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Chapter 19

Evey looked up at him, her brow furrowed.

"Lied? Lied about what?"

Everyone turned towards the cruentus, and he averted his gaze from all of them.

"Cei," he answered, but when he didn't offer any more, Will stood up.

"What about Cei?" he asked, fingers curling into fists as he anticipated the worst. Ju sighed and shrugged slightly.

"She's not taking a nap. She went home."

"What?!" Evey stood up with a jerk. Panic edged in her movements.

"She can't be alone! From not wanting to do it, to going headfirst into danger. I'm going to beat the living hell out of her!"

She was already headed for the door. Will was on her heels, and they were both nearly out the door when Ju called after them, "She made it home safely. He isn't out tonight."

Jared furrowed his brows, and with more anger than anything else moved beside Ju.

"And why didn't you tell us this before?" he demanded. The young noctis shook his head.

"She asked me not to."

"Why?" Evey asked. "God, is she that stupid? What if he had been out? Especially when she was so completely unprepared to offer herself as bait? She's terrified of him. Shouldn't she have asked for an escort? How dumb is she?"

"She seems to do stupid things when she's upset," Will remarked as they headed out the door. "Let's just get over there quickly and make sure she's alright."

They ran to the car and were on their way in an instant, Will driving as fast as he could without drawing too much attention. Fortunately, this late at night, the roads were pretty empty, but traffic lights were a little harder to avoid than cars, so there were still several unwanted stops.

Evey just hoped that Cei was all right. Maybe Crudelis was not out tonight, but that didn't mean he couldn't be. There could be someone watching the house and get word to the enemy.

As they got to Cei's place, tires screeching, the shadows moved. It didn't bode well, and it confirmed her fears. Someone was watching the house. But she wasn't going to go chasing after whoever or whatever it was. Make sure Cei was all right first, that was the priority.

If Will had noticed the movement in the shadows, he made no reaction to them. Rather, he seemed relieved to have just arrived there as he jogged up to the door and banged on it with his fist.

"Cei?" he called, banging on the door again. "Cei, open up!"

"Go away!" she called back from inside. "I want to be left alone!"

"Seriously being creeped out," Evey said. She tried the door and found it was locked. At least Cei wasn't a complete idiot, but a locked door wouldn't help against someone like Lios. Evey concentrated, focusing on the lock, found the inner workings and gently undid it, so it would not break – just unlock.

With a click the lock was free. Evey opened the door and went inside, giving a nod to Will. Once they were both in the house, she locked the door again, and then began to head up to the lab. That was her guess.

"That was stupid, Cei. Leaving like that. Do you want to get yourself killed? How the hell are we supposed to help each other and stop Lios, Ashton and Carmilla if you won't work with us? We can't do this on our own, you can't do this on your own. If we don't stick together we're going to lose this war, and we can't afford that."

"The only reason anyone has gotten hurt is because Lios wants me. Just go away and leave me alone!"

Will tried the door on her attic lab and, sure enough, it was locked too. The hunter frowned and banged once on the door to let her know they were standing right outside.

"Cei, we aren't just going to leave. What do you think Crudelis will do if you return to him? Do you think he'll just drop everything and leave the rest of us in peace? I highly doubt it..."

"This is my problem, Will. Leave me alone!"

"Why are you doing this, Cei?" Evey asked through the door. "We need to work together! We need your help and you need ours!"

She was beginning to grow angry with Cei's illogical childishness.

"You can face him, but let us back you up! What would Brendan and Jon say if they saw you acting so stupidly self-sacrificial? They'd bust down this door and yell at you! We're not going to leave you alone, Cei. You're just going to have to accept the fact that we're your friends, and we're here to help you. You're just going to have to SUCK IT UP!"

"Brendan and Jon are fucking dead because of me! Anytime I get involved with ANYONE, Lios kills them! Jesse was right: I need to stop getting attached to mortals!"

Even with all the anger in her voice, the energy was beginning to fade, and her next bid for them to leave was much, much softer.

"I just want to be left alone..."

"We're not going anywhere," Evey said, her voice soft. "Neither of them are dead because of you, Cei. Jon died fighting, he died loving you, but he didn't die because of you. Brendan even less so. Brendan died trying to protect us all. We all failed him. Not you. All of us. And we won't be able to make it up to him, or to make Jon proud of us, if we let you give up. You can't give up. We all have to fight. And we have to fight for them."

Evey wrapped her arms around herself.

"We're not leaving you. We're staying here, because we all have to stick together. We abandoned Brendan. I'm not going to abandon anyone else."

Her voice hitched as she finished, ending in a low whisper as tears slid down her cheeks.

There was silence on the other side of the door for a long time, then a gentle click as Cei unlocked the door. She said nothing to them, and Will looked at Evey with eyebrows raised before he hesitantly opened the door.

The lab was a mess; Cei had been busy at work before they arrived, but now she was no where to be seen. Having grown so upset, she had ducked under one of the tables, knees curled up as she just waited for them to either enter or leave.

Evey was upset. There was still an edge of anger because as far as she was concerned Cei was being a child. But she could understand to some degree she supposed. It takes a great strength of will to move forward in life after tragedy, and to fight against those who take away your right to live as you choose.

She had just never considered that Cei was so weak-willed. Maybe it was her mistake for assuming others had strength, but she was frustrated. How could anyone let someone ruin their lives? How could she just not fight back?

She entered with Will, closed the door, and locked it again.

"What is wrong with you?"

Cei remained quiet, not wanting to talk about any of this. She hoped that if she just stayed silent long enough, they would leave.

Will walked around the tables until he found the one she was under, making a small gesture towards Evey as he knelt down to the vampire's level.

"Cei, why are you acting like this?" he asked. "I know you're upset – we all are – but why are you shutting yourself off? It isn't making things any better..."

Evey crouched down and looked at Cei.

"I don't get it. I don't get after all the years you've suffered, after what Lios has done to you, you're going to sit here and mope about it. You're not going to fight, you're not going to get angry, you don't want to rip the very heart out of his chest and put it in a goddamn blender. If I were you, I'd be aching for a chance to kill the bastard. I already am, and I haven't suffered as much as you have by his hands. I'm going to tear Ashton apart for what he's done, so I'm not going to sit around thinking about how much powerful he is than me. Christ, Cei. You are more powerful than Lios. If Ashton is more powerful than him, and he's younger than you, how much more powerful do you think you are than that sad little fuck? Get mad, get even, but don't get teenage-girl, feeling-sorry-for-myself angsty. It's bull shit, and it doesn't befit you."

Cei peered over her knees at her, trying (and failing) to hide how upset she was.

"You don't understand," she said quietly. "I have been fighting him for centuries now, and nothing ever seems to work. I'm just... I'm just running out of energy to resist him. I don't know if I can keep fighting him..."

"You have your potion. You have us backing you up. How many centuries did you have a hunter, a demon, two angels, and a detective who is half angel by your side? You're not fighting him alone, Cei. Christ. I thought you realized by now that we're your friends, and we're not abandoning you!" Evey said, staring hard at Cei.

"You said yourself you didn't even know he was alive until recently. You thought you had killed him. Well, you didn't, but now you've got a whole group of people here that want to help you, and that will do anything to protect you and to help you."

"I don't want to fail again. I don't want to lose anyone else..."

"Then please, Cei," Will sighed. "Stop making it easy for him by isolating yourself. Please, let us help."

The cruenta closed her eyes and buried her face into her knees.

"Just don't die on me, okay?"

"We're not going to die. I'm tired of this."

Evey's hands clenched.

"They're going to pay for taking Jon and Brendan away."

Her eyes closed, her expression tight and stiff, and tears slipped out. My partner. They'll pay for taking away my partner. No one kills my partner and gets away with it.

Eventually, Cei looked up over her knees again and simply nodded. Will reached to help her up just as Evey's cellphone rang: Ju.

Evey opened the cellphone (the screen didn't work anymore since she dropped it the day Brendan died), but the outer screen still did.

"Yeah, Ju. What is it?"

"I just learned something that could be exactly what we need," he explained, sounding very excited. "Lios and Ashton were having a discussion, and he mentioned how much he loathes Carmilla, especially for her ability to walk in daylight."

Evey put him on speaker.

"Say that again, nice and loud, hon. And then go into detail. What are you thinking?"

"Like any noctis," Ju continued. "Lios fears daylight, and he's especially jealous of Carmilla's ability to withstand it. Cei, you still have your notes for that one botched experiment."

She nodded, even though it wasn't really a question.

"If we could convince him to take it and test it for himself..."

"Play him for a fool," Evey said. "Set him up. If you pretend to give up and offer it as a way to keep him away from us... Like, stay away from my friends, I don't want to lose anyone else, here, take this, just stay away from them. If you sell it that way, he'll probably believe it more than if you just offered it as a gift or a peace offering."

"Precisely," Ju agreed. "Although the risk does increase because we'll have to set it up near dawn, and there's a chance you could get caught out in the sun too, Cei."

"I know how long the protection lasts," Cei said. "But the trick will be keeping him outside while I get myself into the shadows."

"Maybe that's something we can help with. If there's a way to distract him, or have us get you out of there before he notices you're gone..."

Evey trailed off trying to think. There had to be someway for them to keep Lios's attention away from Cei.

"Well that's easy enough," Will said, folding his arms. "Instigate a fight. If he thinks he's invulnerable, he won't hesitate to take me on."

Evey stared at him for a moment. Then she grabbed the lapel of his coat, tugged him toward her and kissed him.

"Genius," she said, just a little breathless. She returned her attention to Cei and then to the phone.

"If Will attacks him and he thinks he's invincible, it gives us enough time to get Cei out of the light before it hurts her and into safety. Then the moment the potion wears off, poof."

"More like sizzle," Cei mumbled. "It may take a few minutes before the poof part. Otherwise I wouldn't know how long the potion lasts..."

She didn't need to bring up the time when she had almost killed herself for everyone to remember. Will smiled bashfully, rubbing the back of his head and laughing a little.

"Heh, I half expected you to hate that idea, Evey. But I'm sure I can keep him out there long enough. I hate to sound morbid, but burning vampires may fight harder, but they aren't nearly as strong."

Evey shook her head.
"We have to believe in each other and believe in each other's abilities. We have to all give as much as we can to stop them, and we can't hold back just because we're afraid we're going to die."

She smiled up at him.

"I trust you. You won't die on me."

She looked over to Cei.

"And neither will you."

She put her hand on Cei's shoulder.

"I need you to get angry, Cei. Angry for Jon and for Brendan. Anger will make you brave."

The cruenta nodded and laughed.

"God, I'm such a wreck, aren't I? I don't know why I can't keep a hold of myself whenever it's something concerning Lios..."

"You said it before," Ju said, still on speaker. "It's because of the blood bond between you. You haven't told me much about your past with Lios, but based on what I know of the bond's powers, I can guess that you had a few more than just one sip."

Cei dropped her shoulders, tucking her head in.

"Try daily for a few centuries..."

"Yeah, but for the last few centuries you thought he was dead. When did you escape from him, Cei? I'm assuming it has been a while, but how long ago was it? Fifty years? A hundred? Two hundred? You managed to be strong enough to get away when you were drinking from him regularly, and since then you haven't had a taste. You should be even stronger now," Evey said, looking at her friend in confusion.

"I don't know... four or so centuries? Something like that..."

"That really doesn't make any sense then," Will said with a frown. Cei shook her head.

"I don't know..."

Jared's voice then came over the phone.

"Could be psychological then," he suggested. "Coupled with the blood bond. I saw the same thing with Jesse when he was my patient. He and his brother ran away from Carmilla – much like how you left Crudelis – but any rumor that she might still be around terrified them, regardless of whether or not it was true."

"Why did they run away from Carmilla?" Evey asked quietly.

"According to Jesse," Jared explained. "She was, quote, 'a lunatic.' Apparently, Luke was the favored child and always did as his mater told him, but Jesse had a habit of doing just the opposite. When Luke started acting more like his brother, Jesse said she became furious and began regulating everything they did, right down to where they were allowed to hunt. After dealing with a few too many of her tantrums, they took off."

"No wonder he wasn't happy when I told him she was still alive," Evey murmured. "I didn't know her long enough to see her tantrums. I guess I came out better for not having her around."

She tilted her head to the side as she looked at Cei.

"Cei, if it is psychological then you can overcome it. This entire situation is different. You don't have to be afraid of him. You have all of us."

"Fear of the parent vampire seems to be relatively common among cruenti," Jared added, almost as an afterthought. "I wonder why..."

"Now really isn't the time for psychological speculation," Will interrupted. He looked over at the two women. "Are we ready to start putting this plan into action?"

Cei took a deep breath and nodded.

"It has to be done."

Evey looked hard at Cei.

"You have to be strong. If you can't do this or aren't able to you have to let us know so we can get you ready. Everyone is in this together. No one is alone."

"I need one day," Cei said with a nod. "So I can make more of the formula and time exactly how long it lasts."

She took another deep breath.

"Which means I should either get a quick nap in now so I'll be awake for dawn, or set my alarm to be up in the middle of the day."

"If you're testing that, we aren't leaving," Will told her. "Not after what happened before."

"I understand."

Evey nodded.

"I'll go make dinner now. Maybe you should nap now, Cei. Will and I will keep watch, and wait for you to wake."

Evey gave her friend a smile. Cei started towards her room.

"If I'm not awake an hour before dawn, please get my ass out of bed."

"If they don't," Ju said, still on speakerphone. "I will."

"Here's to another all-nighter!" Will cheered with a smirk as Ju hung up. "I'll start making the coffee."

"At least tomorrow, you'll get to rest most of the day," Cei yawned. "So you'll be up and ready for the next evening."

"Sounds like a plan. Do you have a spare room? I'm getting a little tired of your couch," Evey said with a smile.

"I'm afraid not. Will a cot do?"

Evey sighed and then smiled.

"Sure. We've used it enough times. You need to invest in a sofa bed, Cei."

It was a very active day for everyone the next morning, when the sun was up. Cei, despite her initial grogginess, was busy in her lab for hours on end, trying to recreate her temporary sun protection. There were many times where they had to stop so the cruenta could regain her focus... and heal her wounds. Testing the product was proving to be very painful.

"I need to get it to last at least one minute," Cei sighed as she sat in the shadows again, letting the burns on her arms heal. "Not to mention, I'm going to need blood before we try this for real. I don't know how many more trials I'll be able to do before I can't heal them any more."

"No worries," Evey said. "Do you need our blood pumping for it to be fresh enough, or is okay if we just stand here and let you drink?"

A smirk spread over her lips. But Cei gave a rueful smile in return.

"Brendan asked me the same thing when I needed to hunt the last time I did this experiment... no, it just has to be from the source."

"Ah," Evey said quietly, still smiling. "Well, at least I'm... mostly normal, so it's not like my blood will do anything like make you go berserk or somesuch."

"Hopefully not."

The experimentation continued until at last, Cei found a mixture that lasted a minute and a half. It wasn't much time, but any longer could complicate the trap. The sun was just starting to set, and Cei slid down on her couch and breathed a sigh of relief.

"Now we just need to wait until it nears dawn again," she yawned. "And write Lios a note. I have no idea how I'm going to get a hold of him..."

"That shouldn't be too hard," Evey said. "Just send the note to the Council and address it to Lios. He's part of it now, remember?"

She was sitting by Will on the love seat.

Cei frowned, shaking her head.

"I was trying to forget that," she grumbled. "First, though, I think I should take a nap. We don't know how early he will come, and I am really, really tired."

"We'll keep tabs on things, then," Will assured her. "I can't believe how... well, simple this seems. I thought it was going to be a lot more difficult to set this up."

"The more complicated it is, the harder it is to pull off. Simple works." Evey looked up at Will. "Getting rid of Ashton and Carmilla is going to be a lot harder."

"Fuck them both. We're going to end this, whether they like it or not, right..."

Will had started to turn to Cei, but stopped when he noticed she'd already curled up comfortably on the couch and was sound asleep. He couldn't help but laugh.

"I swear, she can sleep anywhere."

Evey chuckled.

"Well, after all the work she's put in, I'm not surprised."

She took his hand, twining her fingers with his. Her expression became dark.

"I'm going to have to figure out someway to stop Carmilla. She must be extremely powerful. How can we even stand a chance against something like her?"

"You're starting to sound like Cei," Will told her, shaking his head. "At this point, we just need to feel things out. We'll cross that bridge when we get to it. Let's worry about Crudelis first. Then we can worry about the other two."

Evey nodded and lay her head against Will's shoulder. She was worried about him, but then, they were all worried about each other. They just had to stick together. Otherwise, they would lose.

She wished Brendan and Jon were here.

Will leaned his head over and whispered in her ear.

"Shall I make us some coffee? Or would you rather nap too?"

He ran his fingers through her hair, not minding at all if she just wanted to sit and relax a little.

Evey purred a little in response to his touch in her hair, relaxing and leaning against him.

"I think coffee is good. Relaxing sounds great right now. Maybe we can take a shower and take advantage of the fact that Cei is sleeping."

She gave him a grin.

"I heard that," Cei grumbled, though after a minute it was clear she wasn't actually talking to them. Will laughed, carefully standing and pulling Evey with him.

"I'm sure she won't mind if we enjoy ourselves while we're here."

Evey glanced at Cei and then to Will. She smiled up at him. "Here's hoping." She
moved closer until she was pressed up against him. "So, coffee then shower or shower then coffee?"

Will nuzzled her hair, inhaling deeply.

"The coffee can wait. You smell too delicious to pass up for caffeine."

Evey laughed softly. She held him for a moment before she took his hand and
headed toward the stairs up for the shower.

"I'm feeling quite wicked," she said playfully over her shoulder.

Hours later, well after the couple had finished their fun and Cei had finished her nap, the cruenta was busy writing up her letter to be sent to Lios. She knew if she could finish it before midnight, she could get it delivered before the Council officially met, and then they'd be able to set their plan into motion that coming dawn. She would have emailed it, but she wanted to make sure he believed her "sincerity," and a handwritten note would be much more effective for that.

Will wanted to make a quick run back to his apartment to get a few more weapons, especially stakes. He leaned against Cei's kitchen counter, sipping his coffee while he waited for her to finish her letter.

"We could do one round trip: drop off the note, head to my apartment, then head over to the warehouse. Are you sure that's the best place to run this thing?"

"It's more neutral than my home, Will," Cei explained. "And it'll be easier to find a place with lots of open sunlight and easily accessible shadows. Unless you have a better location in mind..."

"No, I think the warehouse is the best bet, as long as he doesn't go near it. I don't think he's going to live through this," please if there is a god let him not live through this, "But I want to make sure he knows nothing about Ju or Jezz," Evey said.

Cei finished her letter and began to fold it and place it in an envelope.

"We should be well away from that part of his home. Remember, he only lives in one, arguably small part of that warehouse complex. We'll be on the far end, away from him and Jezz, but close enough if we need the assistance."

"That's good, at least."

Evey smiled and took Cei's hand. She gave it a squeeze.

"We'll be right there, Cei."

The cruenta chewed on her bottom lip, but nodded.

"We're so close... God, my heart is beating so fast! I can't believe this... Lios... Lios is almost gone..."

Evey rubbed her hands together, an edge of conspiracy in her eyes.

"One down, two to go."

She tried not to think of Carmilla though she said it aloud. Ashton first. Then... the real problem.

Cei licked the envelope and sealed it, looking over at Will.

"Finish up that coffee; we're ready to go."

The hunter downed it quickly, setting the mug next to the sink before he left the kitchen to join them in the living room.

"So we'll run this by the Council first," he said, picking up his coat from the love seat. "Then run by my place for supplies, then we're off to wait and hope he shows up, right?"

"That's the idea."

Cei walked over and picked up the two vials of her potion: one for her and one for Crudelis.

"God, I hope this works without a hitch."

"It better. God knows nothing else has. We need one fucking battle win or we're so not going to win this war," Evey said.

Her cell phone rang just as they began climbing into Cei's car (to make it more believable, just in case). It was Jared.

"Ju called and told me you were about to head out," he said. "I'll be at the warehouse shortly. I've got you all covered."

"Thanks, Jared, I appreciate it."

Evey paused for a moment.

"I really do. Your help has been great. I don't know what we would've done without you."

"Thank you. Just make my job easy and keep yourselves safe. I'll be there if you need it, but I hope that you don't."

When they arrived at the meeting hall for the Council, Cei asked Evey if she would take the note in.

"They still haven't replied to my resignation email, and I don't want to be stuck there. They'll try to kill Will if they see him, and they fear you anyway because you're Carmilla's daughter. I guess that's one small advantage."

Evey nodded and took the note. As she walked in she said quietly to herself, "Let's just hope the infamous two or three haven't arrived yet..."

After being directed down a long hallway by a secretary at the front, she eventually came upon the double doors leading to the Council's meeting room. Outside was standing a boy in his early teens who looked at Evey wide-eyed when she approached.

"Are you here for the meeting?" he asked, a small quiver of fear in his voice.

"No. I'm just here to leave a message."

Evey handed him the note.

"Make sure Lios gets it."

She made sure she looked as unhappy as possible about it, and a bit unsure. She hoped the boy relayed her expressions so he would believe it more easily. The boy took the letter and examined it, rubbing it with his fingers, smelling it, and looking for all the world like he wanted to chew on it before nodding anxiously.

"I'll be sure he receives it first thing when he arrives. Anything else, ma'am?"

"No," she said crisply. Evey turned on her heels and headed out quickly, not desiring to run into anyone else. Cei had started the car and was ready to pull away as soon as Evey was inside. Will leaned over from the backseat.

"I take it there wasn't any trouble?"

"Not yet," she said as she got in. She closed the door and buckled up.

"I hope this goes off without a hitch. We really can't afford any more setbacks," Evey said quietly.

They headed over to Will's apartment, gathering up all the hunting gear they could carry between two of them (since Cei couldn't help with that part). Will took a moment to move Reggie off of his cooler. He pulled out one of his blood vials and tucked it inside his jacket. Cei picked up the cat and scratched his ears while she watched.

"Who's is that?" she asked, nodding towards the vial as he stashed it away. Will chewed on his lip.

"Jesse's. My last of his."

Evey shifted in place, worried. Crudelis was the weakest of the group. She didn't want Will to waste Jesse's blood when it wouldn't be long before the stupid vampire fries in the sun. They would need it for Ashton and Carmilla. But then again... She didn't want to risk his life in case he couldn't handle the vampire. She had complete faith in him, but she still didn't want to lose him.

She stayed quiet and tense, continuing to gather the items.

"I think that's everything we'll need," Will said, taking a deep breath. "And now the real show begins."

Cei put Reggie down and brushed the cat fur off of her shirt. She started towards the door.

"Hopefully, you won't need that blood now. You might need it later."

"Better safe than sorry, Cei. At most, I'll keep it on hand for Ashton, but I don't think it would be a good idea to have it when we face Carmilla. It'll be too similar to hers..."

"Yes," Evey finally said. "Don't use it against Carmilla. But Ashton is stronger. I hope you won't need it against Lios," she said softly. The worry in her voice was clear. Will walked over and kissed her forehead.

"Relax, Evey. One step at a time. We'll get this settled once and for all."

"Not to rush things," Cei piped in, looking at her watch. "But the Council meeting will be ending soon. We best get over to the warehouse now."

Evey smiled at Will, and then nodded.

"Let's go."

They hurried back to the car, and Cei drove as fast as she dared to the warehouse. They got into their positions. Evey looked toward the east. The sun would be rising soon. She wondered, considering how sensitive the cruenti were to light... why would the Council meetings run so late? It didn't make any sense. It worked to their advantage. Lios would get the note close to dawn and come here. Cei would distract him long enough to test the potion with the dawn, and then they were in business.

But it wouldn't have worked if the Council had met and disbanded at a decent cruenti hour. They would've had to get the letter to him in some other way. What were they discussing in there that took all night, she wondered.

The sun was ready to peek over the horizon in less than half an hour when the car pulled up, parking in the shadows nearby. Lios stepped out from the back, walking around to say something to his driver before walking towards the warehouse. Cei held her breath. She knew Evey was just around the corner watching, and Will had his brother's crossbow aimed and ready, but she hadn't face her pater in centuries. Even with all of these precautions, she was terrified.

"So you actually arranged to meet with me, Tina," the elder cruentus drawled as he approached. "I must admit, I'm a bit skeptical of your offer, considering how long you've been running from me. Interesting name change, by the way."

"You changed yours, Lios," Cei said flatly. "I'm within my right to change mine..."


The force of the slap was staggering, and Cei couldn't keep her balance when he struck her face. For his part, Lios only frowned when she fell.

"As insolent as ever, I see. I thought I taught you better..."

Evey slipped into the deep rhythm of hiding herself from the world with her psychic abilities. Her anger fed her strength. She didn't think she could get stronger, but she felt like she was. It was going to be difficult to keep away and not do something to Crudelis beforehand, but she forced herself.

She let her rage fuel her abilities. Come up sun. Come up.

Cei slowly rose to her feet, careful not to make eye contact with her pater while she regained her composure. Crudelis seemed pleased.

"Ah, much better," he crooned as he began to walk around her. "So there are some things you remember. Now, what is this... request you asked of in your letter?"

"I want a truce, Lios," she said, never once daring to look at him again. "Leave my friends alone, and... and I'll return to you."

"Hmm... those are some very bold words, you know. Last I checked, you were running a little short on friends."

It took all of Evey's self control to not lash out. She refused to ruin their trap. There was no point in risking it all because she was pissed at Lios's audacity. He would get what he deserved. Just a little longer.

Cei closed her eyes, forcing herself to remain calm.

"That's why this has to stop. I know you won't stop hurting them until you get to me."

She opened her eyes and glanced towards the horizon. The sun was beginning to rise. Looking up at Crudelis, she took a deep breath.

Here goes everything.

"Lios," she said softly. "Please, don't hurt anyone else."

The cruentus scoffed, rolling his eyes as he too noticed the rising sun.

"You best make your case quickly. The sun is almost up and I know neither of us can survive it."

"That's not true."

She reached into her pocket while he turned back to her in curiosity. Cei held out the two vials.

"I... I stumbled upon this in my research. It will... well, I can show you what it does."

Crudelis nodded his approval, giving her permission to show him. Cei took one more deep breath and downed the first vial. The clock had started. She then stepped carefully out into the sunlight, showing him how she did not burn.

"I brought one for you, if you accept my truce."

Please, Evey thought, not sure who she was begging. She wasn't quite sure there was a god anymore after what happened to Jon and Brendan, but she was willing to believe in the power of something out there as long as it was good, and it wouldn't let another fuck up happen.

Take it, you slimy son of a bitch. She readied herself for anything, watching intently.

The cruentus stared in shock for a couple of seconds, but gestured towards Cei to come back into the shadows.

"It's a truce, then."

He took the vial and drank it, hesitant at first to test it himself, but only half a minute after Cei had finished her vial, he was standing out in the sunlight. A broad grin stretched across his face.

"You are a remarkable woman, Celestine. I knew there was a reason I took you for my bride."

Thank god, Evey thought. Now just a few more seconds. Will would burst in within moments, sticking to the script. He would tell Lios that he wouldn't let Cei give up and lure him into a fight. Evey was ready in case Will got into any trouble. She hoped he would be all right fighting him.

Just as they had suspected, Lios held his hand out to his daughter. Cei started towards him, preparing herself for what she knew would happen...

The bolt skimmed past her pater's ear and into her shoulder. She'd made sure to stand just close enough to the nearby wooden beam so that when it struck, it pinned her there. That part would remain in the shadows for a while still.

Lios whirled around, fangs bared as Will hopped down from his potion, ditching the crossbow in favor of his preferred weapon: his sword.

"You know, I don't fucking care what Cei thinks," he sneered, holding the sword ready. "No truce with you can end well, and I'm not going to let you take her back!"

The vampire laughed while Cei pretended to try to remove the stake.

"Ah, one of the famous Keattings, I presume? Not that there are many of you left to carry on that legacy. Pity you don't live up to your grandfather's name; I was hoping for a challenge."

Evey fumed, but remained in her hiding place. She was back-up in case things got hairy. She was supposed to pull Cei out of the way if she had to, but she was kind of their secret weapon if Lios proved to be too much of an annoyance.

She stayed in her hiding place, eyes darting between Cei, Lios and Will, watching for anything she could to help without having to drop her invisibility and drawing Lios's attention to her.

Will initiated the fight, genuinely angered by the jab at his family. Crudelis was unlike any vampire he had ever fought, and even allowed some of the sword blows to strike him so that he could get an attack in himself. As soon as that minute and a half mark ticked by, however, his tactics changed. The skin on his face and hands began to crackle as the sunlight burned, and Crudelis shot a furious glare towards Cei, who only shook her head.

"Lios, dear, I never said it was permanent."

Angered both by her trickery and the pain from the light, he turned his attentions away from Will and ran straight for her.

Evey set up a force field around Cei, dropping her invisibility. She wasn't going to let Lios even touch her friend. The powerful shield of hardened and compact atoms and molecules protected Cei from Lios's attack.

The cruentus smacked against the force field, his anger only increasing when he realized what was going on; he couldn't even get back into the shadows. Fury driving him now, he turned back just as Will took a swing at him again.

Crudelis caught the blade with his hand, not even flinching when it cut into his palm. He glared down at Will, eyes glowing red as he pulled the sword away, swinging his other hand to catch the hunter across the chest with his claws.

Evey let out a little cry, but held the force fields up. She bit her bottom lip, worried for Will. He could handle Lios, she told herself. One injury won't do any lasting damage.

But now unarmed, Will was having a hard time blocking the strikes. Dodging them as best as he could, he took several more blows – including a severe gash in his side – before he got his weapon back. Crudelis was in a rage, and just as Will connected another strike, the vampire landed another of his own, sending the hunter across the lot.

Cei pulled the bolt out of her shoulder and turned to Evey.

"Drop the force field. We need to get Lios away from Will!"

Evey watched in horror as Crudelis leapt after Will, both of them now out of sight. She immediately dropped the force fields and scrambled down toward Cei, worried about Will. God, let him be all right, she thought.

Out of sight from the girls, Will was trying to get to his feet and get the vial of Jesse's blood before Crudelis caught up. He'd hoped he could get by without it, but the vampire was taking longer to burn than he had expected. Lios was just too covered up for it to go quickly.

Will almost had the vial out of his pocket when the cruentus came lunging at him once again.

Before the cruentus could make contact with Will, a pair of powerful legs slammed into the vampire's side, knocking him at least fifty feet away from the hunter. The figure was a living shadow, shrouded in black. It stayed crouched on the ground where it had landed after sending Lios flying.

"Hurry up and drink that vial, Keatting. Put that thing in its place."

The shadow rose, ran to Lios and gave him a swift kick in the face, the muscle and strength in that kick far stronger than that of the cruentus. There was a satisfying crack as Lios's neck broke. Before the vampire could attack the shadow was gone and Evey and Cei were hurrying toward Will.

The hunter downed his vial, and now with Jesse's blood fresh inside his system, he was able to heal a few of the wounds he'd sustained. Good thing too, as Crudelis had just finished resetting his neck and found a small spot of shadow to heal some of his burns.

Before the vampire healed himself completely, Will was behind him. Sword or not, with the strength of an older cruentus, he was ready to take Lios head on. Grabbing onto his sides, the hunter hurled Lios back across the lot and into the sun once more.

Cei followed Evey in the shadows, avoiding the sunlight as best as she could. She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw Will.

"Oh thank God..."

Evey was also relieved. She put up the force fields again.

"He must've gotten Jesse's blood into his system," she said softly. "If he needs us, I'll drop the shields again. You need to stay in the shadows."

Cei nodded, halting just as the barrier went up. Even though she knew she had to stay out of the light, she didn't like how helpless she was in the sun's rays.

The fight quickly turned now that Will had his strength up. Even when Crudelis landed a strike, Will struck right back with two or three of his own. The sun was starting to wear on the vampire and had fully risen, but he just would not die.

"Evey, let me out," Cei demanded, looking over at her friend. "Let me out; I need to stop this."

Evey looked hard at her friend, not liking it, but not having much choice. She dropped the shields. But before Cei could go anywhere she grabbed her arm.

"Do it fast. No one here but Lios is going to die today."

Cei nodded her understanding and ran off to another part of the shadows. Shuffling briefly, she cupped her hands and called out:

"Lios, darling, over here! Quickly!"

The cruentus had to shake off Will before he could respond, and throwing him across the lot again seemed to do the trick. Will was about to tear after Crudelis again, but noticed Cei beckoning him and decided to hold back a little. If she had a plan, he didn't want to ruin it.

Once close enough, Cei grabbed onto her pater's arm and pulled him back into the shadows. He immediately began to heal his wounds.

"I'm so sorry," she hastily apologized. "My friends..."

"Are a nuisance!" he cut her off, growling. "No truce is going to stop me from fighting back!"

He turned and sneered at Will as the hunter was starting to return. Cei sighed.

"That wasn't what I was going to say, Lios."

As he turned to question her, Cei pulled out the stake she had hidden and drove it deep into his heart. Crudelis growled in fury and pain as every muscle in his body froze and he fell backwards to the ground. Cei knelt down beside him, smiling gently as she brushed the hair out of his eyes.

"What I was going to say," she explained, her voice light and airy. "Was that my friends are going about killing you in an awfully roundabout fashion."

She gave him a quick peck on the cheek, then pushed him back out into the sunlight. Now immobilized, there was nothing Lios could do to escape.

Evey let out a whoop of joy before she ran over to Cei and gave her a hug.

"I'm so proud of you," she said, knowing it was downright silly to say that, considering the cruenta's age, but she didn't care. A little while ago, Cei had been utterly terrified. But she had shown Lios no fear. She was incredibly proud of Cei.

The vampire blushed and smiled, glancing over at her pater. The smile quickly faded and her brows furrowed. Cei turned away.

"I can't watch this. Let me know when he's gone, okay?"

She couldn't help but shiver. It was a horrible way to die, even for someone as wicked as Lios.

Evey nodded. She looked to Will.

"Watch him as much as you can. I'll get Cei to bed. She's had a long day and night."

She hurried away with Cei, making sure to keep the cruenta protected from the sun as they disappeared into the slew of warehouses.

When Will was alone with Lios, the "shadow" that had helped him earlier in the fight appeared beside him.

"One down, two to go," he growled. He was a big man, hooded, cloaked and masked, and completely covered in black clothing, including gloves. His eyes were the only thing that were visible, but only if you peered in close enough to get a dangerous look at his face. His eyes glowed bright yellow.

"You were struggling there, champ. What happened?"

"I nearly made a fatal misjudgment," Will admitted, shaking his head. "I'd forgotten how much strength a dying cruentus could have, and I waited too long to drink my vial. I should have done that right off the bat, but I was hoping to save it for the next one."

The hunter scratched the back of his head, watching as Lios turned to ashes.

"This was a whole lot easier when Jon was around..."

The big man put a gloved hand on Will's shoulder.

"It's a little scary to realize that so much of one's strength came from others. That's what these bastards have been trying to do from the beginning. There is strength in friendship and in numbers, and they started to take us apart."

He paused for a moment.

"You won't be able to handle Ashton, will you? I want Ashton for myself, but I know you wanted revenge for what happened to Jon. What do you want to do?"

"Take him," Will said, going to retrieve his sword as Lios finally completely crumbled into dust. "I used my last vial of Jesse's blood, and if I needed that to defeat Ashton's pater..."

He lifted his sword, then laughed, turning to face the shadow.

"Too bad I couldn't have gotten some of this bastard's blood before he died, huh?"

The shadow shook his head.

"It would've given you indigestion. Who knows? Maybe you'll find something else of value in what's left. Though I wouldn't call this scum's blood something of value."

He moved over to the pile of dust and ash and crouched. He shifted through the clothing.

"If he has cash in his wallet, I call dibs," Will called as he walked back over. "God, I need a better job..."

Inside the lining of Lios's vest seemed to be an unusual bump, like something had been sewn inside that wasn't supposed to be there.

The shadow found the wallet and tossed it to Will. Then he took up the vest and shook it free of the ash and dust. He touched where the bump was. He put it down for a minute, grabbed a hidden knife from his boot, and split the seam carefully so as not to damage what was inside.

Folded within the lining was a delicate piece of vellum folded into a neat square. Bits of the text could be seen through its browned surface. Will looked up from his investigation of the wallet to see what had been found.

"What's that?" he asked, tucking the whole wallet in his back pocket. "Is it what I think it is?"

The gloved hands trembled slightly. The shadow unfolded the paper carefully, not daring to breathe.

Aramaic script ran across the vellum, cut off on one side where it had been torn. The ripped edge was mostly straight except for the bottom corner where it cut in more diagonally. Still, the text seemed to almost glow in the sunlight, like the words had some power all their own.

"Part of Charon's contract."

Jared emerged from hiding to stand behind the two of them. The demon had sensed the contract's power as soon as it had been removed from its hiding place.

The shadow turned to Jared and then straightened. His hands still shook.

"Destroy it, Jared. Please."

The demon nodded, taking the contract in his hands.


Jared held the vellum between his palms and mumbled something softly. Within seconds, the parchment turned to ash.

"What does this mean?" Will asked. "It was only part of the contract."

"It means the likelihood that Charon will obey a command is now dramatically decreased," Jared explained, brushing the ash from his hands. "There is a good chance – about fifty percent, I'd say – that he doesn't have to obey any given order."

Gloved hands clenched into fists.

"So that's a fifty percent chance that I can still die."

His body was tense, waiting for Jared's confirmation. Jared lowered his head.

"Unfortunately, until the entire contract is destroyed, there's always that chance. We know Carmilla has the other half. At least any orders Crudelis made are now null and void."

"But that still won't negate Ashton's last order," Will sighed. "Damn it! If we'd only been able to kill that bastard first..."

The hunter punched his fist into the pavement, putting a sizable hole in the ground. He was still running on Jesse's blood. The shadow looked over at Will.

"We so need to get you more of that stuff. It'll be useful against Ashton."

He turned away from Will and Jared.

"I'll take Ashton down. I'm sure he has a piece of the contract, no matter what he said. If I were him, I would've stolen a piece as insurance, so I won't put it past him. Once he's dead... I don't care what happens anymore. I won't hide."

"Unfortunately, that was my last vial of Jesse's blood," Will said with a frown. "Unless you know any two-thousand year old vampires, I won't be getting a boost like that any time soon."

"In the meantime, we should be going back to our places," Jared remarked, beginning to leave. "I'll tell Amelie how things went before coming to check on you, Will. I can heal those wounds."

The hunter nodded and stood.

"Tomorrow night will be interesting. As soon as Ashton finds out, he is not going to be happy. We'll have to keep close watch on Cei, 'cause we know he'll be most angry at her."

The shadow nodded.

"You can count on it," he said before moving away and vanishing into the dark corners of the sea of warehouses.
Also available on :icondulcis-absinthe:'s page, as we format it a little differently.

As said in the story: One down, two to go.

Oh! And if you like the story and are a member of Gaia, check out my contest, the OMG Art Contest!
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