Before I say anything else, please let me state here that I do not own any of the characters appearing in any of the Underworld series of movies. This story is not intended to generate profit, merely to provide entertainment.
This story is the sequel to my earlier work, "Picking up the Pieces." Trust me, you'll be very confused if you don't read this earlier story before reading this one.
That said, please enjoy the story and if you feel so inclined, leave a review so that I can improve my work.
Chapter One: Goodbye to Home.
"This seems really strange for me to say to you but Selene, will you please quit fidgeting?"
Selene looked at her companion with an expression that mixed annoyance, amusement and chastisement. He was right, of course. The chartered airliner had taken off just after sunset, flying east over the Atlantic. In the three hours it had been in the air, she hadn't been able to relax. Michael, exhausted from helping the combined lycan and vampire force prepare for the trip, desperately needed his sleep. Her constant squirming, while seated next to him, made this impossible.
"I can't settle down," she told him. "I'll find an empty seat so you can rest." She gave him a quick peck on the cheek before getting up to find a spot where her uneasiness wouldn't irritate anyone else. There wasn't a whole lot to work with.
The airliner was neither a cargo plane nor a passenger aircraft. Instead, it was something of a hybrid. Roughly three-quarters of the passenger compartment had been converted into a cargo hold, leaving limited seating choices. Selene didn't really feel like sitting next to any of the twenty-some fellow travelers. While she was allied with the North American Pack, she really didn't consider them friends. Although she was no longer a death dealer, several lifetimes spent hunting lycans wouldn't allow her to set her aversion aside in such a short time. She wasn't the only one. She had gained a reputation among the werewolves and the New World Pack had done its best to keep track of the European Underworld War. Her fellow passengers were all lycans and well aware of how many of their species she had eliminated over the centuries. Although they were disciplined and stoic, Selene had no doubt that they were more than willing to eliminate the lycan killer.
John, the lycan elder she hadn't even heard a rumor of a month ago, motioned to her. He gestured towards the empty seat next to him. How different he was from the elders she had known! Amelia had been somewhat kindly but very aloof. Marcus's temper had been so unpredictable and his anger so terrible that few vampires in the coven wanted to be anywhere near him. Even her patron, Victor, had been strictly imposing, demanding that all underlings recognize and respect his authority. John was more of a stern yet caring father, encouraging his charges to grow and contribute to the pack's well being.
"I take it you're having trouble resting," he observed, as she took the seat he had indicated.
"A force of habit, elder," she replied. "An aircraft's body doesn't provide enough shelter from sunlight to protect a vampire. Until a few weeks ago, flying to the east would have been risky to the point of beeing foolhardy. Although I know we're due to land in Dublin a full hour before sunup, I cannot discard centuries' worth of caution so quickly."
John frowned at the honorific she used to address him. This was another habit she could not discard. While Amelia, Marcus and Victor had all demanded to be addressed as 'elder', John preferred his pack to call him 'sir'. This, a title of respect but not veneration, further differentiated him from his European counterparts. The lycan did, however, smile at her explanation.
"It would be foolish if you discarded your caution," he told her. "It's what keeps us alive but I don't think that the sun is the only thing that has you worked up."
"I'm nervous about what we're going to find back in Europe," she admitted.
"So you've already said. Now, it's just the two of us speaking, no Tanis and no Michael. Tell me everything."
For a moment, Selene hesitated. She still didn't fully trust this lycan elder who had kept his pack hidden for so long. However, she realized that there was no holding back now.
"I have grave doubts about some of the senior coven members, who weren't at Ordoghaz when Marcus destroyed it."
"You've already reported this," John observed. "But you carefully managed to avoid mentioning why you were concerned. The time for caution is well past. Either we deal with this now or we're all in grave danger."
"You are correct of course, eld…er…sir. I can recall three ambitious coven members who were away from the mansion on business when Marcus awoke. These three business executives have not experienced combat with either humanity or the lycans." Here, Selene halted and looked at the elder with an almost fearful expression.
"I don't hold your past against you," John assured her. "We've all done some things we might later regret. I learned the hard way to just forgive and move on."
"When does a willingness to forgive cross over into being too passive?" Selene asked.
"I'll let you know when I figure it out myself," John told her, with a self-mocking grin. "Anyway, these business executives haven't had to dodge bullets and heal from beatings…"
"And like a youngster playing one of these…video games…they don't realize just how unpleasant violence is," Selene completed his thought. "They've never seen a friend or comrade torn or blasted apart. Furthermore, they were mesmerized by tales and histories of the time when the coven openly ruled humanity in Victor's province."
"Before the mortals developed the technology to counter immortal advantages?"
"Exactly, sir. These business executives have openly asked why we don't set up another feudal fiefdom, where human serfs pay a tithe in blood and we rule openly."
"You can't be serious!"
"I wish I weren't, sir. They honestly think that vampire strengths can overcome human numbers and technology. Not only that, they have access to the coven's wealth and other resources. Sir, I feel it very likely that one or more of these three may attempt to acquire the resources they need to execute such a plan."
"And doom all immortals, as well as a sizable number of mortals, when the mortals realize we exist." John finished.
"Dooming humans?" Selene asked.
"I prefer the term mortal," John tersely corrected the younger immortal. "And I'm serious about this. If the mortals become aware of our existence, there's going to be a witch-hunt the likes that the world has never seen! Everyone who's a little different, who has habits that sets himself apart from those around him is suddenly going to be accused of being either a lycan or a vampire. Of course, we'll be obliterated as a side effect."
This brought Selene up short and drove home, once again, just how different John was from her coven's elders. One of the coven's prime beliefs, at the very core of coven life, was the absolute conviction that vampires were the supreme species on earth. John not only refused to place his lycans above humanity, he held fast to the conviction that both lycans and vampires were humans. With this belief in place, John had managed peaceful, if deceptive, coexistence with his fellow man.
"Forgive me sir," Selene dropped her gaze, acknowledging his authority. "But I remain more concerned about immortals. Yet I believe both of our goals are met with the same action. We must end the underworld war."
"You have no argument from me. I only hope that my kin and I can reign in our cousins in the old country."
"I've had trouble understanding your concerns," Selene admitted. "The European Packs are nowhere near as capable and strong as your organization."
"We're not dealing with a strictly military solution. This is cultural and political, as well. Ultimately, the European Packs and the remnants of the coven are going to have to decide, themselves, to quit fighting. This could be rough, since the hatred is so ingrained."
"You think that we're incapable of recognizing this?"
"I'm not saying that my European Kin are foolish, just conditioned. Use yourself as an example. How many times did you kill lycans, even when you risked mortals observing you? You told me about the encounter that you had when the lycans first tried to grab your companion. When the bullets first started flying through the subway, you should have cut and run but thwarting your enemy was more important to you than avoiding discovery."
Selene was stunned by this revelation.
"This is what we're going to be fighting; ingrained hatred and simply crushing the belligerents isn't going to be enough. We have to enforce limits and set boudaries that both sides will accept. Ultimately, the coven and the packs are going to have to accept any peace in order for it to work. We're not strong enough to force the peace down their throats so we're going to have to use a delicate mixture of diplomacy, logic and brutal violence. A whole lot's riding on our success." After a pause, he admitted, "the lycans are probably going to be worse than the bloods."
"Why do you believe this, sir?"
"We have a scouting report, of sorts, on the bloods. Add to this, your coven's been living among the mortals for centuries, keeping just out of the public's full awareness. My cousins have been ground under heel, fractured. This means that there isn't a single, governing body to deal with. While the bloods might have some breakaway elements, the infrastructure's in place. The packs are one, big breakaway element and I don't know very much about them. One group might be agreeable to peaceful coexistence while the next one might be more interested in revenge and react violently to anyone promoting peace."
"So we execute the plan we came up with back in New Orleans?"
"Exactly. My pack and I will try to track down and convert the European Packs. We have a few contacts, which will hopefully put us on the trail of more. It's going to be a long time before I head back west."
"At least you'll have a home to return to," Selene pointed out. "None of the coven's elders ever dared to leave power behind. It was too easy for an ambitious lieutenant to seize control. Your pack is more like a big family and will welcome you back with open arms."
"I'll be able to return to my pack but not to Farrier Ranch," John's face showed his sadness. "I lived there for almost a century so it was probably time to move on anyway." He shook his head. "I gave the order shortly after we moved on the coven in New Orleans. The pack is relocating even as we speak and to a place none of us on this plane know about. By now, my staff has picked one of their members, at random, to select a new headquarters. Any of us who survive this trial will have some names to contactwhen we return but we'll all be homeless until our kin guide us to the new den."
"Have you returned to Europe since leaving originally?" Selene found herself honestly curious and enjoying the conversation with this man whom, up until a few weeks ago, she would have considered a mortal enemy.
"Only once. I only visited the western nations. I never got to the east to see my old stomping grounds."
"Oh? How did you travel? Was travel still by ship at the time or did you travel by air?"
"I shipped from the U.S. to England and flew to France. I returned by ship to England before flying to Holland. After that, I traveled by land back to France, then to Belgium, then to Germany."
"That seems a rather odd tour plan," Selene noted.
"I can't really blame my tour guide," John was smiling again. "Ike had to send us where the fighting was and the Germans weren't making it a pleasant trip."
"You fought in the war?"
"101st Airborne. I had mastered the art of passing normal food through my system about a half-century before that war broke out. I enlisted and volunteered for the airborne forces."
"Didn't this risk exposure?"
"Yeah but I still believe that the risks of not doing anything were even worse. If the other side had won the war, they would have eventually figured out that we exist. I joined up to help tilt the outcome as much as I could."
"And nobody suspected?"
"Oh, my unit knew there was something…odd…about me but they didn't complain. They never realized that I was using a wolf's sense of smell, they just knew that I somehow knew where the mines and snipers were. They weren't about to question how I could be so darn effective on nighttime patrols, they just accepted that I could keep them alive."
"Did any of the officers suspect that you were different?"
"The lieutenant knew that something was up but he wasn't about to make any noise. I wasn't the only lycan to serve in the war, there were a few on either side. Privates, sergeants and lieutenants suspected something was up but the generals and political leaders never suspected a thing. You probably know more than I do about what went down in Eastern Europe."
"The coven went to ground and waited out the war," Selene informed him. "The Death Dealers quit hunting lycans and concentrated on keeping our existence a secret. I spent those years first eliminating curious Gestapo agents then making Soviet Intelligence agents vanish. When the war ended, we found that the packs had expanded and grown stronger. It took us decades to suppress them again."
"And now you're working with us."
"To a common goal sir. I assure you…"
"I've already told you that I don't hold a grudge," John gently chided her. "I think we've made the best plans we can. My blood counterparts, riding in back, will try to establish contacts with the European Coven's remnants and reign them in. My packmates and I will try to track down our counterparts and get them to stop. Tanis and his companion will be responsible for trying to reactivate the cleaners."
"What about Michael and myself?"
"I see you two as troubleshooters," John explained. "Going wherever things are going wrong. The two of you'll also make sure that none of us try to doublecross the others."
"You suspect the vampires in the cargo compartment?"
"And they suspect me," John nodded. "And with good reason. Selene, you and Michael are in a unique position. Neither of you is connected to an established group. After Victor's betrayal, you have no love of either coven or pack. You're also not a scoundrel, like Tanis. At the end of the day, you're a survivor and you'll do what's necessary to survive. Right now, that means ending the underworld war. After that, I hope we can remain allies, if not friends." He paused for a moment. "Selene, you've had a great deal of experience living as an immortal but you haven't had a great deal of experience living, if you understand me. In addition, your companion hasn't had much experience living as an immortal. My pack has been teaching new immortals how to live among their mortal kin for centuries and we've done a pretty good job of it. Once we finish this mission, I'd like to help the two of you find a peaceful life."
"I'd like that, as well."
Aft of where John and Selene spoke, in the aircraft's cargo hold, several vampires rode in the dubious comfort provided by the New World Coven's mobile rig.
"Are you sure this rig will save us if daylight catches us still in the air?" Erika demanded.
"If it fails to protect us, you will be free to chastise me with your dying breath," Mr. Lecoq noted. "However, since we find ourselves in a difficult situation with untested allies, perhaps we would be better served making plans as opposed to expressing our paranoia."
"My apologies, elder," Tanis stepped in. "My companion hasn't been through the occasional power upheavals that we have experienced. As such, she's taking her first such crises harder than I am."
"I'm not an elder yet," Lecoq corrected the historian. "But I accept your apology. For all the fact that you are a self-proclaimed scoundrel, you are still the only vampire with extensive, lycan experience. Can we trust John and his followers?"
"Selene has had much more experience than I have," Tanis pointed out.
"I don't count shooting them while dodging fangs and claws to be experience," the regent quipped, dryly. "You're the only one of us who has had business and social contacts with a lycan pack and lived to tell the tale. Now, I know that you're going to be sorely tempted to twist your answer to your own benefit but I must remind you that we're dealing with a very serious situation. Can we trust these lycans?"
"To the best of my knowledge, yes." Tanis answered. "At least until this crises is resolved. Should we prove successful, they will not turn on you. However, the days of vampire supremacy over the lycans is over, as long as they remain a cohesive force."
Lecoq nodded. "I can learn to accept a civil, lycan presence, especially if they police their own. Now, how will an organized lycan presence affect our chances at success?"
"It's hard for me to say," Tanis admitted. "We actually have a better chance of success with Victor and Amelia gone. Don't glare at me like that! While I revere Amelia's memory, even you have to admit that she was a staunch lycan-hater."
After another few moments of glaring at the historian, Mr. Lecoq nodded his admission.
"As a historian, I might have a different perspective on this than most others," Tanis continued. "A new day, for better or worse, is about to descend upon the covens. For centuries, we fought the lycans. Sometimes we held the upper hand; sometimes we were driven into hiding. I've survived both situations and I can assure you that holding the upper hand is vastly preferable. However, we cannot sustain this situation any longer. The heirs of both Marcus and William must either make peace of fall to a paranoid, human race."
"I've already grasped that fact," Mr. Lecoq reminded Tanis. "Now, what are our chances of convincing our European counterparts that this is fact?"
"The European coven isn't composed of idiots," Tanis informed the regent. "But the hatred is ingrained. The European packs are in a similar situation. Furthermore, the leadership of both pack and coven was determined to maintain power. For the coven, the lycans were a convenient scapegoat, a way of keeping the rest of the coven focused upon an outside threat. How many vampires would refuse to serve and support Victor, when they were convinced that the lycans would crush them if they denied the elder the resources he needed to keep us safe?"
"Do you honesty believe that our species have spent the last seven centuries in bloody conflict because the elders wouldn't share power?"
"Not exclusively," Tanis shrugged. "There are a multitude of contributing factors. Should we eliminate just a few of these factors, the inter-species war will come to an end."
"So do you see our mission as being relatively straightforward?"
"Not at all!" Tanis insisted. "The majority of lycans and vampires will be easy to convince. It is the rogue elements that concern me the most. There are always a few who refuse to accept a non-dominant role. There are sure to be a handful, both vampire and lycan, who won't give up their hate. If we prove unwilling or incapable of dealing with these elements, our efforts will fail. That's why we need to reestablish the Cleaners."
"How can humans succeed where vampires fail?" Erika demanded.
"Politics," Tanis shrugged his shoulders again. "The Cleaners will become the ultimate 'somebody else', like they have in the past. Consider this, one of your charges becomes too ambitious and risks exposing the entire coven. You must eliminate this individual but he turns out to be very well connected. If you eliminate him, you risk civil war within the coven. If the lycans eliminate him, interspecies war could erupt. However, if the Cleaners eliminate him, the remainder of the coven can bemoan his loss and the lycans can take comfort knowing that the uppity blood has been taken care of."
"Do you really think that we are all so childish as that?" Lecoq demanded. "Do you think that your own species has lived for centuries, unable to make a difficult decision?"
"In a word, yes," Tanis replied. "Most of us feared Victor, some of us hated him but all of us respected him. He owned the coven, as much as he made the pretense of sharing power with Amelia and Marcus. He had the political power and will to force his decisions upon the rest of us. Now, we have no true elders. You're the closest thing we have left and can you honestly say that you can handle the fallout if you ever have to kill one of your chief advisors?"
"I concede your point," the adjutant told the historian. "How long will it take you to reestablish them?"
"I honestly don't know. I only have a handful of contacts to work with."
"Very well. I believe I can establish a group of elderly, yet capable former Cleaners organized and in operation within a year."
"That quickly? I thought you said that the retired Cleaners were told to never speak to each other."
"Mr. Lecoq, you should know as well as I that orders do not preclude friendship. These men have repeatedly faced terrifying, life-threatening situations, side-by-side. While they have kept their interactions discrete, they have undoubtedly kept in touch. Once I convince the first one that it is necessary to come out of retirement, he will get in touch with his fellows, who will do the same. This will set off a chain reaction, which will reawaken the military arm very shortly. It is the support structure that concerns me."
"The finances," Lecoq favored the rogue with a knowing grin. "Alexander Corvinus spent centuries acquiring a great deal of wealth."
"Which we need to finance the Cleaners' operation," Tanis countered. "These men need to be equipped, fed, and cared for. They need transportation, intelligence and training. All of this costs money and this means we need to access this financial empire."
"And you won't mind taking a cut, as well."
"I make no secret of the fact that I'm a scoundrel. If you leave some money on the table, it's sure to find its way into my pocket. On the other hand, I'm aware of the fact that my best chance to survive is to play my part in this adventure. You can trust me to promote my self interest and I'm more interested in my own skin than anything else."
"Very well," Lecoq nodded. "When will you start?"
"Tomorrow evening. There is a gentleman named Mark Lippens who lives in Dublin. He's a former Cleaner and I can meet with him while you're arranging to fly the aircraft to the European mainland."
"You don't waste time."
"Like I said, I'm very serious about maintaining my life. Erika and I will see him tomorrow."
"The two of you?" Lecoq asked.
"The two of us," Erika demanded, at the same time. "Why the two of us?"
"You're another scoundrel, like me," Tanis smiled at his lover. "Between the two of us, we should be able to spot any double-crosses. Besides that, you happen to be very pretty. Middle aged men tend to be more receptive to offers from pretty young women."
"If he's a cleaner, he'll know that I'm older than his mother."
"True, but that won't make any difference. Besides that, you'll gain some experience dealing with such men. When we really get working hard, we may need to split up."
"I don't trust either of you," Lecoq declared.
"You would be foolish to trust either of us," Tanis assured him. "What you can trust is our desire to remain alive. Once we have assured our own survival, then you'll need to keep an eye on us."
"You look like you still have some questions," Brian told his charge. "Go ahead and ask."
"Okay, I don't really understand why we moved." Owen admitted.
"We moved because the bloods were on to us," Brian explained. "While we've moved several times in my lifetime, this is the most serious incident any of our graybeards can recall."
"What makes this time so bad?"
"First of all, four from outside the pack found out that we exist and where we operated from. Secondly, several packmates are heading to Europe on a very dangerous mission. If the bloods, or anyone else, capture them and either drugs or tortures them, they might give up the location. This meant it was time to leave."
"Okay, where are we?" Owen looked out over a wide landscape of rolling prairie.
"All I'll say is that you're in Alberta, north of Edmonton," Brian told him. "As you can see, we have a lot of work to do before we're as comfortable here as we were back in Montana."
"So that's why you're working me so hard."
"It's one reason," Brian smiled. "There are other reasons, as well. First of all, you still haven't come to grips with the excess testosterone the change has pumped into your system. You're short tempered and tend to act before you think. I know that you've gotten into a couple of fights with older packmates and that they've thumped you pretty hard. It's part of the learning process."
"How long will this all take?"
"It may take decades," the smile vanished from Brian's face. "You have a lot to master before you can leave our stronghold. You have to be able to control the change, you have to control your anger and you'll have to learn to pass normal food without taking harm. It's different with every one of us but the harder you work; the quicker you master these skills. Now, I have a question for you. Have you entertained any thoughts about sneaking away and trying to escape back to your old life?"
"No," Owen admitted, after a moment of thought. "I've thought of trying to find a telephone and call my parents to tell them that I'm alive but I can't come home but I realize that doing this won't help them. Why haven't I thought about escaping."
"It's another aspect of the change you've gone through. Wolves live in packs and follow the leader's directions. You've found a pack and John, our leader, told you to stay with us. Now, you're sort of wired to follow his instructions. We're your new family now and you're starting to find your place within it."
"So what happens next?"
"Next, you'll go back to the house and work over the sales figures. I know it sounds cold but the pack needs cash to interact with normal humans. The best way to get the cash is to transfer the assets we had back in Montana to our new property, discretely."
"I knew that! I meant, what happens to the pack."
"We do what we have always done. We endure, we adapt and we survive."