When Charles arrived at Director Salvatore’s home, it was to the scene of an operation in progress. He had updated his men stationed in the house across from Director Salvatore’s of the new plan, and they had kept him apprised of the pair of individuals who had separated from Abigail’s party and approached their station. At first it appeared that the man and woman had only distanced themselves so as to make a phonecall without Abigail listening in — but when Charles heard that the ghoul had hung up and began to approach the house, he’d been forced to order the operation forward early.
How Abigail had known to he had people there, he had no idea. But he — or rather, the influence of Katherine’s aura — was adamant that the responsibility for this snag could be laid at Abigail’s feet.
Ideally, triggering the curse would have left the entire house in slumber and everyone within it unconscious. Except, of course, for Abigail: her apparent immunity to geases was damnably irritating. Charles’ men had responded to the moved up timetable and adjusted plans appropriately: the grenades had been in the air even as his warlock tripped the curse he’d spent so much time preparing.
The only problem was that, thanks to Abigail’s people pushing up the timeline, Charles himself was out of position. He was forced to shove past the men who were with him in his van, dumping Katherine’s vacant-eyed but still breathing body on one of them, to throw open the back doors. He had accelerated even as he stepped from the moving vehicle.
Charles was not an old vampire, but he was a strong one. Being turned by The Alliance had its perks beyond the fact that he’d been turned to begin with. Time slowed to a crawl around him, and Charles ran flat out toward the Director’s house — moving far faster than his van would have been able to without attracting attention. He felt his curse consuming the older bits of aura he’d fed it, and Katherine’s emotions sank deeper into it as he ran. When he arrived, the front of the house was blossoming with flames and someone — Abigail! — had already pulled three people out and laid them on the lawn.
Charles scowled. He almost wanted to charge the front of the house and confront her while she was burdened with carrying out other survivors. Except it was Katherine who hated her so vehemently that she would risk a confrontation. Charles knew better.
Instead, he angled toward the side of the house. The building had been so badly damaged that he knew it didn’t have a ward: a fact that his own warlock had confirmed while weaving his curse. As a precaution, Charles tossed a pair of his own incendiary grenades toward the corners of this side of the house: at the speed he was moving, the fire wouldn’t spread enough to hinder his escape — but it would do more to ensure that the house, and any evidence Director Salvatore had left behind and Director Lewellan had overlooked — would be destroyed. And then, still moving with superhuman speed in a separate stream of time from the rest of the world, Charles leapt through the gaping tear in the building’s second story wall.
Charles preferred to command operations. Getting his own hands dirty with the nitty gritty of their physical execution was distasteful: personal intervention was a sign that he hadn’t planned things out enough; that he had to resort to brute power instead of elegance of practice. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t capable, and in this instance he was the only person within his command who could move fast enough to get the job done before Abigail finished with the distraction his men had given her.
Although, if they were lucky, Abigail wouldn’t realize what the real target of this attack was. Instead, she would move to counter attack the people who had firebombed Salvatore’s home. People who would be protected by warded disks to prevent her from accelerating after them — and who were under orders to flee as soon as the attack had been launched.
In the best case scenario — given that everything Abigail touched got fucked no matter how well planned it was, and this whole operation was already a giant, unforgivable mess — Abigail would be in that house when they detonated the devices Charles had ordered them to setup to cover their retreat.
Charles kicked off of the second story landing and twisted in the air. He landed on the bottom of the remaining hallway stairs with ease, and calmly walked to the basement doors. Director Lewellan had reported that Salvatore was kept in the back room down there. It was likely that Lewellan’s corpse was now being kept with him. If not?
Fuck them, Charles thought as some of Katherine’s aura seethed with hatred and bitterness — this time for Salvatore. If I must, Charles continued the thought, at least incinerating the house thoroughly will mean the Directors won’t be in any condition to be revived and answer questions.
It would be a serious setback in terms of personnel, but The Alliance would survive. And in Charles’ opinion Lewellan and Salvatore had recently proven themselves too incompetent to really be worth it, no matter how old, learned, or powerful they were. Still, a part of him thrummed angrily at the thought of just abandoning the older vampires.
It would be unprofessional. It would be poor form.
Charles’ lip twisted in an unconscious snarl. It would be a failure — it would be Abigail beating him.
Beating me again, the part of his soul that was influenced most by Katherine seethed.
Charles was aware that he was not acting with his usual measured composure. He realized that he had misjudged Katherine’s strength of personality. But he couldn’t bring himself to care while he was in the throes of it. He stalked down the hall to the door in front of the basement stairs. And then, as he reached for it, he slowed. Not because he wanted to, but because someone else’s aura was resisting the presence of his; fighting to assert its reality over his own accelerated time stream. Someone was at the top of the stairs, on the landing just beyond the door.
Charles’ fist closed angrily. What a stupid place for someone to be when the curse fell! And now their mere presence, sleeping against the door, was preventing him from interacting with it? He would have to step out of his accelerated in order to open the damn door, and every second he was out of it while Abigail wasn’t was one more second that she might catch up to him. In fact, since there was someone in his way Abigail would have to come this way if she was actively trying to rescue everyone.
Charles didn’t know if the chill of fear he felt was his or Katherine’s, but he did know that no matter how much he hated Abigail he couldn’t risk a head on confrontation.
And yet: he had a mission. He couldn’t abandon the Directors. His very soul twisted angrily at the idea.
Charles let his control of time fall away and reached for the door once more — but the knob was ripped away from him before he could grasp it as whoever was on the other side wrenched it open.
For a second, Charles was too shocked to react: someone was awake! It had to be Abigail — except it couldn’t be. Abigail’s aura wouldn’t have resisted his movement — she would have been pulled into his timestream, instead.
The young woman on the other side of the door was also shocked — but not into hesitation. She screamed in response to suddenly being confronted by a strange man in a balaclava and military gear.
She was also obviously not Abigail: she wasn’t even the right race. But her dark skin was all Charles needed to see to identify her from Abigail’s known companions.
Charles was armed. He was prepared for this possibility, though it was just one more inconvenience that was suddenly blowing up due to Abigail’s presence. Werewolves were resistant to enchantments of all sorts — but the newly turned wolves should have still been susceptible. Their connection to their lupine sides should have been too weak to shield them from the curses until after their first full moon.
No matter. Charles took a step back and pulled his Mateba Model 6 Unica and pulled the trigger twice. The autorevolver barked. Between Charles’ supernatural strength and the weapon’s low bore axis, there was almost no recoil. Two handloaded silver rounds spat out — but they didn’t strike his intended target.
Instead, at the same time as Charles stepped back and reached for his sidearm, another werewolf in human form surged past the first. This one was male, tall and wide of body — he was heavily muscled in contrast to the much smaller woman he stepped in front of. The young man twisted as he threw himself forward, shielding his companion — or perhaps shielding the person he was carrying.
Charles shot him twice in the back, and then realized just who the young werewolf held in his arms.
She was unconscious. Asleep.
It wasn’t in the plan. But she was still in his way. She still had to be dealt with. The opportunity was there — And Katherine’s aura surged vindictively, fanning his own anger over Abigail’s constant interference. This is all her fault to begin with!
Charles passed his revolver to his off hand, ready to unload into the female werewolf if he saw a chance, or into the male if he needed more than two rounds to be put down. Then Charles reached across to his hip and drew his sword. It was a heavy, simple blade modeled after the roman gladius. Short enough to be feasible if he needed it for the sort of close-in fighting that was the only way to deal with another accelerating vampire. Heavy enough to effectively dismember limbs when combined with his own unnatural strength.
And there was Abigail: held in a bridal carry by the hunched over werewolf, her legs hanging past the frame of his body on one side — and her head on the other. Helpless.
One strike and she would be removed from the equation just as surely as her head was removed from her body.
Charles was halfway through his step back forward, blade still raising to strike, when he was sucked into accelerated time again and tackled from the side. His attacker struck hard enough to break Charles’ arm and throw him into the wall at the end of the hall. Charles cried out in surprise and pain — and then he was pulled into accelerated time once more as his attacker closed with him.
The blurring figured resolved into one of the Scions Lewellan had been overseeing — Benjamin Dolcet. Charles swung his gun at the Scion’s head while his sword arm healed — the revolver was useless against another vampire, except to add weight to his strike.
The young Dolcet ducked the blow and stopped wasting essence on accelerating — they were close enough that if Charles accelerated he would be forced to bring the Scion with him. Instead, Benjamin lunged for Charles’ right arm, and slammed the hand with the sword against the wall.
Charles swung the gun at Benjamin again, and the young vampire caught that arm as well. For a second a feral grin curved the Scion’s lips. Then Charles pushed forward, and Benjamin’s triumph faltered as he realized he wasn’t dealing with some recently fed ghoul who could manage to accelerate. Benjamin braced himself, but Charles smirked behind his balaclava. He had taken the Scion’s measure, and Charles knew that he was stronger.
Charles dropped his revolver and twisted his wrist, breaking free of Benjamin’s grip. Charles seized the front of the Scion’s shirt and heaved him sideways, slamming him into the adjacent wall — and wrenching his other hand free of Benjamin’s grasp. Charles pivoted and thrust, driving his sword through the young vampire’s heart and the wall beyond.
Benjamin’s body jerked convulsively as he was skewered. He lashed out at Charles’ hand and wrist, grabbing for the sword’s hilt. Charles reached back and punched the young vampire’s in the face, rocking his skull against the wall heard enough for bone and paneling alike to crack.
Then Charles was knocked sideways again as he was tackled by surprise for a second time — this time by the werewolf he’d shot. Charles snarled in anger and frustration. He was stronger than Benjamin. He was stronger and faster than the puppy that dared to assault him. Despite the young man’s size, Charles had no difficulty breaking free of his grapple — breaking one of his arms in the process. It was even easier than it would have been otherwise because the werewolf had rushed him while only partially shifted: he’d sprouted hair everywhere. His face was elongated into something like a muzzle, lined with ragged canines. And the rest of his body was a twisted mess of disjointed limbs and spasming muscle — but the silver bullets Charles had so recently put into him prevented the transformation from completing.
Behind him, Charles caught a glimpse of the young woman he’d initially shot at hauling Abigail’s limp form into the foyer. Then the snarling, half-shifted werewolf surged toward him again.
Charles struck the creature across the face, sending it stumbling — then followed up by stepping forward, catching and twisting its arm until the shoulder dislocated. Charles strong armed the snarling were-beast past himself, then shifted his grip: wrenching the werewolf’s shoulders back while snapping a hard kick into the small of its back. Its spine snapped. Its arms spasmed and it howled, but its legs went out and it collapsed — giving Charles the opportunity to adjust his grip on the beast again.
This time, with a vicious twist, he snapped its neck.
The malformed werewolf collapsed in a heap, but its muscles quivered — gradually shifting back to its ordinary human form. A broken neck wouldn’t kill a werewolf. Only silver would. But severe injuries could knock one out, forcing it to revert back to its natural form. Charles stepped away from the now unconscious human — the perfectly normal looking human who was now healed of all his broken and dislocated limbs, but still bleeding out from two bullet wounds.
Charles reclaimed his revolver, turned, and resisted the urge to fire twice more into the werewolf. There was no need: he was unconscious and wouldn’t be interfering again. Besides: between the time spent in accelerated time, and healing his own injuries, he’d finally gotten a grip on Katherine’s aura. It wasn’t driving him to vindictiveness any more — and while Katherine was just as ruthless as he was, in her own way, she was not a killer.
Of course, Charles was. But only when it was part of the plan — only when he’d deemed it necessary.
Charles holstered the Mateba autorevolver and turned back to the Benjamin. The Scion had managed to grab a hold of the sword’s hilt and was working it free of the wall. Charles was impressed: most vampires his age probably would have gone dormant from that much trauma to a vital organ. But even though the blade was still stuck through him, this one was still conscious and struggling. He must have fed recently, Charles mused. Then he was hit by another unexpected surge of Katherine’s emotions.
Charles pulled another pistol — conventional rounds, this time. He would save his last four silver bullets for in case the other werewolf came back. Inspired by a burst of hatred toward vampires of all things, Charles raised this gun — a Ruger SR40 — and fired three times into the Scion’s chest. Benjamin twitched and jerked as each round tore through him, leaving deep, bleeding wound channels behind. He slumped, dormant and only held up by the blade lodging him to the wall.
Charles scowled and shot the Scion once more, just to appease the last urges of the vindictiveness that still ran rampant in his soul. All right: perhaps he didn’t have Katherine’s aura entirely under control. But he couldn’t blame it entirely on the witch. He’d had Abigail dead to rights, and this idiot had dared to intervene?! Unfortunately, there wasn’t time to further pursue that bitch Abigail — especially since she had at least two more people who were outside and conscious, and possibly capable of fighting back.
And because Charles had a mission, and getting bogged down in an extended fight wasn’t part of the plan — anymore than pissing off Abigail was. Charles breathed out and focused on clearing his thoughts of Katherine’s influence. It wasn’t lost on him that Salvatore and Lewellan had both earned Abigail’s ire by targeting her friends. Archarel had made the same mistake, for that matter. Charles scowled. As much as Katherine hated her — as much as he was frustrated with her constant fuckery interfering with his plans — the last thing he needed was to give fucking Abigail a reason to dedicate herself to hunting him down.
One dormant vampire. One dying werewolf. Neither would survive in the burning house without help, and either one might prove enough to bring Abigail down on him with a vengance — and on The Alliance, by extension. Fortunately, there was an elegant solution to that problem. And who knew? Perhaps, someday, it would benefit Charles to be able to say to Abby: I spared your people. I saved their lives. You owe me. Vampires were immortal, after all. Eventually The Alliance would make its move and come out from the shadows. When that day came, he would rather that the vampire who killed Salvatore, killed Lewellan, and destroyed Archarel didn’t bear him a personal grudge.
Charles stepped back and kicked the werewolf closer to Benjamin. Then he stepped forward again and grabbed the hilt of his sword. He twisted the blade to break the suction of Benjamin’s torso, and wrenched it free. Benjamin collapsed to his knees, still dormant despite the removal of the blade through his heart, and began to slump sideways. Charles caught a handful of the Scion’s hair and wrenched him forward so that he landed face down on the werewolf’s bleeding torso, instead.
The presence of living blood being so close at hand would speak to the Scion’s curse; wake it. He would revive — he would be feral, but able to feed. Charles could already hear a hiss issue from Benjamin’s throat. He didn’t wait to see more: instead he stepped away and accelerated once more. He had to collect the Directors and fall back. By the time Benjamin Dolcet regained his sanity, Charles meant to have accelerated for the entire run back to rejoin his men. Then he and the Directors would be safe from pursuit, inside of warded vehicles.
Charles sheathed his still bloody blade — he would take the time to clean it later. For now? He had a mission. He approached the basement stairs, turned, and proceeded down them.
And this time, no one was there to stop him.