Chapter 15: Ending the Confrontation
Selene stepped out of the Farrier Ranch guesthouse; both revitalized by her short sleep and drained by what had taken place. After John had sifted enough of her memories to confirm that she and Michael weren't spies, he left on a mission to liberate his kinsman at the lycans' front ranch. Another lycan had taken Selene and Michael to the second ranch, where the pack was holding Erika and Tanis.
This memory brought a faint smile to Selene's face. Tanis had been completely intimidated by the two hybrids. Selene and Michael were in no mood to use kid gloves with the vampire who had caused them so much trouble on this continent and the lycans weren't about to stop the pair from getting rough with the prisoners. Tanis had sung like the proverbial canary, revealing some details about the Cleaners that Selene had never expected. With Tanis now proving to be a proverbial well of information, the lycans had taken Selene and Michael to Farrier Ranch, their hidden seat of power.
Michael and Selene had no sooner gotten settled into a guesthouse than John returned. He and his team had been unsuccessful at rescuing their kinsman, but had successfully eliminated the vampires' strike team. The lycans had brought back their dead kin where, in a simple yet touching ceremony, they had burned the bodies. The pack's mournful howls had brought tears to the hardened, former Death Dealer's eyes. Having given blood to John and intimidated Tanis, she was at the brink of collapse by the end of the ceremony. She had only vague memories of Michael carrying her back to the guesthouse and putting her into bed.
She spotted her lover, with several of the pack, unloading heavy burdens from a truck in the pre-dawn dark. She quickly went to join him, discovering that the lycans were unloading the bodies of the vampires who had been killed in last night's skirmish. To her surprise, the lycans didn't mutilate their foes' remains, vow revenge, or even curse them. They simply arranged the bodies, with dignity, in an open field.
The assembled pack took turns saying a few words about the fallen. Again, Selene was surprised that the lycans didn't disparage their fallen foes. Instead, they spoke of the vampires' determination and skill, and their own sorrow that such a conflict had to take place. Selene spoke about Gary, her one-time apprentice. She spoke about how, so long ago, he had confided that he didn't hate the lycans. John and his followers nodded their approval, then bowed their heads as the sun rose, reducing the vampires' remains to an ash that the fresh, morning breeze scattered into the new day.
"I'll meet with my staff, and my guests, in a half-hour," John said, breaking up the gathering.
Selene was still slightly dazed, but mostly revived by the pack's beef blood, when she and Michael attended the meeting. This time, Selene had felt more comfortable, as this meeting proved to be a planning session. The pack was about to unleash a hammer-blow against their archrivals, the New World Coven.
Selene was looking forward to having a discussion with Mr. Lecoq, about sending a team of Death Dealers after her.
Selene was shocked to note that John didn't intend to obliterate the coven, only force it to acknowledge the community of interest. Selene was further shocked to note how well the lycans had made their plans. John only had to incorporate Selene, Michael, and the vampires' own mobile rig. This took less than an hour, and soon telephone calls and emails went out from Farrier Ranch, to points all across North America. In response, busses, vans, cars, and even a few private aircraft converged on southern Louisiana.
In Gonzales, Louisiana, an earthmoving contractor informed his employees that the company would be closed the next day, due to a family emergency. While the employees were sad to hear that their boss had experienced tragedy, the idea of a day off, with pay, appealed to them.
"So what can it all mean?" Mr. Lecoq asked his handful of advisors.
"To review what we know," Madame Carreras informed him. "Last night, Gary reported that he had discovered a lycan at the ranch Selene and Michael visited. Michael and Selene reported that the man denied having seen Tanis, but they failed to mention that the rancher was a lycan."
"Could they have failed to recognize him as such?" Another man asked.
"Impossible!" Lecoq snapped. The regent took a deep breath, then nodded an apology to the man who asked the question. "With Michael's lycan sense of smell, he would have known the man for what he was."
"Which means we know that Selene and Michael reported a falsehood," Madame Carreras continued. "Gary reported the other issues, such as the communications devices and the vehicle they found in the garage. We have since confirmed that this vehicle was stolen not far from where Tanis and Erika disposed of a vehicle they had stolen earlier."
"This suggests that Tanis was in the area, as well," Mr. Lecoq added.
"We have had no further communications from either our own team, or the Europeans, since," Madame Carreras concluded. "Our tracking devices indicate that the team's cell phones, Michael's and Selene's cell phones, and the Europeans' vehicle, have remained stationary."
"The tracking system on the mobile rig, however, has been moving," Lecoq took up the tale again. "Just after sundown, it began moving east, roughly backtracking the route it took to get to the ranch."
"So someone unknown is in control of this rig," Lecoq continued, fixing everyone in the room with a grim look.
"Could it be our own Death Dealers, with communications difficulties?" A voice piped up.
"I only wish it could be," Lecoq answered, shaking his head. "If our team had suddenly developed communications difficulties with seven cell phones and a computer uplink system, simultaneously, they would have simply stopped at the nearest telephone and called us. No, as much as we may wish to be optimistic, we have to grasp the fact that some force has neutralized our team and seized control of our vehicle. Now, what force could do so?"
"Perhaps a rogue band of vampires," one of the several immortals seated around the table suggested. "Surely there have been others, besides Tanis, who have been exiled. While our official histories might not record them, Tanis may have known about them."
"That would also explain why the rig is moving, but nothing else is moving," Lecoq nodded. "Such an asset would be priceless to a rogue band. Are there any other suggestions?"
"Perhaps a rogue band of lycans," another suggested. "We know that Tanis had contact with our nemeses, he admitted it himself. Perhaps he knew about a band of the creatures and sought sanctuary among them."
"It is possible, but I cannot believe that a band of lycans could eliminate our team before they could report an attack," Lecoq chided his advisor. "We have been on this continent since before this nation existed, we would have known about such an organized, capable band of lycans."
"Then how about humans," the highest ranking Death Dealer still at the mansion suggested. "We know that Tanis had contact with the Cleaners, a band of humans who knew that the immortal races exist. Perhaps he is in collusion with such humans to eradicate the immortals as a coherent force. We know that Mr. Marcus, or whomever it was that formed the Cleaners, drew upon former Special Forces soldiers. Such a group could defeat even a highly trained team of Death Dealers, by using overwhelming firepower."
"That is the most troubling, and realistic, theory I have heard," Lecoq grumbled. "If the normal humans know of our existence, what are we to do?"
"Perhaps we could ambush the rig," the Death Dealer suggested. "If we can overwhelm whomever has control of the truck, we may be able to glean some information before a major confrontation."
"This is a tempting suggestion, but I will make no such move unless the rig gets much closer to the mansion," Lecoq decided. "We are too short of Death Dealers, with the loss of the team and the group I sent to Europe. I am canceling all town visitation privileges, as well. We need to be alert and on guard."
The meeting broke up after a few more minutes devoted to routine business. As his advisor's filed out of the conference room, Mr. Lecoq made a subtle motion for Madame Carreras to remain. She lingered after the remainder left.
"Madame," he told her. "I need to be blunt. We could be facing this coven's last days. We truly do not know what is about to befall us."
Madame Carreras nodded her understanding.
"I refuse to see our species fall, even if our coven is no more," he continued, removing CD from his jacket. "On this CD, you will find a full ledger of coven resources, as well as the combined histories of the European and New World Covens. I will assign two of my last Death Dealers to accompany you. You will leave the coven, tonight, and go into hiding. I do not want to know where you are going. Should this coven fall, there will at least be some remnant of our race."
The last of the scattered pack arrived at the Earthmoving contractor's vehicle shed shortly after midnight. While the members spent some time renewing old acquaintances and greeting kin they hadn't seen for decades, or longer, the work went quickly. The pack had been preparing for this day for decades; updating the plan as technology changed and kinsmen had been shuffled into and out of the designated team. The assembled lycans quickly loaded a bulldozer onto a trailer and opened a hidden weapons cache. There hadn't been time to construct ultraviolet rounds, like Selene and Tanis had described, but John was still confident about the outcome.
The Eastern sky was just beginning to lighten when the kinsmen set off on Interstate 10, loaded in tour busses and following the trailer and bulldozer. John looked at the sky, smiling at the fact that it would be a very bright, sunny day when they reached New Orleans.
The on-duty Death Dealer's eyes nearly bugged out of his head when he answered the telephone. He knew that Mr. Lecoq did not like being disturbed during the day, but this was clearly one of the exceptions.
"What is it?" Lecoq's voice demanded over the intercom system.
"A call for you, sir," the Death Dealer answered. "I believe it won't wait."
"Who could be calling for me at this time of day?"
"Where is she located?" Lecoq gasped, scrambling out of bed.
"Just outside the mansion's gate."
"I'm not going to trade false pleasantries," Lecoq said into the telephone, after he had taken a few minutes to compose himself. "I assume that you know what actions I took, just as I assume you are about to make demands from me. Why don't you tell me your demands and we can try to reach some form of accommodation?"
"Our discussion will come later," Selene's voice came back over the phone. "There is another, with me, who has a greater grievance with you."
"I assume I'm speaking with Mr. Lecoq," a male voice declared over the phone. "And that you're the New World Coven's regent. Your Death Dealers raided my kinsman's ranch and killed him. Of course, I took action, and these actions cost me another kinsman and cost you all of your team."
Lecoq flinched at the loss of his highly trained fighters.
"Now, you probably did what you needed to do, as did I. I've also taken some further action. If you look on your perimeter cameras, you'll notice a couple of your busses outside. These busses happen to be full of eighty heavily armed and highly trained fighters. You'll also notice a bulldozer. One word from me, and the bulldozer will crash through your fence and right into your mansion. The fighters will be right behind it. I notice that it's a nice sunny day out today, so I don't think you want any holes in your walls."
"Perhaps we could talk about this," Lecoq suggested.
"Funny," John replied, with a smile in his voice. "I was about to suggest the same thing."
The end proved to be wonderfully non-dramatic, as far as Selene was concerned. John walked into the coven's mansion at the head of a squad of lycan soldiers, where he met with Mr. Lecoq. Somehow, the cultured, urbane Mr. Lecoq got along very well with the folksy, practical John. The first order of business was to call a truce. The vampire and lycan didn't so much resolve their hostilities as discover that they didn't have any hostilities to resolve.
With the tension reduced, the two leaders discussed the immortal war in Europe. This discussion was facilitated after dark that night, when the vampires' mobile rig, with Tanis aboard, showed up. Thoroughly cowed to find himself between three factions he hoped to play against each other, he provided information with no restraint. By the time Mr. Lecoq turned in for his day's rest, a basic plan was in place. This plan became finalized over the next two days.
Mr. Lecoq's duty was to travel to Europe, with Erika and a small party, to make contact with the vampires still living on that continent. His goal was to halt the infighting amongst the vampires, as well as the attacks against the lycans.
John's duty was to travel to the same continent and deal with the lycans. All parties hoped that his age and air of authority would be sufficient to reign in the justifiably paranoid packs, and forge an organization much like the one he had formed in North America.
Finally, Selene and Michael would travel to Europe with Tanis. Their goal was to reform the Cleaner Organization, as well as assist the lycan elder and the vampire regent. More and more odd stories were emerging from Eastern Europe, and soon credible authorities would start to take notice and dare to believe.
It was time to put an end to the immortal war.
It was time to start picking up the pieces.
A/N: Yes, it was a short chapter and a bit of a cliffhanger, but please indulge an aging man his vices! I would really like to thank everyone who read and reviewed this, my first Underworld Fanfic. It was a fun ride. At the time I post this chapter, that big, cruel entity known as reality has been demanding more and more of my time. Once I get some things caught up in this strange world, I'll consider a sequel. Thanks again, everyone.
As always, my fondest thanks go to Joe Stoppinghem, for his beta services.
Until we meet again, best wishes: