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Rated: 18+ · Campfire Creative · Other · Other · #1344858
There is a world behind the world we know, hidden beneath the fabric of our society.
[Introduction] This a story of a world you may not know exists. All charaters must lie within 4 species, though there are some limited categories.

The Main Family is the Teals which consist of Jeanor Alexander, the vampire master, Kayce Elizabeth, his wife and a full-blood werecat, and Alasia Rebekah, his daughter and a half-blood werecat. Maia, the only one Jeanor has ever sired, is considered the adopted sister of Alasia.

Werecats are the rarest specie, a few will be allowed, werewolves follow, and there can be as many vampires and humans as possible.

Name
Specie
Age
Eye Color
Physical Description
Brief History
Family
Relation to the Main Family
Special Abilities




*Note2*Name: Alasia Rebekah Teal “Lacey”*Note2*
Specie: Werecat
Age: 626
Eye Color: Emerald Green
Physical Description: Curly blond hair that reaches just below her shoulders, 5’7”, athletic, usually wears jeans, T-shirt and sneakers in cold weather, shorts, tank-tops and flip-flops in warmer. Though she will dress up.
Brief History: Ha, brief for her 6 centuries of living. Grew up immersed in werecat society. Has lived through many different styles of life and has been single throughout it all.
Family: Jeanor, Kayce, Maia and is currently dating Wayne Lawson.
Relation to the Main Family: Daughter
Special Abilities: Shifting to any feline, blue blood that can poison, cure and get vamps and werewolves drunk. Mental abilities include inducing sleep, floating objects, controlling people to a certain degree, talking and sending pictures from mind to mind.

*Note2*Name: Jeanor Alexander Teal*Note2*
Specie: Vampire
Age: 649
Eye Color: Light blue
Physical Description: Sandy, short blond hair, 6’1”, athletic, usually wears dress pants, a button-up shirt and dress shoes.
Brief History: Ha, brief for his 6 centuries of living. Grew up knowing how to be a human, was turned at age 23, and married Kayce at age 21.
Family: Kayce, Alasia, Maia.
Relation to the Main Family: Dad
Special Abilities: Quite an entrepreneur makes money in Vampire clubs and in the sale of bottled blood.


*Note2*Name: Kayce Elizabeth Teal*Note2*
Specie: Werecat
Age: 648
Eye Color: Emerald Green
Physical Description: Straight, dark brown hair that reaches just below her shoulders, 5’7”, athletic, usually wears dress pants, nice blouse and loafers.
Brief History: Ha, brief for her 6 centuries of living. Grew up unaware of her werecat side until Jeanor was turned when she was pregnant with Alasia.
Family: Jeanor, Alasia, Maia.
Relation to the Main Family: Mom
Special Abilities: Shifting to any feline, blue blood that can poison, cure and get vamps and werewolves drunk. Mental abilities include inducing sleep, floating objects, controlling people to a certain degree, talking and sending pictures from mind to mind.

*Note2*Name: Maia Grace Cillegna*Note2*
Specie: Vampire
Age: 605
Eye Color: Ice Blue
Physical Description: Straight black hair, 5’6”, slim, pale, usually wears short skirts, midriff-bearing tank-tops and high heels.
Brief History: Became a good friend of Alasia and was turned at age 21 with Alasia’s request. Works as a waitress at any of Jeanor’s bars that she wish, rather flirty.
Family: Jeanor. Kayce, Alasia.
Relation to the Main Family: ‘Adopted’ Daughter
Special Abilities: Uses her feminine wiles on a regular basis.

Name: Raymond Wayne Lawson “Wayne”
Specie: Vampire
Age: 26
Eye Color: Green
Physical Description: Usually wears jeans of varying (practical) colors and semi-tight shirts (he likes showing off his muscles and goes without a top if he can. He’s 6’5” with shoulder-length, light brown hair. Wayne is rather lean and tanned, but handsome.
Brief History: ((Left out for the sake of the story))
Family: Judy Lawson (mom) Eric Lawson (dad, in jail)
Relation to the Main Family: Boyfriend of Alasia
Special Abilities: Not sure, he’s a young vampire, so his special abilities haven’t surfaced yet.

July 23, 2006
Rayburn, Texas

         Times have gotten tough. Every time I turn around, someone in my dad’s clan, my extended family, winds up dead. The hunters, the humans who train to kill vampires, seem to know way too much. And here I was, 626 years old and hoping I could finally be happy with my boyfriend. Guess fate still loves to toy with us…

         Alasia sighed, relaxing back in her chair as she remembered the day that her father’s newest business venture, a vampire bar/club called Dawn’s Haven, had been attacked. They’d all been there...

         It started out like just any normal day. Wayne had just gone on break from his job as a bouncer and was sitting in a plush-covered booth. He absentmindedly glanced around the Haven, searching for the slim form of his girlfriend of two weeks, Alasia. There she was, standing by the bar, talking to her best friend. The vampiress waitress, also his sire, was wearing her short, black skirt and red-laced, corset top that Wayne dreamed of seeing his girl in, and sipping from a crimson-filled glass.

         A puzzled look crossed the blonde werecat’s face as she stepped away from the bar. Well, not so much puzzled as confused and worried.

         “Mom?” Kayce came out of the back room, just as Maia swayed drunkenly and grasped the bar. “What’s going on? I smell smoke.”

         “I don’t know, Kitten. Your father…”

         “Get out!” Came a panicked shout as the vampire leader burst out of the back room, where the shipments of blood were normally kept. Thick, gray smoke poured around him, practically obscuring his form. The two werecats jumped, wide-eyed in shock.

         “Daddy?”

         “Jean?”

         “We have to get out of here. Now.” The family ran from Dawn’s Haven as behind them, the unlucky patrons screamed and the building went up in flames.


Also here's our forum. Thanks ~KC~!
"Pyre-ing Through
          "Wayne? Are you okay?" I know you don't like being back here." Alasia gently asked as he buttoned up a white shirt over his chiseled chest.
          "I'm fine." He kissed her forehead softly. "I think it might be better now that you're here with me. You kept me sane, when I lost you, it all was over, but now... Now you're in my arms." He looped his arms around her waist. The young vampire smiled. "And now you're going to make me late for work." SHe laughed.
         "Alright. Get out of here. I've got some people I've gotta meet and I don't need you around to mess it up. Besides, you need to make money if you want to fix up that Charger I gave you."
         "Oh... right. Bye, Emerald Eyes." After giving her a farewell kiss, Wayne turned and started out the door. SHe watched after him with a smile, then went into the the closet to retrieve some weaponry, just in case, and headed out toward the park.
 

Name: Auryon Appleton
Specie: Human
Age: 25
Eye Color: Brown
Physical Description: Taller than average, with a dancer's physique and a gymnast's muscle tone, Aury keeps her curly hair cut short and out of the way, dressing in loose, dark clothes that allow a certain freedom of movement.
Brief History: Trained as a hunter until little over two years ago, Aury had her life saved by the very vampire she and her team hunted. Her team, her family, all perished in an accident that she still blames herself for. The vampire nursed Aury back to health and opened her eyes to the psychic conditioning imposed on her since early childhood. Vampires were not all evil. Aury decided to dedicate the rest of her life to protecting those who she'd once wished to destroy. She was hired on as a bouncer and security for the club, Dawn's Haven.
Family: None
Relation to the Main Family: Employee
Special Abilities: Aury likes to tinker and get dirty. She can drive or fly pretty much anything and can modify at a moment's notice. With her gear, smarts, and agility, Aury can break through any lock or safe or door ever devised.

*

         Aury settled in with the Tai Chi group in the park. The slow, gently-moving exercises were just the thing to get her mind off the horrors of the other night. Her life, her livelihood, had now seemingly taken another turn for the worse. She supposed that she could go back to her old job at Pandora's, a not so classy bar downtown, but she hadn't much liked working there. She'd wanted the money Mr. Teal had been going to pay her to finish the modifications on her street racer. She wanted to get out on the strip and have a good time ... and show the boys her exhaust.

         She sighed and tried once more to focus her mind, to throw off her melancholy. What she really needed, Aury decided, was something really physically demanding that would completely consume her attention and energy. Something that would, hopefully, also earn her some cash. While she hated to resort to petty larceny, there was that mysterious old warehouse down by the pier. That would sure be interesting. A place with that many guards was bound to make sneaking in worthwhile, even if she couldn't nab anything. Hmm, yes, that did sound like an idea, now to plan out the method of --

         Was that Alasia? What was she doing in the park, was she mad?

         Without changing her posture or so much as twitching, Aury used the forms of the Tai Chi to disguise her covert observations of the park. There didn't appear to be any hunters, but the attack on the club had certainly been premeditated. Alasia and her family should've high-tailed it out of town.

         I've got to talk to her.

         But Aury could do nothing so obvious at the moment. She continued with the class, keeping a wary eye on Alasia and the other continuously scanning the area. When the group disbanded in a few minutes, she could use them for cover to check on the girl.

          Alasia felt a pair of eyes watching her and peered around curiously. There was Tai Chi group moving by a pair of trees and a figure that she thought she recognized, but she wasn't sure. On the other side of the sidewalk was a small family, playing with a bright orange frisbee. It couldn't be them. Maybe it was someone in the woods.
          As the werecat continued to walk down the path, she also looked for the person she was supposed to meet. No sign of them so far. Sh sighed and glanced at her watch. She'd give them ten more minutes and then she had to head over to her father's other bar, one in Powell named Through the Fog.
         Alasia smiled as she reflected on the names that her father gave to his bars. Dawn's Haven, when vampires were supposedly allergic to sunlight Through the Fog, like through a drunken fog. There were others from the past, one's that didn't do as well. And each time, Maia had been the head waitress, with her skirt getting shorter with every venture.
         There was a small worn bench beneath a lush, green oak tree. The werecat sank down onto it. She closed her emerald green eyes, trusting her sensitive hearing to warn her of anyone's approach.
 

         What is she doing? thought Aury as she saw the werecat sit down on a park bench, seemingly oblivious. Doesn't she know that there are folks out there trying to kill her and her family? She was almost minded to just leave the girl to her fate, but then she reminded herself that the 'girl' in question was something like 200x older than she and probably knew exactly what she was doing. All the more reason to speak to her.

         So rather than being relaxing, as it usually was, Aury found her morning Tai Chi frustratingly confining. She wanted action! Not these slow, dance-like movements.

         As soon as class finished, Aury mingled with a gaggle of other girls headed towards the Starbucks for their morning caffeine. Aury stayed with them until she reached Alasia, then dropped out of the crowd and sat down on the bench.

         "Lovely day, isn't it?"

         The werecat turned, eyes startling open. "Aury? How do you always manage to sneak up on me?"

         Aury laughed. Her voice was light, as two people having a casual conversation, but her words were as serious as the look in her eyes. "Are you crazy, being out here like this, after what happened?"

         "I'm waiting for someone. Besides, I don't see any hunters."

         Aury frowned. "I don't, either, but that's hardly the point."

         "Don't tell me you dropped in on me just to give me a lecture."

         "No, but --"

         "Good, because I happen to know what I'm doing." She gave Aury a mischievious wink. "Feel free to hang out with me, though, it'll be more believeable to have to girls chatting than a single girl snoring. Besides, now I know I'll be safe here."

         Aury frowned.

         "Unless you have something better to do."

         Forcing a smile, Aury bit back both her curiosity and frustration and asked, "So what did you think of the movie last night?"
Name: Demelis Ward
Species: Vampire
Age: 135
Eye Color: Lilac
Physical Description: Natural haircolor unknown, as she uses her abilities to change it at a whim. It is currently an indigo color. About 5'4, she is thin and almost fragile looking. Her muscles are barely noticeable until she actually uses them. Pale skin and natural red lips. Likes to wear tight jeans with heels and snug shirts when going out, sometimes corsets; otherwise, she just throws on comfy clothes. Possesses an air of natural grace, but can also be a bit naive.
Brief History: Demelis' parents disappeared when she was three; so she went to her aunt and uncle. She was turned at seventeen, when she was at a party her friend had dragged her to, which got raided by vampires. She considers herself lucky, as her friend was not turned, but rather slaughtered. She does not know exactly who turned her, and hopes to meet him/her one day, for reasons unknown even to her. She wandered around for a long time before discovering Maia, as well as the Teals. She recently started her job as a shotgirl at Through the Fog.
Family: None living that she knows of
Relation to the Main Family: Employee
Special Abilities: Reality Warping: the ability to reshape matter and energy, turn a person's thoughts or desires into reality, bend time and space and even rewrite the laws of physics. She is rather inexperienced; sometimes she is unable to summon the proper energy to perform well, or even at all. She knows enough to protect herself (and thus tweak her appearance), and experiments on her own when she can.


Demelis sighed and glanced at the clock. She'd been called in to work early for security purposes. All the other employees were here as well, and after their quick briefing on how to spot potential dangers at the bar/club, they had been set to work polishing the place.

Wiping the counter for what seemed like the millionth time in a half hour, she let her lilac eyes wander. She still didn't know a lot of workers here, although there were certainly some interesting characters she'd like to meet.

Demelis bit her lip uncertainly. She'd never used to be so shy, but since times had changed so much since she was a socially active teen, Demelis was hesitant about approaching strangers. The only person she knew right now was Maia. She'd met the Teal family through Maia, and then been generously offered a job. Maia had worked here for a time, but then the Teals' opened a new place, Dawn's Haven, and off Maia went.

So it had been a few weeks or more, and Demelis was still virtually unknown. She worked the night shift tirelessly, yet without speaking a word unless necessary. She felt almost out of her element here, but refused to acknowledge that it was her own fault.

What she really needed, Demelis thought wryly, was someone to hold her hen she got home at seven in the morning. Her last boyfriend had absolutely freaked when he found out she was a vampire. While she still, of course, looked seventeen (maybe eighteen), then teen boys would be attracted to her. Most, however, were immature, and lately she'd been struggling to find someone understanding enough to accept her.

After all, she didn't really like to immerse herself in the vampire culture. Due to her potential, she was afraid that she'd been taken advantage of and used as some sort of weapon.

Another sigh escaped her reddened lips as she continued her musings. Her power rendered her volatile and unpredictable. Sometimes it was hard to tell what reality was, as she unknowingly changed it at random times. She usually caught herself, but she was scared of it. The last thing she wanted was to attract the wrong kind attention, or hurt someone.

Demelis wasn't even sure who to go to for help. Maia was usually busy, and there wasn't a lot of people who could help her fine-tune her power.

She fingered a long strand of indigo colored hair with something close to resentment. All she could do consciously was change her appearance, and what good did that do when it only attracted lust-driven boys?

Maybe I should make myself look like an old lady, she pondered. It shouldn't be too hard, right? Just add some wrinkles around the eyes and laugh lines, perhaps a few gray streaks...

No, she decided. Too dangerous, especially when she was here with other vampires and such who could report her for misuse of abilities.

Her mouth tightened, and she wished fervently that someone who could help her would come along. Fast.
A Non-Existent User
Name: Charisma Aolea
Specie: Human
Age: 21
Eye Color: Gray
Physical Description: Charisma has wide, expressive eyes that remind you of looking at an overcast sky, perfectly shadowed in all the right places. Her hair is a brilliant orange, usually kept in loose waves that hang over her slim shoulders to her waist. She is tall, about 5'7'' with a slim body that might appear frail but is not. She has prominent cheekbones and bright smile that is almost always plastered on her face, though it's not always in the sweetest way.
Brief History: Charisma grew up with one of the best hunters in the business, and was trained to be one. She has been hunting vampires all her life and hopes to be doing so the rest of her days. She leads an elite group of hunters as their "captain".
Family: She has a sister named Jadea that has unknown whereabouts.
Relation to the Main Family: She's an unknown enemy.
Special Abilities: Charisma is quick and agile, thanks to her years of training. She is a pro at using any kind of blade, but is comfortable using any weapon. She is stealthy and fluid in her movements, and carries a certain elegance when in battle.
         Alasia and Auryon continued to chat about unconsequential things until the werecat paused, tilting her head to the side as if listening to something that the human couldn't hear. Her gaze grew distant for a few minues before she returned focus to Auryon's face.
         "Sorry, I kinda faded out on you there. My friend's here and she didn't want to talk to me face-to-face, but I got the information I needed." She stood. "Maybe you and I can talk some other time. Oh, and would you like another job? I know your previous one got kinda burned up when we lost Dawn's Haven last week."
-------------------------------------
         A tall, muscular vampire who looked about 26 or so slid into a seat at the bar in Through the Fog. He smiled at Demelis. It was the new bouncer, a man who'd come here at the same time that Maia had returned, but Demelis had yet to meet.
         "Hey, how about some o pos?" He asked in a deep voice, shoulder-length light brown hair pulled off his face into a ponytail.
 


         "Another job?" asked Aury. "Yeah! I sure would."

         Alasia handed her a card. "Check it out. Gots to go, see ya!"

         "Hey! Be careful, ya know?"

         The werecat nodded and continued on her way. Aury stared down at the card. Through the Fog, it said, dregs welcome. Well, it sounded interesting, and Alasia's father was listed as the owner. Yeah, she sure would go and apply. First, though, a decent work-out and shower, and then she wanted to check out the garage where she'd stored her baby.

         By noon Aury was lifting the doors into her private garage and workroom. The ferrari gleamed in the light of the overhead lights. The hood still hung on pegs on the wall, the engine mounted on the worktable, her beauty was still a work in progress. She cranked up the jacks and slid into a pair of overalls to slide under the car and check the undercarriage. She made notes on her clipboard, checking off the parts she would need to get in order to make her dream, the CAD drawing posted on one wall, into a reality.

         Satisfied that everything was in order, Aury folded her parts list into a pocket and closed everything down. She'd go talk to the folks at the bar and then hang out in some of her favorite black-market auto cut shops. Maybe she could pick up some things on the cheap. Or pick up a job, if the Fog wouldn't have her. Plans taking shape in her head, Aury caught a bus across town.
Demelis drew in a breath as a guy slid into a seat directly in front of her.

"Hey, how about some O pos?" he asked, his deep voice immediately drawing her lilac eyes to his lips.

"Sure thing," she said smoothly. "Got a fine taste, huh? Few care to taste O at all; it's too..." she waved her hands in search of a word, minding the glasses.

"Rich?" he supplied, and she nodded in appreciation.

"Exactly."

She went about fixing it, extremely conscious of his eyes following her. Finishing within a couple of minutes, she slid the glass over to him, noting the easy grace with which he leaned forward to grasp it.

After a few moments of silence with the man sipping at his drink, Demelis summoned the courage to talk again.

"What's your name?"

Slightly slanted slate gray eyes locked onto hers, and she maintained eye contact until he spoke.

"Name's Celadon. Been around for a few centuries. You?"

"I'm Demelis. I've been around for…a little over a century."

Celadon raised a brow.

"A young one, huh? When were you turned? I'd guess...probably at twenty, right?"

She blushed, and without realizing it, began changing her lilac eyes to a soft brown.

"No...Seventeen."

"Really? I wonder..." he trailed off, and peered suspiciously into Demelis' eyes. "Weren't your eyes lilac a few minutes ago?"

Her eyes widened, and she grabbed a spoon from beneath the counter, looking in it frantically.

"What?!?" she screeched, finding that indeed, her eyes had changed color. "How could this happen again? I didn't even mean to!"

"Mean to what?" Celadon asked, his voice sounding slightly amused. Demelis turned away.

"Nothing," she muttered bitterly. "You're probably not even real anyway."


(Sorry, it's not my usual style of writing. And I've just proved the whole "vampires-don't-have-a-reflection" thing wrong. BWAHA!)
A Non-Existent User
Charisma slipped on thick shades, the light of the sun bouncing off their protective rims and giving everything a slight tint. The park was almost empty, only a tai chi class and a few afternoon stragglers. The serenity of the sene was too much for her to take, and she was about to high-tail it back to her apartment, when she saw her. Alasia.

Charisma had been assigned to the Teal family about 3 years back, and has been making silent blows the entire time. One day she was going to personally wipe out the main roots, the parents, then the daughters, and then everyone else. She hoped they didn't know it was her, and she was pretty sure they didn't.

Suddenly, Alasia's head turned and fixed on somthing that was a bit too close for comfort. Charisma turned sharply and walked swiftly down the sidewalk, glancing quickly behind her before breaking left and continuing to her apartment, heading there to call her headquarters and tell them where their next big hit would be.

         Later that day, Alasia was in the backyard of her manor house. She placed her hands into the cool, soft soil and kicked her thin form into a handstand. Since her land was surrounded by a 10-foot tall fence that was topped by three strands of electric barbed wire, she was also in her half-shifted form. Her sandy blonde tail curl out, helping to adjust her balance as she walked her hands a few feet, then smoothly went into a backbend. Her every breath was perfectly controlled as she proceeded to flex her body throughout a series of exercises.
         While she was once again walking on her hands, her cat ears swivelled toward the small forest in her backyard.
         "You know, Sammy, it's polite to knock on someone's front door rather than observe from the shadows like a stalker."
         "How'd you know it was me? I just got here." Alasia stood as a slim figure stepped out of the trees.
         "I'm a cat. I heard you coming and the smell of gas and smoke also make your scent pretty distinctive. So, how'd your Anonymous Pyros meeting go?"
         "I didn't learn anythign goo. But then, not everyone was there. Sorry I couldn't tell you a thing earlier. It's not my fault that they moved the meeting back."
         "I know. Are there any other whispers going around?" Sammy nodded.
         "Yeah, the hunters coming through my Wilco have been chatting about a new group of hunters. They haven't said much, mostly complaining about how one of the young ladies among them insists on bringing her 9-year-old son along."
         "That's not good. The kid could get hurt or killed. What's she trying to prove?"
         "I don't know, but I've got to go."
         "Alright. Talk to you later." Alasia turned to head into the house to showere as Sammy left.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
         Wayne galnced up the street, hi tanned face breaking into a smile as he caught sight of his buddy for the Haven walking toward Through the Fog.
         "Aury! Nice to see you here. How's the Ferrari coming?"
         "Okay, I've still got a few things I need."
         "Ah, I'm thinking about tuning up the car that Lacey gave me if you'd like to make a suggestion or two. But, anyhow, what brings you here to where the lowlifes hang?"
         "A job, in fact. Ever since..." Wayne held up a hand.
         "Jean kinda dropped a hint that you might be coming by. Come on inside, I'll show you to his office before I go on break." She followed him into a building that didn't look that much different than the Haven had, just a different color scheme. Maia was, as usual, flirting with some of the patrons while she waited tables, but the black-haired vampiress did send the human a friendly wave.
         "He's through those doors on the left." Auryon followed where the young vampire had pointed and came to a heavy wooden door that looked relatively new compared to the rest of the building, probably because Jeanor had sent an impolite Blodwyn through the the first one. Her knock was quickly answered with...
         "Come in." She entered to find the ancient, sandy-haired leader seated behind a large, mahogany desk that had several dents and dings on top. He glanced up from the papers in his hands and his smile revealed his lethally sharp fangs. "Good, a distraction. What brings you here, Ms. Appleton?"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
         In the front, Wayne quickly scanned the tables, looking for an empty chair. He frowned deeply when he caught sight of the bartender (a young lady he had yet to meet) talking to some guy. That in itself wouldn't be too bad if the stranger didn't look like his mirror image, right down to the same tattoo of an 'A' on his muscular shoulder.
         Wayne crossed the room and laid a hand on the man's forearm as he put down his glass.
         "Excuse me, but that face is mine." He growled as his green eyes sparked angrily.
         Maia's head snapped up as she heard him speak. She set down her order pad and walked closer, her blood-red lips pressed together in a thin line.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
         "Charisma, thank you for your input. I'm glad to hear that they haven't left town. But do I need to remind you that due to the fact that werecats are so rare, we don't want to kill Alasia or her mother?" The hunter was on the phone with 'Boss" one of the leaders at HQ. "Injuries are fine. However, we don't want blue blood on our hands. And one more thing. We sent a newbie down there to learn a thing or two and I'd like you to mentor her. Her name is Stephanie and she's got a kid." He paused. "Well, that's all then. If you've got anything else you want to tell us, I'll be in town. Just go to the Museum of Natural History and ask for Sir Ellis. Good-bye."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
         "Sean, make sure and stay close to me. We don't want you getting lost or hurt."
         "Okay, Mommy." The 9-year-old slid his hands into his mothers.
((There, that's a much better length.))
 

         Even after so long on the 'other side,' Aury, coming into a room with a powerful vampire, still felt an almost over-powering impulse to grab a stake and attack. Knowing her background as he did, the leader of the Teal clan smirked, blue eyes glinting with amusement. Aury took a few deep breaths to relax and perched awkwardly in the offered chair.

         "I came to inquire about a job," Aury got out around her clenched jaw.

         "That conditioning's a bitch, isn't it?" remarked the vampire casually. "Need a drink?"

         "No, thanks. I'm sorry, Mr. Teal, I just can't help it! And after you've been so nice to me, too."

         "Don't fret, Aury, if you were going to kill me, you would've made an attempt long before now." He leaned back in his chair, folding his hands together.

         The corner of Aury's lip twitched, and she laughed. "An 'attempt,' sir?"

         He grinned back. "That's better. So, a job, eh? I thought you might, after our little fiasco the other night. I'm glad you came in, because I do want to hire you, but it's your other skills that I have in mind at the moment, though I could use a part-time bouncer, unless you feel like serving drinks, can always use another waitress? No, very well."

         "What are you wanting me to do?"

         "These ... attacks," he replied slowly, "are starting to feel rather ... personal. I've got some suspicions, but no proof. I've also got my family to consider, and I don't want to lose another of my clubs."

         "Well, Mr. Teal, you know I'm good at spotting followers, but as far as the actual following goes ...."

         "No, no, I wouldn't waste you on something so dreary. What I would like, if you're interested, that is, is to go over the layout and plans for the Fog, with my manager, and see what can be done about, er, beefing the place up. How can we spot Hunters before they do anything drastic?"

         "Oh." Aury thought for a minute, tapping her finger on the armrest. "Budget?"

         "You'll have to talk to Mike about that. I am willing to pay whatever it takes, within reason, of course."

         "Of course. And my salary?"

         "I'll double that, from before." He shuffled around on his desk for a minute. "I'd like for you -- ah, here they are!" He handed her a couple flyers. "I'd like you to earn your private security permit, the full bit, mace, gun, whatever, the max that they'll let you do. Someone's targeting me, and --"

         "What better way to find a Hunter than to use another Hunter."

         "Exactly. And with those permits, you'd be 'legal' in the eyes of the city. What do you say?"

         "Uh, Mr. Teal, are you sure you want me as your bodyguard?"

         He laughed. "Hell, no! I've got -- no offense -- better folks for that, but I want something a less obvious, to watch the crowds, to spot the hunters and tell my people who they are."

         "Oh. Oh, I see. But --"

         "I know you're an accomplished assassin, Aury, I have no doubts as to your abilities, but I'm not willing to rely on just your services, considering your, ah, inhibitions."

         She nodded.

         "And you'll be all the more believeable in the role. So. What do you say?"

         "You've certainly gone to a lot of trouble, I -- it's a very tempting offer, sir."

         "Well, what's the hang-up, then?"

         "You can't have just a part-time bodyguard!" she blurted. "You're right, there's somebody gunning for you! You need somebody at your side at all times, and I -- that's just too much of a committment for me."

         "It wouldn't be all the time, just whenever I'm away from --"

         "But that's just it, sir! You think the hit will come when you're out somewhere in public, but the last one blew up your club! They'll come straight for you. Honestly!" she threw her hands up in the air. "How have you lived for so long?"

         "See? That's why I need you, Aury, you know how they think, what they'd go for. Say you'll take the job."

         "On one condition."

         "What?"

         "Okay, two conditions."

         He laughed. "Let's hear it."

         "You pay the storage fees and rent for my garage."

         "You still working on that car of yours? Fine, fine, it's a done deal."

         "And I want to see the personnel files on everyone who works for you, including the ones you don't want anyone else to know about. If I find somebody questionable, they're out, no questions asked, no going behind my back to re-hire them. If you want security, I'll build you one."

         "Will you train them?"

         "No," she shook her head. "I can't. But I will put all my skills at your disposal."

         He extended his hand across the desk. "It's a deal."

         Aury stared at that hand for a minute, then nodded, and shook hands. "Very well, Mr. Teal, when do I start?"
Demelis stared at the irate man in disbelief. They did look alike, but obviously Celadon was at a loss for what to do. She caught the sound of heels tapping briskly, and she looked to see Maia striding towards them.

"Actually, I believe this face is mine. After all, if you punched it, you certainly wouldn't be hurting yourself," Celadon remarked, catching sight of Maia.

"Wayne!" the slim girl disapprovingly, shooting her eyes to where his hand still lay menacingly on Celadon. He grumbled incoherently, but let go. Maia nodded in satisfaction, and then got a better look at Celadon.

"Don't I know you from somewhere?" she asked bluntly. The slate gray eyes narrowed for an instant in thought, and then widened in recognition.

"Maia! It's Celadon, don't you recognize me?" he teased, and the pale girl rolled her eyes.

"As if. I could only tell by your voice and scent, neither of which I've heard or smelled in a long time. How've you been?"

"Wait," Wayne interrupted. "You know this guy?"

"Yes," Maia said, a bit testily, "he's very nice. Anyway, Celadon, what are you doing back here?"

Celadon paused, and Demelis took the opportunity to gaze at him.

"Just felt like coming back," he finally said, which seemed to satisfy Maia...for the moment. Now, her eyes had lighted on Demelis.

"Demelis! Darling, I haven't seen you in forever!" Maia leaned over the counter to give her a quick hug, and Demelis returned it, fully conscious of both men's eyes on them.

"Yeah, it's been awhile," she admitted. Maia studied her closely.

"You've still got the indigo hair, I see. Didn't feel like changing it?"

"Oh," Demelis said, feeling awkward. Usually she wasn't so public about her abilities. "Well, I've changed it a few times, but I liked this color best, so I went back to it."

Maia laughed.

"You're still the same old you. Have you improved any?"

Demelis' cheeks burned as she slowly shook her head. The black-haired girl gazed at her for a few moments.

"Hm. I suppose your situation is difficult, huh?" she said. Demelis nodded again, biting her lip.

"I'm struggling to find someone to help me," she explained. "I need to be able to trust the person, and I also want someone I can connect with."

Maia nodded slowly, blue eyes thoughtful. She'd heard the hidden longing behind Demelis' words, and was pensive. Wayne spoke up.

"So...Celadon, is it? Uh...hey, sorry for coming off as a total jerk. I just...yeah. I thought you were someone else."

Celadon gave a little smile, and Demelis couldn't help but notice how full his lips were.

"It's not a big deal," he answered, shrugging elegantly. "I find that when I change my appearance, sometimes I am mistaken for others."

Demelis' brain skidded to a halt.

"Wait, what?" she blurted. Celadon's eyes met hers, and he smiled again.

"I can change my appearance at will. It comes in handy, but as just recently demonstrated, in has its downsides."

"Tell me about it!" she burst out again, and snapped her mouth shut in embarrassment. Celadon eyed her for a moment, then glanced at Maia, who nodded almost imperceptibly.

"She wasn't talking about dying your hair, was she?" he asked, and Demelis shook her head. He was silent for a moment. After a final glance at Maia, he spoke again.

"Well, it sounds like you need some help. I suppose, if you don't mind that is, that I could help you. How about it?"

Demelis gave a huge smile, her now brown eyes fixed on Celadon.

"I'd like that."

A Non-Existent User
Name: Cane "K-9" Robertson
Species: Werewolf
Age: 30
Eye Color: Black
Physical Description:
Human Form: 6'-8" tall. 300lbs. Black skinned. Short hair with goatee, both dyed white. Neck bares scars from his werewolf attack. Wheres a silver chain with a wolf's head medallion on it. Extremely muscular. Wears a white wife-beater with ragged black jean shorts and sandals.
Werewolf Form: 7'-6" tall. 350 lbs. Long, coarse, white hair. Takes off his wife-beater and silver chain before he changes,but his black jean shorts remain on his body.
Brief History: Bitten when he was twenty four years old. He was at a party, completely wasted. He wandered away from the party and was followed by a werewolf. The werewolf bit him and left him for dead. Cane woke up in the hospital, unsure of how he got there, and unaware that it had been a werewolf that had bitten his neck in several places. Two weeks later he was on a houseboat party with all his family celebrating his twenty fifth birthday. It was a full moon. He killed his entire family, and woke up the next day to see the bloodbath, his torn clothes and his new bloody fangs. The houseboat had floated to shore. He fled his hometown in Ontario, hopped the border into the US and has been running ever since. He works on farms or in mills for under the table cash, and avoids a social life by never living in a town for more than a few months. His travels south have brought him to Houston, Texas.
Family: All dead.
Relation to the Main Family: None
Special Abilities: Ghost Leap: Much like Nightcrawler's teleport in "X-Men" When in werewolf form, may leap out of our dimension, returning to our dimension where he lands. He may do this only when his feet leave the ground, and only a limited number of times a day. If he exhausts himself by using the Ghost Leap too many times, he will change back into human form, with the exception of a full moon. On a full moon, Cane can Ghost Leap an unlimited number of times without getting tired. (Is a good jumper, can jump up to twelve feet on flat ground, and up to ten feet in the air.)

         The L.A. summer heat brought beads of sweat to Cane's brow as he stepped off of the bus, a backpack on his back and a wad of cash in his pocket. Cane didn't use banks. Cane didn't have identification, or a social insurance number. As far as the world was concerned, Cane Robertson had gone missing and likely died years ago.

         Cane was a huge man, and keeping to himself was never a problem. Most people walked a few feet around him when they passed Cane on the streets. L.A. was differant. People of all size and colour bumped into Cane as he walked the dirty streets.

         "Watch yourself niger," a young black man had yelled as Cane, the much larger and intimidating of the two black men, had accidentally bumped the other's arm.

         Cane stuffed his hand into his pocket where a wad of fifty dollar bills buldged through the jean material. No one had ever tried to steal from Cane, but as several people eyed the silver chain around his neck, Cane realised that the city of angels was a far cry from Toronto, Canada.

         Cane noticed the buildings becoming shabbier as he walked further from the bus station, and the streets becoming emptier. It was the middle of the day and already Cane had been propositioned by several latina hookers. Spanish billboards and store signs were unreadable to Cane as he walked deeper and deeper into the heart of the latin territory of L.A, where he was far from safe.

         Though Cane was unfamiliar with the gangs of L.A, blacks did not venture this deep into the neighborhoods of the Latin Kings: The biggest latino organised crime ring in the United States. Cane wasn't looking for trouble. He was looking for a job, and the empty streets and menacing glares told him that he would not find what he was looking for there. Cane turned around to go back the way he had came only to face a group of four hispanic thugs that smirked at him with evil expressions of hatred.

         "Que hace aqui, negro?" The closest ruffian asked something that Cane did not understand.

         "I'm sorry, I don't speak spanish," Cane said, trying to keep his composure in a situation that was quickly becoming periless.

         The group of young men laughed as their apparent leader spoke again. "Let me make this clear for you then." His tone suggested that the man was quickly losing patience. "What are you doing here, niger."

         The gang members all laughed as Cane tried to hide his anger at their blatent disrespect for his colour. "I'm sorry, it was wrong to come here. I'm leaving." Cane turned to leave but three thugs wielding shanks had come up behind him.

         "Your right about one thing," came the voice of the leader at Cane's back as he turned to face all seven of the armed gang members, forcing him into the alleyway behind him, "you were definetly wrong to come here." Cane backed into the alleyway, quickly glancing behind him to see a dead-end. All the thugs but the leader were now wielding bats, knives, or pipes, and advancing on Cane who had reached the end of the alley, his back pressing up against the rough brick wall. Cane's anger was rising up within him at the ruffian's threatening actions. The thugs laughed as Cane took off his wife-beater and chain in one motion.

         "You think we are stupid enough to tangle with a bear like you," the leader asked laughing as he pulled out a glock from the back of his pants.

         "I'm not a bear at all," Cane growled as he began to change, knowing in that instant before he lost control that he could not let any of them escape.

         The gang members yelled out obsenities and cries of terror as Cane changed before their eyes into the vicious white werewolf that he was inside. The leader pulled the trigger a second too late, just as Cane jumped forward at him. For the second that he was off the ground, Cane vanished into thin air before the disbelieving eyes of the hispanic thugs, and reappeared standing in front of the leader, claws raised. Blood sprayed on the closest thugs as they turned to flee, but Cane leapt forward through the frightened men, reappearing in front of them, blocking the entrance to the alley.

         The criminal's eyes widened in sheer terror as they dropped their various weapons, now useless before the monster that they had prevoked. Cane jumped from man to man, ripping, tearing, and biting as he went, killing all of the leaderless thugs but one who managed to slip past Cane in his blood frenzy. Cane turned and jumped at the man whose hands were barely visable from the streets, as the werewolf grabbed him and threw him back to the end of the alley, his skull shattering on impact. A tiny pain pricked Cane in the neck, who instictively ripped out the dart and looked at it with a growl, just seconds before slipping into darkenss.

         Cane awoke in a daze. He was back in human form, and lying in a bed. His shirt, sandals, and chain were placed neatly on a table at the bed's edge. Cane wasted no time in putting on his removed items and walking out of the dimly lit room into a larger room where several people stood in wait, apparently for him. A beautiful young woman stepped forward, her hand extended which Cane shook with a confused look on his face.

         "My name is Charisma Aolea," the woman said with a surprisingly strong voice. "Welcome to the hunters."
((This is my choice, you don’t have to follow, but in order to go with my personal morals, all cuss words that I use will be the first letter, then a slash. You can use context clues and your own mind to decode their meaning.))
          “Well, I guess I’ll be back to my job.” Wayne said, Maia nodded and he shuffled toward the door. His mind was spinning with the memories that seeing Celadon had brought back, ones that he’s thought he’d forgotten. He was so caught up in his mental confusion, that he jerked in surprise as someone kissed him. “What the h-?”
          “Hey, baby.”
          “Lacey,” relief flooded his face as he rested his hands on her arms. “I’m so glad you’re here.”
          “You’re being haunted, aren’t you?” The werecat looked up at him with concern. The young vampire nodded.
          “I...”
          “Tell, you what, I saw a hunter passing by here a short bit ago, alone. Stalk him for me.” He kissed her forehead gently.
          “Thank you.” Then he left. Alasia turned, a mischievous smile crossing her face as she noticed the trio by the bar.
          “You know,” Maia was saying. “I think Lacey would like to tag along sometime on your consultations. She likes learning about...”
          “That cat likes learning. Period.” Celadon replied with a chuckle.
          “That I do.” Everyone jumped as another voice intruded on the conversation. The vampire automatically swung out a fist, only to have it caught by a slim, but strong hand. “Honestly, Cel, you should really get control of yourself, you make other identify you by your voice any yet you don’t use the same method with others. Talk about hypocritical.”
          “Ouch, Lacey. Must you berate me so? I was just getting to know this young lady here.”
          “I don’t care if she’s you’re pupil, but you’re too old for her.”
          “Not in looks, cat.”
          “That’s only because you look like my boyfriend’s twin at the moment.”
          “Wait, that’s the newbie who’s dad killed his twin? No wonder he wanted to punch me silly.” Celadon immediately started to change. His hair grew shorter, gaining streaks of gray, as a few wrinkles appeared on his face, however, his eyes stayed brown.
          “Much better. Now you look like you.”
          “Yeah, I’m old.” He made a face.
          “Celadon, aren’t you going to invite Lacey to join you?”
          “Well, Demelis, would you mind?” He turned to look at the young vampiress who appeared quite out of place as she tried to keep up with the conversation.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
          “Ms. Appleton, must I insist that you call me Jean to begin with? I don’t look that old, do I?” The vampire turned away for a brief moment to peer critically in a mirror, but there was a twinkle in his light blue eyes. “And when to start? As soon as possible would be nice.” He opened a drawer on the big desk and pulled out a large folder stuffed with papers. “Here’s the information on everyone who has ever worked at this bar with the exception of one person, but he isn’t that relevant to your search.”
          “Jean, everyone is relevant. I need to see information on him too if I’m to do a thorough search of the employees.” A note of annoyance crept into her voice as she took the papers. “If you...” He held up a hand and chuckled.
          “Before you get too lost on a tangent, my dear, let me add that the person is me. If I can’t trust me, then we’re all in a world of trouble.”
          “Oh.”
          “Yes, oh. Anyhow, I also wanted to make a request that you don’t let my daughter get into trouble. Knowing her, she’ll volunteer to do too demanding of an assignment and may get hurt. But don’t let her know, she hates when I ‘baby’ her. You also might want to speak with her to get the info on her own little army, some of them could be transferred here for protection purposes. And speak with her about her instructor, he always favored her when she was in training and he might like to come to the US to assist us. He’s called Master Akiro. I believe that’s it, you’re excused and are welcome to return with any questions you might have.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
          Charisma had barely settled down onto her couch to relax, when a knock sounded on her apartment door. Huh, that was quick. She thought, rising to answer it. The hunter opened the door to find a young lady who looked slightly older than herself, with a boy holding her hand.
          “You must be my new protege.”
          “I am, I see that Boss has already told you. I’m Stephanie and this is my son, Sean.”
          “Come on in, my name’s Charisma, by the way.”
          “What a pretty name. May I ask you a question?” The pair entered and sank down onto the couch at the hunter’s signal as she sat in the armchair.
          “I suppose.”
          “What made you want to become a hunter?”
 

         Aury held the folders to her chest and leaned against the closed door behind her. I have just agreed to protect a vampire from hunters ... this seems so wrong ... Can I do this? She shook her head slightly. Yes, yes, of course I can, it's no big deal -- no big deal? She fought back an hysterical giggle. Of course it's a big deal! I'm helping vampires! What am I, crazy? Stop it, Aury! This is good, good for you, good for the city. The Teals do a lot of good work here. Breathe -- Breathe, dammit!

         "Aury? You okay?"

         Jumping, Aury looked up, smiling a little at Alasia. "Yeah." She pushed away from the door. "Your dad just hired me to organize him a little army. I guess you could say I'm a little freaked out."

         "Need a drink, honey?" asked Maia.

         "Do I ever! Got anything hot to eat? I'm gonna sit down and get some reading done before the evening crowd comes in."

         "I'll take a look," said Maia, sliding her a beer.

         "You remembered!" grinned Aury, looking at the familiar tag. She pointed to a booth in the corner. "I'll be right over there."

         Not really all that surprised, Aury saw that Alasia slid in across from her. "What are you doing for my dad?"

         "No need to get your tail in a knot," Aury replied, taking a long swig. "Geez, I dunno, Alasia, I told your dad I can do this -- I can do this, of course I can -- Just guess I need some time to get used to the idea."

         "You said something about an army?"

         Aury pushed at the beads of moisture on her bottle, frowning slightly. "Yeah. Your dad wants to keep the same thing as happened at Haven from happening here. I'm going to go through his security procedures and see if I can keep him from getting himself killed in or out of home or club or whatever. Even if all the hunters in the country flock here to try and get him. Hm, thing is, it'd be a lot easier if I knew what they wanted him for, other than just in principle. They sure seem to be putting forth the effort, you know?"

         "Talking with my dad still bothers you, huh?" asked Alasia with a small smile.

         Aury grinned back. "Yeah. I'm babbling, aren't I?"

         "Yep."

         "Well, anyways, you know some good folks you trust that you'd recommend to me for private security 'round here? You dad hinted as that you might. Something about an Oriental guy?"

         "Oh, Master Akiro, that's an idea."

         "Yeah, him, and while I'm looking over security details for your dad, does anybody else in the family keep goons or otherwise hire folks that're going to be around a lot? I'll need to check 'em out, make sure we don't got any wolves in sheep's clothing, so to speak."

         Aury took another swig, noticing how one of Alasia's eyebrows arched just the tiniest bit and the smile that lurked in the corners of her mouth.

         "Oooh, nachos!" cried Aury as Maia slid a plate on the table. "Thanks, Maia!" She grabbed a couple and crunched loudly. "Oh, yeah," she said, scooping up some cheese. "Meant to ask. Who's the manager of this place? And when or where can I find him?"
Demelis jumped as Alasia appeared. Trying to follow the conversation, her thoughts skidded to a halt as Celadon began to transform.

She watched in rapt fascination at the quick but smooth transition, wishing she could be that skilled. He did look older, Demelis decided, but he still retained an air of...well, something that she was drawn to. She pushed it out of her mind as Celadon addressed her.

"Well, Demelis, would you mind?" he asked, brown eyes searching. She groped for an answer, still lost in her confusion.

"Sure," she managed, after a few seconds of silence. Celadon nodded approvingly. He began to get up from the stool when Demelis had a sudden thought.

"Wait, what are we going to do?"

((Sorry, not much time on my hands.))

A Non-Existent User
Charisma was a bit taken back by the question, along with the stern and solemn look in Stephanie's moody green eyes.

She cleared her throat, pushing her ponytail over her shoudler and leaning forward, steepling her fingers on her knee.

"Well...it's...personal."

Stephanie nodded, patting Sean's hand and listening on.

"When I was a kid, my parents were killed by a werecat, at least that's what I thought. I swore revenge and when I was taught that revenge wasn't possible for a girl like me, a looked to the hunters, who took me in with open arms. They taught me to be one of them, atught me the rules and promised I'd get my revenge soon enough."

Charisma exhaled, waiting for a reply from the mother.

"Isn't revenge un-healthy?"

Not, "I'm sorry", or, "What a dreadful story." Just a judgement.

"It depends on what side of the vengence you're on. If your the one who swore it, I think it's fine. And if your the one who got sworn against, I'd be saying it was un-healthy."

Stephaine didn't get her tinge of humor, for her face was in a twist of confusion.

"Kidding." Charisma said, leaning back in her armchair.

"What about you? And why risk your child's life?" She herself heard the bite of cattiness in her voice, but she decided to gage her reaction.

The woman rose an eyebrow.

"I couldn't get him to stay with his grandma. His father was killed by a werecat as well. I was always told revenge was un-healthy, but I guess not."

"Right."

Charisma pulled out her notepad, flicking through pages of assignments. Her eyes stopped at the last page, peeking at the two guests that sat on her couch and throwing the pad onto the side table.

She pulled her hair out of it's ponytail and opened a cabinent, pulling out a taser gun and a couple of wooden stakes, tossing one into the lap of Stephanie.

"What about Sean?"

"A few people owe me a favor."

She picked up her cell phone and dialed the number, talking in a hushed tone.

"We're all set. Ready for your first assignment?"

A Non-Existent User
         Cane sat down on a bench on the back porch of the house that he had been staying at the past two days. He pulled the pack of matches from his pocket and struck one up, bringing it to the tip of the cuban cigar in his mouth. Cane puffed hard on the stogie twice, expelling smoke from the side of his mouth. Cane didn't need to look at the cigar to know that it was burning perfectly, as it would throughout the next half hour that he smoked it.

         The creaking sound of the screen door opening at his side caused Cane to glance out of the corner of his eye, his head unmoving as he lazily puffed thick clouds of smoke. A young man, not older than twenty, emerged from within the house. Cane had seen him around a few times since he was brought to the safehouse by the hunters.

         "Hey," the young man said, more vibrantly than his shaggy red hair, as he pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his flanel shirt pocket. "Names Riff," he said, extending a freckled hand to Cane. Cane shook the boy's hand.

         "Cane," the large black man replied indifferantly.

         "Ya. S'what I been hearing around past coupl'a days," the boy drawled in his thick southern accent while lighting up a cigarette. He took a couple quick puffs before fixing the baseball cap upon his head and resting against the patio railing.

         Kid has hick written all over him, Cane thought to himself while studying the youngster with casual glances.

         "Hey man, can I ask ya somethin'," the boy said, continuing without Cane's approval, "What was yur first time like?" The boy unnecessarily explained his question. "Ya know, changin' into a werewolf."

         "I killed my whole family and woke up in a pool of their blood," Cane said, staring at Riff with hard eyes. The young man's eyes widened, and he quickly looked away taking another drag of his smoke. He looked back at Cane a moment later.

         "Hey man, I'm sorry man, I jus' didn't know, ya know?"

         "K-9," Cane said stiffly.

         "Huh," Riff replied, dumbfounded.

         "Call me K-9," Cane replied a little more warmly, as he withdrew the wolf chain from under his shirt to show Riff.

         "Cool man," Riff said excitedly. "Hey man, I got one of them things too, see." Riff withdrew a soldier's dog-tags from within his checkered shirt. "My dad's," Riff explained, "He was in the army 'til the sand ni-, I mean, 'til he got killed." Cane preteneded not to notice the youngster's slip of social edicate. "I wanted to join when he died, but they said I couldn't 'cause-o-my dam' asthma." Riff scuffed the wood floor with his boot, taking another puff of his cigarette. "Then my mom got killed. Cops said it was a mountain lion. Trouble is, how does a mountain lion open the back door and come into the house. Thats when the Hunter's found me. They told me the truth, ya know, about vampires and werewolves, and werecats. Told me a werecat got my mom 'cause it was thirsty. Thirsty for blood. They said they could use a skilled shooter like me," Riff's voice had a hint of pride at those words, "That was a year ago, but I ain't got ta shoot no dam' werecats yet. You ever seen a werecat K-9?"

         Cane shook his head. Up until the day before, he hadn't even known that vampires, werecats, or other werewolves had existed. The whole situation was overwhelming, but relieving at the same time. "No kid," Cane said, expelling a large cloud of smoke into the air.

         The door creaked again and a woman peaked her head outside. "Get in here, were going on a mission." The woman dissapeared back into the house, and Riff looked at Cane hesitantly. Cane sighed at the half-cuban in his hand before taking one last puff, Riff mirroring his actions. They quickly killed their smokes, and entered the house, Riff following Cane closely.
((Uh, I feel SO out-casted here. What’s with all the werecat’s killing people? Sure, there’s a slipup every now and then from the ones that go postal, but they’re a RARE race. They think they’re BETTER than humans, more superior and there have been two recorded killings? I changed Stephanie’s reply, I have a big plot secret tied up with her.
          “That’s be Mike, he isn’t around much when Dad is. Kinda jumps around to all of the other places Dad has set up. He’s a good guy, but a few years back, he had a... disagreement with Dad. Sure, he’s loyal to the core as far as running this place goes, but doesn’t consider himself one of the vampire-headed clan members. He’s a Blodwyn, just a Reyleth Blodwyn instead of a Crinar.” The werecat noticed that the Auryon was looking thoroughly confused and she couldn’t help the laugh that escaped. “Aury, how do you expect to get any info if you don’t know the lingo of us insiders?”
          “Lingo? I didn’t know there was one, I never heard it when I was working at the Haven.”
          “You wouldn’t have. Most of the patrons around here only know the basic word for their kind, that is, Blodwyn. Other than that, you have to be really close to an open-minded werecat like myself, who doesn’t think that humans are the real lowlifes, to understand the rest of the jargon. This is because all the other words originate from the original language of the Felinethrope, Felis. Not even your Lycans know it, since they came later. However, if you’re going to be interrogating some of our folks, it’ll be good to use the lingo so they know that we trust you.” Alasia glanced around the room. “Well, I just wanted to talk for a bit, I was in the middle of another conversation, but you’ve let me in on a lot of what you said.” She tapped a finger on her temple and gave a mysterious smile. “Call me later.” Then the immortal rose and walked off, leaving the hunter stunned.
          <Oh, and Master Akiro’s not Oriental, he’s English.>
          Celadon glanced up at Alasia, who had just returned to the bar. “I guess we’ll just start with the basics and build up from there, figure out what you are capable of doing without draining yourself set up some ‘exercises’ that you can do to build up stamina for shifting. Since Lacey’s gonna tag along, you’ll even be able to see what a werecat is capable of doing. It’s really quite fascinating.”
          “I believe that I hear someone singing the praises of werecat’s” Alasia said with a smile. “Where are you headed, Cel?”
          “Oh, I figured I take a little tour of the town for now and return later to pick up you girls for the lessons. Give my pupil a chance to finish out her shift, that sort of thing. You know how to find me, cat.” The vampire waved a quick farewell to Alasia, Demelis and Maia as he walked out of the bar.

          “So, Demelis... wow, that’s such a long name to say.” The werecat looked her in the eye for a moment, her gaze piercing, but not to the point that it made the younger woman uncomfortable, and tilted her head slightly to the side. “He’s tugging at your thoughts, huh?” Surprise flickered across Demelis’s face. “Fair warning, he’s a nice guy and all, but he’s taken, got himself a vampiress across the big ‘ole pond and is entirely devoted to her...” She seemed about to continue when her head jerked up. Alasia sighed. “Excuse me, Wayne is in a bit of a rut. I’ve got to go show him the way out.” The werecat rose from the stool and swept out of the room.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"When I was a kid, my parents were killed by a werecat, at least that's what I thought. I swore revenge and when I was taught that revenge wasn't possible for a girl like me, a looked to the hunters, who took me in with open arms. They taught me to be one of them, taught me the rules and promised I'd get my revenge soon enough."
Charisma exhaled, waiting for a reply from the mother.

          “My story’s a bit the same. Except, no one in my family was killed.” Stephanie gently covered her son’s ears. “You see, in high school, I had a boyfriend a year older than me. Well, he got me pregnant and refused to take responsibility for Sean. I considered suicide, and then the idea of revenge popped into my mind. My mother arranged for me to finish high school somewhere else and I underwent minor training so I could come back to show Sean’s father why he should’ve never left me with the sole responsibility of raising a kid. It’s not that I don’t love my son, I just wasn’t ready. When I did return, his father was gone. It was then that I joined the hunters in hopes that I could keep my skill in practice and hopefully do some travelling so I could find that SOB.” Taking a breath, the mother uncovered Sean’s ears.
Charisma pulled out her notepad, flicking through pages of assignments. Her eyes stopped at the last page, peeking at the two guests that sat on her couch and throwing the pad onto the side table.
She pulled her hair out of it's ponytail and opened a cabinet, pulling out a taser gun and a couple of wooden stakes, tossing one into the lap of Stephanie.
"What about Sean?"
"A few people owe me a favor."
She picked up her cell phone and dialed the number, talking in a hushed tone.
"We're all set. Ready for your first assignment?"

          “If it’s a step toward finding you-know-who, I’m set.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
          The two men walked into the den of the safehouse, where the lady who’d summoned them along with another young lady, who looked about 18 or so, sat waiting. The stranger looked up in interest as they walked in, an eyebrow raised over a pair of tawny, yellow eyes. Riff froze, unable to tear his gaze away from her eyes and he fumbled at his side for the weapon that wasn’t there.
          “Easy Riff, we don’t want you trying to harm the lady who has volunteered to observe the two of you on your first job.”
          “But... she’s a...” Cane frowned thoughtfully as he pondered the scent of cat that clung to this woman.
          “A werecat, or a Felian if you must get technical.” The lady said, rising. As she did so, a pair of spotted ears that wouldn’t look amiss on a cheetah appeared on top of her ebony black hair and a tail patterned in the same way slid into view from somewhere behind her. She looked quite composed and the well-toned muscles that were visible beneath her tanned skin betrayed just how capable she was to hold her own in a fight. “I’m Bethany Greenwood.” She offered her hand for a shake. Riff stepped back.
          “You sayin’ that I have tuh obey this...” He fumbled for the word. “This... teenager?”
          Her eyes sparked angrily. “You’re a boy compared to me. I may look young...” Bethany gripped her hands into fists in front of her slim body and pulled them in toward each other. In result, Riff’s arms were invisibly held behind his back as if he was wearing handcuffs. He struggled to free himself, but was stuck like that until the werecat uncurled her hands. “But looks aren’t everything.”
          “Well, now that you two have met her, if you’ll excuse me.” The other woman left the room. Bethany crossed her arms over her chest.
          “If you’ll tell me your names we ca get going. Unless I need to display any more.” The eyebrow rose again.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
          Alasia sighed as she perched on the edge of the sidewalk. “Baby, tell me again how you ended up in the sewer?
          Wayne’s deep voice curled out of the storm drain by her feet as he answered. “Well, I followed the hunter like you asked, trying to keep out of sight. He crossed the road and I tried to hurry so I wouldn't lose him and was nearly hit by a car. As I dodged, my feet slip out from under me and I fell through and open manhole that got closed up when a semi drove by and rattled it into place. When I was finally able to see down here, I didn’t have a clue as to where I was. Will you help me?” The werecat stood, biting back a smile.
          “Give me a minute to remember the map and I’ll have you out in a sec.”
 

         Aury brushed a damp lock of hair out of her eyes with the back of one hand, unwittingly smearing more dark grease across her forehead. She blew out a breath, aiming at the errant lock, but too busy sprawled atop her racer to tuck the strand back under her bandanna. She gimmied the nitrous tank; the regulator leaked, but the stubborn ring would not budge. Working on the car was just the thing she needed to unwind from the afternoon's whirlwind of events. Mr. Teal -- Jean, she reminded herself -- was a truly nice man, even if he was a vampire. She hated her own reactions to him, the lust to stake him through the heart, it was in moments like that, sitting only a few feet away from him, that all the reasons she'd concocted for leaving the hunters were just that, fabrications and lies. However much she tried to tell herself that what she'd lived before was the lie, learning how and killing vampires had consumed over twenty years of her life. Tank had been right; this wasn't easy, but it was the right thing to do. She sure missed him.

         "He --"

         Before Davis could so much as get out the first syllable of his trademark, "Hey-a, darlin'," Aury kicked him, carefully aimed square in the center of his chest. Feet braced on the bumper of her Ferrari, Aury jumped and spun, handy 9 mm out of a pocket in her overalls, pressed into the underside of the man's jaw, Davis himself backed up against a workbench, hands in the air. He sweated. Aury stared back coldly.

         "How'd you get in here?"

         "Uh ... door was unlocked?"

         "I never leave the door unlocked. I told you to stay away from me."

         He slicked his hair back, beginning to regain his composure. "Relax, darlin', I ain't come for anythin', 'cept maybe a warnin'."

         "Oh?" she replied, ignoring the hair that had flipped back in her face. "Seems to me you were hoping to catch me unawares."

         He smiled and Aury felt a flash of irritation, followed quickly by panic, and she whirled. Scott and James stood behind her, their own weapons drawn. Davis plucked her revolver out of Aury's hand and she backed away from the three men a step, arms crossing her chest in resigned frustration.

         Davis examined the revolver idly. It was standard-issue for a hunter, the first gun Aury had qualified on. One of the only ones she was a certified marksman with. "You've gotten rusty," he murmured.

         Aury glanced at the other two. Tall, lanky Scott, with his gorgeous blonde curls and blue eyes and everpresent, superior sneer. He twirled a switchblade in one hand, never content to sit still for long, always having to be moving or doing something. He was murder on the nerves; always had been. Then there was quiet James. Always James; never Jim or Jamie. His features were downright plain next to Scott or Davis, comfortable, friendly, even, but he was the worst of the bunch. He downright liked to hurt people. His smile was typically the last thing his targets saw. He liked to make things personal that way.

         "What do you want?" she asked, as the silence grew.

         "Just your cooperation, darlin'," said Davis, setting the gun on the workbench behind him. "This doesn't have to get nasty. Them's as is higher-up's as thought we should give you a chance, regain a little, perhaps." He shrugged. "It's no nevermind of my own, o'course, I'd a long ago shot you dead."

         "Then what's keeping you, then?" Aury demanded, pressing her arms close to disguise the trembling in her fingers.

         "S'not what the boss wants, is it, boys?"

         "It would seem," said James as Scott shook his head, "that they're willing to ley bygones be bygones."

         "That's not --"

         "For this one, teensy favor," Davis interrupted, fixing Aury with a hard stare. "You're still one of us, Aury," he continued, holding her gaze and she shivered in earnest now. Davis never used names.

         "We've offered you the chance to come back into the fold a couple times, and you keep turnin' us down."

         That was an understatement, thought Aury bitterly. Last time he'd come calling, she'd had to forcibly expel him from the premises with a bullet. She'd never been any good at laying low and had decided that time to just screw it, that she wasn't running any more, whatever the consequences might be. A small portion of her mind reckoned the time for her and she clenched her jaw angrily at the implications. Of all the files she'd gone through for Jean, she might just be his weakness. She hadn't considered that and she could have cursed her own stupidity.

         But Davis wasn't done talking. He never was, he could out-talk a teenage girl on a bad day, made all the more sinister with his goons lurking behind and beside him.

         "What is it that you want?" she asked.

         "Like I said, just a little cooperation. We know you're working for the Teals. Just want you to clear off, for awhile, let us settle some business."

         "I won't let you kill him."

         He arched an eyebrow at her. "Really, darlin'," he drawled, "and what'cha goin' to do to stop us?"

         "You must be afraid I'd do something, to mess up your plans," she retorted, "or you wouldn't be here."

         "I like you, darlin', I alus have, so much spunk. But there's more'n one fish in the sea on this one. Stay out of the way and you won't get hurt."

         She tilted her head, deciding not to mask her confusion. "Just what are you warning me about? I know there's hunters after the Teals ... though, actually, that kind of a mess isn't your usual style, is it?"

         "Smart gel, ain't ya, darlin'? Shoulda been on my team all 'long, alus said so." He shook his head sadly at that.

         Aury blinked. "You're after someone! Not Teal at all, but," her voice deepened in anger, "you're using him as bait. What's going on?"

         "Darlin', you jest mind yer own business. Ye'd be doin' yerself a favor t'not let that curiosity of yourn get in the way." He placed a bulky, brown envelope on the cluttered workbench. "Take yerself a nice vacation, get away fer awhile."

         "Or what?"

         "Jus' don't git in my way." He turned. "Let's go, boys."

         Instantly, Aury reached for her keys, for the tiny device hanging from the keyring. Laughter, from directly overhead, stopped her. Davis turned his head back over his shoulder to flash Aury a smile.

         "You remember Mitch, don't ya, darlin'? Now, le's all be reasonable, eh?"

         Aury looked up and swore under her breath. Mitch, that red-headed imp, leered at her from his position on the ceiling. He might look like a juvenile, but the 'wolf was at least twice Aury's age. He flashed pointed teeth at her from his perch. Aury folded her arms again and leaned back against the workbench. She was seriously going to have to re-do her security again. Guess she wasn't going to be getting those car parts for a while yet.

         Davis chuckled, and the four of them slithered back from wherever it was they'd crawled out of. But this did put an interesting twist on things. She needed to go back through her files again, and she needed to get home and call Alasia. This kind of information needed to be spoken of in private. She'd ask to meet the werecat somewhere, maybe back at the bar later, but would it be wise to let Jean in on it? Surely he'd be quite happy to let a couple packs of hunters fight it out over his head, if that's really what was going on. Blast! But only getting half the info didn't make things any easier; in fact, she felt distinctly more uneasy than ever. Planning and scheming had never been her forte. She'd been told what to do and done it, that's all she'd ever needed, but there was no -- she sighed, closing her eyes in remembered pain.

         To distract herself, she picked up the envelope. A wad of cash fell out into her hand. Oh, my, she thought. They're getting serious if they're willing to pay me off. And they still must figure they can get me back, or they'd have just killed me. What in the h-- is going on?
Demelis drew in a deep breath to calm herself as Alasia walked away. Well, she'd had fair warning this time, at least. Now she knew not to fall for the shapeshifter. Shame, though. She sighed, moodily swiping away a few stray drops of liquid on the counter. Glancing at the clock, she realized that she still had a full hour to go until she could leave.

She grabbed Celadon's empty cup and took it to the sink for washing, feeling a little bubble rising in her stomach.

No matter that Celadon was taken; her excitement for the upcoming lessons were more than enough to satisfy her. Just being able to control her power would be a miracle unto itself. She wondered what, exactly, she would be doing to hone her power. He'd said something about exercises, so perhaps some form of meditation was involved.

Demelis bit her lip. She'd never been good at staying still for long. Maybe that was why she had so much trouble focusing her power. A sudden rumble from her stomach disturbed her thoughts, and she looked down ruefully at her belly.

She'd skipped breakfast, and not only was her body longing for food, it was longing for something more. She sighed again, making a tiny face to herself. She didn't have her usual supply of pills with her. Demelis had never liked the idea of drinking blood, even with alcohol. She did occasionally take a sip of O pos, but that was rare. She had discovered a different way to satisfy her blood cravings: pills interlaced with all the chemical properties of blood, easy to swallow.

All she had to do was take one a day, and she was set. Well, until a year passed. Apparently the makers of the pills had not quite gotten the formula exact, or something like that. Consequently, she was required to drain a human once every year. It was her least favorite part of being a vampire.

Pushing back a strand of indigo hair absently, Demelis smiled to herself. She had to be the only vampire who didn't enjoy hunting.

She looked at the clock again. Forty-five minutes to go.

A Non-Existent User
After two of Charisma's 'personal' friends arrived, tall, dark and brooding, the women left the house, geared up nice and high tech. It was late afternoon, and the sun still beat down relentlessly on the rugged cement of the parking lot outside of Hunter HQ.

Charisma moved quickly, bending down and shoving two slips of papers, two timecards, through a hole in a nearby building.

"Hunters have timecards?" Stephanie asked, bewildered.

"Yeah." Charisma said, giggling at her crazed expression.

As the two turned down the street towards their hit, a hand pushed through the hole, shouting Charisma's name.

"What?!"

"We have information of a werewolf attack a few blocks from here. Go quickly!"

She started running, Stephanie trodding behind, her blond hair flopping loosly in it ponytail.

They heard the commotion from a mile away. Well, not really, but it was pretty loud.

Charisma stopped, holding the women back with her hand and facing her. She held up a poisenous dart. "This is a dart."

"How stupid do you think I am?" Stephanie said back.

"Very."

Charisma darted around the corner, lodging the dart in it's gun and firing it at the massive beast who justripped an entire gang to shreds. Literally.


It took 2 men to lift the werewolf, who had yet to return to human form. When he did, it didn't look easier. Stephanie was dumbstruck, not seeing that much action live before. Charisma sent her home, telling her to go ahead and take her bed; she would sleep on the couch.

Once the werewolf woke up, who turned out to be called Cane or, K-9, he was prepped to be moved to a safe house.

"I want him and everyone in that house to come be on my squad. That's two, right? We could use some more, since, you know, we've lost some."

A Non-Existent User
(Hehe, these additions leave me off behind my last addition so ill skip my turn this time, not because I dont have anything to write, but because I dont want to get ahead of everyone else in the timeline.)
          Maia silently watched the younger vampiress as she made her rounds about the bar. Poor girl, if Jeanor didn’t rely on her so heavily, she would’ve done a better job of taking the youngling under her wing and showed her the good about the life of a vampire, but as of yet, they’d only seen each other here at work. Her power also intrigued the immortal, Maia didn’t have any special ability herself and often felt out of place with her family, who were the special specials. Maybe with the attacks Jeanor wouldn’t be shipping her all over and would give her a chance to truly help her out. From her view, what the girl really needed was a guy.

          With that thought, Maia’s mind started spinning and she smiled to herself. Yes, a guy who was older that her mere 135 years, who also knew a bit about shifting and was capable of protecting her in a serious scrap. Of course, why hadn’t she thought of this before? The black-haired vampiress began to hum as she continued to take drink orders.

          From across the room, in a small, nearly forgotten booth, a young man sat by himself, nursing a glass filled with the not-so-conspicuous red liquid. He looked about twenty-two or so and his green eyes curiously watched the bartender as she cleaned the counter. He thoughtfully chewed his bottom lip and tilted his head to the side, making his semi-long, sandy blonde hair sway slightly. The young man also ran his tongue over his fanged teeth.

         That girl looks as lonely as I feel, maybe...
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
          “I want Mama!” Sean whined. “Where is she?” He glared at his ‘babysitter’, his arms crossed over his small chest. “Tell me.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
          After a few tries, Alasia managed to haul her boyfriend out from the manhole tucked away in an alley.

          “Baby?” Wayne gently brushed away her hand.

          “Thanks,” he mumbled before dashing off toward her manor. She smiled and followed, knowing he was headed for a shower. He was also probably really embarrassed.

          Later, Wayne was out in the garage, changing to oil in the werecat’s dark green, ’69 convertible Challenger. His girlfriend was in the kitchen, working on something for dinner for the two of them and her dad, who was eating with them while Kayce was in England on Pride business. The phone rang and she quickly set the over timer for lasagna before she answered it.

          “Hello? Oh, Aury...” She listened for a moment as the former hunter told her a rapid summary. “Well, Dad’s gonna be coming by in an hour or so if you’d like to head over and chill out here for a bit before then and then you can fill us in on the rest of the story over some food?”
 

         Aury rang the doorbell of the mansion and coincidentally whirled and bum-rushed the figure that had suddenly appeared behind her. She screamed and let out a stream of swear words that would have made a sailor proud. Sitting on the vampire's chest with her knees pinning his shoulders, Aury grabbed Jean's neck and shook him, thumping his head on the ground in emphasis.

         "Don't you know better than to sneak up on a Hunter? What are you, insane? Where's your bodyguards? Do you want to die young -- er -- well, soon? Of all the stupid, half-assed, I-don't-know-what-else, crazy things to do! Don't you have any sense? Stop laughing at me, you bastard!"

         "Whoa, there, Mr. Jean, sir, hang on." Strong arms grabbed Aury from behind and hauled her backwards. She kicked him. Hard.

         "Get off me!" She spun back around to point her finger angrily at the still-chuckling vampire half-sprawled on the grass. "You better be glad I recognized you!" Stalking inside, she snapped to Alasia, "Your father's insane!"

         "Hmmm. Would you like some wine?"

         Aury's eyes narrowed. "If that's some kind of pun ...."

         "We're having Italian."

         "Oh." Aury took deep breaths and tried to still her temper. "Alright, then. And it's not funny!"

         Alasia merely watched, bemused, as Aury downed most of her glass in one shot.

         "You might have told me we were having company," said Jean, coming into the kitchen with Wayne. The vampire still had grass in his hair. He kissed the werecat on the cheek. "Evening, hon. How was your day?"

         "Evidently," said Alasia, struggling to keep a straight face, "not nearly as exciting as everyone else's. Have a seat, everyone, it's all ready, just got to pull the bread out ... and there we go."

         "More wine, Aury?"

         "No, thanks, Wayne."

         "Jean?"

         "Not for me."

         They passed the main course of dinner with quiet small talk and Aury was grateful for the chance to unwind. She waited until they had all sat back in their chairs, sipping their chosen drinks, and generally at ease.

         "I talked to Alasia, Mr. Teal, about our deal, our talk this morning. She's agreed to give me a hand, and I thought I had understood the scope of the issue, but, well, the reason I wanted to talk with you now, especially you, Alasia, was that, well, I had some unexpected visitors this afternoon." She swirled the little remaining in her wine glass for a minute.

         "Hunters, another team."

         "Another?" asked Alasia.

         "Yeah," Aury answered, nodding. "The explosion in the club wasn't their style, I wasn't exactly ... well, let's just say it was a surprise seeing them. But the thing is, what they said worries me more." Fiddling around in her purse, she drew out the envelope, setting the money on the table. "They tried to pay me off."

         Alasia's eyebrows raised as she flipped through the wad. "What's all this for?"

         Aury shook her head. "I don't know. From some of the things they've said, I don't think you're the target at all, M -- Jean. I think they're using you as bait, which means we've got to watch you more carefully than ever, and stupid stunts like just now have got to end. You're not only endangering your own life, but someone else's as well."

         "But if they're not after Jean," rumbled Wayne, "then why do we need to worry at all?"

         "Because they won't hesitate to take him out if they can do that and still accomplish the mission directive."

         "You said another team," said Alasia.

         "Yes." She took another sip of wine and frowned. "I can't think who, or I might have an idea of their capabilities ... beyond blowing stuff up, anyway. There's at least two teams on this deal, so it must be pretty important, I just wish I knew what!"

         There was silence for a long minute.

         "What about you, then?"

         Aury looked the vampire in the eye. She was going to make him ask the question. "What about me, what?"

         He leaned forward. "Are you still trustworthy?"

         Aury didn't have the heart to look away. "Oh, Mr. Teal, I wish I knew."
Demelis caught Maia looking at her, and smiled. The elder vampiress returned it, and Demelis went back to work. Nearly all the tables had been wiped down and customers taken care of. Rinsing the cleaning rag in the sink, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror that ran along the whole back wall behind the counter. Peering at herself, she realized she'd forgotten to change her eyes from brown to lilac. She paused, letting the cool water wash over her hands as she contemplated. Perhaps she should try a different color this time.

No, she decided. Lilac was fine. Making the small change took a slight bit of effort, and she had to peer into the mirror again to make sure they were the right shade, but she managed it well enough. She smiled and hummed to herself, twisting the knob to stop the water. Squeezing out the rag some, she cast a fresh eye over the establishment.

Demelis almost passed over the small booth before belatedly realizing the customer was giving her a little wave. She raised her hand uncertainly, and jumped as a few stray drops of cold water splashed on her heel-clad feet. After quickly lifting a foot and wiping the droplets off, she made her way to the table, rag in hand.

The customer was sandy-haired and definitely cute. He had a friendly smile on his face as she walked up, ready to take his order.

"I'd like another R neg , please," he said, his voice a pleasant baritone. He handed her some bills and she nodded politely, trying to keep from gazing into those eyes for too long.

"Sure thing. It'll be right out."

She walked away, biting her lip. Must she take note of every cute guy she saw and ponder over them like a schoolgirl? One cute guy does not mean you have to go all gushy again! she scolded herself. Still, those green eyes had been captivating...

Demelis sighed as she walked behind the bar and prepared his drink. Irritatedly, she pulled her skirt down for the tenth time that morning. The damn thing had a habit of riding up, and she didn't like showing off her legs too much. Squeezing her eyes shut, Demelis took a deep breath. It was her hunger that was causing her to become moody, she realized. Looking at the clock as she carried the drink back out, she was relieved to see that she only had ten minutes left on her shift.

"Here you go, sir," she said, placing his drink in front of him.

"Thanks," he said, but before she could turn away, he spoke again. "So, what's your name?"

"Demelis," the indigo-haired vampiress said hesitantly. She wasn't used to making a lot of conversation with customers. Her mind flashed back to Celadon, however, and she blushed. The man looked at her curiously.

"Got a last name, or are you too shy to talk anymore?" he teased lightly, and Demelis snapped back to the present, her blush deepening.

"No. I mean yes. Wait...well, I have a last name," she bumbled and gave a little smile, "Ward. It's Demelis Ward."

"Ah," he said, looking straight into her eyes. She felt exposed, somehow, and blurted out a question of her own.

"What's your name?"

((artisitcXemo, I changed 1 thing here, it's in green too. Because of who is is, he dosn't drink human blood.))
A Non-Existent User
Once Charisma had finally made it home, Stephanie was curled up in a ball on her bed, Sean a small lump under the covers. She smiled, not seeing such a pleasent sight in a while.

She took a quick shower, letting piping hot streams of water rain over her skin. Her hair was stilll wet when she laid down on the couch, the air silent and cold. The darkness was overwhelming, and seemed to be closing in on her. That was most likely just sleep, but to Charisma it felt more sinister. She quickly flicked the lamp on, it's dim half-hearted rays pushing back the darkness with flying colors. While the lacksidasical lamp made it difficult to fall asleep, once there, Charisma slept like a rock, dreams slowly falling into place. As usual, the dreams were vivid, colorful, and imaginative. One dream was of a dwarf who said, "Life's a circus and so we are small." Charisma didn't know if that had any symbolic meaning, but she knew if she thought hard enough, she'd figure it out.
A Non-Existent User
(hey guys still unsure as to what to do. I dont really know whats going on with the hunters or there plan so i cant write any further where i left my last add off. just got back from vacation, i wont skip my next add)

          “I know.” Came a soft voice. The vampire leader and the hunter looked at Alasia. She was watching Auryon with her ancient, knowing eyes. “You were frightened when you called me. This group knew how to sneak up on you in a way that observation couldn’t have told them. Besides, I smell wolf, not necessarily on you, but it’s there nonetheless. They were your coworkers before.”

          Jeanor frowned, his blue eyes glowing warningly. Wayne reached over and gently took his girlfriend’s hand as she swirled her iced tea, no alcoholic beverages for her.

          “You broke off all contact with them when you joined us. And you are now worried about how well protected Dad is...”

          “Hold on, kitten.” Alasia fell silent. “You didn’t tell us the whole story, you tried to hide it. Why?”
~~~~~~~~~~~~
          He smiled and, as she watched, his eyes began to change. They cycled through all sorts of shades of green in a way that reminded her of a kaleidoscope.

          “I’m Jonathan Brennis, called Jon by those I’m on good terms with.” He took a sip of his drink. “So, are you free later?”

          “No...” She glanced away, afraid to see disappointment in those captivating orbs.

          “So your afternoon’s booked, huh?” Demelis found herself pulled to look back at him. There was no displeasure, just calm interest, curiosity and friendliness. “What about later later? I’ve got nothing of importance to do and could meet you somewhere if you want. Just keep it to easy-to-find place, I’m still kinda new in town. To tell you the truth, I nearly got lost getting here.” Jon laughed softly.
~~~~~~~~~~~~
          Sometime later, Sean stirred. He blinked sleepily as he glanced around the room before rising and padding over to peer out the window. He watched to quiet town for a short while, and while he did so, he saw a young couple walking down the sidewalk. The man seemed to be leading his date somewhere.

          They stopped right outside the building and the man pinned the young woman up against a light pole that housed a dead bulb. With the help of the other streetlights, Sean was able to see him brush his companion’s long hair away from her neck and then bite down. She let out a short scream, which was quickly cut off, and she slid down to the cement. The man wiped his mouth, then looked up and right into the little boy’s eyes. He smiled hungrily.

          “Mommy, Miss Stephanie!” Sean yelped in fear, waking the two women.
 

         "Well," said Aury, dropping her gaze to fiddle with her spoon, "it's just ... I -- now, look here, 'coworkers' is a pretty loose term. There was no reason -- I didn't expect to see them again, it's been a long time!"

         "Maybe you should start from the beginning," said Alasia.

         "There's nothing to tell!" snapped Aury. She looked away, blinking a few times. "Sorry. I came here," she continued, turning back to her audience, "to get away from my former life. I wanted to quit. Last time they came knocking, about six months ago, shortly before I started working at Haven, I turned them down quite ... um, forcefully, I guess you could say. Thought they might have finally gotten the hint."

         Aury shrugged. "I like it here." She smirked a little. "And I didn't want to leave my car, I'd just gotten it." Picking up her wine glass, she sighed. "Apparently, they've been tracking me. Guess I shouldn't really be surprised. Hunters usually die young. Or go to the training house. We don't generally get an option to retire. It's likely that they're not sure what to do about me."

         "In any case, they want me out of the picture. This other person they're after could be," her eyes flicked to Alasia, "family, or it could be someone wholly unconnected with you." Her gaze turned back to Jean. "I don't know. It's hard to say. All I really know for certain, based on some things that the others said, is that there's multiple teams on this assignment, which certainly changes what I'd been thinking on as a plan for you." She tipped her glass towards Jean, then set it down. "Of course, I'd not blame you if you told me to get lost."

         Rummaging in her purse again, Aury pulled out a small notebook and pen and jotted down a handful of names. This she pushed to Alasia. "These are the folks that I saw that need further looking into. The rest seem okay, but again that was based on our original assumptions."

         Sitting back, Aury stared down at her plate and waited for their reactions.
"I think I could find the time," Demelis said, a bit shyly. "I've just got to do some...stuff first. I don't know how long I'll be, so.."

"Hm. Can I have your number then?" Jonathan asked, still friendly. Demelis nodded eagerly, pulling out a pen from her skirt pocket. Finding an old receipt stuck in there as well, she wrote down her number and handed it to Jonathan.

"Excellent," he said, stowing it away in his pocket before turning those beautiful green eyes back to Demelis. "I suppose I'll give you my number as well. You could call me when you're done."

"Sure," Demelis said, and took his number down on her palm. He gave her a brilliant smile when she finished.

"Got any ideas on where we can hang out?" he asked. Demelis thought for a moment.

"Well, there's the movies," she suggested. "Or if you want to go dancing or something, we can meet up here. There's another club a few blocks down, too. I heard it was pretty good."

"Dancing sounds good. Do you have to work tonight?" Jonathan questioned, and Demelis bit her lip.

"Well, I stayed for my entire shift last night and then came in pretty early this morning because they called everyone in...so I think I can get away with not working tonight. I'll talk to my manager or someone about it."

"All right," he said, giving her another white-toothed smile. "I'll see you tonight then. For now, I've got some things that need doing."

"Okay, I'll talk to you later," she said, smiling shyly as she moved to let him exit the booth. Watching him walk away, Demelis wondered.

I hope he's a good dancer...
A Non-Existent User
"Mommy!"

Charisma stirred, opening her eyes and listening intently.

"Mommy!"

She sat up straight, jumping up and turning on the light. The room shone with dim light, stinging her eyes and forcing her to blink back white spots. Stephanie entered the room, Sean grasping her hand tightly with a frightened expression on his face.

"He says a man bit someone. He says he saw it."

The mother was obviously worried, and clenched her son's hand tighter and tighter as Charisma tried to reason out the situation.

"Outside?"

Sean nodded, pointing out the window at a limp figure on the ground. Charisma grabbed a wooden stake, bolting out the door and down her stairs.

The night was eerily calm, and a slight breeze caressed her as she stood still, letting her eyes drift from each solid figure in the night. She hustled over to the girl who lay limp and bent, as if she had just fallen. Her hair was golden and lay strewn across the sidewalk. Charisma kneeled, feeling for the woman's pulse. As she did, a twig snapped behind her. She whirled around, holding the stake up and ready to stab. A clenched fist came down towards her. She rolled to the side, standing up quickly. It was dark, but she could faintly see the outline of someone who was built and muscular. And she could see the glowing, translucent eyes. After a couple elusive movements, Charisma had the guy pinned.

"I am the Voice of the Night!" the Vampire shouted,raising a free arm into the air.

"Are you drunk?" Charisma raised an eyebrow.

"Foolish! Do you know who I am?"

"Should I?"

"I am Bruno. The Child Eater!"

"Oh please. You're drunk. And I'm gonna stake you." She raised the stake, ready to come down on his flat-lined heart.

"Wait! Wait! Let me shed some darkness on your view of us. My kind."

"I don't even know why I'm having this conversation with you."

"You see," the Vamp went on, "Darkness is the only time we get do the things that aren't acceptable in the light. Darkness is when we slake our thirst."

"Don't go get serious on me now." Charisma bit with a little sarcasm.

"I am the Voice of the Night!"

"Well, maybe you should be silenced."

She thrust the stake through his heart, standing up and checking on the woman. No pulse. She raised her cell phone that was tucked in her jeans up to her mouth and ordered a team to retrieve the body. She then entered her apartment.

Stephanie stood defiantly infront of Sean.

"Honey, go back to bed. It's okay now."

Sean moved quickly back into the room, and the faint sound of rustling sheets could be heard in the living room.

"I can't wait to do somthing like that to....you-know-who."

"The greatest harm can result from the best intentions."


          “Aury, how do I know that you’re not speaking cryptically in hopes to hide something else? I also want to know how I’m suppose to put the safety of my bar and my family under someone who chooses not to trust me enough to tell me the whole story. Thus far, I haven’t asked all that much of you, but now I really need an absolute confirmation of your loyalties.” Alasia seemed to stare blankly down at the names for a moment and then spoke to her boyfriend.

          “Wayne, would you mind going upstairs to my study and bringing down my laptop?”

          “Sure, I’ll even get some more drinks while I’m at it. Give you three a little time.” The young vampire rose and exited the room.

          “Listen, I think what Dad is talking about is that he wants me to look at your mind, a bit like I do when we are allowing traitors from other clans to join us, no offense to you. I like to get the person’s permission first, it makes it less of a fight for me to find what I need to know. But I must warn you that if you agree to this, then some painful memories you have might come to surface, ones that you’d thought you’d buried long ago. After that, if we’re convinced, then you and I will look through the database I have set up containing all the info you might want to know about these questionable people.” The werecat paused for a moment, speaking mentally to Wayne, and then stood. “If you agree, what I’m going to do is apply direct contact to your temples. You’ll fall unconscious for a little while, at least until I’m done, but I will be there with you and I’d like you to show me the proof if you feel up to it.
~~~~~~~~~~~~
          Celadon calmly watched Demelis as she tried to meditate. She’d settle down for a short while, then a bug would land on her or a tree would crack and she’d have to open her eyes to reassure herself. He sighed. While he’d wished that things had progressed a little further, this was apparently as far as they’d get.

          “Demelis?” She looked at him. “My dear, it looks like you’re going to need a bit more practice at settling down before we can proceed. If you can, go home and try to find a moment of quiet where you’re completely relaxed. When you figure that out, call me at this number...” He jotted the seven digits down on a piece of scrap paper. “And I’ll arrange for another time when we can meet and try this again. Don’t be afraid to ask others where their peaceful moments are, that will help you find your all that much quicker.”

          The vampiress rose and gently took the sheet from him. “I’m sorry.”

          “Don’t be. My lack of patience at this moment shows that I need to go and meditate on my own. Go on and have fun, don’t rush progress, it’ll come when you are truly open to let it in.” He guided her to the door of his apartment and then watched her walk off.

          After Demelis had climbed in her car, she pulled out her cell phone and dialed Jonathan’s number.

          “Hello?” A thrill went through her veins at the sound of his voice.

          “Hi, it’s Demelis.”

          “Oh, hey. I suppose it’s safe to assume that you’re done with everything?”

          “Yes, I am. Now, about the club...”

          “Ah, yes, about that. I hope you won’t kill me if I told you that I’m already there? That is, if I’m at the right club in all. The Mud Pit?”

          “That is the one. How’d you get there?” She could hardly keep the disappointment from her voice.

          “Just one of your coworkers. She got off and was willing to show me the way. And to be honest, I find her rather forward, will you come rescue me, please?” There was a slight whine to his tone that made the vampiress laugh.

          “Of course, I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

          “Fantastic. I guess I’ll forsake my sanctuary in the men’s room the meet you.” With that he disconnected.

          Still laughing to herself, Demelis pulled into the parking lot of the club. She carefully locked her car and headed inside. However, the smile faded from her face when she looked toward the dance floor to find Jonathan slow dancing with Maia. The ancient vampiress was dressed to kill, drawing the gazes of all the menfolk in the club and even a few ladies. She leaned in close to her partner and lifted her face for a kiss. When her deep red lips were inches from Jonathan’s... the young man carefully blocked them with his hand. His face darkened.

          “Maia Grace, if I’ve told you no once, I’ve told you a million times. I’m not interested in you. I only danced with you to be a gentleman. I will not put up with your cockiness any longer.” He gently disentangled himself from her arms.

          A slight pout crawled over her face. “Fine then, Jonathan, you and your morals are excused.” Then she turned, looking for someone else to dance with.

          “You have no power to excuse me for anything. Good-bye.” Jonathan turned and saw Demelis. “Oh, my dear, I’m so sorry about that.” He said softly, his eyes slightly pleading and apologetic.
~~~~~~~~~~~~
          “He deserves all that is coming to him.” Stephanie’s hands were shaking slightly. But she clenched them into fists and then relaxed. “Sean’s the sweetest son I could ever hope for. It’s been a breeze to care for him, but I wish that I could’ve been able to go to college and get a job so I could look after his future. I know you probably want to sleep, but could we talk for just a little while?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
((Crimz, what happened to actually writing this time around?))
          “Well, “ Bethany said as they headed out of the safehouse. “Your orders are to go to the outskirts and ferret out a vampire nest we have heard rumor that is there. They’re aren’t many, I think about 5 or so. But I’m going along to keep an eye on you two, get a good feel of your personalities and your fighting styles, and to keep the both of you from getting killed yourself. It should be pretty easy. Eliminate the vamp.”

          The trio walked over to where a blood red ’68 Mustang sat in the drive. Bethany fished a set of keys from her pocket and slid into the driver’s seat.

          “I’ve got a bag of weaponry in the trunk, so I want Riff in the backseat and Cane has shotgun.” Riff seemed offended. “Take it easy, youngin’, you’ll get shotgun on the ride back if you behave.”
 

         "Aw, f---," murmured Aury, staring at Alasia. "You want to look in my head?" She shrank back in her seat, shaking her head slowly. "Sh--, I don't even like looking in there." Drawing her knees up to her chin, Aury gnawed at the soft skin between finger and thumb, chest pumping like a bellows. "God, I don't ... don't know. Don't know if I can do that, living through it the first time was h---."

         "Just think of it as kinda like a lie detector test, only in movie form."

         A burble of hysterical laughter oozed out around Aury's hand. Her wide eyes tracked from Jean to Alasia. She liked these people, they wanted to put their lives in her hands, and, really, who wouldn't be a little -- or, heck, a lot paranoid after the last few days? After what Aury was trying to admit but couldn't find the words for? Jeanor Teal might be a vampire, but he looked after his people. What was in those files was proof enough of that. They were good folks and Aury really didn't want any more harm to come to them, but she liked even less the idea of someone snooping around in her past, at her nightmares.

         "Is there ... something in particular you're wanting to look at?"

         "We want to know you're not working for them."

         Aury's eyes went back to Jean as he spoke. "I'm not playing you, sir," she said softly, an oath of sorts.

         "Not that you know of," he replied.

         She flinched, pulled her hand away from her mouth and wrapped her arms around her knees. "Touche," she replied, just as quietly as before and set her chin on a knee. She closed her eyes and tested her resolve a moment before uncurling to face them. "I don't want to do this," she answered Alasia, "but, you're right, it needs done ... and I want to know, too, in my own mind."

         "Okay," said Alasia. "Let's go into the living room. Here, Aury, lie down on the sofa. Make yourself comfortable, if you can, and try to relax. Close your eyes, that helps. Okay, here we go ...."

*          *          *          

         The transition from awareness to memory was quick and sudden, memories thudding into Aury so fast and so hard she gasped, unconsciously doubling up as if punched in the gut. Images flashed by too fast really to be seen, a chaotic miasma of sensation threatening to suck her down into madness. She could hear Alasia speaking to her, though she couldn't understand the words, and clung tightly to the calmness the werecat projected. The memories slowed, images and sounds slowly easing into focus. Time moved fast, like watching in fast-forward, Aury struggling to relax into Alasia's keeping and let her find what she looked for, to direct the flow.

         The first thing she recognized was the tromp-tromp-tromp of booted feet, troops marching in formation. When Aury looked up, the children and young adults were gone, replaced by a classroom and heads bent to books, fingers curled around pencils taking notes, the instructor pointing to symbols and formulas on a whiteboard. A giggle marred the perfect order and Aury's attention was there in a flash, staring at a younger self reading a note and snickering. One column over and three rows up, dark eyes glittered over an arm back at her. Aury recoiled in an instant.

         "No! No! I can't do this! I've changed my mind!" The images dissolved again. "Please, Alasia! Let me go! Let me go!"

         "Hey, wassup, Aury?"

         She stopped fighting abruptly, drawn back into her memories. Her teenage self stood at a window overlooking the compound. The beds in the dorm reflected behind her serious face in the glass. Leaning against the frame stood a young man, mocha brown skin and dark eyes, arms crossed over his chest, exceedingly casual.

         "Can't sleep," Aury replied.

         "Gots the jitters again?"

         "Haven't you ever wondered?" she asked, seemingly ignoring the question, "what it'd be like, you know? Family and all?"

         "You keep talkin' like that and you'll be in trouble. C'mon, we gots our first training mission in the morning, you need to sleep."

         "Can't."

         "Gots to try."

         "Hey, Nick?"

         "What?"

         The younger Aury leaned her forehead against the glass. "What was it like?"

         The boy sighed. "This place been good to me, good to you, too. Why you always got to push like that? Forget about it." He moved forward and tapped her head when she looked up. "Mind on the mission, yeah?"

         She looked up at him and sighed deeply. "Yeah."

         The memory faded and Aury cried out, knowing what was next, her mind jumping to forward in time some eight, almost nine, years later, standing at another window overlooking a city bright with a million and one lights. Behind her in the reflection were three people: Ping, Maurice, and Zeke; and, next to Aury, leaning on the wall, was Nick.

         "Jitters again?" he asked quietly.

         She rubbed her arms. "Something about this just don't make sense. Got a bad feeling."

         He shrugged and lit a cigarette. "Quick job, simple layout, what's not to like?"

         "That's just it, Nick, it's too easy."

         "Hey, Chickadee, no sweat, alright? Be in'an'out in a flash. No worries." He tugged on a headset currently looped around his neck. "With your sweet voice on the other end to keep us all out of trouble, this job's a snap."

         "I don't like it."

         "I'm sure you'll warn of any trouble long before it comes our way."

         "Nick, I'm being serious!" She turned from the window to face him squarely, eye to eye. "Ask HQ for confirmation, please? Let's ride this out a little longer. Or let me go in with you."

         "No," he replied at once. "Need Ping on this one. Target's supposed to be a real martial arts whiz." He cocked a smile. "Had plenty of time for it, eh?" He stomped out the remains of his cigarette on the floor and stepped forward to set his hands on Aury's shoulders. "Chickadee, you gots the truck and computer. Guide us along, I'm countin' on you, right?"

         Still unhappy, she nodded. "Yeah, Nick. No worries about security. But --"

         "I still trust your hunches," said Nick softly. "But we gots to do this, Aury. Boss was all too clear on that point, alright?"

         "No!" screamed Aury, but her younger self only nodded. "No!" Closing her eyes didn't help, either, because the memories went on, relentless.

         The team infiltrated the vampire's penthouse in the hours before dawn. Several blocks away, Aury sat in the truck, surrounded by electronic gadgets and computer screens, hands sweating as she flipped from the security cams to the floor plans, and speaking quietly into her headset.

         "Hey, what's that smell?" she heard Maurice ask as the team crept through the kitchen. "Smells like --"

         "No, Nick!" yelled Ping. "Don't!"

         Then nothing. All Aury's screens went dark. Fumbling in sudden fear, she flipped over the cams to other portions of the building, but they were all blank or filled with snow.

         "No, no," she whispered. "Zeke! Nick!" she shouted into the headset. "Somebody, report!" Finally, ripping free of the gadgets, Aury bolted out of the van, looking up. The top of the hotel was in flames. A fire truck blared its sirens from somewhere. Aury couldn't move.

         "No! No, I don't believe it!" Then she was convulsing, tearing at her clothes and head, fighting an invisible foe.

         Prisoner to the images, Aury screamed, her body twisting, hands going to her head. The city streets faded around her to reveal the insides of a mad scientist's wet dream. Aury lay strapped to a table, tilted almost into a standing position, with a tangle of wires running along the floor. She wore shorts and a tank top, a small body in a rat's nest of equipment, surrounded by white coats.

         "Told you it wasn't working," said one.

         "They really did a number, didn't they?" said another. "Her resistance is much higher than the others."

         "Chickadee?" Aury heard.

         "Nick!" she screamed. "Here, Nick! Help me!"

         One of the coats swore and plunged a needle into the IV drip. Then he turned around and stared at Aury. "What are you doing here?"

         Aury stared from herself to the scientist and back again. "Me? I'm right there! Right here! I don't know!" She shook her head. "I don't understand! What's happening?"

         He smiled. "Nothing, Auryon," he replied, casually putting his hand in his coat. "Why, nothing at all."

         "I don't believe you!" she shouted. "What is this place? Why don't I remember you?"

         "You weren't supposed to, and you can tell your werecat friend this is her only warning."

         "What?"

         "Too late."

         Aury dropped immediately, darkness surrounding her, pain in her shoulder and her head. "Hu ...? Wha ...?"

         She reached up and felt the dart, just under her collarbone, nestled in the muscles. Numbness and tingling filled her limbs and she started to fall. She didn't feel it when she hit the ground, eyes frozen open for a moment longer, watching the scientist looking down at her. He smiled, revealing pointy fangs. Aury tried to scream, but then all went dark.

*          *          *          

         Alasia yanked herself from Aury's head as Aury's mind sucked at hers, trying to drag her down. She blinked and groaned, rubbing her temples, to find herself on the floor of her father's living room, both men staring down at her in concern.

         "What happened?" asked Jean.

         "Hey, yo," said Wayne at the same time. "She's not breathing!" His hand went to Aury's neck, feeling for a pulse. "No pulse, either."

         Alasia struggled up to her knees, still feeling faint, her limbs like lead weights. She was incredibly tired. "Booby-trapped," she gasped. "Some sort of psychic block. Don't know, Dad, I ... tired, I ...." She sagged.

         Wayne grabbed for Alasia. Jean flipped open his cell phone.

         "Claudia? Need you and that fancy kit of yours at the manor, pronto."

         "Be there in ten, boss."

         "Very good." He flipped the phone closed and slipped it back in his pocket. "Wayne," he asked. "Do you know CPR?"
Demelis forced herself to smile. It wasn't his fault, after all. Maia could be rather forward.

"It's not a big deal. I know how Maia can be, and you're one of the few men that have been able to resist her," Demelis admitted, feeling a bit of apprehension settle in her stomach. It was slightly claustrophobic here in the middle of the dance floor, and now she didn't quite know what to do with herself.

"Want to find a place to sit?" Jonathan invited, reading her mood easily. She flashed another smile at him, this one genuine, and nodded. They wound their way through dancers until they came to the tables, and Jonathan picked the cleanest-looking booth. Sliding into the seat across from him, Demelis arranged her things beside her carefully before sitting straight and meeting his eyes.

"So," she began, feeling a newfound confidence take hold. "Tell me about yourself."

Jonathan smiled, white teeth and pointed canines gleaming in the dimmed lighting. Demelis felt her heart skip.

"Well, I enjoy long walks on the beach, eating chocolate by the fireplace, and seducing pretty women into going out with me," he said with a wicked smile. Demelis laughed.

"So you're used to getting your way, huh?" she asked, probing. Jonathan shook his head.

"Actually, it'd taken quite a bit of courage to look you in the eye at first, at Through the Fog. Women prefer the dangerous looking type, you see, and since I fit the personality but not the appearance, I'm disregarded," he laughed. Demelis cocked a brow.

"So you don't have the best of luck with women?" she queried, her heart beating a bit faster.

"Not really," Jonathan said, eyeing her with those mesmerizing green eyes. "Why do you ask?"

"Well," Demelis paused, searching for the right words, "I haven't got the best of luck with guys, either. So we've both got that in common."

"Hm," he nodded. Demelis smiled shyly.

"Want to dance?" she ventured, after a few moments of silence. Jonathan didn't hesitate.

"Let's go," he said warmly, grabbing her hand as they slid out of the booth. Her breath caught in her throat for a moment before she was pulled into the whirling mass of dancers. They went on until Demelis was sure they were in the center of the throng, and Jonathan turned to face her with excitement and something unidentifiable alight in his eyes.

The beat was steady and pulsing, and Demelis found all her self-consciousness slipping away, with a sense of extreme ease and relaxation replacing it. Letting the music guide her movements, she silently thanked the heavens that the heels she was wearing were comfortable enough to dance in.

Closing her eyes, she exhaled, letting a soft smile spread across her face. She jumped a little when Jonathan placed his hands on her hips, but relaxed again easily as he began moving with her.

"You know," he whispered into her ear, just loud enough to be heard over the music, "this is turning out to be a great night."

Demelis opened her eyes, their soft lilac irises drawing Jonathan in.

"It is, isn't it, Jonathan?" she said, her voice slightly husky. Shifting shades of green met a now smoky violet, and he smiled, leaning closer.

"Call me Jon," he murmured, and leaned down for a kiss.

A Non-Existent User

         "Remember Cane," Bethany warned as the three hunters neared their destination, "changing is a last resort in situations like these. Not only would you be putting the rest of the team in danger if you were to change unexpectedly in a fight, but also yourself. Make no mistake, we would not hesitate to use lethal force to stop you if it came to that. Until you can control your werewolf instincts, which may never happen, you must only change in life and death situations." Cane looked with hard eyes at the much older, yet young looking werecat for a moment before nodding in wordless agreeance.
"Regardless if it does come to that," she continued, pulling a dart loaded pistol from the holster on her thigh, "I know how to take you down," she finished with a wink. Cane looked back to Riff, who was digging through the arsenal in the duffel bag, while eyeing Bethany with suspiscion.

         "Yee-haw!" Riff was pulling a collapsable sniper rifle out of the bag with obvious joy when Bethany turned and swatted him. The young man recoiled, dropping the high powered rifle, as he rubbed his red hands.

         "Keep those guns out of sight you fool," Bethany whispered hoarsly, livid at Riff's foolish behavior. Riff glared at the back of the werecat's head. His actions did not go unnoticed by Bethany who was watching dubiously in the rear view mirror. The red faced woman cranked the wheel to the right, cutting off a city bus as she slammed on the brakes, stopping in a storefront parking space with a loud squeel of rubber. Bethany un-buckled her seatbelt and turned to face the cringing young man who was clearly expecting another slap.
"Listen up kid! This is my show, and if you can't take orders from me for whatever reasons you may have for hating my kind, then this is your stop!" Riff stared into the furious eyes of the werecat before him, his mouth agape. Cane looked out the window glaring at curious people that walked by, as Riff finally closed his mouth and reached for his cigarettes.

         "Its fiiine," Riff drawled in a mumble as he pulled a cigarette out and replaced the pack in the pocket of his flanel shirt. Riff stared at Bethany blankly with the unlit smoke lazily hanging from his lips, as he awaited her response.

         "Good," Bethany said calmly, throwing the 'stang into gear and pulling back into traffic slowly. Riff fumbled with his matches for a moment before lighting up his smoke, not saying another word until they had reached their destination.

         They parked behind an abandoned gas station in a run-down section of the city. Cane glanced at the digital clock before Bethany killed the loud engine. It was midnight exactly. "Alright boys," Bethany said, slight anticipation in her voice, "lets arm up then shall we?" Riff had already taken the sniper rifle from within the duffle bag which Cane quickly grabbed from the back seat. Cane knew that he wasnt there to be on sniper detail anyways. He was the muscle, the frontline, the bruiser. Cane withdrew a sawed off pump action m3 shotgun from within the duffel bag, and examined the weapon. It was an older, but powerful model. It suited him perfectly. Cane wasn't much of a shot, but at close range with a shotgun, he knew that there wasnt much room for error. The werewolf also selected a desert eagle seven shooter handgun from the various pistols in the bag, and passed it to Bethany who waved it away. "Oh no," she protested, pulling two mini sub machine guns from her hips, "I carry my own." Cane passed the bag back to Riff who accepted greedily. As the werewolf fitted himself with a holster for the "deagle", Riff pulled a pair of silenced barettas from within the duffel bag with a smile.

         "Ok," Bethany said, after the other two were strapped up and ready to go, "Riff, your on point. Watch our backs. K-9, your the point man. Your the first one in and remember," she waved an uzi in his face threateningly, "no changing." Cane nodded again without a word. They waited until no cars could be seen coming down either end of the street. "Lets move, gentleman," Bethany commanded, opening the car door and stepping out into the cool night air.
          Wayne held his girlfriend close as he looked at the former hunter. Alasia rested her head on his chest, struggling to remain awake and standing.

          “I did five years ago, but...”

          “No, wait...” the werecat interrupted. “Baby, take me over there, please.” The young vampire obeyed, helping her to Auryon’s side.

          “Kitten,” Jeanor began. She shot him a sincere look that brooked no argument, then she turned back to the red-haired young woman and brushed her fingertips across her forehead.

          “Come on, Aury,” she whispered. A fuzziness settled over her mind, distracting her. With a sigh, Alasia allowed her canines to extend into fangs and she bit down onto her arm. The pain gave her clarity and the werecat moved her touch down to Aury’s throat where the pulse normally was.

          Concentrating, she let her clews grow and gently pricked the skin. The blue blood from her bite trickled down her tanned arm and mixed with the human’s red. Aury took a deep breath as her pulse started again, but she remained unconscious. Relinquishing her adrenaline, Alasia slipped into slumber.

          Jeanor frowned worriedly. The front door opened to allow the admittance of a slim vampiress carrying a small bag.

          “Claudia, I’m glad you could make it. Would you look at Auryon, please?” She nodded as he turned to Wayne. “And Wayne, take Alasia up to her room and then go to yours, I have a feeling we won’t be able to continue until tomorrow morning. When Aury’s stable, I’ll put her in the guest room.”

          “Sure, Jean.” Wayne scooped his girlfriend up in his arms and carried her out of the room.
~~~~~~~~~~~~
          The kiss was sweet, lingering on Demelis’s lips long after Jonathan broke away to look at her with sparkling orbs. After a few moments, the beat of the music changed, taking on a slow, soothing tone. Several of the dancers retreated to the tables to allow the couples some alone time.

          Maia stayed on the floor, dancing on the arms of a muscular, tall man who whispered suggestively in one of her pierced ears. However, she was ignoring his attention at the moment as she tried to identify Jonathan’s date. The pair circled and the vampiress blinked in surprise.

          Demelis? But... well... I guess he’ll do. she thought.

          “Hey gorgeous” Her partner’s low voice tugged her back to reality. “What do you say we go find somewhere nice and private?” Maia smiled. About time.

          “I agree,” she crooned back. With a satisfied chuckled, the man started to pull her toward the door. As she passed Jonathan and Demelis, she gave them a little wave.

          ‘Take care’ the vampiress mouthed before disappearing through the bar’s entrance. Jonathan frowned, but they continued to dance for a while longer.

          The evening crept by and Jonathan remained the perfect gentleman. He stayed near her side and occasionally went to fetch her something to rink. Finally, they left the bar.

          “I had a rather lovely evening, Demelis.” He gently cupped her chin and kissed her softly. “And maybe there’ll be more to follow, especially since you have my number.” He brushed his lips against her forehead. “I’ve got some late night business to attend to.” Jonathan ran his fingers through her hair. “Who, knows, I might someday know who you really are and you’ll know the same about me.” He gave her one more breathtaking kiss before turning and walking off.

          Demelis stared after him for a few moments, her fingertips touching her tingling lips. Then the vampiress moved to leave.

          “She’d gotten as far as unlocking her car door when running footsteps sounded behind her. Demelis look up to see Jonathan jogging up, wearing a sheepish smile.

          “Hey again, I don’t know how to get to my apartment from here.” She couldn’t tell, but she though she saw a faint blush tingeing his cheeks. “Could you help me out?”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
          The young men headed forward, Riff practically trembling, anxious to get started. He yelped, but it was quickly cut off as Bethany covered his mouth with her hand. His cigarette lay on the pavement, smoldering slightly before the werecat crushed it out with a booted foot.

          <How do you expect to sneak up on a batch of monsters with a better sense of smell than you when you’ve got a cancer stick hanging out of your mouth like a beacon? You’re practically begging them to come out and kill you.> She hissed in their minds. <And, Riff, be QUIET. They can hear you just as easily.> Bethany glanced at Cane with a sigh.

          <K-9, help this boy. We want both of you to get back safely, preferably without a single scratch.> With that, she faded back into the shadows. Riff lost sight of her and visibly relaxed, but Cane’s sensitive senses told him that she wasn’t too far out. If he were to turn his head, he’d probably be able to see her slinking along the wall as the pair rounded the corner of the building and came upon a door almost hidden amongst the filth. The scent of old blood reached the werewolf’s keen nose, telling him that this was the place.
 

         Aury sat up with a start, hands flying to her shoulders and hips. "Aah! What the ...!"

         Blinking against the sunlight streaming through the open window, she flopped back with a groan. She stared at the ceiling for several minutes, piecing together the events of the previous night. Her head pounded, but she wasn't really hurt. She crawled carefully out of the large four-poster and padded over to the window to look out, but she was thinking about something far different from carefully manicured lawns and hedges.

         A knock sounded on the door, followed by quiet footsteps. "Thought you might be up."

         "Hey," said Aury, not looking back. She rubbed grit from her eyes.

         "Who's Nick?"

         Aury sighed, her eyes flicking up at Alasia's reflection in the glass. "He was a friend and later my team leader. Smoked like a chimney. Alasia ...."

         "Yeah?"

         Aury chewed on her lip a moment. "Somebody's been messing in my head, haven't they?"

         "Yes."

         "Dang. I was so hoping I'd just imagined that part."

         "Whomever it was went to a lot of trouble to include protective measures."

         "The whole lab thing?"

         "Think so."

         "Was that ... real, then? Or ... geez, I don't know ... something else?"

         "Hard to say. We'll need to go back in."

         "Oh, God."

         "Not soon. Got some protective measures of our own that we'll need to set up. Aury," said Alasia, turning to face the younger woman, "tell me what you think happened."

         She dragged a hand through her hair. "Well, like the second part, Nick and the others went into the building to, er, terminate the target. I was on camera, guided them along, made sure the alarms were disconnected, that sort of thing. They got in easy, I heard something about gas, and then ... nothing. Not much in the news later, but it was a while before I even tried to look. I was freaked. I remember running for the building, of making my way past everything almost up to where the guys were at, but the fire spread, the whole thing was falling down. A section of the ceiling crashed down on me. If Tank hadn't been trying to make his escape, too, I would have died. No one knew I was there and the firefighters were only trying to keep the fire from spreading. They'd stopped searching the building; all guests had been accounted for." Aury stopped to sigh, fiddling with the curtain, tears coming to her eyes. "According to the news, everyone made it out safely."

         "Tank?" prompted Alasia.

         "Code name of the target. He said it'd be better if I didn't know his real name. He was the vampire we were supposed to eliminate. He saved my life. Helped me buck a life-time's worth of killer conditioning."

         "And the lab?"

         Aury frowned and shook her head slightly. "I don't know. I don't recognize any of those people, either. That guy, the one who shot me, he had fangs, didn't he?"

         "Yes."

         "Eh," grunted Aury with a grimace. "This is such a mess, Alasia, I'm really sorry."

         "There's nothing to apologize for. You didn't know. The important thing now is to find out what your mind is really hiding."

         "You really don't have to --"

         "We think we do," stated Alasia. "Dad and me, that is. If it's something to do with the hunters, then it's our safety that could be at stake. And that vamp in your head has ... other implications."

         "What do you mean?"

         "Not sure." She squeezed Aury's shoulder. "For now, I've brought you some of my things to change to. Feel free to shower and there's breakfast if you're up for it. We'll talk later and work out a plan."

         Aury nodded, giving her host a weak smile. "Thanks."

         "Hey, cheer up, it could be worse."

         "How do you figure?"

         "You could be dead."

         "Ah. Point taken."

         Alasia grinned and Aury managed a chuckle.

         "Go on, then." The werecat pointed. "Bathroom's there. See you downstairs in a few."

         "Gotcha. Um, Alasia?"

         "Yeah?"

         "I'm really sorry. You guys don't need to be worrying about me, too, but ... I ... want to figure this out." She set her jaw. "I'll do whatever it takes, whatever you need me to do."

         "That's good. We'll need your cooperation."

         "You got it." She held out a hand to seal the pact. Alasia shook it firmly.
"Sure," Demelis heard herself say. It all seemed like a dream. Jon was perfect, just absolutely perfect, and he'd taken a liking to her, of all people. She unlocked the BMW convertible and was relieved to remember that she had just gotten it washed. Jon eyed the dark silver exterior in appreciation.

"Nice ride," he remarked, his eyes meeting Demelis'. She blushed again, and scolded herself for thinking dirty.

"Thanks. Get in, and we'll see if we can find your place," she said as she slid into the leather-covered driver's seat. The interior was decent as well, thank goodness. Jon slipped in as well, giving a low whistle.

"High-tech, huh?" he asked, twisting in his seat to eye the speaker system in the back. Demelis smiled, gesturing to where her iPod was plugged into the car.

"I've got a major thing for loud music," she answered, laughing. Jon smiled, green eyes crinkling. She started the engine, letting it roar and then settle to a steady purr before shifting gears.

She drove for a little bit, unconsciously noting a clean-cut Mustang parked on the side of the road. It was devoid of passengers.

"What neighborhood are you in?" she asked.

"I think it's called Westwood Point. Sound familiar?"

Demelis started in surprise.

"Yeah, my apartment is in that area. What building number?"

Jon thought for a moment, gazing out the window.

"I think it's Building 9. I know my apartment number for sure, though. It's on the third floor, number 7."

The young vampiress' mouth dropped open as she turned her head to stare at Jon, who shifted, a mite uncomfortable.

"No way!" she finally gasped out. "I'm in number 8!"

Silence reigned over the two for a few moments.

"I didn't even see a moving truck or anything," Demelis realized. "When did you come in?"

"A couple weeks ago or so. It's strange; I would think we'd have seen each other before now."

"Yeah..." Demelis whispered. So close...

Jon gave her a lopsided smile.

"So I guess there'll be no trouble in finding where I live, huh?"

"Nope," she answered, still disbelieving. With a sudden revelation, she realized that she wouldn't have to worry about calling Jon...she could just go visit him instead. Her heart began to pound. Could this really be happening? It'd been so long since she'd had someone to talk to...

After a few more minutes, Demelis pulled into the apartment's designated parking area, parking the BMW in the number 8 spot. She glanced at the clock before turning off the engine: 12:37 a.m.

Jon looked at her inquistively.

"So, since we're so close, do you want to visit my place for a little bit?" he ventured, and Demelis felt a burst of excitement. It quickly dimmed as she realized that she still hadn't taken her pill, and the night caught up with her all at once. Her head spun, and her stomach roiled in protest. She steadied herself by grabbing the wheel, waiting a few agonizing seconds for the pain to pass.

"Sorry," she said, hating the way Jon's face fell. "I have to take care of some things. Maybe tomorrow?" she offered.

Jon gave a sad little smile.

"Do I have to wait so long to see you again?" he asked, and Demelis giggled, breaking the slight tension.

"How about we go out for lunch? I've got to get some sleep and catch up on a few things first. What do you say?"

"I wholeheartedly agree with sleep," Jon laughed, getting out of the car. Relieved, Demelis got out as well, locking it securely before heading up the stairs behind Jon. Once they reached the third floor, Jon walked her the short distance to number 8.

"I really did have fun. It's been awhile since I've met someone like you, all cute and shy yet..." Jon paused, leaning closer, "utterly captivating."

With that, he gave her a lingering kiss, and once again, striking green eyes probed violet orbs, and Jon whispered his goodbye.

"I'll look forward to lunch even in my dreams," he said, eliciting a small laugh from Demelis.

"Bye," she said, her voice a bit dreamy as he turned to walk away. She watched him for a few seconds before unlocking her own door and stepping into her apartment.

Time to finally take the pill, she thought absentmindedly.

A Non-Existent User

         A fleeting though crossed Cane's mind for the briefest moment. Why am I even here? The werewolf couldn't come up with a reason. The past week had been a whirlwind. Cane had found out that there were others like him, but not exactly like him. Vampires had done nothing to him, but he was told by the hunters that they were his enemy. I'd just as soon kill a werewolf, Cane thought, reflecting on the man-wolf that had bitten him on the train so many years ago.

         "K-9, what are you doing?" Riff was at the end of the alley looking very anxious and confused. "Lets go man!"

         "Why," Cane said blankly, staring back at the boy with an emotionless face. Riff didn't have time to respond as the door in front of Cane swung open. Cane turned his head to see a tattooed man a few years his junior emerge from he dimly lit building. The man took one second to glance at the shotgun in Cane's hand before raising up his own handgun with a hiss. Cane should have pulled the trigger, his life was being threatened, but he couldn't. As the vampire bared its fangs and brought the handgun level with Cane's chest, the side of its head exploded, the exit wound of Riff's rifle shot spraying crimson blood on Cane's face. Cane's eyes went wide as he tasted the vampire blood on his lips, and he lost all reluctance. He brought the shotgun up to his hip where he could fire it with the most accuracy, and marched through the door.

         The vampires within wasted no time in preparing for an attack at the sound of the rifle. An uzi wielding vampire stepped into view from a doorway in the hall in which Cane stood. The force of the recoil from the tremendous power of the shotgun slowed Cane's steady march down the hall. The vampire before him crumpled to the floor in a bloody heap. Another vampire entered Cane's view as he pumped the shotgun, expelling the spent shell and readying another shot. This time the vampire ducked back out of the hallway just in time to be covered in the drywall dust that resulted from Cane's missed shot. A single nine millimetre bullet shot past Cane's ear as he pumped the shotgun again and fired at the vampire. Again the vampire ducked out of view, but his arm did not reach shelter and was literally hanging from the torso after the buckshot obliterated his shoulder. Cane growled at the next vampire at the end of the hallway who had the werewolf in her sights with a sub machine gun as he was still pumping the shotgun. At the blast of the rifle behind Cane, a hole appeared in her forhead and she dropped suddenly, revealing a mess of blood and brain on the wall behind her. Flashes of light at the end of the hall and the sound of automatic gunfire told Cane that the werecat Bethany had entered the fight.

         As Cane neared the end of the hall, the door beside him suddenly swung open and he was knocked to his back into another room across the hallway. The female vampire that knelt over Cane lowered a knife to the disarmed werewolf's throat. Cane was surprised to find that the vampire's strength matched his own as he tried to hold her wrists back from slashing his neck open. Cane felt himself changing, the life threatening experiance triggering an instinct within him. He started to overpower the vampiress as the hair on his arms grew wildly, but Cane quickly jerked himself out of the change and reached for the deagle at his hip, heading the werecat's warning. With his right hand, Cane held the vampire's knife at bay while he cocked the handgun pointed at the woman's chest with his left. He hesitated only a second before squeezing off a single shot into her body. She collapsed against him, screaming in pain. The unearthly cries ushered in Riff from the hall, who quickly pulled out a single silenced baretta. Cane looked away as he finished her with one shot to the head. Cane lifted his head as a bloodsoaked, but unwounded Bethany entered the room. She looked at Cane and then to Riff.

         "Good work," was all she said with a serious look on her face before exiting the room.


*Star*
Is this too graphic? I can rewrite it if u want.
*Star*

          “Lacey, is that something you do on a regular basis?” Wayne asked his girlfriend as she moved about the kitchen, getting out things for breakfast. He sat at the small island, sipping on a glass of O pos.

          “The whole push on ‘til I make my head get all achy?” He nodded. “It usually ends up happening every once in a while. I don’t believe in doing things halfway.”

          “Except when it comes to teasing me and still not letting me sleep with you.” He grumbled under his breath, Alasia rolled her green eyes. “But I’m not sure I can just stand by and let you do that. You might hurt yourself.”

          “Can’t help it, baby.” She leaned across the island to give him a quick kiss. “It’s my nature. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t, besides, you’re starting to sound a whole lot like my dad.”

          “Do you think you could tame it down a little. Just so you don’t worry me sick.”

          The werecat laughed. “You’re one to talk about worrying someone.” Wayne winced.

          “I have an excuse though, I was young.”

          “Age has nothing to do with it, you know that as well as I.” The young vampire ran an appraising look over his girlfriend’s, skinny, muscular, young-looking, beautiful frame. She caught his look and smile. “You see?

          “Yeah, I see.” He sighed in defeat.

          “See what?” Jeanor asked, coming into the kitchen.

          “Nun-ya!” His daughter shot back, she raised a hand to throw the washrag at him and paused when she saw the look on his face. His forehead was crinkled with a slight, worried frown. “Daddy, what’s going on?”

          “Kitten, do you remember the Talien clan?”

          “All vamps, uncivilized, we warned them against getting sloppy or we’d take ‘em out?”

          “Yeah.”

          “What about them?”

          “We don’t have to worry about them anymore.”

          “Oh, no. Daddy, come sit.” The vampire master obliged, sinking down next to Wayne, who poured him a glass of blood. “We almost had some of the younger ones convinced to join us.”

          “Yeah, I went by there. The whole scene was a mess. Someone really got brutal in their elimination. All bullets, not a stake in sight.”

          “Ouch, any sign of Elsie?”

          “She was there, poor girl was killed by the same bullet that killed her father. He was protecting her.” Alasia sighed.

          “He made have been turned, but he still loved her to death.”

          “Yeah, to death is right.” The werecat walked over to kiss his cheek.

          “I call her mom and let her know.”

          “Thanks, Kitten.” As Alasia headed out of the kitchen, she met Auryon at the door.

          “Go on and sit down, grab yourself a plate and I’ll be back in a minute. Feel free to start up my laptop if you want.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~
          Jonathan padded around his apartment, picking up a few things off the floor and humming softly to himself. Last night had been pretty great, made even more so by the fact that she didn’t live too far away. Who knows, maybe he’d actually found someone who would stick around. At least he didn’t have to worry about losing her to the claws of time. He wondered what she really looked like without the odd-colored eyes (He’d seen her changing them back in the bar) and the turquoise hair. She was probably a natural beauty, but he couldn’t tell.

          It was nearing lunchtime and he was standing on his hands, slowly pushing his body up so his bare feet nearly touched the white ceiling before relaxing back down. A light knock sounded at the door.

          “Come in,” he called, not wanting to lose focus. Demelis opened to door, stepping inside, stopping when she noticed he was shirtless and had a tail.

          “What’s wrong?” He asked teasingly. Then the light brown appendage brushed his muscular arm, reminding him of its presence. “Oh, oops.” Jonathan shot her a lopsided smile.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
          Bethany lay flat on her back in her queen-sized bed. She had her eyes closed, reflecting back on last night’s mission, a sinister smile on her face. Cane had quite a bit of potential. But she also recalled his hesitation and frowned, that wouldn’t do. She’ have to show him just how monstrous this race, previously unknown to the werewolf, could be. It looked like she’d have to sacrifice her personal training today to take him on a little educational field trip.

          It’d have to be somewhere that someone with a good nose wouldn’t accidentally uncover them. Nowhere the Teal crew would be. That meant that they wouldn’t be able to return to the nest, well, they could if they stayed a safe distance away. The werecat hoped that the Teal’s got their message, though she wouldn’t mind leaving another if the Boss saw fit to do so.

          All that blood... the smile returned, this one of satisfaction. Looked like the princess wasn’t so safe after all.
"Oh," Demelis said, watching Jonathan's tail swish slowly in fascination. Jonathan laughed.

"Never seen a werecat before?" he teased, gracefully levering back down from his handstand. Her violet orbs followed his tail, and she shook her head.

"No, not up close. I mean, Alasia, Maia's...um...friend, she's a werecat, but I haven't actually seen her tail." She walked closer, kneeling down beside the standing werecat and reached out her hand to stroke his tail.

"It's really soft," she said, looking up at him. "Do you use conditioner on it?"

Jonathan stared at her for a moment, and Demelis realized the foolishness of her question.

"What I mean is...um...well..."

"It's okay," Jonathan said, laughing. "Occasionally I do wash it, but otherwise I just leave it alone. It stays pretty soft and clean by itself."

"That's cool," she answered. "It must be hard to take a shower though, what with..." she stopped, uncertain, "well, anyway, are you hungry?" She fought to keep her mind from straying. He eyed her a moment, and then nodded.

"Yeah. My workout makes my stomach go crazy with hunger. Let me put on some different clothes, okay?"

As he padded off, humming a little tune, Demelis couldn't help but notice how buff he was. And it wasn't even the scary, steroid buff; it looked completely natural on him. She took the time alone to gaze around his place.

It had a simple, open layout, just like her apartment, only instead of various artifacts and decorations, Jonathan had chosen a Zen-like way to lend atmosphere to his. The furniture was light-colored and clean-cut, with simple wooden tables and chairs. It was relatively clean, and the whole place had an air of calmness. She liked it.

"Ready?" Jonathan asked as he came back to the living room, running a hand through his hair. His tail was concealed, she noticed, and found herself staring instead at his rear. A blush crossed her face, and she turned away quickly.

"Yeah. Where to? I feel like some quesadillas. Mexican sound good?"

"Ooh," Jonathan grinned, "that sounds delicious. Let's go, I'm getting hungrier by the second."

Demelis giggled as they exited the apartment. Oh, things were turning out so good...hopefully nothing would ruin this day.
((Ooh, is artisticxemo asking for trouble? I suppose we’ll just have to wait an see. BTW, you can take this relationship as far as you wish, just leave his background open for me.))
          The pair decided to let Demelis drive, since she knew the town better than he, and they would up stopping at El Cabo for their Mexican fix. Jonathan remained the perfect gentleman; he held the door for her and also pulled out her chair.

          Demelis ordered quesadillas while the werecat carried on a polite conversation with the waiter, in Spanish, before ordering his food. The vampiress felt her jaw drop open slightly at the flawlessness with which he spoke and Jon chuckled softly when he caught sight of her expression.

          “What? I travel, so it makes sense to know the language of the country.” His voice had returned to having its British accent.

          “Well, if you speak perfect Spanish, why the...”

          “Why the accent now? English is my native language, I’m from England and I have this accent because I don’t live in America.” He sipped on his drink. “Since we’re asking questions, tell me a little about yourself. I’m curious.”
((Forgive the long response, but I wanted to give the other two a chance to reply before adding my two cents))
 

         Aury tinkered. She always tinkered when she was upset and needed to think. This time she'd gotten into the Teal's shed and found a decrepit riding mower that no one, for whatever reason, wanted to throw out. She'd spent the better part of an hour that morning munching on jam and toast and surfing the web with Alasia's laptop. Nothing doing there. Or at least there was nothing in the public domain. Aury wasn't a hacker; that wasn't her area of expertise. Anything more than a few cleverly-guessed passwords or a stolen thumb-print or retinal pattern was beyond her. That was one of the reasons she hated being the camera-girl, but she did know how to read schematics and Tank really had been a martial-arts wiz, and the locks were the normal, stick a key in the key-hole kind, so ... yeah ...

         "Quit thinking about it!" she told herself, but she couldn't. That nightmare from the previous night was on auto-re-play in her head. She hadn't thought about her school days in years. That bit stuck out, and she couldn't figure out why. What difference did it make? Whomever her parents really were, they'd given her to the hunters and the hunters -- her team -- became her family. Now they were gone.

         Nick, punk that he was, cigarette-smoking bad-boy, was the older brother. He'd always had a guardian-angel persona, from the very first day he walked in and ended the daily lunch-hour brawl. Aury remembered that she used to eat under the tables, out of the way, while the more macho and destructive kids beat each other up. Nick had jumped into the center of the throng, pulled Ping off of Davis where the little Asian girl had been doing her part to be the next in python neck-wear, kicked James in the gonads, and frozen Maurice and Scott with one, evil look. The whole lunchroom went absolutely silent. Aury had peeked out at that incredible scene and, like practically everyone else, had sworn silent loyalty to the king.

         He wasn't the biggest or toughest; he looked neither innocent nor mean; he wasn't particularly smart or good-looking or talented; but Nick knew how to pull all the right strings. He knew, intuitively, it seemed, which person was the best for the job and just how to goad or bully or tease each individual into doing exactly what he wanted. In a school full of power-hungry, psychotic, angst-ridden teenage killers, that made him something of a hero.

         He hadn't paid much attention to Aury at first; she'd mastered the art of not being noticed. Then he'd stumbled upon her 'secret lab.' There were all sorts of junk and gadgets and electronic parts dumped into locked storage bins in the basement of the school. Each building on the campus had a basement and they all connected to each other through battered, WWII-style tunnels, complete with emergency lighting. Aury had found her way into those forbidden rooms her very first night at the school, and explored them from then on. Nothing was really 'forbidden' at school. They were more guidelines, to help define and strengthen a student's natural gifts and interests by giving them irresistable challenges. As long as they didn't actually threaten the safety of anyone else or the security of the school, they were pretty much free to do as they liked. Only the strong survived, after all. Aury knew that they knew she was there, because she was constantly finding and disabling the cameras.

         Nick followed her one night. They'd been out at the 'challenge course' all day, running the gauntlet of test programs. For one of the exercises, Aury was assigned to Nick's team. He asked her what she was good at and she'd said machines, so he let her operate the robot. No one had ever let her do that before. While the rest stood around with their paint-guns, on guard, Aury guided their little robot into the ducting of the concrete bunker they were supposed to infiltrate. Carrying the sucker had been a trial, but Aury had been too excited to complain. Aury had fixed up an older model seeker-bot in the basement and had learned exactly the best ways to enable her to manipulate past the bunker's security features, into the room they were supposed to enter, extracted the data from the terminal, and been re-packing her bot by the time the team assigned to protect the data even spotted Nick's team outside. They hadn't even realized the exercise was over until the klaxon sounded.

         Pumped up from that success, and tired from the long day, Aury had been careless. She hadn't noticed Nick following her until he'd stepped out from behind an old generator. Startled, Aury hadn't given him the chance to speak. She'd whipped out her suped-up tazer and electrocuted him. Of course, once she recognized Nick, she'd released him, and they'd had a good laugh. She'd showed him her gadgets and he'd acted suitably amazed, but that had been the extent of things, or so she'd thought at the time. What she hadn't known until years later was that Nick had just added her to the top of his list, the list of people he wanted on his team, permanently.

         When Aury was sixteen, she noticed that the people assigned to Nick's team -- it was always Nick's team, no matter who else was supposedly in charge -- started to settle down. She started to see the same faces and names again and again, and slowly their team had been whittled down to a final 5 people.

         There was Ping, short for 'ping-pong ball,' their tiny martial arts gymnast. She looked and acted like she was still nine, the smallest person in school, but she made 'Crouching Tiger-Hidden Dragon' look like amateurs. Aury had even made a bet with Nick once, after a rare night at the movies, that Ping could do that standing on a rod of bamboo over a lake fight-scene from the cell-phone commercial. Aury liked Ping. They'd been friends from Ping's very first day, when the diminutive Asian had beaten up the gang who had, until then, reigned supreme and unchallenged over the playground. Ping had arrived as a spunky nine-year-old with a black-belt in judo. She only got better over time.

         Then there was muscle-boy Maurice. He could fight dirty, street-style, but Maurice preferred his fire-arms. There was nothing he liked better than big explosions. Maurice even made his own explosives. He was also best friends with their 'McGyver.' They called him Zeke-the-geek, and he was always coming up with bizarre solutions to impossible tasks that, nevertheless, always seemed to work. His specialty was computers. Zeke knew software and technology the way that Aury knew simple machines. He had a penchant for speaking in computer code ("walk to gate; open gate; walk through gate; close gate") that only Maurice never found annoying, but he was a sweetheart with a soft-spot for shiny things.

         Nick was their team leader, with a head for tactics and strategy. They trusted him implicitly and explicitly. He knew how to push all their buttons. He knew that Aury always had a hard time sleeping right before missions, due to nervous tension, and never went to bed himself until he'd talked her down. He knew that Ping was afraid of heights; like a cat, she could go up, but if she ever looked down, she froze. He knew that Maurice tended to panic of he had to deviate outside a set plan, and he knew that Zeke was easily side-tracked. But Nick also knew how to combat all their fears. He made sure that not only did each member of the team know of everyone else's weaknesses, but that they also knew how to compensate for those weaknesses.

         Thing was, he'd never told them his own. Aury had figured it out, over time. Nick was a worry-wort and a control freak. He found trust very hard. She rather thought that's why he smoked.

         "D-- it, Nick!" Aury murmured, hammering her wrench against the side of the poor tractor. "You were my family! You were supposed to keep us safe! I hate you! I hateyouIhateyouIhateyou!"

         "Aury?"

         Aury swivelled, raising the wrench like a club. She squinted in the gloom. "Alasia?"

         "You've been out here for hours, would you like something to eat?"

         "Uh ..." Aury looked at her watch. "Um, yeah, I'm sorry."

         "That's okay. I've called in some help, so we're going to give this another try tonight."

         "Swell."

         "Second thoughts?"

         Aury set down the wrench and started to put things away. "Of course, but I won't back out."

         "Good. We'll be having company for dinner, so brace yourself."

         "Right. I'll be right in."

         When Aury stepped outside the shed a few minutes later, she was startled to see the sun dipping low on the horizon. She shook her head and sighed, but straightened her shoulders and headed towards the house to get cleaned up. She'd thrown her own clothes in the wash before she'd wandered outside, so hopefully she could change back into them. She was glad for the borrowed garments, and for the pair of coveralls she'd found in the garage, but it would be nice to be back in her own things. It was kind of irritating, though, that she'd brooded away the whole afternoon. She'd intended on going back home for some things. Still, the sooner this mess was figured out the sooner she could get started on the work she'd been hired to do. She had a new family to protect.
"Oh. Well I don't know exactly where to start," Demelis said, casting her eyes toward the fake-marbled tabletop. "Some of it's a blur, actually. Um...well, I was born and raised in California. Typical high school girl who partied with the crowd that didn't get embarrassingly drunk, just a little," she paused as Jon laughed, "never got into any car wrecks, parents were home on and off, A/B average, et cetera. I suppose I'm just...average."

The thought depressed her a little bit, but she plunged on.

"I was at a party, just before my eighteenth birthday. It was normal, you know? Nothing remarkable; just another party with flirting and dancing and booze...and then," she stopped, unsure of herself, "well...time stopped."

Her lilac eyes rose to meet Jon's, and her tone deepened.

"Everything just became surreal, and I felt queasy. I knew something wasn't right, but of course, there couldn't be people barging in and having a bloodfest in the living room. It wasn't happening, for me. I was...outside it all, you know? My mind didn't want to process the images my eyes were sending to it...and so I didn't do anything when I was bitten."

She paused for a long moment, absorbing her memories.

"It was quick, and sharp, and I could feel the blood running down my neck and leaking onto my shirt...I raised my hand to it, and felt the puncture marks, and I pressed it until it stung. I fell to my knees then, watching everything in a daze." She swallowed, tears coming to her eyes. "I saw my best friend, Carly. The people were ripping her apart, licking the blood off her mangled body. My throat clenched up, and the bite wound was a constant, stinging throb, and I watched Carly's eyes widen, and then go...completely blank." Demelis shuddered, and Jon grasped her hand as tears fell freely down her cheeks. "

The vampires, for that's what they were of course, although I didn't comprehend it at the time, were fighting over who would get what parts of her, and I remember...I remember one who just...just ripped into her chest and pulled out her heart. I stared at it, my vision going black as I began to heave. It was all glossy from the blood, and I felt as though they were taking something they shouldn't...and then I collapsed."

Demelis let out a shuddering sob and let her head drop to the table. She bit her lip, feeling her elongated canines brush against the inside of her mouth, and cringed, feeling horrible. Jon spoke, soft and soothing.

"Hey...it's all right...it's over now, and..." he hesitated, "I'm sure she didn't feel any pain."

Instantly, he realized his mistake. Demelis' head snapped up, and crimson eyes glared at him in fury.

"Didn't feel any pain? Gee, I guess she wouldn't, even though they were ripping her apart from limb to limb, using knives to carve up her body and licking the blood off as she screamed and begged for mercy! No, no pain at all as they ravaged her and tore her, bit by bit, enjoying her shouts and tears! Of course she felt pain, you bastard!"

Jon sat back abruptly, green eyes blazing. His hand dropped hers, and he spoke again, soft again, but more menacing this time.

"Well then. Sorry for trying to comfort you," he snapped, standing up as Demelis' red eyes followed him. "Next time I won't bother."

He walked out of the Mexican place, ignoring the stares and whispers that followed.

Demelis sat by herself for a moment, then growled to herself, throwing back her chair and striding after him.

"Hey!" she shouted after him as he walked down the block. "You don't have a ride home!"

Jon didn't look back as he answered.

"I'll walk. I'd rather be alone right now than deal with you."

"Deal with me? You were the one who--" she was cut off as Jon whirled around to face her, and she almost ran into him.

"You know what? You didn't have to tell your sob story back there!" he raged. "We were having a good time, and I just asked you to tell me about yourself, not go on some trip down Gory Lane and tell me how you were turned! You ruined it!"

Demelis stopped, a cold fury replacing the heated anger.

"So I got carried away," she forced out, breathing through her nose. "But I think you could be a little more understanding. I don't want false words for comfort. I don't even need words. I just..." she paused, anger evaporating. "I just want to be held by someone who understands."

There was a long, tense silence. Finally Jon nodded, his lips tight.

"Okay. I...I suppose I just wasn't expecting..." he stopped. This conversation had been filled with so many pauses, but he wanted to get this right. "I don't know what to do when a girl collapses in tears. Not to mention that I haven't heard too many gory stories like yours. And because it's you who went through that...I just...I got angry too."

At Demelis' questioning glance, he hurried on.

"At the people who crashed the party, I mean. Most vampires I know aren't like that. It kinda makes me want to find them and pummel them until they're bloody, and then rip their hearts out."

Demelis let out a laugh, wiping away her tears from earlier. Her eyes had returned to lilac, Jon noticed.

"Well...I guess I understand," Demelis said. After a moment, she said, "Can we just forget about this and go home?"

"...Sure," Jon said, giving a small smile as he took her hand. They began walking back towards her car. I won't forget, Jon thought to himself, glancing at the pretty girl walking beside him. It's too painful for her...I have to help her overcome that.
A Non-Existent User

         "A pitcher of Guiness," Cane growled without looking at the bartender, slapping a twenty onto the counter. The bill was soon replaced with a large jug of dark beer with an inch of thick frothy head. The werewolf quickly filled his glass, and noticed Riff walk up to the bar beside him with a grin, as Cane brought the glass to his lips. He had intended on sipping the irish ale leisurely, but at the appearence of his new "friend" Cane decided that the faster the drinks went down the easier the boy's company would be to bare. A few seconds later Cane placed the empty glass on the counter and began to refill it with a lick of his lips. "Aren't you a little young to be in here," Cane remarked, not even attempting to hide his discontent. Riff was either as thick as a tank, or pretended to not take notice of the werewolve's rudeness.

         "Not according to this," Riff said flashing a shiny new fake ID. Cane glanced at the card as he topped off his glass. "Bethany got it for me. Said I deserved a night on the town she did. S'pose we might have to come into a place like this on a mission too. I even got to pick the name! See K-9." Riff shoved the ID in Cane's face as he was raising his second glass to his lips. He pretended to look, but he knew that Riff would tell him the name anyways. "Mr. Wiley T. Ricks. Get it K-9? Wiley tricks!" Cane knew that Riff was broadcasting the information about the fake ID too loud for the bartender to ignore it anymore before he might start becoming liable, but Cane also knew, along with everyone in the Lone Star Tavern, that to the bartender a fake ID was just as good as a real one. The greasy looking man in his fifties walked behind the bar to where Riff and Cane sat.

         "You got ID kid?" The grizzled man said, a hint of frustration in his voice.

         "Yessir. Wiley T-Ricks is the name," Riff smiled as he linked his middle fake initial with his fake last name. The bartender didn't take the ID from Riff as he extended it across the bar, but continued cleaning the jug in his hands with a clearly dirty dish towel. The old man glanced at it for the briefest moment before speaking.

         "What'll it be then kid?" Cane allowed himself to grimace as he finished his second glass. It was going to be a long night.

          The ‘help’ that Alasia had called in was there when Auryon climbed from the shower. Though it didn’t look to be like much help. It was a small family, a mom, a dad and a young girl about 11 or so. Alasia was chatting with the parents, still in her half-shifted form and her cat ears turned toward the ex-hunter when she entered the room.

          Wayne entered the kitchen just then, his hands sporting grease stains that told her where he’d been, and then left again to wash up as well. Auryon had forgotten about Wayne’s offer to let her help him on his Charger. Jeanor gently slid a plate across the bar to where Auryon had decided to sit, before returning to washing the dishes already in the sink.

          The vampire leader also shot her a pleading look, as if begging her not to spread the knowledge that the great Jeanor Teal could easily be reduced to washing dishes in his daughter’s home. Auryon bit back a laugh and dug into her plate of grilled chicken and corn.

          She ate in relative peace, only slightly disturbed by the fact that the young girl would glance at her every so often before going back to whatever she was sketching. When she finished, Jeanor took her plate away to be washed. Alasia motioned her and the other to follow her into the living room, which they did. Auryon sank back onto the couch.

          “Okay, this is going to go a bit like it did last night.” Wayne stilled and looked worriedly at his girlfriend. Alasia stood from her crouched position to give him a comforting kiss. <Calm down, tonight shouldn’t have the same outcome.> She told him gently. The young vampire sighed and went to sit in a chair. “Except, I have my friend Sally to help me.” She held out a hand and the 11-year-old stepped forward to take it.

          “How...” Auryon began to protest, the kid was just that, a kid.

          “Sally is a young werecat, she’s the adopted daughter of the lowly human couple, Anthony and Caroline.” The last sentence took on a teasing tone and the parents smiled.

          “I’m not going to ask much of her, she’ll just be a sort of an anchor for me. And Daddy,” Jeanor entered the room at that moment. “He’ll be providing s bit of strength so I don’t drop off on you.” For a moment, the werecat turned away. “Wayne, could you please make sure Anthony and Caroline get settled in the second guest bedroom, it’ll be better if it’s just the four of us in here.”

          Wayne frowned, but obeyed.

          “Are you ready?”

          “No,” the hunter replied.

          “Miss Lacey?” Sally spoke up.

          “Yes, dear?” The young girl pulled out her sketch and gave it Alasia, who studied it for a moment with a smile. “Thank you. It’s perfect.” The ancient woman held the drawing out to Auryon. She took it curiously. There, on that sheet, was a lifelike pencil drawn picture of the ex-hunter standing in front of her Ferrari, the image that Auryon saw in her head as the completed version. Her jaw dropped.

          “Sally can see your greatest dream and can accurately portray it.”

          Slightly relaxed, Auryon took a breath. “Okay, I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.” Alasia nodded and reached for her father’s hand, uncurling her own from its fist. Jeanor carefully sliced a line down both of his palms, placing one hand in his daughter’s and then taking Sally’s own blood covered hand in his other. Then Alasia reached out with her free hand and touched her thumb and forefinger to Auryon’s closed eyelids. In the span of a second, she was back in Aury’s mind.
~~~~~~~~~~~~
          Jon was silent the entire ride home, mulling over the story she’d just told him. He didn’t know exactly how to react. When she’d revealed the horrors that she’d faced, he’d wished that he could have been there. She was sweet and beautiful, undeserving of this life that had been forced on her. The werecat really wanted to be able to protect her from the potentially vicious life that being a vampire entailed. When he got home, maybe he should call his aunt back in England. America was more of her territory anyway. He was more of a guest.

          The couple arrived back at the apartments and climbed out of the car. Jonathan lay a gentle hand on her arm as he guided her to her apartment.

          “Demelis, listen, I’m useless with relationships, but I want to try.” He cupped her chin in his slightly callused hand and tilted her head to look at him. “Despite common thought, felinethropes aren’t perfect. We have our own flaws, which make us a bit worse than humans are because it takes us longer to decide to change. I would like it if you’d give me another shot. I didn’t mean to upset you, really. My lack of tact is the same reason the Council was so happy that I decided to get out of ‘harm’s way’.” Jon leaned forward and brushed a kiss against her forehead. “Feel free to call me if any of those b- show again. I’d like to teach them a lesson they won’t ever forget. And let me tell you, you haven’t seen anyone get mad until you see a werecat do so.” His voice had taken on a deep growl that sent a slight shiver down the vampiress’s spine, but she was calmed somewhat by the fact that it wasn’t directed at her. “I hope to see you again, Demelis.” Then he turned towards his own apartment.
 

         Aury shivered as Alasia touched her forehead. With her face turned towards the small girl, Aury kept the drawing in her mind as she obediantly followed the werecat into dreaming.

         "Hiding again?"

         Aury opened her eyes to darkness, as a younger version of herself huffed, "I'm not hiding. I'm working!"

         She looked around, blinking furiously to accustom her eyes to the sudden gloom. Why was it so dark?

         "Yeah, yeah," came that other voice again.

         Nick, she thought.

         "You know it's never going to run, right?"

         "It will!" Aury caught a flash of her own eyes from underneath a massive piece of machinery. Nick crouched on one knee beside the rolling board Aury lay on. A small light under the machine cast them both in profile.

         "I'm busy, Nick. Why don't you go bother Zeke for awhile? You know he's itching to have a rematch."

         "Nyah," sighed Nick. "Risk is just not all that challenging."

         Aury's light laugh echoed against the aluminum and steel parts. Her feet, sticking out from under the machine, twitched with her laughter.

         "And Ping and Maurice are beating each other up again. I swear, every free moment and they're at it again. I don't know if I can last the whole week."

         "So that's why you're bothering me? You're bored?"

         Nick grabbed an ankle and pulled. "No --"

         "Hey!"

         "I want to show you something. Come on, it'll be worth it, I promise."

         Aury shook her wrench at him, bereft of words, and then sighed. "Fine." She lowered the tool and reached for a rag. "And then will you leave me alone? This is my vacation, too, you know."

         "Yeah, whatever."

         He gave in far too quickly, thought Aury, following them as the two people navigated the cluttered workshop. She trailed her fingers along odds and ends, her heart heavy. She recognized but didn't recognize the place. It was both comfortingly familiar and frighteningly strange. She knew several of the devices on the shelves and could tell which ones of her repairs or inventions worked and which didn't, but it was all so eerie.

         The other Aury and Nick stepped outside the small door inset into the larger, bay doors. Aury trotted a couple steps to keep up. Stepping over the lip, she had to shield her eyes from the bright and harsh lighting on the other side. She whirled around immediately and pounded on the door.

         "No! No! I can't do this! Let me out!"

         Behind her, the men and women or vampires or whatever of the nightmare laboratory walked to and fro monitoring their machines and their patients. The equipment buzzed and hummed at alarming and infrequent intervals. The one vampire from before stood next to Aury's dream-self, hooked up to the rotating bed. Aury didn't want to turn around, didn't want to look.

         "Alasia! Alasia, stop this, please! Please! I can't! I just can't!"

         'It's okay,' she thought she heard, and she looked down, feeling the impression of a smaller hand in her own. 'You're not alone.'

         With a squeak, Aury darted to one side as one of the scientists approached her. She went to the door, opened it with a plastic ID card hanging from her coat, and exited. Aury edged sideways around the room.

         "This can't be right," said the vampire, scowling down at the clipboard in his hand. He turned to one of the others. "That cocktail should have turned her brain to mush. Why isn't it working?"

         The other scientist shrugged. "Probably for the same reason we didn't want to use her anyway. Auryon has never known a life outside the hunters. They've had twenty-two years to program her to do their bidding."

         "Still no luck finding the safehouse."

         A sigh. "And the boy is no more use. Fine, fine, Anfitere, I'll keep trying."

         "And the program?"

         "As you wished it. The team moved into the hotel and perished in an explosion. Her mind will supply the rest, if -- when -- it takes."

         It's all fake, thought Aury, staring herself in the eyes. It never happened.

         "Why? Why?" She had crossed the room without being aware of having moved, or of raising her voice to shout. "What's going on? What happened? What are you bastards doing to me?"

         The other Aury blinked, slowly, fingers twitching against the restraints. She stared at Aury, some of her usual fierceness returning for a second. "Nick?" she whispered, all the while staring at Aury.

         Aury wrapped her arms around herself, shivering. She swallowed against the bile rising to the back of her throat. Her knees banged together. She shook her head, closing her eyes.

         "No! No, I don't believe it!" she screamed at herself. "He would never abandon you -- abandon me! Or the others! Where are they? What happened, d-- it!"

         A faint smile pulled at the corners of the other Aury's mouth. Her fingers twitched again. "Remember," she whispered, grimacing now, eyes falling closed. Chanting. "I remember. I must remember!"

         "No!" screamed Aury. "I don't! I can't! I
won't!"

         She didn't remember closing her eyes, but light of a different kind now teased her eyelids. The antiseptic smell of the lab was gone, replaced by grease and oil. A light breeze stirred her hair, bringing with it the sounds of light traffic, frogs, cans rustling, a dog's bark.

         "No."

         She opened her eyes and stepped out of the workshop. She was in a junkyard, Nick and herself standing a few paces away. Her other self squealed in delight and hugged her team leader. Hooked up to the tow-truck parked in the middle of piles and piles of heaped up automobiles, old appliances, electronic flotsom, and miscellaneous crap, was the battered remains of a once-cherry red Ferrari. The outside looked like it'd taken the losing side in a demolition derby, but Aury knew that most of the insides were still intact.

         She watched herself run around the vehicle. She was standing right there as Nick crumbled and fell, silently, to the dirt, a red-tipped dart sticking out of the side of his neck. She heard the ping of another dart, missing Aury, and then the struggle as she was captured and dragged over.

         She bucked off the arms holding her, trying to hold her steady for the drugs. In the semi-darkness, Aury heard a the snap of a cell phone opening and a very familiar voice said, "We've got them. Bringing them in, now."

         Her dream self managed to land an elbow here, a kick there, but Aury knew the battle was short-lived. The junkyard faded away to blackness all around her.


         Sally's hand was warm in her own as Aury blinked open her eyes again. She felt too numb for tears. "Tank," she said dully. "He was no savior. How did I not recognize him?" She pressed her free hand to her forehead. "I was set up. They got Nick and me, but what about the others? And where's Nick?"

         "Aury."

         Moving her hand, Aury looked at Alasia.

         "It's more important than ever," said the werecat, "that we find out who Tank is, don't you think?"

         She nodded a little shakily. "Y-yeah. But I don't know if I can trust my memories. That was in a whole 'nother city, a different state. I think. I'm almost positive. Is there -- can you look again?"

         Alasia shook her head. "Not right now. Maybe not for awhile. We all need rest. Tell us everything while it's still fresh and then we can get some sleep."

         "You mean, you didn't see?"

         "No," answered the werecat, kneading her temples. "While you were re-living that, I was combating the safeguards placed in your mind. They're tricky ... and exhausting."

         Aury sighed and sat up, leaning into a corner of the couch. "Thank you, Sally," she told the little girl. She blinked and her eyes narrowed suddenly. "Sally, may I see that drawing again?"

         The picture produced, Aury fingered the shiny, red surface of the restored vehicle. "This is what -- I could swear I remember finding this car at a junkyard, buried in other stuff, but ... Alasia, maybe if I can find these places in my head I can make myself remember. I need to go to the junkyard. I want to start there. I need to do this."

         "Not now," Jean interrupted. "No one's going anywhere tonight except to bed."

         Aury smiled tiredly and squeezed the two werecats' hands. "Then let me tell you what I saw."

Demelis turned to her apartment door with a small smile on her face. It was good that they'd settled this. She would have hated to leave Jon angry and full of bitter thoughts. Placing the key in the lock, Demelis started. The door was already unlocked, and it swung open when she pushed it gently.

Slightly apprehensive, she entered, pulling her key out of the door and placing it instead between her fingers, aligned parallel with her knuckles, sharp point sticking out. A defensive move she learned a long time ago.

Stepping warily inside and closing the door behind her, she peered into the semi-darkness; she always forgot to open the blinds in daytime. Adjusting her eyes quickly, she saw no unfamiliar shapes, and relaxed a little bit. Walking more easily, but keeping the key, she went to the kitchen to check the phone for any messages.

Turning her back to the hallway that led to the master and spare bedroom, she unhooked the phone from its cradle and read the digital screen: one missed call, one new message. Frowning, she pushed the button to listen to the message. It beeped.

"New message. One fifty-three P.M. Beeeep. Demelis? Demelis, it's...it's me. Listen, we have to talk. Bad uh, bad things are happening, and I need to talk to you. Can we meet? No, no, that's not what I wanna ask. How are you? I mean...well...do you know what's been going on? About..." there was a long pause, and Demelis stood, wary, "well, just about everything. I can't..." big sigh here, "I can't say it right now, Demmy. I just...oh my GOD! We've been so out of touch, and all these things are happening, and I need you! Where the hell have you been?!?" There was another pause, even longer, lasting until Demelis was sure that was the end of the message. "I'm coming over. I've had your address for a long time...I just couldn't...all right, I'm coming. Right now. Today. Yeah...uh...I'll...see you soon. Beeeep. End of final message."

Demelis' brow was creased with worry. She didn't recognize the voice. And what kind of nickname was 'Demmy'? She'd never been called that in her life. Sighing, she erased the message, shaking her head as she put it back on its cradle and dropping her key on the counter. There must have been some mistake.

Turning swiftly with the intent of going to her room to change, Demelis crashed into something solid and large. She squeaked as she hit the floor hard, and looked up to see a stranger.

"What are you doing in my house?!?" she gasped out. "OUT!"

Fear had driven deep into her soul in just one second, and it was causing her to panic. The man faltered, and as she rose unsteadily, he opened and closed his mouth several times before speaking.

"Hey, Demmy," he said feebly. "Didn't you listen to the message?"

She stared at him in horror, not having the least bit of knowledge as to who he was or why, on Earth he was calling her Demmy. It sounded stupid, foreign to her. Her head spun, and she felt as though someone was pounding her head in with a mallet. Knees wobbling, she sunk to the floor, clutching the counter in a weak attempt to hold herself up.

The man kneeled down beside her, dark-lashed brown eyes peering at her worriedly.

"Demmy? DEMELIS? Hey!" he called out, but she was already losing herself in the shadowy depths of unconsciousness.



**~BWAHAHA! My evil plan has been set into motion! Heh. Yeah, I'm hyper. ^^;; ~**

          Alasia tiredly made her way up to her room, she was determined to make it under her own power this time. However, when she got then, dressed and settled on to her large, canopied bed, she couldn’t sleep. She had to grip her hands into fists that made her nails cut into her palms to keep from screaming out in frustration. She was one of the oldest werecats in all of America, second only to her mother and her grandparents when they were here. This was THEIR territory, no one else had the right to muddle in the minds of the mortals, things like that usually wound up screwing up and putting the secret society of werewolves, werecats and vampires from seeping out and frightening the public. And now they were messing with one of her own.

          The felinethrope reached into her nightstand for her diary and began to quickly jot down all that Auryon had told her. While she could usually rely on her memory, there was no point in taking any chances...

          When that task was finished, she tried to relax and drift off, but her mind wouldn’t let her. Instead, she tried to puzzle out the whole situation, with no avail.

          Sally paused in the doorway of her bedroom.

          “Miss Lacey?”

          “Hey sweetheart. Are you okay? I didn’t want to wear you out or anything.”

          “Oh, I’m fine. Mommy and Daddy are asleep.”

          “That’s good. Sally, could you do me a favor?”

          “What’s that?”

          “If you’re not sleepy, would you go sit outside Aury’s door and listen?”

          “Does she talk in her sleep?” Alasia laughed softly.

          “Not that kind of listen.”

          “Oh, you want me to take my pencils and listen and draw?”

          “Exactly.” Sally nodded her head. “Thank you.” Finally feeling her mind unwinding, Alasia yawned. Then she rolled over on her side and went to sleep.

          Wayne stood at the end of the corridor, listening. He frowned slightly to himself.

          “Lacey, baby, why won’t you let me help you like you’ve helped me?” He asked in a whisper to himself before retreating to his own room
~~~~~~~~~~~~
          “Aw, Aunty... do I have to?” Jonathan whined into the phone, sounding more like a young kid than a mature werecat.

          “Yes, Alasia will be your biggest help there now.”

          “But she swore that she’d make me the laughingstock of the Council if she caught me planning to stay longer than a few days in America.”

          “Well, I suppose you’ll have to get over it. Just have Lord Jeanor send me a tape of what she does, it should be rather amusing...”

          “Aunty...” the rest of his protest was quickly cut off. His head jerked up as his sensitive ears picked up on Demelis yelling at someone. “I’ll call you back.”

          “Jon?” He quickly ended the call and started out the door to Demelis’s apartment. The door was locked. The werecat worriedly knocked, then pounded on the door.

          “Demelis? Are you okay? Demelis? Demelis!”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
          Cane groggily stirred as he felt someone kicking him in the side. He felt like he had a hangover from...

          “K-9.” A female’s voice hissed, bringing to mind an angry cat. Cats he could deal with. After all, he was a werewolf. He felt a growl beginning in his throat. “Don’t you start that.” The voice snapped, pulling him closer to actually waking. “Get up, you smelly dog.”

          He groaned in protest and then he heard the annoyed whine of Riff and he remembered where he was and realized that it was Bethany who was talking to him. He cracked open his black eyes.

          “Much better. Riff, go back to sleep. K-9, get yourself cleaned up, you and I have a short trip we need to go on.”
 

         Aury caught the earliest morning buses back to her apartment and then over to her garage. She needed to pick up some things. Then she hopped the subway to get out of the city. The junkyard was still something of a hike from the train station and so she didn't actually scale the fence until almost ten a.m. She knew instantly that she was in the right place when she saw the shed.

         Built into heaps of scrap metal, the building had accumulated a few layers of junk, but there was no mistaking the shed from her memory. She perched on the edge of a stack of old tires, hugging her heavy backpack, and stared at the entrance. The door had long since fallen off its hinges. From the looks of things, no one had used that building since Aury's team. It looked forgotten. It looked unreal. It looked ... totally unfamiliar, like something she'd seen in a photograph and never actually experienced.

         She curled trembling fingers into fists on her bag. Come on, Aury, you can do this. Nothing to it.

         Slowly, she rose and slipped her bag back over her shoulders. She eased her pistol out of its shoulder sheath and eased off the safety. She was glad she'd grabbed her gloves because her hands were sweating. Step by step she creeped towards the shed. There was an old kerosene lantern by the door. She kicked it experimentally, but there was no answering slosh of oil. Reluctantly, she took a hand off her gun and reached into her backpack for her flashlight.

         Breathe, Aury, breathe! she reminded herself.

         Some of the shelves had collapsed, but the main workspace in the center looked exactly as it had in her dream. At the back was the diesel engine Aury had been working on. She flashed her light over the shelves, recognizing some of the things, remembering others from the dream, and shrugging off the rest as random junk. A fine layer of grit covered everything.

         Standing in the center of the building, which had enough clear space to park a car, Aury lowered her gun and put it away. She didn't know what she'd been expecting, but she'd at least expected something!

         "I suppose I wanted that montage assault of memories, like in the movies," she muttered grimly, exasperated. She moved back over to the big engine. "Just what was I trying to do?" The thing was a relic, like the generators used to power the coastal defense batteries built prior to WWII. She'd never seen a working model. Didn't look like this was going to be her day, either.

         She sighed and trudged back towards the door. Strike this idea. Going back outside, she sat back down on the tires and pulled out her metro map. As much as she didn't want to do it, she had to find Tank. According to her memories, he lived in a totally different city. But so, too, supposedly, was this junkyard.

         She hadn't slept much of the night before, tossing and turning in dreams she really didn't think she wanted to remember, and rising with the sun. Dressing in her own clothes again, she'd spent some time on Alasia's laptop, reviewing the city's website. By the time the buses had started running, she'd located the junkyard and found a location downtown that approximately matched her memory of Tank's house. She just had to get there.

         Musing about the convenience a vehicle would be at this point, Aury climbed back over the fence and began the next stage of her trip. From time to time her fingers went to the keys in her pocket. Tank had a lot of things to answer for.
Demelis woke to the sounds of banging on the door and the stranger's curses. Opening one eye to barely a slit, she watched the man pace around, muttering, as the banging kept on.

She opened both eyes fast when she heard who was on the other side.

"Jon!" she called out, sitting up. The man stopped in surprise and then rushed to her, clapping a hand over her mouth. She struggled in vain, but heard Jon growing louder. The man yelled out.

"Go away! You're interrupting us!"

A muffled but clearly venomous voice shouted back: "LET ME IN! What's going on, Demelis?"

"STEP OFF!" the man yelled, but then Demelis bit his hand and he cried out in shock, releasing her. She sprinted to the door and flung in open, revealing Jon, poised for an attack.

"Hey!" he said, rushing in and pulling her close before running his eyes over the apartment, resting on the stranger, who was sitting sullenly on the couch. "Who is that? Why was there yelling going on? Are you okay?"

Demelis tried to gather herself, but still didn't know how to start. The man spoke up gruffly.

"I'm Tank. I was paying Demmy a visit. We hadn't seen each other in a long time."

He offered no further explanation, and Demelis felt herself growing angry. She put her hands on her hips.

"I don't know who you think you are and why you think you have the right to be here, but you need to leave. Now." Her tone didn't faze him; he only narrowed his eyes a bit.

"You mean you really don't remember?" his seemed genuinely surprised, and then grew suspicious. He stood, towering over her and even Jon. Peering into her lilac eyes dotted with red, he frowned. "I really didn't think you'd succeeded. What have you been doing all this time?"

"What do you mean?" Demelis asked, now confused as the red pinpoints faded away. Tank stared harder at her, but she only gazed back, unknowing. Jon huffed.

"She wants you to leave. Just go!" he exclaimed, fixing the other man with a steely gaze. Tank snorted.

"No sense in me leaving now. I'm here on a mission, which has just gotten harder." He directed his attention back to Demelis. "Do you mean to tell me that you don't remember any of it? Nothing we did, nothing we planned?"

His words seemed to have a meaning other than normal, and Demelis felt herself slipping away. Something wouldn't let her think about this. About him.

"I don't know you. I've never seen you in my life. I don't know what you're trying to make me understand." She shrugged helplessly. Tank pursed his lips, dark blue eyes darting around the room in apparent annoyance.

Jon moved closer to Demelis, and she leaned into him slightly, needing support. Tank noticed.

"Who the hell is this guy?" he asked roughly. Jon hardened his eyes.

"I'm Jonathan. More important to Demelis than you'll ever be," he snapped. Tank laughed humorlessly.

"You don't know what you're talking about, kid. Demmy and I go way back. I'm here now to take her where she belongs."

"She belongs here!" Jon retorted, slipping an arm about her waist to make his point.

"Why don't you ask her where she belongs?" Tank countered. "Ask her where her home is."

Jon turned his gaze to Demelis, who flinched nervously.

"I...I don't know the answer to that, Jon," she said softly. "I'm still new here, you know, and I've just been wandering around the past few decades. Loneliness doesn't have a home." She smiled bitterly. Tank looked deep in thought.

"Wandering around, huh? You really don't remember, do you? You completely erased everything having to do with us...just betrayed us and then left. Wasn't really your style, but you did it. This is proof now, after all this time."

He paused, making a decision, as Demelis opened and closed her mouth in confusion.

"All right, here's the plan: Jon, you stay here, go on about your normal life. Demmy, you're coming with me. I've got things to show you. Things I'm going to help you remember. I was sent here to bring you back to the company, whether or not you remembered what happened. No protesting, got it? That kind of stuff is gonna get you killed."

Demelis worked her mouth, but nothing would come out.

"She's not going anywhere with you!" Jon burst out, green eyes blazing. "You don't have the right to take her away!"

"Actually, kid, I do. She's company property, like it or not. Always has been. Now leave, before I decide to hurt you."

While this statement sounded completely cliche in movies...this wasn't the theater, and Demelis felt a chill run down her back. She bit her lip, then turned to Jon, begging him silently to understand. She had a plan, but he'd have to back off for a little while. She could handle this.

"Jon, please, just go to your apartment. I'm sure I'll be back soon, okay? I'll get this settled and over with."

Tank snorted again, but stayed silent. Jon's burning eyes pierced into hers, and she began to tear up. I'm such a girl sometimes, she thought bitterly. Jon broke the gaze after a few moments, resentful.

"Fine. But if you aren't back soon, I'm coming for you."

She bowed her head in acquiescence as he left, sending one last glare toward Tank before slamming the door shut. As soon as he was gone, Tank leered at her.

"Well, then, come along, little Demmy, and we'll see if we can recover your membership properly."


A Non-Existent User

         Cane cleaned his pistol to keep from falling asleep during the ride to ... wherever. He didn't know where Bethany was taking him. He didn't care. He didn't care much for anything those days. The werecat didn't so much as bat an eyelash that Cane noticed during the drive. The only movements she made were to shift down to fourth around sharp corners and then back up to fifth, as they drove higher up the mountains on the city outskirts. Cane glanced over casually at the strange woman. She intrigued him, which was more than he could say for the rest of the hunters. Riff was like an open book to Cane. Not even knowing was the young sniper was going to do next was entertaining enough to hold Cane's interest. Bethany spoke only when neccesary: a quality that Cane appreciated. Her every action seemed calculated and with intent or a goal of some sort. He wondered what her story was. The werecat turned to catch him staring at her and gave him a questioning look. The werewolf shrugged noncholauntly and turned to gaze out the window at the city lights below, as he resumed cleaning his desert eagle in the un-lit car.

         Ten minutes later Bethany turned off of the highway onto a steep gravel road that led up the mountain and deep into the woods, eventually coming to an end in a small dark clearing a few minutes later. Bethany waited a few seconds in silence after killing the engine and the lights before turning to Cane.

         "Lets go. You can bring the gun if it makes you feel safer, but we won't need it tonight," she said as she swung open the door and stepped out. Cane glanced at the gun momentarily before exiting the car and tucking it securely in the back of his jeans. Bethany was already entering the woods and beckoned Cane to follow. Five minutes of slow and silent strides through the woods brought them to the edge of a cliff. Cane's eyes lingered on Bethany's twisting tail for just a moment as she lay down on the ground and motioned for Cane to do the same. He did slowly and crossed his arms on the ground, resting his chin on them and peering down at the activity below. There was a cement building illuminated by powerful spotlights. Several trucks were parked in the clearing aswell, from which crates were being unloaded into the bunker-like building.

         "What exactly are we looking at," Cane asked, keeping his voice just above a whisper.

          “Miss Aury?” Auryon paused when she heard the familiar voice of Sally, turning to see the young girl standing on the sidewalk, a bookbag slung over her shoulder.
          “What are you doing here?”
          Sally held up a small lunchbox, “I’m going to school.” Then the 11-year-old pouted slightly, “You left before I could give you my pictures.”
          “More pictures?”
          “Yeah.” Sally set down her bookbag and started rummaging around inside it. She then pulled out a stack of about four or five drawings. “Miss Lacey said they might help.” The young werecat handed them to the ex-hunter. “Here you go,” with a wave, Sally jogged off to school.
          Auryon watched her go, before looking at the pictures in her hand.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
          Jonathan growled under his breath as he paced in his apartment. On moment he was cursing himself for letting that vampire just take her away. Then he was listening intently for any sound that Demelis had returned. He hadn’t slept at all that night, but his anger and frustration, along with his werecat system, had him wired as if he’d downed a dozen energy drinks. He didn’t like the feeling that the stranger had given him. Like most werecats, he wasn’t frightened by Blodwyn, but this man, Tank, drove his instincts into hyperdrive.
          He stopped moving for a moment, as he realized what he needed to do before he made good on his word to follow after her. Regardless of his apprehensions, Alasia would be able to help him. He’d even allow her to embarrass her in anyway that she liked in order that Demelis was brought back safely.
          The ancient man shifted into is quickest form, a cheetah with light colored fur and spots and darted out the door. This way, he could find Alasia’s scent and follow it to find her in the first try.
~~~~~~~~~~~~
          “Wayne, what’s the matter?” The werecat asked him as he passed her for the third time without talking to her. She’d been hanging out at the bar while Auryon was out on her search, hoping that Sally had found the ex-hunter in time to be of help and also hoping to talk to talk to Demelis about the meeting with Celadon that she’d missed. Her vampire boyfriend looked as if he’d pass her by, but he seemed to change his mind. Wayne slid into the booth across from her.
          “Lacey, I’ve been watching your actions over the past few days and I feel left out.” She reached across the table to lay her hand on his. “I feel useless here, you are relying so much on everyone’s special talents and I have none. But I don’t want to just let you go and risk getting hurt, you may not realize how much you’ve done in holding me together.”
          “I don’t believe that you are useless. Wayne, you’re still a young vampire, your ‘special’ talents just haven’t surfaced yet.”
          “That’s exactly what I mean, what if they never surface, look at Maia, all she can do is seduce a man. What if...” The werecat held up a hand stopping him mid-sentence and tilting her head to the side.
          “There’s someone coming.” She listened further and a smile crept across her face. “Well, well, well. Looks like little Jonny has come to pay me a visit.”
          “Who?” Wayne’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. Alasia laughed.
          “Don’t worry, look.” She gestured toward the door as it opened and a large cat padded in. Several of the patrons who’d never seen a werecat before gasped and jumped from their seats only to return when their fellow vampires showed no fear. “Come here, Jonny.” Alasia called.
          The cheetah walked over and shifted back to his human form. Wayne blinked in surprise, glancing back and forth between the felinethropes, taking in the similar coloring of their eyes and the similar shape of their faces. “I’m so glad you’re here.”
          “Wayne, meet my first cousin, Jonathan Brennis. Unlike me, he’s a full-blooded werecat, the only way that he could have inherited the ability to shift.” Her voice was light as she stood and kissed his cheek, but that light-heartedness faded away when she noticed the worried look in his eyes. “What’s wrong, Jonny? Did something happen to Mom?”
          “No, Aunt Kayce was fine when I left her. I’ve been in the States about a week.
I came to ask for your help with something.”
          “Of course, what is it?”
          “I need to find a man named Tank.”
          Alasia grabbed his arm and pulled him to the back of the club and into Jeanor’s office. The vampire master looked up in surprise as they entered. “Jonathan?”
          “Shh...”” she hissed. Jeanor immediately shut up at the expression on his daughter’s face. “Alright, Jonny, you don’t do this often, but you just captured my complete attention. Spill.” There was a slight growl to her voice, reminding the younger werecat why she would always be his superior in rank. He swallowed and began his tale, taking care not to leave out a single detail, he didn’t want to push her over the edge and she looked pretty close to doing so at this point
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
          >Just watch.< As the pair lay there, the figures finished with their task. Bethany tapped Cane’s shoulder and wordlessly pointed off toward a clump of bushes. He saw a flash of movement and a small group of black-clad humans spread out around the building. The workers clustered together, laughing and passing around a bottle of something, most of them seemed at least a little drunk.
          One of them, not quite as drunk as the rest, seemed to notice the movement as well. He opened his mouth to speak when the newcomers struck. The werewolf watched, stunned by the massacre that unfolded before his eyes.
          All of the newcomers pounced on the workers, some pairing up as they revealed their fangs. Cane saw and smelled the blood starting to slide over the humans’ skin as it escaped the eager mouths of the attackers while they fed. One by one, the creatures dropped the corpses to the ground until only the watchful drunk was left. He received special treatment. The creature that appeared to be the leader raised up a knife that flashed in the spotlight and slit its own wrist, then pressed it to the young man’s mouth. Cane saw his throat move as he swallowed.
          After a moment, the leader pulled his wrist away and gestured to his followers to pick up the man. The laughter of victorious predators echoed up the cliff as they disappeared from sight and then from sound.
          “K-9, this is perversion to the ultimate degree. This is what we strive to eliminate. They’ll escape tonight because I wanted you to see this and understand. But we’ll get them soon. That’s what we hunters do.” Bethany stood, moonbeams illuminating her dark hair. Her tawny yellow eyes glowed in the night, making Cane wonder if maybe werecats and werewolves weren’t so different, if maybe a cat and ‘dog’ could get along.
 

         The picture on top looked like a flying saucer. No, that couldn't be right. Aury flipped and rotated the page, but it still didn't look like anything recognizeable. She went to the next picture. This one was drawn like a photograph, complete with frame. Five smiling faces waved at the camera. Aury swallowed the lump in her throat and went to the next. She barely stopped herself from crumpling the paper up in her fist. This was a recreation of the lab, with the one scientist poised with clipboard in hand. That was not, however, Aury in the chair. She peered closer, catching her breath. Nick was the one being worked on. The next picture seemed to be of a dilapidated old firestation and the last picture was a tall, office-like building. In fact, it looked suspiciously like the corner where Aury was standing.

         She turned and looked around her. In the early afternoon light, the place looked peaceful and ordinary enough. Business people in suits and carrying briefcases went in and out of the doors. This was the start of the city block that Aury had highlighted on her map. Stuffing the pages in her backpack, she decided to continue on her reconaissance.

         Moseying up the sidewalk, she noted that the one building was in fact two, joined in one corner. Behind the skyscraper was a parking structure on one side, a bit of grassy area with some trees, and a bridge across the entrance to the garage to the twin set of buildings on the other side. Moving in that direction, Aury saw what looked like a mini-pyramid in-between the two buildings in a man-made park section by the cafe. She went a little closer, towards the cafe.

         The pyramid sheltered a below-ground structure. A little overhang held an elevator. She bypassed the structure and went into the little cafeteria.

         "Oh, that's the gym," said the clerk as she checked out, sandwich in hand. "Employees here get a discount." He handed her a flyer. "Here, check it out."

         "Thanks."

         She took her food outside and sat at one of the tables under an umbrella. Pulling out her laptop, she connected to a wireless server and went to the website listed on the flyer. She was perusing the site for obvious means of tampering or overlays when she spotted a familiar face. Aury tugged on her hat, inwardly shaking, but hoping she looked like just another college kid out on a break. She watched the couple from the corner of her eye.

         The first was a man, average in build, fairly average in appearance, with brown hair cut short. Tank! He wore a suit, the jacket slung over his arm and the tie loosened. The woman he escorted -- no, that was a vampire! She was by no means as comfortable as her escort. In fact, she didn't really look like she wanted to be there at all.

         Oh, man, thought Aury. She watched as the two walked into the elevator and descended. Then she pulled out her cell phone.

         "Alasia? Hey, it's me, Aury. I've found Tank. They just entered some kind of gym. And I think I recognized the girl he was with. From the club, a waitress, I think. Vampire. I need to go back to my lab, this is ... well, I don't know, but it's not an apartment complex. I don't want to go in without doing some more research ... Shall I meet you at the club, then? Okay. See you in a few."
Demelis was thoroughly uncomfortable. While Tank exuded an outward air of elegant casualness, she could feel the immense power that he commanded within himself. He could snap her in two in as many seconds. Where was he taking her? she wondered. They'd walked a few blocks before coming to an out of the way park, and then on toward a twin set of buildings. There was an elevator right next to the entrance of a parking garage, and Demelis looked around nervously as they stepped in. Hardly anyone was sitting at the cafe, so there were minimal witnesses.

Tank pressed a button, and the doors closed, the last ray of sunlight blinding her eyes as they closed tight. She wanted to say something, anything, because now all casualness had left Tank, and he stood erect and powerful. He wasn't playing nice anymore, and she knew that she'd have to tread carefully here.

Some sense took hold of her, and she contemplated seriously knocking him out and taking off, back to Jon. Demelis shook it off, wondering why in the world she'd think she had a chance.

"No means of escaping where we're going," Tank said, as if reading her mind. She stared straight ahead, concentrating inward, trying to dissipate her sudden rage. How fair was it that some stranger had to choose her to play his little mind games? She wanted no part of this, and yet it seemed she was helpless. Her ill-conceived plan of changing her appearance enough to escape would most likely turn out to be futile.

The doors opened with a hiss, and she didn't wait for him before stepping out into a room full of exercise equipment and medicine balls. Tank passed her in a few easy strides, heading for a door on the opposite side. She followed, noting that the room was devoid of people.

Going down a simply-decorated hallway, Tank turned left at the first turn, and then right into the third hallway. At the end of the hallway was a smallish door with a retina scan, thumb pad, and voice-recognition machine guarding it. She winced. Tank walked right up and scanned his right eye while pressing his thumb to the pad. Holding both positions, he stated clearly into the speaker beneath the retina scan: "Tank, Project 8916. Confirm."

"Access granted," a nasal tone machine speaking back to him. "Open door."

Tank grasped the handle of the door and pulled, opening it slightly before glancing back at Demelis. A smirk decorated his features.

"Are you ready?" he asked mockingly. Demelis closed her eyes and took a deep breath, several images flashing on the backs of her eyelids: Tank. Jon. Maia. Celadon. Carly. Tears welled up but she willed them away, taking a few moments to calm herself, rein in emotions so she could use them constructively.

When she opened her eyes, they were a blazing crimson, full of strength and passion.

"Yes."

Tank opened the door into a world that mystified and intrigued her all at once, and also brought back an overwhelming sense of deja vu.




          The family sat in Jeanor’s office, listening intently to every sound of footsteps that might betray Aury’s arrival, Wayne jumped to his feet whenever he thought that she was coming this way. Jonathan, under orders from Alasia, had shifted down to his house cat form and was now curled up in her lap as she soothingly stroked his small head.
          Maia had come and gone, nearly getting her head ripped off when she accidentally spilled Jeanor’s glass all over his desk. Tempers were obviously running high, so she’d retreated to the front of the bar to flirt and work.
          Auryon hurried straight through to the back and into the office, nearly turning and running right back out again when she walked into the room. The calm, barely suppressed anger in Alasia’s emerald green eyes that seemed to be hiding a gradually slipping grasp of sanity and the predatory auras surrounding the two male vampires making her instincts scream for her to escape.
          “Please, come in. And tell us everything.” Alasia’s voice was stiff and polite, her normally Southern accent complete absent with a British one in its place. “When you’re through, there is someone you need to meet.” The small cat meowed softly.
 

         "It's no good," said Aury after the introductions were complete and the group around her sat, discussing the latest developments. "I can't do this."

         "Do what?" asked Alasia, as all eyes went back to the only human in the room.

         She met Jonathan's eyes, not at all surprised to find him more than he seemed. "I can't get Demelis back."

         "I thought you --" he started to snap.

         "It's not like breaking into a safe," said Aury tiredly. "I need help." She stared down at the pictures she'd kept shuffling in her hands. "My memory's shot and I just don't have the skills. Unfortunately, the people I need are missing." She frowned, holding the picture-photo in her hands. "If they're even still alive."

         "So what do you expect us to do? Sit around and just leave her with that whacko?"

         "That 'wacko,'" Aury told him seriously, "is a vampire whose lived long enough to earn mastery in just about every martial art there is. And he'll be just the start of their security. D---, but I wish I'd found an apartment complex and not a gym. Or even something above ground. That complex is going to be harder to crack than ... than -- sh--, whatever, it's just going to be darn near impossible. None of you here are trained for this sort of thing, I don't have time to teach you, and there's no one safe that we can hire."

         Jean looked up from his quiet conversation on the other side of the room. "So, what are you suggesting?"

         "Surveillance," said Aury. "Not you, Jon," she sent in the werecat's direction. "Tank knows what you look like. It has to be completely un-obvious? Huh, if that's a word. No electronics, either. The people who go in have to be clean."

         "Go in?"

         "Yeah, you'll need folks in the gym and outside. There has to be more than one exit, building codes and all. We'll need blueprints to look at, but I'm fairly certain that there's at least one private entrance to each of those three office buildings, and they'll be stairs, an emergency exit somewhere as well. There's no way of telling how big the ... the lab is."

         "You think it's the lab?" asked Alasia.

         Aury nodded, and swallowed. "Yeah, pretty sure, that makes the most sense, considering this swiss-cheese brain of mine."

         "You said 'your,'" said Jean, giving Aury an uneasy frown. "You're not going to be running this little operation?"

         "It's just surveillance," she told him. "You've practice doing that, and your people as well. Don't get caught. I can't tell you what kind of measures they might use, but the more unobtrusive you are, the better. Get folks in as employees or, if you can blackmail any of them or trick them into helping, so much the better. I'm willing to bet that this whole ... uh, operation, is secure enough that those offices are just offices, but I'll need to look at the prints and do some more research to be sure."

         "Then what?"

         Aury had the firehouse picture in her other hand. She looked up at Jon. "We're going to find help." Then she looked back over at Jean. "But I won't leave until I've helped you work out the surveillance schedules and likely access points. You, sir, need to stay where you can be protected, so you're off the team. No, sir," she continued, seeing him open his mouth to argue. "They'll know your face, practically everyone in this city does. Whoever they are, they'll know something is amiss if you start poking your head around. Or," she added, staring at Alasia, "anyone connected with you."

         Alasia's eyes narrowed. "She's --"

         Holding up her hand, Aury pressed on, "We'll need a diversion. My folks need to think I'm still with you, and both groups need to think there's nothing out of the ordinary going on." She smirked at Jon. "Looks like you and Demelis just got an unexpected vacation. You're going away for a little while. And meanwhile, we need to figure out what would keep the boss and his daughter and myself down and out of sight for a short while."

         "This is --" Alasia tried again, but Wayne placed a hand protectingly over hers.

         "Love, there's nothing you can do at the moment."

         "What do they want with her?" Alasia asked instead, glancing back from her boyfriend to Aury.

         The hunter shrugged. "I have no idea. She's a vampire, so I don't really think she's in danger." Her eyes slid to Jon's angry ones and she sighed. "The only thing that makes sense is that ... uh, she's part of the project somehow."

         "No!"

         "Considering the mess of my memories," Aury pressed on, "it's possible that Demelis had her mind worked on, too." That caused a new round of whispers to circulate. "Look, as difficult as this is, we can't move forward until we have the proper information, tools, and skills. Can you," she asked, looking to Jean, "stay calm and quiet until I can do that?"

         "How long?"

         "I don't know."


Tank let Demelis go through first, and she stepped in slowly. Her head swum as she eyed the long, polished hallway full of scurrying people going about their business. It all looked normal, threatening, and familiar all at once. She shut her eyes tight, regaining stability before turning to Tank.

"Where are we?"

"Of course you would ask that," Tank laughed. She frowned. "This, dear, is Project 8916 headquarters. No official name, as of yet. Anonymity is best. Look familiar?"

Demelis stayed mute. The normalcy threw her off a bit; what could possibly be so important in here that had to be protected by complicated and extensive technology?

"Now, I admit that this all looks totally innocent," Tank said after a few moments, watching her carefully, "but we all know what this project is really about. Do you remember now?"

Something was tugging at her mind, but she ignored it. If he was wanting her to remember so bad, she wouldn't, just to spite him. If there was anything she didn't remember, anyway.

"D---, Demelis!" Tank burst out, causing a few passersby to stare. "How could you have really succeeded? We had the best security, the best everything, and you managed to screw us over! Now, tell me honestly, do you remember what you did, or don't you?"

Without hesitation, she answered.

"Of course I do! Do you really think I could've forgotten?"

Tank's face grew pale.

"You're serious?" he asked, voice faint. Demelis nodded, hoping he couldn't hear her heart beating so fast. His face darkened suddenly.

"Come on then," he said roughly, grabbing her arm and going down the hall. "We all have something to say to you."

Demelis bit her lip, trying not to let her nervousness show. She was trying to play along here, but she didn't even know the game. She hoped for the best.

He led her to a roomful of empty chairs, forcing her around until she was sitting in one.

"I'll be back," he said, shutting the door behind him. Demelis waited, scanning the windowless room. A long, gleaming cherry wood table sat in front of her, without a fingerprint to blemish the sheen. The chairs were all comfortably leather padded, with plushy armrests. Carpet was a dark, rich green, and, experimentally, she slipped off her shoe and felt around. Deep and soft.

She grew bored as the time passed, so she got up to pace around the room. There were no hangings or portraits on the walls; there was nothing there to capture her interest. There was a projector screen at the far end, with its companion projector sitting on the table. She moved toward it, wondering if there was anything to show.

The door opened, and a sudden babble of voices startled her. A number of people entered the room and sat, wary of Demelis. They chattered in low tones, occasionally throwing a glance at her. She waited for them to fall silent.

Tank walked in last, and seated himself at the end of the table, eyes boring into hers. She walked to the opposite end and watched them, quiet. Eventually they settled down, some looking hostile, others cautious. Tank spoke up.

"So explain to us why you left. Explain everything."

There was a general nod of consent, and Demelis shifted under all the eyes upon her. She took a deep breath once more, feeling a strangeness settle upon her, as if some other personality was surfacing. She began.

"I left because I wasn't satisfied."

She let that sink in, trying to think fast. She had no idea where she was going with this.

"I left because you all are a bunch of pathetic fools, knowing nothing but choosing to flaunt false knowledge."

The hostility was greater now, but she plunged on, trying to find some confidence within herself.

"I had business of my own to attend to, business that left me no choice but to leave you, gladly I must say, and pursue other interests."

"What interests?" a lady asked sharply. Her eyes were a fierce yellow, and glaring, but Demelis didn't waver. She knew where she was going.

"Other interests. Should I really have to say? Don't you know me well enough to know that I wanted something greater, something more productive?"

"All we knew was that you were a bloodthirsty vampire who revealed nothing of your past. All you ever let us know was that you were here for the blood. For the torture. Has anything changed?"

Demelis took a quick moment to absorb this. It didn't seem quite shocking that she'd been labeled as bloodthirsty. It was what she was feeling right now.

"No," she sneered. Something else indeed had consumed her. She no longer felt like herself...but it also felt familiar. "My other interests involved things of the same sort, only better." She let a wicked smile spread across her face, feeling as though she were acting for an audience. "I told you I wasn't satisfied here. Not enough blood."

There was a small silence, in which she stared across the room, daring anyone else to contradict her. Tank spoke.

"How do we know you're not lying?" his tone was hardened, but there was an underlying note of fear. Demelis let her eyes blaze crimson, and bared her teeth.

"You don't," she spat. "But what reason would I have? It's the blood that matters to me. The screams. Everything else is simply an accessory."

"Sociopath," someone muttered. Demelis laughed, a horrible sound full of evil.

"That's right. Does anyone doubt it?"

Their faces said it all.



A Non-Existent User
Cane scanned the empty room one last time. His bunk was neatly made. The closet was empty, along with the drawers in the bedside table. The shotgun and desert eagle that he had so eagerly accepted lay on the bed with their safetys on. Cane wasn't sure what he was looking for. He hadn't brought anything with him to the hunter's headquarters. In fact he hadn't come their on his own will at all. They had treated him well enough, but he didn't have enough facts to make an educated decision of his own. Not to do what they wanted him to do at least. He was too young a werewolf.

Cane patted his pocket where his single cigar tube was secured. It, along with the clothes on his back and his medallion were his only real posessions. With no bags to pack, Cane decided not to delay the moment any longer. The werewolf opened the door to his room and stepped out into the hallway. His eyes adjusted to the dim light that resulted from the moon shining through the sunroof above. The hallway was epmty. Cane proceeded forward with a sure step, and quickly found himself face down on the floor.

Damn potted plant, Cane thought as he realised what he had tripped over. He quickly stood and headed for the back door of the headquarters. Cane looked over his shoulder as he quietly unlocked the door and stepped out into the clear and cool night. Cane foolishly let the door go behind him and winced as the slam pierced the silence of the night. He wasted no time in walking across the parking lot with haste for the road.

"Where you going Cane?" The distinct coolness in her voice gave Bethany away. Without turning to face the werecat, Cane replied.

"I'm leaving."

"Why is that?" Cane turned to continue the conversation and was surprised to find the werecat approaching him, and only a couple feet away. Her tail swished behind her curves anxiously.

"I don't like killing people that haven't done anything to me," Cane said plainly through an expressionless face.

"They aren't people Cane. They are vampires, and killers at that," the impatience in Bethany's tone was evident.

"Still. Something about it just don't feel right," Cane said grunting.

"That is unfortunate. I had rather high hopes for you Cane," Bethany smiled.

"Sorry to dissapoint you," Cane said unsincerely, and he turned to leave without another word.

"I'm afraid that you are the one who will be dissapointed." Cane kept walking and ignored the angered feline, but quickly realised that she was being completely serious when an invisable force struck him from the side and sent him crashing into a brick wall.
Cane shook his head in an attempt to ward of the darkness that enveloped his vision from the pain that pulsed from the back of his head. A second later he regained his vision to find himself struggling uselessly to escape invisable binds that tied him to the brick wall, and Bethany advancing in him with an evil twinkle in her eye.

"What I meant Cane," she said almost laughing, "was that it is unfortunate that I cannot allow you to leave." Claws extended from her bent fingers as she stood infront of the enraged werewolf. Cain felt as if he was in another world, or rather caught between two as Bethany raked her claws across his chest. Pain echoed through his body, and he wondered why he couldn't change. He quickly realised that Bethany's mysterious powers were shadowing his own, and he could not change while her bonds held him there to stand helplessly while she covered his body in deep bloody incisions. The werecat laughed maniacly while she licked Cane's blood off of her wicked claws.

"I can't have you running off to discover the truth," she spat viciously, "and have you join forces with the wretched Jeanor and his family!" In her newfound rage she slapped Cane across each cheek, leaving four deep cuts on each side of his face. Hatred was embodied in Cane's eyes, but he said nothing. The only sound he made was stifled cries of pain through clenched teeth every time she tore his flesh.

Suddenly it was Bethany that cried out in pain as a single shot grazed her shoulder. Cane looked up from the pool of blood at his feet, and was astonished to see Riff standing at the door to the headquarters with his sniper rifle raised.

"Let him go bitch," Riff commanded, but Bethany only laughed and pointed at his gun, ripping it from his hands with an invisable force and tossing it to the side uselessly. The boy stood in shock as Bethany closed the gap between them in seconds and pounced. Cane watched in horror as the werecat transformed in midair into an unearthly creature that was terrible to behold. Her human features vanished and were replaced by those of a cougar. Her skin turned to a tan coat that was quickly stained crimson as she filleted Riff's body. His cries lasted only a second. He was quickly dead. Cane realised that he was free of Bethany's bonds just as the rage that came from watching his friend being killed overtook him, and he changed into a werewolf consumed by hate.

Bethany whirled around, tossing red flesh from her bloodstained maw, and saw the white werewolf Cane running at her. She hissed savagely and stood, changing back into her human form as she did. She raised her bloody human hands at Cane as he neared her and leapt into the air. A look of terror crossed Bethany's face for a second as Cane disapeared from view and her invisable force wave crashed into the wall of the far side of the parking lot. Cane became visable to Bethany a second later as he landed in front of her and Leapt at her. He gripped her shoulders in his powerful claws and jumped up once more. The werecat tumbled back beneath his massive weight and her head thumped against the pavement, she grew still. Cane howled into the night as he transformed back into his human form. His howl faded into a yell of despair as he ran from the startled cries that errupted from the awoken hunters that came out into the parking lot. They would chase him, but he would escape. He should never had gotten involved. He was too young a werewolf.

*Star*          *Star*          *Star*


Hey guys. Regretably I find myself lacking the time and dedication to write the in depth additions that this story deserves. I will no longer be making additions to this campfire. Please disable me. Perhaps there will come a time when I have the schedule to keep up with another campfire, at which time I will humbly ask to be re-activated, but for now I must wish you all the best and say goodbye.

          “He may be able to stand by and be quiet, but I won’t.” Wayne reached out to touch her arm again and she quickly brushed his hand aside. “If you’re taking Jon out, I’m going too. It’s better to have two werecats at your back just in case something comes up that you’re too... human to deal with. And there is one guy that is connected with me that we absolutely CAN’T do with out. If it does come down to a fight with Tank, Master Akiro will most certainly be able to take him on.”
          Aury opened her mouth to protest, then shut it again as Alasia’s appearance started to change. Her hair straightened, turning into a strawberry blond while her eyes shifted from green to a dark purple.
          When the werecat was through, she looked nothing like Alasia Teal.
          “Baby?” Wayne asked.
          “Undercover, is it?” Jonathan said with a smile. “Sounds fun to me.” He also began to change, his hair turning a glossy black and his eyes becoming hazel.
          Jeanor sighed. “Aury, if you’re willing, I suppose it’ll be okay if Jon and Alasia come along. She does have a point about the safety issue and if they look like this, no one should try and attack them because of their family ties to me. Alasia, who are you? And Jon, same question.”
          “My name is Brooke Smith and I am a felinethrope who has come to the United States to escape my oppressive relatives.”
          “I’m Adam Caldwell, a werecat currently here to finish out my college education.”
          “Well then, my dear Aury, what’ll it be?” The vampire master looked at her.
 

         "That is ... completely creepy, you know that?" Aury shook her head and took a deep breath. "Fine, I suppose you can't have lived as long as you have without learning a few tricks." And if it keeps you away from that lab, so much the better. "Let's get started, we've a lot of work to do."

         It took time to get the information they needed and the people in place, but eventually, Aury was able to cut loose with Alasia and Jon. The hardest part in the planning, was pretending that nothing strange was going on. Patterns couldn't be changed for fear of tipping off those who were undoubtedly watching them. Aury worried for Jean, and for the club, but she hadn't been idle, either, during the planning stages. The vampire had the best security she could hope to train in the few weeks they had to set things up and, short of watching over him herself, there was nothing more she could do.

         Chaperoning two family friends around the city became her cover for finding the mysterious old fire station. Aury drove while Jon and Alasia argued over maps and old photos in the backseat. She slammed maps and papers all over the place and jerked the two werecats against their seatbelts one afternoon between places on their list.

         "What the heck, Aury?" snapped Jon, rubbing at his collarbone as they pulled, hard, into a tiny parking lot next to an old, crumbling building.

         "This is it," Aury replied, practically throwing herself out of the car.

         Maybe, once, a very long time ago, this two-story building had been a firehouse. The brick had been painted over many years past, old, chipped white paint, with a peeling green door. The windows were still intact, although grass grew between the cracks in the sidewalk. The building was vaguely L-shaped, with an asphalt backyard and a rusty car parked next to a rickety shed.

         "This?" asked Alasia, coming to stand by the human. She frowned down at the picture. "Are you sure?"

         "Yes." Taking a deep breath, Aury went up the short entranceway and knocked. There didn't seem to be a doorbell. As they waited, Aury patted the pocket that had the group 'photo.' Would she see them? Her old team? Would they be here? Would they know her? Or she them? Or was this just a bad guess on her part?

         No answer was forthcoming, so Aury knocked a second time, harder. Then she tried the latch. The door was unlocked. She and Alasia exchanged a nervous look, and then, one hand on her pistol, another on the handle, Aury pushed open the door.

         From the trash and debris blown any which way in the corners, the building had been empty for a long, long time. A couple nails stuck out of the walls, the wood floors were scuffed in places, and the door into the ground floor bathroom had a hole kicked in it, but the place was completely empty and devoid of clues.

         Aury paused, one hand on the pole from the second floor. "I just ... I don't understand." She glanced over at Alasia and Jon, but both shook their heads.

         "Nothing."

         "What about the shed?" suggested Jon after a moment.

         They retraced their steps out the door, Aury closing it behind them, and over to the shed. A rusty, metal lock hung from a red-painted door. The tiny window in the top half was covered over. The lock came apart in Aury's hands and she scowled a little in disgust. Then she hauled the squeaking door open. There were no windows and the place was pitch-black.

         Aury took a step forward, but Alasia grabbed her arm, pointing. "Careful, there's an open manhole cover, there. Watch your step."

         "I'll get the flashlight from the emergency kit," said Jon.

         When he came back and turned the bright light on the building, their attention went immediately to the hole in the center of the concrete floor. The walls were bare of anything, even shelves. Metal rungs hinted at a ladder down into the depths. The three of them crept closer and the silence dragged on as they contemplated the next step.

         "Sewers?" Aury guessed. Two wrinkling noses answered that question. She sighed and held out her hand for the flashlight. "All right, then."

         "Are you sure about this?" asked Alasia. "I mean, Aury, who lives in a sewer?"

         "Hopefully," she replied with a grimace, crouching beside the hole and shining the light down inside. "Nobody, but we've come this far."

         "For a back-up plan," commented Jon, "this seems real complicated."

         "I know," Aury replied, "but that, for some reason, only makes me feel better about this whole deal. Like we're on the right track."

         Clamping her teeth around the flashlight, Aury started down.
The whole room was staring at her with varying levels of horror. She smirked, feeling confident. She hadn't even had to have been specific. Suddenly, her mind reeled, and she clutched the edge of the table to keep upright.


Fire. A lot of it, spreading fast. She'd started it, she remembered lighting the match. But why?

She could feel the intense heat radiating from the fire. It was getting closer. She was forgetting something.

The girl.

That's what she'd come for. She set a fast pace, frantically trying to remember where she was. Everything had gone wrong, everything, and if she didn't find the girl...

There!

Scooping her up with some difficulty, she began the journey to the safe room. There was still something left to do...but she couldn't recall. Biting her tongue hard in anger and feeling coppery warmth fill her mouth, she despaired. It was essential that she remember...

And yet, it was all dissolving. Memory turned to mist, and mist into clouded confusion into bewildered faces. The strangers in the conference room.



Demelis looked straight ahead, lilac eyes burning. She knew she had to remember what had happened, keep track of what her brain was trying to tell her. But she couldn't let on her true feelings.

The new persona took hold again, and she composed herself.

"It's feeding time," she said bluntly, and they all nodded, suddenly disinterested. She straightened slowly, meeting Tank's hard blue eyes. He pursed his lips. She nodded toward the door, and he turned immediately.

Walking out, she could feel the eyes on her. Most of them still were suspicious, but too afraid to say anything. Maybe she could still make a run for it.

Demelis frowned inwardly. No, she chided herself. Stay here, find out what's going on. Just be cool.

She suddenly wondered how long she could keep this up. It was hard, trying to be this new person. She pushed away the fact that it felt familiar. This was just some sort of game. It had to be. Yet, a part of her was screaming at her, telling her she was way in over her head, and that remembering was vital for her safety. But yet another voice was tuning that one out, as if her memories didn't want to come forward.

She met Tank just outside the door.

"You know you're not off the hook, right?" Tank said roughly. She nodded, boring her eyes into his. "You're going to go through more questioning, and you can't be so vague this time. We're going to see if you really can remember. Because if you can, I'll just say this: We need you. We need you a lot. There's no one else for the job we have in mind, so if you're ready, you have to fill the position."

His tone brooked no room for argument, so Demelis simply nodded again. He eyed her, then turned away.

"I trust you remember where your old rooms are. Wait there until someone comes for you," he called back over his shoulder.

Who would want to come? was her first thought.

Her second thought was: How the h*** am I gonna find my room?


 

         "And why are we going tramping around in a sewer?" asked Jon as he climbed down.

         "Hopefully," Aury replied, shining her light around, "we won't be going any -- There it is!"

         The flashlights lit up a series of painted figures on one wall. They were done mostly in green paint, crude stick-figures, with hump-backs and what resembled colored bandanas on their heads.

         "And what's that supposed to mean?" Alasia asked, cocking her head.

         "Well," Aury replied, blushing, "We, uh, we didn't get out much. This is code. Um..." Her blush deepened. "They're supposed to be turtles, like, um, the teenage mutant ninja kind. Art, uh, wasn't exactly encouraged." Stepping over to the wall, she fingered each in turn: "Ping was Michaelangelo. Maurice was Raf, and Zeke was Leo."

         The three turtles appeared to be running from black figures. Aury touched one of those briefly. "The Foot -- the bad guys," she translated. More of the black figures encircled another turtle. "Me," explained Aury. "I was Donatello." She frowned. "Where's Nick?"

         "What was he, the rat?"

         Aury nodded at Jon. "Yeah." She moved the light up and down the wall, but only uncovered one more picture, two crossed L's underneath a smiley face in white with black eyes and mouth. "Casey," murmured Aury. Her brow furrowed in thought. "Casey Jones! Who the heck is Casey?" Looking back at the wall, she saw that the turtles seemed to be running from the group around Donatello towards the mask and hockey sticks that represented Casey. "Casey ... Casey ... Ca -- oh! Casey! Of course!"

         "What?"

         "The farmhouse!" Aury exclaimed. "When Splinter was captured by the Foot, the turtles got help from Casey to escape. They went to April's farmhouse."

         "Right," drawled Jon.

         "Don't look at me like I'm crazy, it's code. It's only meant to be understood by us. Now if I can only remember where the farmhouse is." While Alasia and Jon watched, Aury started to pace. "Augh! This is giving me a headache!"

         "Why don't we take a break and go back outside?" suggested Alasia. "Don't want anyone to catch us down here, at any rate."

         Aury nodded and followed the others as they climbed out of the sewer. Back at the car, she unrolled one of the maps over the hood. There was something, she could feel it, niggling around in the back of her mind, but the more she tried to concentrate, the further away it seemed to get.

         Alasia squeezed her shoulder. "Don't try to force it. Try to think of something else."

         "Like what?" sighed Aury, frowning down at the map. "They were my family, I -- I thought they were dead! I've got to find them! Ping's probably going nuts with those two. What have they been doing all this time? How come they never tried to find me?"

         "We won't know that until we can ask them. To do that, you need to calm down."

         "Yeah, I know, I'm trying, I ..." Her eyes fell on the map again. "What if it's not a farm?" she whispered. "Alasia, look at this! We're here, the junkyard is here, and the lab is here."

         "A triangle," said Jon, leaning over on the other side.

         "Yeah," said Aury. "And this place is in the middle." She tapped a section of the city."

         "What place?" asked Alasia.

         Aury lifted her finger. "The museum. An auto museum! Don't you see?" She got two blank looks. "Donatello helped Casey rebuild an old truck that the turtles used to get back to the city. That's where we need to go! They'll be there!"
Demelis wandered, doing her best to look as though she knew where she was going. Whatever had taken over her personality earlier had dissipated, and in its place, fear was creeping in.

She found herself in a hall devoid of people, bright white walls marred only by solid black doors. The floor was a whitish marble with veins of black running through it, and she caught distorted images of her reflection every few steps or so.

Looking at the doors, she noticed that they were numbered. Was this where her room was? She concentrated on finding a number that triggered an alarm in her head, but as she neared the end, nothing had jumped out at her.

17. Door 17 seemed to emblazon itself in her mind, and her lilac eyes widened. The alarm she'd been waiting for blared the instant they landed on the chromed number plate. She drew in a deep breath, glancing around cautiously, and tried the handle.

Locked. She figured it would be. But there was no keyhole, no card slot, nothing...except the barest hint of a hand print directly above the handle. Demelis hesitated. What if it was some sort of emergency alarm?

Curiosity and urgency both moved her hand to the polished black door, and she placed it on top of the existing print. Something whirred, and a soft, robotic voice spoke: "Room 17. State your name."

"Demelis Ward," she answered, quietly but clearly. Something whirred again, and then the robot spoke.

"Access granted. Security Level 10 requires you to remove all sharp objects from your pockets and clothing, including any accessories you may have, such as: purses, wallets, et cetera. Proceed with caution. Level 10 dictates that all security measures must be followed and the questioner must enter prepared for what may occur."

With that, the lock clicked and her hand fell to the handle. She paused, wondering if this was really her room, and whether or not she should empty her pockets. All the security measures indicated that there was something dangerous on the other side of the door, something to be feared and possibly restrained. Biting her lip, she turned the handle.

The door swung open silently into a pitch black room. Demelis stood at the doorway for a moment before calling out, as if she'd done this before: "Lights!"

The lights flooded the room, and she squinted for a few seconds before realizing what she was seeing. The room's walls were padded with a stark white material, and a table beneath a glass cover was littered with shiny instruments. The glass cover was bolted to the floor, she saw, presumably so whoever was in here all the time wouldn't be able to access them. There was a desk, covered with sketches and what looked like letters. To who, she didn't know. The only chair in the room was set in front of it, a white chair that looked rather like a marshmallow. Her lilac eyes traveled to the bed. There a lump clothed in white lay, dark curly hair sticking out from one end. It was very still, and Demelis could feel the tension and wariness radiating from it, as if it were expecting to be attacked.

The lump twitched as she stepped nearer. The floor was covered in a thick white carpeting that reminded her of snow. Why is everything in here white? she thought, noticing that her own colorful clothes seemed too out of place here. Before she approached the lump, she slipped off her heels, somehow finding it in herself to enjoy the feeling of the soft carpet between her toes. She smiled to herself.

"Why are you smiling?" a cold voice spoke, and she looked at the bed uncertainly. Dark, hooded eyes were glaring at her with animosity, and her smile faltered.

"Just...well, just enjoying how the carpet feels," she confessed. She sounded shy and hated herself for it, but she met the dark eyes bravely. They narrowed.

"I think I recognize you. The silent one, yet the most dangerous, eh? We've never been properly introduced. Name's Nick. Then again, you probably know that already, huh?"

"Actually, I don't," she answered carefully. What was this place? And who was this guy, so harsh and hostile?

"Yeah, right," he muttered. He sat up fully, the white coverlets falling into a puddle in his lap. His simple clothing was a dark gray shade, a sharp contrast to everything else in the room. His skin was mocha colored, and his eyes were still evaluating her, as if trying to decide what she was going to do to him.

"I'm not here to hurt you," she ventured, and the next thing she knew, Nick was roaring and had her against the padded wall, a large hand pressed hard on her throat.

"Oh really now? Do you know how long I've been in here?" he spat. "Too long for my liking. Every week or so they come in here to check up on me, make sure I'm not falling apart. They want information, but they still haven't thought of how to get it from me. I'm important, see," he said, pronouncing the word as if it were a bad taste in his mouth, "and they don't want to wreck my mind like they have the others. What the hell are you doing here? Some mind f**k they've decided to try?"

Demelis choked, unable to answer. His hand loosened a fraction, but it didn't help much. He went on.

"Yeah, you look pretty innocent, I'll grant you that. And--," he cut off abruptly. Leaning closer to her, he examined her canines.

"Well, call me a sucker. You're a vampire too. Not everyone who comes in here is, I've noticed that. So much for innocent, eh?"

His hand tightened again, and Demelis felt tears running down her cheeks. She felt desperate and infuriated at the same time. She hadn't come here for this. She kicked and clawed at his hand, but nothing loosened his hand. She could feel the blood rushing to her head.

Her hair lightened, becoming a pale, silvery blond. Her canines lengthened, and then retracted again. She felt her clothes changing too, shifting from sweaters to shirts to blouses and back again. The room began to change, becoming a myriad of confusion as the chair fell on its side and transformed to a flock of ravens, which began to caw and shriek as they flew about the room. The bed enlarged to become a canopied king-sized bed, and the desk shattered into wooden bits and then flew back into one piece again. Her power was going wild along with her mind.

Nick dropped her.

She fell to her knees, clutching her throat and gulping in breaths of air as if she had just been saved from drowning. Perhaps she had, for the room began to settle, and her clothes returned to what she'd come in wearing, and the ravens merged to form a chair again. The bed went back to normal as well, and the desk stopped shattering into bits and reforming.

Her hair, however, stayed the same.

"Woman," Nick said roughly, "what kind of vampire are you?"

It took several moments for her to recover completely, and even so, her head was still spinning by the time she managed to stand up. Nick made no move to help her. Rubbing her throat, she tried to reply.

"Just...try-trying..." she coughed, feeling as though sand were stuck in her throat. Nick moved, but this time it was away from her. He went to a speaker she hadn't noticed before, and spoke into it.

"Water."

Beneath the speaker was a small square slot set into the wall, roughly six inches on each side and eight inches deep. She watched in amazement as a glass of water came up from the bottom on the square and stopped. Nick took it and walked over to her, handing her the glass. She took it slowly, unsure.

He kept his eyes on hers as she drank, thirstily. She drank it 'til it was gone, and then held it in a limp hand, the other hand still massaging her throat.

"Thanks," she said at last. He nodded, eyes calculating.

"Your eyes are a strange shade for a vampire. And your hair wasn't that color when you came in," he said, and she glanced down at her locks, which were indeed still a silvery blond. More silvery, she decided as she looked closer. Strange indeed.

"Well I'm not quite sure what my natural hair color is anyway, so I don't worry about that. But my eyes have always been lilac. Unless I change them, that is. Had them before I was turned, too."

"Maybe it's the ability you have," Nick said after a few moments. The tension was palpable, and Demelis felt the hand holding the glass twitching. Nick took it from her, and put it back into the slot. It lowered until it disappeared from sight, and she had nothing to look at but him.

"Maybe," she agreed quietly.

They stood awkwardly for a few moments. She studied him covertly, noting that he looked quite normal. Taller than her, for sure. Nick was doing the same, evaluating her. She didn't know what he thought.

"Listen here," he said, not as rough as before, "I've been stuck here for a long time. Contact with society has been limited. There's nothing to do but read books and draw. I write some, but I'm not really that kind of person. Poetry bores me. Reading bores me, as a matter of fact. But there's nothing else to do, and it passes the time well enough. I can form strategies to my heart's content, but there's no way out of here, not without someone's help. I haven't seen my team, and I'm getting worried."

There was something more human in his voice now, and Demelis felt compelled to listen. He hadn't had anyone to talk to for a long time.

"I...I don't know what happened to the rest. Whether they were captured, killed, managed to escape, I don't know. I've been hoping...but hope can only hold you for so long. I need something real."

He looked straight into her eyes, and Demelis knew what he was asking. She fumbled.

"I don't know if I can help, Nick...I don't know what you're here for...I don't know what I'm here for, really. I lost my head quite a bit ago. All I know right now is that Tank is going to be looking for me soon. I have to account for things I don't remember doing."

She bit her lip and stopped, not noticing the shocked look on Nick's face.

"Tank?" he repeated incredulously. "You're associated with Tank? Well, that just complicates things, doesn't it! I really thought you would be a good person, just for once, even if it's weird that you stumbled here by accident and happen to be a vampire too. But with my luck, of course, you're a bad guy. Like always. God, can't I just get out of here?!?" he raged.

Demelis stared at him as he stalked about the room in fury.

"One," she started, "you're being irrational. You didn't hear all of what I said. Two," she went on, feeling like she was confessing again, "Tank scares me too. I'd really rather avoid him if I could."

Nick stopped pacing and glared at her.

"Yeah, right," he said. "And I'm the Easter Bunny."



Cane wasn’t entirely positive where he was. In fact, until he stumbled into the intersection at Broadway and Hampton Street and spotted the familiar Guss’s Gas Station at the corner, he hadn’t even been entirely sure whether or not he was even in the same town he’d been in when the hunters had first grabbed him. The few days that had passed since that dart had punched home in his neck and his desperate flight from the onrushing hunters just a moment ago was a vague, chaotic tumble of memories. Had the hunters relocated him to a different town, or even state? But no, he recognized this corner. Now where was it in relation to his home?

Whether it was bloodloss or merely yet another heady dose of confusion over his horrifically upturned life that made him unsure of his surroundings didn’t matter overly much to Cane; either way, dizzy, terrified and in pain, he was utterly disoriented as he blinked into the headlights of an onrushing vehicle.

Horns blasted at him as he swayed on his feet, staring at the driver through the windshield as she skidded to a halt. When he didn’t move, merely staring owlishly at the woman as darkness writhed at the edges of his vision and the metallic smell of blood---some Bethany’s, but most his own---rested heavily in his nostrils, the driver rolled down her window impatiently.

“Get out of the freaking street!” she snarled at him, leaning a head covered in thick red curls out the window of her beat up Honda Accord and glaring at him with muddy green eyes. Those eyes widened a second later when, no longer blocked as they were by the filthy windshield, she was able to see Cane clearly. Taking his appearance in all in one glance, she immediately made the connection that his shirt wasn’t actually dark crimson, but bloodstained white and shredded as though by some animal. “Oh crap,” she gasped.

“Sorry,” Cane murmured, stumbling for the side of the road with his arms wrapped about his middle. “Sorry, didn’t mean to… just trying to go home.” Now the only questions were, which direction was home, and how was he going to get there without passing out? He didn’t hear the hunters pursuing him anymore, but he had no doubt they’d find him again; with each step a jolt of agony through his torn middle, he hadn’t managed to flee very far and he didn’t think he could run anymore. Heck, he was normally a big, strong man, someone who could jog for hours, and he wasn’t even sure he could walk.

“Wait!” the redhead called behind him, practically crawling out her window in an effort to be heard.

The Ford behind her honked and the driver shouted, “Move it or pull over, lady, but get out of my way!” Already halfway into the intersection from nearly hitting Cane, the woman turned her wheel sharply to the right. With a long, aching moan, the power steering brought her around the corner, then up onto the sidewalk out of the way.

Cane leaned heavily against the wall, squinting at the signs on the intersection, trying desperately to figure out how to get home from here. His torn cheeks burned fiercely, and he realized tears of pain, frustration and terror were streaming from his eyes, making the world even blurrier and impossible to see. He felt cold, and his heart was racing, pumping ever more blood out of the wounds in his stomach, to stream down his jeans and splatter onto the concrete sidewalk.

“Hey man… I’m an EMT,” the woman said, appearing at his shoulder. Her keys were clutched in her other hand. “I dialed 911 on my cell and they’ll be here soon, but you should let me take a look at you while we wait for the ambulance. See if we can get some of the bleeding stopped.”

Cane looked at her skeptically. “Lil young for a doc,” he slurred, frowning at her through his tears. He was probably the biggest black man she’d ever seen cry, and she was a waifish little sprite of a thing, not even appearing old enough to drive, let alone treat patients.

“Not a doctor,” she corrected, gently taking his arm and guiding his weight toward the ground. “And I’m twenty-five. Here, sit down here. You can lean against the wall if you want.”

Back leaning against the brick for support, Cane half levered himself, and half simply slid down the wall, landing with a heavy, jarring thump on the ground. He groaned, lifting his hands to his face to support his swimming head and then hissing in pain as his fingers and palms came into contact with the ragged cuts in his cheeks. He didn’t even want to see what Bethany had done to his stomach and chest---it hurt so much more there---but the redheaded doctor---no, EMT, he amended---was already peeling his shredded t’shirt up away from the wound.

The woman gasped a bit, then bit her lip as Cane anxiously tried to see. “No, no, you don’t need to look, it’s okay,” she told him calmly when he looked down, but it was too late, he’d already seen. Bethany had carved deep lacerations into the hard muscles of his chest and stomach with three or more brutal swipes of her claws, leaving no less than two dozen gaping tears. He could see bone in a couple spots over his ribs, but worse, her claws had punched through the muscles of his stomach, baring glimmers of intestine to the moonlight.

“Okay,” the woman said, suddenly coldly professional yet gentle. “I want you to just lay down for me and stay really still. We’ll work on stopping this bleeding. You’ll be okay.” A couple teenage passersby stared down at Cane, eyes wide, as he allowed his torso to pretty much fall to the ground, and the redhead addressed the kids absently, “Give us some room, please.”

One of the teenagers pointed his finger up the road toward the house on the corner. “My house is right there. I can call 911, if you need.”

“I already called,” the EMT said, slipping with businesslike efficiency out of her jacket and rapidly folding it in half once, then twice, neatly. “But maybe you can get a blanket?” She set the cloth carefully onto Cane’s stomach and then pressed firmly downwards with both hands. He grimaced, sucking a sharp breath through his teeth.

“Just relax and breathe,” the woman said. “The ambulance is on the way. You’re going to be all right. Cold?” Cane nodded a little bit. “Probably in shock. Yeah, better get that blanket,” the EMT told the teenage boys. One grabbed the other’s sleeve and practically tugged him down the road. “You’re looking a little gray," she told Cane. "Here, put your hand here, and press down. Good. Now give me the other.”

Cane obeyed. The woman’s cool fingers encircled his clammy wrist and rested against his pulse. A few moments passed, with the werewolf struggling to maintain the strength to hold down the compress and the woman silently counting heartbeats. Her fingers seemed to grow steadily warmer as she counted, and Cane imagined the warmth flowing into him, making him calmer and less chilled. “Color’s looking a bit better,” the woman said when she was done, placing her hand back on the compress where Cane’s had been but a moment before. “My name’s Rowan, by the way. Rowan O’Sullivan.”

“Cane,” the werewolf responded, resisting the urge to introduce himself as K-9. “Robertson.”

The woman nodded her bright head. “I wish we could have met under better circumstances, Cane. What tore you up like this? At first I thought knives, but…”

“Big cat,” Cane said, too disoriented to think of a lie. “Big. Cougar.”

Rowan nodded dubiously. “Uh huh… she said. Cougar… don’t see too many of those around here, Cane. Are you sure?”

Rather than explain, Cane merely lapsed into silence. A few minutes later the teenage boys returned with the blanket, and less than a minute later the ambulance arrived.

It was as the paramedics were beginning to load him into the back of the vehicle that Cane spotted the hunters creeping down the alley to his right, weapons in hand. A burst of adrenaline brought him sitting straight up on the gurney, knocking aside one paramedic completely and causing the other to jump back in surprise.

“No sir, wait, you really need to lie down,” the second man said, holding one restraining hand out to Cane, who pushed it aside.

Clutching his stomach, he jumped out of the ambulance, running straight toward the street. Rowan and her car were both in the way, and she squeaked as three hundred pounds of heavily muscled black man barely skidded to a halt in front of her.

“Cane, what are you…?” she asked, clearly unsure of whether to approach the massive half-maddened man or stay away.

“Gotta go,” Cane slurred, glancing back and forth between the oncoming hunters and the EMT. “Need your car.”

What?” Rowan shouted, screwing up her face like a small child about to throw a tantrum. “Like hell you’re---”

Now,” Cane thundered, feeling the beginnings of the change coming upon him as the hunters grew closer and time began running out. “Now, woman! Gimme your keys!”

Rowan screamed in terror, and Cane cursed, realizing she must have seen something of his fangs as he had shouted at her. Nothing to do for it now; she’d be safer if she came with him anyway. “In the car,” he snarled, struggling to hold back the change as he grasped her by the upper arm and steered her toward the door, but she dug in her heels, still screaming. The paramedics were radioing frantically for police and talking about hostages. Cane’s head was swimming and he felt nauseous with blood loss. “If you wanna live, get in the car, Rowan. Trust me, it’s your best option. Let’s go. Give me the keys.”

Rowan flung her keys into the gutter and glared at him through her terror. “Get them yourself, bastard. I won’t be threatened.”

Cane literally felt his heart skip a beat in horror as the keys to his escape disappeared from sight. Then he turned and fled, full tilt, back toward the ambulance, his only other option. However, as he reached for the driver side door, he felt cold metal press against his temple, and someone behind him said, “What do you think you’re doing?”

*******************************************


Name: Rowan O'Sullivan
Specie: Human
Age: 25
Eye Color: Muddy green
Physical Description: Small and thin, looking far more insubstantial and weak than she truly is, Rowan has long, curly red hair and generally prefers plain but flattering clothing in muted colors.
Brief History: Rowan grew up in a relatively poor household with parents who always encouraged their kids to make something of themselves. Rowan wasn't a particularly amazing student in high school, but she was good enough to graduate in the top fifteen percent of her class, and so received a scholarship to the local community college. There, she went through her EMT training and also received an Associate of Arts, and is now contemplating nursing school.
Family: Mom, dad, 2 older sisters and an older brother
Relation to the Main Family: None
Special Abilities: Rowan is a young woman who has no knowledge whatsoever of the existence of werewolves, werecats, vampires, or any other supernatural people, and thus was surprised to discover, while going through her EMT training, that she has a startling ability to augment the body's natural healing processes. She doesn't know how far such an ability can be taken, because she has always used it covertly lest something unexplainable need to be explained. It has, however, allowed her to make certain that no patients die under her care. Although she doesn't know it, she is capable of fully restoring one severely injured person's health a day, but that alone will likely make her faint and it it better for her to limit her healing to strictly emergency care.
 

         The auto museum was in an old, converted warehouse. The front was a rather unassuming, plain brick finish with little more than the name and an entranceway. The inside resembled the interior of a child's playbox.

         A large, circular desk sat before the door and in every direction one looked were models and displays of ancient vehicles. Arrows painted on the floor directed visitors on a tour, apparently travelling the entirety of the museum. More models hung from the ceiling. A theatre of sorts with a continuous presentation showing, was on the second floor, and posters, small-scale models, and framed newspaper clippings hung on the walls following the stairs up and down.

         Just beyond the desk was an old Model-T, set up as a simulator so that guests could climb inside and see what it might have been like to ride in one, way back when.

         Aury fought down the urge to run over and pry off the hood, forcing herself to move calmly up to the desk.

         The young woman behind the register cracked her gum loudly, not looking up from her magazine. "Audio cassettes are five bucks each. Twenty for a group tour. Next tour starts in twenty minutes."

         "That's okay," said Aury, swallowing hard. Was this Ping? The girl was Asian, but Aury couldn't make out any features around the bent head. "I'm looking for Casey. Casey Jones?"

         "Do you have an appointment?"

         "No, but --"

         "Mr. Jones is not currently accepting commissions."

         "He'll take mine," said Aury firmly.

         The girl looked up, oval eyes glancing up and down Aury emotionlessly before flitting over to Jon and Alasia standing by one of the displays, well within earshot.

         "And who are you?"

         Aury swallowed. "Donatello." She clenched her hands into fists in her pockets, hunching her shoulders and biting her lip.

         The receptionist's gaze went to the other two for a brief instant before returning to the woman in front of the desk. She lifted the phone. "Aury's here."

         Aury started. "Ping?"

         Ping lowered the phone with a grin before leaping over the desk to embrace her old teammate. "Aury!" she cried, squeezing her tight. "Where have you been?" Lips close to her ear, she whispered, "And who are they?"

         The museum echoed with the sound of a door slamming.

         "Where is she?" boomed a voice, quickly followed by another, "Aury? Aury!"

         Zeke arrived first, in an oil and grime-coated pair of overalls, looking for all the world like some mischievious grease-monkey. The bigger Maurice followed at a more sedate pace, dressed in an expensive suit, albeit with the tie askew and sleeves rolled up. He hefted Aury before Zeke could, giving the smaller woman a bone-breaking hug.

         She grunted and laughed, reaching out to pat the top of Zeke's head. "Put me down, 'Rice!"

         All three began talking excitedly, and Zeke had Aury by the wrist, dragging her towards the back of the museum before she could collect herself.

         "Wait, wait, Z!" She pulled free and took a couple steps toward the anxious werecats. "You guys need to meet my friends. We need your help."

         "We can talk about this in the office," said Ping, frowning. "It's too open here."

         Aury agreed and they all quickly made their way through the museum to a staff door hidden between a couple of displays. On the other side was a garage of sorts, filled with a haphazard collection of dissassembled machines and equipment and a bank of computer terminals in a corner. Obviously Zeke's hangout. On the other side was the office, furnished very comfortably. A tall, broad-shouldered man with brown hair, leaning on a cane, stood up from behind the desk.

         Casey stopped dead in her tracks, muddled brain thrusting an old memory at her with all the force of a sledgehammer. She stumbled. "You're dead. We killed you!"

         "You helped me escape," Casey corrected. "And what better safehouse than with someone who shouldn't exist anyway?"

         "But ...!"

         "We were surprised, too," said Ping, helping Aury to a chair. "Made us wonder what other secrets Nick had."

         Maurice filled a paper cup from the cooler and held it out. "We stayed at the firehouse as long as we could, but ...."

         "Our instructions were very clear," finished Zeke. "Should operations be compromised, retreat to location A, wait three weeks and report to the safehouse. Instructions to be had at the first location."

         "But ..." Aury began.

         "Zeke almost blew a gasket," grinned Ping, "'cause we waited exactly twenty-two days."

         "We had to re-group and devise a plan," Zeke added, giving Ping a scowl.

         "And that's where I came in," said Casey. "Now," he walked over to the filing cabinet and pulled out a thick roll of engineering paper to throw at Maurice. The big man spread out the schematics over the conference table. "Let's go over how we're going to do this."

         "What is it?"

         Aury's mouth dropped open and she sprang to her feet, hands pulling the maps this way and that. "They're technical diagrams of the lab! How did you get these?"

         "We haven't been completely idle since you've been gone," said Maurice, frowning. "We tracked you and have been slowly gathering the information to break you and Nick out of there."

         "Nick!"

         "He's in here," said Ping, tapping on one of the maps. "Somewhere, we think. It's the most-closely guarded section. People go in there, but they don't come out again." Then she looked up. "Except you."

         "We've lost someone in there, too," said Alasia, drawing attention back off Aury. "One of my father's employees. She was taken by the same vampire who took Aury."

         "Tank."

         Aury nodded at Casey. "Yeah. In fact --"

         "My son," he confirmed. His face and voice hardened. "He is mine, but that whole place needs destroyed. That is the priority."

         "What is it that they're doing there?" asked Alasia.

         "They are a rogue group," he answered. "Terrorists. They seek to destroy the hunters by controlling the minds of some of their own. Aury and Nick were not the first, and haven't been the last to disappear. These ... freedom-fighters, as they call themselves, pit one side against the other in an eternal battle for dominance. Vampires against Hunters, Werecats against Werewolves, like puppeteers, controlling the world from the shadows. Cut off the head of the organization, and the whole thing will crumble."

         "And what is your part in all of this?"

         "I started it. My name is Andrin Fazendin. I sired Viturin, or 'Tank,' as he goes by now. He wished to erase all connection between us and has hunted me for centuries. His vision is not mine, and it is time I corrected that mistake."

         "We need to take you to my father," said Alasia, "and all this, too." She gestured to the papers.

         "He will not wish to see me," said Casey. "Oh, yes, Ms. Teal, I know who you are." His eyes slid to Aury. "It is indeed fortunate that Aury fell into such good hands, but, firstly, we need to know how she escaped. We cannot be too careful."

         "I don't know," Aury protested, "I don't remember!"

         "We've been watching Davis and his team, too," said Zeke. "We know that the Organization knows where you've been. We just don't know how you got from there," his finger prodded the schematics, "to there." He pointed at Alasia.

         "I don't know! I swear! That's why we," she gestured to Alasia, Jon, and herself, "were looking for Tank. To get some answers. They were doing something, to my mind, that's all I know, my memories are a complete mess. If you knew where I was, why did you never come? Or say anything?"

         "You told the Organization that we all died," said Ping, folding her arms. We had no way to be certain if that was just a cover story or what you really believed. Our team was compromised. Someone, somehow, knew exactly how and where to find us. Only luck enabled Maurice and I to escape."

         "And they got to me," Zeke added, "before I could be hauled away, too."

         "We had no one to trust. Not even you."

         Aury hung her head. "I'm sorry."

         Casey and Alasia locked eyes. "And you vouch for her?"

         "I have seen inside her mind," Alasia replied, nodding. "If she's meant to betray us, she doesn't know it."

         Aury paled. She hadn't really considered that possibility.

         "Very well." Casey bowed his head in acceptance. "Zeke, collect the files. Ping, close down the shop. Maurice, we'll need the car. Move out."

Demelis slumped in the marshmallow chair, moodily pushing around the papers on the desk. Nick was seated on the bed, a baleful glare set in his features. She tried again.

"I don't know what else I can say, so I'll say it again. I am against Tank. I don't know if I've always been, but I'm certainly not on his good side for whatever reason. My memory has been erased, obviously. I don't know how or where or why, but for some reason, Tank knows me and blames me for something I don't remember doing. I'm actually not sure what he's blaming me for in the first place. Why won't you believe me?"

"I've spent too much time believing in other people," Nick said quietly, still angry. "I've learned the only way to go is to find people you know can do the job, and then take charge. That's what I was doing with my team. They're gone now, and it's your fault!" His voice had risen slightly, but Demelis refused to back down.

"You have no idea what I've gone through today!" she snapped, fixing her eyes on his heatedly. "I've had to lie to complete strangers to make sure I'm not locked up! I've had to convince myself that this whole thing must be a game, and forced myself to play it because it's the only way to survive. I have no idea what I'm doing here, or what I'm being held accountable for! I have blundered my way here, hoping I can either remember what I did or find a way out. And now I'm being patronized by some prisoner!"

There was a long, unearthly silence. Nick held her gaze throughout, wondering if she was telling the truth.

"I am a prisoner," he said at last, breaking the gaze. "I didn't play the game right."

"But this isn't a game!" Demelis burst out. "It's too real and too horrible and I wish I was back at Through the Fog!"

She turned away and bit her tongue hard, willing the tears to dry up. She had to keep calm, but it was so hard when nobody could understand her.

"I'm sorry," Nick said at length. "I didn't really think you could be telling the truth. I've heard rumors about you, you know. Back when I was a new captive. The guards would threaten me with you if I complained that they were being too harsh. They said you were the worst of all. They didn't even speak your name for fear of you. I noticed that."

"From what I can piece together, I was a bloodthirsty sociopath who enjoyed torturing others. I don't even know what this facility is for. Project 8916, what is that anyway?" Her voice was low and self-mocking. She heard Nick give a deep sigh.

"Well, if you really don't know, I assume it's a place where vampires capture hunters like me and try to turn us on each other. They haven't gotten around to me yet, for some reason. But they've tried."

"...That...what do you mean by turn you on each other? Like brainwashing?"

"From what I've gathered, yeah," Nick shrugged. Demelis' mouth hung open in disbelief.

"So...if I was involved with this project...it means that I really was a sociopath," Demelis said, feeling sick. "This is twisted! Who would do something like this?"

"It's a game to them, Demelis," Nick said quietly. "I told you. I'm not sure if Hunters are the only ones they brainwash, either. I think this whole thing has spun out of control, and too few people have too much power. You somehow managed to escape it."

"I suppose...but this does explain how I could erase my memories, so...maybe I can use the same equipment to get them back!"

"No," Nick shook his head. "It doesn't work like that. Memories here can only be replaced, not erased. It took some other kind of power to erase you experience here. In fact," he glanced at her shrewdly, "I would go so far as to say you did it to yourself."

"To myself?" she replied incredulously. "How would that work?"

"Consider your powers," Nick pressed. "It looked to me like you can change reality, change the shape and form and matter of things. Why not your memories? Why not just create an empty space in your head where Project 8916 once was?"

"I..." Demelis paused. It did make sense, in a strange way. "But I'm still developing! I'm pretty much weak right now; every time I've intentionally tried to use my power I fail!"

"Again, maybe you just wanted to protect yourself. Completely start over. Or," Nick stopped, pensive. "Maybe the mind wipe took so much of your energy that you lost the ability to control your powers properly."

"...This is insane. There are so many things that..." Demelis stopped, at a loss for words. Nick spoke again, softly.

"You gotta do what you gotta do. Maybe you had a change of heart about working with this project. Maybe you just wanted to escape."

"You're so smart, to figure all of this out," she said aloud, almost awed. "Who else would have come up with these explanations without even knowing me?"

Nick grinned, a genuine smile that lit up his face.

"What can I say?" he said. "I'm a people person."

They laughed together, and Demelis looked over the room with a fresh eye.

"So, how about we get out of here?" she asked, feeling as though she was on top of the world. Things were beginning to fall into place, and Nick had helped with that.

"I don't know how we could pull it off," Nick said, thinking. "Unless..." a devilish smile crossed his face. "Unless you can alter our appearances."

They looked at each other in excitement. Demelis' dimmed for a moment.

"I don't know if I can. That display earlier wasn't like me. Everything just lost control, and I suppose my power reacted to that."

"We've got nothing but time," Nick assured her. Demelis shook her head.

"No. Tank will be looking for me by now. I managed to convince them I left because..." she hesitated, unwilling to tell him how she'd pulled it off.

"Hey," Nick said, patting the bed beside him. Demelis stood and walked over to him. He put a finger on her nose.

"Sometimes we say things we don't mean. I know that whatever you said, you said it to save yourself. And to me, that's enough. I kind of know you, so don't worry about scaring me."

Demelis smiled shyly.

"Well, in that case...I mean, I'm kind of shocked that I went on about it myself. But I told them that I left to find more victims because it was too tame here. Tank still doesn't believe me, although there's still fear in his eyes. I just..." she began to tear up, feeling like a crybaby. "I just wish I could remember what I did so I can explain to them, or...or...I don't know!" she burst out. "Everything is so--"

An explosion of color fled before her eyes, and her head spun wildly.


Too many wires here. Too many cords. How could she know what was connected to what? She would have to take her chances. She unhooked everything as carefully as possible, and then lifted the girl up, grunting slightly with the effort. Hauling her over her shoulder, she wrestled with the pack of matches and finally pulled one out. Striking it against the wall, she let it drop and watched the fire spread rapidly across the gas trail she'd made.

"Hey, you!" someone shouted, and she whirled to find a shocked scientist holding a scalpel as a weapon. "Put her down!"

She didn't bother with words before she flung out her hands, dropping the girl unceremoniously to the floor. The sterile, heavy metal-framed hospital beds around her rose into the air, and she brought her hands together violently, watching them all slam into the scientist before he had a chance to react. She walked over to him, feeling his wrist. Still alive.

Bending down and harnessing her power, she reached inside the man's body and found his heart. Applying more and more pressure to it until she could almost feel the tiny pop of its death, she rose and immediately went back to the girl. Before she could reach her, more scientists came, as well as security. Refusing to despair or be distracted, she mercilessly began to fight.

Man after man, guard after guard, she finally destroyed them all, refusing to feel pity. She found herself in a different room than before, and she began to wend her way through the fallen bodies and smoke. Where was the girl?


"Demelis!" Nick shouted, but she couldn't hear him. She slumped onto her side, feeling drained. Again. Why was her memory coming back in bits and pieces?


Cane slowly raised his hands, the cold barrel of the gun against his head a clear warning not to move suddenly.

"I have to go. Now," he said as calmly as he could to the paramedic standing with gun pressed to his recent patient's head. He swiveled ever so slightly to look over his shoulder at the man, who looked more marine than EMT. "You don't want me here. The people who are coming don't like witnesses, and you do not want to be caught in the crossfire. You can either trust me, and let me go, or you can watch me die and then get shot after me because you've seen too much."

The man's hold on his gun wavered slightly, which was good, because at that moment Bethany, spitting blood on the ground savagely, raised her shotgun to take aim. Cane lunged for the paramedic's gun arm, hooking it and slamming it to the EMT's side an instant before using his superior bulk to drop them both like led to the ground. The shotgun thundered and ribbons of paint and shards of metal showered from the side of the ambulance just above their head.

"Shit!" the paramedic screamed, while Cane struggled just to breathe around the pain.

"She's reloading!" Rowan shouted, diving for the ambulance door and dragging Cane and the paramedic to their feet. "In. Get in!"

Again, Bethany lifted her shotgun. Ducking, Cane shoved the open door into the line of fire and hugged the two rescue workers to him as though for a bear hug, forcing them out of the line of sight as the second shot punched into the metal, buckling it and nearly emerging from the other side.

"In," he screamed, shoving the waifish woman and the soldier-paramedic toward the door. They clamored inside, and Cane almost did too, but then the gunwoman lined up another shot and he had to take cover behind the door again. He was becoming very dizzy, and it was almost too much to drag himself into the driver's seat and turn the ignition.

"In!" he called again, backing toward the remaining paramedic, who jumped into the back of the onrushing vehicle and, Cane could only hope, took cover behind whatever equipment might be back there. In his side mirror, he saw the gurney he'd been strapped to fall out the back as the ambulance lurched into drive.

The hunters were running towards them, Bethany in the lead despite the blow to the head she'd taken earlier.

"Bitch!" Cane cursed.

*********************


"Can you even drive?" Rowan asked. Her heart was pounding so hard in her chest and her hands were shaking so badly that she wasn't even sure she could drive, and so the idea of the injured man driving scared her a good deal. Cane looked dazed, with an ashen cast to his dark features, and his breathing was labored. She knew shock when she saw it.

Damn, all that ducking and running undid what little help I could give. Should have just let him have my car. Wait, what the heck am I thinking?

"You better hope so," Cane murmured,leaning heavily upon the steering wheel and glancing in the side mirror. Rowan craned her neck and, to her relief, saw that the gunwoman and her companions were already far behind them. "I'll drop you guys off somewhere. Where do you want to go?"

Rowan shook her head vehemently. "No. No way. Are you crazy? You need to go to the hospital, and you're not keeping this vehicle."

"I can't go to the hospital!" the giant of a man yelled.

"No, let him have it," the other paramedic, who Rowan had never met because she worked the night shift, told her. His eyes were very wide and he wouldn't stop staring out his window at the street behind them. "Let's just get out of here, please? This isn't part of my job!"

"They'll find me at the hospital," Cane continued. he sounded very out of breath, and was blinking rapidly, as though he were having trouble focusing his eyes. The ambulance veered toward oncoming traffic, and Rowan grabbed his arm to steady herself. The vehicle straightened.

Rowan kept a hold of his arm and forced warmth through her hand into him. "First place they'll look," Cane muttered, but his voice sounded somewhat less labored. "Why the heck are you touching me?"

"I'm scared," Rowan lied. She was scared, but that was definitely not why she was touching him.

"Who are they?" the soldier-paramedic asked, his hands clutched to his buzzed head as though he wished he had hair to pull. Sweating profusely and paper white, he looked almost as bad as Cane.

The better question is, what are they? Rowan thought, biting her lip. She kept her hand on Cane's arm, even though she was terrified she'd start to feel the ripple of muscle and growth of thick, coarse hair beneath her fingertips at any moment. Cane didn't feel like any person she'd ever been near before, and she remembered distinctly the feral wildness she'd seen in his eyes, the hint of fangs, and the shiver of muscles sweeping across his body just beneath the skin, only to be suppressed a moment later.

What is he? Will he kill us? Maybe we should have left him to those people. Only... she'd been fairly sure she'd seen a hint of elegant, golden tail flicker from behind the woman with the shotgun. Why am I not more scared? Cane was unnatural.

Well, no, not unnatural, just different. Maybe that was why she wasn't afraid. Beneath her hand, he felt inhuman, but far, far more "right" than a tattoo or lock of dyed hair. Whatever he was, he wasn't artificial.

          “Nicky,” came a soft voice from the door. The pair jumped and turned to look. Apparently in their encounter, neither had noticed to door opening. A toddler stood there, clutching about four books to her chest. “You’re not the Easter Bunny.”
          “Phae,” he replied gently. “What are you doing here?”
          “I came for my story.” Then the four-year-old looked at Demelis. “Who is she? She smells like cat.”
          “Cat?” Nick frowned. He stared suspiciously at the vampire again. Phae nodded her dark head when he looked back at her. As she did so, some of the straight black locks moved aside to reveal two scars on her pale neck. He scowled.
          “Nicky, they hurt me... Tank said to trust him, but I was scared. I went to sleep and when I woke up I could smell different things. Like cat and...” She hugged the books tighter to her chest. “And the icky stuff.”
          “Icky stuff?” Demelis looked puzzled and worried at the same time.
          “What comes out of a boo-boo before mommy puts a Band-Aid on it.” Phae whimpered in fear as she ran her tongue over her teeth and felt the sharp points of her canines. Dropping her books to the floor, she ran into Nick’s arms. “You promised I could get back to mommy, Nicky. Back to mommy and daddy.” Demelis watched him fight back a look of revulsion
          His eyes narrowed. “Monsters,” Nick hissed. “Taking a little girl from her family for just another experiment.” Demelis wasn’t certain what to do, so she sank into the single chair. This child, a vampire? That was truly barbaric. She closed her eyes, letting her anger at the way these people had taken away a child’s innocence just to satisfy their own twisted minds.
          Unbeknownst to her, some of that anger flowed out. It traveled down through her bare feet into the white carpet. Only when she heard a soft gasp did she open her eyes.
          Somehow, she’d turned to carpet into something complete different. Instead of the soft threads, a lush green covering of grass surrounded her, with wildflowers peeking here and there from the tall stalks. Phae stared at her surroundings in a state of wonder that exactly matched the expression on the older vampiress’s face. However, the toddler’s soon gained a look of joy at a group of brightly colored butterflies fluttered up to gather on her small arms.
          “So pretty.” She said with a smile. But that wasn’t the most extraordinary thing. When she spoke it was with Demelis’s own voice.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
          Cane drove on, swerving around a curve and then slammed on the brakes. The ambulance slid to a halt, stopping barely a foot from the slim form of an eleven-year-old hat had just reached the middle of the road. The kid stared through the windshield right into the werewolf’s eyes with shock and a tint of curiosity thrown in. Her eyes flicked over his face, as if filing it away for future reference and she tilted her head slightly to the side.
         The purr of muscle car swamped over them, a purr that Cane dreadfully recognized. His foot twitched, almost slamming back onto the accelerator, but the hand on his shoulder stopped him.
         Wordlessly, the child laid her palm on the snub-nose of the vehicle and closed her eyes. Bethany’s Mustang flew by the stranded vehicle without even a second glance, the sedan carrying her companions not too far off her taillights. When they’d disappeared out of sight and then earshot, the strange child reopened her eyes.
          “You need help.” She said, speaking directly to him. A thirty-some woman came out of one of the houses.
          “Sally?”
          “Mommy, he needs help, someone was chasing him. I hid him, but he’s hurt.”
          “You hid him? Do you even know who he is?”
          “No.” The pair exchanged a glance that seemed to be weighted with some sort of meaning. Oddly enough, even though the child, Sally, had called her ‘Mommy’ neither had any family resemblance. After a few seconds, the mother nodded.
          “Alright.” Cane blinked, not sure what had just happened as Sally and the mom approached the driver’s side door and pulled it open. “Hello, I’m Caroline and this... oh my.” Caroline looked at his bloodstained shirt.
          “Who did this?” Sally asked.
          “Hush, sweetheart.” The mother glanced at his ‘travel companions’ with concern. “Why don’t you go inside and get some of Miss. Lacey’s Bleu medicine to put on his cuts.”
          “Okay.” After she rushed inside, Caroline laid her hand on his arm. Cane fought the urge to flinch and took a deep breath. Human scent washed over him, touched only slightly with... werecat. This woman must’ve been reading his face because started talking to him, speaking in such a low voice that only his keen hearing could pick up what she was saying.
          “That’s my daughter’s scent. Yes, she told me what you are.” He moved to draw away. “Please, come inside. You’re in no shape to go tearing off to who knows where and hope to find a place to hide. The land my husband and I own is kind of neutral territory. None of the adult werecats have any authority here. You’ll be safe to recover.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~
          ((Keep going KC, you seem to be in charge of what’s going on with Aury, Alasia and Jonathan. I may be able to work on their part next go round.))
 

         After much talk and debating, the infiltration of the mysterious lab was set to begin. One by one, each group reported their readiness. "Team One in position, standing by ... Team Two standing by ... Team Three ...."

         "Last chance, folks," said Jean softly over the headsets they all wore.

         No one spoke up.

         "Then we're going in. Stand-by. Lights, please, Mr. McGyver."

         From his position in the safehouse they'd erected, Zeke grinned over at the vampire leader. Tipping one finger over his keyboard, surrounded by no less than six different computer screens, the hacker punched EXECUTE.

         Team One, comprised of Aury and Casey, entered the main entrance of the secret underground lair. They moved with confidence. Neither spoke. They trusted to their McGyver to override the security systems and get them in.

         Team Two crawled through the ducts by one of the emergency entrances/exits. Ping led the way, with Jonathan, disguised as Maurice, bearing the electronic goods Aury had built and Zeke programmed. Similarly, Alasia disguised as Ping and Maurice, made their way to the other entrance.

         The office complex was comprised of three main buildings, with the gym/lab underground in the middle under the cafe. The parking garage formed the other side of the triangle.

         Teams Four through Eight were disguised as city emergency services, waiting for Zeke's signal to send them into action. Teams Four through Six would supervise the evacuation of the office buildings and gym. Teams Seven and Eight would peel off from the others in all the confusion and stand by to assist the infiltrating teams as necessary. Everyone wore flak vests and went armed.

         Aury's hand itched for the pistol strapped to her thigh. She'd gone dressed as a vampire hunter, hoping to draw strength from the familiar garments. Beside her, Casey had a knife at his belt, and two guns inside his coat. They didn't look at each other.

         On Zeke's command, as soon as the elevator doors swept open for Casey and Aury, the office complex's fire alarms sounded. Over the intercoms, the building's usual security calmly informed the tenants to please evacuate. At the same time, Maurice and Ping set their charges. Alasia and Jonathan got into position.

         At this hour of the afternoon, the gym was packed. When the alarms first sounded, no one did more than look up and around with annoyance. Only after the employees at the desk announced that there was a mandatory evacuation did folks start to, reluctantly, leave their machines. Trainers went around shepherding folks out, but Casey and Aury didn't wait.

         They went straight for the wall where Zeke said the secret entrance was. The hallway wasn't nearly as sinister as Aury had envisioned. Casey squeezed her gently on the shoulder and Aury squared her shoulders and grabbed for the gun nestled into the small of her back. She nodded her readiness.

         Casey stepped up to the keypad. Taking a small, black box out of his pocket, he activiated the controls, bypassing the code entry. When the retinal scanner popped out of the wall, he calmly let himself be scanned, aware that Zeke's black box would scramble the security system.

         "Tank, Project 8916. Confirm."

         Thanks to Zeke, the computer granted access, unlocking the door. Casey reached for the handle.

         "Team One, here. We're in."

         "Roger that," came Zeke's voice over their headsets. "Evacuation going as planned. Everyone, stay on target. Here's where it gets fun."
Before Demelis could start freaking out, Nick spoke hurriedly.

"Don't worry, that's just her ability. She can mimic others' voices perfectly. She probably just likes yours, or doesn't even know she's doing it."

"Oh," Demelis said, staring at Phae in wonder. The little one was playing Ring Around the Rosies by herself, plopping down excitedly on the thick grass at every verse's end.

"Speaking of ability, how'd you get the ground this way?" Nick asked. Demelis shook herself out of her reverie and shrugged.

"No idea. I was just thinking about how truly twisted it is to experiment on children," she said softly, gazing at Phae with her brows creased. "It makes me wonder if I was a part of that, if I was ever so cruel that I took children and scarred them for nothing but a stupid project. I really--...I don't like knowing that a part of me is completely foreign to myself, that I could have done things I can't even imagine because they're so heartless."

"What matters is that you're not that way now," Nick said, meeting her eyes, lilac against dark chocolate. She nodded slowly, still pushing down her thoughts of guilt. "And perhaps you were only here as a cover-up, or something. Don't be so quick to assume the worst when you know so little."

"You're right," she said, dropping her gaze to her lap. She twisted her fingers around each other, wondering if she could change the floor back. Phae was enjoying it though; she still hadn't tired of pouncing around and counting the flower petals.

"I was thinking that your power reacts accordingly with your mood," Nick ventured. Demelis looked back at him.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, you were thinking about Phae being experimented on...and you transformed the floor into a little haven she could enjoy. Maybe to counteract the fact that she's been treated harshly. You wanted something good for her subconsciously, so your power responded to that. I think you getting passionate about something, whether it's anger or joy or whatever, stimulates your power to work. So maybe if you desired something enough, you can wield your power to attain it."

"That makes sense," Demelis was about to say, and then alarms were pealing. She bolted up, as did Nick, and they looked at each other in worry.

"What do we do?" she asked, patting Phae's head absentmindedly as the girl clung to her leg. Nick bit his lip.

"We need to get out." He stared at Demelis hard. "Can you transform us?"

Demelis opened her mouth, feeling pressured and panicky. Suddenly someone else's voice spoke in her mind.


"DEMELIS! WE'RE LOOKING FOR YOU AND A MEMBER OF AURY'S TEAM! IF YOU CAN HEAR ME, TELL ME WHERE YOU ARE!"


"Alasia's here!" she cried out. Nick looked confused.

"A rescue team! There are people looking for me and...a member of Aury's team. Who could that be?" she asked, feeling confused through her elation. She glanced at Nick, surprised to see him with a look of disbelief on his face. "What's wrong?"

"Aury?" he asked, his voice trance-like. "She's here?"

"Well...I don't know an Aury, but that's what Alasia said. If you know her...we're both being rescued?" she looked at him in bewilderment. Nick grinned suddenly.

"Aury's part of my team, Demelis! I was worried about that, didn't you hear? I said I was worried for my team, but Aury made it, she's here and we're going to get out of this place!"

"'Kay..." Demelis said slowly, trying to think. "Let me contact Alasia, if I can."



"Alasia? It's Demelis. Did you say you're looking for someone from...Aury's team?"

"Demelis?!? Holy cow we found you! Where are you? Are you okay? Jonathan's been worried like nothing I've ever seen before. But he's with Ping. I'm with Maurice, and we're looking for Nick. He's the leader of Aury's team from way back when."



"You've got to be kidding me," Demelis said aloud, feeling awed.

"What??" Nick asked, grabbing her by the arms. She laughed.

"I don't know what to say. We found each other and now we're both being rescued. How weird is that?"

Nick let go in relief, beginning to laugh too.

"Yeah, well, it's a small world."




"DEMELIS ARE YOU STILL THERE? WHERE ARE YOU?"

"Oh, sorry. Room 17. I'm sending you a visual, it'll be easier that way. Oh, and Alasia?"

"What?"

"Nick's with me. We met up and um...well, we're in his cell. Sort of. I'll explain later, but you and Jonathan certainly had an easy time of this."

"...This is crazy. We are SO going to go over this in detail when we get out. But we still have to get to you. Got your visual, we're on our way. I'll send it to Jon too, and we'll be there ASAP. Over and out."

"...Uh...Roger."




"They're on their way," she told Nick, smiling down at Phae.
"Wait," Rowan commanded, rising from Cane's side and stepping between the woman Caroline and the...werewolf...who lay on the couch, eyes closed, with heavy towels placed between his back and the upholstry. "Let me see that," she said, putting her hands on her hips and jutting her chin to the small jar of dark liquid the little girl had just handed her mother. There was something uncanny about the way the mother and daughter said very little out loud but instead exchanged long, meaningful looks.

"Just some medication I had left over from when I had surgery on my shoulder a year or two ago." Rowan sensed the lie but didn't say anything, only taking the jar in her hand and holding it up to the light.

"What is it?" she asked, seeing the deep blue of the liquid as the soft light of the ceiling fan filtered through it.

The woman bit her lip and glanced at her daughter. "Oh, well, it just augments the body's natural healing processes." she said vaguely, her eyes shifting away from Rowan's no-nonsense gaze. "I think?"

"Uh huh..." Rowan said. "What's it called? Do you still have the drug information label that came with the original bottle?"

"Drug information...?"

The EMT sighed. "Yes. Dosage, indications, side-effects. The name of the medication..."

The woman shook her head slowly.

Outside, they all heard the ambulance's engine start up as the other paramedics returned to the hospital. Rowan sighed more deeply. "Right. Well... We won't be using this if we don't even know what it is. I need you---or your daughter---to call 911 so we can get another ambulance here. I'm afraid my co-workers are a little... well..." She wanted to say 'cowardly' but restrained herself. "They were deeply frightened by the... somewhat rough drive we had so far." She glanced over her shoulder at Cane and bit her lip. "Cane... you need to stay with me."

His eyelids fluttered open, but he didn't seem entirely conscious. She knelt down beside him and placed the palm of her hand on his forearm, resting it there casually as she checked his pulse with her other hand. The little girl came and stood beside her, watching solomnly.

"Please, can you give us some room?" Rowan asked. She reached out to gently touch the girl's arm to show that she wasn't trying to be mean, she was just working.

Her hand brushed against something decidedly alien and she stiffened with a light gasp, her eyes staring at the perfectly normal arm of what only appeared to be a perfectly normal young girl.

          Alasia raced through the hallways, her eyes quickly scanning the numbered doors. Maurice was a few yards behind, puffing a little as he tried to keep up with her quicker pace. 14... 15... 16...
          Two shaggy wolves turned the corner before her. She could tell they were werewolves by their scent and size. Skidding to a halt, Alasia crouched down slightly, balancing on the balls of her feet.
         The first Lycan didn’t slow his headlong flight. He rocked back on his hind legs and jumped toward her, his gaping maw perfectly aligned with her face. This happened so quickly that Alasia could only throw up her arm to defend herself.
         A word, at least it seemed like a word that sounded like a cross between a spit and a hiss, echoed through the minds of all the invaders.
         >Lacey! I thought you were all miss prim and proper.< Jonathan exclaimed.
         >Shut up! You try having an oversized, flea-bitten dog rip your arm open nearly to the bone.< Alasia angrily swatted the werewolf aside. The pain from the bite had made her lose her chosen form. Jumping up, she shifted easily into another.
          Now she stood on four paws, light brown fur covering a slim, muscular and lethal form. Maurice screeched to a stop mid-stride. By the look of her glistening fangs, ears lying flat against her squarish head and her deep green eyes, you could tell why werecats weren’t normally crossed.
          The werewolves, however, were undeterred by the sight of the smaller creature. They charged forward.
          Alasia leapt up,, knocking one onto his back. She dug into his chest with her claws, making him yelp while the other tried to push her off. After a moment, she turned on the other. She smacked him around a bit, then sent him running after his companion, his tail between his legs.
         With a smug grin, she shifted back.
          “Come on, slowpoke.” She teased. Maurice swallowed hard before starting forth, unnerved by how easily she switched emotional states. He fumbled slightly as he keyed the controls of his black box. In a few moments, the door beeped and slid open.
          “Knock, knock.” Alasia called. Her eyes skimmed over the room. “Nice floor, Demelis.” Then her gaze fell on Phae. Her nostrils twitched and she narrowed her eyes.
          >Barbarians.” She hissed in the adults’ minds. Before she could continue though, Jonathan and ping rushed in behind them. The male werecat immediately dropped his disguise.
          “Are you okay, Demelis?” He asked, starting forward. The vampiress noticed a similarity in the two werecats’ faces.
         Alasia smiled, watching them, and took a step. As her right foot took her weight, she crumpled to the ground, the grass cushioning her body. Her left hand flew out to catch her fall and the bite on her arm began to ooze with blue blood. The werecat hissed loudly, the noise sounding almost like a curse.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
          Sally left the room for moment, returning a short while later after making the call.
          “A lady is coming.” She said, meeting her mother’s eyes. Caroline nodded slightly and looked at the pair.
          “While we wait, could I get you something to drink?” However, before Rowan could answer, there was a knock at the door. Sally hurried to answer.
          “Hello, my dear. Where is the man?” Rowan didn’t know whether to be thoroughly annoyed or surprised, but she was leaning more toward the latter a young woman with wavy, dark brown hair entered the room. She smiled reassuringly and approached the sofa. She held out a hand.
          “Are you a doctor?” The EMT asked, choosing not to shake her hand.
          “Dr. Teal at your service. Can I take a look at him?” The newcomer touched Rowan’s shoulder. Against her better judgement (or maybe something else made her) she moved aside, if only to put space between her and this ‘doctor’. In that instant, the stranger laid a hand on Cane’s arm.
          Dr. Teal pulled back. “Come back to us, Cane.” She crooned softly. It seemed to the onlookers that he was reviving. >Are you able to tell me why Bethany has done this to you?”< She glanced at Rowan and backed away slightly. >You can trust us, I swear on my soul.< She reassured the werewolf.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
          ((Okay, artistic:x:emo, when Alasia fought the werewolves, the second one got his teeth into her ankle. The ankle is broken, so she can’t walk. And as for the blood, Bleu can sometimes make a vampire go a little crazy, especially if it’s fresh. Also, how would Nick know of Phae’s talent if he’s never come in contact with her as a vampire?))(
          ((Andante, one eensy issue with your post. Caroline and her husband try to keep thing as normal as possible for Sally at home, so, they try to speak out loud. This would especially be so when there are people they don’t believe are aware of what they are. Any mental speech on their behalf would be quite minimal and they would do it in a way that would be able to be observed easily by a stranger.))
          ((And finally, KC, go on ahead. I just didn’t want to leave you out of this personal message deal. I also wanted to see if you noticed my fixer-upper for the absence of the older member that left us. :’(... :D))
 

         "Well, well. Now, isn't this a surprise."

         Aury's hand went to her gun. This was it!

         Together, she and Casey took another step to stand wholly within a long, narrow room. The place looked odd without the table that normally would have filled a conference room like this. A dozen men and women stood in two shallow, curved lines along the walls, Aury and Casey at one end, and Tank, standing alone on the far side.

         Casey's lips twitched but he stayed silent, taking a few more steps to stand in the center. Aury walked beside him, fingers twitching to draw her gun, mind struggling to contain the fear she knew the vampires could smell.

         Tank bowed his head slightly in an abbreviated bow. He spoke in a monotone, "Father."

         Shocked rustling twittered amongst the vampires and Aury drew her gun, though she kept the cool metal against her leg, pointed down. Her every muscle twanged and trembled to be away, not surrounded by living death.

         "I heard you died."

         Casey's mouth quirked up in a small smirk. "The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated. You are leading quite the adventurous life these days."

         "Merely carrying out your legacy, Father."

         Throughout the verbal sparring, Aury's gaze flitted around the room, feet shuffling in nervous tension. This was like a scene from a horror movie, the enemies poised to attack, and Aury's skin tingled with the force of the vampire's stares. Some were hungry, some angry, some nervous, but all curious. She was the one that got away, and to turn up with an elder vampire, so easily, after having stubbornly denied bending to their will ... Aury felt like a lab rat, dissected alive under the weight of those staring eyes.

         Casey plucked out his earpiece, tossing it to the floor.

         Tank's eyes narrowed and his lip curled. He flung out an arm to silence the rising voices of his people. "You have betrayed us," he stated coldly, anger billowing out from him like a cloud.

         Casey shrugged. "You have an interestingly flexible idea of betrayal, Viturin. As I recall, you threw the first stone."

         "What brings you back here?" snapped Tank. His eyes moved to Aury. "What games are you playing at, Father?"

         "This child is now under my protection," Casey stated, equally coldly. He let the other vampires assume he had the power and resources to retaliate should they make any moves against him.

         Tank spat. "Idle threats."

         "You were ever over-confident," sighed Casey.

         "And you're a fool!" Tank made a slight gesture that almost went unseen but for Aury's hyper-vigilance. She gasped once, then raised her gun.

         "Welcome back, my dear." One of the vampires stepped away from the wall. He grinned, revealing his fangs, and Aury's blood froze. The vampire held up a palm-sized device.

         "Ah!" cried Aury. Gun forgotten, she clapped hands over her ears, dropping to her knees. Casey's discarded earpiece smoked in ruin on the floor.

         Casey moved in a whisper of movement, throwing Tank against the wall, but the younger vampire just laughed derisively. "Did you think we would not be prepared, Father?" he demanded. "You throw in your allegiances with those freedom fighters and think I wouldn't know? You've gone soft."

         "You dare question my motives?" Casey hissed back. "You, who stand to throw the world back into chaos, werecats and werewolves and vampires all fighting amongst themselves? It is madness! We all but destroyed each other once --"

         "They have only to acknowledge their weakness before us," said Tank calmly. "Submit to the rule of their betters." With deceptive ease, he pushed his father back, shaking out his shoulders and walking towards Aury.

         Ears ringing, Aury discarded the ruined earpiece and pulled out another weapon. She had to grasp the butt in both hands to steady the gun against her trembling. When Tank smiled, his image overlaid the gentle person in her memory and, before she knew what she did, she lowered the gun, dropping it to clatter on the floor.

         "That's my sweet child," crooned Tank, kneeling beside her. He hugged her close, patting her hair. "All will be well, my pet. Welcome home."

         "Aury!" Casey tried to warn her.

         Whirling, she ducked and tumbled free, batting aside the hypodermic needle with a booted foot. She hit the ground in a roll, reaching for lost weapons. In that instant, white light erupted in the room.

         The opposite to turning the lights off, the bulbs brightened to an unbearable level for vampires, their sensitive eyes burning and tearing with the attack. Aury blinked away afterimages. Instint brought about by years of strict training found the discarded guns back in her hands. She dumped the first clip into the vampire from her memory.

         "Go! Let's go!" shouted Casey, grabbing Aury by the arm and dragging her from the room. He slammed a hand against the control panel on the outside, fingers moving from memory as he still couldn't see, but the door locked with a chiming sound.

         "That'll slow them down," he said. "Go!" he ordered Aury, still looking a little shell-shocked. "Get to the control room. Carry out the mission!"

         "But ..." The vampire slouched against the wall, looking for all the world like he'd just taken a flash-grenade to the face. Under the hands pressed over his eyes, Casey's skin cracked and peeled, turning a vivid, lobster-red.

         "Go!"

         Casey was part of her team now, and Aury didn't like leaving him, but she hopped to her feet anyway, brain reasoning that she couldn't stay and help Casey and carry out her end of the mission at the same time. Unfortunately, there were other people in this place with her; one life was not worth theirs, not if by being captured sent them right back where they'd started.

         So she ran, shooting first when she encountered movement and worrying about the consequences later. Zeke's black box was as useless as the non-functional earpieces, but the schematics were accurate. Aury found the control room right where it was supposed to be, the limp body of a vampire slumped over the doorway, keeping the heavy steel from closing all the way.

         Aury skidded to a halt beside the bank of computer terminals, mind racing to remember what Zeke had told her. They'd assumed he'd be able to talk her through it, but they'd learned from experience to always plan for the worst. Her hands flew across the keys and, if she made a few mistakes, the end result was the same. Red lights flashed, the computer's sweetly feminine voice warning the inhabitants to evacute.

         "Self-destruct sequence initiated. Warning. Warning. Self-destruct ...."

         Some small sound alerted her and Aury turned around, weapon raised. Blisters already healing, Tank leaned against the doorframe.

         He shook his head sadly. "You had such potential, Auryon," he said. "So stubborn, so like a vampire."

         "I am nothing like you!" she spat, but she could not fire; her fingers just refused to pull the trigger. "Da-- you!"

         Still with his eyes closed, Tank stepped confidently forward. "Your blood is so sweet and full," he continued, coming closer. "Why must you be so stubborn?"

         "What have you done to me?" she demanded, voice shrill as Tank reached out and plucked the gun from her unresisting hands.

         "They got to you young, didn't they?" Tank asked. "Your conditioning was so strong, we worked weeks to break through before trusting you not to stake one of us by accident. Now, look at you, working willingly with vampires, and yet you refuse to carry out the mission with which you were entrusted." He touched her jaw, tilting her head back. "I will correct that oversight."

         "Without me your plans are nothing!" whispered Aury, stubbornly refusing to give in to the fear rattling her veins with the vampire's close proximity.

         Tank snorted a little. "You are so delightfully clueless." He chuckled as Aury's eyes widened with shocked fear. "Oh, we won't kill you. That would be a waste. No, you shall instead become one of us. Your precious Nick won't be able to resist us then."

         Nick!

         With a wordless cry, Aury twisted and darted away. In her hands, the stylus from the desk transformed into a weapon, thrust with all Aury's strength right between the second and third ribs on the vampire's right side.

         He wheezed once and lay still. Aury ran to the door, but found it locked. Overhead, the computer continued to count down the time in the self-destruct sequence. Two minutes remaining.
Demelis shuddered as the bloodscent hit her nostrils. Feeling simultaneously sick and ravenously desirous, she put her arm to her nose, breathing in the clean laundry smell. Jon's eyes widened and he pulled the young vampiress to him. She breathed in his scent instead, not feeling at all awkward. Rather, she felt quite comforted.

"Damn!" Nick said softly, kneeling down beside Alasia. "Alasia, is it?"

Alasia nodded slowly, grimacing. Nick bit his lip, and then swiftly grabbed the white blanket off his bed.

"Knife, anyone?" His voice was curt, but Demelis could hear the undertone of nervousness. Jon wordlessly reached into his pocket and tossed Nick a knife. Flipping it open dexterously, Nick slashed a wide piece of the coverlet off, and discarded the remaining three-quarters of it. Taking the strip, he began to wrap it around Alasia's arm just above the wound, as tightly as he could. Violet-blue flowers began to bloom on the white cotton closest to the spilled blood, but he just kept wrapping.

"That ought to help stop the bleeding at least," Nick said finally, turning his gaze to her ankle. "But I'm not a proper doctor, so I can't do anything for your ankle. You need medical attention from a pro."

"That'll come later," Alasia grunted, sitting up as best as she could. "For now we need to get into contact with Aury and Casey. Then we need to get out of here."

"You weren't lying," Nick said wonderingly, looking at Demelis. "They did bring Aury!"

Demelis peeked out from under Jon's arm and nodded, amused. Nick's face spread in a huge smile, and he turned back to Alasia.

"So how is Aury? I mean, how do you know her, and how does she know Demelis, and--"

"TWO MINUTES UNTIL SELF-DESTRUCT!" boomed out over the ceiling speakers. The group started in surprise, then looked at each other uneasily.

"Two minutes..." Alasia muttered.


-----------------------------------------


Aury banged on the door helplessly one last time before letting herself fall against it and slide to the floor. What was to be done now? All this way, all this time, all the bloodshed and fighting, and for what? She had failed.

"No, Aury, damn it. You won't give up now. Even though you may seem crazy just because you're talking to yourself doesn't mean you can't fix this." She crossed the room and reached the computers. "Now, remember everything you were taught. Easy does it. Ignore the time..."

Confusion and a small amount of preteen annoyance washed over the child’s face. “Why are you looking at me so funny?” she demanded.

Rowan bit her lip, pulling her hand slowly away from the kid’s arm. How was she supposed to respond to that? “Hey, I think you might be a monster” didn’t seem like a particularly kind thing to tell a little kid, and besides, what if this… this thing didn’t want her to know? Maybe she only looked like an eleven-year-old girl.

Still, Rowan wasn’t one particularly inclined toward dissembling. “Tell you what,” she said curtly. “I’ll tell you why I’m looking at you so strangely if you tell me what is in the jar.”

No, the little girl really was a little girl, if the questioning glance she cast her mother’s way was any indication.

Caroline, in every way a suburban soccer mom in appearance, stepped forward, placing herself not-so-subtly between her child and the redheaded EMT. “You sensed something. Didn’t you?” She reached back toward the little girl, nudging the child carefully behind her. “Why don’t you tell me what you are, and then maybe I will tell you what is in the jar.”

Rowan’s gaze flicked to Cane and back. He did not even look conscious. “He needs a hospital. Now.”

The woman shook her head. “Too dangerous. If he goes there, the people who were chasing him will find him, and they will kill him.”

“And he’ll die if he stays here!” Rowan snarled.

Caroline shrugged. “Not if you use what is in the jar.”

What is in the jar?” Rowan had long, curly red hair, perfect for pulling by the handful. She did so now, resisting the urge to stomp her feet. This situation was unreal. She had helped what she was pretty sure was a shredded up werewolf escape from what seemed to be a bunch of werecats armed with shotguns, and after watching a were-something child hide an ambulance from their pursuers, was now having to try to convince that were-something’s mother to explain a mysterious blue “medication” she wanted to give Rowan’s patient.

“First, answer my question,” the were-something’s mother said.

Rowan threw her head back in exasperation, then fixed the woman with a glare. “What the hell, this is probably just a weird dream anyway. I sensed that your daughter is not human because, although I am myself human---I think---I can sometimes, ah, feel what a person is, biologically speaking, when I touch them. Okay? So… what’s in the jar?” Caroline merely stared at her in shock. “What’s in the jar?” she shouted again for the third or fourth time that night.

Finally, she received an answer. “It is werecat blood,” Caroline said frankly. “From an adult werecat we know. It promotes rapid healing.” She held the jar up to the light and frowned. “There isn’t enough to fix all the damage, but it should certainly help.”

“And will it work on him?” Rowan asked, jutting her chin toward the unconscious Cane. “He’s not a werecat. I suppose you know that he’s not human, either.”

“He’s a werewolf,” the little girl finally spoke up. “I can smell it.” Rowan raised an eyebrow but didn’t ask the question that’d been burning in her mind the entire time she’d been with these people. The child answered anyway. “I’m a werecat. My name’s Sally.”

Rowan smiled uncertainly. “I’m Rowan. I’m… a human...”

The girl’s nostrils flared. “I know.”

The EMT took a deep breath. This was just too weird. “Okay, well, if we’re going to do this, we might as well get to it.” She held out her hand and let Caroline place the jar in it. “How much of it do I use? And is he supposed to take it orally, or…?”

Caroline cleared her throat. “You coat the wound in it. As for how much… I’ve only seen it used once, and the wound wasn’t nearly as extensive as these are. Lacey coated it liberally though, so I think you should use it all.”

“Okay,” Rowan said with an uncertain nod. She knelt beside Cane, lifting the folded cloth she’d placed over his stomach. Even if he survived this, the scarring would be massive. She twisted open the lid to the jar, and eyed the viscous blue liquid inside. “Do I… um… Do I just use my fingers? It’s not going to turn me into a werecat or anything?” Then again, she realized, if contact with one of these things’ blood was enough to turn her into one, she’d be much more likely to become a werewolf after today’s events than a werecat.

The little girl giggled and her mother chuckled. “Don’t worry,” Caroline said. “You’re either born with werecat blood or you’re not. As for the risk of becoming a werewolf… only if you were suffering pretty massive blood loss yourself and your wound had come into direct contact with the werewolf’s saliva or blood or---” she glanced at her daughter with a frown and said quietly “---other things it’s better not to mention around a child, would you be at risk of becoming a werewolf.”

The eleven year old snorted. “I’ve heard of sex before, Mommy!”

Rowan found the pairing of those two words to be infinitely dismaying. Children these days… “Werecats are born, werewolves are infected?” she asked for clarification, already beginning to dribble the blood carefully over the worst of the wounds on Cane’s torso. Caroline was right; there was not enough to apply to all of the injuries, but she could already see the worst of the wounds beginning to clot and knit before her eyes.

As she carefully rubbed it along the gashes and tears, she flooded warmth through her hands. She did not even hear Caroline’s response to her question as she focused on stopping the bleeding, encouraging the production of more red blood cells, and boosting Cane’s immune system to encourage his body to fight off any infection the injuries might otherwise have given him. Between the potent werecat blood and her own little trick, she was confident she could at least shove this guy away from Death’s doorstep, and probably return him to full health.

She kept working until the gruesome gashes on Cane’s chest and stomach had completely closed and scarred over as if they’d been sustained over a month before. The worst of the cuts had faded completely where the werecat blood had come into contact with them, but Rowan wasn’t too ashamed of her own work, either. She was too tired to do more now, but she figured she could get rid of the scars later if he let her.

“Wow,” Caroline said, unfolding from the ground beside Rowan, where she’d apparently been watching the proceedings for God only knew how long. “I guess that blood goes further than I thought.”

“Nhgh,” Rowan grunted, blinking blearily.

The mother raised an eyebrow. “Then again, I suppose you had something to do with that.”

The redhead levered herself to her elbow, noticing that she’d been surveying her work from a position with her cheek resting on Cane’s shoulder. That was awkward. At least he was still out cold. She’d encouraged his body to replace the blood he’d lost a little faster, but he’d be weak and tired for a day or two at least. “Gotta be going,” she yawned. “Home.” She glanced around lethargically. The little girl was gone, but she could see her out the window, playing with a plastic bouncy ball in the lawn. “Um. Have paper? I want to give him my number. I’ll finish what I did later if he wants.” She waved a hand above her head idly. “Mean get rid of the scars. Like tomorrow? Yeah, tomorrow…”

“You should sleep,” Caroline said kindly. “You look beat.”

“Mmm,” Rowan said, pillowing her head on her arm against the cushy arm of the couch. She was asleep before she even had a chance to finish thinking the words, No, I really should be going now.
There was a rustle behind Rowan. Her eyes fluttered open, and she blinked blearily at the large man lying on the couch above her. Still unconscious. Rowan for her part felt slightly less tired, but still bleary. Judging from the light in the room, it looked like a couple hours had passed.

"My daughter called a... specialist in," a voice said behind her. Yawning, she turned and found Caroline standing with a bundle of clothing in her arms. "He is looking much better now, but I'm worried that he has not woken up yet."

Rowan frowned, turning to look at Cane. His breathing was perfectly regular now, and his color had returned to normal. Laying a hand on his arm, she could think of no reason that he should still be unconscious. His body was not completely healed yet, but it was as though his wounds were a good month old. His body was still working to recover from blood loss, but that should have left him feeling fatigued, not unconscious. And there was no brain damage whatsoever.

"A specialist?" she asked, peeling back the man's eyelid and peering into his eyes. His pupils responded normally to the sudden increase in light.

"Yes," Caroline said. "She has a special talent for... ah... these kinds of cases."

"Is she a doctor?"

Caroline hesitated. "She..."

"A lady is coming," Sally interrupted, marching into the room.

Caroline nodded to her daughter, Rowan's question apparently forgotten, then turned to the EMT. "While we wait, could I get you something to drink?" she asked politely.

The idea suddenly seemed fantastically brilliant, and Rowan opened her mouth to answer, but there was a knock on the door.

As quickly as she strode into the room, Sally ran back out, returning a few moments later with a dark-haired young woman in tow. The woman offered her hand. Rowan stared at it, then at her, suspiciously.

"Are you a doctor?" she demanded, tired of the weirdness and the evasion. She wasn't even going to ask how the woman had arrived so quickly.

The woman's smile, beneath wavy hair, was angelic. "Dr. Teal at your service," she said sanguinely. She tilted her chin over Rowan's shoulder. "Can I take a look at him?" Before Rowan could say, 'Not until you assure me that you know what you're doing', the woman set a hand on her shoulder and she found herself scooting aside, not caring a bit for the contact.

Ms. Teal---Rowan refused to think of her as a doctor until she had a reason to do so---knelt gracefully beside Rowan on the ground and resting a hand on Cane's arm. "Come back to us, Cane," she said soothingly.

Caroline met Rowan's eyes as the EMT stared suspiciously and incredulously at the "doctor". "You should take a shower and then get a nap. I can drive you home in an hour or two, if you'd like."

Rowan glanced back at Cane lying on the couch. "Not until I've seen that he is okay," she said firmly.

Caroline nodded. "Well, Dr. Teal will be working on him for a little while yet. You have time for a shower, at least. And frankly, you need it," she finished gently, nodded toward Rowan's clothing.

The EMT glanced down, wrinkling her nose in distaste at the red and blue stains on her favorite gray sweater and slacks. That would be nearly impossible to get out. Still, she didn't feel resentful. These things happened sometimes; it was stupid to worry about your clothing when trying to save a patient's life.

"Alright," she said as graciously as she could manage. "A shower does seem to be on the order of business."

"Right this way," her hostess said, and leaving her daughter to watch Cane and Ms. Teal, led Rowan down the hall toward a normal rest room, complete with a little girl's Sponge Bob tooth brush.

A little werecat's Spong Bob tooth brush, Rowan corrected herself as Caroline set a pair of pajamas on the counter for her.

Ten luxurious minutes later, Rowan returned to the living room in a t'shirt and pajama pants several sizes too large for her to find that Dr. Teal was still kneeling over Cane, her eyes closed and head bowed. Rowan frowned as she sat down in an arm chair across from them, wondering what the heck the "doctor" was doing, and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

She was still waiting when she gave into Caroline's advice once again and fell asleep.

***


You can trust us, I swear on my soul, a voice was saying.

OUT! OUT OF MY HEAD! Cane raged, leaping from the rock ledge upon the intruder, bearing her to the ground. He placed his teeth at her throat, ready to tear her to pieces. She smelled like a cat, and he hated cats right now.

She let him push her down, but did not tremble even when his claws pierced the soft flesh of her arms. "I am not your enemy, Cane," she soothed. "Do not be afraid. Another has hurt you. I need you to tell me who, and why."

Cane did not release her, but he did answer her question, growling it into her ear. He was not sure how he found the words; usually he could not speak while in wolf form. "Her name is Bethany. She is a werecat. She did this to me because I betrayed her."

"How so?"

"I'm not a killer" he snarled. "She wanted me to kill people I do not know, who did not do anything to me and who may not have hurt anyone. So I left."

"Who did she want you to kill?" the woman asked, so calmly, as though his fangs were not a mere inch from her jugular.

"Vampires."

The werecat nodded. "Tell me more, Cane."

He did. Halfway through his story, he let her up, and when he had finished it was she who pulled him to his feet. "Your body is nearly whole again, Cane. I can heal the rest when I go back. Will you come with me? It is not safe for you to stay here forever."

"No," he sighed, sensing as though from a great distance the leaden weight of his own body laying on something soft. "I suppose it's not." He followed her.

He opened his eyes, finding himself staring up at a ceiling fan, and then slightly lower into her face. Strangely, she looked slightly younger in person than she'd appeared in his dream. There were centuries behind the smile she gave him.

"How do you feel?"

He swallowed. "Thirsty. Like a mass of scars. Tired."

"Well, I can do something about the second of those, if you like. Is there any pain?" She was unscrewing the lid of a jar, dipping her fingers inside.

He shook his head. "No. Just tightness. It itches slightly."

The woman nodded and began spreading a strange blue liquid on his chest. "It is, as you said, scar tissue. And new skin growing. A lot of it. You were hurt pretty badly, Cane."

"And I'm not now?" That did not make any sense. "What day is it?"

"The same day you were injured. Stay still, please." He stopped moving, trying to pretend her fingers did not tickle. "Look over to your right." He did so, and saw that EMT from earlier sleeping in a lounge chair, sprawled out like a drunk watching the Super Bowl. Her mouth was slightly open and she was snoring softly. "She's more than just an EMT, I think," the woman said. "My daughter Lacey's blood goes a long way toward healing someone, but there wasn't enough of it to patch you up all the way. And this little redhead seems to be able to sense what we are just by touching us."

Cane laughed dryly. "A werecat, surprised that there are strange people in the world?" he teased.

The werecat smiled. "Surprised that there are even more kinds of strange people than she thought, perhaps. Yes."

***


Rowan must have fallen asleep at some point, because the next thing she knew, sunlight was no longer filtering in through the living room window and Cane, very much conscious and alive, was standing in front of her in an enormous t'shirt and drawstring pajama pants that were far too tight and too short for him. At least Caroline had managed to find something blue, unlike the pink and yellow striped pajama pants she'd lent Rowan.

The large werewolf grinned. "You slept a while! Caroline says dinner is ready if you're hungry, and afterward she'll give us both a ride home."

"How are you feeling?" Rowan asked, stretching and yawning.

Cane rubbed a hand ruefully over his chest and stomach, then offered her his hand. "Like I should be dead, but I'm not. Thank you."

"You're welcome," Rowan said, allowing him to pull her to her feet. "But it wasn't all me. Someone named Lacey unknowingly donated some blood---that's a long story---and a Dr. Teal saw to you as well."

"I know," he smiled. "She and I had a long talk. About... those people. The ones who did this and tried to shoot us."

"Tried to shoot you," Rowan pointed out. "I was just inconveniently in the way."

He laughed. "Well, thank you for being in the way. Shall we?" he gestured toward the kitchen, from which the smell of spaghetti wafted.
((Okay Andante, I'm gonna skip me since I haven't much to go off of. Just skip your turn as well and we should be caught up. KC and Artisticxemo, please add))
Alasia let out a small grunt as she shifted her position, and Demelis did her best to ignore the fresh wave of bloodscent that blew her way. Maurice and Ping were sitting on the bed next to Nick, seemingly happy despite the impending doom. Jon was still holding her, and Phae now as well; she had scrambled to the two for comfort.

"What are we to do?" Alasia mused, her voice perfectly normal, as though her ankle wasn't twinging and burning painfully along with the bite on her arm. Jon spoke up tensely.

"There's not enough time to escape. Our only hope right now is Aury. Can you contact her at all, Lacey?"

Alasia nodded slightly, then her eyes took on a strange, glazed look. "She's trying to bypass the self-destruct. She's panicked, though she's keeping control of herself for the most part. That's good." Her voice sounded eerie, as if she were in a trance. Demelis breathed in Jon's clean scent again before lifting her head to stare at Alasia.

"Can you help her? Maybe if you could talk to her, ease her a little, a solution will come." She shuddered slightly as she ran out of clean air and caught another whiff of the werecat's fresh blood. She felt her canines elongate just a little, but restrained herself, whimpering a little. Thank goodness Phae thought that blood smelled "icky". Demelis could barely stop herself from leaping out of Jon's arms to taste --

No! she scolded herself. They were on the verge of becoming extinct, and she would not spend her last minutes pining for a creature's blood. She pressed closer to Jon instead, listening as Alasia spoke again.

"I'm trying, but she's calculating everything and it's very hard to break though to her..." there was a long pause, and Demelis felt the time slipping away. She glanced up at Jon desperately, and he stroked her still silvery blond hair. His green eyes, though, were focused on the werecat. "There. She hears me. We've got 40 seconds now..."

The room went tense with the contemplation of death.

(( I don't think it's my place to figure out how Aury stops the self-destruct...if she does at all. That should be up to KC and/or Ruler. :) ))
         

         "Okay," said Aury, thumping against the locked door. "Okay. Okay. Not panicking. Not panicking. Right. Think, Aury, think!"

         They meant to blow the place up, so the mission was accomplished, but Aury had no wish to die. Her brain might be swiss cheese, but there were plenty of things she wished to do. Okay, what had Zeke said? They'd gone over the plans a thousand times.

         "Aury?"

         She started. "Zeke?"

         "Aury, are you there? Press that flashing green button. Aury? Press the button, Aury!"

         She darted from the door and across the room, eyes scanning the myriad controls until she saw the one she hoped Zeke was talking about.

         "They fried our wireless pieces," Zeke continued, "but I guess they didn't know how far we'd tapped into their systems, so it was a piece of cake to --"

         "Shut up, Zeke!"

         "Aury?"

         "Yeah, dork. Look, tell me later, okay? Tell me how to stop the destruct sequence and get out of here."

         "Control one, press in this sequence: one, two, four, two ...."

         The computer continued the countdown as Aury worked to Zeke's instructions. Sweat ran down her neck as the countdown neared a minute and then started counting down seconds and Zeke continued in his calm monotone. She didn't dare rush him, taking the time to push each key in the exact order he instructed.

         "... And execute."

         "Self-destruct sequence initiated. Warning. Warning. Self-destruct ...."

         Aury jerked her hand back from the console, blinking in dumbfounded amazement as the self-destruct reset. They had five minutes again.

         "It worked. Zeke! It worked!"

         "Of course it did. Now, next sequence --"

         "Wait! What about the others?"

         Jean's voice came over the line. "We've sent in response teams to get them." He didn't waste time explaining a werecat's telepathy. "Wipe the computers and get out, Aury."

         "Right." She blew out her breath in relief, following the next, thankfully shorter sequence to destroy the computer storage databanks. Then, finally, she was able to override the doors. The general override unlocked and opened every door in the compound.

         She ran for the nearest exit, one of the tunnels, as fast as she could. Two and a half minutes remaining.
"Okay, we are to move out as fast as we can. Aury has managed, with Zeke's help, to reconfigure the self-destruct so we have more time," Alasia revealed, much to the relief of everyone in the room. Relief quickly turned to worry:

"But how are we going to get you out?" Nick asked. Alasia was silent for a moment.

"Demelis cannot stand the temptation my blood holds for her. She needs someone to mask the scent. I need Jon and Nick to support me, so Demelis, if you could just carry this little girl and concentrate on running out of here, they can assist me. We need to get to the rendezvous point before this entire facility blows up. Let's go."

With that, Jon scooped up Phae and placed her in Demelis' arms before turning to Alasia. Nick helped him hoist her up, and Alasia bit her lip hard to keep herself from making any noise. Demelis rushed to the door, breathing in the clean, fresh scent of Phae as she opened it.

She nearly stumbled in surprise as she took in the chaos that ruled the hallway, but quickly governed herself and started to push her way through, mentally reviewing the blueprints and searching for the fastest way out. The others were following her, she knew, and so she had to be the one to guide them to safety.

Phae had her lips pressed tightly together, but Demelis could hear the slight whimpers that came from her tiny throat. She empathized deeply with the little one, in several ways, but they had to get out.

She pushed her way through the crowd, wishing she could do something, anything to run faster between these panicking people, and then she heard Phae muttering.

"I wish these bad people were gone. I wish they didn't exist!"

That's it! Demelis thought triumphantly. I can change this situation, I can make these people disappear. She had had this idea earlier, thinking that maybe she could use her power to stop the self-destruct entirely, just will it out of existence or give it an infinite amount of time, but she had been afraid to interfere just in case she did the opposite on accident.

Better yet, I could transfer us all to the rendezvous point.

She bit her lip, thinking hard even as she was weaving through mass confusion. She could use Phae's desire to fuel her power. Heaven knew the little girl wanted out badly enough. If she could just twist that desire and feed it...

She stopped, her mind going completely blank save for the words Celadon had given her: "You must be able to integrate everything into one equation to achieve the end result. Make it mesh together and become reality. You, Demelis, can change reality if you can just carry out the equation."

The others slammed into her, so sudden was her stop. Alasia shrieked in desperation and pain.

"Demelis, what are you doing? We need to move, now!"

The vampiress ignored her, instead focusing all her energies. This would be extremely tricky even under the best of circumstances. In this scenario, she would think it impossible... but Phae was the key here. Children, Demelis believed, had their own sort of power in a way, through their imaginations and steadfast beliefs. Phae would help her through this.

© Copyright 2007 Ruler of the Werecats, KC under the midnight sun, artistic:x:emo, xx-xx, xx-xx, Andante, (known as GROUP).
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