Between the Books: Volume Two
|Character(s)||Jose and Kamal|
|After||Inside the Mind of a Vampire Volume Three|
|During||After the sun, Dawn|
|Between the Books Navigation|
Deep conflict cut into Jose’s conscience, as he stood, immobile, watching Carlos’s back expand and contract with living breaths. Something more visceral than instinct had propelled he and Father Lopez down the treacherous side of a cliff to collect what had been a dead vampire’s ashes… the love of a woman, her tears had been part of it. Yet it was those same tears, the tears she’d shed in utter grief for a man who’d perished that would melt away his hopes and dreams. Now her tears of joy shredded him as he watched Damali cling to hope and hold Carlos; all he could do was turn away.
Then there was the other part of it that also continued to turn the blade of pain in his side… he’d gone down the side of the cliff for a brother, a man whom he’d come to respect as one of the team’s own—family. How could he not give it his all? At the same time, how could he not respond to something that was in his DNA and would always be there… a trace of vamp heritage that demanded snap-reflex action to preserve the master of the line?
It would be something that neither he nor Lopez would ever talk about. He knew that like he knew his name. To discuss it would make that aspect of who he was all the more real, which was horrifying.
Jose quietly backed away, becoming a shadow in the brilliant sunlight. The team gathered around the new phenomenon, spellbound. Only Marlene looked up initially and moved toward him as he hung back, needing space, wanting to disappear, desperately wishing he could do what Carlos had done so many times in the past, and just become mist. But that was the insane travesty of it all. He was neither full vamp nor completely human. He was a variable. A misfit, somewhere in between.
Marlene’s touch on his shoulder sent healing balm into his bones, but it also threatened his resolve to remain stoic. She seemed to sense that as her hand gently fell away. Rider picked up on the silent transmission and offered a nod that spoke volumes. Been there. They were boyz. Knew the deal. Had been through the best of times and worst of times. Rider’s steely glance told him to suck it up; his returned nod said he had, but never would completely, no more than Rider could ever forget Tara. Rider nodded his understanding of that, too, as he rubbed his neck and let out a sad exhale.
Jose sent his gaze toward the cliff and ignored the bristle that rippled through Shabazz. Yeah, brother, the only thing between me and the rocks is The Light.
He could feel Shabazz coming up behind him. The older Guardian’s strong presence felt like a thick blanket, a wall of strength at his back, even though Shabazz was almost a foot away from him.
“Don’t go out like that, man,” Shabazz murmured.
Jose shook his head. “Not on your watch. I know where a jump leads. Level one.”
He could feel Shabazz nod, although he hadn’t looked at him. It was as though current was running through his teammate’s dreadlocks, charging the air and making even the smallest movement felt.
“One door closes, another one opens,” Shabazz said in a low, private rumble. “What you did was some heroic shit, man. The Light saw that, too. They ain’t gonna leave you hanging. You did the right thing.”
Jose smiled. The grass and rocks became blurry as hot moisture filled his eyes. He took a deep breath to steady his voice. “If you say so,” he said thickly, and swallowed hard.
“You know The Light works on Its own timeframe. Mysterious ways.”
Again, Jose nodded and forced a quiet chuckle. “And can be slow, too.”
A warm hand landed on his shoulder. “Yeah. True dat. But the angels never leave a righteous man hanging.” Shabazz motioned with his head toward Carlos. “If they could do that, then…”
“I’m not him.”
Both men looked at each other for a moment.
“No,” Shabazz said. “But if you weren’t who you are, he’d be cinders, feel me? You got purpose. We all do. There’s something good coming for you, too.” Shabazz tilted his head and allowed his hand to more tightly grip Jose’s shoulder.
Jose turned slightly to stare at the hand that had a slight blue-white current prickling his skin, and then stared deeply into Shabazz’s eyes, watching the elder Guardian’s pupils open within his dark brown irises. “You reading, man? Or just trying to—”
“Shush,” Shabazz said and closed his eyes.
“You been living with Marlene too long,” Jose murmured, trying to joke off the hurt.
But Shabazz abruptly opened his eyes and locked his gaze with Jose. “When you were younger, something happened. Lock onto that; figure it out. That’s your source of joy, where you been off path.” Shabazz let his hand fall away. “I can’t feel it all the way, serious shaman energy is encoded in it, but it’s positive energy that blocked your initial direction because it wasn’t time. Would have made you miss the team hook up. Soon.”
“Thanks, man,” Jose whispered. His gaze went back toward Damali and an old memory kindled within him. It was elusive, so fleeting, but his heart fought to remember it. There was a name eating at the edges of his mind, but each attempt to grasp it, made it slip away into obscurity. Someone else had been first in his heart, he could feel it, but that now seemed like another lifetime long ago… like Tara had slipped from Rider, she, too, was gone from him.
“This isn’t the first time me and Carlos been through this drama. That’s all I know.” Jose’s gaze searched Shabazz’s wise eyes, and then roved over toward Father Lopez. “He’s in it, too, man… but, I can’t put my finger on it.”
“Because now ain’t the time,” Shabazz said, his tone mellow and philosophical as his attention went back to the team huddle. “Not when all hell is about to break loose.”
Shabazz’s locks began to crackle with audible static electricity and Jose watched as Shabazz spun away from him in what appeared to be slow motion, synced up with Big Mike at the same moment Carlos scrambled to his feet and began screaming.
* * *
Three nights later in Brazil…
Kamal walked through his team lines, his distended upper and lower canines making it impossible for him to fully close his jaw. His eyes flared with outrage, glowing gold as he looked down at the dead entity at their feet. Pure agitation had made him begin to pace. He could no longer sense Marlene’s presence on the planet, and the mere thought that she could have been vanquished in battle made the carnage he stood over seem all the more futile.
“A lupine-demon? In our lands of the jaguar? How!” he demanded, looking at his battle bulked team. Thick ropes of muscular tension kneaded beneath his shoulders as he stalked back and forth.
“This full moon is different,” Drum muttered, looking at the beheaded creature that also had several silver tipped arrows protruding from its barrel chest. “It didn’t burn.”
Drum looked up at Kamal, his eyes flickering with a deep, coppery glow. “Our team is stronger, but so are our enemies.”
Kamal’s gaze scanned the horizon and then settled on his men. They were stronger, indeed. Each man was a half a hand taller than normal. The thing at their feet was well outside of its North American zone. It smoldered slowly leaving a dank, sulfuric haze and hadn’t immediately burst into cinders when the first arrow struck it.
Ahmed tilted his head to the side and sniffed, then crouched low to inspect the were-demon remains that would soon fully ignite. He stared into the opened abdominal cavity that had been butchered by Drum’s machete before Kamal’s weapon took off the head. The thing at their feet hadn’t fed first. Ahmed glanced at the team; they understood. Their attacker had been in a rush, in too much of a hurry to follow the basic laws of survival—fuel then fight. Why? “Too large for a run of the mill rogue. This is a searcher, Senate level.”
“A Senator, alone, as a searcher—think about it, mon! That makes no sense!” Kamal stalked away, his long dreadlocks held by a leather band swept across his agile back while he angrily sheathed his machete, his eyes studying the moon for an answer.
Electricity crackled in the eerie silence around him. Marlene, baby, where are you? Before now, she had always heard him, always sent a gentle pulse to let him know she was all right. But nothing echoed back to him from the darkness except a withering howl that fractured the night and made his team freeze where they stood.
“There are more of them,” Drum said carefully, his huge six-foot eight frame loping toward Kamal. “We must move, or die.”
Kamal jerked his attention around to address his comrade. He sniffed the air, and peered at the trail that the were-demon from the wolfen clans had followed. “He sought what is no longer here. The dark Guardian and the Neteru.”
The team nodded. Kamal smiled. Moonlight glinted off his protruding upper and lower canines. “Some of us may die, but this is a wonderful night to fight.” Drum’s eyes held an urgent plea of anticipation as the group waited for Kamal to decide.
If his woman was no longer alive, and the cosmos had released this level of adrenaline upon his battlegrounds, so be it. And how long had it been since any of them had allowed themselves to fully shape-shift from their human form… fear of it getting too good to them had made such a release against their clan code. It was forbidden.
But tonight was truly a spectacular night. The stars winked a seductive message—go for it. The moon bathed them in blue-white splendor. Power was in the air, something in the universe had shifted… the urge to be one with that force was beyond his ability to resist. War made his blood hot, keened his senses, and whispered sweet nothings in his ear.
Kamal dropped his weapon at his feet and his snarling smile broadened as he watched his men instantly drop to all fours. Sleek black coats replaced sun burnished, ebony skins. Shoulder blades cracked and spines distended into tails. Low purrs of jaguar ecstasy blended into one dull harmony that filled the night. In lightening motions, fluid stealth laden high tree branches with unseen terror, weighing them down with an unnatural harvest waiting to pounce. This was their zone; the were-wolves didn’t stand a chance. The thrill of the hunt held them enthralled. Oh, yes, this was a killing eve.
Kamal felt his body give sway to the pull of the gorgeous temptress, the moon… cell by pleasure split cell, birthing what was inside him, giving rise to what he’d steadfastly denied himself—raw power.
Claws replaced his fists and dug into the fertile earth, his clothes were shreds left behind on the ground like dead snakeskin. His vertebrae elongated notch by notch, a thick coat encasing a network of steel cable beneath it. Tears of sheer ecstasy stung his eyes as he shuddered and became what he was. His team snarled their assent. It was time to cease pretending.
The wolfen clans had invaded his territory. Wolfen were-Senators versus a were-human team that was near mad with the need to avenge the offense… yes, tonight was a good way to end it all.
A high crag became his watchtower. The roar that left his lungs reverberated through the stillness and made the leaves tremble. Marlene had gone, perhaps crossed over. He could deal with her choice to live beside another worthy Guardian, the one called Shabazz—but he would never accept her demise at the hands of evil.
Whatever sought Marlene’s Damali, and had killed the love of his life, had seriously underestimated what a man with nothing left to loose might do. Death in a righteous battle would now be his balm.
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