1. The Call of Winter
They were on a dark road. Asher could guess that it was somewhere in eastern Europe, but where, he had no idea. It was cold, though, and the roads they had been travelling on where desolate and unkempt, the wilderness surrounding eating up at its edges slowly as years passed by between visitors on this lonely pathway. The car they were travelling in had crossed two bridges, and he could gather that they were caught on a mountain pass by the looks of lower hanging lands in the distance.
Then they heard it.
The lullaby. The singer’s voice was desperate and tormented, her voice rough and sobbing in her pain like a mother who had lost her child. Asher looked at the other passengers in the car, scanning their faces, each showing exhaustion and wear from the mission they had set themselves upon.
At first, it appeared only Asher had heard her voice, but as they continued on the road through the oppressive night the voice only continued to grow in desperation and volume, drawing the attention of his friends (if they could even be called that, only two of them seemingly at peace in his presence).
Up ahead, at one of the sharp edges on the mountainside that their car would pass by, he spotted her.
She was perched on the edge of the cliff face, her hair uncombed and wild in the reflection of the head lights. Her nightgown was ripped and appeared much more conservative than any he had seen recently, but the purity of the white cloth was disrupted by the cakings of blood and dirt. Asher did not stop the car; there was no way she was real- she couldn’t be, what would a lone woman be doing out in the middle of nowhere if she were real?
He caught the lone female passenger’s eyes in the car mirror, and he shook his head as if to deny her shock.
“You saw that too?” Cassandra asked and he shook his head vehemently in denial.
“It was a trick of shadows,” Asher denied and he could hear the white-blonde haired woman swallow thickly.
The next time they spotted her, she was standing and faced away from them on the opposite side of the road, miles away from where she had been previously. Her hands, scuffed and bloody, covered her face and her shoulders shook, but her lullaby came through loud and clear regardless, not muted in the least by her hands.
“Maybe we should stop?” Cassandra suggested, but Asher shook his head once more and continued to push the car on further.
He was the one driving as Theo was sleeping in the passenger seat, having driven for a day and a half himself. Asher didn’t trust the voice; he knew something was off about this- she had to be a spirit of some sort- and the Beast in him growled eagerly in response to her melody.
Asher was no mortal- none of them were.
Asher was a Lycan, the secondary species of Werewolves- far more powerful than their predecessors.
Known for their shear strength and size, he was confident that he could fight off any opponent by himself- as long as they weren’t other members of the Family. He knew he could hold his own against other Lycan and any lesser species- but if he had to fight against one of Darla’s children- beings that could easily match his strength and speed with their own- he was not so sure of himself. But this spirit was not one of them, no vampire would waste their time terrorizing the few people that would ever traverse these areas. Not unless… not unless she had an ulterior motive behind such fear tactics.
Cassandra nodded in reply to his train of thoughts.
Cassandra was a baby witch- very much so seeing as how this was her first lifetime and how little power she had manifested. She was only nineteen, so she had yet to manifest any lesser powers that she had- only the dominant ones being the ones she would be able to call forth.
But regardless, she was an able telepath, and a competent fighter with a strong backhanded telekinetic ability.
Theo himself was a vampire, but a young one- having only lived for six centuries, just barely making him out of the difficult transition that all of his siblings had to undergo to make the change from partially mortal to fully immortal. Asher was confident that he could trust Theo’s strength well-enough as all of Darla’s children underwent their first two centuries in rough schooling that pushed their limits and helped make them incredibly deadly opponents to face. He had witnessed the vampire eliminate a few rogue Lycan that had managed to cross into the Allied Family’s territory and Asher was glad he had sworn loyalty to Dante so he would not garner that rough treatment at least.
As far as he was aware, those three Lycan had been at the very least dismembered- he didn’t even want to contemplate anything worse.
Let it be known that vampires were almost never merciful- making them deadly to all that were stupid enough to anger them.
Behind Theo sat Talon, a shapeshifter with a penchant for hunting. Talon was one of the few shapeshifters native to Infinity to be able to take multiple forms- surprising given the fact that he was not a blood descendent of Dante. No, he was not technically a member of the Family, but he was indeed aware of them though he had been shocked when he had met Asher and Theo for the first time.
Sitting between Cassandra and Talon was an evolved mortal by the name of Jaron. Cassandra had been the one to bring the dark skinned mortal into their fold as she had known him since she was a child. Asher knew Theo admired the pleasant view that Jaron provided- he was arguably one of the most beautiful people that either of them had come across, mortal or not. His features were sharp and appeared carved from obsidian and Asher couldn’t help but think of Nighthey peoples native to Mirnyhle- another world within Infinity that Asher had stumbled upon accidentally after making a rough cross over. Jaron was a reserved personality but incredibly perceptive even when exhausted and he appeared annoyed at the disturbance of the lullaby to his dozing.
Asher focused on the road, knowing that this area was one that he had once travelled as the scent of the forest surrounding invaded his senses.
Yes, he had been there, he was certain.
A wave of irritation came through him at the thought. He didn’t doubt that his familiarity with the place was a result of his imprisonment by a group of powerful humans that had managed to nearly eradicate his sanity from existence. Even now, a decade after his escape he could think of nothing but the seemingly endless number of holes in his memory.
Theo and Cassandra had been the ones to find him and Theo had managed to pound (quite literally) some sense back into his hazy mind even after he had shifted into his true form to fight the vampire.
Cassandra had been the one to delve into his mind and try and piece his fragile sanity back together, but she had been severely limited in her ability due to her lack of experience. Thankfully, Theo had managed to guide her through giving him back his past before he had landed in this world, making the Lycan forever in debt to the persistent *****.
Theo snorted in his sleep as if sensing the insult, pulling Asher away from his thoughts and back into the present.
Asher stretched out his senses, but all he could get a feel on was another presence that seemed to stretch on for miles surrounding them. It must have been the woman- but what was she?
A feeling of apprehension and unease settled into the pit of his stomach and he found himself jittery and tense. Cassandra placed a hand on his shoulder to reassure him, but it did little to ease his mind.
He had been here before. Why?
His gut told him that something was wrong, terribly, terribly wrong. He knew that if he stopped the car, it would be dangerous for them all, despite their abilities. But still, nothing prepared him for the woman manifesting in the middle of the road before them and he unthinkingly threw on the brakes to avoid her.
Her singing did not cease until they came to a complete stop. In a heartbeat, her form dispersed into the night. Theo was groaning awake, his eerie, almost cosmic, hazel eyes annoyed.
“What the ****, Asher?”
By that time Talon had already stepped out of the car and began to inspect the area. Jaron and Cassandra filed out after him and with a sigh from each, Asher and Theo hopped out of the SUV as well.
Talon looked around the area, and they all became unnerved by the fog that seemed to seep in from the surrounding forest.
Asher glared at Theo and flicked him in the forehead, “Stretch out your senses, Vampire! Something’s off!”
He had chided him in a whisper, but it still appeared to garner attention from whatever lurked around them. A jingling of multiple bells began as two small girls stepped out from the treeline.
The two girls made their way into the scant moonlight, approaching them with curious eyes. The two were obviously twins, identical in every way. The two were holding hands, swinging their arms back and forth as they approached the group. They were young, probably around grade school age, maybe seven or eight if Asher had to guess. One of them wore a lilac dress more reminiscent of ‘sunday best’ than modern clothing. The other wore a similarly fashioned dress, but it was baby pink and torn in numerous places. She was spotted with blood, but it appeared old as her actual skin seemed clean, fresh, and pink in the moonlight.
The jingling did not quiet and he traced the sound to the girls’ wrists, where bracelets of bells rang out from.
Their features were delicate in their build, but strong in their look. Both of them had their hair tied into braided pigtails, with the one in pink having lilac ribbons while her sister mirrored her with baby pink ribbons of her own.
“I’m Lucy!” The one wearing pink announced, her strawberry blonde head bouncing up and down as she stepped closer, releasing her sister’s hand. Her eyes were dark; almost black even in the light. Her sister smiled softly behind her, not revealing any teeth as she shyly hid behind her bolder sister.
“Mother wants to meet her guests,” The shy one mumbled and Lucy tilted her head to the side as she analyzed the group. It was unnerving for one so young to appear so… predatory.
“Yes, Aggie, she does.” Lucy stated, more for them than anything it appeared.
“Mother hasn’t had any guests in such a long time. She would never pass up the opportunity.” Lucy teased lightly, drawing her eyes over each of them, narrowing them down on Asher himself. She smiled at him, her canines sharper and longer than any human child’s should be.
Her sister stepped closer and whispered into her ear, but Asher could still hear her clearly enough. “He smells like us. So does the black haired one, but not as much.”
“Thank you, but no thank you,” Theo grumbled, “We have somewhere to be.”
The twins smiled, “You had somewhere to be.”
“Ok, that’s Shining-level creepy right there,” Cassandra muttered.
“Mother knows where you’re supposed to be going. Still, she insists you come with us. She sees all…” Lucy trailed off and her sister giggled.
“Knows all.” Aggie finished, focusing her own eyes on them. Her eyes were a bright, almost toxic waste level red, putting all of them on edge.
“Theo?” Asher breathed and the vampire shook his head.
“They’re not Family.” Theo replied but he was on edge as well.
“What are you two?” Talon asked the twins, and Lucy giggled, her voice merry and cheerful.
“We’ll tell you if you come with us. Take it as a bonus if you will, as you have no real other choice.” Aggie shrugged as the car behind them was lifted off the ground and tossed off the road and into a tree. Jaron and Cassandra flinched at the sound of the crash, and Asher could spot a brown haired blur disappear into the forest behind the twins. Another giggle was heard, but behind the treeline yards away and out of sight of the vampire and lycan both.
Lucy let out a sigh, “Pardon Clara, she has little exposure to others. She is not as… tame as my sister and I.”
Her words unsettled Cassandra and Jaron clearly, as the least durable members of their expedition. Asher sighed. He knew he and Theo could easily handle the girls, but they were children and that automatically kept them from wanting to kill them. The other girl was fast, not as fast as a lycan or vampire of the Family, but he got the feeling it was primarily for show.
The twins turned their backs and walked into the forest and the group followed them.
“Was your mother the one singing?” Cassandra asked, her crystal green eyes worried.
Aggie nodded and Lucy voiced her reply, “Mother likes to be noticed. So few people ever stop when they see her now. It makes everything so much more difficult. It is nice that you stopped willingly. Much less messy for everyone involved.”
An older girl, the brunette blur, stepped out from the trees, “Hi! I’m Clara!”
She appeared to be a pre-teen, somewhere around twelve or thirteen. Her brown hair was as wild as the woman’s had been, but shorter, only reaching her shoulders. She wore a denim jumpsuit that was three sizes too big, but rolled and pinned back to fit her better.
Her eyes were as bright as red as Aggie’s. The three were so fair that they **** near glowed in the darkness, but they seemed skilled enough to blend into their surroundings. The twins were swinging their arms back and forth as they walked ahead and another girl appeared from behind the group, a year or so older than the twins, unnerving the blonde witch when she noticed the girl and the way she stared into the back of her skull.
Clara wheedled her way between Asher and Theo. She looked at the brown haired lycan with wide eyes, but they seemed exuberant, like she couldn’t be happier to meet him. She smiled at him, and he ignored his gut and smiled back softly at her.
His gut told him that something was terribly off about the girls, but their was something about them. They were predatory, but he doubted that these girls were real threats. Clara turned her gaze to peer at him, scanning him curiously.
Her gaze stopped at his collar bone where the eldest claw scars he had began.
“Mother said you were special.” Clara stated and the twins turned back to glare over their shoulders at her.
“Clara, that is not for us to discuss.” The twins stated in unison, unsettling Cassandra yet again, drawing a shiver from the witch.
Clara looked depressed at the thought and fell back behind the lycan. He didn’t like her at his back, he didn’t really like anyone at his back, and he grabbed hold of her hand and pulled her back to his side. She gripped his hand in a stone hold and she beamed at him. He didn’t even try to pull back, and for the life of him, didn’t know why. The twins smiled at him kindly and turned back around, leading them through the forest.
Almost an hour later they stumbled upon a path, though it was overgrown to say the least.
Asher glanced at Theo and the vampire nodded.
It smelled like old blood the closer the drew to the source of the scent and his memory became filled with flashes of gravel crunching under car wheels, memories of being shot full with silver bullets that humans though lycan were weakened by, and oddly a flash of a woman’s smile.
“I’ve been here,” He stated and the twins giggled.
“Yes. But it is also where our mother grew up, she is quite attached-” The girl at the back let out a giggle of her own- “to the place.”
They walked further and further on till they came to a stop by a rock face. Lucy gently pushed a boulder away, as if she did not wish to break it. It revealed a metal door- a combination of silver and iron, his mind supplied.
The girl at the back came to the front and knocked on the door four-two-five times. It slid open a moment later to reveal a very young girl- a little older than a toddler, three, maybe four years old. She was sucking on her thumb and clutching a small glass doll in her hand. The doll wore a yellow stained lace dress and the girl wore a dress that matched it.
Her brown hair was in her face and the unnamed girl picked her up and swept some of the lockes out of her eyes. She led them through the entrance and into a hall.
“Genny, you are supposed to be with Mother. Someone else can answer the door. What if a stranger knocked? You could get hurt.” The brunette girl chided.
The younger girl shook her head stubbornly, removing her thumb from her mouth to reveal her own pair of sharp teeth, “Nuh-uh Mary! I couh take um!”
Mary sighed and placed her down on the floor, taking her by the hand and escorting them to the main chamber. Another set of doors awaited them and Mary knocked on the door again.
Ruffling was heard and shuffling came to the door where it opened to reveal a disheveled man with the same eerie red eyes.
“Uncle, we’ve brought Mother’s guests.” Mary notified as they entered the chamber.
Asher trailed his gaze around the chamber, spotting a familiar set of chains hanging down from the ceiling at the back. They had been used on him, he was sure of it. At the certainty he could almost feel the incessant ****** of needles that he had never forgotten since escaping his ****.
Around the chamber on all sides were twelve tubes, almost like columns holding the roof up. The man, their Uncle, was odd. He looked familiar, but from where? Here. It had to be here.
The man caught his stare.
He chuckled, “I am no longer human, that is why you do not recognize me.”
Jaron stared at the man, “Then what be you? Evolved or Supe?”
“Of a sort.” He clipped, drawing a frown from the unaging mortal.
Asher found his gaze on the dais in the center of the room. The thirteenth tubal column protruded from it and extended up to reach the ceiling. Asher sighed at the sight.
“Is that blood?” Cassandra gaped, appalled at the sight of so much contained in one place.
Theo nodded, sniffing the air, “Great. Just great.”
Mary had released Genny and the little girl ran to the dais and touched a hand to the cloudy glass of the tube. The air seemed to release a sigh and the silhouette of a woman peeked out of the haze.
“Yes.” The girls’ Uncle replied, his arms crossed behind his back, his lab coat open to reveal plain blue scrubs.
Cassandra blew out a breath and swallowed.
“My name is Beau, I take it my sister brought you here.” The Uncle stated sympathetically.
He let out a laugh, it was not pleasant, but neither was it malevolent in any way. “Well, there she is! Feel free to approach, she will not bite in her current condition.”
Beau, Do not frighten my guests, you know how rare an event this is.
The words were melodic and feminine, the voice of the singer.
“Look Lady, we really need to get going-“
That will not be happening any time soon, vampire.
Theo sighed and went quiet with a shake of his head. His gaze flickered to Asher’s briefly before they both focused back on the tube where the voice seemed to ring out from. Genny giggled and whispered softly against the glass to her mother.
The figure in the glass appeared to kneel down and as she reached out, a hand appeared through the glass, running her fingers through her daughter’s curls. The girl leant into her mother’s touch and Asher could just make out the wire that was attached to her hand.
“My, my, my. Dinner? What a nice surprise.” Another voice broke through the air and a young woman appeared from behind the tube, trailing the tips of her fingers over the glass as she circled around them.
“Lenora, they are your mother’s guests. They might not be dinner… Yet.” Beau breathed, looking over a clipboard in his hands.
Lenora stilled when her mother snapped out her hand and captured her own. Her red eyes clouded over black for a few moments, no other color present. After a minute she blinked and it disappeared. She appeared at her Uncle’s side, whispering so softly even Asher couldn’t hear her.
He left the room and slowly, six other girls of varying ages stepped into the room. None of them were older than seventeen physically and they all had the twins ephemeral features. The group stepped forward into the room to allow the girls entrance. The eldest, clearly Lenora, stepped back from the tube.
“What is wrong with your mother?” Talon inquired and Lenora scoffed.
“A collection of ****. Ill health, ill choices in people, ill choices in general. You’ll have to be more specific.” Lenora replied, sighing when she felt her mother’s disappointment fill the air around them all.
She turned to the tube and apologized softly, brightening when her mother reached out and ran a hand over her chin lightly, a sign of her forgiveness. She had always thought her mother too forgiving, too kind. If those men had done those things to her, she would have killed them.
If they had done what they’ve done to me to you, the would be dead, darling.
Her mother’s voice was protective in her mind and Lenora smiled slightly, and Asher thought that it could almost be chalked up to a lighting error, but he was sure it wasn’t.
Clara finally released Asher’s hand and ran to her mother, bursting with energy and happiness. Her mother released Lenora and touched a hand to Clara’s forehead. The girl’s eyes glazed over with that same dark mist and she stilled like a statue.
Asher was surprised by the concern that flashed through him briefly when the girl stilled so suddenly. He kept his face calm however and when Clara suddenly burst back into reality, her little face excited and happy. She glanced back at him and beamed.
“That kid really likes you,” Jaron stated, his voice calm and free of emotion. Asher didn’t know why, but her happiness around him was so pure, so alien to him.
A flash of a girl’s face. She was pale and sickly, but she was so happy to see him. He wondered why she liked him so much. He was cold to her, always cold, but she… adored him. No one liked being around him here, but she did. Her father didn’t seem to mind her being around him, and it wasn’t as if her mother had stuck around long after they moved to the base.
Her name was Allegra, but the boy that moved here with her called her Ally. The boy, whose name was Beau his mind supplied, always gave him the stink eye whenever they were around him.
She had called him Lukos, the greek word for wolf, and it most certainly fit him- and his other, more dangerous side. The soldiers around the base kept to calling him Beast however, but that suited him fine. It wasn’t like he could remember anything prior to being unchained anyway.
It mystified him how easily her father left her around him. He wasn’t exactly the best individual for childcare. No, he was more at home as a hunter of prey that was foolish enough to cross his path.
But she was not an annoyance, she only followed him around and watched him train in his human form. When she had first arrived, she had been shy in his presence, but now it was as if she couldn’t think of anyone else she would rather be with; she told him everything she could possibly think of despite his lack of replies. It was nice, to have someone make him feel normal, even though he knew he shouldn’t care. They hadn’t ****** him up in the head for a while now, but he felt like the time for that was drawing near.
When, he didn’t know. But his senses were on edge and it would be reckless to ignore them.
Asher came out of it with a shake of his head to find the girl back latched onto his arm. She didn’t flinch at the scorching heat that broadcasted itself off his flesh, though she seemed to radiate cold herself. Beau walked back into the room, carrying a tray in one hand and a clipboard he was scanning in the other with ease. It looked almost comical, but he appeared comfortable with the awkwardness of the movement.
Four of the newly arrived girls surrounded the tray when he placed it on the lab desk. In a flash, the lid was lifted and the girls had taken whatever was underneath so fast he hadn’t seen what they now held. Clara looked up at him, her face pained as she met his gaze.
“It’s going to hurt,” She said, “I’m sorry.”
Asher heard Cassandra scream behind him, the blonde falling to the floor as the… blood made its way into her own bloodstream. Her telekinesis attacked at those surrounding her, but the girls remained unharmed as they circled around her.
Theo rushed to her side, but she didn’t stop screaming. Asher took a step toward them to help when he spotted one of the girls stab him in the shoulder with another syringe, but Clara held him with an iron grip.
“What are you doing?” Asher snapped at her.
“Mother said it needed to be done.” Clara breathed, sadness pouring out from her tone. How she managed to hold him back he didn’t know. He couldn’t let loose his beast without killing them all in the process, and he didn’t want to risk hurting children even if they were attacking them.
Talon tried to dodge the syringe that was aimed at him, but failed as another was stabbed into his neck from behind. Jaron quickly followed, and soon enough only Asher remained. Within moments, all of them beside Theo were screaming and clawing at their skin as their flesh seemed to burn and burn and burn. Theo, for his part, had collapsed into sleep, his hellfire blood resisting the attacking treatment.
He turned his attention on the girls’ Uncle.
“Just what do you think you’re doing?”
The man smiled at him. It wasn’t cruel, and it wasn’t sad, he didn’t know what it was.
Beau handed him a syringe. “It hurts less if you drink it instead of inject it. Though injection makes it faster.”
Clara was staring at the syringe and her eyes shone with hunger but she did not move. “You drink blood?”
Clara blinked up at him, “I have to, or bad things happen.”
Beau watched him, “You might want to hurry up, you really don’t want to look like dinner longer than you have to.”
Clara took the syringe from him, “Mother said it wouldn’t hurt you as much.”
Clara blinked once more, “I don’t know. She doesn’t tell us everything.”
Lucy appeared at his side and stole the syringe from her sister. “You’re taking too long, the younger ones are growing restless.”
He glanced over at Genny, who was beside her mother’s tube. She was calm and sucking on her thumb as she watched them.
“No they aren’t.” Asher stated, confuscion clear in his voice.
He saw Lenora staring at him however and a few of the others. Lucy followed his gaze over to Genny. “She is the eldest of us.”
Lucy appeared to have trouble as well. In a sudden movement she rammed the needle through his lips, drawing his blood, a similar form of hellfire to Theo and plunged the blood into his mouth.
She shouldn’t have been able to reach him, she was too small his mind focused on briefly as the taste of the blood circulated in his mouth. It was an odd flavor, not bad, and it seemed to grow better and better till he was forced to swallow. It began to burn at his insides and he collapsed to his knees before the girls, clawing at his chest, his beast trying desperately to escape its cage to fight off the…poison?
His heart began to beat faster and faster till he felt like it would explode in his chest. He felt Clara hold back his left arm, but she did nothing to keep the opposite from tearing at the skin on his chest. A few seconds passed, but so help him, it felt like decades till everything simply faded to black.