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Wings of Fire
By Caris Roane
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2011 Caris Roane
All rights reserved.
In the last three months, since the abduction of his woman, Antony Medichi, out of Italy in the late Roman era, had become a killing machine. He had steel for bones and molten iron for blood. He rarely slept. He battled death vampires at night, sending to perdition any who crossed his sword. But during the day, when most of the pretty-boys were asleep, Antony bled his wrists on his altar and hunted rogue vampires on Mortal Earth, searching for the woman he'd lost.
Those hunts also ended in death. Not his.
He stood on the rim of the Grand Canyon, Mortal Earth, looking down, tracking a death vampire flying in the shadows. Even though he was far from the touristy areas, he still cloaked his presence with a heavy concentration of mist, a preternatural creation designed to confuse the average human mind. Most mortals simply couldn't see him, and right now he didn't want to be seen.
Antony stared into the abyss. The profound silence across the canyon formed a strange juxtaposition to the visual feast. The Grand Canyon was all for the eyes, not for the ears. But he hadn't come to admire the view or embrace the quiet.
His predatory gaze followed the death vampire flying below, legs straight back, glossy black wings glinting in the early-morning sunshine. He'd been hunting this particular bastard for weeks now. All clues had led here. This pretty-boy had known both Eldon Crace and Rith Do'onwa, two sons of bitches who had harmed women belonging to the Warriors of the Blood. Both vampires deserved death. Crace had already gotten what he deserved, and within the depths of Medichi's mind Rith Do'onwa, the fiend who had kidnapped his woman, was a death waiting to happen, nothing more.
Three months ago, Medichi had served as Parisa Lovejoy's Guardian of Ascension. She'd entered his world as an anomaly, a mortal-with-wings, a woman of extraordinary preternatural power in need of protection from the enemy. No one, except the first ascender, had mounted wings on Mortal Earth. But Parisa had. She'd also arrived with the ability to voyeur, a power that allowed her to focus on an individual or a place and see what was happening in real time, even in an entirely separate location, or a different dimension.
So much power, and beauty, and a strong analytical mind.
But all these immense gifts and abilities paled in comparison with the call of the breh-hedden, the myth of vampire mate-bonding, that had proved as real as the air he breathed. She was his breh, his mate, the one destiny had selected for him, the one he craved.
He hadn't asked for a mate. He hadn't wanted one and he sure as hell didn't deserve one, but she'd come, he'd served as her guardian, and she'd been abducted on his watch.
So here he was, a wrecked shell of a warrior, struggling to find his way back to her.
When Rith had abducted Parisa, he'd not only blocked his trace — which indicated an enormous amount of power — but also deceived Medichi with a hologram of Parisa that lasted for at least half a minute. Medichi didn't know anyone, not even any of his warrior brothers, the powerful Warriors of the Blood, who could create a hologram. So, yeah, Rith had power, which made him a clever, dangerous opponent.
But the death vampire working the airstreams of the Grand Canyon had known Rith. He had answers, and Medichi meant to have them. Right now. This morning.
His heart pumped hard in his chest.
The death vampire flew close to the canyon walls as though trying to hide in the shadows. Medichi smiled the hard smile that tended to work his jaw at the same time. Did the death vamp actually think to hide in a place this size?
Medichi bound his hair not in the ritual cadroen as he was supposed to, but with a narrow leather strap over his forehead, tied at the back of his head so that his long warrior hair flowed free. He was uncivilized now, a wild beast hunting for what was his by right, for what had been taken from him.
He had his wings at close-mount, tight to his body; any breeze would send him off the canyon's edge otherwise. But now it was time to take care of business. With the practice of thirteen centuries, he spread his wings to full-mount, adjusting with infinitesimal shifts to balance the air currents, then launched into the empty airspace over the canyon.
A rush of pure adrenaline shot through his heart then sent dizzying endorphins into his head. There was nothing like flight, nothing like falling off a cliff and knowing that spreading his wings to their farthest span would catch, hold, then carry him where he wanted to go.
With a slight adjustment, the barest drawing back of his wings, his body shifted at an angle that meant down, and down he started to fly. Down and down, into the varying degrees of cool shadow and warm light as the canyon walls jutted and receded.
He was close now, his quarry an eighth of a mile away, less, less, a hundred yards now.
The bastard looked up. Shit. Maybe Medichi's shadow had crossed him.
Panic seized the pretty-boy's eyes and he banked left, then drew his wings into close-mount. He threw his arms forward as though diving, his body now aimed in the direction of the Colorado River.
Medichi didn't hesitate. He folded his wings close to his body and, instead of flying in long pulls through the air, became a missile and headed with fierce intent after his prey.
The bastard was good and he was old, which meant he had power, speed, and lots of fucking skill.
But then so did Medichi. He had never mounted his wings during battle, but he flew, a lot. He practiced, a lot. And now he smiled, his jaw twitching.
The mile-deep canyon walls sped past him, the striated layers of rock blending into an orange-beige fusion as he jetted toward the blue-and-white ribbon below. Closer.
He could almost touch the bastard's foot.
If he could wrap a hand around his ankle.
The waters rose up and up.
The death vamp leveled off just three feet above the water but Medichi took a huge risk, kept his missile shape for a split second longer, and just as the death vamp started to plow air Medichi caught his ankle and jerked him down, straight into the frothy rapids of the river below. At the same time, with the steel of his bones, the molten iron of his blood, and a swift mental command, he snagged his levitation ability and threw his wings into parachute mount, cupped at the top, to keep from plunging into the frigid water.
The death vamp wasn't so lucky. His wings went under, and he surfaced screaming because the water had trashed them. The mesh superstructure that held the feathers in place was fairly fragile, and the smallest injury hurt like a bitch. This tumbling in wild waters would be a form of torture. As the current dragged him in a heap, tossing him over and over, the death vamp screamed each time his head breached the water. He landed back-first against an enormous rock. Medichi heard the crack as well as another shriek.
Medichi flew after him. When the pretty-boy would have slid into the heavy currents that swirled at the base of the rock, the warrior grabbed him by his long, dark hair and hauled him out of the water. He threw him facedown on the rock. How many mortals had this motherfucker drunk to death? How many ascenders? Death vamps didn't differentiate when it came to dying blood. Any human, ascended or not, would do.
Medichi wafted his wings slowly to keep his balance against the air currents that streamed through the canyon.
God, the bastard's wings were a mess. The vamp shook hard, maybe from the icy water but probably from shock and a mountain of pain.
"Where's Rith?" he asked. Time to keep the questions simple.
The death vampire shifted slightly to cast one dark, beautiful eye up at Medichi. Calling death vampires "pretty-boys" was more than accurate. He was exquisite, chiseled features shaped by the effects of dying blood, porcelain skin with a faint bluish cast, enhanced no doubt by the freezing water. Medichi felt the pull of attraction, an allure that created a swelling of ease within his chest. Fuck. Even shaking with pain and approaching death, the bastard was trying to enthrall him.
Medichi punched back with a shot of mental power that acted like a blow, pushing the death vamp's face into the rock. "Even at this hour," he shouted, "when you face death, you'd try to enthrall me?"
A smile curved the side of the pretty-boy's mouth. Blood dribbled from his lips onto the wet black rock beneath his face. "Fuck you," he whispered.
The death vampire just smiled. Yeah, questions would be futile, but he always gave them a chance because what he intended to do next would hurt like hell.
He retracted his wings then dropped to his knees beside the death vamp. A bone jutted from the bastard's thigh, shiny and white. Blood ran in a rivulet down his ruptured skin, but the water, still shedding from the nearest feathers of his broken wings, kept washing it away.
"You sure you don't want to just tell me?" Medichi asked. One last chance.
The same reply returned, this time a much stronger "Fuck you."
"Fine," Medichi said. "We'll do it the hard way." He put his hand on the vamp's forehead.
The struggle began as the pretty-boy's mind bucked against Medichi's touch as though trying to cast him out of his head. He put up a good fight, too, but more than just Medichi's body had grown tougher over the forced separation from Parisa. He'd been working his mental powers as well, trying to find his woman telepathically. In doing so, he'd gotten stronger.
He shoved hard, and the vampire's mind gave way. The death vamp screamed but Medichi ignored him and began the real hunt.
He cast aside memories like batting at flies until Rith's strange face emerged, the Asian cast to his features, the broad forehead and wide nose. He focused on those memories and gained a portrait of the man as a powerful servant of Commander Greaves — but then what else would he be? Greaves was the acknowledged enemy of all that Medichi held dear on Second Earth, in this beautiful dimensional world. Darian Greaves had ambitions to rule both Second Earth and Mortal Earth and was creating a powerful army of death vamps to back up his efforts. Rith was a favored servant.
Within the death vampire's mind, he saw Rith's lairs, sometimes in great caverns, sometimes in tents, sometimes in suburban homes, but all in separate geographic locales. He kept picking through them, trying to feel the presence of his woman. All the while the death vamp screamed at the invasion.
Medichi came across the memory of one of Rith's properties that was shrouded in a mental shield. What the fuck was that? This death vampire didn't have enough power to create a deep mental shield like this, which meant that Rith had done it himself.
He tried punching through the shroud but couldn't and then the preternatural sensation stole over him, of simply knowing. He knew. He could feel that this was where Rith held Parisa captive, cloaked even from Central's advanced high-tech grid system, which could locate anything on two earths.
Sweet Jesus. He felt light-headed. He struggled to breathe.
At last. He'd found a connection to her at last. He focused on breathing for a moment. He had to get command of himself if he had any hope of extracting the information he needed.
When he was calmer and while he was still inside the pretty-boy's mind, he moved around the shrouded entity as though walking a mental circle. The death vampire sobbed now, but Medichi didn't give a rat's ass. He'd witnessed too many of the bastard's memories, those that involved securing dying blood, and the women he'd killed to get to it — always women because they were easily subdued physically.
So, yeah, let the bastard feel some pain. Let him feel a lot of pain because it wouldn't be even a fraction of the devastation he'd created in the women he'd killed and the families left behind to deal with all those losses.
He focused once more on the shrouded dwelling and from deep within the death vampire's mind a location at last came forth: Burma, Second Earth.
Medichi couldn't quite grasp the sensation that plowed through him, but it popped a firework in his mind until glitter rained in his head. Relief flowed, pure exhilarating relief. After three long horrible months of hunting, he had just limited his search to a single country, located on only one of two dimensional earths.
His entire body sagged and his throat tightened. He had a chance now of finding her, his woman.
Parisa on Second Earth and in Burma.
Even so, given Rith's level of preternatural power it would take a few days to find the lair that held her captive. With Rith's ability to create shields, no doubt the dwelling in which Parisa was kept was under some crazy-ass mist. The grid would have to search for an anomaly, something nonspecific and unidentifiable — in other words, something vague that didn't belong.
But what were a few more days after searching for three long months and finding nothing? Yeah, he could wait for the grid to uncover an anomaly.
He closed his eyes. He took a long, long moment to offer thanks to the Creator, lifting his face to the heavens, his heart almost floating in a chest that had been constricted from the moment when the hologram of Parisa had disintegrated in front of his eyes.
He felt the pretty-boy's life fading. He withdrew from his mind. The death vamp vomited blood, a lot of it.
Medichi sat down beside the creature that had once been a proper vampire youth. He put his hand on his shoulder, and kept it there. His touch calmed the shaking.
Medichi lowered his head to his knees. He despised what the death vamp had done, but he'd also seen that as a young ascender, a Twoling born on Second Earth, he'd tried dying blood on a dare, offered not from a body but from a goblet at a party. He'd been promised no ill effects, just pleasure. Well, pleasure he'd gotten, but he'd also gotten about three centuries of addiction, killing, despair, and no way back from a stupid teenage mistake. He hated all this shit, the treachery of Greaves and his forces, the resulting mortal victims. Still Medichi remained close to the vampire, as much a victim as those he'd killed, until he felt the final breath.
Stillness overcame the broken body. Medichi looked up. How far away the rim of the canyon seemed. The rush of water was loud in his ears and dominated his impression of the space. Above, complete silence. Below, all this rushing noise.
With his hand still on the death vampire, he repeated the words that had been his ritual for centuries. He was a man of faith if not a believer in structured religion, so in certain situations, like this one, he did what he thought was right, even necessary.
He looked at the now empty shell beside him and spoke against the hurtling water: "May the Great Spirit help you atone for these your terrible sins. May you be forgiven and may you find peace in the arms of the Creator. Amen."
He released a heavy sigh.
So much death in their ascended dimension when it wasn't necessary. Vampires were essentially immortal, or had the potential to live forever. But the addictive nature of dying blood, which seduced every death vampire who partook, made it necessary to kill mortals and ascenders alike for more.
In turn, Commander Greaves, bent on the domination of two worlds, used dying blood as one of his weapons. He not only encouraged the creation of death vampires, but built armies made up of them. There were even rumors that he provided the blood not just to his armies but to those High Administrators around the globe that he'd persuaded to join his faction.
Medichi had no qualms about being the sword of justice.
He left forgiveness to God.
Still sitting, he pulled his phone from the pocket of his black leather battle kilt and held it to his ear. He thumbed it. The phone was the size of a credit card and was a direct line to Central. For all other calls, he had a BlackBerry.
"Hey, Warrior Medichi," Carla said. "Did you get him?"
Excerpted from Wings of Fire by Caris Roane. Copyright © 2011 Caris Roane. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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