All the King's Men: The Beginning (13 page)

BOOK: All the King's Men: The Beginning
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But he still wanted another child. That part of the conversation wasn't over.

* * *

Tristan sat on the couch in his midnight blue three-piece suit. The red silk tie and jacquard vest lent a festive spirit to the otherwise stuffy attire. The sound of the bedroom door closing down the hall brought his expectant gaze up to the hallway. A moment later, Josie appeared, wrapped in shimmering red satin, her breasts pushed invitingly into perfect, pristine mounds above the angular, off-the-shoulder neckline.

"You look…"

"Beautiful?" Josie suggested flirtatiously.

Tristan shook his head as he rose. "Radiant."

Her rouged cheeks lifted as her matte red lips broke into a smile.

"Red has always been your color, baby." Tristan slipped his arm around her waist and kissed her cheek. "How do you feel?"

"Good for now." She patted her stomach.

She hadn't suffered any morning sickness all day, so hopefully they would make it through the party. Tristan knew how much Josie looked forward to these rare social occasions.

"You ready?" he said, reaching for her faux fur coat. They could afford the real thing, but Josie insisted on buying fakes. She was too much of an animal lover to wear them as clothes.

Just as he was easing her coat over her shoulders, his phone rang. He pulled it out of his breast pocket and frowned.

"Who is it?" Josie said, adjusting her sleeves.

"AKM Dispatch." He connected the call. "Yeah, this is Tristan."

"I'm sorry, Tristan," the dispatcher said, "but we have an emergency."

"I'm on my way out the door for the king's par—"

"I understand, but this is urgent. We just received a report of three mutants on the South Side."

Mutants? Three of them? At the same time? That was too much for the two teams on duty to handle. What happened to Christmas Eve being traditionally slow? "I'll be right there. Call in my team."

Josie's forehead crinkled with dismay. "What's wrong? Why aren't we going to the party?"

He disconnected the call and hurried for the bedroom. "Mutants. Three of them," he said over his shoulder. "And we'll still go to the party. We'll just be a little late."

"But…?" Josie hesitated in the doorway as Tristan stripped out of his suit.

"I know. I'm sorry, baby. This will only take a couple of hours at most. I swear." Tristan stopped and took her face in his hands, kissed her, and gazed into those gorgeous, multi-hued eyes of hers. "We'll go. I promise. I won't let you miss the king's Christmas party."

Smiling, she gave a resigned nod before smiling. "I know. It's your job. This is all part of being mated to an enforcer."

After giving her another quick kiss, Tristan hurried into the closet, pulled on his pseudo-military gear, and then grabbed his work coat. Josie was in the living room, sitting on the couch, flipping through channels on the television.

"I'll be back as soon as I can," he said, sweeping in to kiss her cheek.

"I'll be waiting." She blinked up at him, her eyes full of love.

Josie never argued with him over his job. She understood that he couldn't always be there when she wanted him to be. And yet, she took everything like a trooper, smile and all.

"See you soon." He hurried for the door as she blew him a kiss.

It took him all of five minutes to get downstairs from his on-site apartment to the main floor and into the war room. By the time the first members of his team arrived fifteen minutes later, he had been briefed on the situation. Three mutants. Stryker's team had corralled them inside an abandoned warehouse on the South Side. At least this way, the mutants wouldn't pose more of a threat than they already had to both the human and vampire populations. Mutants were the deadliest creatures known and only came into being when a vampire—usually a mixed-blood—lost control of his or her inborn, genetic powers. The transition could take days or even weeks, which made the fact that they had three of them in one place at the same time a little hard to believe.

Ari and Io burst into the war room, still strapping on gear. Malek appeared a few seconds later.

"Where's Micah and Trace?" Tristan said, securing iron braces around his forearms. The others already had theirs on, which were standard attire when fighting a mutant, along with iron collars and chest plates. Shit, they should have just geared up in head-to-toe armor. One bite from a mutant meant
sayonara baby
. Their venom was too poisonous for even vampires to heal from.

Malek, Ari, and Io looked at each other and shrugged. "We haven't seen them," Malek said.

A quick check with Dispatch revealed that neither had answered their mobiles.

Great. They were two men down and going into a fight with mutants.

Tristan checked his watch then eyed the second team preparing to dematerialize to the scene. Mutant calls were too urgent to mess with driving. You either vapored to the action or you didn't go at all.

"We'll have to go without them." Tristan chambered a special mercury-tipped round in his Glock. Everything about taking down a mutant was special, from the armor, to the mode of travel, to the specially made bullets required to kill them. Regular bullets would slow a mutant down, but they wouldn't kill them. They needed mercury for that. Certain types of acid worked, too. "Who's got the cartridges for Stryker's team?"

Io lifted the bag he was holding. "Got 'em."

"Okay. Let's go." Tristan hurried out of the weapons room, his team on his heels.

Once they reached what they called the vapor room, where enforcers mobilized to dematerialize, Tristan looked over his shoulder. "Follow my trail." With that, he closed his eyes, exhaled, and turned to mist.

Within seconds, he reappeared at the abandoned warehouse. Shrieks ripped the air from the trapped mutants.

"Fuck me!" Ari said from behind him.

Gunshots rang out, followed by shouting from members of Stryker's team.

"Io!" Tristan snapped his fingers. "Get those cartridges to those men. Now! Ari, go with him."

In a flash of supernatural speed both would feel later when their adrenaline came down, Ari and Io disappeared into the melee.

"Malek, come with me." Tristan and Malek had known each other since the reign of King Bain the First, over eight hundred years. They meshed well on the battlefield, cuing in to each other seamlessly.

Like joined shadows, he and Malek darted wordlessly into the warehouse. It was dark inside, but his hunting sight was better than night vision glasses, and he easily worked his way through the maze of abandoned furniture and empty offices.

As he sidestepped through a jumble of half-full boxes, which held everything from abandoned office supplies to bits and pieces of mechanical scrap, he stubbed the boot of his toe on a metal rod  "Fuck," he bit out as the rod slid down the wall and fell to the concrete floor with a clang.

More shouting came at him from inside the guts of the warehouse, followed by more gunshots. A bullet broke through the plaster wall and whizzed between him and Malek, embedding into the outside wall. Malek jerked backward and cursed as he ducked.

"Shit!" Tristan spun and met Malek's startled gaze. "Let's go!"

They took off at a run, and a moment later, they busted through a door that led into the cavernous space that had, at one time, been used to store pallets of materials, but which now lay like a wasteland, with only more abandoned boxes of scrap scattered here and there. Industrial metal shelves extended from floor to ceiling in rows along one wall, creating perfect hiding places.

A shadow blurred by in a flash of movement, and Tristan jumped back into Malek before pulling himself together and taking off after it. Malek's pounding footfalls let Tristan know his buddy was on him like glue.

The inky humanoid shadow slowed then stopped, then morphed into a solid, dark mass as it turned to face him and Malek. Yellow, red-rimmed irises beamed malevolently at Tristan as a beastly screech split the air. Meet mutant number one, and even though it was hunched over, Tristan could tell it was a big fucker. Saliva dripped from its misshapen mouth.

Tristan skidded to a stop, lifted his Glock, and fired.

The mutant ricocheted back as the bullet plowed into its left shoulder. Another animalistic shrill pierced the night as the mutant threw its head back and howled.

"Fuck, it's big," Malek said beside him.

"And pissed off." Tristan took aim again, but the mutant snarled and leaped away before he could get off another round. "Goddammit!"

"Follow it!" With his gun raised, Malek took off, eyes searching.

The iron guards adorning Tristan's body cut into his skin as he beat feet with Malek to follow the mutant's trail, but it had disappeared. Damn bastard. Where had it gone?

As he and Malek met back-to-back and slowly turned in a coordinated circle, guns raised toward the tops of the towering shelves, Stryker and Luca—a member of his team—charged around a nearby corner and almost ran into them.

Tristan and Malek separated.

"Where is it?" Stryker barked. He was full-on military badass. Stryker would have made one hell of a Marine had he been human.

"I don't know, but I hit it once in the shoulder. It should be slowing down wherever it is." Tristan lowered his gun and glanced around the darkness and up toward the ceiling. "Where are the other two?"

Stryker pointed back the way he'd come. "Other side of the warehouse."

"You don't have armor," Tristan said, frowning at Stryker's and Luca's exposed arms and necks.

"No time to put it on." Stryker glared into the darkness.

Stryker's team had been on patrol tonight, and each enforcer's vehicle was loaded with mutant armor. But if Stryker said he didn't have time, he didn't have time. The guy wasn't prone to recklessness or lying.

"How the hell did we get three of these fuckers in one night?" Tristan said as the four turned in place and kept their eyes on the shadows.

"Hell if I know," Stryker glared toward the tops of the shelves. "We found their shredded clothes a few blocks away, tracked them, and corralled them here until you sunshiny people arrived."

"Anything useful in the clothes?" Malek said, gun raised, eyes alert.

"I'm not sure." Stryker's eyes narrowed as he looked toward the ceiling. "All three had cobalt paraphernalia on them."

"Cobalt?" Tristan frowned. "They were all cobalt users?" That couldn't just be coincidence.

Stryker nodded. "Yep, from the looks of it, they—fuck! Look out!"

A black mist vaulted off the top of a nearby shelf, landing in the middle of their small circle. The four of them scampered away, guns up.

"Malek! Over here!" Tristan didn't want Malek in the line of fire.

The impressive behemoth formed from the vapor, shot its lethal gaze toward Luca, who was the closest, and lunged. Stryker reached for Luca to pull him out of the way, but the mutant moved faster than he did, latched onto Luca, sank its mutated fangs into his upper arm, and dragged him off in a blink before they could even lift their weapons.

"NO!" Stryker gave chase, and Tristan and Malek brought up the rear, running back into the heart of the warehouse.

Luca's cries for help echoed through the open space like a rubber ball bouncing off the walls, then suddenly turned into screams of horror.

"No! No! NOOOO!" Luca's voice fell into unintelligible, blood-drenched syllables, and Tristan, Stryker, and Malek leaped in two bounds to the top of the industrial shelves where the mutant had taken his prey.

The beast let go of Luca long enough to swing its gaze around to the three of them with their guns trained on its head and torso. Angry gurgles bubbled inside the mutant's throat. The mercury from Tristan's earlier shot was slowly corroding the creature's blood vessels, but not fast enough. Beneath its gnarled claws, Luca screamed and thrashed as poison broke through his system. Mutant venom was nothing like vampire venom. Where vampire venom created a pleasurable euphoria in one who was bitten, mutant venom created the opposite. Agonizing and brutal, mutant venom sent its victims into an ugly, ferocious death. No one wanted to die from a mutant's bite.

The mutant rose to its hind legs and growled.

"Shoot it!" Tristan aimed and fired. Malek and Stryker did likewise, and a cacophony of gunshots echoed off the walls.

Their bullets struck the mutant's body, splattering rotting flesh and black blood. Its unhinged jaw opened wide as the creature screamed and staggered backward, tripped over Luca's body, and fell to the dirty, cement floor. Already, the mutant's young body had begun to twist and metamorphose into a quadruped. Its back was hunched and resembled that of a werewolf, and its arms were longer and more muscular, its face more elongated. Within hours, it likely would have been roaming on all fours, scouring the streets for victims.

Tristan and the others, out of breath, looked down at the creature but kept their guns raised until it became clear the damn thing wasn't going anywhere. Blood oozed from numerous bullet wounds, and its long, craggy fingers curled like claws as if it were still trying to shred Luca apart. In a couple more minutes, the mutant would be nothing but a carcass.

Luca.

Tristan turned as Stryker rushed forward and fell to his knees at Luca's side.

"Fuck!" Stryker cursed and holstered his weapon. "God, I'm sorry, Luca. I'm so sorry."

Luca shivered violently, his teeth chattering so hard it was a wonder they didn't chip. His skin was already turning black, the whites of his eyes filling with blood. His organs were dissolving. Mutant venom was like Ebola for vampires, only faster. What took Ebola weeks to accomplish with humans took only minutes for vampires. At least mutant venom didn't create a contagion in its host. That was the only reprieve. That and the swiftness by which it killed. Even so, it was a wretched, painful way to die.

Tristan and Malek could only look on as Stryker held Luca's hand in his final minutes. They were helpless to stop the disintegration. Their scientists had never been able to develop an antidote for mutant venom, because it was as unique as its host. To develop an antidote, a sample of each vampire's venom would have to be taken and a unique antidote made for each, which was impossible. How would you track such a serum? Store it? And how long would it remain effective?

BOOK: All the King's Men: The Beginning
13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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