Title: Dark Tries

Author: Ageless Light

Beta-ed by: Unofficially by the second half of Agesless Light. But if someone would like to be my beta please PM me!

Main Characters/Pairing: Zacarias De La Cruz and Ashelia Sole (OC), Amelyn Stormcloud and Dominic Dragonseeker, and Iris Airan and Lojos Jaegar.

Genre: Romance/Fantasy/Paranormal

Summary: It was fated. Ashelia and Zacarias were meant to be together. They could have meant randomly, at almost any time since her birth or in any situation. These are just five different but alternative ways they could have met and started their life together.

Rating: T (Contains content suitable for teens and older)

Category: Writers Challenge, a collection of five separate one-shots.

Specifics of the Writers Challenge: Named The Five Ways Challenge. A challenge posed to an author where they are to publish 5 individual one-shots each depicting an alternative way characters can meet. It can be from any fandom and does not have to be relationship centered. Altering of time-lines is encouraged. This challenge is from a Live Journal community focused on SGA (where the second writer from Ageless light was originally challenged) before it was brought to me!

Author Notes: This fic is based upon Feehan's world combined with the Kylierion Empire of my own making. I would suggest reading Dark Moments, first in order to get a better understanding of the characters. Since this challenge just shows alternate ways they could meet, not everything is explained.

Spoilers: A/U. For this one-shot: Current up to Dark Curse.

Disclaimer: I do not own the Dark Series Universe or any of Christine Feehan's characters. I do own the OC's though. I went to babynamesDOTcom for my character names. The original concept of the Ways came from Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time Series. I however, have altered their purpose, make-up, and description to fit my fic. They are very different since I haven't even read the story, but if you like epic fantasy books; I encourage you to check them out.

Status: Continuous (Incomplete)

Created on: 1/12/2011

Word Count: 8,407

"Talk" – regular talking

Talk- Inner thoughts/ Flashbacks

"Talk"- Speaking telepathically


A/N: Please read the notices above, or this will not make sense.


Poisonous Thoughts

Part I

Small thin drops resembling needles, both in shape and in touch, streamed in sheets from the sky. The air was more than humid and the cool drops of water added a relief to the world below the heavens. The Montverde Cloud Forest stood quiet and majestic over one thousand miles above sea level. So when the rain fell in contact with the forest, it did so in a symphony of nature. Inhabitants of the forest could hear the raindrops as they traveled down to earth and in an explosion of noise that blanketed everything. The water sometimes touched the tall trees, or found that one opening to descend to the ground. Nourishing everything it came in contact with.

At times it was soothing and at other times it was irritating to the elementals, because depending on where they were in the base they couldn't even hear themselves think with all the noise.

Those with strong connections to the earth and water walked around in a peaceful calm, feeling invigorated with each passing moment. Many took a moment or two to stop and simply lay out in the open, allowing themselves to be encompassed by the elements. It often rained in the cloud forest but today only the flora and fauna retreated patiently waiting while the land was cleansed and its energy replenished. The rest of the inhabitants went about their business since there was no allowance for delays.

Deep within one of the protected ecological zones of the Montverde Cloud Forest Reserve, the Kylierion Empire privately owned land. As they had for centuries, and it was here where the largest war command and crisis center sprawled across the land. This center had been operational for several hundred years and was the most manned base in the western hemisphere outside of their homeland. Each department was self sufficient and was in range of several of the Way entrances. A perfect placement for offensive and defensive purposes.

Each building was tailored not only to the environment but to whatever department would inhabit it. Today in one of the classrooms at the medical ward, the occupants of the room had to practically shout to be heard. Not only were the balcony doors open but the room was located directly at canopy level. And the rain was merciless when it came in contact with the forest, uniting the earth and the sky. Fighting the urge to rub her temples, Ashelia Sole drudged on; just wishing the session was over.

"Now that she is stable you move on. With the next team member what is your biggest concern? What do you address first? And what is your reasoning for prioritizing his injuries in the order you did?" In a steady voice, Ashe called out over the murmur and gave the students the last part of their theoretical exam.

"Abdominal trauma. We already know that there was no penetration and we are probably dealing with a severe case of blunt force trauma." The youngest Orion, age 35, called out.

When the white blonde haired princess nodded in agreement the students began to address the question. The small groups conferred for a moment and then Vega took the lead.

"Abdominal injuries can be life threatening. It is a sensitive spot and a lot of damage can be done. If there is an injury in a retroperioneal space, it can bleed profusely. Those usually are the easiest to fix. But if there is an injury there, then there can also be a solid or hollow organ injury." Holding up a hand Ashe signaled to the girl that, that was enough. Picking another student out at random she motioned for him to continue.

"Vega is right. Let's pick the solid organs. First the liver and the kidney's; they can bleed a lot and send the victim into shock. The stomach is a solid organ and can be a source for causing infection. Then you have-" before he could finish a figure loped into the open doorway and interrupted. A medium sized leopard cat followed closely at his heels.

The cat was a yellow tan with dark rosettes on her coat and she sat gingerly on her hind legs. Turning her broad head towards the students she tracked them with golden eyes. None were shocked by the presence of a shifter. Many preternatural beings sought sanctuary within the Empire.

"Sorry to interrupt. But your teacher is a very important lady and I need a moment of her time." Jaeden shook his sienna colored hair while offering a shrug to the healers that were in the room. A lopsided grin was on his face but his eyes were clearly filled with worry.

Turning to one of his best friends, his teammate, and princess, all evidence of a relaxed posture disappeared. It was as if a switch was turned. All of the students had been a part of KATT for several years and they could easily relate to the pair in front of them at that moment

The number of field medics was down across the globe in every division and those with promise and basic healing skills were being personally taught by a Pure Healer to help increase everyone's survival rates. So for the class to be interrupted was cause for concern but mostly interest. All students leaned forward hoping to learn firsthand what was going on. The only thing that moved quicker than a killing blow by a KATT member in their society was gossip and information. Since their race was psychic they often had to invent unique ways to pass along treasured secrets without being detected. The students' musings were cut short as the honored Stone finally spoke.

"We are being deployed." His tone was even but gave no information due to witnesses.

"When?"

"Five minutes ago." Eyes the color of liquid amethyst widened then narrowed in surprise. It was odd, because an order could have been given psychically but it wasn't. There must have be a reason for such open secrecy. Turning back to the class she addressed them.

"Alright I have to go into the field and I do not know how long this will take. Your assignment,-" groans were heard over the pounding rain, but she merely ignored them and continued. "Your assignment is to write up a paper on abdominal trauma. I want specifics, people. You will go into detail about every organ and what you would have to address if someone got brought in on your shift with such severe injuries. I also want you describe the signs of such a trauma if you were in the field and trying to figure out who to heal first.

Since we didn't cover penetration or priority healings, I want you all to write a worst case study scenario. What if your victim had severe abdominal trauma from the penetration kind? Say from several stab wounds? Which organ would you choose to heal first and why? Medicines, recovery, transportation, and assistance all need to be addressed.

As for the rest of today; Vega and Orion will be going down to the training yard. You need to work on your speed. A field medic is always a target and you are a liability without proper evasion skills. Stormcloud and Zephyer, I want you to find Sterrling and accompany her on rounds. If she feels you can handle any cases on level 5 then I want you to do it and I want a medical report on each patient. As for the rest of you work on that assignment. You are dismissed." There was only a second of silence before both parties spoke the formal parting words to one another.

"May the Elements guide you."

"Our souls will forever serve."

A mixture of jealousy and concern filled those in the room as they watched the trio leave. For squad 15 to be deployed it meant something big was going on.

Ashe and Jaeden headed towards the debriefing room with the jaguar Gabrielle gliding alongside. The trio was quiet even their private psychic links were silent as they contemplated the reason for them to be activated. Gabrielle's presence was the leading clue for the other two. It was obvious; something was brewing in South America. And as citizens of the Kylierion Empire it was their job to get involved and police the supernatural world.


(Scene Change)

(Time: 2013, Brazil- 85 miles northeast of Pôrto Velho.)

"It's raining here too." Even through the team's common mental pathway it was easy to tell Iris was pouting. Though she was capable of responding, Ashe did not. Instead she was too focused on streaking across the Brazilian sky in tiny air particles, with passengers. Thankfully the rain was light here and didn't create an extra obstacle for them to travel through. With the battle coming up they could not waste any additional needed energy. Tia was too busy reviewing the information they had been given and hypothesizing how successful the chosen strategies were.

Many from the command center were surprised that the future head of the Airan House was put on active status. Last they had heard she was seriously injured and had been in a coma. The mission couldn't be completed smoothly without her though, so no one mentioned anything and put their trust in their superiors.

Days ago, a pair of female jaguars had stumbled upon an amazing turn of events and the Empire prayed they weren't too late to respond. Gabrielle and Marianna were given sanctuary, over five years ago, and eventually adopted by the Empire. Through past trauma and similar histories the women bonded and when Marianna passed all the necessary trainings, the women requested to be informants from the Amazon rainforest.

Since returning to the rainforest the pair of shifters had become painfully aware of what happened to their people and homeland. Their species was endangered and it came not from outside threats but from within. Over the past year the women made several successful missions to rescue captured female jaguars and to hunt those allied with Broderick.

When Marianna overheard of Solange Sangria's capture she sent Gabrielle through the Ways and followed the traitors. Soon she learned they were going to need more than a regular Kylierion squad to rescue the girl. It was obvious what had happened. Sangria was dangerous and often rescued other captured women and this time one of those rescue missions failed. Though neither of them had ever met the royal shifter, both Gabrielle and Marianna felt compelled to save another fighter like themselves. No one deserved to be treated like they had been, so long ago.

Days passed and copious amounts of information were discovered about the jaguar people, Broderick, and Solange's capture. The facility holding the royal shifter told the Kylierions much about the dealings in the Amazon. Mage, vampire, men, and jaguar had joined forces to accomplish the same goal. What that ultimate goal was no one was sure, but the Empire was determined to undermine such beings as best as they could.

There had been rumors about the increase of vampire activities in the area but the alliance of such beings caused the Empire concern and a full platoon had been dispatched from the war center in Costa Rica.

Carefully, almost fifty men and women were brought to South America. Their goal was multi-purposed. While sometimes an enemy's residence would be left undisturbed with only an information gathering squad staked outside this was not the case. What their enemies were doing were signs of war. And the Empire would respond in kind. It was their job.

The rescue of the two jaguar women were only one goal in this mission. The compound had to be destroyed and so did their enemies. But first they needed to gather information about the compound's purpose. Intelligence reported that it was a medical research facility. All senior staff members panicked, believing that discovery of the supernatural world was at hand. Or worse, some form of biological warfare that the vampires planned on using.

In this particular mission, the members of the Kylierion Advanced Tactical Team, or KATT squad, 15 were reassigned to other squads due to their particular areas of expertise. It took time but everyone managed to surround the compound. Undetected they waited, regaining strength and making sure their plans would work. Psychic sweeps were done lightly. The building of the layout was confirmed, as were the location of the research rooms and the holding cells.

Some of the more advanced Kylierions had sifted to their other forms and were holding two or even three others undetected. Dust particles clung to the trees and ground while the air sizzled with power.

The vampires were on edge as if they sensed the Kylierions but it could just as well have been the presence of the humans. The undead monsters had voracious appetites and the humans walking among them must have been testing their control. Tia and Captain Ray counted only two master vampires and it seemed that they had control over the recently turned. Vampires were arrogant, solitary creatures. Until now, there had never been reports of entire groups of vampires working together. No one knew what to make of it.

They hoped that the vampires would turn on each other but now they weren't sure what would happen when they attacked. The one mage would be taken care of first and a squad would remain in the tree line to take out the jaguars that would sure to run. Surprise was their best element and they would attack together and create chaos. They all had their marks. Captain Travis, a master of water manipulated the raindrops to connect in a specific pattern and then fall as one. That was the signal.

All of a sudden Ashe appeared; her form crouched, in the middle of the clearing right in front of the undead masters. The location was specifically picked. She was out of sight from the guns thanks to the barrier of monsters and the jaguars were too far away to get to her.

It took a moment for her presence to even be registered but by then her image blurred and she slammed a fist into earth. Tremors wracked the clearing and it sounded like booming thunder. An intricate network of spider web cracks branched out. Fissures opened up and swallowed a few of their enemies. Others were thrown off balance. The humans suffered the worse and their new wounds caused a stir among the vampires as blood was scented on the air. At the epicenter, she stood several feet deep within a crater.

Utilizing their infantry skills, the elementals attacked in specific order. The human guards fired their guns and shouted orders to one another. The forest as if sensing the clashing of predators came alive; nocturnal animals called out, watching, waiting. It wasn't safe for them to flee as it would only incite the predators. The Kylierions were quiet, using their common psychic links to the fullest and it clearly unnerved their enemies. Four elemental masters appeared and attacked the mage, each encasing him in their chosen element, before he could weave any magic. Only seconds had passed.

Lightening started to rain from the sky; the vampires had recovered and became organized ready to fight back. Though by then two squads already breached the premises and streaked in. An extended guard squad accompanied Ashe, while certain elementals snuck in through cracks or windows. Though it was one fight it was broken up into two different kinds of battles. The clearing was filled with chaos. There was no safe area and energy flew from all sides. Kylierions would surround the vampires only to find themselves surrounded in return. Molecules broke apart and coalesced at record speeds and only those with honed instincts survived.

The other fight was controlled, even orderly. The elementals moved with deadly precision as they gained control of the compound room by room.

Information was taken directly out of the minds of those they came across before they were mercilessly cut down. Some of the humans were not fully aware of what they had been involved in, and believed they were studying a virus. Those were killed quietly and painlessly. It was a shame, Iris thought. Those poor bastards manipulated into doing this. They thought they were doing good, on the edge of a medical breakthrough that would save lives. She glanced around at the room she was in and made sure the members of their research and development division were safe while they hacked into the computers and began collecting samples from the shelves and coolers. Evidence had to be retrieved quickly and safely. There could be no contamination or interference. Their scientists in Costa Rica would study what they gathered extensively here today and unravel the intentions of their enemies. The list of psyhic women was particularly unsettling to the research team.

The barrier at the door trembled for a moment and twin sai's appeared in the Airan's hands. The energy at the doorway did not affect sound and Iris could hear the roar of a challenge before two Kylierions ripped, what she thought was a male jaguar, apart.

"This is incredible." One of the men whispered to her left.

"It would be more so, if you could hurry it up." She sung back sweetly, twirling a sai restlessly.

"Don't distract them. This is serious." Ashe gave her best friend a mental shove and a glare. That little contact allowed Iris to learn the younger woman was just getting to the holding cells. Gabrielle and somehow Jaeden were with her. Kylierions must have infiltrated the cells beforehand and prevented the remaining jaguars from reaching the women.

A quarter of an hour passed.

Then another before both retrieval squads had the victims and research materials ready for transport. There was only the occasional burst of chatter along common telepathic bond now. Most of the fighting was over.

The teams were running sweeps now, making sure nothing was missed. Bodies were collected and any evidence of Kylierion presence was being destroyed slowly. The compound would fall next. The squads with Iris and Ashe met up before they reached the outside. Together they fell in line offering protection and support.

Jaeden and Travis were each holding an injured female shifter. A medium sized tan jaguar trotted ahead of the group. Once they reached the outside, a deep chesty cough was emitted from Gabrielle's throat. It was a roar filled with such feelings that everyone gave the female shifter some space to regain control of her thoughts and emotions. Several beings were able to glance at the injured women and recognized how serious their conditions were, before returning to their individual tasks at hand.

"Whatever purpose they were to serve was obviously not long term. She is fading fast. If she is to live we need to get her back to the med-ward." Jaeden spoke vehemently to no one in particular. Gabrielle suddenly appeared and nuzzled his leg while letting out a cry that could only be described as a keening wail. The Lycan dropped to his knees and grabbed the cat's head in his hands forcing their eyes to meet. Softly he spoke to her, reassuring his friend. Reminding her that Ashe was the best medic outside of America and she could save them both. After scratching her behind her ears he went to check on his charge since they would be separating shortly.

Captain Travis waved his hand and gave out the final orders. After exchanging nods with a fellow captain he moved elsewhere to supervise their soliders. A female elemental with strawberry blond hair and a Captain's mark approached.

"Status?" Ashe spared the older woman a glance before returning to her patients. The women were laid out side by side and the princess had a glowing hand on each of their chests. Her energy re-entered their systems and meticulously checked over their injuries and the emergency work she had done in the holding cells.

"They need to travel but probably shouldn't. Sangria's injuries surprise me. It looks like they took samples of her blood. Obviously they needed a control group for whatever experiments they were running and they left her alone for the first few days to ensure it was an accurate reading. But they definitely made up for it afterwards, though no signs of rape. I want to take her personally, because her internal bleeding is making me nervous. We need to get to the Ways and fast. The other one also needs more treatment. I did what I could to ensure she lives but I need to get her back to the med ward. Both have been contaminated by vampires." A flood of heat reached them as the piles of vampires' remains were destroyed. A dancing flame provided better light to all and soon it branched out. Tiny flames lapped up the black blood and the Kylierions just continued with their work.

"Larkspur and Airan are staying behind to take down the compound; I'll take the other victim. As long as we take an escort guard we can leave whenever you are ready." That was good news but their escorts could not sift and that made Ashe frown. Normally she would insist but time was a factor. Amethyst colored eyes became clouded and she merely nodded curtly.

With practiced efficiency she picked up the royal shifter and was careful not to worsen her condition. Looking down she addressed the unconscious woman.

"You are safe now. You have my word." The sight of the petite princess carrying such a large burden was a sight the Kylierions had become used to over the years. The shifter's larger physique was nothing to a Sole's enhanced physical strength and she just gathered her energy inward. Power sparked and soon the molecules connecting the women dispersed into the air. The other pair disappeared as well and soon Jaeden, Gabrielle, and a few others were accompanying them across the land at top speed.


Poisonous Thoughts

Part II


(Scene Change)

It had been several weeks since the De La Cruz brothers saw their head of house. Since he was close to turning, Zacarias stayed at another location away from their more populated properties. This was how it had been in recent years. Mysterious and elusive, was what he had become. So withdrawn not even his own brothers could find him when he did not wish it. And he did not wish to be found.

When one of his brothers was injured his presence was felt by all and for a time the De La Cruz family was whole once again. Even the families that served them, had gotten used to the almost regular appearance of the dangerous hunter. But it did not last and once Manolito had fully recovered, Zacarias retreated back into the forest; to continue to lead a solitary existence in a self-imposed exile.

When news reached the family of Solange's failed rescued and subsequent abduction, the brothers conferred and knew they could not hide it from their eldest sibling. After learning of the threat to a person under his protection, Zacarias returned to handle the rescue personally. It was a dangerous risk, but honor would not allow anything else. Nicholas was the only brother abroad but the others would also lend their assistance to rescue Juliette's relative.

There had been a heated argument between the brothers. Actually it was only heated on Riordan's side and it was not much of an argument. Juliette had been quite vocal in her need to partake in the rescue of her treasured cousin. The youngest De La Cruz relented and after laying down some rules and making her promise to remain by his side.

However, Zacarias would have none of it. The eldest and most powerful Carpathian stated that his sister-in-law was precious and was not allowed to join them. He believed she would only be a distraction, especially to his brother. Tensions ran high but Zacarias then proceeded to berate Riordan for allowing his lifemate to dictate him in such a way.

As head of the family he was to be obeyed without question and the issue was quickly resolved. After Zacarias calmly stated he would assert control over his foolish brother and his equally foolish mate to ensure that they both stayed on his property out of harm's way. For centuries Zacarias had raised his younger siblings and kept them safe. All had trusted his word and power. Now was no different. Yes, he was close to turning but it would not be today. Not until his family was safe once again.

After rising from the enriched Brazilian soil, Zacarias contacted another solitary Carpathian to aide them. At their Prince's approval Dominic Dragonseeker infiltrated the enemy camp in the hopes of retrieving vital information and hindering their enemies plans. Despite needing to maintain his cover, the ancient hunter realized the importance of this mission and offered his assistance.

Though it was considered too soon to act; with Solange's capture they had no choice but to use the opportunity that presented itself. If all they did was rescue the female shifter it would alert their enemy and their chances of discovering the needed information would be gone.

It had taken some time, but a plan to retrieve all they needed was developed, with the aid of the Carpathian people. During that time the brothers searched for Juliette's cousin. Once they found where she was being held they observed the goings on in the compound extensively. Since it was too close to a new day, they had to push back her rescue until the next full night.

The day ended quickly and it was the night they gathered together and attacked the compound. Though they were almost all ancients, Zacarias was the most elusive of them and helped to hide their presence well.

The vampires were arrogant and did not suspect an attack. Even their defenses were down, their focus on their fragile alliances. The presence of fresh and warm blood pumped through the veins of the humans and the jaguars nearby. They were restless and without the masters' control the temptation would be too great and the creatures would slaughter all. Even now it appeared as if the masters struggled to maintain control.

Carefully with the grace of a true predator the distance closed and the Carpathians surrounded the compound. In various positions, just behind the tree line they laid in wait. Each of them had centuries of experience fighting their fallen brethren and they patiently waited for an opening. If one did not present itself then Dominic would stroll into the compound and create a diversion.

Orders were delivered by the commanding and authoritative Zacarias and they each had certain responsibilities to fulfill. Numbers were not on their side but only the vampires were their main concern. The mage would be dispatched easily and the jaguar men were of no threat to the Carpathian hunters. Many of the shifters would flee, except for those in the compound.

Time passed and yet no signal was given. The Carpathians wondered why but did not question Zacarias. No opening presented itself and soon Dominic would have to make his move and create a diversion. Though he could not define what it was, instinct told Zacarias to remain and he did. The hunters remained inactive, as another hour crawled slowly by. They were in no danger of the sun rising, and it just late in the evening. The earth and even the air felt different and it presented more clues and yet more answers. Though he had no reason to, Zacarias shared his suspicions and the other hunters all agreed something was off. So they monitored the compound and waited.

It was not the mage or the vampires. For there was no taint but it was as if the elements around them were gathering energy. Finally an answer was presented, surprising the Carpathians.

Zacarias watched with hard-bitten critical eyes as a small figure, obviously a woman, suddenly appeared between him and the shuffling group of vampires. She was only a few feet from the master vampires when the very earth came under assault.

"Did she make a crater in the earth with her fist?" Riordan asked with disbelief while watching the surreal scene in front of him.

"What is she doing by herself? She is obviously touched in the head. Do we aid her brother?" Rafael spoke but it was apparent he was asking Zacarias. However before an answer could be given more beings suddenly appeared. Some rose through the earth and others dropped from the sky as she had done. Shocked the hunters watched as realization struck them.

Beings of an unknown nature had snuck into their rainforest attacked the enemy compound.

The strangers, all of them with varying shades of blonde hair moved into the next stage of their assault. It became clear to the Carpathians that they were organized and well trained. Experience showed in how each and every one of them moved. The strangers did not attempt to negotiate, nor did they even speak.

This was not a simple skirmish and the strangers appeared to have only one intention; to gain control of the compound. What worried the hunters was that their purpose was unknown and their display of skill was unsettling.

Obviously, the vampires and their allies were not expecting an attack and appeared just as shocked as the Carpathians. It was only a moment, they hesitated, but only a moment was needed. The mage had been slain and the guards stationed in the trees and at the edge of the clearing were killed. It happened simultaneously and then the vampires retaliated and the battle escalated.

"What do we do?"

"We wait. They are unknown and they might attack us as well. If they are after your mate's cousin we can interfere after the compound has been taken and they are weary from the battle. There is around fifty of them, we cannot hope to win at this moment." Zacarias ordered as he adjusted his position in the tree. The situation was not ideal and truthfully the female shifter could be in the same amount of danger.

Eyes the color of black ice were focused on the first female and he watched her; under heavy guard enter the compound. A look of determination was etched on her face. It was a harsh look, one that was unsuited to be an expression on her face. The way lightning flashed across her face before she disappeared, he felt pulled to the woman. For some inexplicable reason, Zacarias had an urge to draw her. But most importantly out of all the beings there he wished to drink from her.

Then his attention was pulled to the fight at hand as white lightning struck the earth. Surprisingly both sides were able to call lightening to them. Though he could only see the world in a colorless grey he knew the color of the female that suddenly appeared towards one edge of the clearing. She had light hair, probably blonde with darker streaks and it looked like she called fire to her hands. With grace she turned catching the vampire that had been trying to sneak upon her, forcing it to go on the defensive.

"The vampires have no control of the earth." Rafael stated in confusion and it was true. They were not the only ones noticing this and the vampires soon turned to mist or used their other abilities. A female jaguar appeared and viciously brought down some humans when she suddenly rolled away. A vampire and one of the unknown beings appeared right where she had been. An avian predator screeched and dove into the fray but was soon brought down with a flick of a wrist and a flash of metal. Bats and other creatures controlled by the undead all met the same fate. One of the strangers had his throat ruthlessly ripped out. But before the vampire could even taste his blood it was engaged against two tall and heavily armed women. The scent of blood became overpowering and it called to all of them.

Dominic and Zacarias were the only ones present at risk. The two males were not mated and the darkness within them grew. The beasts stirred. That constant whispering to give in rose in volume. In fact the beast within roared for them to gorge themselves on the victim's only meters away. Unbearable, it became. For so long they had been without feeling. There was so much blood, so many victims, Zacarias thought.

A traitor to his own mind, his thoughts viciously rationalized that he could just take one of the strangers. The others would believe they fell to the undead and he could remain undetected or spirit away his victim. His own thoughts were like a poison. Or a virus that was taking over. He longed to feel something, anything, at this point. Honor was not something that could keep him going. It was intangible and he had already been damned. There was no giving back, no making up for what he had done. And if there was, wouldn't he have paid for it by now? After two millienia? All that was left was his brothers.

Family. Zacarias desperately clung onto that thought. If he gave in to the beast he would bring about their deaths due to just one moment of weakness. It was not certain that the strangers would not detect them; the possibility of discovery was still a strong.

It was disgusting, but he wanted to flee. To leave the temptation, to go to where there was no tantalizing scent of blood upon the air. Years upon years of discipline had almost crumbled but he had found the strength to tighten the chains around the beast. The desire to give in receded but it was still strong. With barely a thought Zacarias shifted forms, becoming solid once again. Now that the call of blood did not permeate his immediate surroundings and was only in the air it allowed him to gain some clarity of mind. It was clear he had only months, if that, to continue existing.

The strangers could not be human and had to be of preternatural origin. Unlike any race the Carpathians had ever encountered. The strangers wielded the elements but without any disconnect or manipulation. There was no chanting and not any particular movement, so even though they felt similar to mages, they were not.

Brothers and a fellow warrior watched as a pair of the strangers, climbed out of the small indented crater and split apart suddenly just as a vampire appeared. Before the creature could land, the monster's head was cut off and it rolled away. The shock was still evident on its decaying face.

Quickly, the male pinned the arms down and the women reached for the heart with a blade. Moments later, a burst of light and flame engulfed the organ. The body was dispassionately dropped and the pair moved on.

"They are psychic." Dominic stated. It was the only explanation for what they were seeing. Some of the fighters would suddenly adjust themselves out of an incoming vampire's path or to take down an enemy. Random fighters would suddenly change position and lend aide to another and it was all done silently. Regardless of how much one studied their enemy and planned, not everything could be expected or anticipated in battle. No, they were too well coordinated and it was as if they were all seconds ahead of their enemies. Psychics. It was the only explanation. They all had to be in contact with each other in some telepathic way.

"Could they be possible lifemates?" The question went unanswered but the Carpathians focused intently, especially on the females, hoping to confirm their suspicions and what could be hope for their people.

A male jaguar found himself flung against a tree and he landed with sickening crunch near one the De La Cruz brothers. The shifter did not move but the body was soon set ablaze by the odd female they saw minutes ago before she withdrew a throwing dagger and sunk in into the eye of a vampire fighting one of her kind. Backing up, she became close enough for Manolito to reach out and touch, but he did not and watched her attempt to take on the vampire alone keeping distance between them. Slowly, Manolito withdrew deeper into the forest to avoid detection.

Flames danced in the woman's hands and from Manolito's position he could feel the energy gathering before sparking into existence and greedily licking up the creature's legs. The smell of burning rotten flesh was so potent for a moment before lightning flashed and struck again, this time controlled by a vampire. Another female was thrown into the girl near Manolito and they both went down, one trying to catch and break the fall of the other.

Eventually the intensity of the fight slowed and only a few vampires or jaguars had to be chased down. A blonde with hard teal eyes ruthlessly slit throats or threw projectile weapons. The natural speed of the jaguar or vampires were of no assistance and even the forest could offer no protection from her. Zacarias and the others recognized her as the one who destroyed a master.

It was when the clean-up began that the Carpathian's interest was piqued again. Their options were still limited and they waited to learn more about these strange supernatural beings. Bodies were being checked and dragged into lines as the cleaning process started. They were efficient. Weapons imbedded in flesh and the earth were withdrawn telepathically, and floated towards one particular female who then proceeded to check them over before putting them into three odd piles.

Moments later a large party emerged from the building. Instantly, Zacarias' eyes honed on the lithe female that he had first seen. She was bending over something that one of the males had in his arms. A figure. Despite the blood and dirt the figure was clearly Juliette's cousin. The brothers tensed as she touched someone under their protection. The beast stirred within Zacarias, hoping for a fight, for a chance to drink from the petite female. Anticipation built and he leaned forward slightly.

Riordan stirred and the distraction allowed Zacarias to regain focus. The women were still alive but not in a position to defend themselves. If the strangers had wanted them dead, they already would have been. This move told the hunters much and gave the Carpathians time to consider options.

Thoughts were proven true when the males laid the captured women down on a clear section of the forest floor for a moment. Then they started talking and the De La Cruz family all felt Riordan's lifemate gasp in fear and concern when they overheard that her cousin was dying. Frantically, she called out to her lifemate and his brothers begging to be allowed to join them, and rescue Solange, but Riordan told his female to trust him and he would return with her soon.

The youngest De La Cruz was in the middle of asking his brothers if they could send an envoy and appeal to the strangers hoping they would return the female that belonged to them, when Zacarias ignored his brother in mid sentence. Ending their private connection.

Intensity burned in the eldest's dark gaze as he waited to see what the female would do. He leaned forward and focused all his energy on being able to hear despite the distance between them and the distracting noise in the clearing. Serenely he inched forward, waiting to see if he would have to interfere and remove the shifter out from under her control.

The seconds ticked past, as if time had slowed. He found himself mesmerized and entranced by her. It was almost as if he was controlled and when she finally spoke his wait was over but it was not what he expected. Blindsided he was.

It was like he had been punched, for his breath suddenly was expelled from his lungs and his chest began to tighten and hurt at the swift loss of oxygen. The tree he was in turned a mossy green in an instant, and a heartbeat later, the entire forest came alive. Shades of green suddenly appeared and bled into the land transforming everything in sight. He was so shocked by the reappearance of color in his vision, he forgot he had slowly been moving forward, and almost fell to the earth. Only instinct had saved him and he had unconsciously shifted into mist and remained hovering there in the air while chaos reigned in his mind.

Uncontrollable, raw, emotions emerged from somewhere deep within. Stunned for a moment he couldn't even revel in the fact that the barren wasteland he existed in was gone. Nearly two millennia of pent up emotions almost overpowered him. Though it was indescribable to be able to see and feel again, his attention was focused solely on the strange female.

She.

She had been the cause of this. Everything else had already faded away. His brothers were forgotten. The reason he had be called here, was forgotten. Nothing but her seemed to matter. Every detail about her became etched in his mind. She was speaking and though her voice wasn't smooth and melodious, it was distinctly feminine. There was detachment in her voice, her tone business-like. As if it was a piece of armor she was wearing.

Just the sound of her, the sight of her, sent burning hot streaks through his body. That unquenchable thirst he constantly battled, raged and this time it was combined with centuries of repressed sexual tension. The primal emotions he was experiencing forced his focus inward.

There must be a mistake, he thought. Looking around he indeed saw the world as it was meant to be, awash with color.

The raging need churning inside of him could not be due to some spell. There was only one explanation. She was his lifemate. The realization of having his destined mate, the savior of his soul nearby, did not make the situation any better. In fact depression welled inside of him. His body cooled.

The scene in front of him changed and the female, his female, suddenly picked up the injured shifter with the intention to heal the cousin to his brother's own lifemate. This new development of discovering that he had actually been granted a lifemate was, unsettling. There was no relief, and the overwhelming volcanic emotions he felt only added to his distress.

Like before, his lifemate suddenly disappeared. It was his responsibility to recover the shifter and he reached out to his brothers.

"I will follow them. Once she is healed I will return with her." His voice was like lead and left no indication the recent change with him. He had no wish for his brothers to learn of his discovery. They would not understand his dilemma and would attempt to interfere out of a misguided sense of love.

Someone would have to remain and watch over the strange beings that accompanied her. Quickly he delegated the task to Dominic and ordered his brothers to return to their home and ensure their lands would be protected and secure. Without another thought or word to them he propelled himself forward. Though he told himself it was out of a sense of honor and duty that he went after the mysterious group, the truth was he was not ready to let her leave.

Immediately, he learned he could not track his female as he would a vampire or human. Though it was possible to track via scent he would have to have been closer, almost next to her to pick out her distinct scent in the clearing.

Earlier, before the attack, he had noticed something he was unable to describe. Like before he could not trace their unfamiliar energy. It was as if there wasn't anything there to trace, like nothing was wrong or amiss. That was impossible because in the world energy fluctuated. And it was the absence of such a path that allowed him turn towards his mate. Instinct told him he had been right.

Soon enough he caught up to the group and had to slow down otherwise he would be detected. An odd breeze waved in the air and with it was a large spot that everything was perfect, the same. Zacarias was above all else a dominant predator. There was no way she would be able to escape. Wherever she went he would find her. The group moved well but nowhere near the speed of his kind. Circling them almost lazily allowed him to gather his thoughts.

A lifemate.

It was an inconceivable concept to him. One he had given up on long ago.

His own lifemate.

Only those of his kind that had proven their worth, those that deserved a lifemate were granted one. While the males of his kind were the most optimistic they had been in centuries, he had long accepted that he did not deserve such an honor. The other hunters held on to their hopes that they would find the light to their darkness, but Zacarias knew no one would be born for him and him alone. He was damned to exist with only half a soul.

Since his birth his purpose had been two-fold. The most important one was to protect his brothers, his family. Everything he did had been to ensure their survival, even if that meant he had to sacrifice his own soul in the hopes that they could last and find salvation. He did it all willingly.

It had taken time, centuries had passed but it had happened, and now all of his brothers were safe. They each had their own lifemates and there was no place for him in their world anymore. To make matters worse he had ruined his honor to a point which it could never be restored.

No, he had committed sedition. Knowing he could never make up for the treason he engaged in, he did his best to rid the world of vampires. To lose himself in the task he had been given by Prince Vlad long, long ago.

Too much had happened. The only way to cleanse his soul, to be worthy of a lifemate in the next life, would be to greet the dawn now. There was no other option for him to pay for his misdeeds.

The guilt and the self deprecation ate at his soul. In a masochistic fashion he embraced it. It had been too long since he could actually feel the shame and responsibility for the crimes he committed.

He needed that to ground him.

Despite all of this, and knowing that his thoughts were true, that they were valid, the fact didn't change; he had a lifemate. For any other hunter the path before them would be clear and they would do whatever it took to claim their mate. Because he was so entrenched in his beliefs Zacarias was unsure what to do. Did he desire a lifemate? Yes. But it was not that simple.

He had long since realized that the world had changed, yet he remained the same. Unyielding and unchanging. Time and experience had shaped him into who he was now; a ruthless and vicious hunter and until recently, he killed often. And throughout his life he was responsible for the safety of others. Not just his brothers but many were under his protection and he had sacrificed much to keep them safe. Especially his brothers, they mattered above all else.

The lack of emotions at times had been almost a relief and allowed him clarity to make those hard but necessary decisions. Like when he had to slay his own friends. Time passed and his self awareness grew enough for him to realize that he was not fit to be a lifemate. Not anymore.

There were not many times when he walked among humans and he had not returned to his people's homelands since he was sent to South America. But he knew that he was too dominant, that he could never fit in among others. Not with his own kind and not with a psychic human woman.

Months ago he and Dominic had met to battle vampires and he had admitted to the ancient hunter that there was no place for him in this world. One cannot change their basic character and he was a dominant male. A woman, even of his own kind would resent him now. At the time when he reached this acceptance he had no feelings and instead he vowed, again, that his purpose would be to protect those he had loved.

But now everything had changed, and yet stayed the same.

He was still not suited to being a lifemate. Could he tie their souls together, when she would be unhappy for eternity? Just because he had given up hope did not mean he did not want a lifemate. Could he act out of selfish desire and bind them together?

If the war with Xavier and those he once called brothers had not become so dangerous he would have already greeted the dawn. As it were, he was the only thing the Malinov brother's feared, the only barrier preventing them from wiping out his people.

If he acknowledged this claim, it would put her and all she cared about at risk. For she would be his only weakness. Could he split his focus and allow himself to be distracted in such a way? Now was not the best time to try and build a life with someone even if she was his destined mate. In fact it was probably the worst time to face such a decision.

Reason battled against his inner desire.

And logic warred against instinct.

So when the feeling suddenly stopped and he could no longer track lifemate he had to make a decision. Would he search the world over for her and bond them together for eternity or would he search just to retrieve one under his protection?

*End*


Hello! This completes the first submission to the 5 Ways Challenge! A collection of 5 one-shots dedicated to the alternate ways characters in a specific fandom met. I recieved a few PM's and reviews from my Dark Times and Dark Moments telling me they would be interested in reading it. I must say that the challenge intrigued me, because as I was writing Dark Moments I had so many other ways that Ashe and Zac met. But then the characters spoke to me and I went with what I did! But this challenge allows me to think outside of the box and re-consider all that I had tossed out! Since this is based on Dark Moments everything is already established. Each one-shot will be different and will be a stand alone. Ashe is almost 23 in this one-shot, the same as in Dark Moments but that will not be the case for the upcoming one-shots. The couple will meet years earlier and years later depending on the circumstances and situations they are involved in. So If you are joining me for the first time or are a fan of my other works and decided to check this out, then either way I thank you for reading my submission to this challenge.

Your comments fuel my passion for writting, so please leave me a review with your thoughts, comments, and advice!

~Ageless Light

***Notes/Rant/***

1. This Zacarias is still the Zac we all know and love but after reading Dark Peril I fell in love with him all over again. I mean how can you not sympathize with him? To give up on the belief that you don't have, let alone, deserve a lifemate breaks my heart. This concept is apart of Carpathian culture and for zac to believe he is so damned that he does get one is awful. He has like no self-esteem and is so wracked with guilt and self sacrifice. In some of the upcoming one-shots he will be more receptive to having his lifemate and in others it will be worse. The main issue in this one-shot is that he feels he has no purpose, his brothers are all safe and since the world changed and he was the only one who didn't adapt only honor hold him together and even that won't last. So that's why he was so indecisive, I know it seems a bit unusual but he was having a crisis. How do you act and think when something you believe in, that is apart of your very core, that shaped you, all of a sudden changes. How can you adapt? Can you? That is the question. Anyway, there was more to this originally, but I thought this was a good part to cut it off. It lets you draw your own conclusion! Maybe if I get enough feedback, and once, I post another alternate meeting I can add to this. We shall see