Adriana stared in horror through the flaming bars. Denson’s other four garou emerged from the forest. She would have done anything to convince them this was not their battle, to get them to stand down and flee. However, she knew the same sense of honor that fueled their need for revenge against her would now extend to the stone monstrosity that had eviscerated their brother.
There would be no stopping the garou.
There would be no way for them to survive.
The only choice left to Adriana was to plead with the man who could stop this fight — Strathan. She turned to the smug bastard as he enjoyed his cigarette. He paid no attention to her; why should he? The bars of flame surrounding her neutered her. Words were her only weapons against the heartless fiend.
“This cannot happen,” Adriana began.
The sorcerer did a double take, and then looked about as if searching for the source of the voice. “I could have sworn I heard someone talkin’. But who could that be?”
“Damn you, Strathan! They are not a part of this! Your anger is with me!”
Strathan turned to face her. He had the mocking expression of a man consoling a baby. “There there, Adriana,” he cooed. “I’m not upset with you!”
Suddenly, a tone of utter seriousness replaced his mocking. “I’m bloody feckin’ pissed off at you! I ask you to get one bloody little jewel and the first chance you get you screw me! You shouldn’t a treated me like some Fecky the ninth, Dupré.”
Moving close to the flames, Strathan used his cigarette to point at Adriana, driving his next words home. “What happens now is your fault.”
He turned from the bars to watch the impending battle between his golem Nuri and the garou. “Damn I wish I had some popcorn and a whiskey.”
The valiant effort by the garou to avenge their fallen brethren was inspiring. They would have easily torn asunder a lesser foe. That would have been Adriana’s fate had the golem not stepped in. The creature had saved Adriana; the garou now suffered in her stead.
In death, the garou reverted to their human forms. The golem ripped those bodies apart, staining the pureness of the newly fallen snow like chum in uncharted water. The sounds of the garou, at first bold and strong, had turned into wallowing and defeat.
The irony of the moment did not escape Adriana. In the past, she had created scenes like this. Then, her garou victims had been nothing more than targets for death. Now, they were her last chance to choose love and family over hate and blood.
Strathan had taken that chance away.
“You have done enough evil here,” Adriana said. She now stood within the cage of flame, hoping her despair did not dilute the fury of her words.
“Bet you were told that every time you bloodied one of your blades,” Strathan countered. “But I wouldn’t waste any more pretend breath talking to me, Dupré. Your werewolf friends are done. You’re done. I’m just happy —”
Strathan paused. He must have noticed the smile on her face. Confused, he took a drag on his cigarette. As its end burned to ash, he finally heard the pounding of paws against snow behind him.
The dark sorcerer turned to see the Denson beast leap at him. The ferocity of the creature killed Strathan’s bravado. He had no time to mount a defense, magical or otherwise. His cigarette dropped from his slack-jawed mouth.
In one great leap, the massive garou cleared nearly thirty yards, poised to take Strathan’s head in its jaws.
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Adriana Dupré’s combat prowess was legendary, but Makeda Arsi proved to be a worthy adversary and held her own. Instead of struggling against the vampire’s aggressive style, Makeda worked within it, turning the former assassin’s energy against her while avoiding her lethal blade.
The knight exerted further dominance by connecting with the occasional strike. Adriana weathered the blows, but Makeda’s successes antagonized her. The knight teased her with the shard, pulling it away when it fell just within Adriana’s grasp. This tactic further frustrated the vampire.
For Adriana, Makeda’s martial skill merely prolonged the battle, but did not change its outcome from her favor. She sensed the blood coursing through her system, its effect maintaining the speed she used to combat her opponent. Yet as she pressed her attack, Adriana noted the telltale dark blue vapor trails emanating from Makeda.
The knight used magic to match Adriana’s speed.
Makeda parried another of Adriana’s attacks and slid into a grappling move that locked Adriana in a hold.
“We battle in a room while surrounded by history,” she stated.
Adriana glanced about, only now remembering the Grecian artifacts on display surrounding her. She suddenly realized that throughout their fight Makeda had made a point of drawing their struggle away from the items.
Countering the knight’s hold, Adriana maneuvered her opponent toward a nearby statue. Makeda would have to defend both herself and the priceless relics. The new tact did nothing to slow Makeda’s resolve. The knight parried Adriana’s assault while preserving what artifacts she could.
“One would think a woman so fueled by personal history would respect that of others,” Makeda chided between her defensive maneuvers.
Adriana lunged, her blade hidden until the last possible moment before it struck. To her surprise, the blade met air, not flesh. Makeda countered the attack by locking Adriana in another restraining hold.
“This is not an area conducive for combat, Adriana.”
The vampire broke the knight’s hold. In the same motion, she drew her second blade and sliced through the emblem on Makeda’s chest.
Adriana pulled back, reveling in the moment. Her eyes challenged Makeda. To the knight’s credit, she maintained her composure. Makeda lashed out with a bold attack. Adriana moved to parry, but too late realized the attack a feint. The knight’s magic held her aloft so that she could twist into another kick.
Adriana had inadvertently opened herself up for a blow to her spine that would have crippled a mortal. The vampire lurched forward, headlong into one of the marble statues.
She was stopped just before impact. Adriana found herself enshrouded by the same blue light that embraced Makeda. Adriana involuntarily turned to face Makeda. The knight’s hand was displayed before her, balled in a fist. She opened her hand, and the light surrounding Adriana vanished. The vampire fell clumsily to the ground at the knight’s feet.
“You can end this, Adriana,” Makeda said instead of pressing her tactical advantage.
“I most certainly will,” the vampire grunted.
She used the magic in her blood to eliminate the pain and heal her spine. A simple task, but Makeda’s blow drove home the danger she faced in a prolonged battle with this knight. Her power having healed her bruised vertebrae, Adriana vaulted to her feet, ready to go on the offensive.
Makeda moved first, advancing and executing a grapple/ throw combination that sent Adriana back to the ground hard. While the vampire recovered, Makeda raced toward the exhibit’s exit in the back of the room.
The bitch still had the shard.
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“Now pay attention,” Freeman continued. “We’re hitting the leeward side of the mountains and flying low. The winds will press down hard (hence the downdrafts) so you’ll be doing a lot of pulling back just to keep level.”
Adding a dash of sarcasm, Freeman said, “Figure a girl who can rip the lock off a plane door can handle it. Which, by the way, is part of the reason you have to do this.”
“You just hate me,” Adriana countered.
“Yes, but where we’re going through the Alps it’s fourteen thousand feet high. Now that normally wouldn’t be a problem but — oh yeah! When you jimmied the lock, you messed up the plane’s pressurization. Anything over fourteen thousand feet and we’ll lose cabin pressure, which means we lose oxygen. You’d be the only thing that’d live up there. So unless you know how to phase us Kitty Pryde-style through a mountain —”
“How did you survive this long without getting your tongue cut out?”
“How did you survive this long period?”
Adriana started to reply, but another downdraft hit the plane. As it started to go, Adriana pulled hard on the yoke. The plane didn’t immediately react, and she worried that it wouldn’t. The plane eventually righted and started to climb.
“Gentle, Vampirella,” Freeman thought. “There’s another catch. See that little dial right in front of you? Below the one with the blue and brown? That’s the altimeter. Ya gotta keep that at a relative two hundred feet to the ground.”
“We gotta stay below German and Italian radar. Which means blending in with the ground clutter. Lucky you we’re just flying over a mountain range and not, say through downtown Florence.”
Adriana pushed forward on the yoke, leveling the plane close to the number Freeman recommended. “Who cares if radar spots us?” she asked.
“Well, between the lack of a transponder ID and the registered flight plan we’re illegally off-course from, not to mention flying into a sovereign nation’s airspace without permission, I’m thinking whoever spots us may just save you the trouble of learning to flying. They’ll shoot us the hell down.”
Adriana took this in, almost regretting her curiosity over what Sahlu had called “returning to the time that made her” in Oromia. A cliché came to mind, one she never realized she’d exemplify.
“Once you’re over the mountains, mind the inevitable updrafts. Be ready to push forward on the yoke.”
Adriana used her stub of a right hand to point at a red light, presently unlit, next to the altimeter. “What’s this?”
“If this light comes on, you’re about to crash into something,” Freeman warned. “I’d advise changing course.”
“How will I know where I am?” Adriana asked.
“See that dial with the plane drawn in it? That’s the heading indicator. Go south, little lady. And whatever you do, don’t turn too hard. Hell, don’t turn at all if you can help it.”
With that, Freeman went (thankfully) silent, leaving an agitated Adriana to fend for herself.
She stared out the front window. Everything came at her so quickly, but she had no training in how to react. This foreign task of flying required her to relax, concentrate and act simultaneously — with no experience.
Either that or splatter herself and the Knights against a mountain.
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The wraith leapt straight for Adriana, its jaws yearning for flesh, but came up short, just missing the target.
Adriana spun to her right and out of the wraith’s path. She shivered at the cold emanating from the creature as it passed behind her. By the time it had landed and turned, Adriana had dashed out of the cell and into the hallway.
The garou wraith charged after its prey continuing its erratic pattern of pursuit.
Adriana sprinted over the shattered glass in the hallway and to the half wall separating the cells from the operating theater. She vaulted the wall —
Just as automatic weapon fire peppered the wall. Several bullets also pierced Adriana’s supernaturally animated flesh. The vampire went down, but rolled to safety behind one of the experimentation tables.
That safety was merely a matter of perception.
In the periphery of her vision, Adriana saw the garou wraith stalking toward her position. As it pounced at her, she rolled to lay prone on the floor. The garou floated over her.
The creature should have smashed against the table and landed near Adriana. To her dismay, it became insubstantial and sailed through the table, disappearing from view.
Now the vampire faced two problems from the garou wraith: she had no idea where it lay hidden and, since it could go through solid objects, it could attack her at will without her knowledge, without her capability to mount a defense.
Then there was the matter of the machine guns.
Adriana moved to a crouching position and propelled herself across the opening between her and the next dilapidated table. Bullets chipped pieces from the table she previously used as cover, as well as the floor between the tables.
She made it to her new destination without further injury and flattened her back against the remains of the table. Adriana then took a quick look around the table’s corner. She had just enough time to count three MKDG gunmen standing halfway down the stairs before bullets pelted the other side of the table.
Taking a moment to check her wounds, Adriana found that the gunmen had clipped her side. It was merely a flesh wound and easy enough to heal with her blood magic.
But Adriana wouldn’t have the time.
She turned to a low, growling sound at her side sound and spotted the garou wraith’s head passing halfway through the table she had previously used for cover. Its eyes, glowing pools of hatred, fixed upon her. Then the wraith’s head receded back into the table and disappeared.
Adriana didn’t waste time to debate her situation. Her options were limited anyway. She lurched across the space between her and another table.
Her timing was perfect. The creature bounded through the table she had just used for cover. Its jaws snapped shut, having anticipated tearing into Adriana’s throat. Again, it was met with disappointment. Its claws raked across the concrete where Adriana’s body had once been.
More bullets flew, again missing their target.
Adriana, meanwhile, had maneuvered herself closer to the gunmen.
At this rate, Adriana would be bouncing between tables well past the sunrise. What good would escape be if it resulted in her destruction by the rays of the sun? She looked back to the wraith. It had disappeared.
Adriana needed another tactic.
The garou wraith suddenly appeared and leapt at her again.
Read more in “For Her Sins”
"This author has a wonderful imagination and I like the way he mixed historical fiction into his modern day setting making his writing style unique for this genre."
"Reminded me of an RPG game – an unbelievable infrastructure rooted in historical fact with action from all angles, and every character with their own ulterior motives that could take the story in so many directions – the details blended together seamlessly toward a dramatic conclusion that only left this reader wanting more."
"Love the story. You're on my list of great reads waiting for the next in the series. Who needs romance? I'd rather read a great story. ["By Virtue Fall"] reads like an action movie."
"The action flows quickly and engagingly making for a real page turner."
Author Mark Wooden introduces viewers to the inspirations behind his “Shadowdance” urban fantasy/ action-adventure saga. He also provides insight into the first novel of the saga, “By Virtue Fall,” featuring vampire assassin Adriana Dupre.
Prepare for a look inside the world of creating a song for the “Shadowdance” urban fantasy/ action-adventure saga. Coming in November 2015.