My brothers never heed my warnings. I don’t give them speeches about the butterfly effect or other useless theories. In this day and age, all I ask is that they keep their heads down and beware of the vultures hidden as human beings in every city.
Seth thinks I worry too much. Of course, I do. Dressed in black, my hands loose at my sides, I am worried that I won’t get to my destination in time.
There’s so much in this world I don’t have to worry about. It’s highly unlikely Seth will ever die from snorkeling or a fitness purge. He doesn’t need to fight for a space in the music industry or have to deal with corporate snitches. The newspapers are always full of crazy stories about young people who sell their souls for fame and fortune only to be destroyed far too quickly.
I’ve created a home and safe place for us, so my brothers never have to fend for themselves.
Does that mean I don’t have to worry?
I was on my way to the grocery store when the messenger found me. He had no scruples pushing me up against a wall in broad daylight. There was no reason to defend myself. People on the sidewalk around us had started to stare. This was not the time or place for a supernatural showdown. Instead of trying to overpower me, he leaned in close enough for his hot, garlicky breath to waft over my face.
The message was simple. A location. A time. An exchange.
Normal rules applied, of course. Don’t tell anyone. Come alone. Any deviation from the request would be met with extreme consequences.
He shoved a vial in my hand and then left. The exchange. Ivan is getting impatient. There haven’t been any more success stories after mine. My brothers were infected by me and share the same strand of the virus. All other twenty-first century vampires have irregularities in their blood and virus’ that leave them having issues that science has yet to fix.
Most aren’t too much of a problem. I scour the world helping people infected by rare strands and teach them how to function once more. Cedric from Ireland blacks out when he’s overwhelmed, leaving him to become a notorious “werewolf” in the area that I recently brought back home to recuperate. He’s no monster. Just a vampire without any sense of control and a few memory problems. He should be fine in a year or two with a rigorous schedule full of training and consistent sleeping schedule. If he should choose to stay on, he’ll become part of an onboarding team for more future inhabitants.
Ivan isn’t looking for vampires that need a little bit of work and gentle counseling. He wants killing machines. He wants lethal soldiers that can walk off of a battlefield no matter the strength of the army they’re facing.
He wants me and the special properties that come from my blood.
I didn’t head home. Seth would immediately see my face and know that something was wrong. Should things go wrong, he knows what to do. I’ve left him a cabinet full of advice and helpful materials, but he understands the importance of our operation and that the lives of our occupants come before any attempt to come find me.
We’ve had longer together than most brothers. It would be an honor for him to carry out my legacy.
Seth, of course, has never been the problem. Ditching the grocery store, I slipped into a back alley and cut my hand, letting my blood fill the vial without hesitation. This sample of my DNA could be all that Ivan needs to create a superhuman army ready to take over the world. It wouldn’t happen today or tomorrow, but in two decades, this vial could be the reason the world has gone from a place that struggles to balance good and evil to purely a dystopian novel.
It’s worth it, though.
Ashby and I haven’t always seen eye to eye. He came to America without a dream, trapped as an immortal because of mistakes I made. I’ve never asked more of him than to try to be happy. He did that for a few years and has now lost it all.
This is inevitably my own fault.
It’s been a year, but I knew he wasn’t doing well after the death of his boyfriend. He moved back home. I thought that would be enough to keep him out of trouble.
I make it across the city in less than an hour, my legs cramping from speeding through intersections and taking shortcuts around the humans still crowding the sidewalks as the evening starts to creep across the sky. Seth always teases that I spend too much time doing bureaucratic bullshit and not enough hours in the gym. Perhaps he’s right. If I make it out of this predicament alive, I might just make it a goal to join his daily workouts.
I’m almost ten minutes early, but Ivan and his men are already here, taking over the darkened corner of an abandoned parking lot. There’s no point in creating a strategy or trying to sneak up on them. They know I’m coming and I won’t risk Ashby’s life.
Already, a fire burns behind them, one that licks purple flames towards the coming night sky. The only way to kill someone like Ashby or I. Expose the virus and burn it to a crisp. It’s rare for a vampire to survive some fatal wounds, but this is a surefire way to keep me in line and threaten Ashby’s existence.
I walk towards them, my hands at my side, the promised vial tucked in my pocket. “Where’s my brother?”
Ivan, the large brute in his typical black trench coat, steps out of the way to reveal Ashby being forced to sit in a chair while a man presses a blade to his throat. Not the worst situation I’ve found him in, but definitely dangerous. We have to be careful with this exchange or I’ll lose more than just the fate of the world.
Ashby’s eyes widen as he gets his first look at me. “What are you doing? I told them you wouldn’t come.”
Pupils too large, words slurred, he shakes his head at me, his hair sticking to his sweaty forehead. There’s more he wants to say. Insults and commentary on my failure as his brother most likely. He doesn’t get a chance to say more as the man holding him cuts him off with a hand over his mouth.
I should have had someone watching him. I don’t know if he’s drunk or high or a combination of both, but he’s been out of control for the last year and too reckless to be left alone. It’s the only reason Ivan has him now.
Another failure to add to his list of faults for me.
Ivan isn’t here to deal with my family drama. “This is an exchange, Carter,” he prompts, stepping back in front of my brother.
Plucking the vial out of my pocket, I hold it out for him to see. In the flickering light of the raging fire, the red liquid looks ominous. No different than anyone else’s life force. Ivan thinks it’s the key to his campaign and I’m happy to give it to him if it means Ashby comes free.
“Let him go, Ivan.”
Those are the only words I let myself say. More demands push their way up my throat. He’s just a kid. He shouldn’t be involved. If you wanted a fair fight, you would have sent your goddamn goons after me.
I can’t say any of that. Ivan already predicted my presence by kidnapping Ashby. The man is more monster than anything akin to human. I won’t give him the satisfaction of begging for my brother’s life when he has never had the capacity to love anyone or anything in his prolonged existence.
We’re at a standstill.
Ivan is still standing in front of Ashby, unsure of how to let go of my feral sibling without giving me the upper hand. I haven’t stepped any closer. I’m not fool enough to get into his arm’s reach with this vial. Staring across the parking space between us, I dare him to make the next move.
He’s the one that demanded my presence.
Deep breaths. Stay calm. Even though rational thought is begging to exit my mind, I have to stay sharp enough to get Ashby out of this predicament.
He doesn’t deserve to die for my inability to keep him safe.
If I can just get him out of here, Seth will know what to do with him. He could lock Ashby in a room and throw away the key for all I care. An isolated life is better than this dangerous path he’s been barreling down for too long now.
Ivan lets out a ragged sigh. “Release him.”
Ashby staggers to his feet, rubbing his neck and smearing the line of blood the knife had created. He’s muttering curses under his breath in French and English. I want nothing more than to grab him and pull him behind me, but I can’t do that without walking past Ivan. Ashby has to come to me himself.
I’d appreciate it if he could do it sooner rather than later.
My brother is barely strong enough to stand on his own, using the chair as a crutch to keep his footing. I don’t know why he was outside in this condition. He put a target on his back and then dared the bad guys to come get him.
There will definitely be a lecture for him if we both get out of this.
Ivan waves for the man who was holding my brother to come forward. “Make the trade.”
Grabbing Ashby’s arm, he drags him a few steps in front of Ivan and then holds out his hand. It’s now or never. I hand over the vial and take my brother. Everyone walks away a winner.
That’s the point, right?
Ashby’s hands dangle at his sides, black claws appear and then retract back into his skin. He’s barely keeping his virus at bay. I don’t even think he realizes how close he is to losing control. As much as that could help me in the event of a fight, he’s not in any condition to have my back.
I just need to get him away from here.
Reaching forward, I let the man snatch the vial from my hand while I grab onto Ashby’s arm. We both pull away with our chosen prize. I’m ready to run for our lives and slam the doors behind ourselves back at my compound, but Ashby has another idea.
“I’m worth one vial of blood?” His unfocused gaze flicks between me and Ivan. “That’s all you wanted? You know he and I have the same blood, right? We’re literally brothers infected by the same viral strand.”
I’m stepping backwards and Ashby isn’t budging. A cruel smile peels across Ivan’s face
“I do know that, little Carter.”
The next moment happens almost too quickly for me to follow. Two more goons appear from the shadows behind us. The one who was holding Ashby before lunges forward, stabbing at me with a previously concealed knife. The blade catches my bicep, tearing my T-shirt sleeve and leaving a bloody gash in its wake.
Ivan starts to walk away, his coat fluttering behind as his heavy steps echo around the empty space. “Don’t waste too much of that blood. Take them alive if you can. Otherwise, there’s still one more Carter I could get my hands on should the need arise.”
The fight I was worried about having to survive is here. I barely feel the cut on my arm as my blood clots and it begins to heal. My main concern hasn’t changed. Ashby is in no condition to make a smart decision right now. I have to get him out of here.
My hand wrapped around his shoulder, I pull him back just in time to miss the next slash of the knife. Ordinary weapons have no real effect on us. It’ll take them too long to hack us into small enough pieces.
This is just a distraction.
Ashby fighting against my hold as much as he is flailing against the next swipe of the knife, he stumbles over his own feet as I turn to see the real problem. Chemical warfare was created by humans, but perfected by vampires. Dressed in specialized hazmat suits, the other two goons toss a grenade.
It explodes with a blinding light. Bits of rock and shrapnel embed themselves into my back as I throw myself over my brother. Ashby lands with a thud, any argument covered by the boom of the weapon behind us.
Blind, my ears ringing, I struggle back to my feet while I hold my breath. Gotta move. Gotta get out of here.
Ashby doesn’t get up.
The three other men don’t give me space while I try to retrieve my brother. Blood splats over the concrete as I take a punch to the ribs. Choking on air, I cover my face with my shirt while they surround me. There’s no way to protect myself and defend Ashby’s still body, so I take several more hits to my back and stomach and one to my cheek that makes me see stars before my knees hit the ground.
We made a pact several decades ago to never show the other vampires what made us special.
Today I have to break that.
Blows rain down on my body as I curl over Ashby. Home. I have to get home.
Black tendrils leak from my wounds. The attacking vampires stagger back. Shocked or surprised or disgusted, I don’t care what they’re feeling.
Thirty seconds. That’s all I need.
My body weak from the fight and the breaths of contaminated air, I blink away the dark spots clouding my vision. Home.
Grey walls and grey floors. Tunnels beneath the city. I haven’t had time for major decorations, but my bed has red sheets.
I hold that color in my mind’s eye.
Red like the blood dripping from my mouth onto the floor.
The black tendrils swirl around us, creating a cocoon that has the other vampires keeping their distance. Ashby and I are specimens they could never understand. Danger fills the air around us.
Should I fuck up, Ashby and I will die here.
Not at the hands of our attackers, but as a consequence of using powerful magic I still don’t understand.
My mother’s dining room table sits in my living area. There’s a picture of my brothers taped to the wall next to my bed. Red and grey and black. The colors swirl through my mind as I let my eyes fall closed and feel the inevitable tug of the magic on my bones.
I wrap my arms around Ashby, clinging to him harder than I have ever tried to cling to life. This will not be the day I lose him. Even if this destroys me, he has to get home safe.
I don’t dare open my eyes. Even as the other vampires shout, their voices sounding muffled from the cloud of darkness around us, I focus on getting Ashby home.
I’m too far gone to do anything besides hold my brother and hope for the best.
Screams fill my ears as the magic starts to pull me towards my destination. Fire rages along my arms as the tendrils try to separate me from Ashby. He’s a lead weight in my grasp, threatening to stay here as I plummet through space and time to home.
I pull him tighter, burying my face in his hair long enough to take a deep breath of his expensive, vanilla shampoo and the lingering hint of smoke.
Please. This has to work.
In the space of a second that seems to last forever, my joints seem to dislocate and slam back into each other. We’re weightless and then dropped onto concrete. Every moment of my long life hits me at once. I feel the wounds of injuries received and healed three decades ago. Gunshots and broken bones from my past. That pain in my shoulder that never seems to quite heal roars back to life. I can’t breathe.
It takes every remaining ounce of strength in my body to force my eyelids open.
Ashby in my arms.
Seth must have heard our fall. He’s at the open door, his mouth open in a question or a yell for my attention.
It doesn’t matter right now.
I close my eyes.
We made it.
Happy Saturday! Thank you for checking out Gideon’s ordeal this week. When I first saw the prompt for an interrupted journey, I thought it was something that could fit any of the characters that I’ve brought out onto this blog. There are several story ideas jotted down for other characters and the various journeys they could have been on before their inevitable interruptions, but I thought Gideon was a fun person to follow this week, pushing further into another of his many adventures before he runs into Tamyra Raeleigh.
I also hope this was a little bit of insight into the character of Ashby Carter long before my kindle Vella series: Lore. There’s a long timeline to play with and a lot of different phases these characters go through over that span, so I hope it continues to be interesting enough to bring my readers back every week.
As always, please take a moment to drop a like or a comment to let me know how I’m doing!
Bridgette’s story will be up soon!