I hung back while Marcus and the two of the other Hunters roughly tackled the Rogue just ahead of them. And I knew exactly what the Council did to Rogues like this.
Kev and Holly were vicious, practically unstoppable creatures that were relentless on the hunt, never hesitating to take the kill so the human didn’t have to.
I saw just what the Coven stood for and what their purpose was. To kill, exterminate all vampires who did not follow laws set by people these vampires barely believed in. Having the ability and power to pass judgment on everyone.
I watched as Marcus and the others ignored the desperate screams of the helpless and terrified vampire, as they beat him into submission, only to drag him from the forest and into their handler’s grasp.
A tall man with black hair appeared, staring at them without emotion.
His name was Maximus Cornwall—one of the Coven’s fearless Leaders, who was well known for his total absence of mercy for all that crossed him or his family.
He congratulated them on catching the Rogue so quickly. His voice, his actions spoke of the fact that they did this often, that it was a normal practice to cold-heartedly hunt people down and condemn them death.
The image dissolved as I threw myself out of it. I had heard what they said, how little they had cared about what they had done. I shivered in Marcus’s arms, my skin crawling just because he touched me. The need to get away from him became so desperate, and I could think of little else.
Marcus was one of those who hunted Rogues, something apparently I was. Would he kill me now? If we had stayed in the Interior, would this Council have ever notice us?
“They would have found you eventually,” Marcus said dispassionately, his arms steel bands to hold me still.
“Let me go.”
“Why not?” I blurted out. I sat up and tried to get away, but his muscular arms wouldn’t let me. Sara growled again, and Gene placed a restraining hand on her shoulder.
“I will not let you run from me because you saw a glimpse of a world that I have no choice but to be in,” he grumbled from my hair.
“Let me up,” I snapped. I pushed at his arms, staring at Gene in horror. He was human and no better than what they were. “Marcus...” I started.
“No. I don’t have a choice. We don’t have another option,” he said between clenched teeth.
“We all have choices,” I said quietly.
An image tickled the edges of my mind, this time hesitant before he ruthlessly shoved his consciousness into mine without any real thought. Marcus was chained to a stone floor. He wore only a pair of torn, dirty pants that looked so far out of date, I wasn’t sure what era he was in.
Long nasty welts littered his back in a grotesque criss-crossed puzzle. His arms were chained behind his back, his neck chained only inches from the floor in the most subservient and degrading of positions anyone could’ve thought of.
He barely whimpered as a large man beat him with what looked like a long, thick willow branch. The singing of the instrument in the air broke the silence Marcus was trying so hard to maintain.
“When will you learn?” Marco hissed, the rush of wind from the whip hitting Marcus’s flesh a second before the blood flowed from another welt.
Marco kicked his body so it fell to one side as he panted. Their eyes clashed in a war for supremacy. Marcus had no chance at winning this, but his will refused to break under Marco’s torture.
“She didn’t deserve to die.” Marcus gritted his teeth as another lash took him across the neck sharply, blood dripping down to splash on the stone floor. He winced, but he didn’t cry out. I could hear his teeth gritting like nails on a chalkboard after every slap, kick and hit.
“It is not up to you to question why, boy. She was condemned to Roguedom and that was that. It is your job as a Coven Hunter to
wrangle them and bring them in, or kill them where they stand. You didn’t do either of those things, you let her go.” Marco kicked him again, bringing his foot back to wallop him in the stomach.
“She was protecting her child! I could read it all in her mind, the humans who tried to kill her baby. I will not kill a woman who exposed herself to save an innocent, I won’t. I refuse to.” Marcus ignored the pain, and I could feel his will breaking.
By the look of him, he had been here a great deal longer than a couple of hours. When was the last time he had fed? He looked gaunt and nothing like the man I knew.
His long, tangled blonde hair was thick with blood and gore, plastered in all directions over his sorely abused skin. Sweat and grime clung to his face and body.
If I had tear ducts in this place, I would have cried for this broken shell of a man. I couldn’t change anything or act in any way, only watch.
“She broke the law, boy, and for her crimes, death was the punishment. We are not like the humans who pussyfoot around. We
don’t have that luxury,” Marco said.
“You’ve been here for six days now, Marcus. Yet you keep healing, and I keep beating you over and over again. This isn’t working at all, is it? I think it’s high time that we find something that will make you see this our way.” The tormenter grinned.
Marco whispered something under his breath, placing a hand on his victim. Marcus’s spine bowed painfully at an impossible angle, the sweat pouring off of his bruised, cracked and bleeding skin.
Marcus couldn’t hold in his anger any longer, and as a typical trademark to our species, his eyes filled with blood, bypassing the telltale sign of red flames entirely. He then fought the thick coils of chains, but the power in the room told me there was no use. Until they let him go, he would never escape.
In this place I had access to all of the knowledge Marcus had in that moment, but I was distracted in an emotionless sort of way. I watched what was in front of me by both my will and the present day Marcus holding my attention to where it mattered most.
Marcus snarled, revealing a set of extraordinarily over-grown fangs that would have made me shiver in primal fear if I could have. Nothing I saw or thought affected me in any rational way, like I was an unfeeling being with no conscious or sense of humility.
Marco was uncaring of the affect his energy-induced torture had gained him. His sadist methods were grueling and long, a true threat to those who broke the rules set out by those who oversaw them. I could feel the pain Marcus was in, going through me as if I were under Marco’s hands which played the affliction of agony like a violin.
The burn that spread out from his hands scorched through me, unbelievably sharp and relentless. I swore I felt the blood vessels in my eyes burst from the pressure in my brain.
Marcus’s growl vibrated through me, angry that I was feeling him on that level. He brutally ripped me from the horrid vision, but not before I heard Marco’s parting words and Marcus’s resulting scream.
“You will learn young-blood, one never fights the Council.”
Blackness washed over me a second before I came back to reality, screaming like a banshee all the while. Arms closed around me, and I punched and shrieked in the general direction I had felt it come from, my sight momentarily impaired as I made a transition I wasn’t used to.
Marcus held me tightly in his lap, refusing to let me go or give an inch until I calmed down. What the hell was that?
“How did you do that?” Marcus snapped, indignant and angry.
“Do what?” I bit back.
“Get far enough into my head that you’re connected with my emotions. That was a memory, and you shouldn’t have been able to share what I was feeling, or I wouldn’t have done it,” Marcus growled, completely disregarding Gene’s sharp intake of breath. Something he seemed to do a great deal of when I was around.
“I don’t know. You were in charge, and I just went along for the ride,” I said hoarsely, my voice rough from screaming.
Sara elbowed Gene. “What the hell did he just do, and what is she talking about?”
My mind was churning, boiling over with questions I couldn’t ask. I saw the regret in his eyes over showing me something he now thought he shouldn’t have.
“Is this what I have to look forward to?” I spoke quietly, almost silently enough not to be considered speaking at all.
I knew both Gene and Sara’s eyes were on me, but I turned in
Marcus’s arms and ignored them. He said nothing as he stared at my waist, with his unusual eyes
wild and a little wide. After what I had seen, I missed being an ignorant human. I missed living in stupid bliss, going about my life not knowing about perfectly legal, sadistic men that were in the employ for what amounted to a communist vampire government.
The only difference from the human government was that the Council was final in everything they did. They could kill where and when they pleased, and from what I had seen so far, they took their leniencies to the extreme.
And there was nothing any of us could do about it, even in death.
No matter what I thought about any of it, I was sitting in the lap of a kind, protective man who was hurting because of these enforced monstrosities. While I had seen them, he had lived them, was currently reliving them.
I didn’t need to be psychic to see that. A drop of wetness landed on my arm between us, and we stared at it as it rolled down the side. Another soon followed it, and I realized I was crying. No longer for just Sara or myself, but for Marcus as well.
Somehow in less then twenty-four hours, Marcus had wormed his way into my heart on a level that people I had known for years had never accomplished.
“You’re crying,” he said softly, looking up at me for the first time. His fingers brushed underneath my eyes, staring at the crystal bead with awe.
I had no words to answer him with. His other arm tightened around me. The fact that I was crying for him confounded him. There were so many unasked questions in his eyes.
But then, he had the advantage of reading mine.
“How long were you there?” I whispered. I couldn’t imagine staying sane after a day of what I had seen. I know I wouldn’t have been able to handle it. My mind would have shattered.
“Three weeks.” He looked away, as if embarrassed by the unimaginable feat.
“What happened by the end of it?”
“Let’s leave it as, I was a whole lot worse off than what you saw,” he replied. The red flames had receded in his eyes now, leaving a weary man who had probably seen a great deal more hardship then I ever had a shot of understanding.
“Did you willingly share one of your memories with her?” Gene asked from behind me, the first words he had spoken since I had come to.
Marcus’s eyes closed as he heard the tone in his friend’s voice.
“Is that what he did?” Sara asked in shock. “Why was she screaming then?’
“What did you show her Marcus?” Gene persisted.
“Nothing,” he growled, eyes flicking to them with guilt lodged deep.
“What the hell is with you, man? You never act like this. Do you want me to phone Max and Corrine back?” Gene snapped back, indignation in every word.
“Hold the fort here people.” I turned and looked at them. “My brain is going to explode if there is any more stimuli that I have to think about right now. It doesn’t matter what he showed me, all you need to know is that this entire situation sucks.”
“Yes, it does,” Marcus agreed. “Are you still going to flip out on me?”
“No, at least not right this second, but let’s not overestimate my abilities here. This is a little much, okay?” I smile tenderly, trying not to think much about what I had just seen.
“This is too Twilight Zone for me,” Sara muttered.
“Oh, you have no idea,” I whispered back.
“I swear, I will allow no harm to come to either of you. They will
have to get through me to get to you.” Marcus’s eyes glittered. The same
fight I saw in the vision was in his eyes now. “I will not fail this time,” he whispered.
Would he suffer for protecting us?
“I don’t care.”
“Why?” Marcus demanded hotly. His face was tormented by my answer, and I hated it more than anything.
“Because you shouldn’t have to suffer for protecting the innocent,” I consoled. That wasn’t me, but in my view that was Sara. She had no fault in this, and I would go to any length for them to see that.
I would go Rogue to protect her, if I wasn’t already.
“You’re innocent, and I am never letting you be declared Rogue,” he said as he tucked a stray piece of hair behind my ears affectionately.
We both ignored Sara’s startled squeak.
“No, I’m not, and you can’t stop me,” I said stubbornly.
“You are the most innocent vampire I have ever known. And yes, I can.” He smiled gently as he said it, but with a hard edge to his voice, nonetheless. “That man you killed was a horrible human being. If you hadn’t killed him, he may have hurt you or gone on to hurt someone else. Part of who we are is to protect humanity, and you did that. You did a good thing, cher.”
Sara gasped again, and I knew exactly what she was thinking. Just how much had I confided in our blonde hero? He was the one she didn’t quite trust yet, but the one who was holding our lives in his hands.
I didn’t need to look at her to know that was what she was thinking.
“I didn’t break any laws?”
“It is not illegal to kill a human if you do it right. Killing to gain magic or just to be sadistic, yes, that is illegal. We do need to feed, and sometimes we kill when we are not careful. There are allowances for that.” Marcus ran his hands over my arms, giving me goose bumps.
“So then, what are we going to do now?” Sara asked, sufficiently annoyed at being left out of pretty much everything in the last ten minutes.
I knew there would soon come a time when we were alone that I would pay for this, but until then I was safe from her protective wrath.
“I think the two of you should stay here with us for a while. We can start the process of getting the required registration, but until that time you should stay off the streets in case our Coven is out and about," Marcus explained.
“Then I need to go back to our place and get some belongings,” I replied, taking control for once in my life, without letting someone else just make the decisions for me.
Normally I let Sara lead our decisions, but for once I felt I had more information than she did. I didn’t want to keep it from her, but Marcus’s memories were his and I would not betray him like that. He had trusted me, and that pain I wouldn’t share with anyone. It was obvious Gene didn’t know about it, or Marcus would have said something when he’d asked.
“You’re sure about this Kel?” Sara inquired lightly, carefully masking her nervous rage that was barely leashed.
“Definitely,” I replied. She stared at me for a long moment before she nodded.
“All right then, but how are you going to get to our place without being seen?” she asked as she put her feet on the coffee table.
“I imagine the same things I did with you,” Marcus said from behind me quietly. “And it is out of character for him, too.”
“Why do you think that is?” I closed my eyes, feeling him in my mind just as I did around my body.
I felt closer to him, and I couldn’t help but think they had put a spell on Sara and I. Everything just seemed too right, too perfect in regard to him. I knew what they said about something being too good to be true.
“I wish I knew. And I know what you’re thinking. I think in this case, it’s an exception to the rule.” He grinned, banishing the harshness from his eyes.