"Shh..." A hand brushed lightly across his shoulder. "I"ve seen how you look at me."
"Shh..." Fingertips traced their way down his chest, pausing to gently flick at his nipple ring and cause ripples of pleasure to shoot through his body. "Quinn..."
Hunters annoyed growl snapped Quinn's eyes open, hitting him like a verbal cold shower.
"Ash wants everyone in the war room in five minutes. Get a move on."
"O...Okay." Quinn managed to stammer out as the warrior turned without another word and strode off.
Note to self, start helping with the construction of the private living quarters bathrooms asap.
"As I am sure you are all aware of by now, Quinn had a very eventful evening last night. Quinn, I know you were worried about taking out that Rogue on your own and I don't want you to be. It was the right thing to do in the situation. Now that doesn't mean you and John can go off hunting Rogues on your own. The rules still apply. But if you think you can save a life, do so, okay?"
Both Quinn and John nodded their understanding.
"Good. Now, Gideon taped the local news coverage of the incident. Or at least, our version of what happened. Gid?"
"It was a grisly scene that met two joggers early this morning at Blue Lake. The body of an as yet unidentified woman was found near one of the trails. Although authorities have not yet announced an official cause of death, one paramedic we talked to had this to say."
Images flashed across the screen; a peaceful early morning lake shot panned out to include a milling group of emergency workers, then changed to one of an area cordoned off with yellow police tape, then a thin, tired looking man in a paramedics uniform squinting into the camera.
"If I were gonna make a guess I would say it was a large animal attack. Cougar most likely. Our initial exam showed what looked to be claw marks, scratches and punctures on her torso and arms, and an injury to the neck that very much looked like she had been badly mauled. I've seen several animal attack victims before, and that's what it looks like to me."
The two news anchors came back on screen to chat about how people should be careful in wooded areas and around the outskirts of town until the authorities make an official statement... but Quinn barely heard them as his mind went back to the previous night.
Quinn pictured the scene in the alley in his mind, replaying everything that he had seen of the victim. There was definitely a wound to the neck that wasn't pretty, but badly mauled like an animal would do? And there was no sign of any other injuries, her clothes had been undamaged and unstained. Animal attack? Quinn didn't think so. And yet that's what the humans believed. What must Acheron and Nathaniel have had to do to make them believe it was an animal?
Acheron turned in a circle, looking at each of them as he paused.
"But, it seems we have a mystery on our hands. Gideon?"
"After confirming with MacRieve that the Rogue wasn't a local, I sent a copy of the Rogues drivers license out to all the Clans and Sanctuaries in the neighboring cities and towns. No one knew him. So I sent it out to every Clan and Sanctuary on the continent. We just got word from a Sanctuary that he was indeed someone they had been watching. Here's the mystery part of the equation: three days ago he was more than half way across the continent... and still unturned."
Ash picked up from there.
"So how did a newly turned Rogue, who's only thought should have been the burning hunger inside him, make it this far on his own? And why? From what the Sanctuary told us, this kid was one of the lucky ones. He had been adopted by a good family, had friends, did well in school and, basically was happy with his life. So why did he run? And why here?"
"Maybe he recognized the hunger was a danger to his family and friends and was just trying to get as far away from them as he could" Dante mused.
"Its possible, but..." Ash said as he turned to John. "You turned recently, not knowing what was happening to you. Do you think you could have thought clearly enough to find some kind of transportation, driven a car or been on a train or bus full of humans, and not lost it, for two days?"
"No." John answered without hesitation. "There's no way he could have been around humans for more than a few minutes, never mind hours or days. Driving he may have managed for short periods of time the first day, but he wouldn't have gotten far. Did he leave a trail of dead behind him?"
"Nope. There have been no deaths suspected of being from Rogues in the last three days aside from the one here." Ash said as he ran a hand through his hair. "The fact is he shouldn't have been here, but he was. And I don't like mysteries."
And with that they were dismissed as the warriors gathered around Gideon to discuss something on his computer.
"Was it... really that bad? I mean, was the woman really that torn up, like the TV said?"
"No, not at all." Quinn looked over at his roommate. "Her neck was kinda chewed up on one side, but it wasn't bad like that guy said."
"Oh. So you think, Acheron and Nathaniel, they had to... do stuff to the body, to make it look like an animal did it?"
"I guess so. They've been doing this for a long time. They probably have a whole kit for covering up Rogue killings, tools to make it look like an animal did it. Hell, they probably have fur and DNA from different animals to plant on the victims bodies."
"Yeah, I guess so. Maybe thats what's in that locked cabinet in the training room?"
Quinn shrugged. "Maybe." Silence decended between them for awhile as they both thought about what might be in that locked cabinet.
"What was it like? Seeing that woman, facing the Rogue?"
Quinn was silent for awhile as he considered whether to tell the truth or lie to the kid. He didn't really want to talk about it at all, wasn't going to talk about how he had become lost in the dead womans lifelessly staring eyes. But he understood why John would ask. A Rogue had been killed. The evidence of it played out on TV for him to see. It wasn't just an idea anymore, it was real. Death, was a real part of their lives now. Quinn took a deep breath as he decided on the truth.
"It was... everything: scary, confusing, exhilirating... time slowed, and the rest of the world might as well have disappeared I was so focused on... what was in front of me. Which was wrong, I know. I should have stayed aware of my surroundings. It was just such a shock and, not what I expected at all."
"And, the Rogue? Was it, hard to fight?"
Quinn looked at John and understood. The kid may be excelling in "How To Kill A Rogue" classes, but he was still scared.
"It was strong, like Dante told us they would be. Quick too. Quicker than I thought it would be. But... it was mindless, hitting and shoving. So no, it wasn't hard to fight."
Quinn got up and left the room. He didn't want to talk about this anymore and hoped like hell that the warriors were solving the mystery right now so everyone would move on.
Quinn turned and went to the counter next to the weapons locker to do as he was told. He had already unloaded his gun when a shot was fired behind him. Looking around he saw that John was still in his shooting stance, taking aim for another shot.
"John! I said unload and secure your weapon, class is over. Now!" He watched as Acheron reached out and placed his hand on Johns shoulder. And that's when all hell broke loose.
He could see clearly now that it wasn't the room they were in. The firing range was all white and gray. The room he saw with his eyes closed had green tiles on the floor, chipped and cracked beyond repair. There were the legs of a table and chairs nearby and what looked to be kitchen cabinets painted the most sickening yellow Quinn had ever seen. So he was on the floor of a kitchen. Only it wasn't him, it was John. Somehow the knowledge that he was seeing through John's eyes... in his mind, filled him with absolute certainty.
As strange as all this was, as Quinn began to figure out what he was seeing, he began to calm down despite the continuing pain. And as he calmed down he began to hear voices... and feel things. The tile was cold and hard against his cheek. There was something pressing against his back, holding him down. And fear. He could feel the fear rushing through his body, Johns body. The deep, slurred voice of a man was telling him how stupid he was. A higher, scratchy voice agreed, saying how easy he had made it, like he wanted it. Laughter.
Quinn's instincts took over then. He knew he didn't want to see anymore and fought to get free of the vision... but couldn't. It held him firmly in its grip. Prying his eyes open a little, he saw Acheron still kneeling over John but looking at him, concern in his eyes, like a ghost image over the vision. He saw Acheron's hand on Johns back again, holding him down. The pressure, on his back...
"Hand," he gritted out between clenched teeth. "Take your... hand off his... back."
Ash just looked at him in confusion.
"Please!" Quinn was close to screaming now as he tried to push the vision away and the pain tore through his skull. "Get... OFF... him!"
Ash threw one more confused look between Quinn and John, then got up and took a step back. John just lay there motionless for a minute. But then the pain in Quinn's head began to ease off, the vision suddenly cutting out as John raised a hand to his own head, rolled to his side and staggered to his feet. Quinn was too stunned and exhausted to do more than just sit where he was.
Quinn didn't know what to say. He looked at John, who was shaking like a leaf and not saying anything either.
"Okay look," Acheron sighed, "John, clearly you need a little time to calm yourself. Hunter, take him back to his room."
Hunter started toward the kid, who quickly shied away from the warrior.
"I can walk on my own!" he squeaked out in a shaky voice. Hunter silently allowed John to take the lead as they left the firing range.
Quinn let out a long, shaky breath. "I... I think I just found out what my ability is."
Ash tilted his head to the side and reguarded Quinn curiously. "Go on."
"I think... John was stuck in a memory. A bad one. It was like I was there with him, inside him feeling and seeing everything he did. But it hurt, hurt like crazy, like my head was being cracked open. Your hand, touching his shoulder, back... I think that set him off. Maybe he was thinking about it before..." Quinn trailed off. He didn't want to say any more. Ash seemed to sense that.
"OK. We'll need to talk more, about your new found ability. But it can wait. I do need to get back to the war room. Do you need help getting to your room? I'm guessing your going to want to rest for awhile."
"Yeah... I mean no. I think I just want to sit here for a minute."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, I'm fine now, really."
"OK well, you know where we'll all be if you need anything."
"Thanks." Quinn let out the breath he didn't know he was holding as Acheron strode across the room and closed the door behind him.
For a second Quinn hoped it wasn't but... the evidence clearly stated he was shit out of luck on this one. He had known when he turned that he would develop a new ability of some sort. Everyone did. Some right away, others took months, even a year for theirs to surface. But eventually everyones did. Gideon could speed up the healing of wounds. Hunter could track any Rogue once he crossed its path. He said it was like there was a glowing path leading him straight to it, thus earning him his name. Dante's ability was wicked cool. He could freeze anyone he wanted in place, even a group of up to ten, so that they not only could not move, but were completely unaware of what was happening. It was like he froze time for only them. Now thats the kinda ability Quinn had always hoped for. Knowing what's going on in other peoples minds? Not so much.
He definitely didn't want to know what he had just seen. Just felt... John had been so terrified he had simply frozen, unable to move. Stupid, but sooooo pretty the scratchy voice whispered in his ear, foul alcohol and cigarette breath making his stomach do flips as a finger brushed a stray lock of hair from his cheek.The hand on his back had slid up to grab the back of his neck, pressing his face down harder against the cold tile. The boots had moved out of his field of vision as the two mens laughter filled the room. Then hands were tugging at his pants, trying to pull them down. But he was wearing a belt, and the laughs soon turned to curses. Quinn could feel the tears pooling in the corner of Johns eye as hands pushed under him and roughly fumbled with his belt buckle. Quinn prayed for John that the buckle would somehow not open and he'd get out of this. But as usual his prayers fell unanswered. The buckle was undone and his pants were being pulled off, another hand lifting his shirt...
Quinn blinked at the tears that were filling his own eyes. So much about John made sense now. Especially his driving need to learn everything the Order taught them. How to fight and protect themselves. All the extra hours he put into practice that Quinn had sorta resented because it made him feel like he was slacking... it made sense. This was clearly how John had turned early. It was also clear that Quinn wasn't the better marksman. John had been hitting his targets exactly where he wanted to, every time.
What am I gonna say to him? He's gonna ask sooner or later. Hopefully later but... how do I tell him I don't just know what happened to him, but felt it, like I was him? Quinn rested his head against the wall behind him as the gravity of everything that had happened in the last twenty minutes swirled in a jumble of confusion through his mind. The only thing he knew for sure: EVERYTHING had just change. And he was pretty damn sure it wasn't for the better.
"I... I need some air. I need to go outside for a minute."
Hunter stood silent and still as a statue next to him for what seemed like hours but was probably only seconds. John didn't dare look at him. "OK." the warrior finally said. "Only for a minute."
John turned and quickly walked to the end of the tunnel and up the stairs that led to the garage.
"I... I'm sorry." he whispered as he faded away, Hunters angry growl of Stop barely making it to his ears as a second later he was standing on the grassy slope that overlooked the old dockyard on the other side of Ascension Bay.
I bit him. I bit Acheron! Like an animal! He shook his head, trying to dislodge the look on the leaders face as he had fled the firing range. The look he knew was disappointment. Now they know what a freak I am, how can I face them? I BIT HIM! Hugging his knees he hid his tears from the night sky. The memory that had consumed him so completely was already shoved to the side and all but forgotten. It had replayed itself through his mind so many times now that its aftermath was nothing more than an annoying sting in the back of his mind. Frustration that the past, that one moment in his life, still held him captive as if he had never gotten up from that dirty, cold floor, burned through him. But for the first time, that burning turned to anger.
Damn it! I'm not going to let them take this from me too! I've worked too hard, I... I deserve this, to have a home, a family...
John sat up straight, swiping at his tears, angry with himself now. He was vaguely aware that something had happened to Quinn. His roommate had been on the floor looking like he was in pain when John came back to the here and now, but he could find out what that was about later. Right now all he knew was he wasn't giving up. After all his hard work, damn it, he had earned his place in the Order! And yes it would take time to win their trust again, and yes he would probably have to tell them... or Acheron at least, what had happened to him and it would be embarrassing to expose how weak he had been... But for the first time in his life, John felt like a part of something, something important. And he wasn't going to let it go without a fight!
"...two more cattle are dead."
"How did that happen?"
"How did it happen? We're outnumbered, thats how! Two of us can't control all of them, we need more help!"
"First you let one get away, now they are killing cattle right under your nose? Do you want to be the one to tell Mr. White you can't do the job he gave you? Do you?!"
"I didn't think so. Show me these troublemakers... "
As the voices faded away John looked back over the edge to see they had disappeared through the door.
They were all young, no more than nineteen. Well, when they had turned anyways. John had been told it was unusual for someone to turn early. So to see these three here together, only a day after the young, newly turned Rogue...
What... what is that? John refocused his attention. There... At the very edge of his conciousness... fear? And there was more than one flavor of it. Somewhere nearby was a group of humans... and they were terrified.
Shit! What had he stumbled upon here? A group of early turned males and a group of terrified humans... but no Rogues. This wasn't Order business. The Clans policed their own people, dealing out justice to anyone who broke their laws themselves. If these guys were running one of those Blood Clubs Dante had told him about, or running blood slaves, it was up to the local Clan to take care of this. Still...
John knew he should go straight back to Headquarters this second, report what he had seen and heard and felt, and face the music for what he had done earlier. But if he had just a little more information... If he could tell them exactly what was going on here, how many were involved and if they were all early turns... Thats what really bothered him. These were guys who had gone through what he had, yet somehow ended up here together, doing... what? One got away, what did they mean by that? Did it have something to do with the Rogue? Despite the hint of light in the sky above that warned him dawn was drawing near, he had to know.
With a determined grunt, John leaped over the edge and silently made his way toward the blackness beyond the door...