Rain slashed at the windows.
Staring into a computer screen, Duncan plotted the annihilation of his eternal enemies. His plan—the result of well over a decade of gathering intelligence, recruiting his army, and growing the necessary funds—would begin tonight. It needed to be ready. No, more than ready, it needed to be perfect. They would get but a single shot. Failure meant certain death.
Only after hours of double- and triple-checking was Duncan satisfied. His plan was as good as he could make it. The rest would be up to her.
As if summoned by that thought, a slender woman entered his office. Her raven waves tickled the laces of a gown dyed silver to match her eyes. Long years ago, those eyes—sea blue back then instead of silver—had pulled him to her. Kane was his creation, the one that made everything possible.
“Sire, I thought you may have need of me.” The scent of lavender followed Kane like a handmaiden.
Shivers cascaded down Duncan’s spine. His fangs wore twin grooves into his lower lip. Blood-stained fields dotted with corpses instead of wildflowers filled his mind. Their future called to him.
Duncan’s office door clicked shut.
The sound shattered Duncan’s daydream. He slid his gnarled hands over the cool marble of his desk. Unnecessary breaths slowed unnecessary heartbeats.
Beside the door the color of sun-bleached bone, Kane glanced at the windows behind Duncan.
The tingles radiating along Duncan’s shoulders flared. Twisting in his chair, he faced three panels of floor-to-ceiling windows. Sure enough, the late afternoon sun peeked through clouds heavy with rain. The leaded glass protected Duncan from most of the sun’s danger, but not all.
“Sire, you should be more careful.” Her bare feet padding against the tile floor, Kane strode to the windows overlooking the courtyard below. She snapped the black-out curtains shut in one fluid movement.
For an instant, Duncan longed for the days when the sun had warmed his human body. “Thank you, my dear.”
After a quick nod, Kane perched on one of the sleek chairs across from him.
Duncan folded his hands on his desk. “As you may suspect, the moment to begin has at last arrived. I’d like you to lead the charge, Kane.”
Kane’s chin dipped into another nod, confirming his implied request.
But another, more important question loomed before Duncan. “Are the others prepared to take your place?”
“Yes, Sire. Eight are available, two of which show promise.”
Scarred fingers—the result of Duncan’s early encounter with Adara—steepled in front of his narrow nose. He couldn’t hope for another Kane, no matter how often he sent Adara on her fruitless searches. But eight of them should be enough to squash his troops’ rebellious instincts. Even one on its own could maintain the spells Kane had created. It just wouldn’t last long.
But eight could last an entire year. If not, Adara could find more. And there was always brute force, although that never worked for long. But Duncan could no longer spare Kane for something so trivial.
Kane angled forward in her chair, catching Duncan’s ebony eye. “And I will be but hours away should you need me. If all should fail.”
Duncan’s lips twitched, threatening a rare smile. He had yet to disclose the pilot location, but his base sat in the mountainous middle of the country. Kane couldn’t help but be correct. Not that he would have hours if her replacements failed. “I daresay you will have your hands busy enough, my dear Kane, even if everything goes as planned.”
Rustles emerged from the stables a courtyard away.
Duncan’s thick-lashed gaze flicked toward a computer monitor. By now, the sun would be nearly set. Soon the clatter of battle would reign.
“We have the eight replacements. We’ll just have to hope that they—and any additions Adara finds—will be good enough. It’s time to shift to our true purpose: destroying our eternal enemies. It’s no secret that their waves of mindless soldiers have suppressed us for centuries. Even our historic numbers cannot compare to theirs. No, at this moment, it would be useless to fight them directly. First, we must demolish those waiting in the wings. Only then can we fight them in earnest. Only then can we bring an end to this unfortunate chapter in our history.” Duncan leaned back in his chair, surveying the impact of his practiced speech.
Kane’s face remained smooth as glass, but her torso tilted forward. Her hands lay clenched on her lap. Her toes dug into the electric blue rug. Kane was excited, though she refused to show it.
“Now, I have plans for battling them directly, but as I mentioned, first we must attack their backups, which is where you come in, Kane. This part of the plan is straightforward: we attack their young. As you know, our enemies keep their children tight and safe within those villages of theirs. They cannot be our targets, not yet. Instead…” Duncan’s obsidian eyes glittered as he stretched out the suspense. If only he could be the one…but no, he must remain here. He must focus on their long-term goals. “We’ll attack their trainees—those sequestered away in their boarding schools, far away from the action. Far away from meaningful assistance.”
Kane’s coral lips pursed. “And how do you intend to do this, Sire?”
“Ah, that, my dear Kane, is for you to unearth. You, Fang, and three of our best fighters will go. The five of you are to act as an independent nest. Once you have a detailed proposal for your attack, you’ll report back to me. Together, we’ll finalize it into something suitable for testing. If the test is successful, we’ll apply your plan to the entire country, maybe even the continent. Remember: whatever plan you create, we’ll use it to destroy each and every training Cell hiding in those boarding schools. Now, where is our first target, you may wonder?” Without waiting for a response, Duncan twisted the secondary monitor toward Kane. He extended a talon toward a crimson circle drawn over a satellite image. In the center was a cluster of brick buildings. “This…Eversfield Preparatory Academy.”
Kane assessed the map, probably noting the acres and acres of uninterrupted forest separating Eversfield from any notable cities where the Clan’s regular Cells would hunt. Yes, Duncan had provided them with more than enough room for shelter—and for their other needs.
“I presume I do not need to ask this, but what is the objective, Sire?”
Duncan responded with a toothy grin a millimeter away from a snarl. “It’s simple: to kill them all.”
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