The Hunted

Chapter Seventeen

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Chapter Seventeen

Carlos stared at the outrageous female before him, forgetting how to breathe. She had to be lying.

"I can come up during the day while here in Brazil - full equatorial UV blast. But, alas, I'm bound to this region because he was. Small issue. But at night - and I don't have to wait for the full moon - I can come up anytime, like our kind. Unfortunately, like the were-race that's trapped by the grounds they were felled on, I do have to stay here... unless you can give me a boost out."

"That's what I'm talking about. Unsanctioned mess backfires all the time, and isn't stable. That's why council doesn't allow it on level six. That's the behavior of demons - and vampire intellect knows when to step off some outrageous nonsense. We've seen where this kinda stuff leads. It's mad-scientist type shit. And you lost your mobility behind it. Serves you right."

She lifted her chin higher. "All right, I may have lost my mobility, but I gained a whole lot beyond the sun, which should have been enough to convince you. When I shape-shift, it's no vampire parlor trick. Trust me. The were-demons own that form. That's their foundation. It's primal, it's stronger, it's faster, it hunts better, and brings down kill more effectively than a vampire just amusing himself by trying on different shapes!"

She strutted away a few feet, leaving Carlos speechless, and then smiled. "He, like most men, was so anxious to try it for the power rush as much as for the pussy." She shrugged. "Their ranks were thinning out because of the were-animal militias that have been hunting them down during their limited topside access time... and with nowhere to run, because their territories are so gated... and with master vampires setting them in fits, what can I say? He was down to take a risk for the Big Cat Nation, if he could expand his borders and increase their rate of turns. For sunlight, I was ready to take a risk, too. So, we struck a deal; a hit of Neteru, for a shot at the vanishing point. Fair exchange. Winner takes all, and like most men, he assumed he'd best me. But I also knew where his stash was."

Then she laughed, and to Carlos's horror her incisors came down - two up top, two ripping up from the bottom...just like a panther's.

"Oh, shit... Baby, look at you!"

"Yeah, well," she sighed. "The fellas on level five like it."

Carlos instantly bulked to battle stance. His voice dropped and he circled her. "Did you take any were-demon males there afterward? It's a matter of empire security, and you need to answer me fast."

She backed up, walking counterclockwise to him, but didn't seem afraid. "No. I took one gamble and came up holding aces. Why would I allow some lower-level were demon to put me at risk to take all this back?"

He stopped stalking her but had not normalized.

"I saved it for the master vampire in my territory, who I hear is about to be made council."

"Do any other vampires know about this? Is this info out?"

"No. Well, the bats gossip about my treks down there... and the Amanthas are snooping around - maybe that's why they didn't attack you because they knew you'd be running into me, sooner or later. And the weres think I'm pretty valuable... you should hear the offers their top brass is throwing my way for just a chance to check me out. But it's all idle speculation and not even council can tell. All I have to do is consume a little human flesh to help me normalize, and go topside during the day to burn off the Neteru. But four-fangs, regardless, I would be very alluring to a power-hungry topside vamp male."

"But you haven't shared this with anybody else?" He dredged her mind so brutally that her nose began to bleed.

"No," she said, sniffing back blood and wiping her nose with the back of her hand.

He normalized.

"That's right," she said, thoroughly offended. "If two vampires go to the vanishing point, I can transfer all this to you. When we go there, since we're not two different species, both of us drop out of it breathless - but that's about it. I didn't inform the were-jag of the total risks, believe me." She shook her head, disgusted.

He didn't know what to say. This variable was scaring him, and the package it came in was too lovely for words.

"It's like, if you could go there with a regular human, our primary form - their soul weight would ensure they dropped out afterward and wouldn't be consumed into the dominant form." She chuckled. "They just can't do it. They don't have the phenomenal blood siphon and transfusion mechanism like we do," she said, now coming to him.

"We can't take a human to the vanishing point, and you know that. Just like a were-demon can't make me take him there. Vamp males lower than second-level can't do it, only masters can - so it's not like I can just go turn some guy then drop this on him. And you can sense that no other vampire males have crossed your borders, and I can't go out. There are no second-levels in the province; council wiped them out because they sensed some kind of threat. So why are you so angry?"

"I should have been informed." That was all he could say. Women could be so damned treacherous it was scary.

"That's why I was calling you so hard for over a month, as soon as this opportunity presented itself. But, if you ever want to taste daylight, or what it really feels like to hit the edge of the universe in raw were-panther form... with all that incredible, primal jaguar power under your hood... burning up ground like a high-velocity drag race - "

She stopped. Her eyes got wide and her fangs retracted, then she covered her mouth and laughed. "Oh no!"

He walked away. She'd gotten into his mind and found the race, plus a few things he definitely didn't want her to know. His head had been a damned open door seeking knowledge about this twisted shit so hard that he'd left the back bolt off. Fuck it. He was out. He slammed his mind shut.

"Wait a minute," she said, trying not to laugh. "But, you're a master. You have two continents under your belt, baby, and are on your way to a throne. Don't you want to rule the world? You mean to stand here and tell me, you haven't actually taken anybody for a ride like that? As awesome as you are?" She looked him up and down, her gaze lingering over his body like a sweet caress, undressing him with her eyes. "We need to rectify that immediately... that's unnatural, at your age."

He was gonna serve her vapor and be invisible so fast that the air would suck out of her lungs and turn them inside out! This humiliation was beyond his personal limit. But he had to salvage his dignity. He also had to keep this chick contained. If another master got to her first...

"I had my reasons," he grumbled, not looking at her. "The moment I got made, there was ripe Neteru topside, and I had a primary mission - protect the vessel from rebels. After that, I've been focused on one thing - protecting the vessel from damage. Chasing stray tail and losing cargo valuable to the empire was not on my agenda." He turned and pointed at her, his eyes narrowing. "That shit will never happen on my watch. Especially not for some mad-science. There's only one sure way to make daywalkers, and that's through a Neteru, not this convoluted shit!"

She ignored his outburst and passively slipped her hand within his. The submissive way she did it began to de-escalate his rage. She led him back to a small clearing. Why he was following this woman, he wasn't quite sure. If knowledge was indeed power, he had just gotten his mind blown. Maybe that's why he didn't resist when she leaned into him and kissed him tenderly and pulled back to look into his eyes.

"You're right. Maybe I shouldn't have done it. But I'm not all that bad," she whispered. "No different from you. I was trapped, and wanted a way out. I lost patience. Nuit had botched the job, then you lost her and nobody could find you - not even council for a bit. You fellas were fucking up opportunities, big time, and I got tired of waiting. That's the truth and I'm sorry."

She kissed him again and let her hand run down his chest. "But I will tell you," she admitted softly, "the Neteru I took has... it has side effects that aren't pleasant. Maybe it's because I'm a female vamp, or it was so old?"

"Talk to me," he said in a quiet voice, no longer angry, just weary.

"It gives you flashbacks, like a conscience at times. It's scary... and I'm only telling you because I don't want you to get upset if you experience certain things, after we hit the point. Maybe it won't affect you that way. Perhaps because you're stronger as a master, I don't know. Maybe you can go into my head and get rid of the nightmares that I got from the tainted product? You used to distribute illegal substances when you were alive," she said gently. "With your new power... tell me you have something that will bring me down."

She embraced him and laid her head on his shoulder. It was reflex that made his hand stroke her hair. He looked up at the stars, knowing that there was no running from a conscience once you had one. Neteru would give you that - flashbacks and a conscience. He oughta know. His was kicking his ass right now for several reasons. The things he did in his old life was just one of them.

He kissed her temple and let his breath out hard. "Open your mind for me, and let me see if I can pull the poison out. But, I don't know if I can." Hell, he didn't know if he should. Probably the best thing to do would be to dust her and put her out of her misery, as well as take a volatile temptation variable off the game table for the empire and for himself.

He closed his eyes as she looked up at him, trusting, searching for his help. Her hand touched his cheek.

"I see why she's so crazy about you, even though her job is to hunt you," she murmured, and waited for him to open his eyes and look at her. "Thank you."

Tears of relief filled her eyes, and she brought her mouth close to his. "I can't be in your mind, unless you're also in mine. It is the way of the Neteru, too. See for yourself."

Terrible images shook him. Children, women running, screaming, a full-scale massacre in progress. Men fighting with inferior arms. Then he saw her, hair rising on the wind, her warriors behind her. Heard her war cry. Gorgeous, natural beauty in the heat of sudden battle. She was trying to fight gunboats, cannons, men who had no mercy. He saw her people bound and shackled, women raped. Horrible disease-ridden bodies with priests splashing anointment on them, unknowingly passing their diseases with their robes and blankets.

This mysterious female vampire stood before him, her hands trembling on his shoulders. A sob caught in her throat, but he heard her swallow it away. He stared up at the moon and could not bear the images that marched across it. He saw a Neteru team in her mind die off, one by one, until the Amazon Neteru was alone - an Isis sword raised. He nuzzled her temple and cradled her cheek as hot tears fell against his palm, and her tears sent shards of pain through his fingers. And before his will could consult his brain, he allowed her to see his life echo back at her, making her cover her mouth and nod. She understood... just like he did.

"When did she fall? When did her people lose their Neteru?" he murmured, no longer out of control, or in need of being sated by any woman. This was just too intense - all of it. Carlos brought his hands up to his temples, trying to sort it all out.

"She fought as long as she could, but they came... so many of them. They weren't vampires, or demons - but they acted like them. The Neteru perished. Her people were tired, had never endured such atrocities. They contracted the invaders' diseases. Their weapons never felled her, but she became sick."

She covered her face with her hands. "But how could she keep the human invaders at bay and pestilence from the very air?" Her voice ragged, she turned to him, her eyes filled with anguish. Her visions were staggering and it made Carlos release her. She spoke like a person having a nervous breakdown, or a schizophrenic. He stood there, totally stunned, watching this female vampire vacillate between knowing what was real and not understanding what was just a vision, illusion. It was the most frightening thing he'd witnessed in a while.

"When the Neteru became ill, her mother-seer could see that she was lost to them, that they had lost. And she grieved. Oh, how she grieved, Carlos. She made a pact with the were-demons tied to this region. She allowed them to give her and the guardian team the turn bite and then take the Neteru's body down to level five. The Neteru's soul ascended, but her body was taken down to level five. They boiled it down and captured the Neteru essence. It was such a small portion, but it was enough to be a weapon that could tip the scales in their favor in the oncoming Final War."

"And what did the mother-seer get out of this?" Carlos asked horrified. "What could she have possibly gained by allowing her Neteru to be desecrated?"

"A chance at revenge," she said, her breathing ragged. "She allowed herself to be turned so that she could rise again, consume the Neteru's essence, destroy those who had destroyed them, and forever guard the lands of their beloved Neteru."

"Seems like a job for the Amanthras to me," Carlos said, folding his arms across his chest. "They're the revenge demons. Why didn't she summon them?"

She gave a shaky smile. "You're right, but Amanthras are limited topside. They must either possess a body or attach themselves to a building of some kind. Allying themselves with Nuit gave them more power than they had ever experienced as a species, but that only came as a result of the alliance. The mother-seer needed far more mobility and power to exact revenge on the scale she wanted." She smiled. "You must also remember that she was a guardian, and though broken she still thought like one. Were-demons are mortal enemies of vampires and she planned to continue fighting against the vampires. What better way to do that than as a were-demon possessing the scent of the Neteru?"

"So what happened? We would have heard of a were-demon trailing the Neteru's scent long before this. The Vampire Council would have taken her out."

She looked away. "The senates betrayed her. They didn't want to waste the small portion of Neteru scent on one grieving woman's wish for revenge. They wanted to hold on to it, to use it as their own personal weapon in the upcoming Final War." She took a deep breath. "She and her guardian team tried to take it from them. They didn't succeed and were confined on level five." She looked at Carlos. "Nuit's portals allowed them to escape, but by then the Neteru essence was gone." She gave another small shaky smile. "See, I had happened. But they didn't know that and the first killings that went down had been done out of anger... and of course, out of the need to feed. Were-demons must consume human flesh in order to survive." She tilted her head to the side. "And then something interesting happened."

Carlos watched her warily. "What?"

"They found me... and knelt at my feet." She smiled again, showing her upper and lower incisors. "Apparently, they believe that somehow their wish has been fulfilled, the Neteru's essence lives on and is topside again. Only it has been done through me."

Carlos stared at her in disbelief. "They think you are their leader." It was a statement, not a question.

She nodded. "Oh, yes." She moved up close to him. "Do you realize how powerful I am? I am a vampire who can walk in daylight, I hold the Neteru's scent, and I have a guardian team at my command. That is why I have been calling you so hard." She leaned in close as if she were going to kiss him. Her breath was coming in soft pants, her excitement at being near him clear on her face, in the way she molded her body to his. "The memories of the Neteru and the memories of the seer-mother, because they were so linked, sear my brain. I know what was done to their people. The humans who destroyed this land weren't so different from our kind. They came as explorers. They came as starving, humble men in need of refuge - and the indigenous people had great kindness, mercy, and took them in. Then they sent more ships and returned with plunderers. Conquistadors. This time around, we will be the ones. It's always been about power; the humans themselves have blood on their hands... so why protect them? Together - if you make the right decision tonight - we can conquer all that they have built." She lay her lips against his in a hot, gentle kiss, and then pulled back again. "Be my mate, Carlos Rivera, and make it happen."

Carlos stared at her, almost numb. He pushed her away from him, his expression hardening, his eyes narrowing shrewdly.

"Cut the bullshit and tell me what you'd really get out of hooking up with me. And don't even bother trying to stroke my ego. I'm a businessman, baby, and I can smell shit all over this sweet little deal you're offering."

She stepped back from him, glaring at him in annoyance. Carlos waited.

"I can't leave the region," she finally said. "When I took the were-demon to the vanishing point, I gained daylight, but I lost the ability to move about freely." She looked uncomfortable. "There have also been some other side effects. Sometimes, the were-jag qualities threaten to... take over. There are some nights it's difficult for me to turn back into my natural form." She stared up at him. "I can take you to the V-point and gift you with daylight, but I need you to flat-line me when you do so. It has to also be a total black blood exchange and it must be one with a master vampire." She licked her lips. "Please."

Carlos stared at the beautiful, twisted creature and knew he was going to have to dust her.

"If you want me to cast the illusion of the current Neteru for the task, to make it easier for you - "

"No!" Carlos stepped back from her. "Are you crazy?"

"Are you?" She moved closer and stared at him hard. "I offer you the chance of an unending lifetime. Through me, and only through me, you can have everything you want - a Neteru, an empire, light invincibility..." She outstretched her arm, motioning toward the horizon. "The world, in daylight, Carlos. Me, at your side, forever - we could rule, and no other master vampire could ever rival you, no human could vanquish us, and I - "

"Enough! Shut up! Don't even go there." He paced away from her, the temptation of what she'd just offered, along with the thick scent she was producing again, was all too dangerous, but too practical a solution to his many problems to consider.

"Tell me you don't want that, never considered having a Neteru by your side for eternity? Tell me that and I'll be gone."

For a moment, he couldn't answer, then found his voice. "Not like this. I didn't want it like this."

She shook her head.

Carlos shut his eyes tightly and walked farther from her and sat down hard on the grass. The images scrambling her brain were so terrible that his head dropped between his bent knees in the darkness. None of what she said was a lie, and he could hear a child's screams echoing on the night air. Could see a mother-seer guardian in abject pain, hidden in the bush, too much of a warrior to surrender to death... even at the piteous shrieks of her own child being repeatedly raped by conquistadors... her limp little body fed to crocodiles to draw the team out. A mother-seer so devastated because her Neteru didn't come at the ultimate cries of an innocent. But she stayed in the brush guarding the entry to the compound. For the cause. For the tribe. For her people. Protecting her Neteru at all costs, not knowing the Neteru had already been killed by disease.

She neared Carlos, but stood just out of his reach. "Don't judge me so harshly, Carlos Rivera. What I am now is nothing in comparison to the conquistadors! Don't even judge that guardian team. Her child, her mother, her sisters... her guardian sisters, each killed, bodies desecrated... Her mother-seer could bear no more. And for a warrior to fall to a disease that puts hideous bruises and sores on her face, stealing even her Neteru's dignity in death? From her mother-seer's perspective, she was already an ugly, dying creature with no honor, no people, and nothing to lose. What was a soul worth at that moment, if it could not right a wrong so great?"

"Smallpox," Carlos whispered. His mind wrapped around of all things, a prayer. Dear God in Heaven, men of the church did this? Yet, a man of the church had told him the kinds of things the demon realms sent to break a guardian or Neteru's spirit. Damali entered his mind as he looked at this crazy, yet beautiful, female vampire, wondering her age. But that information was so cloaked he couldn't even sense it. She looked Amazon, and he wondered where Nuit had found her.

He stared at this gorgeous but crazy female vampire near him. He owed her a lot, because she'd given him a sense of what the demon realms had planned. He immediately thought of Damali in contrast with the ancient Neteru. They had broken the ancient one's back, taken everything, and left her spirit to perish. Like Father Patrick had warned - first her mind, then her body, and ultimately her spirit. The screams of her people and her mother-seer's child ate away at her mind, the smallpox ate away at her body, and on her deathbed, this woman had given up hope and surrendered her spirit into the light—only to have a dark ritual desecrate her body... misguided hope for justice violating everything she stood for, and the atrocity was committed by one of her own... from within her ranks, one of her most trusted.

It was a warning, a sign. It gave him serious pause as he sat by this tortured creature that was his simply because of geography. She had shared so much knowledge. It had been a true gift, because it shed so much light on the Neteru he had to protect. How long would it be before the dark forces came after Damali, if they didn't think he had her on lock? The negative energies had already begun swirling around her, stripping away her protective layers one by one.

They sat on the grass together, quietly - him deciding, her waiting. There was much to consider on both sides of this equation.

He had been Damali's primary guardian; her destined life-mate, but had gone dark. It had almost ripped her heart out and stolen her hope. Marlene, her mother-seer, had almost been broken by the screams of her child being taken by a predator. Jose had been crushed emotionally by the loss of Dee Dee. Rider had lost Tara to a turn, but had never had the heart to kill her... that story was locked in his territory, he knew it the moment he did a roll call inventory of the available territory females while sitting on a monk's cot killing time. But that was also about a man loving a woman, so he'd just let Rider's personal business be.

The other guardians had had their trials, too. Shit, Big Mike almost took a turn in New Orleans - the female in that region was still messed up behind that. But mild panic washed through Carlos when he thought of how close he'd come to turning Damali on so many occasions... How different was he than that grieving, pain-riddled mother-seer who simply wanted her beloved Neteru to live forever? Not much. Love was complex, and could easily get twisted.

He glanced at the female beside him who was breathing hard and still shuddering from images. He put his arm around her and pulled her close, allowing her to lean against him and she closed her eyes. The quest for power had fucked her up good. Judge not, lest ye be judged, slipped into his mind. Were he in the same situation, would he have given in to the same temptation? Who knew?

He stood, slit his wrist, and offered it to her. Compassion tore at him as she hungrily siphoned the vein. He watched her close her eyes, take a sip, and grimace on the first swallow as a shudder ran through her, connecting them. She pulled away for a moment, breathing hard and grabbed her stomach as though she'd been punched. Total awe claimed him as she went back to the vein and pulled harder on it, sending more terrible images up his arm and into his mind. But it was so bizarre. Within those images were shock waves of dark pleasure as her saliva entered his bloodstream... violent, bestial, torrid images that almost swayed him where he stood.

"I am so sorry the product did this to you, baby." Carlos shook his head and looked up at the sky. "Rule the world. To what end? Damn."

She got up and began walking in an agitated circle around him, counterclockwise to his wary moves when he slowly matched her orbit... her entire being naked, pained, gorgeous. Begging him to side with her cause with her eyes. "Power needs no explanation. It is the purest substance in the universe!"

"Let me give you some more to bring you down," he said quietly, slitting his wrist again harder with his nail, and then pumped his fist.

"You can flat-line me, then you won't have to worry about it." She straightened and walked over to him slowly, the noise of the jungle, his blood dripping into the grass, and their breathing the only sounds to be heard.

As she neared him, he saw the image in her eyes and heard the threat to his life in his mind. She'd what? Rape him? If it wasn't so ridiculously off the wall, he might have laughed. But the dead-serious look she gave him almost made him bulk for battle. There was a maleness in her imagery of coming out of the vanishing point that disturbed him. It was definitely time to bring her down. This was why he never touched his own product... and after seeing this, not to mention gaining a conscience, he wasn't in the business anymore. After tonight, he was definitely out.

Carlos continued to let his blood splatter that ground to signal her, now or never. He was two seconds from sealing his vein and walking.

She dropped to her knees and it took everything in him not to kneel with her and stroke the pain away from her head. But there was something that registered caution within him. It was the underlying violent image she'd sent that kept him on guard, standing, and in a power position the way the throne dictated feeding lower generations.

He forced himself to watch her from a detached place in his mind as she took his wrist hungrily. He winced when she locked her lips around his flesh and began to suck so hard it was almost painful. Yet, he was also mesmerized as he watched her take from him, his ruby blood turning black on her mouth as it dribbled down her chin and mixed with the air. He'd never fed a naked vamp female from his wrist before. The process was deep. He had so many responsibilities to truly internalize in his role as a territory master. All he could do was watch as she siphoned him, looking up every few seconds, and then going back to the open vein. Seeing the wild look in her eyes was so horrifyingly erotic that he almost snatched back his arm, but he didn't have it in him to deny a creature so wounded.

Carlos was numb. He understood there was nothing he could say to a being so mentally twisted by a narcotic, so right, yet so wrong. She was on a real bad trip and was going to have to ride it out alone. There was nothing more he could do for her.

Father Patrick's words echoed in his skull as he slowly blocked this tortured beauty from further access to his mind. He had been her. There was only one difference... somebody with light in her soul had gotten to him first. Karma. He was looking at a female version of himself. Her rage was magnificent.

And, at the same time, he knew that Damali, safely stowed in his lair, was only safe for the moment. This female would go after Damali, when Damali came after her. It was in their nature.

"You have a great expanse in your heart," she said, finally standing with effort, wiping her mouth, and walking away.

Carlos cocked his head to the side. Her vocabulary had changed. The street slang she'd dredged from his mind was replaced by the syntax of her era.

"You would have been a good companion warrior in my time. But I will settle for you being a good one-time lover - it must be. We are equals. We understand each other." She sighed. "In one night, perhaps two, then there will be no choice. Get rid of the young huntress. She'll come for my territory and try to send me back from whence I came—and we cannot allow that to happen. Bring me the Isis, so that I know your word is your bond." Then the look in her eyes became deadly.

"You said 'we'?" Carlos stayed calm, trying to measure his words as her form got smaller. This was too serious, too dangerous. Now she was talking about killing D? Uh, uh... she'd better walk that fucking high off fast. Things had kicked up a level. Strip Damali of the Isis, and do her - or protect her life by taking this babe to the vanishing point? The only reason he didn't smoke this crazy bitch on the spot was because she had said "we."

She turned and looked at him squarely and then laughed. "You even have the conquistador's name and language upon you, Master Rivera. But I look in your eyes, and I see my people in them. You were stolen, oppressed, too. I will give you back to yourself. Freedom. Power. The sun. We." She paused. "Don't make me have to deal with her. There are a lot of females in this section of your territory that do not appreciate this new Neteru."

"On my orders - you and every female vampire in my territory—stay away from Damali, her guardians, that whole team! I will not have it - you hear me? You rush her, you die! The only reason I'm letting you walk is because you're high. Tomorrow night, we'll discuss this whole daylight bullshit. We clear?"

She blew him a kiss and vanished. He remained on the hillside, a dead water buffalo at his feet. The intoxicating scent of mature Neteru and sulfur wafting toward him from a black forest before him. Damali seemed so far away. Far away from his reality, and this older woman who had blown his mind. This lair queen knew what the bitter side of life tasted like. Shared his darkness. Stoked it. Made him wonder. Made him weigh the scales of right versus wrong. Took gray matter out of the equation. Had opened his nose, and gotten a fingernail beneath the edge of his heart, threatening to flip it. He'd wanted to weep for her because she was so utterly insane. Had made him want to take her in panther form, primal. Had let him know that under no uncertain terms, she'd wanted him.

She had made him an offer. Daylight - the ultimate gift. Could pace herself and be patient. Had power. Had self-control. Was mature. Had suffered the abominable. Was probably turned during the era of chaos she'd shown him. Had witnessed death and destruction that he'd only seen once dead. Was overtaken by the spirit of a Neteru at least five hundred years old, because she'd eaten tainted flesh. Had made semen spill from the tip of his quivering member just talking about going to the vanishing point with her. With Damali, that could never happen. With this queen, topside and subterranean were up for grabs, due to a fluke. A variable. And his blood had made her worse, not better.

Carlos closed his eyes and rubbed his hands over his face, and sealed his wrist wound. Oh... shit... his old guardian traits and a residual of a soul hanging in the balance had kicked this bullshit in her up a notch. He was the insider; the one that had tipped the balance with a misguided act of compassion that would hurt the living Neteru... for all the wrong reasons, at a very bad time.

The older female's logic was twisted. So was his. But was it? She had a just cause to return the lands to their rightful owners, but her methods... Vampires were not the rightful owners of this land. They'd colonized it, too.

She'd opened her legs for him, as well as her mind, and arched up to him to save her world as though she were a Neteru, and wanted to save the vamp empire in the same breath. She was so confused it made him shudder. She was right; they were both cut from the same cloth. He wanted to live in both worlds, too. She had made him think of things he was afraid to admit to himself. Had whispered of unparalleled power into his ear while stroking his chest with her hands. Had served indescribable options on a silver platter while nude. Had made him want to protect her, as much as he wanted to push her twisted being away and stake her... as much as he'd wanted to mount her and ride her hard.

He had a problem. A dilemma. Damali had a problem. A threat. He had a soul in the balance. The woman, who posed an offer, didn't have one to worry about. His was slipping into darkness fast as he walked slowly away from the dead carcass. He still wanted her, but knew he shouldn't. His body said one thing. His mind said something else. His intellect was torn. His heart was unsure. It didn't even beat - that, too, was dead, no wonder. He was a vampire. She was one, too. Damali was a human, Neteru notwithstanding. He had to make a decision and quickly. This mysterious older female had made him think about his future, and hope for it, while fearing it.

And yet, he still didn't even know her name.

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