Bale had felt the female’s eyes on him and, with some strange sense, recognized when she had passed out. He also knew within the deepest recesses of his gut that she was dying from more than just the stab wound. How he knew this confused him, but he pushed the thought aside as the demon raised his decorative black and gold khopesh sword. Inhaling, Bale caught the faintest trace of a scent from something he knew should have been impossible for a lower-level demon to procure -- the foul essence of the Utukku. Long ago, Lucifer had discovered that the essence from those human souls pledged to do his evil bidding was the only thing that could terminate an angel -- or a fallen one. And as the reality of the situation permeated Bale’s mind, he realized he had been right all along: there was a traitor within the Grigori. But the treachery went deeper than even he
had suspected; it had infiltrated his enclave, and Bale swore he was going to make someone pay. But who? The betrayal was sure to destroy them all.
He shoved the question to the back of his mind. There would be time later to come to grips with it all. Right now he just had to get out of this alive. As he eyed the khopesh warily, the demon smiled more broadly.
“Such a shame, wasting good essence on the female.” The demon shrugged. “Oh well. Guess we’ll have to do this the hard way.”
Bale tried to ignore the sense of dismay that flooded his system, unwilling to examine the cause of his inexplicable feeling of dread. Instead he concentrated on the sword the demon held. He didn’t have long to wait until the demon made his move. The khopesh was swung toward him, and with a flick of his wrist, Bale intercepted the lunge, his and the demon’s steel blades clanking as they met.
Swords clashed again, Bale blocking the demon’s attack and forcing the blade downward as he pulled a dagger from the sheath on his thigh. He slashed at the demon’s blade arm, cutting deep. With a hiss, the demon stumbled back, and Bale countered, swinging his sword. The bastard met his advance. Grunting, Bale knocked away the khopesh aimed at his chest, and pivoting, he swung. His sword connected with the demon’s neck. His head rolled to the ground, and then both body and head disappeared in a burst of black smoke.
After securing his sword back within its scabbard, Bale approached the two females. Both were still unconscious, for which he could only be thankful. He was going to need Remy, the leader of their band of Watchers, to alter both their memories. He refused to consider that the redhead was not likely to live for it to matter. The urgent need he felt to get her help unsettled Bale, and as he flicked open his phone, he studied her. Her vibrantly colored hair was pulled back, but errant curls that had fallen out during her struggle with the demon framed her pale skin.
He forced his attention away from her face. When fighting the demon, she’d appeared tall for a human female, though not tall enough to reach his chin, and her muscles seemed well conditioned. But what the hell she had been thinking in trying to take on an Alu demon, he couldn’t fathom.
Bale let that thought trail as he began to seethe at her sheer stupidity. He wanted to shake her awake, but instead he tentatively probed the female’s wound. Blood still oozed from her torn flesh, and he shrugged out of his coat, then yanked his T-shirt over his head. He pressed the shirt against her side with one hand as he stuffed the phone between his ear and his shoulder with the other one.
“Remy,” he said to the voice at the other end, “we have a major fucking problem. I need a pickup immediately.”
“A pickup?” Remy questioned, his voice a mixture of surprise and confusion. “Why aren’t you just teleporting to the abbey?”
“I’ve got two injured females here, one from Utukku poisoning.” Bale’s tone didn’t lend itself to any arguments, and Remy sighed.
“All right. I’ll send Levi. He’s the only one still at the abbey.”
“No. Only you, Remy,” Bale growled, trying to ignore the twisting sensation in his gut.
“What’s going on, Bale?” Remy asked quietly. Bale was not given to dramatics, so when he countered an order, Remy paid attention.
“Later. Right now I just need you here. I’m not sure I trust anyone else,” he said harshly.
Remy swore softly. “I certainly hope that does not mean what I think it means.”
“Later,” Bale repeated. “Just make sure Arak is back at the compound. I’ll need him to check out the females’ injuries.” Bale didn’t even wait for a reply before disconnecting the call. The female’s complexion had turned a pasty white, and worry gripped Bale’s heart like a fist.
He spoke not a word when, minutes later, Remy pulled up in a black Escalade He left the other female for Remy to deal with as he gently picked up the redhead and climbed into the backseat. Keeping his shirt secured to her open wound, Bale cradled her against his chest, ignoring the questioning glances from Remy via the rearview mirror.
“Damn it, Remy, floor this motherfucker,” he snarled as the female began to convulse in his arms. Bale couldn’t even begin to define what the knowledge that she was probably going to perish right there in his arms did to him. Normally he wouldn’t care this much. What was the death of one more human? But for some reason, this one was different. He felt it soul deep. Pulling her closer, for the first time in centuries, he began to pray.
Relief when the truck pulled up to the large iron gates of Castilla de la Vigilia barely counteracted the terror her state caused him to feel, as did the sight of Arak standing in front of the massive stone structure. He heard Remy speaking softly to the other female, trying to rouse her from her stupor, as Bale jumped out of the SUV, and he growled when Arak reached to take away his charge. With a questioning glance, Arak fell in line beside him, only moving ahead to open the front door to the residence. Bale brushed past him and took the steps two at a time, slowing only once he had reached his bedroom.
Bale laid her gently upon the mattress. The convulsions had gotten worse, and he sat next to her, pinning one of her shoulders to the bed with one hand while pressing his shirt firmly to her wound with the other.
“How long has she been convulsing like this?” Arak asked, staring down at the female, concern filling his eyes.
“About ten minutes,” was Bale’s clipped response. “Fix her, Arak.”
Arak looked at Bale incredulously. “Fix her?” he repeated, raising a brow at the order. “She was poisoned with Utukku essence, and you expect me to just fix
her. Christ, Bale, even I
can’t just make the venom go away.”
“Damn it, I know that. But do something,” he growled in reply.
Shaking his head, Arak tried to push Bale out of his way. When he failed to move him, Arak took a step back and folded his arms across his chest. “If you want me to help her, then move.”
Bale nodded his head and slowly pulled back from the female, but then almost lunged at Arak when he began to remove her clothing. He had to force his muscles to stop, knowing he was acting out of character. Arak, the one with the power to heal most injuries, was the female’s only hope. Turning from the bed, he noticed Remy for the first time, standing in the doorway, supporting the other female, a tiny blonde.
“Oh God,” she whispered as she stepped into the room, clutching her injured hand to her chest. “Faith, I’m so sorry.” Then her gaze swept over Arak. “What is Utukku essence?”
“Demon poison,” Arak replied softly, looking up from the wound he had been inspecting. “I don’t understand this. The wound is already starting to close on its own. Something is preventing me from drawing the poison out and healing her injury.”
Bale took a step forward, startled by Arak’s comment, but the blonde female only nodded.
“She’s going through her Transfiguration at least a year early. Will it help save her?” the female asked quietly.
“Transfiguration?” Bale repeated, knowing the term meant something, but he just couldn’t recall the significance.
The blonde nodded absently, her bottom lip held tightly between her teeth.
“We’re going to need blood,” Arak stated, looking over at Remy.
“Blood?” Bale asked, still not grasping what was going on around him. He pinned Arak with his stare, demanding an explanation.
Arak nodded. “For when the Transfiguration has finished…if she lives,” he added.
The three males ignored the blonde’s gasp, but Remy did raise a brow at Bale’s deep growl.
“If someone does not explain to me what the hell you are talking about…” He snarled, leaving the threat to hang. But Remy and Arak had known him long enough to know he was good at turning it into a promise.
“She’s changing,” Remy said to him softly, stepping farther into the room. His gaze focused on the blonde, who continued to nod as she watched Arak treating her companion. “A vampire. And if she survives the poison, she will need blood when she wakes.”
“Will any blood do?” Bale heard himself ask and wondered what the hell it was about this female that had him all tied up in knots.
“As opposed to what?” Remy asked, lips twitching as if he found something amusing.
Bale clenched his fists at his sides, though he longed to smash one into Remy’s smug face. His friend’s ill-found humor seriously pissed him off. But instead he widened his stance and folded his arms across his massive chest.
“Really, you’re asking the wrong person,” Remy answered, gesturing to the female standing beside the bed. “Hope?” he said softly as he took position behind the female and rested his hands gently on her shoulders.
“Hope?” Bale mockingly repeated.
The only response from Remy was a gesture with his middle finger. The blonde turned, causing Remy’s hands to slide slowly down her arms. Remy returned his hands to her shoulders, kneading them gently as he asked, “Are there any special provisions Faith will need once the change is complete?”
“No,” she replied quietly, glancing back at the still figure of her friend for a moment before returning to Remy’s face. “Any blood will do in a pinch, but it’s preferred for the oldest in the nest to donate the first time. It helps give the newly changed the strength to make it through the final stage of the Transfiguration.” Hope pulled away from Remy and moved to Faith’s side, then sat next to her on the bed and took hold of her hand. “I need to get in touch with our father,” she added, as if an afterthought.
“Where are you from? Who is your father?” Remy asked.
“Garrett,” she stated, looking back at Remy and Bale. “He’s our father.”
“Well, shit,” Remy mumbled, but the female paid little attention as she returned her anxious gaze to her sister.
“The Seattle master?” Arak asked, his head rising in surprise from the female he had been tending.
Bale turned to the female called Hope, waiting for her to confirm or deny Arak’s question. The Watchers didn’t need the attention of the vampires, especially not the one in charge of the northwestern vampire population. But still Hope ignored them.
“I have to tell him what happened to Faith. He’s going to kill me.” She paused, wiping her fingers across her eyes. “But Faith will need him to help her through her change.”
Arak looked to Remy for confirmation. At his leader’s nod, he stated, “We can get her through the change.”
“No,” Hope replied, shaking her head. “He’ll wonder why he wasn’t called when the process began.”
“I’m guessing he’ll also wonder why his daughters decided to precipitate an altercation with an Alu demon,” Remy said drily.
“It was a Lilu demon,” she clarified softly as she stroked a hand gently across her sister’s cheek. The touch seemed to soothe Faith, and for just a moment, the tremors lessened. “That is the creature Faith and I were tracking. And while my father will be angry, he will not be surprised. We won’t sit by and allow the demon to kill anyone else’s mother.” She shot Remy an irritated glare, her eyes sparkling with anger.
Her statement captured Bale’s interest, but when he asked for clarification, she remained stubbornly silent, returning her attention to her sister.
As if sensing Bale’s desire to force an answer from the female, Remy interrupted. “Bale, why don’t you get cleaned up? I will get Hope settled in Zeke’s room while Arak remains with Faith.” At Bale’s hesitation, he added, “If her condition changes or she wakes needing anything, Arak will get you immediately.” Remy waited for Arak’s agreement before pinning his gaze on Bale, who was staring at Faith.
After a moment of uncertainty, Bale took a step back as he nodded. “I’ll just be in the bathroom,” he said softly, his eyes shifting to Arak before returning to Faith. His gaze lingered on the female, taking note that her convulsions had completely stopped, and for the moment, she seemed to be resting peacefully. Then, fighting the compulsion to remain by her side, Bale turned and stepped into the bathroom, closing the door behind him.
Arak watched Bale curiously. Of all the Watchers he had associated with over the many centuries, Bale was the one least likely to take an interest in a female -- human or paranormal. Even when it came to his baser urges, more often than not Bale chose to take care of matters with his own hand, so to speak, unlike Arak himself, who had a whole throng of lovely females who were willing to service him whenever the need arose. And it arose often.
“Any idea what the hell that was about?” Arak asked.
Remy flicked his head toward the other female, and Arak understood this was not a conversation Remy wanted to have in front of her. He gave a slight nod as he watched Remy bend down to Hope and take her arm.
“Come, Hope,” he said, pulling her to her feet. “Let me show you to a room where you can clean up and get some rest. As soon as your sister is stable, Arak will take care of your wrist.”
Hope attempted to pull her arm from his grip, obviously reluctant to leave her sister’s side.
“Arak will take care of her,” Remy reassured gently as he touched the female’s cheek.
Her gaze slid to Arak. “As if she were my own sister,” he promised solemnly.
“All right,” she said softly, allowing Remy to lead her from the room.
Arak sat next to Faith on the bed and placed his hand over the spot where the wound had been not thirty minutes before. Closing his eyes, he concentrated on the structure of her cells, how the skin had knit together and healed. Finding nothing of concern, he delved deeper. She was still fighting the effects of the Utukku essence, and Arak wrapped the comforter tightly around her as she began to shiver again.
“How is she?”
Arak glanced over his shoulder. Bale was standing in the bathroom doorway, shirtless, in a pair of black silk pajama bottoms, his hair wet from the shower.
“I’m not really sure, Bale.”
Arak watched his friend hesitate for a moment before stepping into the room and approaching the bed. He took a seat on the bed on the other side of the female and stared down at her. Bale’s eyes softened, and his hand reached out to touch her cheek. If not for the fact that Bale had not even known her name, Arak would have suspected that all this time their brother actually had a little honey hidden away.
“Bale, what is going on?” Arak asked, surprised by Bale’s strange behavior.
Bale only shook his head, instead asking hoarsely, “Will she live?”
“Her body is trying to fight off the poison, but it’s being stretched to the limits of its endurance trying to transfigure at the same time. Honestly, Bale, I doubt it,” Arak said softly.
“Arak, leave us,” Remy said from behind them.
Arak nodded, disappointment flooding him. He was obviously being excluded from the conversation. Though he shouldn’t be surprised; it seemed recently the other two Watchers were doing that a lot.
Bale did not take his eyes off Faith as Arak left the room. “Now is not the time, Remy,” was all he said to his companion. But as usual, Remy paid him no heed and instead stepped farther into the room.
“It’s not like you to leave behind your coat. Or your weapon.”
Bale’s spine stiffened at the amusement in Remy’s voice. Turning his head, he found his dagger dangling from Remy’s fingertips and his coat draped over his arm. Ripping the sword from Remy’s fingers and impaling it in his gut would not help matters, even if it was what Bale was dying to do. Anything to wipe the smirk from his brother’s lips.
“Is it not our duty to protect Earthbound souls?” he asked, forcing his voice to remain level while referring not only to the humans, but the creatures -- the others
-- created by Lucifer and his followers before the great battle that had ousted them from Heaven. Like the humans all angels were sworn to protect, the vampires and other paranormal species were born with souls entwined with free will. They could be good or evil, just like their human cousins. And the Grigori were honor-bound to bring no harm to the innocent.
“And that is all there is to it?” Remy questioned, his voice leaving no doubt as to his opinion.
“What else would it be?” Bale arched a brow, daring Remy to mention the one thing he knew they could never have.
Remy just shrugged nonchalantly, tossing the objects in his possession carelessly onto the edge of the bed. “So you do not have a problem with my moving Faith to Arak’s quarters? He will be in a better position to take care of her if she is nearby.”
Bale slowly rose to his full height, all six feet eight inches of thick, corded muscle. “You are not touching her,” he growled, his voice holding the threat of violence, the promise of retribution.
Remy held up his hands in acquiescence, his lips twitching as if trying to suppress a grin. With a snort, Bale resumed his seat, his gaze returning to Faith. In the chair in the corner of the room, facing the bed, Remy flopped down, and Bale could feel him watching his reactions intently.
“So what happened tonight?”
Quietly Bale recalled the two demons and the fight that had ensued with the Alu demon. “An Alu demon does not have easy access to Utukku essence. He was not the least bit surprised when I showed up. And from what he mentioned about wasting the poison on Faith, I know I was the intended recipient. Someone tipped the demons off.”
This information clearly did not sit well with Remy. He leaned forward, bracing his elbows on his knees, and rubbed his hands wearily over his face. “But who knew where you were going tonight?”
“Exactly,” Bale stated, diverting his gaze for a moment from Faith to Remy. “The only souls who knew reside within this fortress.”
“Surely you do not suspect Arak or Zeke? They can be trusted.”
“Can they?” Bale asked, a sudden chill entering his voice. “I also believed following Lucifer would protect the woman I loved. We both know how that turned out.”
“Yeah, we do,” Remy acknowledged quietly. There was a trace of sadness in his voice, for he knew only too well all Bale had lost. All they had both lost. “But Arak? Zeke?”
“Is it any easier to think it was Caym or Raym? Levi, Penny, or Kash?”
“Well, I guess I should be relieved you do not suspect me,” Remy stated, his humor returning. Where Bale hid behind bitterness, Remy’s shield was his wit.
Bale smiled at that. “Who says I don’t?”
Remy’s reply was a snort as he leaned back in the chair.
“I know it was not you,” Bale conceded. “And I also want to believe Arak and Zeke are innocent.”
“And yet you still brought your female here for Arak to cure. You must admit, your actions speak louder than your words.”
“She is not my female!” Bale snapped, more harshly than he intended.
Remy gave another snort. “So we are back to that again, are we?”
Bale turned the full sting of his gaze onto his best friend. “Even if she was meant to be mine,” he snapped, his eyes blazing, “which you and I both know is not possible, that is not a place I will ever return to. We were not meant for humans.”
His attention was pulled from Remy as Faith began to convulse again. Confused by the array of emotions bombarding him, Bale wanted to pull back from her. But even as he tried, he found himself only moving closer instead, pulling her into his arms and holding her tightly. He wasn’t even aware Remy had stood up to leave until his parting shot registered.
“And yet, she is not human.”
Before Bale could come back with a retort, Remy had left the room. He picked his coat up off the edge of the bed and tossed it on the closet floor before he stretched out on the bed, anchoring Faith to his side. His presence seemed to settle her, for the convulsions once again subsided. And despite all that had transpired that evening, for the first time in several millennia, Bale slept quietly, his soul at ease.