question matters concerning his brother. "Just wondering if he might be around, that's all."
"Your brother had Darkhaven business to attend to for me in the city" came the terse reply. "He left a few weeks ago."
"A few weeks," Kade echoed. "That's a long time for him to be away. Have you heard from him at all recently?"
"Not recently, no. Why?" On the other end of the line, his father seemed to go silent with impatience.
"What exactly is this about, Kade? A year without any contact from you, and now you want to interrogate me about your brother's comings and goings. What is it you want?"
"Forget it," Kade said, instantly regretting that he'd made the call in the first place. "Just forget I called. I gotta go."
He didn't wait for his father's reply. Frankly, he didn't need to hear it. Kade ended the call without another word, his thoughts swirling with the grisly images he'd seen in the tech lab a short time ago and the knowledge that his brother had not been accounted for in potentially a number of weeks.
His brother, who shared the same dark talent as Kade.
The same dangerously seductive wildness--the violent power--that could so easily slip out of control. And had, at least once, Kade acknowledged with grim recollection.
"Goddamn it, Seth."
He tossed the phone onto the bed. Then, with a furious growl, he whirled on his heel and slammed his fist into the nearest wall.
The Arctic storm had pounded the Alaskan interior for two days straight, dumping three feet of snow on the small town of Harmony and its far-flung neighbors along the river and plunging daytime temperatures all over the region to fifteen below zero. Ordinarily, weather like that tended to do one of two things to folks: keep them knuckled down at home, or send them flocking to Pete's, the local restaurant and tavern.
Today, despite the howl of the wintry wind and the skin-biting cold as the third and final hour of sunlight faded into midday dusk, nearly all of Harmony's ninety-three residents were packed into the logcabin Congregational church for an impromptu town hall meeting. Alex sat beside Jenna in the second row of pews, trying as hard as everyone else to make sense of the recent carnage in the bush, which had brought six dead, brutally savaged bodies into makeshift cold storage at Harmony's airstrip and put the whole town into a state of anxious unrest.
Alex knew that Zach Tucker had tried to keep the news of the attack on the Toms settlement quiet, but despite the vastness of the interior, word traveled fast--faster still, in this isolated eleven-square-mile chunk of land that hugged the shore of the Koyukuk. Bad news, particularly the kind involving multiple unexplained deaths of a violent nature, tended to reach folks' ears as if flown there on a raven's wings. In the forty-eight hours since Alex's discovery of the killings, and Zach's decision to transport the bodies from the crime scene into Harmony to await the clearing of the weather so the Staties in Fairbanks could come in and take over the investigation, the feeling around town had gone from one of shock and dismay to one of suspicion and dangerous, mounting hysteria. Forty-eight hours had been all the townspeople could take without demanding some answers about just who--or what--had so viciously attacked Pop Toms and his family.
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