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by Wes Leigh

Chapter 24

WARNING FOR SENSITIVE READERS: This chapter contains descriptions of extreme violence. Please read with caution if you are bothered by such things.

There is no greater danger than underestimating your opponent.

-- Lao Tzu

Robert Delaney adjusted his headphones, glanced over at Daniel, and gave him two thumbs up. Robert pressed a button on his control board, waited three seconds, then said, "Hey, there everyone. It's the Rob Ransom Report!" Robert pressed another button. Obviously fake applause and cheers rang out. Robert pressed the button again and said, "What a week it's been. And we have all you fans to thank! Over 65,000 of you downloaded our last podcast, setting a new record for the Rob Ransom Report. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you! And we're hoping for even more today, with our third installment in what has been one of the hottest topics we've ever discussed… Vampires and Werewolves: Are They Living Among Us? You all know my guest. He claims he lives in a small town where both vampires and werewolves have taken up residence, and he even attends high school with some of them. I bet that makes for a complicated dating scene!"

Robert laughed at his own joke.

Daniel struggled not to roll his eyes.

Robert continued, "But tonight—hold onto your hats, folks—tonight, our guest is going to tell us everything. The name of the town. The names of the vampires in charge. The names of the werewolves too. I, for one, can't wait to hear what he has to say!"

"Let's begin with a few simple questions. And, by the way, all you listeners out there will notice that we're no longer disguising my guest's voice. So for everyone who's been calling this a fake story, kiss my (BLEEP)." Robert chuckled as his fingers flew over the controls, inserting the phony censorship blare.

Rob chuckled as he checked his notes, then asked, "Question number one: who are you?"

Daniel leaned forward and said, "My name is Daniel Anderson."

"How old are you, Daniel?"

"I'm sixteen."

"Where do you live?"

"Agony, North Dakota."

"And that's the town with all the vampires and werewolves, right?

"That's right, Rob."

"You attend school there?"

"Yes. At the high school."

"So you personally know all the vampires and werewolves in the school."


The lights went out. Robert's control board went dead. Robert shook his head and said, "SHIT! What a fuckin' stupid time to have a power outage!" He touched his phone, pulling up a flashlight to see by, then he turned to Daniel and said, "Sorry, man. We'll have to start all over, once the power comes back on."

Daniel's eyes lost focus for a moment. He seemed to be staring off into space. He reached up and removed the headphones, setting them carefully on the table in front of him.

When the police crashed through the door, screaming at everyone to get on the floor, Daniel disappeared.

Dautry waited in the Room for the phone to ring. When it did, he punched a button, putting the call on speaker. He muttered one word: "What?"

"We didn't get him."

"What happened?" Dautry asked.

"Delaney was the only one in the house. He claims Anderson was there, but the police officers say he wasn't."

Dautry shook his head in disgust. "And the rest of my instructions?"

"Delaney is under arrest. His podcast has been shut down by court order. All past and previous podcasts have been deleted."

Dautry massaged his temple slowly. "Implement Operation Bonfire."

"Yes, sir. Verification, please."

Dautry leaned forward, allowing the system to scan his retina. The voice said, "Verification confirmed. Thank you, sir. Operation Bonfire commencing."

Dautry shut off the phone call and leaned back in his chair. He hadn't really expected to catch the perverted little faggot. Not yet anyway. But he would.

So far, the vampires and werewolves in Agony had been cooperating, but he needed to catch the vaewolves, and Operation Bonfire was the best way to do it, no matter how much collateral damage might result.

Xavier awoke to noise in his bedroom. Before he could move, hands grabbed him and he felt sharp pain in his arm from talons piercing through his skin. His eyes flashed red as his vision lit up the darkness around him. He saw Minerva standing next to him, holding his arm. He tried to teleport away, but the presence of her talons inside his flesh prevented it.

Xavier raised his other arm to knock her away, but never finished his swing. A sharp jab in his neck led to almost instant unconsciousness.

When Xavier woke up, he was strapped down securely to a seat in some type of small jet. Around Xavier's neck was a locked collar made of metal with sharp, white talons along the edge, piercing his neck.

When he was able to focus on his surroundings, he saw Minerva sitting next to him, reading a magazine. She looked up when he began shaking his head to clear out the fuzziness that kept him from concentrating. She glanced at her watch and said, "We should be landing in two hours."

"Where am I?" Xavier's voice cracked. He cleared his throat and asked again, louder, "Where are you taking me?"

"You are in a private jet headed for a special facility designed just for creatures like you and me," she replied.


"Is it really important?"

"I would like to know why I'm being kidnapped."

Minerva laughed. "Kidnapped? Oh, silly Xavier. You're not being kidnapped. You're under arrest."

"Under what charge?"

Minerva sniffed. "I really have no idea. Sedition or treason or something like that. I'm sure they'll find something you've been doing wrong."

Xavier closed his eyes and tensed his body.

Minerva laughed. "That won't work, my boy."

Xavier opened his eyes and glared at her.

She leaned forward and tapped a fingernail on the collar around his neck. "The painful piercing you feel around the bottom of this collar… those are vampire talons, removed from the bodies of our dearly departed relatives. The collar is designed to keep the talons punching through into your neck. I know it hurts a bit, but it has a wonderful side effect."

"I can't teleport," Xavier said with a grimace.

"Exactly. No jumping about for you. Not when your skin is pierced by the talon of a vampire. It's so much more expedient this way. I don't have to have you guarded constantly, with bodyguards pressing their talons into you. The collar does it for me, and you stay right where I want you. Isn't that convenient?"

Xavier closed his eyes, apparently in resignation. Guys, can you hear me?

I can, Daniel replied.

Xavier could also hear Connor and Diego reply, but their mental voices were much more faint.

They have me in an airplane. I don't know where we're going… and Daniel, I can't teleport. They have some kind of collar on me that prevents it.

Don't fight them, Xavier. Wait until you get there. When they leave you alone, send me an image of the room, and I'll come to you.

Okay. I love you, Daniel. Tell Connor and Diego I love them too.

They know. They send you their love. Hang strong, Xavier.

The jet's wheels bumped lightly on the tarmac of a small, private airport in Virginia. Xavier was hustled out and bundled into the back of an SUV. Minerva walked gracefully down the stairs and climbed into the front passenger seat of the same SUV, motioning for the driver to pull out.

The SUV sped away, leaving the airport quickly behind and heading for the nearest highway. Twenty minutes later, they took an exit ramp and drove through a lightly forested, rural area. They stopped at a guard shack. The driver showed an ID to the guard, who waved them through. They pulled up in front of a windowless building. More guards ran out, opening the doors on the SUV and yanking Xavier out. They half-carried him up the sidewalk and into the building, through a lobby and to an elevator. They held him between them at the back of the elevator, while Minerva stood in front of them. One of the guards punched a button and the elevator began dropping.

When the doors opened again, Minerva led them down a corridor to a room where she punched a code into a panel next to the door. Minerva leaned down, allowing a laser to scan her retina. The light on the panel changed from red to green. The door clicked. Minerva pushed it open.

She gestured for the guards to take Xavier inside. Then she followed them.

Daniel heard Xavier calling him. Daniel, can you hear me?

Daniel sat up in bed. I can hear you, Xavier. Are you finally alone?

Almost. Let me show you.

Daniel took in the room through Xavier's eyes. The walls of the room were metallic. The cage where Xavier was being held was in one corner. A conference-room style table in the middle of the room was positioned in front of a wall of monitors, all dark at the moment. Cameras were located high up in each corner of the room. A bored guard sat at the table, his eyes drooping with drowsiness. Okay, Xavier. I've got a good image.

Daniel teleported into the room, next to the guard. The guard shook his head, alarmed, but Daniel struck him on the side of his head, knocking him out. Then Daniel grabbed the keys on the table next to the guard and unlocked the cage. Xavier rushed out and hugged Daniel. "Thanks, my love."

"Couldn't let 'em keep you caged up," Daniel said with a grin. "Now let's get you out of here."

"I can't," Xavier replied, "not while I'm wearing this." He pointed at the metal collar around his neck.

"Very well done, gentlemen. Well done indeed." The raspy voice of Dautry came from the door.

Guards rushed in, moving past Dautry into the room, weapons drawn. One held a collar similar to the one Xavier wore. He approached Daniel slowly, ordering him to keep his hands at his side. The guard slipped the collar in place, snapping it shut. Daniel grimaced as tiny talons pierced the skin of his neck, drawing beads of blood.

Dautry and Minerva walked into the room and sat down on one side of the table. The guards pulled out chairs and forced Daniel and Xavier to sit down as well. Dautry placed a handgun on the table in front of him. It was currently loaded with arsenic-laced rounds, specifically designed for killing vampires, so he felt confident it would work on vaewolves as well. Dautry waved one hand dismissively at the guards. "You can leave," he rasped.

The guards walked out, closing the door behind them.

Dautry studied Daniel and Xavier for a minute, then shook his head. "I thought you were smarter," he rumbled. "But I suppose foolhardiness dominates the heart of every young man." He leaned forward and punched a button on the panel before him. "Status of Operation Bonfire?" he asked.

"Ready for phase two," a voice replied.

"Proceed," he grunted.

The phone at Regina's house rang. She picked it up and listened to the excited voice on the other end. "Understood," she said, hanging up the phone. She turned to address the vampires in the room. "They've seized our bank accounts and frozen all our assets."

"How?" one asked.

"An executive order. They're using the RICO act, claiming we're involved in organized crime."

"Ridiculous!" someone exclaimed.

"It'll never hold up in court," another declared.

"Does it matter?" Regina asked, bringing sudden silence to the room. "You all heard what Xavier said he wanted us to do if this happens. Start the evacuation immediately. Every family needs to be out of town within the hour."

Helicopter gunships hugged the terrain as they climbed up into the hills surrounding the Lodge. The retired colonel in charge of the operation keyed his microphone. "Listen up, people. Five minutes to target. Check your weapons. Alternating blue and gray rounds. Blue for silver. Gray for arsenic. You may need both, although there shouldn't be any vampires in the drop zone. When we drop, watch your spacing. Identify your target every time. These rounds may be deadly for werewolves and vampires, but they will kill you just as efficiently. I don't want to send letters to your families apologizing for friendly fire. That being said… good hunting, men."

The last scouting report indicated that most of the Silvermane pack were inside the main building at the top of the hill, so the helicopters roared over a ridge and hovered over the grounds of the Lodge. The colonel shouted, "GO. GO. GO." Armed men jumped through the open doors, rappelling down lines to the ground and running for the Lodge front doors. They smashed through, weapons levelled in front of them as they searched the building, moving quickly from room to room, but finding no werewolves inside.

In the wooded area behind the Lodge, the entire pack was silently moving through the trees, disappearing into the hills. Connor, Donny and Ethan waited at the edge of the woods, counting off each pack member running past. The last to arrive were Gabi and Andreas.

"Is that everyone?" Andreas asked.

Connor nodded. "They're all out. Some of the younger pups were a bit slow, but their parents are helping them now."

Floodlights lit up the edge of the forest, exposing Connor and the others where they stood talking.

"FREEZE!" a voice shouted. Armed men walked forward, pointing their weapons.

Andreas snarled and shifted into werewolf form. He turned and leapt through the air at the soldiers, claws out and arms swinging. The first man he reached was a second too slow in bringing his gun around. Andreas sliced down with his front claws and the gun fell clattering to the ground with the man's hands still holding the trigger and front grip. The man held up his arms, blood gushing from two bloody stumps, and began screaming. Andreas knocked the man onto his back and silenced him with a quick snap of his jaws on the man's throat. Then Andreas leapt away just as bullets chewed up the ground a few feet away

Gabi grabbed Connor's hand and shouted, "Go, Connor. Save the pack!" Then she shifted into werewolf form too and joined her mate, leaping at the armed men and knocking two of them down. Her arms were a blur of slicing claws, ripping open the neck of one man and leaving the other clutching his stomach and finding his bloody bowels in his hands.

Chaos erupted as the soldiers tried to defend themselves against the fury of Andreas and Gabi. They began firing without regard for one another, killing two more men with errant aim before finally striking Andreas. His body twisted and jerked as the bullets ripped into his back and sides. Then he fell to the ground, clutching the soil of the beloved home he'd defended with his last breath.

Gabi howled and rushed toward her mate. Her body jerked to a sudden stop as an M16 emptied into her chest. She fell, rolling into the brush and up against a tree.

Connor yelled, "NOOOOO!" He struggled to run to his parents, but Donny and Ethan pulled him back.

"You can't help them now!" Donny yelled in Connor's ear, hauling Connor's struggling body deeper into the forest.

"We have to save the Pack!" Ethan added, yanking on Connor's arm.

Tears poured down Connor's cheeks, then he clinched his teeth and shifted into werewolf form, turning and leading the way deeper into the trees.

"Status update," Dautry snarled.

The voice replied, "Smyth Covenant assets have been seized, but all members of the Covenant are no longer in Agony."

"Where are they?"

"Unknown. Searching through teleportation signatures to try to determine where they've gone, but we're having trouble tracking them. They appear to have used several jumps, so it's proving difficult to determine where they are now."

"Why weren't they apprehended immediately?" Dautry snapped.

"Someone tipped them off, sir. They were gone when we arrived with the arrest warrants."

Dautry rubbed the back of his head as he sucked on a cigarette. "And the werewolves?" Dautry asked.

"Two confirmed dead. All others missing." The voice hesitated, then added, "Five of our men killed in action, seven others wounded."

Dautry slammed his hand on the table. "THIS WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A COVERT OP! How did that happen? Why weren't they captured? They can't teleport like vampires."

"Our intel was incorrect. We believed they were gathered in the Lodge, but they were able to escape before we arrived. They ran into the surrounding forest, apparently in wolf form, and they're now in hiding."

Dautry growled in frustration. "Did you at least capture Ruiz?"

"No, sir. His family is no longer in Agony."

"Where are they?" Dautry demanded to know.

"Unknown, sir. The employees at the father's medical clinic weren't told."

Dautry took several deep breaths, calming himself. Then he leaned into the microphone and said, "Find them. Find the vampires. Find the lycans. Find them all and arrest them, wherever they are."

Minerva turned to stare at Dautry. "That wasn't our agreement. The vampires were not to be harmed."

Dautry glared at Minerva. "The agreement is whatever I say it is." He spoke into the microphone again. "After you've arrested them, execute them. Then clean up the town."

The voice replied, "That is a deviation from the original plan."

"I realize that," Dautry snapped. "Make it happen."

"Yes, sir."

Minerva stared at Dautry, her eyes narrowing in anger.

Dautry lit a cigarette and sucked on the end, slowly calming down.

Minerva sat next to him, fuming.

Dautry touched a button on the panel before him, causing a large LED screen on the wall to light up. It displayed a map of the United States, with blue specks of light superimposed. He pointed at it and said, "This is my most prized achievement, and it wouldn't have been possible without Minerva's assistance… and yours too, Daniel."

Dautry stood up and touched the monitor with one finger. "Each point of light is a teleport signature, left behind when a vampire moves from one place to another. Our scientists have been working diligently on a way to track vampires, and Minerva has been most helpful, allowing them to attach sensors to her body as she jumps from one place to another. It wasn't long before we had the means to track vampires every time they teleported, but we were having trouble tracking vaewolves. It seems your signature is slightly different, Daniel, so we couldn't accurately pinpoint your location, at least, not until you so conveniently teleported right into this room. That made it possible for us to calibrate our instruments to track vaewolves too, so now it will be only a matter of time until we track down your little friend Diego Ruiz. He should be joining you here shortly."

Dautry turned to Minerva. "I may consider allowing most vampires to live, thanks to your help. But Agony must be wiped out. It's a problem I'll no longer tolerate."

Minerva stared at him, wishing him seated in the deepest, hottest corner of Hell.

Dautry chuckled and looked back at Daniel. "When I have both you and the Ruiz boy, that will be the end of the vaewolves. I'll have to destroy you both, of course. You do understand why, don't you?"

When Daniel didn't answer, Dautry sneered. "Vaewolves must be destroyed, right, Minerva? You see, it's not because you're the abominations Minerva sees you as. It's not even because of the perversions I know you to enjoy. It's because you're dangerous. Far too dangerous to leave alive."

Dautry picked up his gun and waved it casually at Daniel and Xavier. "In the cage you go, gentlemen." He waited until they were inside, sitting on the metal bench next to each other, before pushing the door shut with one foot. It clicked shut.

He looked at Minerva. "Come," he ordered. "Let's get something to eat. We'll check back in a few hours to see how the operation is proceeding. Some of your family should be dead by then."

They both left the room, Dautry confident, Miverva seething.

Daniel and Xavier locked eyes.

Are you sure about this, Daniel?

I saw what I saw, Xavier.

Xavier sighed and leaned over against Daniel. Daniel put his arm around Xavier's shoulder, pulling him close.

An hour later, the door opened and Minerva walked in. She walked up to the cage and placed the key in the lock, opening it. Then she motioned Daniel and Xavier to stand up and walk out.

When they stood in front of her, she lifted a small rod and pressed it against the side of Xavier's collar. There was a soft click and the collar opened. Xavier grimaced as he pulled if off his neck, pulling the talons ringing the bottom of the collar out of his neck.

Minerva looked Xavier in the eye and said, "Everything I did, I did for our Covenant. Now, perhaps, you can understand why." She gestured around her at the room filled with equipment and monitors. "I had to keep us safe from these humans. You and I didn't always agree about what was best, but our motives were always the same: to protect the family. Now it's your turn. Go home, Xavier. Keep the Covenant safe."

Xavier nodded, then glanced at Daniel.

"I'll free him next, Xavier. Leave while you can."

Go on, Daniel said, smiling at Xavier. I'll be right behind you.

Xavier disappeared.

Minerva lifted the rod and pressed it against Daniel's collar. It fell off into his hands.

"Thank you, Minerva."

"I'm still not convinced that you should be allowed to live. But for what it's worth, I no longer consider you a monster. You are not the monster here. Neither am I, simply because my people feed on emotions. Nor are the Silvermanes, simply because they transform into wolves to hunt for their meals. No, a monster is a someone who manipulates others so he can hold power, who spies on his own people to use what he learns against them, who uses the power entrusted to him to dominate instead of caring for others. That man is the true monster here."

The door to the Room opened, and Dautry stepped in. Multiple gunshots rang out in quick succession. Minerva looked down at her chest, where dark red circles were spreading out on her blouse. She blinked and looked up at Daniel, whispering, "Save them, vaewolf."

Daniel nodded and disappeared as Minerva collapsed, falling to the floor on her side.

Dautry walked forward and used his toe to push Minerva onto her back. She was breathing quickly, sucking in shallow breaths. Dautry leaned over her and spat, "I decide who the monsters are, and then I destroy them. Today, the monster is the FOOL who bites the hand that fed her."

Minerva's eyes focused on Dautry's face. She panted quickly, gathering strength to mutter, "A fool? I'm a fool? You trusted a vampire!" She laughed, coughing up blood. "A fool…" she muttered as she died.

Dautry straightened up and kicked Minerva's body. "You've changed nothing, you stupid bitch. I'll find the vaewolves eventually, and then they'll die, as will all your filthy, corrupt family."

He spun on his heels and stomped to the door, snarling at the guards outside, "Get someone to clean up this mess." Then he pulled the door shut and walked back to his chair at the table, leaning down to punch the call button on the control panel.

"Operations Center," a voice responded.

"Status of Operation Bonfire," he snapped.

"All operations cancelled, as you ordered, sir."

Dautry stared down at the table. "Repeat that."

"All operations cancelled, per your last order, sir."

"I didn't cancel the operation. What in bloody hell are you talking about?" he demanded.

There was a short pause. Then the voice replied, "Twenty-five minutes ago, you cancelled Operation Bonfire. Then you verified the order with a retinal scan."

"IMPOSSIBLE!" Dautry shouted, standing up and shaking his head in confusion.

A hand reached past Dautry to disconnect the call to the Operations Center. Dautry spun around and found Daniel standing behind him, holding Dautry's gun in one hand and the metal collar in the other.

"You…," Dautry muttered. "You did this. But how?" Dautry began backing up, working his way along the edge of the table, thinking back and reconsidering everything that had happened. Then his eyes opened wide. "You… you played me," he whispered. "Just so you could get here, to the command center. But why? What do you hope to accomplish? Everything has secure controls, multiple access requirements, retinal scans…" He stared at Daniel, then grimaced and shook his head. "Amazing. You must have additional abilities I didn't know about, never planned for."

Daniel nodded his head. "At the end of it all, you finally understand." Then he stepped forward and swung the metal collar at Dautry's head, striking the man so hard his head spun sideways and his neck snapped upon impact.

Dautry's broken body collapsed to the ground. His severed spine no longer communicated with his brain, but his lips continued moving as his life slipped away, mumbling, "None of it was real. It was all an act?"

Daniel knelt next to Dautry. "Everyone always said Xavier and Diego were the better actors, but Connor and I did a pretty decent job of it too. Good enough to fool you."

Dautry's eyes opened wide and he gasped once more before blowing out his final breath.

Daniel knelt down and lifted the man's lifeless body off the ground. With his enhanced vaewolf strength, it was easy.

Daniel concentrated for a moment, then teleported to the same spot, but 30 minutes into the past. He propped Dautry's body in the chair at the table, leaned past him and punched a button on the panel.

"Operations," the voice said.

"Cancel Operation Bonfire. Shut it all down," Daniel ordered.

"Verification please," the voice said.

Daniel leaned Dautry's body forward. The laser scanned the man's dead eyeball.

The crackling voice in the speaker said, "Verification confirmed. Operation Bonfire will be cancelled immediately."

Daniel picked up Dautry's body and teleported to a secluded spot high up in the Rocky Mountains, a place where he'd once hiked with his friends. He dropped Dautry's body into a ravine, then teleported home to Agony.

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