Excerpt: Awaken The Damned
Book Four: League of Guardians
For millennia the struggle between light and dark, between the upper and lower realms, has been policed by a secret group of warriors culled from every fabric of existence. They are both otherworld and human, male and female. They are light and dark themselves and known to each other as the League of Guardians. Their pledge, to protect the line between dominions and make sure neither side grows too powerful. Should they fall, so shall the earth, the heavens and hell. And there will be no more.
There was something simple and pure about a vineyard. The perfect rows planted and cultivated by hand. The sweat and dedication they represented. The tilling of the earth, the gentle fall of rain—the fragility of the berries and ultimately, the reward.
In a world of darkness it was heaven and if he was lucky, as in tonight, he’d spend time there. He’d forget and disappear amongst its shadows.
If only for a moment.
Priest closed his eyes, held a crystal goblet close and inhaled the subtle scents of his seven year old Cabernet Sauvignon—one of the best he’d overseen in decades. He took a sip, let it settle on his palette, and twirled one of his prized Montecristos between his fingers.
The sounds of eventide blanketed the air around him—frogs, insects, the occasional hoot of an owl—and he relaxed, the tension across his shoulders subsiding within seconds. Damn, but he needed this.
Out here amongst the fragrant grapes he’d carefully selected and coaxed to fruition, he could forget his mandate. Forget the darkness he lived most everyday. Forget the last miserable month spent on assignment for the League, deep within the Sahara desert.
Out here, he was just a simple vineyard owner. There were no whispers from the dead, no cries for mercy, and no betrayals lurking in the dark.
Priest clamped down on the cigar between his lips and moved deeper into the shadows that clung to his porch. In the distance lights glowed and voices echoed in the air. His winery, Red Cross Select, was impressive—the estate covered nearly 300 acres of prime land nestled beneath the Niagara escarpment. The first of its kind—he’d discovered the area nearly one hundred and fifty years ago—it was the jewel amongst what now numbered over thirty vineyards in the region.
Tonight a wedding reception was well under way up at the main building, while here, tucked into a secluded corner of his estate, Priest enjoyed the evening from the privacy of his residence.
His house was old, built entirely of stone hauled inland from the banks of the mighty Niagara River. He supposed at one point it had belonged to a simple man—a caretaker to the original family that had settled the land hundreds of years earlier.
And yet it was enough for him. A solitary life had no need for a grandiose home.
He settled into an overly large Adirondack chair, the cedar planks creaking beneath his weight, and eyed the lights that beckoned in the distance. Sound travelled for miles out here and it appeared as if the wedding reception was ramping into high gear.
He wished them well. These faceless humans.
He hoped the blood and darkness that fed his diet didn’t bleed into their world anytime soon, because it was coming. He felt it. As did every member of the League.
His eyes caught sight of pulsing fireflies dancing around the edge of the bushes that lined his yard. Among the gloom—the dull gray of night—they shone, their erratic movements flickering in a mesmerizing display like a beacon in the dark.
Priest blew out a long string of smoke. There was always that. Hope. Faith.
His eyes, glacial blue and so pale they appeared nearly colourless, fixated on the small light show and he eventually closed them, enjoying the solitude and peace. He didn’t sleep, though he appeared dead to the world—instead Priest drank in the sounds, the smells of the night—and for a moment the tug of melancholy in his heart livened and burned like it always did. Deep and powerful.
Priest wasn’t sure when he became aware he wasn’t alone. It was a gradual awakening. The energy in the air shifted and the currents that ran along the ground now sizzled with the unmistakable signature of otherworld. Irritation sliced through him. Who the hell would dare to trouble him here? In his private space?
Carefully he set his glass down beside his chair—it was from his set of Riedel Vinum and he’d not chance the damn thing ruined. His right hand slowly stretched over the side of the armrest until he felt the dagger there. Once in hand he took a moment, centered himself…and sprang forward, his tall frame whirling around with preternatural speed.
He connected hard with something solid and grinned wickedly as a gasp, followed by a curse erupted into the dark. The energy was off—way off—the words spoken ancient speak. Priest fisted his hands, waiting for the hammer to fall.
“Show your face, friend.” Priest stood back, peered into the dark and waited.
Shadows swirled, rippling in the air like sand falling from the sky and his eyes narrowed as the darkness fell away. A tall man stared back at him with soulless eyes like blue ice chips and shoulder length hair so blond it appeared white. His features were strong, square jaw, wide forehead and his tall frame powerfully built. His large shoulders were cloaked in leather, his legs the same.
Priest watched him carefully, the dagger held loose in his hands, though his lips thinned when he spied the mark along the stranger’s neck. It was smallish, no larger than a thumbprint, a black crescent moon with a bolt through it.
Lucifer’s mark. Shit, this wasn’t good.
Priest was surprised, which was something that didn’t happen often. He’d not been called his birth name in centuries, not since he’d taken the vow and become a Templar knight. Not since…her. Who was this son of a bitch?
“You’ve got me at a disadvantage.” Priest uttered softly, the dagger now held firmly as he eyed the stranger. “You are?”
The man was quiet for a moment. “Someone who needs your help.”
“Help?” Priest’s eyebrows shot up. “You’ve wasted a trip topside my friend. I don’t help the likes of you.”
The stranger stepped forward and the air between the men thickened, charged with otherworld energy and pure, raw, power. He was demon. Priest knew this now and from the smell of him, an ancient one at that.
“You will find someone for me.”
A snarl erupted from Priest and he slammed into the stranger, taking them both to the ground with the force of the blow. He met no resistance and Priest was perplexed as he rolled to the side and was back up on his feet, pale eyes wide as he glared at the demon. “I won’t ask again. Who the fuck are you?”
The man gained his feet, his movements controlled and precise. He glared at Priest, the still waters that ran beneath his skin, now raging with repressed anger. “I will forgive your impertinence but make no mistake,” his voice lowered. “Touch me again and I won’t be so kind.”
Priest studied him. This was a demon of substance—not a bottom feeder, but one of Lucifer’s inner circle—what the hell did he want with Priest? He thought briefly of the possible breach to the League’s security, of Cara’s murder, and his gut tightened.
Was this it then? He was strong yes, but he’d be hard pressed to defeat a demon of this rank. Was he to meet his end here amongst the hazy summer evening with the crickets to sing him away? Did he care?
The demon muttered beneath this breath and stepped back. “I need you to find someone for me and get her to safety.” The timbre of his voice changed and Priest eyed the man closely.
“You skipped question one my friend. I need a name—your name. And while we’re at it, how the hell did you find me?” The whole thing was bizarre. Priest’s gaze flickered toward the door leading to the kitchen. His sword was inside—out of reach—the dagger would have to do.
Eerie eyes narrowed onto him as the demon ran hands through the thick hair at his nape. It was another nervous gesture and so very odd for someone of his stature. “I’m known as Seth.” The demon eyed him squarely.
Priest was silent for a moment. Lucifer’s mark was only bestowed on certain demons. “As in Seth the collector?”
The man nodded, tight lipped.
He knew of the demon Seth, and was aware that the man in front of him didn’t seem to be bound by the same constraints that most others who answered to Lucifer were. More questions crowded Priest’s mind.
“How did you find me?”
The demon laughed, the sound echoing into the quiet until it fell dead like a stone to the earth. “It’s what I do. I can find most anything except those that I want most.” He paused. “The ones that I’ve touched. The ones that I’ve lost. Such is my curse.”
Priest took a step back and reached for his glass of wine. He swirled the red liquid languidly and drained the last bit before setting it back onto the arm of the chair. He projected calm, but he was nowhere near that state of mind. It didn’t bode well that a demon of Seth’s station was here, on his porch, under the cover of an August moon.
“I don’t have much time, Templar—I’ll be missed if I linger. Find me this group of vampires that have been loosed. I don’t care about any of them save, for one. Her, I want safe.” He shrugged. “The others you can do with what you wish. Hand them over to your precious Templar Knights or kill them outright. I don’t care.”
Priest eyed the demon carefully. The man was dead serious, but it still begged the question. Why him? Why Priest?
“You do remember how to hunt vampires, do you not?” Seth asked quietly though his words rang with danger.
Priest didn’t care for the sarcastic tone or the fact that the demon before him had disturbed what had promised to be a relaxing evening. Priest enjoyed far too few of those. Time to cut to the chase.
“Why would I hunt down these…vampires for you?”
“There is one among them. One you will never turn from.”
Priest smiled, his teeth flashing white in the gloom. “And I should care because?”
Seth leaned forward, a growl escaped from lips stretched tight. “Her name is Asha and the last time I looked, she was the love of your pathetic fucking life.”
For a moment everything quieted inside Priest. The rage that was a constant simmer beneath his skin woke and he flushed hot from the strength of it. He pushed forward and grasped the demon around the throat, lifting the man off the ground by several inches. Asha. For that one second he allowed a sliver of hope, a frantic flutter much like the dance of the fireflies in the distance.
But then it was gone, replaced with cold, hard, anger. “You lying son of a bitch.” This was a joke. Someone was playing him. Asha was dead—nearly two hundred years ago—and if he tried hard enough, he could still smell the heat, the sweat of the animals and men, the fear and blood. The pain.
Seth made an inhuman noise, his fury so great the table and chair shook violently, spilling Priest’s glass onto the stone where it shattered.
He let the demon go and took a step back, breathing hard and barely able to speak. “What do you know of Asha?” He spat, squaring his shoulders and widening his stance. There was no doubt in his mind this was a trap.
The demon’s eyes glittered oddly and for a moment his true strength shone through. Every muscle in Priest’s body tightened. He would die here but he’d sure as hell not go down without a fight.
“She’s been awakened.”
Priest stared at the man in silence and gripped the dagger so tightly his fingers cramped. Everything inside him fell away except the rage. “You lie and for that I will kill you slowly.” He didn’t know how but he’d make it happen. He’d fucking pulverize the bastard. A thrill shot through Priest as he eyed his opponent.
Guess he wasn’t so tired of the fight after all.
Seth swore, uttering a long string of ancient speak. “You must make haste Templar. She’s not…well. I feel her anger, her pain and…” The demon’s eyes morphed into full-on demon fire red. “Her insatiable thirst. It eats at her and will drive her mad.”
Priest’s heart took off like a rocket, banging against his chest walls with the precision and strength of a locomotive. All sorts of thoughts rushed through his mind but none of them made sense.
“Asha is dead. My men slaughtered her after they…” After they killed me and dispatched my sorry ass to the gray realm.
“No.” Seth replied. “They did not.”
Priest stared at the man in front of him, trying to comprehend the enormity of his words. “How?” He shook his head and took a step back.
“The how of it isn’t important. She and her band of misfits were wrangled from the grasp of your men, entombed and put to sleep for their own safety.” Seth growled. “Someone has breached the tomb, awakened Asha and her mates. That someone has set her on a path to destruction and I fear she’ll not return from it.”
“Stop talking in circles. What the hell do you mean?” Priest glared at the demon.
“She’s killing those who she shouldn’t, with no regard for consequence.” Seth’s eyes narrowed. “It’s only a matter of time before she draws the attention of the Templar Knights or some other such group of self proclaimed watch dogs. They will end her and this time I won’t be allowed to interfere.”
Not that he believed anything the demon had just told him, but Priest had to ask the question. “Why do you care? What does she mean to you?”
Seth was silent for a few moments and glanced into the distance. The red of his eyes faded as he peered out into the gloom. “She is…my daughter.” He turned to Priest. “And I will do whatever it takes to keep her safe. This much I promised her mother. This much I will do.”
Priest glanced across the darkness and settled his gaze upon the main house, his jaw tight with bitterness at the thought of all he’d lost.
“Asha is out there Gabriel DuRocher and unless you find her and stop her, she will perish. This time forever.” Priest didn’t take his eyes from the main house, but felt the caress of the demon’s breath at his neck. “I suggest you make haste.”
Seth disappeared as silently as he’d come, leaving Priest alone with his chaotic thoughts and a restlessness that left him on edge. It wasn’t but half an hour later that his cell rang, startling him from the dark.
He scooped it from the creamy granite countertop in his kitchen and uttered harshly. “What?”
Priest rubbed his temple. Damn but he didn’t have time for this right now. “Let me guess. We’ve got a situation brewing.”
“We do.” A pause. “A vampire kind of situation.”
Priest’s stomach knotted and he froze.
“I wasn’t going to call you. This isn’t League business per say but considering one of your own has been murdered, I thought you’d want to know.”
“Who?” He asked tersely.
Son of a bitch. “I’m on it.”
Priest pocketed the cell and tried to quiet the dread. Duquette had been his mentor. His family. His liege. The Monsignor had been there that night, the one that had seen Priest’s end. He’d driven his blade—the powerful Templar sword and the only weapon that could kill a knight of the order—straight into Priest’s heart and dispatched him to the gray realm as were his orders.
It had been Priest’s punishment for loving a woman. A vampire. Asha.
The only reason he lived once more here in the human realm was because of Bill and the deal he’d made with the mighty Seraphim and head of the League of Guardians.
Priest gritted his teeth and strode toward his private chamber, the one carved out of the earth many feet below the surface. He didn’t believe for a second Asha was alive. Duquette and his men would never have let her live. No, instead there was a mystery at play and a death to avenge.
He disappeared below the house and prepared to hunt.