Ashes of Midnight (Chapter Thirty-One)

Claire wanted it to all be a dream. A terrible nightmare that she could simply wake from and the world would go back to normal. She wanted to go back to three nights ago, when she and Andreas had been alone at the house in Newport, making love, walking along the wharfs, embracing under the moonlight. But the sound of Wilhelm Roth's cruelly animated voice–the realization of what he had just done to Andreas, to the warriors inside the abandoned lair with him… to the women who would be mourning their mates in mere minutes–sank into Claire's soul like a poison. "I can't stay in here another second," she murmured, meeting Dylan's ashen look. "We can't leave, Claire. Can't you hear the gunfire out there by the entrance?" Claire heard it. Rio had been gone for only a few minutes. He and Renata and Hunter were still engaged with the Gen One assassins who'd come up to ground level. It was dangerous outside the vehicle; Claire knew that. But as she stared anxiously out the tinted windshield at the forest that surrounded her, she knew a deeper sense of dread.

"Oh, my God… no. This cannot be Mira's vision." She opened the door and slid out of the Rover, realizing just now that the premonition she'd seen in the little girl's eyes was about to come true. Right here, within the next five awful minutes. Dylan came out of the vehicle and circled around to grab her by the arms. "Claire, please, get back inside. You can't–" "This is the same woods I saw in Mira's eyes," she cried, sick with certainty. The same location where she'd felt the anguish of losing Andreas in that pile of smoking rubble and ash. "The explosion, Dylan. This is exactly what Mira showed me. It's really going to happen. Oh, my God… no!" Tearing loose of the other Breedmate's hold, Claire raced into the darkened woods, her heart breaking, about to burst from her chest, and Andreas's name a desperate prayer on her lips.

Every cell in Reichen's body screamed for him to unleash the full power of his fury on Wilhelm Roth. It would be the matter of an instant to render the bastard nothing but ashes to be trampled under his boots. But incinerating Roth with a single blast of rage was far too merciful. Evil like him deserved to suffer, especially after the cowardice he'd just shown in activating explosives that none of the warriors trapped in the UV cage below had any hope of escaping. His friends should not have to die as part of this bad blood between Roth and himself. It was that thought, more than any other, that gave Reichen the ability to ignore his hatred of Roth and loose his rage on the control panel that encompassed the entire back wall of the viewing room. He threw one bolt of flame after another at the gauges and monitoring devices, until finally there was a loud pop and the entire space went dark. He didn't see Roth moving until the son of a bitch had managed to scramble through a side door. Reichen pivoted to the blown- out window and glanced down at the warriors leaping off the cell's deactivated platform. "Reichen!" It was Tegan's deep voice calling up to him, although Reichen's vision was swamped with amber and rippling with the heat that was escalating ever hotter inside him.

"Reichen, come on! Leave the son of a bitch. He's dead if he stays in here." True enough, Reichen thought. But the way his body felt now, the way his veins were seething lava and his mind fixed on one thing–destruction–he realized that the moment he'd dreaded for so long had finally arrived. He was too far gone. The fires were intensifying within him, no longer his to control. "Reichen, goddamn it!" Tegan shouted, hesitating when the rest of the warriors were wisely rushing to evacuate. "Forget Roth and let's haul ass out of this place before it fucking blows!" "Take care of her for me," he somehow managed to say, his throat feeling as dry as kindling, scraping with each syllable. "Get her somewhere safe… do that for me, Tegan." He didn't wait to hear the dark curse that shot up from the room below. Reichen took off after Wilhelm Roth, trusting the warrior–his friend–to carry out his request.

If he could be certain of Claire's safety, he didn't need anything else. Nothing but the knowledge that Wilhelm Roth was dead. He stalked through the anterior hallway where Roth had run, hearing the bow of metal bending, the steel and concrete reinforcements of the underground bunker protesting his presence. Empty metal supply carts sagged as he passed them, glass windows in doors and offices shattering from the sheer intensity of the white-hot flames that ringed his limbs and torso like an impenetrable, living cocoon of energy. "Wilhelm Roth!" he roared, coming up on the vampire from a few dozen yards away. Roth had been running like the vermin he was, but now he slowed, then stopped. No doubt he sensed the futility in trying to escape the death that was coming to him, either by Reichen's hand or his own, when he'd smashed that detonator switch some three minutes ago. Roth slowly turned around to face him. "You surprise me, Reichen. I would have thought your love for my faithless mate was stronger than your hatred of me."

Reichen grunted. He wasn't about to discuss Claire or his feelings for her with this offal. Roth had to know that with less than three minutes on the detonator, neither one of them was getting out of the bunker before it blew. Reichen stalked forward, using all his focus to keep from ashing Roth on the spot. He wanted to make the next two minutes of his life count, and he could think of no greater purpose than killing Roth second by second, burning away his existence inch by inch. As he approached, Roth had no choice but to retreat backward, edging nearer to the end of the corridor. He saw Roth's skin start to go red. He moved closer, driving him farther back. Beads of sweat erupted from Roth's brow and upper lip, then his entire face and throat sheened with moisture.

And still Reichen advanced. Roth hissed as his exposed skin began to blister and burn. A stench rose up from his fair hair as it, too, started to singe under the heat of Reichen's merciless talent. Roth cried out when his clothes began to smoke. "Go ahead and do your worst," he sputtered, gasping in agony yet finding the ability to peel back his splitting, scorched lips into a sadistic smile. "Have you forgotten? My blood bond to Claire… so long as I'm alive, she feels my pain. Torture me, and you torture her, too."

Claire screamed and dropped to the ground on her knees. Up ahead of her in the dark, she saw Renata, Hunter, and Rio taking on the last of the Gen One assassins at the old barn. Through the black maw of the entrance, Claire watched as Kade and Nikolai, then Brock and Tegan came up from the depths of Dragos's lair. What about Andreas? She was about to call out to the warriors, but the searing pain that racked her so suddenly had stolen her breath.

It had taken her down swiftly, heat running over her body as if she were standing in the heart of the devil's own furnace. Or, rather, Wilhelm Roth was standing in that hellish inferno. It was his agony that rocked her, his pain echoing in her blood. Andre. He was the source of Roth's pain. Which meant he was still alive. Still breathing somewhere in that underground bunker, which meant he still had a chance to get out before the worst could happen.

He still had a chance to come back to her. Claire dragged herself up to her feet, buoyed by hope. She pushed through the painful psychic link to Roth and started running once more. If Tegan and the rest of the warriors had made it out all right, then she was certain that Andreas couldn't be far behind them.