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Authors: Sable Grace

Ascension

BOOK: Ascension
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ASCENSION

A Dark Breed Novel

 

Sable Grace

 

Dedication

 

To Kyle, for never once saying I couldn’t,

and for believing when I can’t.

And to Mom. If dreaming is healing,

I wish for you a million dreams.

—Heather

To Carmine, for always believing in me,

for being proud of me, and for giving me

the freedom to chase my dreams. But mostly,

thank you for showing me what a true hero is.

I love you.

—Laura

Chapter One

 

St. Augustine, Florida

 

D
espite the chaos of war around her, she couldn’t help but hum Queen’s “We Are the Champions” in her head. Of course,
we
had become
I
as she’d twisted it to fit her mood for the night. She had an irresistible urge to flex her muscles, or strut, or . . . something equally tacky.

It had been a long night, but a successful one. Most of the Chosen were safely tucked Below. The one her minions, Farrel and Crag, now carried was the last of the living on her list. The rest would be found . . . and buried . . . at daybreak. But what had her feeling as smug as a pig in dog shit was not the number she’d managed to find and save, but the
who
.

Jordan Faye. One of the most crucial finds on the Ancients’ list of Chosen.

Kyana slipped her daggers back into the sheaths at her back and boot and reached for the flare gun tucked in its holster on her hip. Behind her, Farrel and Crag grunted and whined about the burden they carried. Every Vamp within the Order of Ancients had minions to assist with the grunt work. Sadly, Farrel and Crag were hers. One look would shut them up, but she was in too much of a hurry to bother.

When they neared what had been the Castillo de San Marcos’s pay station only a week ago, she fired the flare gun and waited for the fiery burst to explode overhead and dissolve into a flurry of white dust that would alert the sentinels manning the gate. Like tiny puffs of smoke, the name Kyana slowly formed in the night sky, and the newly working drawbridge lowered in recognition.

The Castillo was the oldest piece of stonework in North America. That it had held up against so many attacks over the years had made it the best choice for the Order to set up headquarters in the southeastern United States the moment the war between Hell and Earth had begun seven days ago. Sentinels walked the bastions, ready to fight to the death at any sign of trouble, and in the old storerooms beneath the sentinels’ patrol, Mystics had opened a portal to Below where the Chosen were taken for safety.

The night Tartarus opened and unleashed masses of Dark Breeds onto Earth, the residents of St. Augustine and neighboring cities had flocked to the old fort. Most of the Order argued to save as many as possible, but Kyana saw the folly in such emotionally driven suicide. Sure, she didn’t want the world wiped clean of innocents any more than the gods of Olympus did, but there was no way they could all be saved. Wiser to focus on the Chosen first, make sure
they
had a safe place to lay their heads. Then the Order could see to the everyday, average Joes and Janes.

Behind Kyana, wails and shrieks, both human and non, had become the city’s soundtrack. There were Dark Breeds nearby. She could smell the scent of urine emitting off the demons, feel the blighted Vamps, and taste the sulfuric, restless souls that had been uprooted from their earthly graves to become what humans called Zombies and the Order referred to as Leeches. Kyana’s body itched to return to the streets and hunt, but she couldn’t. Not until she’d safely placed her catch inside the fort.

“Take her in,” she said, waiting impatiently for Farrel and Crag to adjust the weight of the woman they carried and shuffle up the walk toward the gate. Her gaze didn’t waver from the unconscious body they toted. Other tracers had declared Jordan’s trail cold days ago, but Kyana had been too stubborn to admit defeat. There was a reason she was the best at her job. She had something other tracers lacked—the ability to hold on to a scent for days without it losing its potency. Jordan hadn’t been home in days, her trail
had
grown cold . . . for the others. But Kyana didn’t rely on tracking perfumes and other unstable, common odors. She clung to a particular pheromone and could follow it to Hell and back, no problem. One tiny trace of leftover fear in Jordan’s bed had led Kyana all around St. Augustine, and finally to the damned garbage bin behind St. George Street that had smelled so foul it had
nearly
tripped Kyana up.

Though there was no tangible reward for doing their duty, competition among the tracers to find those at the top of the lists was high. Only one other tracer had ever come close to besting Kyana. But not tonight. She couldn’t wait to see Geoffrey’s face when he learned she’d been the one to find and rescue Jordan Faye.

As though summoned by her smug anticipation, Geoff stepped into Kyana’s path at the gate and cast a glance at the body in Farrel’s and Crag’s arms. “Another wee Mystic, I’m guessing?”

The spotlights bordering the walls of the fort cast him in an eerie glow. His small fangs glinted like freshly sharpened daggers and his dark blue eyes danced in the moonlight. At well over six feet, and broad enough to strain the threads of his black T-shirt, Geoffrey oozed danger. Her hormones kicked into overdrive. He reminded her of those exotic dancers at an all-male revue she’d stumbled across once while on the hunt—hot and ready to deliver on a girl’s fantasies. As usual, Kyana was torn between strangling him and shoving him against the wall to see if he was just as thrilling naked as he was clothed. But sadly, Vamp-on-Vamp action was forbidden by the Order.

Geoff might be off-limits for her sexually, but taunting him was its own form of entertainment.

“Actually, it’s Jordan Faye,” she said, keeping her gaze on him to watch his reaction.

His pale face strained with shock.

Kyana smiled, offered him a sarcastic salute, and followed her quarry down the stone steps and into a hollow room. Jordan’s new quarters looked more like an ancient jail cell sans the bars, but the cauldron of glowing blue ointment glittering in the corner smelled bad enough to make any prison piss pot proud. Farrel and Crag clumsily placed Jordan’s limp body atop a dusty blanket spread out on the floor. She was a pretty thing, with an elegant, long pale neck that brought a hollow ache to Kyana’s belly. Eighty years since she’d fed on fresh blood, yet the desire was no less than it had ever been.

When Farrel and Crag left the room, Kyana addressed the Mystic kneeling at Jordan’s side. “Looks like she’s been shot. Tend that wound first.”

Too many of the Chosen they’d found had been shot by the very police they’d hoped would save them. Cops had been ordered to kill on sight, not taking the time to make certain those they targeted weren’t human.

Kyana forced her gaze away from Jordan’s throat and settled it upon something far more interesting. At first, Kyana thought it merely a shadow falling on the white breasts hidden beneath Jordan’s lacy black bra, but as she stepped in for a closer look, her night’s victory took on a whole new level of triumph.

“I’ll be damned.” She knelt and pushed down the bra to get a better look. Because Jordan had been at the top of Kyana’s list, Kyana had known the human was important. But now that she’d seen this specific mark, Kyana suspected Jordan was far more valuable than any of the other Chosen she’d brought back this week.

“Please don’t disrespect my patient.” With a slight shove of her hip, the Mystic scooted Kyana away from Jordan.

Kyana growled. Rather than cower, the Mystic glowered right back. Slightly impressed by the lack of fear, Kyana readjusted Jordan’s bra and stood. “Someone stays with her at all times, understood? I’ll be back shortly.”

In long, determined strides, she made her way around the plaza courtyard to a larger room where war memorabilia from colonial times were stored for peppy little tourists to examine. Two sentinels stood on either side of yet another hole cut into the coquina walls, but rather than lead to another cell, this one was hollow. Should someone try to enter without permission, he would spend eternity spiraling through a black void.

“Let me through,” Kyana said, staring up at the towering men. They stubbornly blocked her passage.

“Hands, please,” the sentinel on the right said, holding out his own hairy fingers in her direction.

She grumbled and placed her right hand in his, offering her left to his partner. “I’m in the bloody fort. How could I be in the bloody fort if I’m not already cleared?”

“It’s the law, Dark Breed.”

She gritted her teeth. Yes, technically, she was a Dark Breed. But her decades of loyalty to the Order should have earned her the respect not to be addressed so degradingly.

Kyana snatched her hands away from the sentinels and sneered. “Are you done? You smell like cow shit.”

The sentinel’s cheeks grew as pink as his bald head. “It’s a poultice for my stomach pains.”

“Whatever. Am I clear or not?”

The one on the left stepped aside. “Go. I hope you linger on the other side, Dark Breed. The lot of you should never have been brought into our circle.”

She jerked her head toward him and flicked her tongue over her fangs. She leaned toward him, flaring her nostrils as she breathed in the scent of him. “
You
don’t smell like cow shit.
You
smell like dinner.”

He stumbled backward and clasped his hands over his thick neck. “It’s forbidden by our laws!”

Kyana smiled and straightened. “Lucky for you I’m not in the mood to break the laws. Who knows how I’ll feel when I return, hmm?”

She fanned her fingers in a silent farewell and stepped through the portal.

B
elow wasn’t technically below anything. More like sideways or parallel to the other two realms—Above, where the humans resided, and Beyond, a.k.a. Olympus. But Below was where nonhuman creatures did their daily business. Though some, like Kyana, preferred to live Above, smack in the middle of the action, most lived here. This was where magical herbs were tended, where lesser gods and demigods resided, where the Order’s Vamps hid from daylight. It served as a mirror to the Earth, so to speak, where the sun burned hot and bright, but was merely an illusion, just as were the sea, the moon, and the stars. In other words, Vamps could sunbathe Below without becoming a spectacular fireworks event.

The portals leading from Above to Below had become revolving doors for Order members since the breakout, but right now, in the predawn hours, the alcove and streets around it were blessedly quiet. Moonlight bounced off the white marble buildings, disorienting Kyana. She squinted and made her way past the small marketplace that, come morning, would be busy with the hustling herbalists peddling their wares to Mystics and Witches.

A little farther down the narrow street, a butcher shop was ablaze with lights, busy in its late-night workday for Vamps who came in for sustenance before sleeping the day away in their chosen shelters. As Kyana passed the building, she closed her eyes and breathed in the sweet aroma of fresh blood. Not nearly as rich and decadent as human blood, but still quite addictive.

She turned away from the intoxicating scent and pressed on.

Along the cobbled streets, tiny alcoves carved out of alabaster led to different locations within the human world Above, as well as a very potent, magically guarded portal alcove to Olympus where gods could come and go to do their duties. But the one Kyana sought, however, led directly to the River Styx.

She headed to the end of the street, enjoying the stillness of the city. Soon, other night dwellers would be wandering the curving roads, loud and bawdy as they boasted of their latest feats and accomplishments, but for now, the quiet was the first bit of peacefulness Kyana had experienced in a week. She entered the cave nestled between large marble boulders, her keen eyes having no trouble finding the path in the dark. Down. Down. Down. The carved steps spiraled like a snail’s shell, and soon she was able to hear the faint whisper of water lapping at sand.

The darkness shifted, giving way to a faintly glowing gold light a short distance away. As her foot made contact with the soft sand, she breathed in the scent of death that always came with entering the River Styx, and made her way to Charon, the ferryman. Flipping two coins at the haggard old spirit, Kyana stepped onto the long, flat boat and braced her feet for balance.

She loathed the River Styx. She hated the smell of death and the low wails coming from Tartarus below that chilled even her icy Vampyric blood, reminding her of her fate should true death ever find her. While some of the spirits waiting for eternal placement roamed visibly along the banks of the river, some remained unseen, and those she hated most of all. It was as though they passed through her, each of them pleading quiet demands to her soul as she tapped her foot impatiently at the torturously slow ferry.

“Can’t you make this thing go faster?”

Charon didn’t acknowledge her request. He stood at the helm of his little ferry, not needing to do anything more than stare in the direction of their destination to make his vessel obey.

If threatening, intimidating, or shoving him off his damned ferry would get her there faster, she would have done it. But Charon didn’t scare easily. In fact, she wasn’t sure he felt anything . . . ever. He was just a cold, transparent, expressionless being that almost . . .
almost
. . . evoked her pity.

Having no other choice but to bear the slow journey, she focused on the distant cave and turned her thoughts toward Jordan Faye and the strange mark on her breast. There were thousands of Chosen, but only three were branded with that mark. Two others were still out there. Perhaps safely Below. Perhaps discarded like all the other meaningless humans littering the mortal roads. Only time would tell.

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