ALL WAS still on level seven. A clawed hand held embryonic life within it. Golden green glowing eyes misted over black as they looked up to the vast expanse of nothingness that mimicked a vaulted ceiling. Trembling with anticipation, a shaky finger extended a hooked talon that prodded at the bloody mass of dormant life... life that could be molded into its own image. A hissing coo filled with gentle adoration warmed the small cluster of cells, making them glow red and begin to pulse.
"Oh, soon, my son," a passionate voice whispered. "Very, very soon."
Dread tightened Damali's chest as she watched Carlos's eyes. Visceral emptiness filled her, making her clutch her lower belly. His once-serene gaze now darted to her face, then to the faces of her teammates and to his surrounding environment like a man displaced and confused. The sensation was so overwhelming that it threatened to choke her heart to a standstill. Her man, once confident, suave, and smooth as black silk, had come up out of the unknown looking crazed and wild in the eye.
Suddenly she felt a strange sensation that fluttered in her womb. She pressed her hand against her abdomen.What was that ? But she had to shake off the weird feeling. Too many issues competed for her attention right now and the most immediate was Carlos.
The Light had brought him back, had actually reconstituted his form from the burnt vampire ash left by dawn, and now it seemed as though he didn't know where he was, how he'd gotten there, or whom he was with. Beyond all that they'd had to contend with, this was perhaps the most frightening experience of all: Carlos Rivera's mental state was in question-tears, screaming, ranting, fighting against the hold of friendly hands. Damali turned away for a moment and swallowed hard.
A head on a silver platter would be her bride price. Yeah. She and the chairman had unfinished business.
She reached out her hand to touch Carlos's face, and he jerked away from her, unsure if she were a mirage, a vampiric illusion, something evil and vile that would start his torture all over again. His fear rippled through her and rattled her bones. It sent a chill through her like a knife. It drew her mouth into a tight line as she fought not to scream. She saw what they had done. A head.The head of the bastard who'd done this , was the only acceptable answer to levy the debt paid in full.
Down in Hell they had a phrase: Fair exchange is no robbery. Then so be it. A head for a head, a mind for a mind... and an eye for an eye and a tooth for a f**king tooth-the chairman's fangs mounted on her wall mantel. This was war.
Damali could feel her eyes narrow to slits as her man tried to stand, and then tried to get away from her and her team. Oh, hell no. They'd raped his mind and stolen his dignity. And for that unforgivable offense, she'd blow the Vampire Council's doors off the damned hinges. In her mind's eye, she could see the pentagram-shaped table surrounded by dark thrones, and the chairman's smug expression. But Hell had no fury like a woman scorned. Her thoughts frayed and descended to the pit.
Fuck you, Mr. Chairman. This time, it's just me and you.
Carlos could feel his eyeballs roll backward beneath his lids as consciousness ebbed and flowed like a reluctant tide. One moment he had been sitting on the ground, naked, awed, and so profoundly moved that he couldn't speak, and in the next moment, he was being hurried away by many hands and clamoring voices all trying to get him into a vehicle and onto hallowed ground. Were it not for Damali's hand firmly holding his and her voice cutting through the melee, he would have tried to escape them all.
For the first time in his entire existence he truly feared he was losing his mind. Something was very wrong. He'd gone into the Light-more accurately, had been propelled into it, summoned by it, sucked toward a bright, indescribable iridescent wonder that had a pulse, a center, and held the heartbeat of the universe. Beings of unfathomable strength had hurled him forward, their silvery light sabers cutting at filaments of dark tendrils, holding him, burning him to ash. The heat was so intense that his bones had liquefied, his skin had blackened and crumbled away, his eyes had melted and had run down his cheeks like gory, oozing tears... but silver metallic wings with the texture of satin had shielded him from the furnace blast beneath him. What were they and who'd sent them?
Healing warmth had entered him, coating his burning insides with instant peace, quenching the sun's fury against his skin. One being had parted to become many with raised golden shields that seemed as though each held a living, moving orb of sunlight until he was encircled by them, each ball of molten, living, golden light fusing to become a ring around him. The ring had covered him, entered him... All he could remember now was that they came and then in a fluttering cloud they'd dispersed, shooting away so quickly they'd left only a blinding blur of white light in their wake.
But perhaps the powers-that-be had messed up somehow. Maybe they didn't catch his soul in time, and how did a man turned vampire return to the sun?
He couldn't hear. Everything was coming at him in muffled tones. People spoke in indecipherable guttural fragments. Everyone seemed to move in slow motion. It was like moving through mud. His mind was a slurry of confusion. He was nearly blind, each friendly face blurred beyond recognition until it was breath-close to his face. His skin felt thick and dull, the sensation of hands soothing his shoulders, rubbing his back, bundling him into a coat, but all of it took seconds to register. Breathing was an effort that consumed his concentration. The most troubling aspect was the heaviness he felt in his limbs, as though his muscles were too weak to lift his own body.
What had the Light done to him?
Carlos leaned forward and covered his face with his hands. The sensory overload was too much-rather, the lack of sensation and the ability to perceive his surroundings was horrifying.
"I think he's going into shock," Damali said, drawing him against her body closer as the Jeep careened through the streets. "We have to get him inside, out of the sun."
"I'm gonna fry," Carlos croaked, becoming more disoriented as the vehicle barreled through desolate streets in a town he didn't know.
"We'll be at the church in just a few minutes, kiddo."
Carlos slowly removed his hands from his face, training his attention toward what he remembered to be Rider's voice. "To a church?" Instinct made Carlos begin struggling against Damali's hold. He could hear his voice rising with panic. "No! I'll burn!"