Tina sat behind a table, her elbows on the wooden surface and her eyes on the blond woman sitting across from her. She leaned forward, her eyes narrowed. “You could have said that over the phone.”
“Are you telling the truth? Is Petsha really trying to recruit Aradmas that worked with Angelica in her lab?” Haniel, who sat on the couch behind Tina, pulled himself into a kneeling position and leaned his arms across the back of the bench. “And how would you even know that? You are not one of the Damned.”
“But she probably still has her spies in their midst.” Uriel ran his fingers through his jaw-length locks. “And she can’t exactly lie to Tina, not when Tina has Damon’s blood inside her.”
“I’m not lying. I don’t have any reason to lie.” Irene put her manicured hands on the table and laced her fingers. “And no, I couldn’t tell you that over the phone -- how could I, when you don’t answer my calls?”
“Because you nag me with the same thing over and over again. I wish you would stop.” Tina tensed her jaw. She didn’t want to be impolite to Irene -- Tina had been taught to be polite to people and mind her manners, even when other people forgot theirs -- but when Irene refused to listen to her and pressed with her ‘requests’, Tina decided to use the best tactic available to her, the one she usually avoided: ignoring her. “I’m not going to change my mind. I’m staying with the Dumes.”
“But they can’t offer you the same protection that Tristian, the Lost and I can.” Irene lifted her chin, her eyes roamed around the truck. “Or the comfort.”
“I’m not your Gelbeliya and you are not my Beliya, so stop acting like one.”
“We just want to take good care of you.” Tristian, who was listening to the conversation leaning against the kitchen counter opposite the dining corner, uncrossed his arms.
Muriel entered their vision with a tray of tea in his hands, the faint smell of jasmine wafting from the cups. “They are worried for you because they still think of you as Damon’s Beloved, and thinking what Damon might do to them if anything were to happen to you.” He pushed the tray to the middle of the table.
“And because the power of Tina’s blood and her fragility are attracting Deadeaters. They can smell her a mile away. It’s a wonder she’s still alive.” Irene pressed her lips into a thin line.
“We have ways to subdue that,” Uriel said. “And you talk as if we’re weak when in fact, even the youngest of my brothers possesses more strength than you and Tristian together.” Uriel smirked at Irene.
“Muriel has his beast form, so of course, he’s stronger than we are.”
“I’m the youngest, not Muriel. Muriel just looks young since he refuses to grow up.” Haniel reached between Tina and Uriel and took one of the cups. “And I’m not even half as strong as Muriel is.” He blew at the tea before he tilted his head, his eyes on Irene, a half smile playing on his face.
“What is this? A competition?” Tina took the cup that Uriel offered to her and her gaze fell on Irene. “Not that you can even compete with the Dumes.”
“Perhaps not,” Irene said. “But we don’t need to. We have enough men to overpower them.”
“Are you sure?” Uriel leaned back on the bench, taking his cup with him. “The last I heard, all of Blackdart’s Aradmas had been taken away by the Lost’s new leader, the family of Alans.”
“But we still have Ishaaas.”
“Ishaaas are only slightly stronger than Aradmas.” Uriel played with the cup’s handle. “How many do you have?”
“A little more than fifty,” Irene said.
Haniel snorted. “And you call that manpower?”
“Why are we even discussing this? I’m staying with the Dumes. Haven’t I made it clear enough?” Tina raised her hand when Irene opened her mouth. “Just stop bothering me already. Trinity is gone. She’s no longer part of my soul” -- as much as Tina regretted that -- “and as I see it, there’s no need for you to look after me.”
“But technically, you are still Damon’s Beloved.” Tristian pushed himself off the counter, his brown ponytail swinging with his motion. “And as such you are our responsibility.”
“Shouldn’t we be discussing Petsha’s need for Aradmas?” Uriel crossed his arms. “Isn’t that why you came? Or was that just an excuse to get into our home?”
“Just an excuse.” Irene mimicked Uriel’s posture. “We are here to take Tina home.”
“Well, I don’t want to go. What are you going to do? Use force?” Tina glared at Irene.
“If necessary,” Tristian said.
Suddenly swords appeared in the Dumes’ hands; the tip of Uriel and Haniel’s blades pointed at Irene, Muriel’s at Tristian.
Irene at that point already held her pepper-box revolvers, aimed at Uriel and Haniel. And Tristian, who to Tina’s surprise held in his hand a double-barrelled gun instead of his double-edged broad sword, had it pointed at Muriel.
Tina tilted her head. Where had all those weapons come from? She hadn’t seen bulges or anything unusual in Irene’s crisp white shirt and pencil skirt, or under Tristian’s suit.
“It seems we have a problem,” Irene said.
“Indeed.” Uriel flashed a smirk.
Tina rolled her eyes. She thought of something scary to increase her heart rate, and time slowed down. She knew that Irene had sensitive fingers and speed that only a few could match. She carefully and quickly grabbed Irene’s antique-looking pistols, not surprised when Irene reached for them, but with a gesture that reminded Tina of motion under water. After she took Tristian’s gun she sped up time and with the guns in her hands, she raised her brows. “What are you going to do now? Still going to take me by force?”
“We are on the same side,” Irene said.
“Are we?” Uriel leaned over the table, the tip of his katana pushed against Irene’s neck.
A screeching sound filled the truck.
“Great.” Tina sighed. It meant that somebody was snooping around the warehouse.
Uriel made a shallow cut into Irene’s skin. “Is this your doing?”
“No,” Irene uttered through clenched teeth.
The Dumes withdrew their swords and pushed them into their sheaths before Haniel jumped off the couch and ran toward his workshop, while Muriel gathered the cups, putting them on the tray. Uriel pushed a button hidden under the table and a narrow slit appeared in the middle of the table. An LCD screen rose up.
What? Was Uriel just going believe Irene? Tina furrowed her brows. She knew that Uriel could detect lies, she had experienced that firsthand, but he couldn’t read Irene, could he? Not that quickly. With her eyes on the screen that displayed the images of the front, the back and the roof of the warehouse she waved the guns at Irene. “I bet whatever is happening is your fault.”
“I would be more careful with those if I were you. They are loaded.” With one finger Irene wiped her neck and then licked the finger.
“Oh.” Tina put the guns on the table. Surprised that neither Irene nor Tristian made any move to retrieve their weapons, she held onto the guns as she looked over her shoulder at Haniel, who was coming back, with a phone in his hand. “What is it?”
“They look like Mamaels, but I doubt that they are. They appear to be Aradmas.” Haniel put the small device on the table.
Uriel chose the image that showed the front of the warehouse and zoomed in on it. “But whose Aradmas?”
“It can’t be the Damned’s.” Haniel leaned over the table. “Or we would have known something about it beforehand.”
“They shouldn’t be the Lost’s either.” Uriel glanced at Irene and raised his brows.
“Could they be Petsha’s?” Tina shifted closer to Uriel and gazed at the screen that showed men gathering in the shadows of the walls. “And how do you even know that they are Aradmas?”
“No Aradmas would ever go to work for a Deadeater; it’s beneath them and even if it wasn’t, Deadeaters can’t bond with Aradmas, only the Lost and Elders from Damned can do that.” Haniel sat on the edge of the bench beside Uriel. “And Damned Numuns, but Prva doesn’t allow them to.”
“Look how they move.” Uriel pointed at the men that crept alongside the wall toward the main warehouse’s door. “Their movements seem slow, but look how quick they are. Mamaels can’t move like that.”
“They could be those Is -- I mean Masters or even Beliyas.”
“That would be like using Special Forces as infantry.” Irene moved to the other side of the table and leaned over Uriel and Tina gazed at the screen. “And why are you all so calm? Shouldn’t you be doing something?”
“We already made the necessary precautions for situations like this.” With a few taps against the screen Uriel adjusted the angle of the camera and zoomed in even closer on the men; he looked up at Irene. “Now, does anybody look familiar to you?”
“No.” Irene shook her head. “But that’s expected; those are just foot soldiers, we need to see the leader.”
“It could be this one.” Haniel typed a few keys on his handheld and shoved it in front of Uriel and Irene. It showed a large limousine close enough to see the driver’s face every time he inhaled the smoke of his cigarette.
“No, that’s another foot soldier.” Tristian, who joined Irene, said. He and Irene exchanged glances.
“You are lying to us, and you are quite bad at it,” Uriel said.
Tina narrowed her eyes at them. “Who is he?”
“He is Verina Macele’s Beliya.” Tristian said.
“Who’s she? And what does she want with us?” Tina asked.
“She’s the daughter of Horatio Macele, the head of The House of Adams, who is the new leader of the Lost, if I remember my ‘Who’s Who of the Lost’ correctly,” Uriel said.
“Yes.” Irene went around the table and resumed her previous seat. “She is the new leader’s daughter. And she” -- she looked at Tina -- “wants you.”
“Why?” Uriel put his elbows on the table and laced his fingers, his brows low over his eyes.
“She’s looking for Lord Blackdart and since she heard that his Beloved reappeared, she probably thinks that you can help her in her quest,” Tristian said.
An explosion shook the big warehouse door, and a big burst of light whitened one of the images on the screen before static appeared on it.
“How could I help her?” Tina asked. “I mean, we could join forces and help each other, but then she should try to contact us in much more peaceful way.”
“She is not trying to get your help. She’s trying to use the connection you have with Damon as his Beloved.” Irene reached out, her palm turned up. “Could you return my guns to me, please?”
Tina drew the guns into her lap. “What kind of connection? I don’t have any connection with Damon.”
“Don’t lie to me. My guns, please.”
“I did have a connection with him, we could talk in our minds, but not since Petsha captured him.”
“Not that kind of connection.” Irene still held her outstretched arm on the table. “I’m talking about the connection of your souls. When you can feel Damon and sometimes even see him.”
Tina frowned. Irene must be talking about her dreams, because in her dreams she could feel Damon’s pain and see what was happening to him. But how did Irene know about them? “I did have some weird dreams, but they haven’t helped us in finding Damon.”
“Dreams? I don’t know exactly how the connection works, but I know that all Lords share it with their Beloveds and that it will help you to find Damon -- Macele believes in that too and she wants to use it to get to Damon,” Irene said. “And don’t fool yourself, she doesn’t want your help, she wants to use you and then get rid of you so that she can become Damon’s new Beloved.”
A new explosion rattled the door, and its impact and heat took out the cameras attached to the upper edge of the warehouse wall.
Since Trinity had left her soul, Tina hadn’t delved into what being Beloved entailed. But from what Trinity had told her, she knew that all the purebreds had problems finding a compatible partner for having children, be it among their own race or among Mamaels, and when they did find one, they made sure that that person would stay by their side. Mutual love wasn’t required, but in most cases was the side effect of the Bond anyway -- or so Trinity had said, not really knowing if that was true or not, since she and Damon fell in love before they were Bonded. “Is that girl even compatible with Damon?”
“Yes, that’s why she had a fit when she found out that Damon already had a Beloved. And that despite Trinity being dead and in the process of reincarnation, he wasn’t ready to break that Bond with her and tie himself to Macele,” Irene said. “She hasn’t handled that news well, and I don’t want to know what happened after she found out about you; I’m afraid she’s rather obsessed with Damon.”
“Great.” Tina couldn’t help but roll her eyes. “Not only do I have to deal with my nightmares and being in the middle of a for-now-unsuccessful search for Damon, we just got a crazy fangirl on our cases, too. Just great.” It wasn’t enough that Damon had taken away her normal life and tossed her into this bizarre world of the supernatural or that she had lost a part of her soul that had given her comfort and support, now she even had to deal with his stalker. “You know what, just go out and tell her that after we find Damon, she can have him. But until then she better leave us alone.”
“It doesn’t work that way. Damon might have been able to break the Bond while Trinity was still a soul in somebody else’s body, but now that Trinity has left the mark of the Beloved to you, the only way the Bond can be broken is with your death,” Irene explained. “Now, can you give me my guns already? If you are not willing to do anything, you could at least allow me to try to defend you.”
A row of explosions not only shook the door, but also broke two of the ten windows that ran high across the wall.
“This only gets better, doesn’t it? Do you have anything else to cheer me up?” Tina ground her teeth as she observed falling debris on the display. “And I don’t need you to defend me.” But she reluctantly laid the pistols in Irene’s hand anyway and offered the other gun to Tristian.
“That’s why we wanted to get you into our custody.” Tristian took the gun. “But it seems that we managed to only bring troubles with us. I’m sorry.”
“You should be. Not that that helps us.” Uriel stood up and forced Haniel to get off the bench. “How long will your shield hold?”
Haniel leaned on the table and picked up his device. He pressed a few keys before he lifted his gaze. “It’s at sixty percent now, so I would say we can take around two more blasts.”
“I see,” Uriel said. “I propose we shift our schedule by one day. We will have to spend the day in one of the resting stops by the highway, but I don’t think that any of you would mind that.”
They all agreed and while Muriel went to disconnect the cables that supplied the truck with electricity and water, Tina cleared everything movable from the cabinets’ surface, except from Haniel’s working space, which was secured with a thin shield, similar to the one they used on the warehouse.
Another explosion rattled the warehouse walls, this one loud enough to make Tina flinch and wake the dead, but Tina didn’t have any illusion that anybody, for instance the police, would rush to their aid -- not that they needed it. Not only the Damned, but also the Lost wanted to preserve the humans’ ignorance about their existence and as Damned they used shields, nets and deceptions to keep internal affairs like battles among themselves or between clans, away from the curious eyes of the public.
After they packed and secured everything, including Haniel’s bike that now rested on the pedestal beside the trailer’s door, Uriel and Haniel went into the truck’s cabin. Irene and Tristian returned to the dark-grey limousine in which they arrived, and Tina wrapped her arms tightly around Muriel’s wide shoulders and gave a smile to the red eyes as he lifted them up with strong flaps.
Muriel settled them at one of the broken windows, where, after they secured the belts and rope that tied Tina to Muriel, they waited. They didn’t have a plan beyond the one to force their way out, but Tina doubted that they even needed one.
An explosion, this time bigger than all the rest, blew the door open, and it flew over the car and the truck, and across the warehouse as if it were nothing more than a slip of paper, leaving a hole with twisted edges in the sheet metal wall.
Are we ready? Uriel’s voice said over their mental connection established through Muriel.
Yes, she replied together with Muriel.
The black, metal monstrosity, Freightliner Coronado, if Tina remembered the name correctly, came to life, the power of its engine sending vibrations through floor and walls of the warehouse as Uriel pressed on the gas.
Irene and Tristian drove through the hole and into the men that tried to push their way into the warehouse, but the thin layer of green that sparkled where it was touched, the remnants of Haniel’s shield, held them at bay.
Irene half-climbed out of the window and with her pistols in her hands, she shot everybody in her range, causing Aradmas to fall like dominos.
The warehouse’s shield cracked under the assaults of fire and rocket projectiles, the group of men broke: one-third poured into the warehouse and the rest of them rushed toward their vehicles, jumped into them and drove toward Tristian and Uriel.
Uriel followed the black Mercedes in his monstrosity, with Haniel using the box with electric beams from the cabin on men who used rocket launchers on the trailer, which was protected with a net of high voltage electricity -- another one of Haniel’s inventions -- and a protective shield.
Tina knew that she didn’t need to worry about them, Haniel’s shields could take more damage than a few rockets and flame-throwers could cause, but she wished she were down there, helping them -- not that Uriel, Irene and Tristian would have allowed her. Her lips narrowed. Treating her like she was a fragile damsel in distress. How unfair.
Muriel woke her from her musing with a tap.
They climbed out over the broken glass. She wrapped her arms around Muriel’s middle then he lifted them up in the air. They circled over the warehouse, the cold wind caressed Tina’s face and seeped under her thin, leather coat, which she had borrowed from Muriel, making her wish that she had taken mittens and a cap with her.
She hid her hands in the soft black fur that covered Muriel’s arms, her gaze on the ground below her. She found the dark-blue limousine that stood at the edge of the warehouses and before which stood a petite woman with a high ponytail. She used binoculars to observe the upcoming procession.
Is that her? Tina pointed in the car’s direction, scrutinizing the silhouette dressed in a knee-length coat, with light scarf tied in a large bow around her neck and her feet shod in what appeared to be ankle boots with high heels. The girl who wants Damon.
Probably. Muriel lifted them higher in the air.
Tina pulled the edge of her woollen shawl and covered the lower part of her face, her eyes still on the woman, who now dropped the binoculars and went back into the car, which started to drive away. A new threat. Tina leaned her cheeks against the softness of Muriel’s fur. That’s all they needed.