A/N: I am back! I'm sorry I kept you all waiting for so long. You don't want to know the details, because that's all very boring. Suffice to say I am at the point where I am waiting for my life to start, which it will, when I emigrate next year.
Chapter 46: Rising Flames
Logan charged through the corridors, leading the freed mutants. Chuck was telling him where to turn, and he himself had memorized the turns that his 'captors' had taken. The base was a maze of sterile white hallways. However, the stench of death and despair was always there. A lot of people had died here already. They passed by empty cages which, up until a couple of moments ago, had housed hundreds of weres and shifters in horrific cramped conditions which would have made PETA activists furious.
There were very few human soldiers remaining inside the base. Most of them were outside, doing battle with the combined supe army. He turned onto another corridor lined with heavy silver doors and windows of one-way glass. Inside were x-rays and microscopes and all manners of machinery. He didn't need to be a genius to know what was happening here. He'd been in enough labs in his lifetime.
At the end of that corridor, the mutants rejoined the weres. Most of them were naked. Many looked half-starved and it was taking all of Chuck's efforts to make sure they didn't start eating each other or something rather. That would have been terribly unpleasant.
A burst of machine gun fire struck him, sending him stumbling backwards, but only for a moment. Logan ignored the bullets that tore through his flesh as he leapt at the man who had fired them. All six of his claws were fully extended. He plunged the lengths of metal into the man's chest. The Kevlar vest could not protect the idiot who'd thought he could attack the Wolverine and get away with it. The claws went right through his muscles and bones and organs. Logan yanked out his claws. Blood spurted onto his face and he spat when some of it got into his mouth.
He didn't waste any time in thinking about the man he'd just killed. There were more where that one had come from. He dropped and swept out his leg, tripping up two of the soldiers before they could shoot him in the head. Just because it was totally ineffective didn't mean he enjoyed getting shot in the head. Quite the contrary, in fact. He kicked the guns away from the soldiers. Sookie caught one of them.
"You know how to use that, luv?" Jack asked Sookie as he eyed the machine gun in her hands.
"I've fired one before and don't call me love," Sookie snapped at him. As if to prove her point, she drove the butt of her gun into the groin of a soldier who'd been meaning to attack her from behind. The sweet southern belle really wasn't so sweet after all, which was just as well. Logan liked a little bit of spice.
"Eunuchy," said Jack with a little grimace.
"That ain't a word, bub," said Logan. "Now let's get out of this shithole before we get turned into hotdogs."
"I'm no hotdog!" protested Sparrow.
"Fine. You're Kentucky Fried Sparrow."
Battle surged. The scent of blood permeated the air, almost driving him to insanity. This was his element. This was where he thrived. Eric's sword cleaved through the skull of yet another foolhardy human who thought paradise awaited the man who could slay the largest vampire. "One hundred and seventy nine!" he declared.
"That's morbid, Eric!" shouted Marie over the rattle of machine guns.
"It's a competition," said Pam. "Eighty four!"
"You are very much behind, my child," said Eric, almost gleefully. He had no excuse. He knew his behaviour would be considered barbaric, but this was a fair battle, where both sides had an equal chance of winning, if they had met on a battlefield instead of in an ambush. However, there was no such thing as fairness in war. Nor were there rules. Well, not in the supe world. He grunted as a bullet tore through his flesh. Sharp pain lanced through him. He moved through it, letting it drive him. Just because he healed quickly did not mean it didn't hurt.
The man took aim again, but before he could fire, he was down with a bullet in his forehead. When Eric fought, most people paid attention only to his sword. Granted, it was very noticeable, but that didn't mean that his enemies should ignore the gun in his other hand. This was a different world from the one he'd been born into, and Eric Northman hadn't survived for so long by remaining the same. He had no love for guns, but he would never deny that they were useful.
The supes pushed through the humans' ranks, using their nature-given strength. A humvee was thrown into the air by a blast of magic. Gravity worked its magic a few seconds later when it fell onto the human soldiers, scattering and crushing them. Perhaps Balian had had a reason in sending that boy Alexius. A wizard certainly was very useful in such a situation.
The sirens blared and the lights were flashing. Logan found himself standing outside the compound, breathing in cool night air tainted with the metallic tang of blood which made his inner beast rear up. It wanted blood. It always wanted blood. Perhaps he wasn't so different from a vampire after all.
He threw himself into the melee, not caring that his enemies had machine guns and Kevlar armour. His claws penetrated the skull of an unlucky man. He was baptized by blood. It drenched him. Every inch of his body was covered with it. The metallic scent drove the beast inside him into a frenzy. He tasted their fear, their hopes, their dreams as they poured out with the blood. It was intoxicating in a terrifying way.
Bone splinters and pale pink semi-solid matter covered his claws. He promptly plunged them into another man's chest, feeling them go through armour, muscle and bone. He heard the man's heart stop beating and felt the life leave him. There was a kind of twisted thrill in knowing that you had the power to decide whether someone lived or died. The beast revelled in it. Logan didn't want to think about it. He killed because he had to survive, and if he didn't kill, he'd be killed. There had never been a time in his life when he hadn't been hunted, which was why he'd been so sure Magneto had been hunting him when, in fact, the metal mangling militant mutant had been after Marie. And the more he killed, the more other people wanted to kill him. It was a cruel cycle, but what could he do? He was pretty sure he'd been born this way.
The Fellowship and government soldiers were being pushed back rapidly. The supes closed in on them until they were completely surrounded. They might have had the superior weapons —that was, until Sibylla and the other monarchs had their secret weapons' caches shipped here— but they were no match for so many angry supes.
A mist of blood filled the air. Death and violence was sometime inevitable. Logan hated it, but this was his life, his gift, and his curse. He was a highly evolved killer with weapons to match. He pulled his claws out of a dead soldier and charged on. The only way to prevent more death was to ensure this battle ended as soon as possible. That could not be achieved without more killing. It was a vicious cycle.
Victory. They had victory! Marie felt light headed with excitement as the remaining Fellowship soldiers and scientists were rounded up and divested of their weapons. Many of them had died and the others had mostly fled. Their fear and hatred could not dampen her spirits. Finally, after running for so long, they were getting somewhere. Jesus might have told His followers to turn the other cheek, but damn, she was no saint and she'd had enough of turning her cheek.
All around her, people were cheering and hugging each other. For a brief moment, weres and vampires forgot they didn't like each other and the vampires forgot they didn't actually really like anyone. Marie searched through the crowds. There was one person she wanted to see in particular, and it wasn't so hard to find him. He was glorious, even when covered in the blood of his enemies. In fact, while it might be completely macabre, he had never looked more glorious then now, standing as the victorious king on a battlefield, covered by the blood of his enemies. His unsheathed sword gleamed in the light of the scattered fires. His eyes met hers across the sea of corpses. He grinned, and before she knew it, she was in his arms and his lips were on hers, hungry and insistent.
She reciprocated with just as much fierceness. Pride surged within her. She was proud of him, proud of herself, proud of all of them. It was an achievement that could not be overlooked. Somehow, against all odds, all these people who didn't even like each other had managed to band together and do something that might just change the odds of this fight for survival. In fact, this victory was just as improbable as a mutant girl and a vampire king.
"We won, my warrior queen," said Eric when he finally let go of her. "We won."
"I never doubted you," she said. "But I'm not your queen."
"That can be changed, if you so wish," he whispered huskily.
He left her standing there, her mouth slack with shock. Surely he didn't intend to make her the Queen-in-exile of Louisiana? No, he was probably just thinking of the upcoming bonding ceremony which had no set date now that they were so busy with surviving. It wasn't that she didn't want to marry Eric —she'd daydreamed about it several times— but she couldn't imagine he would take himself out of the marriage game like this. He might have promised not to marry anyone, but simply teasing the other monarchs by making them think he might be open to marriage proposals could give him a lot of leverage.
But…what if he really meant to marry her? As in properly? The thought made her dizzy and lightheaded. She was still thinking about it when they got back to the tunnels. Luckily, taking stock of their ammunition supplies was a pretty robotic job and she could do it without thinking. It wasn't so different from taking stock of Fangtasia souvenirs.
"I never thought I'd say this," said Sookie, surprising Marie from behind. The telepath was lucky Marie didn't shoot her. "But Eric Northman is not a complete asshole, it seems." The older woman's eyes were glowing, and her face was covered with the tell-tale signs of beard burn. Who the hell had she been kissing that put her in such a good mood? Usually, Sookie wasn't the type that got excited over bloody victories.
"I thought you were going to stop reading my mind without my permission," said Marie.
"I tried, Cous, but you were broadcasting very loudly," said Sookie with a smirk. "I'm happy for you. He really does care, doesn't he?"
"I've known that for a while," said Marie. She was dying to ask Sookie what had made her happier than the cat that ate the cream and the goldfish as well. Finally, the telepath caved.
"I hope you're not going to be mad at me," she said sheepishly. "But Logan and me, we—"
"Logan?" Marie all but screeched. The political complexities of marrying a vampire king were all but forgotten. It took all her willpower not to seize her cousin by the arms, sit her down and force her to tell her everything, down to the very last sickening mushy detail. Although, knowing Logan, there was probably minimal mush, but lots of x-rated material. Had he and Sookie gotten that far yet?
"He's a great guy, Marie," said Sookie, crossing her arms. "You of all people should know that."
"I know that better than anyone else, but you and Logan…"
"Is there something wrong about that?"
Marie couldn't put her finger on it. Rationally speaking, there was nothing wrong with it at all. Logan and Sookie both deserved some happiness, and if they could find it with each other, then shouldn't she be happy for them? But Marie knew Logan and she knew Sookie too. Logan came with a whole lot of baggage and Sookie had the tendency to run away from problems, or at least try and pretend they didn't exist. Logan needed someone who could take him and love him for what he was, not just the idea of him.
She checked to make sure both her gloves were on before dragging Sookie over to a more secluded corner of the tunnels, behind the boxes of grenades and bullets. "Look," said Marie. "I'll make this as clear as I can. I want the both of you to be happy. You deserve it, and if you can make each other happy, then I'm happy for you, but I swear, Sook, if you hurt him, you'll answer to me."
"Shouldn't you be saying this to him rather than me?" asked Sookie.
"Because he's a man?"
"That, and I'm your cousin and he's indestructible."
Marie sighed. "So it would seem, but Sook, he's fragile. Jean Grey already broke his heart, and I don't think he can take any more of that."
"You really love him, don't you?"
"More than anyone else in the world, perhaps with the exception of Eric, and even that's dubious. Logan took me in when I had nowhere else to go. He's been on my side in everything from day one. Even if the whole world turned its back on me, I know he's the one person I can always rely on to be on my side."
"Listen, Marie. I know how important he is to you, and I know how important he is to me. I owe him my life. I would never hurt him, I swear. You don't have to worry."
"I know you wouldn't hurt him intentionally, but — I don't know how to put this in a gentler way, I'm sorry— but you have a tendency to ignore problems when they don't gel with your definition of a normal life."
Sookie gaped at her, probably with the intention of protesting. Marie ploughed on before her cousin could say anything.
"I'm entrusting him to you, and I swear, I will tell him all about your infatuation with Winnie the Pooh products if you so much as mention any of this to him."
"What, you don't want me to tell your best friend you threatened to kill me if I didn't treat him well?" asked Sookie.
"Logan's a very masculine guy with old fashioned ideas of what he should or should not be. Unless you want to help him nurse a bruised pride, you'll keep quiet. Trust me, as much as I love him, I tend to stay well clear of him when he's like that."
Sookie grinned. "I promise," she said. "I won't hurt him, and I won't let anyone else hurt him either."
He hated it down in these dank, dark tunnels. He hated being surrounded by abominations of nature. Most of all, he hated that he was counted as being one of them. Jake Purifoy was a werewolf. He hadn't chosen to be one but that was what he was. All his life, he'd just wanted to be normal. Instead, he'd shifted in the school car park on the night of his senior prom, scaring his girlfriend so badly his parents had had to hire a vampire to erase her memories of that night.
Jake just wanted to fit in. Was that so much to ask? He glanced around to make sure no one was watching him. They were all too busy with whatever business they had. He made his way towards the entrance of the tunnels and slowly climbed up the ladders, carefully listening to make sure no one caught him. Once he reached the surface, he ran. If he gave the humans what they wanted, then perhaps they would realize he belonged with them.
The night was quiet. No one frequented this part of the city. It had 'Danger! Keep Out!' pretty much plastered over every barbed wire fence and abandoned factory building. Powdery drizzle dampened his hair and created puddles on the broken concrete. Rain was good. It washed away his scent trail so no one would be able to follow him.
It wasn't hard to find the local police station.
Steve Newlin could almost pity the boy standing in front of him, if he could even be called a boy. He was an unnatural sub-human, just like all the rest of them, really. At least this one knew his place in the world. The sorry creature was staring at them hopefully, with a little bit of trepidation, as it told them everything about the missing fugitives; about one thousand of them.
"Ingenious," he said. "Hiding right beneath our noses."
"They have weapons, sir," said the wolf-boy. Newlin didn't bother to remember his name. He was just another future piece of dead meat, although he didn't know it yet. "Machine guns and missiles and a spy plane."
"A spy plane? How did they get a spy plane?" demanded Colonel Hoskins.
"They have illegal networks everywhere," said Jake. "I didn't get close enough to hear anything, but one of the vamper bitches, she's got anti-aircraft missiles and she used to have an arms contract with the government or something."
Newlin and Hoskins looked at each other and grinned. Sybille Royale. They'd hit jackpot. For so long, she'd been the untouchable one. All the other rich vamps could be taken down, but Royale, with her pharmaceuticals and arms contract, had had so much sway over congress she might as well have been one of the members. Not anymore. They all wanted to get their hands on her money. Unfortunately, she'd squirreled it away somewhere.
"We get Royale and we've won half the battle already," said Hoskins.
"What about Weapon X?" asked Newlin. "He's something to be reckoned with."
"He's one creature," said Hoskins. He turned to Jake. "Who else is in those tunnels?"
"A lot of people I don't know. Oh, Elizabeth Swann-Turner from Swann-Turner Enterprises. Um…some woman they call Helen of Sparta? Everyone is scared of her. Eric Northman, king of Louisiana—"
"King?" asked Newlin, leaning forward. "What do you mean by 'king of Louisiana'?"
"Oh, the vampers have kings and queens in every state. Northman's the new king of Louisiana. I think the vamper bitch with the missiles was queen of New York, and Russell Edgington was the king of Mississippi."
"I guess it's safe to say the demon leadership is all in those tunnels," said Newlin. "What do you think, Colonel? Do you think we can get authorization to launch a strike?"
"It's DC, and I doubt the Senate would be keen on bombing it, but I'll see what I can do," said Hoskins. "We could seal the tunnels and firebomb them. Even if it doesn't kill them all, it would take down at least half of them, and the rest of them…well, they'd have to eat sometime, I'd imagine."
"I like the sound of that," said Newlin. "So…son, where exactly are the fugitives sequestered?"
Theodora had a bad feeling in her stomach. She didn't know why, but she didn't like it, and if her past experiences had taught her anything, it was to trust her instincts, at least when it came to gut feelings. Somehow, she was always wrong about romantic partners, but that was another thing entirely. She didn't end up as part of the High Council because she was a fool.
All right, perhaps her father and her maker had had something to do with it. Balian of Ibelin, and now of Sicily, had been a kingmaker in life, and he was still the kingmaker in undeath.
The daywalker stalked through the dark damp tunnels, trying to find the source of her unease. There was a smell…and the familiar high pitched sound of an intricate bug. Most people —other vampires included— would not have recognized it, but Theodora had used enough spy equipment to know what it was.
"Hello there," she said as she approached a group of young weres. They parted to let her through. They didn't know who she was exactly, but they could tell she was important. Sometimes, it was a bonus; at others, it was a hindrance. It would be difficult to get them to talk to her if they thought she was one of the people in high places, which she was.
"Hi," said one of the boys cautiously. He was checking her out, scanning her from head to toe. She heard his heartbeat quicken just a little. He liked what he saw. Boys. They didn't really vary all that much. That was why she preferred men.
"Whatcha talking about?" she asked.
"Just wonderin' how long we're going to have to stay down here, that's all," said the boy. "You're one of the VIPs, aren't you?"
"Not really," said Theodora with a shrug. She wasn't really all that interested in what they had been discussing, but if she could stay long enough, perhaps she might be able to pinpoint where exactly the sound from the bug was coming from. Her eyes lit on another boy who reeked of nervousness and adrenaline. He shrank back when she looked at him, and his eyes darted about wildly, looking for an exit.
She swooped down on him and grabbed his wrist, twisting his arm behind his back so sharply that she almost dislocated the limb. A thin wire could be felt beneath his shirt. It was taped to his body, and it led to a bug that was both a mic and a GPS tracking device. It was one of the latest technologies. Government issue.
She crushed the bug beneath her heel, and then dragged the boy away, whilst his shocked friends watched on.
The boy struggled, but she was eight hundred years old and she was an ex-vampire. She could deal with an adolescent were who hated vampires and his own kind so much that he would betray them to a government that wanted to exterminate them all.
The rest of them were in another of their interminable meetings, arguing about what they should do next now that they had one proper victory under their belt. They looked up and stopped talking when they saw her.
"Sister, what is going on?" asked Sibylla.
"Ask him," said Theodora. "We've been breached."
There was silence. "You can't just go around accusing my pack members of betraying us," growled the Jackson packmaster. "You'd better have proof, girl."
"Is this good enough for you?" asked Theodora as she produced the crushed tracking device and dropped it on the makeshift table, on top of all their maps and blueprints.
Panic. It surrounded her, making Sookie feel sick as she absorbed all the fear around her as well as her own. How much time did they have? What had the government planned? Could they ever win?
"Come on, Sook!" shouted Jason. "We gotta get moving!" Her brother grabbed her arm and dragged her in the direction the crowd was heading, towards the exit to the ocean. It was daytime, and the perfect time for the enemy to attack, because the vampires would only be able to operate underground. If they were to survive the exodus, they were going to have go into the water in coffins and tarps. They could only hope that the attack would not come so soon, but no one had any idea when it would come. It could be tonight, it could be tomorrow night, it could be the next minute.
People surged through the tunnels, all desperate to get away from the place that half an hour ago, had been the only sanctuary in the world. It was like being pushed along by a flood, as people all tried to make their way to the exit. One could only hope that nobody was waiting to take them down there.
She and Jason joined up with Marie, who was directing people and trying to maintain some semblance of order in the chaos, even though she was as terrified as the rest of them. But she put on a mask of calm and spoke in soothing tones as she assured the terrified refugees that yes, they were going to be safe soon, and that the allied leaders knew exactly what they were doing.
In her heart, however, she doubted anyone knew what to do. The humans were forcing them on a path of no return. Well, perhaps they'd been on that path for a long while already and no one had realized it until today.
"At this rate, we'll never reach the ocean by dusk," Marie remarked to Sookie and Jason when they finally pushed their way through the crowd and got to her side.
"We have to try," said Sookie. "If Theodora's estimates are correct…"
"I hope she's just being a pessimist," said Marie, "but from what I'm thinking, the government will act as soon as they realize that they're no longer getting a signal from the tracking device. It will take them a bit of time to prepare and all that, but I don't think it would take too long."
She glanced further up the column of people. They were all carrying what meagre belongings they had. Crates of supplies were being pushed along on old wheelbarrows. Crying children were quickly hushed. Logan was there, pointing them in the right direction. These people recognized the Wolverine —he'd rescued more than just a few of them, after all— and his presence seemed to calm them somewhat. Sookie felt a surge of pride. Many people might not think much of Logan. He wasn't the wisest, the smartest, or the strongest, but there was something about him that distinguished him from all other men. Perhaps it was that inherent goodness in him.
"Where's Eric?" asked Sookie as she shuffled along with the crowd.
"At the front, leading them," said Marie. "He's always telling me that he doesn't know how to be king, but I think he's doing just fine. Helen and Theodora are bringing up the rear. I think we're about halfway there."
Sookie was inclined to disagree. Giving the rate of movement —about an inch per second, she would estimate— it would be a miracle if they were a quarter of the way there before the attack came!
All right, maybe she was just being a little pessimistic, but the past few days hadn't given her much cause to look on the bright side. True, they might have won one victory, and they might have a state of the art spy plane, but how was that going to help them now? They were just a rabble of people desperately seeking any way to survive. It didn't matter that some of them used to be the most powerful monarchs on the planet.
It was depressing, and she knew that if she continued to think that way, she might as well give up and die now. It would be easier and more painless. But deep down, she really wanted to believe that they had a chance, that perhaps, she would live to see another dawn. And maybe…when this was all over, she and Logan could get a nice little house somewhere out in the countryside, with a porch swing and a large yard for the kids to play in. And they could forget about this craziness, this war, this hate.
As if on cue, she found Logan walking beside her. "We'll get through this," he murmured. "I swear."
"On what?" asked Sookie. "You don't believe in God."
"But I believe in us," said Logan. "And we've been through so much already. What's one more thing? The fact that we are still alive means we are survivors, don't it?"
She was about to reply, but screams erupting from behind her made her forget everything she was going to say.
Soldiers in Kevlar armour wielding machine guns and flame throwers blocked their retreat. Not that Theodora had any intention of heading that way. She glanced at Helen. The ancient Greek vampire nodded. She'd expected this.
"Well, here goes nothing," she whispered as she took up a defensive position, with only a few dozen other supes supporting her. The rest were trying to speed up the fleeing crowd while preventing them from trampling each other. They might not have the numbers, but God be damned if they weren't going to put up a fight worth remembering.
The first line of soldiers fell under a hail of bullets. They fired back, hitting rebel soldier and civilian alike. Pain erupted in Theodora's thigh as one of them struck her. She fell to one knee, but forced herself up again. No Ibelin ever bent their knee to those inferior to them, and she was not going to be the first. Her father had, once upon a time, faced down an army a hundred times the size of his own, and he had negotiated a truce. Not that there was any way of negotiating a truce with these fanatics.
The sounds of the crowd were growing fainter as they disappeared down the passage, hopefully to freedom. She held down the trigger until all her bullets were spent, and then the men were surrounding her. One of them came too close. She snatched away his weapons and proceeded to use it to mow down more of her enemies, but they were too many, and she had been weakened too much. That was the downside to being an ex-vampire. She healed so much slower, and she tired much more quickly too.
Was that someone calling her name? Where were they? It sounded like her father, or perhaps her mother. Or was it Sibylla? Or Eric? She couldn't tell anymore. Blackness crept in on her. The pain was fading away. So was the noise.
Her last thought was of how furious her father would be if anything ever happened to her.