The Brownswick School for Girls, Caldwell, NY
Ants under the skin.
As Rhage transferred his weight from one shitkicker to the other, he felt like his bloodstream had come to a soft boil and the bubbles were tickling the underside of every fucking square inch of his flesh. And that wasn’t the half of it. Random muscle fibers misfired all over his body, the spasms causing fingers to twitch, knees to jerk, shoulders to tighten like he was about to go tennis racket on something.
For the one millionth time since he’d materialized into his position, he peeper-swept the ragged, overgrown meadow up ahead. Back when the Brownswick School for Girls had been a functioning entity, the field in front of him had no doubt been a rolling lawn that had been well mowed in the spring and summer, deleafed in the autumn, and snow-covered pretty as a children’s book in the winter. Now, it was a touch-football field from hell, studded and tangled with gnarled bushes that could do more than just aesthetic damage to a guy’s crotchticular region, saplings that were the ugly, misshapen stepchildren of the more mature maples and oaks, and late October-brown long grass that could trip you like a little bitch if you were trying to sprint.
Likewise, the brick buildings, which had sheltered and provided instructional spaces to the privileged elite’s offspring, were aging badly without regular maintenance: windows broken, doors rotting, off-kilter shutters opening and shutting in the cold wind as if the ghosts couldn’t decide whether they wanted to be seen or just heard.
It was the campus from Dead Poets Society. Assuming everyone had packed up after the movie had been shot in 1988 and nobody had touched a fucking thing since.
But the facilities were not empty.
As Rhage took a deep inhale, his gag reflex did a couple of push-ups in the back of his throat. So many lessers were hiding in the abandoned dormitories and classrooms that it was impossible to isolate individual scents from the sinus-numbing stench of the whole. Christ, it was like putting your face in a chum bucket and inhaling like the world were about to run out of oxygen.
Assuming someone had added baby powder to all the day-old fish heads and goo.
For that sweet finish, don’tcha know.
As his skin went on another shimmy-shimmy, he told his curse to hold its hey-nannies, that hell yeah, it was going to get let off the chain tonight. He wasn’t even going to try to hold the damn thing in—not that trying to throw the brakes on was ever successful, anyway—and whereas giving the beast free rein was not always a good thing, tonight it was going to be an offensive bene. The Black Dagger Brotherhood was facing how many lessers? Fifty? A hundred and fifty?
That was a lot to handle, even for them—so yeah, his little . . . present . . . from the Scribe Virgin was going to come in handy.
Talk about your ringer from out of town. Over a century ago, the Mother of the Race had given him his own personal T.O. system, a behavior modification program that was so onerous, so unpleasant, so overwhelming that it did, in fact, manage to bring him back from the brink of total douche-baggery. Courtesy of the dragon, unless he managed his energy levels properly and moderated his emotions, all hell broke loose.
In the course of the last century, he had become largely successful at making sure the thing didn’t eat his nearest and dearest, or get them on the nightly news with a “Jurassic Park Is Alive” headline. But with what he and his brothers were facing right now—and how isolated this campus was? If they were lucky, the great purple-scaled bastard with the chain-saw teeth and hollow-legged hangry was going to get his Nobu on. Although, again, a lesser-only diet was what they were looking for.
No brothers as Hot Pockets, please. And no humans as tapas or dessert, thank you very much.
The latter was more out of discretion than affection. Shit knew those rats without tails never went anywhere without two things: a half dozen of their evolutionarily inferior, nocturnally codependent, fuck-twit buddies, and their goddamn cell phones. Man, YouTube was a total pain in the ass when you wanted to keep your war with the undead under wraps. For nearly two thousand years, vampires fighting the Omega’s Lessening Society had been no one else’s business except for the combatants involved, and the fact that humans couldn’t stick to their core competencies of ruining the environment and telling each other what to think and say was only one of the reasons he hated them.
Changing gears so he didn’t get loose too soon, Rhage GoPro’d his vision to a male taking cover about twenty feet away from him. Assail, son of Whoever-the-Fuck, was dressed in funeral-cortege black, his Dracula-dark hair requiring no camouflage, his handsome-as-sin face furrowed so tight with murder that you had to respect the guy. Talk about doing a solid—and a one-eighty. The drug dealer had come through for the Brotherhood, making good on his promise to cut business ties with the Lessening Society by delivering the Fore-lesser’s head in a box to Wrath’s feet.
He’d also divulged the location of this bolt-hole the slayers had been using as HQ.
Annnnnd that was how everyone had ended up here, up to their nuts in the overgrowth, waiting for the countdown on their V-synchronized watches to hit 0:00.
But this attack wasn’t some bullshit, buckshot approach to the enemy. After a number of nights—and days, thanks to Lassiter, a.k.a. 00-a-hole, having done recon during sunshine hours—the attack was properly coordinated, staged, and ready for execution. All of the fighters were here: Z and Phury, Butch and V, Tohr and John Matthew, Qhuinn and Blay, as well as Assail and his two cousins, Fang I and II.
’Cuz who cared what their names were as long as they showed up weaponized with plenty of ammo.
The Brotherhood medical personnel were also on standby in the area, with Manny in his mobile surgical unit about a mile away and Jane and Ehlena in one of the vans at a two-mile radius.
Rhage checked his watch. Six minutes and change.
As his left eye started to do the stanky leg, he cursed. How the fuck was he going to hold his position for that long?
Baring his fangs, he exhaled through his nose, blowing out twin streams of condensed breath that were nothing short of a bull’s charging notice.
Christ, he couldn’t remember the last time he was this juiced. And he didn’t want to think about the why of it. In fact, he’d been avoiding the whole why thing for how long?
Since he and Mary had hit this strange rough spot and he’d started to feel—
His name was whispered so softly he wrenched around, because he wasn’t sure whether or not his subconscious had decided to start talking to him. Nope. It was Vishous- and given his brother’s expression, Rhage would have preferred to be pulling a split-personality on himself. Those diamond eyes were flashing with a bad light. And those tattoos around that temple were so not helping.
The goatee was a neutral- unless you assessed it on style. In which case the fucker was a travesty of Rogaine proportions.
Rhage shook his head. “Shouldn’t you get into position—”
“I’ve seen this night.”
Oh, hell, no, Rhage thought. Nope, you are not doing this to me right now, my brother.
Turning away, he muttered, “Spare me the Vincent Price, ‘kay? Or are you trying for the guy who does the movie-trailer voice-overs—”
“—’cuz you got a future in that. ‘In a world . . . where people need . . . to shut up and do their jobs—’”
When he didn’t look back, V came around and glared up at him, those fucking pale eyes a twin set of nuclear blasts that spelled mushroom cloud forward and backward. “I want you to go home. Now.”
Rhage opened his mouth. Clapped it shut. Opened it again—and had to remind himself to keep his voice down. “Look, it’s not a good time for your one-eight-hundred psychic headquarters shit-”
The brother snapped a hold on his arm and squeezed. “Go home. I’m not fucking you.”
Cold terror washed through Rhage’s veins, bottoming out his body temperature—and yet he shook his head again. “Fuck off, Vishous. Seriously.”
No, thank you, Rhage thought. I gave at the office.
He was not interested in testing out any more of the Scribe Virgin’s magic. He wasn’t—
“You’re going to fucking die tonight.”