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The Postern
a secondary door or gate, particularly in a fortification such as a city wall
No Way Back [Book 1, Part 2] 
02.03.11
No Way
No Way Back
Book 1  :  Play Crack The Sky
part two



March, 2011

Three months later, thanks to GPS and the layout of downtown Dallas, Blake shot a chimera off of Gwen Campbell’s left flank from a high-rise four blocks away. Then he methodically broke down the M40, packed it up in a hard plastic case, stashed it back at his motel room, and caught a cab across town.

He met with the black van on the outskirts of the city and had the cabbie drop him off a few hundred yards south. Five bodies moved through the shadows. Blake sensed Gwen right away. He started jogging, not trying to hide his presence as he drew nearer.

The shadows tensed and turned his way. His eyes could make out their weapons in the dark, blending perfectly into the blackness as they took aim at his chest. When he was close enough to make it clear that he was headed their way, he raised his arms over his head and waved them back and forth. “Don’t shoot!”

A flashlight turned on, and it shone right into his eyes. “Move along, pal,” came a gruff voice. “This ain’t a charity.”

Blake huffed. “Maybe not, but you sure got some from me. Mind apologizing for screwing up my hunt back there?”

The flashlight lowered hesitantly, and a short man with sandy hair and a beard appeared above the halo. Behind him, Gwen’s face popped out of the back of the van. Blake waved at her, and her mouth dropped open.

A much taller man stepped up from Blake’s right, weapon still at the ready. “Excuse me?”

Blake reached carefully into his pocket and pulled out a hand-rolled cigarette. “Do you mind? Other people’s guns make me twitchy.” The taller guy shrugged. Blake concealed the cigarette behind one hand and lit it, letting the fire build a moment before taking a drag. “Chimera you were tracking,” he drawled around the stem, “Was going to lead me straight to the nest. Now it isn’t.”

The man bristled, but a small hand came over the barrel of his shotgun and pushed it down and away before he could speak. “Blake,” Gwen nodded, “Thanks for the save. This is Christian, Christian, Blake.”

The taller guy stuck out his hand, and Blake shook it. His grip was strong and there was laughter in his eyes. He raised his eyebrows at Gwen suggestively.  “You two know each other?”

Gwen pursed her lips together, as if she was contemplating not admitting it. “We’ve met,” she finally offered, turning away. “Come on, we gotta roll.”

She grabbed Christian by the elbow, but he shook her off. “Hold on, I want to know more about your friend.” He looked Blake over thoughtfully, taking careful stock of him. “You always hunt alone, Blake?”

Blake stretched his neck, ducking his eyes low to meet Gwen’s. “When it suits me,” he answered. Gwen’s eyes narrowed, but Blake was pretty sure he saw just a hint of a smile.

Christian reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a piece of motel stationary with a note scribbled on it. He ripped off the letterhead and handed it to Blake. “If you ever thought about contracting out,” he said, “You should swing by before we head out of town. We can always use eyes in the field, and Gwen here makes a mean mac and cheese.”

Gwen flushed and shot him a glare, waved her hand through the air and stalked to the black van.

Blake accepted the paper. “I’ll have to think about it.”

Christian jerked his chin up in a short nod. “Think fast. Once we’re done with the nest here, we’re gone.”

“Sure thing.”

Christian whistled, and the remaining hunters piled into the black van. Blake suppressed a chuckle and the urge to throw an A-Team joke at their rear bumper as they pulled away. Through the tinted glass, he felt Gwen’s dark eyes watching him until they disappeared.

*

Blake waited nearly 20 hours before following the address on the motel stationary. When he located their room, he rapped firmly on the door. The click of a pistol and the slide of the deadbolt tumbled softly out into the parking lot, and the door opened a few inches.

Gwen’s loose hair fell across her eyes. She tossed it back, voicing a quiet “Huh” of surprise.

Blake clasped both hands in front of his chest and tried to look earnest. “Hello, ma’am,” he drawled, horribly fake Texas accent soliciting a quirked smile from her, “I’m here about the job interview?”

Gwen shut the door, took the chain off, and opened it again, setting the pistol hammer down before stepping out onto the pavement. She put her hands on her hips and grinned suggestively. “Well look-at-you. Gotta say, I didn’t think you’d be the type to come twice in one day.”

Blake didn’t quite have a rejoinder for that, so instead he placed one hand over his heart. “What? And pass on something as tempting as your mac and cheese? I’m offended.”

She widened her eyes in a comical expression of fake surprise. “Huh. I knew vampires and ghosts are real, but I thought smart blonds were a myth!”

Blake put one hand behind his back and executed a formal bow. “I’m the last of my kind.” Then he turned on the smoulder. “Care to help me repopulate my species?”

Gwen laughed and pressed her hand into his hair, tipping him off balance. “Get inside already. Mac and cheese waits for no man.”

Blake followed her through the suite and into a modest kitchenette. Gwen had a knife strapped to her upper thigh and a shotgun leaning against the wall by the refrigerator. She stretched up onto her tip-toes and opened a small cabinet. Boxes of microwaveable foods filled the shelf. She peeked back over her shoulder at him, and one strand of hair fell across her face. She shrugged it away. “Regular or extra cheese?”

“There’s such a thing as regular?”

Gwen snorted a soft laugh and chose a box. “Not around here, there’s not. Sit wherever. The guys are out running some recon; They’ll be back in a few hours.”

Blake settled against the wall, content to watch her work. “You seem pretty settled in,” he said. “Long case?”

She was biting her lip, concentrating on pouring the milk to just the right line. “What? Oh, sure.” She put the milk back into the refrigerator and wiped her hands on her jeans to rid them of condensation. “There’s a large infestation here. We were looking for the nest, but the guys think they found it this morning.” She wrinkled her nose in mild disgust, then turned back to the stove. “They left me here to pack.”

Blake scoffed in mock horror and pushed off of the wall, moving to stand closer, deliberately scanning the room. “Things don’t look very packed to me,” he grinned. He slid his hands onto her hips.

Gwen stirred the noodles and set the ladle down. She turned around without pulling out of his grip, and she smiled that same calculating grin from the bar. “I’m busy just now,” she stated firmly, putting her arms around his neck, “They can pack their own damn gear.”

“Mmhm,” Blake hummed, dropping his head to meet hers, “We’ll show those chauvinist jerks.”

Gwen kissed him, muffling her laugh into his lips. He pulled her slowly into the adjoining room, taking his time, and she followed. When they reached the bed, her hands kneaded down the back of his neck before pressing insistently against his shoulders. Blake raised an eyebrow, then tightened his grip on Gwen’s waist and lifted her, tossing her down into the sheets. She laughed freely and clutched at his T-shirt, tugging him along, and he went.

Her fingers played across the hem of his shirt and she made a stern face, her lips twisting into a frown as he settled down beside her. “This,” she said gravely, “Is no way to behave during a job interview.”

Blake propped his head on up one arm and tried to look ashamed. “I’m sorry, Ma’am,” he countered, and he reached his free hand underneath her shirt, skating across her back until he found the clasp on her bra. He flicked it open one-handed, and she shivered. “Is that better?”

She gestured impatiently to his T-shirt, and he made a show of rolling his eyes before he pulled it off. “Better now?”

Gwen nodded smugly. “Oh, hell yes.” She swallowed and scooted closer, running her fingertips down his chest to his stomach and pausing there to catch his eyes. His pulse jumped. Blake bridged the gap and kissed her gently, ran his hand into her hair, brushed the backs of his fingers across her cheek. She came alive in his hands.

They burnt the mac and cheese.

Blake woke up alone in a tangle of sheets. He sat up, rubbed a hand over his face and tried to blink the haze out of his eyes. He started to stand, but froze when he realized he wasn’t quite sure where he’d put his pants. He looked around the suite, surprised to see that all of the gear and clothes that had been lying out were gone. He yawned. Something smelled like coffee.

A cabinet door closed behind him, and Gwen’s voice floated through the suite, amused. “Hey, Aurora awakes,” she teased. Blake turned to wrinkle his nose at her and found a steaming mug in his face. “I know it’s not morning, but I figured - you know. Ritual, and all that.”

He accepted the cup with a nod. “Things are packed,” he observed. “You got someplace you need to be?”

The bed dipped and Gwen crossed to his side, wrapping her arms around him from behind. One hand held his clothes, and she pushed them into his lap. “We both do. Christian called and said they confirmed the nest. Gear up, soldier boy. You’re coming with us.”

The warmth and comfort of the last hours started to recede as Blake switched gears, adrenaline and anticipation of the hunt building in its place. He set his coffee down on the bedside table and grinned. “So does this mean I got the job?”

Gwen pulled away, moving her hands to his shoulders, pressing firmly in a quick massage. She huffed a laugh, ignoring his question. “This is new,” she observed, tracing the branches of the Tree. “You must be a fast healer.”

Blake shuddered, biting back the bloom of power where it rose through his chest, willing the Tree to be still beneath her touch. He cleared his throat and stood to pull on his clothes, using the motion as an excuse to hide his face until the taste of ashes cleared. By the time his T-shirt was safely in place, he felt calm again.

“Blake?”

He turned to face her, holding his arms out wide and smiling brightly. “Ready to roll,” he started to say, but then he noticed the strange look on her face. He ignored the nervous flutter in his gut. “What is it?”

“I don’t usually repeat my one-night stands,” she said, sounding a little bewildered.

Relieved, he reached out and gave her a swift hug, cradling her briefly in his arms. He kissed the top of her head and smiled. “I don’t have one-night stands. I told you I’d see you, didn’t I?”

She and shoved him playfully. “You’re a stalker, and I should have shot you on the doorstep.”

He nodded while he retrieved his boots and started to lace them on. “Yep.”

She frowned as though she’d just realized something problematic. “Hey, didn’t you have a dog?”

Blake shrugged. “He liked your vacation idea.”

Gwen nodded, smiling again. “Good. Then you ride with me.”

*

They pulled up to the jump point two hours past sunset. The nest was in a condemned packing plant buried in the warehouse district; deserted ever since the owners went bankrupt a few years back. Blake stepped out of Gwen’s car to the feeling of being painted with hundreds of invisible targets. They were out there, watching. More than he had ever thought could still exist in one place. Maybe enough to ensure that a few would survive the coming onslaught.

It didn’t look like anyone else had noticed.

Christian waited for them with the van, and he tossed Blake a pistol and a few extra clips. “Silver,” he grunted. “These things are just Fidos but they can still skin you. That’ll put them down.”

Blake nodded his thanks and asked, “What’s the plan?”

A shorter guy who Gwen had introduced as Mark exchanged an amused glance with Christian, who sniffed and hid a smile.

Blake raised his eyebrows. “Something funny?”

Mark shook his head, and Christian looked between Blake and Gwen fleetingly before answering. “The plan is, you two hang back and pick up the stranglers. We’ve already got a team on the other side of the building, so this is the only other way out. You stay put, you make sure none of them get loose, and you help keep the little lady here company,” Christian said. “We can handle this ourselves.” He turned and headed down the alleyway with Mark and three other men following close behind.

Gwen bristled, but Blake placed a hand on her elbow and shook his head. She glared at him and pulled her elbow free.

“Relax,” Blake whispered once they were out of range, “Follow me.” He reached for her hand, but she hesitated.

“Christian said –“

“I know what Christian said. Do you want to clean up the leftovers, or do you want some action?”

Gwen’s eyes sparked, and she wrapped her fingers through his. He smiled. “Alright then. Up we go.”

Before she could ask what that meant, there was a shout up ahead. The beating of wings dove from the sky, and Blake felt the rush of air as the creature passed him, aiming for Gwen instead. She ducked and fired one shot into the blur, and the chimera spun off into the dark. Blake heard a spray of blood hit the ground. The shot echoed down the alley, and there was an answering rustle down the way that the others had gone; the sound of something big.

Blake tightened his grip on her. “Come on, we gotta move,” he said, and they ran.

*

Sam closed his eyes and listened, waiting for the creatures to give themselves away. Hunting like this was inefficient; there were too many people, too many weapons itching to go off. Sam preferred stealth, a clean hunt; blades.

He also preferred an opponent that offered a challenge, but the hunts weren’t his call, and when his Samuel summoned him, he went.

The silver chain slung over his shoulder wouldn’t be any help in capturing the alpha, but if he could take it down first, he might be able to keep it from shifting again. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Behind him Trey and Davis settled, following his lead. Sounds began to filter through the front end of the building. He catalogued them all, marking their positions in his mental grid, picturing Christian throwing open the front door like a Van Damme wannabe and getting pounced in the face by the closest chimera.

Sam could hear them breathing in the dark spaces. There were dozens, maybe a hundred. A small army. It didn’t seem like anyone else had noticed.

Sam’s lips twitched into the ghost of a smile and he took the brass lever in his hand and pressed it, swinging the door wide open.

*

Blake watched from their precarious perch on the neighboring roof as both teams approached the building. The moon was nearly full, and they could see clear outlines on the street below. One man in particular caught his attention, and Deja vu gripped him.

“Who is that,” he whispered, shifting closer to Gwen. She was watching through a large pair of binoculars, just as intently focused as he was.

“Sam,” she said, answering him without looking. “Why?”

“Just wondering,” he muttered under his breath.

The flash of a tail whipped around the corner of the warehouse, disappearing inside through a hole in the foundation.

Blake closed his eyes and felt the wind, the taste of the earth, heard the breathing of the woman beside him, heart rate slightly elevated, but not beating as quickly as he knew it could go. He wondered what forms would await the hunters inside. Lions, maybe? Wolves? Or something darker, perhaps.

Chimera were a simple species, more animal than creature. They would not think darkly enough to consider impersonating the hunters themselves. In Blake’s mind, the chimera were closing ranks inside of the packing plant, shoulder to shoulder as they guarded their most precious resource: their leader.

“They’re in,” Gwen said excitedly.

Blake peered through the scope, considering. If he got inside before the chimera sprang their trap he might be able to save a few of them, but the hunters could get hurt. Ultimately that was not his purpose, and he reminded himself to stay focused.

Gunfire rose inside the building, and Gwen grabbed Blake by the elbow. “That’s way too many shots for a couple of monsters,” she said, sounding worried. “We should get down there and help.”

Blake held his hand out for hers, and it earned him an indignant swat and a playful elbow in the ribs. “What am I, two?” They made their way down the fire escape.

*

It was as if every shadow in the building had come to life. Sam fired into the mass of bodies until his clip was empty before switching to silver knives. The creatures changed shapes and sizes as they came. Cheetahs turned to owls once their sprints were complete and flew away, spiders crawled into cracks to escape the slaughter. Bleating cries and whimpers filled the building as they fell one after the other, and the furred and feathered masses grew more and more frantic the closer Sam got to the center of the pack. The alpha was nearby, he could feel it.

*

They split up. Gwen headed for the front door and for Christian, and Blake blew out a side window and entered the fray undetected. Carnage and blood surrounded him, and his boots stuck to the linoleum floor as he moved.

Blake trailed his fingers along the rotting hall wallpaper and the aged flakes began to burn. The chimera swarmed around him, taking a multitude of forms; eagles’ talons  for clawing at the hunter’s eyes, snakes’ fangs to strike at their feet. The roar of a lion shook the unstable walls up ahead. Gunshots echoed all around him as he walked, and creature after creature fell, sizzling from silver-coated holes where their hearts used to be.

Smoke from the spreading fire filled his lungs and he relished it, breathing deeply, accepting the sacrifice the chimera had made, using their life force to feel out their remnants. He followed the heartbeat of the pack to the center of the building.

Bodies of the chimera were piled so high in the center office that Blake could barely edge between them. A crash rumbled through the room, and he found himself staring at Sam’s back. Over Sam’s shoulder, on the far side of the room, stood the alpha.

The final screams of the others were fading as the hunters completed their extermination. The alpha’s eyes were dull with pain, shock and sadness at the slaughter radiating from it in waves. It became a cat, then a bear, then a wolf, angling back from Sam until it was pressed into a corner.

Sam slid the silver chain off of his shoulder, focused intently on the massive beast in front of him. Blake found his finger tightening on the trigger of his pistol. Sam was angling to take the alpha back alive, a living breathing search and destroy machine, but the alpha wasn’t looking at Sam. It was looking at Blake.

These creatures were little more than animals, wildlife. Tracking a lead wasn’t worth letting this creature get slowly torn limb from limb. Blake wasn’t certain where the monsters were vanishing to, but he damn well knew that none of them ever came back.

Blake nodded minutely.

The chimera exploded forward, shifting as it leapt through the air at Sam. In between heartbeats, Blake saw its true form. As it twisted, it bared its throat. Blake pulled the trigger. It dropped.

Later, he explained that he’d turned the corner just in time to see the monster’s fangs coming at Sam’s face, and he had just reacted. Gwen pecked him on the cheek. Christian slugged him in the arm.

Sam pinned him with a carefully appraising stare. Blake held his ground, but he filed it away for later; Sam was different than the rest of them.

Blake let Gwen drop him off at his motel and he told her goodbye, making her promise to call him if they ever needed an extra hand. She wrote her number on the inside of his wrist with a permanent marker and told him to call her sooner if he needed any kind of hands at all. He raised his eyebrows and grinned suggestively.

Blake let her go, but he really didn’t want to.

Once the smell of her shampoo had faded from the collar of his jacket, Blake made his way back to the packing plant. He piled 37 corpses into a single room. They seemed smaller in death. Cain whined at his side, expressing sorrow over the fallen creatures with a soulful howl. Blake raised his hand and reduced them to cinder. He refilled the tinder box carefully with their ashes, wiped his hands on his jeans, and tucked the precious resource away.

After that, he was in.


September, 2011

Blake pulled into the Campbell compound late in the afternoon to find it mostly deserted. A bored looking man opened the gate for him and he drove through, unable to shake the feeling that something wasn’t quite right. There were usually more checkpoints, for one thing.

Blake tried to shake off his paranoia. He hadn’t visited since Mark’s death, and he knew the attack had hit the family pretty hard. Gwen hadn’t said as much, but he could hear it in her voice when she called to tell him. Things had been different since then, more strained. Sam had come around less. The Campbells knew how to cover their tracks well. In all the months that Blake had shadowed them, he still had not been able to learn what they were doing with the monsters.

Their most recent conversation had been brief, but she had finally said the one thing he’d been waiting to hear. We’re closing in on the alpha vampire. Play your cards right and when the time comes, I just might let you know. The whole team had been out scouting for weeks. Considering the circumstances, Blake was surprised to find Samuel still at home.

“So tell me,” Samuel was saying as he motioned for Blake to take the chair in front of his desk, “What brings you all the way out here?”

Blake sat. “Got bored chasing a dead end. Figured it was time for a visit.”

Samuel nodded. “Happens to the best of us. I’d hate to see you get rusty, though. Heard you took quite a shot at my niece back in Texas.”

Blake gave the expected laugh at the old man’s double meaning, then shrugged. “I know my way around a rifle. Got kind of a rep for long distance kills.”

Samuel raised his eyebrows. “Oh yeah? You ex-military, son?”

Blake held the old man’s gaze and answered evenly. “In another life. How about yourself?”

Samuel’s eyes crinkled at the edges, maybe because Blake had hit the mark; maybe because he would have said it himself if Blake hadn’t thought of it first. “No, I never was. I was raised in the life like my father, like my grandfather. It’s in my blood.” Samuel tilted his head to one side. “How about you?”

Blake spread out his palms and shrugged. “I was just a kid with a gun and a serious hard-on for setting stuff on fire. Seemed like a good fit at the time.”

Samuel smiled a little, nodding knowingly. Some things just came with the territory.

There was a firm knock on the door and Blake sat back in his chair as Samuel called, “It’s open.”

A dark-haired man stuck his head through the door and announced, “We’re back,” then vanished. The scent of sulfur lingered in the air where the man had stood.

Blake stared after him, stunned. Demon.

Sudden heat flared in Blake’s gut. He counted his heartbeats in between breaths, willing the searing anger down. He slid his chair back from the desk, looking from Samuel to the man’s retreating form and back again.

Samuel frowned. “Something wrong, son?”

“Where’s Gwen?” Blake demanded, more harshly than he’d planned.

Samuel chuckled nervously, confused. “On a supply run with Christian. What’s the matter with you?”

He hissed his question quiet and low, so that no one else would hear. “What did you do?”

Samuel’s eyes hardened, but they didn’t hold the flare of understanding Blake was expecting to see. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Samuel said carefully, warning evident in his tone.

“You said your father was a hunter. If he was any good, he’d have taught you a thing or two about keeping demons out,” Blake’s voice took an accusing edge. “And your grandson knows more about stopping demons than anyone on this planet. So what did you do? Are you working for them?” His hands clenched into fists and he whispered, ice cold, “Is that where all the monsters go?”

All color drained rapidly from the older man’s face, but his body went rigid with anger. “What would you know about it, boy?”

Blake answered evenly, hoping the man would hear the truth in his words. “I know enough. I know that by doing this, you’ve signed your family over to the devils you serve.”

Samuel’s eyes flashed. “You don’t know anything about my family. Get out.”

Blake blinked, surprised at the apparent lack of remorse. Cold realization doused his anger, and he felt a pang of twisted sympathy for the older man. He doesn’t know.

“You’re already losing them, Samuel,” Blake said sadly. “Just look around you.”

Samuel’s face grew livid, and he slammed his fist into his desk hard enough to rattle the wall fixtures. “I protect my family! Who the hell are you to come onto my property and accuse me of –“

Blake’s patience snapped. “Fool them all you want. Maybe you can even fool yourself, but you can’t fool me.” He moved closer, leaning across the desk right into Samuel’s space. “Mark my words, the day you forget that she’s your blood? The day you decide to choose the dead over her? You remember this advice. Stop and check your starboard first before you make that move. Because I’ll be there, Samuel. And I’ll have a bullet with your name on it.”

Samuel flinched took an involuntary step back. “Who are you,” he ground out. “Why did you come here?”

“You want to know the truth? I came here,” Blake seethed, “For my family. But it looks like I’m gonna have to save yours, too.”

He left Samuel sputtering in his office.

*

“Answer your damn phone, come on.”

Please enjoy the music while your party is reached.

Blake’s fingers curled around the phone until he felt the crack of plastic.

Sugar, oh honey honey, you are my candy girl …

“Gwen, come on, babe. Don’t do this to me, be there.”

Honey, oh sugar sugar …

The line picked up. “Gwen! Where are you, are you at the compound? Listen, I need you to -”

“Easy, loverboy,” Christian’s voice floated down through the line, “Gwen’s not here right now.” He chuckled, but it wasn’t Christian’s usual light-hearted laugh. “Figured it out, did you? Took you long enough.”

Blake punched the drywall above his bedside table, and it splintered under his fist. “You demonic son of a bitch,” he started.

The demon yawned loudly. “Yeah, yeah. Anyway, we all moved in back when Mark died - easiest way to keep anyone else from turnin’ corpse on us, I guess. Gwen, man - she’s a piece of work, I’ll give you that. I can see why you got attached. She’s got that whole bitch-in-heat thing goin’ for her, you know?”

“Why don’t you go f-”

Relax. She isn’t one of us … yet. But I figure, this handy little GPS of hers should go - can’t have outsiders snooping around in family affairs.” There was a sigh on the other end of the line. “See, the thing is, Blake - I can’t quite figure you out. What’s the pull here? She’s plucky, but I doubt you’d be this far up Samuel’s ass just for a chance to get laid.”

Blake stared murderously at his own reflection. “Where is she?”

“She’s with her family - what’s left of them, anyway. And as long as you play your cards right and keep away from her, she’ll never know they’re dead. Now. We’re going to let her know that we’ve heard the tragic news of your untimely death, and I’m going to trust you not to pull a Jesus. You do, and I might just decide to take her for a spin of my own. Got it?”

The line went dead.

And what do we do when we see a demon?

We fight.

Blake staked out the Campbell place from the foothills nearby, but the compound was on lock-down. He put his count at nearly 30 suits demons, and they patrolled the place 24-7. The few women and children on property were keeping indoors. Glimpses of Gwen were few and far between, and there was no way to tell from his position if she was alright. The temptation to walk in and kill them all was nearly overpowering.

Cain growled softly as Christian came into view, just a speck in the cross hairs of Blake’s scope. “I know, buddy, I want to end them too. But if we play our cards right, we still might be able to kill three birds with one stone.” Cain sighed and dropped his head into the dirt. Blake winced. “Yeah, sorry. Not funny.”

Blake checked the shrinking circle on his arm. Nearly three down. He was running out of time.


October, 2011

It was about mid-day when hunters began gathering at the compound. Some Blake had seen before, some he hadn’t. He thumped Cain and let out a small shout of relief. It was a task force. Samuel had found the alpha he’d been tracking, and the hunt was on.

Blake left the hills and edged deeper into the valley, risking a closer look. Jeeps and trucks and SUV’s flocked through the gates as the afternoon wore on. A few hours after dark, a deep rumble caught his attention.

A classic black car pulled into the drive. Blake didn’t recognize the driver, but when the doors opened, Sam Winchester stepped out of the passenger’s side. Blake frowned. He never figured Sam for working with a partner. The guy usually showed up alone, slaughtered things, and then went back to wherever it was he lived in between hunts. Months of brief contact with Sam had provided no information about what made him tick - or why he was still ticking at all. The driver seemed tense and angry, and Sam followed behind him quietly as they entered the building that housed Samuel’s office.

Blake retreated from his position. He would get some rest in the precious few hours until dawn. Samuel wouldn’t make a move until first light. He would get answers then.

*

The fight for the alpha was fast and brutal, and when it was over the bodies of hunters lay tangled with the bodies of the vampires across the manor lawn. Sam followed pattern and left right after the hunt, joining the stranger in the black car.

Blake tailed the van to a warehouse in the middle of nowhere and watched the hunters offload the alpha, but they seemed to be alone. He didn’t see Gwen.

Day fell into night. Blake dozed lightly on the hillside. When the wind was very quiet he could hear the snap of electricity coming from inside the warehouse, but outside, nothing moved. Cain nudged his arm, hackles rising, and pulled him from the clutches of an almost-nap. Blake followed the dog’s eyes down the drive.

The black car that Sam had ridden in before was winding down the path. For a moment Blake entertained the idea that Sam was the contact, but he dismissed it out of hand. The car had no headlights, and it was moving at a crawl.

Sam and the man who had been with him that morning crept into the warehouse with as much stealth as Blake had ever seen Sam use. “Trouble in paradise, you think?” Blake asked Cain, but the dog didn’t answer.

It didn’t take long for gunfire to kick up inside. By the time Blake made it down from the ledge and reached the back entrance, everything had quieted. He walked every inch of the warehouse. Inside, he found a wicked looking cage that reeked of dead man’s blood, but no sign of the vampire it used to hold. Cain growled at the cage and sniffed the air. The warehouse still smelled like sulfur. “Guess you need a one-way ticket for that ride,” Blake told the dog. He resisted the urge to melt the cage back into liquid, turn it into bullets, and put it into Samuel’s hide.

He stepped out the front door just in time to see the black car’s tail lights pull away. The Campbells’ van was gone.

*

None of the hunters came back to the Campbell place, and by the time a week had gone by Blake was chafing with impatience. He flipped open his cell and scrolled down the numbers, searching for one that may still be connected. His thumb hovered over the button that said ‘Sam’. He blew out a sigh. First time for everything.

Sam’s voice answered on the second ring. “Who is this?”

Blake rubbed his forehead. “Sam? Hey, it’s Blake, from -”

“Texas. What do you want?”

“Listen - I know you don’t know me, and you have no reason to believe me, but I need your help. I’ve been trying to find Gwen, she’s -.”

Sam’s voice dropped several octaves. “She’s with Samuel. If you see that son of a bitch, you put a bullet in his brain for me.”

Blake blinked. “What?”

“Last we knew he was chasing down some big game in Colorado, but I mean it. Watch your back.”

Blake leaned against the hood of his car. “Man, that is such a relief. I could use your help, he’s been working for some demon and -”

“His name’s Crowley,” Sam said, cutting him off, “And if I could find him, I’d send him straight back to Hell.”

Blake stood back up again. “How do you know his name?”

Sam snorted in disgust. “Because we’re working for him, too.”

The line went dead. Blake stared at the phone, gears turning fast in his head. If the vampire he sought was with this Crowley, then that was where Blake needed to be. He could think of only one way to get there. He flexed his shoulders, drawing a deep breath against the Tree. Its fragile leaves rustled, bolstering him. It was nearly complete now. It would have to be enough.

Book 1, Part 3

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