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Authors: Inger Iversen

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BOOK: Awakened
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“There, there now,” she cooed at the teen, her voice soft and sweet while her gaze
cut me. “Servi and Tam-Tam will fix Jace’s outrageous mistake.” Her saccharine-sweet
voice echoed in the cabin, and I couldn’t help but sneer. Tamsin had been of no use
to me in the initial search I’d headed for Ella. Servitto and I had done all of the
work, and even Zed had surprised me with his computer skills. Tamsin had been too
concerned with a certain position opening in the Council and had been all too ready
to give up her position on the team to stay behind in Alaska, which made me wonder
why she was here now.

“I see you are still being sent to retrieve. Did the election not go your way?” I
asked coolly and leaned back in my chair. I had no right to be so damn cocky, but
of all the guardians in the Council, she was the last one that I would allow to berate
me.

She was there to gain back some title long lost to time, forgotten by everyone but
her and a few of us within the Council. She removed her hand from Zed’s knee and placed
it coyly into her own. Insults raced through her eyes, anger and the blame that she
wanted to place on me. It was deserved, but I wouldn’t allow it, not from her.

Tamsin leaned closer. “I lived through the wars of your grandfathers and the famines
of your great-grandfathers.” The accent she’d all but forgotten over time thickened
with her anger. “You will show me the respect that I deserve,
boy
.” She was a firecracker in disguise, but her dainty elven features did nothing to
hide the scowls and frowns. It wasn’t often that she showed her bitter and cruel side,
but I was all too happy to help bring it to the surface.

I leaned forward and said the words that I knew would take her over the edge. “Hold
your tongue, Tamsin. This is not Norway; you hold no title above us here. You are
nothing more than the lost little girl of a long dead Viking king.”

Tamsin’s eyes widened as crimson shock spread across her face, brightening her pale
cheeks. Zed blubbered something about needing to get off the plane as Tamsin stood
in a flash, surprising even me.

My senses heightened at the threat, and my muscles clenched, ready for action. I was
an idiot to have pushed her, but damn if it didn’t lessen the stress about Ella.

Servitto quickly ended his call and stood just as fast as Tamsin had. He placed an
arm in front of her, not touching the pretty little princess. “Stop.”

The princess of the Lost Kingdom calmed, slightly.

Servitto waited for us to both calm, then moved back to his seat and sat down, looking
first at Tamsin and then to me. “Tell me, Jace. Do you wish to dig this hole deeper,
or would you prefer that Tamsin and I help you fill it?” His Spanish-accented voice
was deep and sure and held no disappointment or anger, which was more than I could
say about Tamsin.

“Please. Aleixandre’s favorite won’t need any help—or at least he won’t admit it,”
Tamsin goaded as she sat back down, primly crossing her legs and straightening her
clothes. Tension still raked her body, but she hide it as best she could.

Zed moved closer to her and asked if she was all right.

She smiled and inclined her head. “I am fine, Zed.”

Servitto sat back down and frowned. His long black hair was pulled tight at the nape
of his neck, and his tan face glowed in the harsh artificial lighting. He stared at
me for a moment.

I knew that the news coming wasn’t good, but I wasn’t sure what to expect, other than
to be taken off of Ella’s case and replaced by Tamsin and Servitto.

“Aleixandre seems to think that your skills would be best placed somewhere else while
Tamsin and I handle things here.” Understanding tinted his voice. Servitto too, had
lost his Arc, but under different circumstances. He had also been reassigned and was
more affected by Hélène’s death than the rest of us. He felt it was his fault, though
we all knew that it wasn’t.

I understood what I was being told, but that didn’t mean I had to take it. I wanted
to be here when Ella was found—hell, I wanted to be the one to find her.

“And where does he think my skills would be best suited?” Ella didn’t know Tamsin
and Servitto. They wouldn’t even try to bond with her; they would find her and take
her from one prison to another.

“Rome.” He paused, his gaze tracing my face as he waited for my reaction.

I impatiently waved him on. “Well? What is so important in Rome?” I wished that he
would spit it all out at once, but that wasn’t his style.

Deliberate and unhurried, Servitto explained to me the plan that Aleixandre no doubt
planned to use to keep me away from Cedar and Ella. “There is a Chorý outbreak, and
Aleixandre believes that your hunting and tracking skills are needed there immediately.”

Servitto paused as Zed headed off the plane, muttering an excuse about needing some
fresh air. “Aleix has sent a few other Council members.”

Only a few had been granted permission to use our leader’s nickname, Tamsin and me
included.

“But he is unconfident that they will be able to stay under the radar long enough
to retrieve patient zero.”

I sat back in the chair, astonished that I was being sent on a Chorý First Blood hunt,
which were missions to locate the source of a Chorý blood outbreak. I had been in
some before, and even led a few in my time, but never when we had located an Arc.
The Arc was always top priority, and lower-ranking Council members were sent on First
Blood missions, helping to stop the spread of the Chorý blood infection. Aleixandre
often used the missions as a method to weed out the weak and incapable. I had always
thought sending human Council members to hunt Chorý was a harsh way to weed the weaker
members from the strong, but I had seen wars between humans and Chorý and the devastation
they left behind. If we aimed to make a difference to protect the world from the Chorý
disease, Council members needed to be prepared for the worst, which was what we would
face against Chorý. Vampires themselves were close to extinction, but with the rate
at which
la Luxure
claimed the Chorý, changing them into full vampires that survived solely on human
blood, evidently something was trying to stop vampires from dying out.

In my opinion, both ceasing the spread of Chorý blood and saving Ella were important,
but the images of my father’s teeth in my sister’s neck still haunted me. How many
others would suffer that very same fate? Watching a loved one die and to be completely
unable to lift a finger to help was an incredible burden to carry.

Anger washed over me at the position I was being put in. I’d known that I would most
likely be taken off Ella’s case, but to be sent a thousand three hundred kilometers
away was both a slap in the face and a very fitting punishment. I didn’t want to leave
the States before I’d found Ella, nor did I want to allow the disease to spread and
steal others’ families like it had mine.

Tamsin smirked cruelly and dipped her head. Arrogance radiated off her. She knew all
too well about my past, as she had been one of the Council members sent to kill and
dispose of the Chorý that created the outbreak in Minsk.

After what I had said about her deceased father, her hatred for me was more than justified.
It was required.

She continued to smile. “Choices, choices, my dear brother. What will you choose?”

***

The flight back to Alaska seemed long and drawn-out, like the pilot was taking his
sweet time to arrive back home. The eight-hour journey left a weight in the pit of
my stomach; though I knew that Ella was all right for now, her absence still troubled
me, and with good reason.

Servitto promised me that the Council Techs were close to figuring out where Ella
was, based on the connection she shared with Laurent himself. Aleixandre was one of
the original Eternals, he also shared a link with Laurent through each Arc. Over time,
the link or bond had grown weaker, but it was still strong enough that, with time,
Aleixandre would be able to locate the Arc’s general location, and then the cycle
would start again. Locaters would be sent and then a Retriever—in this case, two Retrievers,
since the Arc was now with Laurent—would be sent to bring her home. The job that I
had failed at.

How would I explain to Aleixandre that I would rather help with the search for Ella
than go on a First Blood Mission? I had put a kink in the chain of trust between us
by losing the Arc and disobeying Council rules I’d promised to follow, but maybe he
would understand once I explained my actions. Ella was indeed the Arc that would free
us from Laurent. How I knew that, I wasn’t sure, but every time I was in her presence,
a spark of hope warmed my chest, and that had to mean something. In all my time on
this earth, I had never had as much hope for the future as I did now. The pale girl
with the heart-shaped face and emerald eyes had given me that hope, right in the middle
of my chest—leaving it there to spread and expand and take control of my actions.

The fast and furious clatter of Zed’s fingers on his keyboard pulled my attention
to him. “Guys, it looks like there are a few places that Aleixandre thinks that Laurent
could be holding Ella until the heat is off of him a bit.”

Zed continued to type on his laptop, and I leaned toward him to look on the screen.
The connection never worked this fast before.

Before my brain had a chance to change the thought into a worded question, Tamsin
asked, “How is this possible?”

Maybe since Ella was different, the connection between Aleixandre and her was stronger
than it had been between him and the other Arcs.

Zed didn’t need her to elaborate; he knew what we were all thinking, and I could have
bonked him on the head for not explaining further straight away.

He continued to type for an extra second and then turned to us. “No, it’s not what
you are thinking. A few of the techs and I have been working on finding Laurent’s
hideouts, when we stumbled upon a website that one of his minions searched. At first
we thought it was a trap, but with all the hackers it took to break down the protections
for his search, we knew we were on to something big.”

Tamsin leaned and looked at the screen. “‘Private Island Market Online’?” she read
aloud, sounding amazed. “You think that Ella is on an island?”

She sat back and scoffed, “Well, that’s just great, Zed, because there are only a
few islands in the world, right?” She rolled her eyes.

“There are about two million islands in the world, but because they often submerge
or break apart, that number…” Zed shut up and shrugged. He didn’t know what he had
said was a random fact that we cared nothing about.

“We need more than that,” she added.

I agreed. There were too many islands to search, and we didn’t have time to search
them all without risking detection by Laurent and his men. Hopelessness tried to surface
within me.

“What about a list of the islands that they highlighted for purchase?” Zed asked excitedly.

I glanced at Tamsin. She looked just as intrigued as I was, both of us sitting on
the edges of our seats, waiting for more information.

“Can you get that?” Servitto asked emotionlessly. He sat, devoid of hope or tension.
How he had learned to curb his emotion was a mystery to me. I didn’t know much about
his past; only that he had a half-brother that he had lost to la Luxure in Spain centuries
ago.

Zed looked back at the computer and frowned. “It may take a while. I would have to
create a new program so that I can get back into their system undetected.”

I could tell that there was more. Something else was bothering him. “But?” I prodded.

Zed sighed and started to wring his fingers, and I worried that he wouldn’t be able
to do what he said he could. Tamsin leaned forward but didn’t touch him to soothe
him; she was too wound-up herself.

“Tell us,” she encouraged him sweetly.

“Well, once I’m in there again, there is a chance that I could set off an alarm within
their system, and if that happened, if they were holding her on one of the islands
that they flagged for purchase, they could move her before we had a chance to figure
out which one she is on,” he admitted nervously.

Zed was one of those shy genius types that took everything to heart, including problems
that he didn’t create or problems that weren’t his to solve, so when he could be the
solution to a problem, he panicked at the thought of failure. Tamsin was often there
to pick up the pieces, leaving me to wonder what she and the young boy had in common.

“What was the program that you created the first time, and explain the process?” Servitto
leaned forward, his brow knitted with curiosity.

Zed looked up, surprised and excited at the chance to talk about his talents to someone
other than Rosie, the introverted second super genius tech that the Council had on-hand.

“Oh,” Servitto added before Zed could start, “explain it so an old man like me would
understand it.”

Zed laughed and then stopped to think, a bit puzzled. “Okay, well, the program is
called SleeperX. What happened is, for some crazy reason, one of Laurent’s men used
a computer in Laurent’s old warehouse—the one we raided a few years ago—without a
router or firewall.”

Even if Laurent’s men were mindless idiots, none of them were foolish enough to do
something so careless. I didn’t interrupt Zed’s explanation, but I could see the concern
in Servitto’s and Tamsin’s expressions, also.

“How can I put this in simple terms?” Zed thought aloud, tapping his chin. He had
evidently misjudged our apprehension for confusion. “Well, essentially, all I did
was use a key logger to simply watch everything he did on the computer. I installed
the program on the PC by hacking his particular network, and then,
violà
!” Zed still smiled, even as Tamsin, Servitto, and I frowned.

It was a setup. Whoever had logged on with so little care knew that the Council was
waiting and watching and that we would monitor their movements online.

BOOK: Awakened
11.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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