Taste of Torment Page 20

As usual, the squad was patiently waiting for us in the arena. Thankfully, nobody was late because we didn’t have time to hang around, and we still needed to find Ava and Cristiano to give them the option of coming along. We quickly briefed the squad on the situation. It was no surprise when they began cursing at the news of the humans being involved, but they were raring to go. No doubt feelings of helplessness had been plaguing them just as they had been plaguing myself and Jared. This assignment meant that they were doing something.

“Ava and Cristiano will want in,” said Denny. “After seeing Ava so distraught when she heard the vampires from her nest were dead, I don’t think it would be fair to leave her or her brother out of it.” Salem didn’t appear happy about that, but he said nothing.

“We plan to take them,” I told Denny. “I don’t suppose anyone knows where they are?”

“They’re with Jude and Alora in the canteen,” Chico said. Alora and Jude had immediately ‘clicked’ – probably because they both knew what it was like to live without someone that meant everything to them. I knew from Chico that Jude had tracked down her baby just to check on her. The little girl had been adopted by a really nice human family, so at least Jude had that knowledge as comfort – however little comfort that may be.

“When do we leave?”

Frowning at that, everyone spun to look at the beady-eyed male who was tucking his notepad and pen into his coat, ready to go.

“You’re not going anywhere,” I firmly stated to both Collins and a half-naked Eloise, who was licking her lips as she eyed Jared. No shame. She had absolutely no shame.

Collins lifted his chin. “Our purpose here”

“Seems to be purely to be a pain in our asses,” finished Damien. Collins flushed, shrinking under the disapproval of the squad.

“Haven’t we been through this once before?” Eloise huffed, bored. “We must accompany you on assignments in order to accurately complete our report. We did so last time, and we will do so this time.”

I really didn’t have the patience to deal with either of them right now. I took a calming, steadying breath. It didn’t help much. “We allowed you both to come with us when we spoke to Quentin Foy because there was minimal danger involved. This assignment is totally the opposite.”

“Which supports the complaint that you take your squad on very risky missions,” Collins said with a smug grin.

“I was just about to say the same thing.” Eloise was wearing a similar smirk.

I could only shake my head at them. “It’s pathetic that you think we have time for this crap.” With that, I gave them both my back and marched out of the arena with Jared at my side. Everybody followed as we made our way to the canteen. Unfortunately, that included Collins and Eloise. I won’t set them on fire. I won’t set them on fire. I won’t, I won’t. But I’d dream about it.

Collins hurried to my side, breathless as he attempted to match my pace. “Commander Parker, it is important that I”

“Back off, Collins,” Jared ground out. “We’re not taking you or your colleague on this assignment. Deal with it.”

The bloke honestly looked like he was chewing on a bee or something. “I will be forced to contact my superiors”

I smiled. “Good idea. Tell them I said ‘hi’.”

He gasped in outrage. “Commander Parker!”

Ignoring his rant, I entered the canteen. The purpose in my strides made Ava, Cristiano, Jude, and Alora instantly tense.

Cristiano stood. “What’s happening?” I swiftly gave them a rundown on everything.

“I’m coming,” both Ava and Cristiano declared in unison. Salem scowled at her for that, but Ava gave him a cute smile and patted his chest.

“I’m coming, too,” stated Jude, rising from her seat. When Chico went to object, she added, “It’s possible that a human will spot one of you. Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to wipe their memory than kill them?” Jude’s gift would enable us to do that. She was only able to delete twenty minutes worth of memory, but that would be enough.

Alora got to her feet. “I want to come too. Like I said, I need to do something.” When I hesitated to respond, she said, “You’ll be surprised what a substantial gift communicating with animals can be – they can tell us things that we wouldn’t otherwise know. It helped when The Hollow was attacked by Bennington and his supporters.”

Jared sighed. “Your mind isn’t in the best state, Alora. I don’t need someone there who’s going to take unnecessary risks. Been there. Done that.”

“I won’t. I promise.” She softly chuckled, though there wasn’t much humour there. “Believe me when I say that I want to live, and I won’t be leaving this life without kicking and screaming.”

After a brief silence, Jared spoke again. “Any rashness from you and you’ll be teleported out of there. And I mean that. I hesitated with Evan. I won’t make the same mistake again. Got it?”

Alora saluted him. “Got it.”

“If these people are all going, there is absolutely no reason why Eloise and I cannot be taken along.” Collins’ superior, haughty, I-get-to-do-whatever-I-want-and-you-will-obey-me tone grated on every nerve I had.

“Oh there’s an extremely good reason,” I told him in a menacing voice, invading his personal space. The snooty tosser immediately backed up. “As you repeatedly state, you’re both observers here. Everyone on this assignment will be expected to protect themselves and the people around them. Passive people will simply get hurt. And if you think I’ll be held responsible for anything that happens to you or Aphrodite here, you’re very wrong. Besides, I only take along people who I trust to watch my back and the backs of those around me. I certainly don’t trust either of you, which means you’re staying behind. As Jared said, deal with it.”

Collins looked ready to explode, but then he sniffed arrogantly and adjusted his tie. “Fine. I must warn you that I’ll be making a note of this in my report.”

“Ooh, a note? I’m trembling in my trainers. Note that as well.”

Laughing, Jared gripped my hand. Taking his cue, everyone grabbed hold of one another and he teleported us all out of there, happily leaving behind a flushed Collins and a snarling Eloise.

Chapter Ten

(Sam)

Quentin and the bald, stocky vampire beside him jerked back in surprise as we all appeared in front of where they were crouched low in the rainforest. Quentin seemed a mixture of relieved and invigorated at the sight of us. After we had all exchanged nods of greeting, he gestured to the bloke with him. “This is one of my vampires, Gio.”

Jared was immediately all business. “What are we dealing with?”

Quentin pointed to the camp that was set up a hundred feet away. Our vampire enhanced vision meant that we could see it quite clearly. “From what we’ve been able to gather, there are approximately sixty-eight to seventy humans remaining in total – almost all of those are roaming the village and the surrounding area, hunting vampires. The rest of the humans are based in this area. I didn’t want to launch an attack until I had your back up.”

“Actually, there won’t be an attack. We have a new plan.” I relayed our conversation with Antonio. “As such, the new objective is to kill every last tainted vampire but to allow the humans to live.”

Quentin looked extremely disappointed, which was no surprise given that these humans had sedated and captured some of his vampires. “What about the captives? One of them is my brother. I want him out of there.”

“We’ll deal with the vampires that are being held captive,” Jared told him, perfectly understanding Quentin’s distress. “Is your brother tainted?”

“No, but the others are.”

“Then we’ll get your brother out,” I assured him. “But the tainted will be destroyed – only the untainted prisoners will be freed, I’m sorry.”

Sad but resigned, Quentin nodded. “I understand.”

“In order to free them, we plan to not be seen or heard by the humans. Providing the other humans don’t make their way back to camp, there’s no reason that it shouldn’t be possible.”

Quentin frowned thoughtfully. “I’m assuming it would help if we distracted the roaming humans and led them even further away?”

“Yes.” Jared glanced at the camp. “If the other humans return, everything could go to shit. Disable them if you need to, but do not attack them.”

“One of my vampires can induce sleep, and another can cause hallucinations – those gifts in particular would help here.”

Resolve blazing in his eyes, Cristiano spoke. “I want to go with Quentin.” He needed his revenge, I understood.

“Me too,” declared Ava.

When Salem growled, I shook my head at him and spoke quietly. “It’s her choice. She and her brother need this. It’s the only reason they’ve come.” His response was a grunt.

Jared spoke to Quentin. “While some of you concentrate on distracting the humans and leading them away, the rest of you need to silently hunt every tainted vampire before the humans can gain possession of them.”

Chico rubbed at his nape. “I’m surprised they aren’t senselessly attacking.”

Quentin grumbled, “They’re hiding – their primal instinct for survival has taken over; with no rational thoughts, instincts are all they have now. Once you’ve freed my brother, I’d like it if you could bring him here. Gio will be waiting for you once he’s teleported me to the others.”

I gave him a nod. “Good luck hunting.”

Quentin grinned as he stood. “Good luck creeping.”

“You all take care,” said Ava, her gaze lingering on Salem. Cristiano just nodded at us.

“You too,” I said simply. Once Quentin, Gio, Cristiano, and Ava teleported away, I turned to the others. “Damien, I want to know where every single guard in this camp is situated.” Stuart would have been a great help here; I keenly felt his absence. “Denny, we need to know exactly how many humans are in that tent and what kind of weapons they have.”

“And exactly how many vampires are being held in the vehicle,” added Jared. “I don’t want to teleport in there without being prepared. The second the tainted know they have company they’ll most likely cause a racket. We don’t need that.”

Denny swiftly but silently advanced fifty feet through the forest before reducing himself to a puddle of goo and quickly slid toward the camp. Damien stilled and bowed his head, and I knew he had gone astral travelling to gather the information we needed.

“I was expecting to find myself in the middle of a war zone.” Chico scanned his surroundings warily. “The place is quiet.” He shot an anxious look at Jude, who was crouched beside him.

“Yeah,” agreed Butch, “unnaturally quiet. Even worse than when we went to the tunnels.”

Harvey swatted at a mosquito. “This kind of reminds me of our tactical training field. You know, being an abandoned village that’s deathly silent.”

Jared’s mouth twisted. “Then think of this as what we’ve practiced a million times during training – moving quickly but silently, and remaining out of sight.”

Alora hugged herself, rubbing her upper arms. “I hope Ava will be okay.”

Jude seemed just as anxious. “She’s just so tiny.”

“Ava can take care of herself, believe me.” Feeling Dexter’s cautiousness, I almost smiled. His constant presence was a comfort, even when he was in tattoo form.

Suddenly Damien’s head lifted and he took a long breath.

“You okay?” Reuben asked him.

“Yeah, fine.” Damien turned to me and Jared. “There are fourteen guards in total. Six are patrolling the camp. Four are guarding the tent. And another four are guarding the vehicle containing the cages. Every last one of them is vigilant. They clearly know it’s in their best interests to be alert. They know what they’re dealing with.”

Jared cocked his head. “Vigilant and nervous, or vigilant and confident?” There was a distinct difference. One meant that they might easily panic and that their ‘flight’ instinct would make them hesitate. The other meant that they were psychologically prepared and wouldn’t hesitate to act.

“The patrollers and the ones guarding the vehicle look alert but spooked. The others are pretty confident – even seem a little high on adrenaline.”

Jared went to speak again but was distracted as a puddle of goo slithering toward us. It quickly reformed into Denny.

He shook himself a little. “There are five humans inside the tent. They’re definitely military, and they’re armed with shit that I didn’t even know existed.”

Damien nodded. “The guards – particularly the patrollers – are well-armed too. I don’t even know what it is they’re carrying. I did identify smoke bombs and tranquiliser guns, though.”

“Nineteen humans in total, then.” I pursed my lips. “Not too high a number.”

“How about inside the vehicle?” Jared asked Denny.

“There are ten captives,” replied Denny. “There are four of Quentin’s vampires in there – only one is untainted, and he’s out cold. I’m assuming he’s Quentin’s brother. The other six are from Commander Rodney’s squad and, thankfully, they’re just injured and knocked out.”

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