Chapter i; book iii.
Working chapter title: She sways between a mystery and the light
Pilot stood rigidly, his frame towering against the sea blue waves that crashed against the rocky shore only a hundred meters from the window. Clouds gathered in the sky, promising a thunderstorm on the horizon; it swelled and brewed a few miles offshore. It wouldn't be long. The sound of the ceaseless ocean soothed him. A few feet to the side stood Hunter, his eyes trained on Pilot, watching in silence. Constantly watching.
"Sir?" It had been nearly fifteen minutes since Hunter had been called into the room but Pilot hadn't spoken.
"I found him," he said. He didn't break away from the ocean, and Hunter sighed with relief at the news.
"What do you need me to do?"
"I found one, I did not find Eden. I will make an example of him," he continued as if Hunter hadn't spoken.
"Sir, he's our own kind."
"That depends on the definition being used," Pilot said, his tone stoic and factual. He'd already decided, Hunter knew, and the likelihood of him changing his mind was nill. He supposed he could see the reasoning behind the call, but Hunter knew the potential implications well. Every vampire death was a loss to the community; every death changed something, somewhere. In the world that had been forged, there was little room for error. Almost as if he could sense Hunter's reservations on the issue, Pilot lowered his voice to a gravelly murmur. "They took her, Hunter." He paused, pulling in a long, ragged breath to keep himself from boiling over. "They took her, and not just from anyone, Hunter. They took her from me!"
There was nothing Hunter could say, so he didn't speak.
"I do not see what choice we have," Pilot was speaking softly again but his voice was distant, far off in some memory or locking himself into a different role. Pilot often felt like he changed personalities the way others changed a suit-coat, sliding out of one and directly into another. One warm and open, the other dank and shadowy. Sinister and strange, or jovial and good natured.
A flip of the coin, and he was someone else.
"Your people will not respond well," Hunter replied. Though many others did, Hunter feared nothing from Pilot; it was more than trust, it was experience, maybe even a little genuine understanding of what happened behind his passive expression. Mostly, he had simply discovered what made Pilot tick. Knowing someone was as good as being a prophet, he'd learned, and he observed Pilot tirelessly. Very little surprised Hunter, and it was for that reason that Pilot kept him in the inner workings of the world that was slowly creating itself around them. "They will have no love for you."
Pilot turned his eyes to Hunter, looking at him, or rather, through him, for a long moment; the clouds of responsibility and power in his eyes shielding his real focus. "Let the Queen be loved," he said, his tone dangerous and unstable. "Let them fear their King."
Without another word, he turned on his heel and headed for the cellar door. The stone foundation seemed to absorb any light, even the fluorescent bulbs they'd installed when they moved in. The lights flickered. Shadows danced across the man he'd left tied up on the wet floor.
The man fought to be upright as the sounds of Pilot's footfalls on the staircase echoed around him. An eerie sneer crossed Pilot's face as he looked him over. He gestured with his hand and Hunter cut the ties around the man's wrists and ankles. Hunter half expected him to lunge, but the man never did. Pilot clasped his hands behind his back, mostly to keep himself from attacking out of sheer frustration. Hunter stood across from him, pinning the man between them.
"Do you know who I am?" It wasn't a demand to sate his arrogance, his tone was too cold, too detached, for it to be about pride.
"You're the Dealer," came the reply. The man rubbed his wrists to work the blood back into his hands. "Of course I know who you are."
"Who are you?" He eased his posture, keeping his expression passive and controlled.
"A dead body, I assume." Pilot studied the speaker, picking out his distinctive features and trying to place them. Brown eyes, black hair, Hispanic features. No distinguishable scars or birthmarks, except for the cauliflower ear that disfigured both of his ears. Pilot smiled, but there was no trace of genuine humor; all that remained was a sick satisfaction. A display of power, almost, as his very grin implied that he was impervious to the man's avoidance.
He shook his head at the statement, as if dismissing the possibility. Let him think he wouldn't be killed. "Dead men tell no tales," Pilot said, crouching low on his haunches to get to his eye level. "Tell me, where is she?" His tone was friendly, almost, and hopeful. He held the monster beneath the surface.
The man laughed, trying to seem nonchalant, even a little cavalier. The false bravado didn't impress Pilot. He could feel himself pulling back, becoming less present in the room than he had been even just a moment before. The man wasn't being cooperative.
Without warning, Pilot clocked him in the face. His captive stumbled back, falling onto his tailbone and grunting with surprise. Pilot stood, using his full frame to loom over the man. Shadows fell over his face, disguising the blackness that was creeping into his eyes. "I asked, where is she?"
"Probably buried by now," he spat blood onto the floor, the wet smacking noise echoed only once.
"I would certainly hope not, for your sake," Pilot commented. There was a long cut on the man's abdomen, it was bleeding through his torn shirt, but it was the angle of the cut that caught his attention. "Compliments of your captive?" When he received no answer, he chuckled. "There is no shame in being bested by a woman of her caliber," he said, his tone mocking. "Though she's never beaten me. Or my friend here," he added, nodding in Hunter's direction.
His comments earned him a nasty scowl and he laughed openly. He moved closer and continued to follow as the man tried to back away. Finally retreating into a corner, the man scrambled to his feet and stiffened his posture. He watched Pilot's movements closely, waiting for a tip off to his next move.
"Where is she?" His stature and expression showed patience, a willingness to outlast the stubbornness of one man. His tone said otherwise.
"Nowhere you'll find her, Dealer." There's that insolence, Pilot thought. He swung again and felt the hard crack of a jawbone crunching beneath the force of his knuckles. It felt good to hit him, maybe a little too good. There had always been a fine line between being good at what he did and enjoying it, but at times that line seemed smudged. At times, a sadistic part of him enjoyed everything. From the slap of dead weight hitting the ground to the unholy ripping sound of a knife through flesh, he had the ability to enjoy it. He could savor the slow evacuation of oxygen from a body, the way the eyes bulged and blood vessels popped beneath the strength of his hands. Sometimes, the gruesome came easy.
He didn't have to think about beating the man senseless. It seemed to happen on it's own; his body moved without instruction, his fists pummeling the man's face and torso, his fingers gripping hair and slamming the man's skull into the stone walls. When he heard the distant sound of screaming, he stopped. He let go and the man fell to the floor in a heap, shaking and mumbling to himself.
Pilot's voice was hollow when he spoke. "Where is she?"
"I won't tell you anything," he yelled up at Pilot, his words thick with the blood that filled his mouth.
Pilot's consciousness swam in his head. The connection between mind and body wavered and he recognized the restlessness immediately; the monster was awake, and he was growing impatient. He wanted answers, he wanted results. He wanted them hours ago, when he'd failed the first time. He wanted someone to pay, right then. Not in a few hours, not in days.
He wanted the culprit's blood on his own hands. And he would have it. His vision darkened, the swirling decay of his power glossing over his eyes. He saw the room as if through sunglasses, behind a shade of dark gray he could see disease inside the man. Traces of close calls and cashed-in spare chances.
"Tell me where she is!" His rage overpowered him. He stopped hiding behind apathy, he allowed for the acherontic beast within him to wake and burst through his senses. His vision sharpened and his heartbeat thundered. He could see each pulsing beat of the other man's heart and it nearly matched his own. He was roaring, his vocal chords straining, his pitch fracturing around his words. Like a violent storm, his fury ravished his control. He could smell fear in the air, the sweet tang of it lingered on his tongue, enticing him.
Sound from above caught his attention and he turned his face upward, as if he could see right through the ceiling. A car door closed. The shaking in his veins eased, the tightness in his chest dissipated as he took in a strong breath of air. A coolness swept over him, familiar and easy, and he didn't have to think any more. He let go of his hold on himself, felt his cancerous power slip through his fingers, and his entire body felt lighter. Keys rattled from above him.
"Sir?" From somewhere nearby, he could make out Hunter's voice. Uncertain, cautious. He wasn't sure if Pilot had lost control. Beyond that, the gasps for air that filled the room told him everything he needed to know. He'd let the full infection gather in the man, he'd stopped holding it at bay and now it was choking him. Eating him alive from the inside out. He heard a morbid gurgle and knew it would be over soon. He didn't need to stay. Impalpably, he recognized that he hadn't even needed to touch his victim. Upstairs, the door opened.
"She's home," he said to Hunter, and was gone.
His body moved without command, and he blew up the stairs like a gust of wind. The basement door exploded outward when he slammed it open and pivoted around the corner. Her bag was still three inches from the floor when his eyes landed on her. He skidded to a stop.
She was covered in blood splatters, head to toe, and littered with bruises and scrapes. Her back was straight, her head higher than he ever remembered seeing. Her hair was tangled and untamed. Something deep and definite had changed in her, some steel added to her skeleton. She was a little less destructible, a little more raw and animalistic.
She was all electric power, all-mighty in her own right. Invincible.
The sight of her overwhelmed him. Simultaneously compelled to move and compelled to stay. Her eyes met his across the distance and everything changed.
He moved swiftly and reached for her. One hand slid behind her neck, sprawling his fingers through the hair at the base of her skull, the other grabbed her hipbone. She could smell the residual power crackling on his skin, could feel it tainting the saliva in her mouth, but she didn't care.
If she wanted to fight him, she didn't show it.
He didn't pause to breathe, to ask, to think.
His lips crashed against hers, heavy and sorrowful, fueled by an endless sea of hunger. She caved against him, her spine curling to meet his body, her own fierce need rapidly catching up to his.