Gates of Rapture, p.1Part #6 of Guardians of Ascension series by Caris Roane
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To Kenra Daniels,
Who knows how to “lay down her life” …
Jennifer Schober, a gazillion thanks for all your hard work on my behalf.
Rose Hilliard, working with you is dynamite.
Danielle Fiorella, thanks for great covers—always.
Laurie Henderson and Laura Jorstad, thanks for the care you give my manuscripts.
Liz Edelstein, Heroes and Heartbreakers ROCKS!
My special thanks to Anne Marie Tallberg, Eileen Rothschild, and Brittney Kleinfelter for your continual support of my beloved warriors.
And once again, many thanks to Matthew Shear, Jen Enderlin, and the hardworking team at SMP.
My beloved held me in his arms
He whispered tender words
He spun golden thoughts through my mind
He moved quickly, his weight a beautiful anchor
I approached the gates of rapture trembling
The world exploded in a flash of brilliant light
And I was changed forever.
—Grace of Albion, “The Convent Years,”
from Collected Poems, Beatrice of Fourth
Also by Caris Roane
Praise for the Guardians of Ascension series by Caris Roane
About the Author
Comes in its own time.
—Collected Proverbs, Beatrice of Fourth
Leto Distra, out of the Eastern European tribes over three thousand years ago, was no longer just vampire, but something more, something he despised.
He was now part beast, a form that he couldn’t control and which made a mockery of his life, his philosophies, and his civilized mind. At least he had a warning when the beast was about to emerge, a vibration that traveled down his left leg.
Sonofabitch, there it was. Very faint, which meant he had time—but not a lot—before he had to remove himself from everyone he knew.
He was dangerous in his beast-state, uncontrolled.
As he walked near the warrior-games contest grounds in the Seattle One hidden colony, he held a child in his arms. The toddler had his arm hooked around Leto’s neck, a great comfort. Leto kept his right hand free for his sword. He’d been a warrior too many centuries not to sustain the basics, and for days now he’d been on edge. Something was in the wind, as though a decision had been made about the future of Second Earth and the war with Darian Greaves.
He glanced up at the blue sky. Early September in the Cascade Mountains was a beautiful time of year and perfect for the games.
A cluster of children, mostly under the age of seven, dogged his heels as he took one last tour of the contest grounds. For some reason, kids liked him, and the truth was he enjoyed their attention. They eased him. Not much did these days, not with Grace gone from his life these past five months. He missed her and he needed her. He was a beast clawing to break out of his cage.
Adjacent to the event grounds was a fair-like atmosphere that resembled something from medieval days, lots of colorful tents bearing handcrafted objects ready for sale. Other booths would soon become aromatic with food grown, slaughtered, steamed, and barbecued by the locals.
His stomach growled at the thought.
Hundreds of feet overhead, an innovative mist created a protective veil over the land that only the most powerful could see and which always confused the human mind. Anyone drawing near the dome of mist would experience disorientation and would turn to head in the opposite direction. In this manner, all the hidden colonies of Mortal Earth had escaped detection for three millennia, from the time the first colony was created.
The leader of the Seattle Colony, Diallo, had spent centuries perfecting his mossy-mist creation. He also checked the viability of the veil several times a day, especially since, only a few months ago, the colony had been breached by the enemy for the first time in its long history.
That breach, unfortunately, meant that a second attack wasn’t so much a probability as an eventuality. One day, Greaves and his merry band of death vampires would find a way in. And then what?
He glanced at Brynna. She walked beside him, on his left, and just a little ahead of him.
How we doin’? he sent. It was easy to contact her telepathically, because over the past few months they’d become good friends.
Brynna was also in constant telepathic contact with the colony’s Militia Warrior Section Leaders who were right now patrolling the external edges of the mist-dome, a thirty-mile perimeter.
She glanced at him, gave a single nod, then continued the telepathic communication. Three of the squads are inbound with more discovery.
Exactly. This ain’t good.
He looked up, his gaze shifting across an intense blue sky above, searching for a sign of death vampires. The Seattle Colony was hidden deep in the Cascade Range well to the east of the large city. All the hidden colonies were named for the largest cities or towns nearest them.
Greaves and his minions are getting closer, Leto sent.
Yep. There’s no debating the situation anymore. Gideon said his team picked up five more little black boxes. The techs are working on them as we speak, but everyone agrees that they’re probably transmitters of some kind.
The first black box had been discovered the day before. It’s just a matter of time, then. God help us. And if Greaves can subdue the colonies worldwide, he’ll take all the refugee Seers and put them to work in his Second Earth facilities in South Africa, Colombia, and India. He’ll finally have the advantage he’s been working toward for the past fifteen years.
Hey. A little perspective here, Leto. You’ve brought the Militia Warriors up to speed in every hidden colony around the globe, and we even have reinforcements from Second. Jean-Pierre’s been bringing MW powers online, and that wouldn’t have happened otherwise for another millennium. We’re stronger than you think. We can protect our Seers from anything he throws at us.
I’ve just been uneasy for the past few days. Can’t explain it, like I can feel forces moving into position.
You are so damn negative.
Tell me I’m wrong.
I’ll do one better. I’ll tell you what your real problem is: You need to get laid.
Okay, Brynna had a point. He chuckled.
That’s better, asshole. Just remember, you built a strong force here on Mortal Earth and tied it to Thorne’s army on Second. We’re not helpless anymore. Trust in that, beast-man.
He laughed. Brynna always made him laugh.
She smiled as she swept her gaze forward in the direction of the event grounds. Do you see this obstacle set? I’m going to win it tonight.
He shifted the child in his arms, getting a little more comfortable as he moved steadily forward. A stack of logs fifteen feet long, bark still on and braced by huge steel girders, climbed at a steep angle sixty feet into the air. Creating the obstacle-set had been a feat all by itself, but the Thunder God Warriors—the nickname for all Militia Warriors in any country—had outdone themselves.
The teamwork required to pull the games together had been an army-growing exercise. And if Leto knew one thing, it was how to build an army.
He stopped and stared up at the precise stack of logs. To win this set, a warrior would have to possess thighs of granite and speed, extraordinary speed, preternatural speed.
You haven’t got a chance in hell, he sent. He loved poking the bear.
She turned and glared at him. Like hell I don’t.
He merely smiled.
She rolled her eyes. If all those brats weren’t hanging on you, like you were Christ or something, I’d flip you off.
Brynna learning restraint? he sent. Impossible.
She sighed. I’m trying.
Brynna had been one of the biggest surprises of his life, and a good one at that. She was tall, six-two, and had a couple of tattoos and piercings, straight black hair just past her shoulders, and steel-gray eyes. She was a refugee Seer, having escaped from a Seers Fortress a few centuries ago. Through the future streams, Diallo had found her and brought her to the colony to escape Second Earth Seer oppression.
She liked men, and more recently she’d discovered she liked making war. She was now a Militia Warrior.
She’d suggested more than once that they take their friendship to a much more productive level, but he’d refused. Sex with Brynna would have been wrong. She was his friend. No, she was more than that. She was his best friend. As much as he wanted to take a woman into his bed, he valued all that she was in his life way too much to dilute it with sex.
But there was another reason he’d refused.
His breh had shown up in the form of Warrior Thorne’s sister: Grace Albion. Her surname was an ancient designation the family had all but dropped. Grace and Thorne’s family originally came from the British Isles. Everyone knew her simply as Grace. But oh, God, even thinking about her brought a flush rising to his skin.
He took a few deep breaths. Thoughts of Grace tended to bring on his beast more quickly. Sure enough, the vibration strengthened, so shit.
But Grace was gone. She’d been gone all these months, having left with the Fourth ascender, Casimir, to who the hell knew where. Because no one could find her in the future streams, not even Marguerite, Thorne’s powerful Seer breh, it was presumed Grace was off-dimension. He wouldn’t be surprised if Casimir had taken her to his home world, Fourth Earth. Casimir wasn’t a warrior, just some very powerful but worthless hedonist who had also caught Grace’s breh-scent and somehow enticed her to go with him.
But all of it was a nightmare starting with the bizarre fact that Grace had caught the scent of not one but two brehs: himself and Casimir. The breh-hedden alone was such a new concept on Second Earth that no one could explain why Grace had actually ended up with two.
But Grace had taken it in stride, one of her many fine qualities, even if the situation had ruined something in Leto’s heart. She seemed to have a strong intuition that her bizarre connection to Casimir was necessary, to Leto’s survival as well as her own. So instead of completing the bonding ritual of the breh-hedden with Leto, she’d taken off with Casimir, convinced she had to for all their sakes.
He was still pissed off as hell about Grace leaving, but he couldn’t exactly complain since she was better off with anyone other than his own sweet self. He had issues, maybe a hundred of them. But having served as a spy would do that to a man, split his soul deep, make him question everything. He was still recovering from that mission. Though well out of it, a century of living apart from his warrior brothers and of joining forces with a hated enemy had done a number on his mind.
That he was still alive seemed like some kind of cosmic joke. He deserved to die. He knew it, and there were way too many nights when, yeah, that was exactly what he wanted. He’d betrayed his warrior brothers and he’d betrayed Endelle, the leader of Second Earth, by building an army of two million on behalf of that bastard Darian Greaves.
Of course, he’d had no other choice. To have refused would have cost him his mission and his life. He’d agreed to become a spy on behalf of the Council of Sixth Earth because they needed a constant stream of data about Greaves in order to know when and how legally they could act in the affairs of Second Earth.
Leto’s handler, James, had assured him that despite the army Leto had built for Greaves, all the information he’d gathered would more than compensate for his work as a spy. Leto wasn’t convinced, but he had to trust that James, and all his Sixth Earth wisdom, would be able to shape the future in a way that prevented an annihilation of the innocent.
Maybe one day he’d know whether or not the horrendous things he’d done would be justified by lives saved in the future. He sure as hell hoped so, because right now his conscience was killing him.
He glanced at Brynna once more. She helped keep his head on straight. He owed her a lot. And when he went beast, which seemed to be happening more and more often, she made sure he got to the basement of his cabin so he couldn’t accidentally hurt anyone.
One of the kids walking beside him said, “I’ll be the champion of the warrior games one day.”
Leto looked down at the boy, who was maybe seven years old. He held his shoulders back as though trying to measure up to warrior status. His eyes had a certain glow, a familiar light. Leto had been that age when he knew that what he wanted from life was to be the best warrior of his tribe. From the first, he longed to join the warriors on their hunts for food and in revenge assaults against their enemies.
The boy looked up at him and met his gaze. “I’m going to be a warrior.”
Leto smiled and nodded. “And so you will be.”
The boy smiled in return, then set his lips in a grim line and his face forward, into the future. Yes, he’d be a warrior.
He felt another vibration, stronger this time, like a nerve going haywire down his left leg from his hip to the sole of his foot. He took a deep breath. Tried not to panic.
A second tremor followed down his right leg.
So it had begun, and now he had a little over six minutes to get some shit done before heading to his goddam basement. Worse, he’d gone beast, as he liked to call it, only two days ago, which meant the frequency of the episodes had increased. But why was the question he couldn’t answer.
Nor did he understand why he went beast in the first place.
He’d been helping to train the colony’s Militia Warriors when his first real beast episode had occurred. He’d been working out in his basement, thank the Creator, when the whole thing had begun: the tingling down his leg followed a few minutes later by a transformation that bulked up his muscles an impossible forty pounds and increased his height another two inches. He’d been crazed during that time, unable to fold out of the basement, unable to leave because there were no doors. He’d built the damn thing as a private space, something he could only fold in and out of, but it had become a prison. In the end, he’d passed out. And when he woke up, he was back to normal.
After that, he’d suffered about every two weeks with the same episode. He had no clear idea what brought it on, but he was convinced that the beast he now endured was connected to his use of dying blood for the past century.
There had been an earlier hint that something was wrong during the time he’d tried to reintegrate back into the Warriors of the Blood five months ago. He’d been at the Awatukee Borderland, battling death vampires, when he’d lost his mind
Luken, now the leader of the Warriors of the Blood, had sent him here to the Seattle hidden colony to begin the long process of recovering from so many decades under Greaves’s control and from the results of his long addiction to dying blood. For the most part, the assignment had worked. He was more himself than he’d been in a long time, despite his beast issue.
Brynna, he sent.
She turned toward him. I can feel it, Leto. The change, I mean. Basement time?
Aloud, she said, “We’d better get to HQ. Gideon will want to report in before you take off.”
“Absolutely.” Once he went beast, he could be out for hours.
He set the toddler down. The mothers and caregivers trailed at a distance. He turned to them and nodded.
They hurried forward and took over. Everyone knew of his disability and forgave him. The fact that they valued him made it all one big acid-on-skin experience.
A few moments later he and Brynna folded to the hidden colony’s military HQ.
* * *
Grace stood on the balcony of Beatrice’s floating palace, overlooking Denver Four half a mile below.
Everything had changed since her arrival five months ago with Casimir. Today, in just a few minutes, she would be leaving Fourth and returning to Leto. But how to say good-bye to both Casimir and Beatrice?
She held her spine straight, a reflection of her new determination. The hour had come for courage, and she meant to rise to the challenge. For her entire two thousand years of ascended life, she had kept herself apart from the war against Greaves. She had never wanted to engage in something that had hurt so many people she loved, most especially her brother, Thorne.
But today, all that changed. Today, she would begin her own campaign against Darian Greaves by returning to Second Earth and taking her place as the blue variety of obsidian flame. She had no idea whether she would bring something formidable against Greaves or not, but it didn’t matter. He was the monster that had required Leto to take dying blood for a full century in order to prove his loyalty to Greaves’s Coming Order. He had created a continual supply of death vampires to bolster his already massive army. Of course death vampires needed to be fed, so naturally Greaves had perfected the process of enslaving women to serve as blood slaves, an efficient method of creating dying blood through a process of killing the women off once a month then bringing them back to life with defibrillators. Heinous. Monstrous.
Gates of Rapture by Caris Roane / Mystery & Detective / Romance & Love / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes