A powerful Vector roams the dark alleys and streets searching for his next victim. But he is not interested in those with normal blood, only those in whose veins runs blood thick with hack. And if Adan can’t find someone who has just ingested the potent drug, he will use his powers to coerce them to do so before he feeds.
For Darius, the Vector Sovereign, Adan has become a problem. A problem he needs to fix.
ISBN: 9781921314353 ASIN: B003Z0D2LG Word Count: 76, 782
Baris looked up from his journal at the sound of voices. Voices he knew. A surge of joy coursed through him as his wife, Anika, led a tall, dark haired man into the study. Baris rose, extending his hand. “Jaeger! What are you doing here? It’s been a long time.”
The man smiled, accepting Baris’ forearm embrace. “It has.”
“Did you bring Rhiannon? And the children?”
“No, I’m afraid I didn’t.” He paused. “I…I need to speak with you on an important matter.”
Anika tipped her head at Jaeger. “I’ll fetch you a drink, then leave you two to talk,” she said and quickly slipped out of the room.
Baris smiled and motioned Jaeger to a chair beside the desk, then lowered his towering, lithe frame back into his own chair. “So, what’s wrong? Something with Rhiannon?”
“No, Rhia is fine.” He let out a heavy sigh. “I came at the request of Darius.”
Baris drew back. A momentary surge of panic swept through him, and his hand reflexively moved toward his left arm. “Darius?” he whispered. “What does he want with me? What have I done?”
Jaeger smiled, his gaze moving momentarily to Baris’ arm, though he said nothing. He reached out to give Baris’ shoulder a reassuring grip. “Old ways die hard. Do remember that Darius is not Cardiss. He does not have the same punitive rule as Cardiss did. Besides, you have done nothing. Sovereign Darius only wishes your expertise, shall we say.”
“My expertise? What could I possibly know that he doesn’t?”
Jaeger started to answer then stopped as Anika returned with two tankards of cold ale. She sat them on the table, cast a quick glance at Jaeger, and left as quietly as she had come in.
Jaeger looked at the closed door thoughtfully. “Doesn’t she like me?”
Baris was startled by the words. “Of course she does! I think she’s a bit intimidated by you is all.”
It was Jaeger’s turn to be surprised. “By me? Why? I’m not even full Vector.”
Baris managed a small smile, despite the fact that his heart was doing double time. “Perhaps intimidated isn’t the right word. Embarrassed might be better. She’s still a bit unsettled about all that occurred between her and I almost two years ago. I have to admit, I’m highly embarrassed over that whole incident myself. I wish I could erase it from my past, and my memory.”
Jaeger took a sip of his ale and fixed his dark gaze on Baris. “Well, actually, that’s exactly what I’m here to discuss with you.”
Baris felt the color drain from his cheeks. “I thought you said that I’d done nothing wrong. Why would Darius…”
“I told you,” Jaeger interrupted. “He needs your exper…assistance with something. It seems that there is another Vector who has fallen prey to the ravages of hack. He is refusing to even acknowledge his pledge to the Sovereign. He has basically gone his own way. Darius would like us to intervene. He doesn’t want this to become a nasty state of affairs.”
Baris digested the words slowly, trying to drown them with a large swallow of ale. Just the mention of hack set his skin crawling. He’d had enough of that torture. The days he had spent under the influence of the powerful drug were only a blurred memory, but he could still clearly see the dead body of the boy he had taken as his consort during that time. A boy who had died because of him. He had used the boy as a food source, but more than that, he has used the boy as a way to ease his own cravings for the hack. Even now, he could remember the euphoria that had swept through him each time he had taken the blood of a person high on hack. It was a euphoria not met by simply ingesting the drug in its leaf form. A shudder ran up his spine and he took another long pull on his ale, only wanting to distance himself from any more conversation. “I…I don’t see why Darius just doesn’t take this Vector into the Lair by force. It’s his right as Sovereign.”
“That has been the right of the Sovereign in the past,” Jaeger agreed. “But do remember that when Darius assumed the position of Sovereign, he gave the Vectors freer rein to pursue their own lives.”
“Then why does he care what this Vector is doing?”
“Because this Vector is giving us all a bad name, Baris. I don’t need to tell you how tenuous our acceptance into this human society is. One Vector out there doing ill deeds affects us all. We certainly don’t want to get back to the point of being hunted and killed simply for who we are. At least, I don’t. And I don’t wish to jeopardize my family either.”
The words startled Baris. “You think that would happen? All of our spouses are witches. I don’t think common folk would dare to…”
“Think, man!” Jaeger interrupted. “Rhiannon’s clan were hunted and killed for years. In fact, it’s only their association with the Vectors that has brought them any peace at all.”
“Then perhaps the common folk having a fear of Vectors is a good thing,” Baris returned.
Jaeger sighed. “To a point, I agree. But only to a point. I would much prefer that we were respected, not feared. And I certainly don’t like the fear this particular Vector is spreading about him. He has done a lot of killing. And he’s not been too particular about his victims either. From the reports, he’s killed men, women and even children.”
Baris drew a deep breath and rose, gripping his tankard with both hands. He went to the window and peered out, though he focused on nothing beyond. His mind’s eye again saw the body of the boy he had commanded. He couldn’t get rid of the image despite the fact that he had been assured that Antyn’s death was not his doing. It had been an overdose of the hack that had killed him, something that probably would have eventually occurred with or without Baris being involved. Still, the boy wouldn’t have been attacked, nearly beaten to death, if it hadn’t been for his relationship with Baris. And he wouldn’t have tried to calm that pain with more hack than his frail body could endure. Baris felt almost as if he owed it to Antyn to stop this other Vector from claiming victims. Almost.
The thought of once again entering the dark and vile world of the drug abusers was not a pleasant one. He didn’t relish the thought of slinking through dark alleys, of rubbing shoulders with those associated with the drug.
“I’ll leave you to think on it,” Jaeger said, rising. “But do let me know. If you do not wish to accompany me, I shall have to go it alone.”
Baris turned to fully face the man. “Jaeger, you don’t know what you’re putting yourself into. You may think you’re strong, but just one wrong person to feed on, and you’ll be swept into living hell.”
“Then I’ll have to be careful.”
“You may not be able to sense those who have used the drug,” Baris pointed out gently.
Jaeger drew himself up stiffly. “I am aware of my human half, Baris. I am aware of my weaknesses. I have always compensated for them in the past. I shall continue to do so. Good day.” He gave a tip of his head and disappeared, using his Vector magic that would spirit him back to the Lair where he would report to Darius.
Just the thought sent quivers of fear through Baris, though what Jaeger had said was true. Since his rise to Sovereign, Darius had allowed the Vectors to live their own lives. Gone was the constant intrusion and brutally enforced loyalty of his predecessor. Obedience was now done out of respect, not tyranny. Still, Baris remembered all too well his time spent under the rule of first Sovereign Cardiss, then his High Chancellor Riden. Old habits, and fears, did indeed die hard.
“Baris?” Anika entered the room quietly, stopping before her husband. Her blue eyes held worry and fear. “What’s wrong? What did Jaeger want?”
Baris hesitated. “He brought a message from Sovereign Darius, that’s all.” Baris drew her into his arms, burying his face in her dark hair, savoring the feel of her pregnant belly against his hard, flat one. “It’s nothing.”
She was quiet a moment, her arms wrapped about his waist. Then she pushed back and looked up into his eyes. “It was something. Something that has disturbed you a great deal. Will you share it with me?”
Baris sighed, not because he didn’t want to share with her, but because he didn’t want to even think about those awful times. He stroked her cheek gently. “He wanted me to help him find another Vector. Seems the man has gotten himself involved with hack. Darius wanted me to assist Jaeger in curing this Vector of his addiction.”
“And you will help?” Anika asked, her blue eyes searching his.
“Help?” He released her with a heavy sigh. “How can I help, Anika? I took that long road hack offered. It was hell, Anika. I don’t want to travel it again.”
“But why would you? Darius isn’t asking you to get involved with taking the drug, Baris. He only wants your help in freeing another of your kind from its evil clutches. You, above all, should know what this Vector is going through. Why won’t you help?”
Baris studied her a moment, then returned to his desk. He picked up the quill and fiddled with it, avoiding her gaze. How could he tell her that even now memories of the hack stayed with him? That even now, so many months later, he could still remember the euphoric rush the drug provided? Yes, it had been hell purging it from his body, but while he took it, he had wanted nothing more than to continue to do so. And perhaps he still yearned for it. He wasn’t so sure that he could resist the lure of the powerful drug. And that irritated him.
He had always prided himself on his Vector strength. For most of his long life he had been in control. The fact that Deirdre, one of his wife’s clan members, could so easily seduce him, manipulate him with her magic, was bad enough. But the ease with which hack had claimed him was too much for him to accept. Yet, it had happened. Baris wasn’t so sure that it wouldn’t happen again. He just didn’t want to take that risk. Besides there was always the implant to contend with. Anika didn’t know of that. Neither did Jaeger, or so Baris hoped. It was humiliating enough that he, himself, knew. He purposely kept his gaze from his arm, from the small, nearly invisible red patch of skin that belied the presence of the implant. It was his only punishment, his only payment for the men he had killed while under Deirdre’s seduction. At times he felt as if he didn’t deserve it, at times he felt as if he deserved so much more than having his Vector strength sapped by the presence of the implant. Your strength killed the victims, Darius had said. It seems appropriate that your strength is now the victim. Baris wasn’t sure he agreed, but he’d had little say in the matter at the time. It was either the implant or a gaol cell somewhere in Terska. At least with the implant, he could be here with his family. Something those men he had killed were denied.
Anika approached him, and squeezed his shoulder gently. “It’s your choice then, Baris,” she said quietly. “Now, come, dinner is ready.”
“Let me finish my journal entries,” Baris returned, his heart burdened with guilt.
“Don’t be long, else it’ll have gone stone cold. Not that it matters much to you, since you seem to take your meals that way by preference.”
Baris managed a small smile at her gentle teasing. He was prone to spending far too much time at his books, and often made it to dinner late. He took her hand and kissed the back of it, then released her. “I won’t be long,” he promised, and bent to his books once again. He didn’t hear her leave.