Read Alpha Asher by Jane Doe Chapter 169 – “Did you seriously stop for coffee?” Tristan deadpanned; his expression unamused as he stared down at me.
I shrugged and pushed past him. “Not all of us are used to night shift. Judging from your grumpiness, I’d say you’re not used to it either.”
“I am not grumpy.”‘ He huffed, blinking at me a few times before regaining his composure and leading the way through Asher’s maze-like dungeon.
The network of underground tunnels wasn’t known to anyone in the pack but a select few that Asher trusted. I’d been more than reluctant to venture down there the first time Asher brought me. The entrance was in the basement of a local bar in town, part of the roadways that would allow alcohol to be smuggled in during the human’s insane prohibition.
There was a slight sting of alcohol and fermented fruit that lingered within the tunnels, which helped to dull the scent of blood, sweat, and p**s.
Thankfully, having the Vampire placed in one of the nicer cells turned in our favor. The stench was far less noticeable in this part of the dungeon.
The walls were made from smooth stone, and there was actually a toilet and small stall that served as a shower, though privacy was an impossibility.
Beneath the dim light protruding from the ceiling, swaying slightly though there was no breeze, was the Vampire whose life I had saved.
She was propped against the wall, perched on the metal bedframe that sat in the corner of the cell. With the barest hint of light, I could see that her mane of curly hair wasn’t black but a rich shade of caramel with blonde highlights dispersed throughout. Her deep-set cheekbones casted shadows along her jaw. It was that and the slant to her sculpted eyebrows that made her appear both grim and gaunt.
A pair of eyes the same shade of caramel as her hair darted up to meet my own. She had asked for me, yet her expression seemed to worsen as I walked into the small circular room.
Her cell was the only one occupied, the other four were vacant.
“You called.” I spoke, unflinching as my voice reverberated off the stone walls and floor.
There were two guards in the room with Tristan and I, each one standing rod-straight on either side of her cell. One of the guards slid a creaky metal chair in front of me, a polite smile gracing his rounded face.
The woman blinked twice before saying, “…didn’t think you’d show.”
I opened my mouth to reply, instinctively generating some generic Luna response that would make me appear strong and above it all-above the chaos and h**l the witches had put us through this past month.
Exhaustion marred the confident look on my face, but I didn’t bother trying to conceal it. I was every bit as human as I was witch, werewolf, and vampire.
“I take the safety of my people seriously, regardless of their species.” I kept my voice neutral, lowering myself into the fold-out chair without breaking eye contact.
She turned her body to face my own and glanced up at the two guards flanking her cell.
“I want them gone.” She said, narrowing her eyes until the swirls of caramel brightened to a warm gold. “If I decide to give anything up, it won’t be with them in the room.”
“If you decide?” Tristan snapped, his voice cracking like a whip through the silence that encased us. “I didn’t call her here on an if.”
The way she was looking at me felt familiar, her eyes hardened like two slabs of mahogany, streaked with gold that reminded me of Asher’s only a bit more watered down. It was a look of assessment, one that threatened to slice me in two, flesh and bone, to what hid deep inside.
“She wants to know what type of person I am.” I murmured, inclining my head in the same way I’d seen Asher do hundreds of times. “What kind of ruler I am.”
Without breaking our staring match, I gave the guards monitoring her cell a dismissive wave. I knew neither one would stray far, just enough to give us the barest hint of privacy. Tristan, on the other hand, remained rooted in place at my side.
“So tell me Luna, Queen of all those who walk in the night, who call its darkness our home…” She spoke only when the two guards’ footsteps silenced. The words emerged softly, but despite the delicate tone there was no weakness, no fear within her voice. “…what kind of leader are you?”
I had no clue who this woman was or what she had been through in her lifetime, but the feeling churning in my gut told me she’d sniff out a fake answer a mile away, and that upon the first whiff she’d shut down completely.
“I’m a flawed leader. I’m impatient, naive, and horribly under experienced. I’m so exhausted, so tired that the moment I wake up in the morning I want to go back to sleep. Even more than any of that, I want peace.” I exhaled sharply, forcing the words out in a rush that made my chest feel as though it were caving in. “I’m fighting an impossible war, trying to keep both sides alive long enough to realize who the true enemy is. It doesn’t matter how far things get, how b****y or horrific. I’ll never be able to stop, because stopping means picking a side, and I will not let half of my people d*e.”
The truth was rarely easy, rarely subtle in its explosion into existence. Short of breath was an understatement. It felt as though the walls were crumbling, like the stone were giving away to damp earth that piled up around m e and threatened to s*****w me whole. Every slow breath I took eased the feeling of claustrophobia but did nothing to ease the weight in my chest.
The Vampire woman remained silent for several seconds before she stood and approached the iron bars that kept her contained. Tristan stiffened but maintained his position beside me when I lifted my hand.
“My name is Bridgette, and I have one last question for you.” She said, watching as I rose from the chair. “There’s rumor of a town, a place where Vampire’s are free to live…where we’re safe. Is this true?”
My confirmation that the place Asher and I were building, a town for the Vampire’s on our side, was a relief she’d never known. Her shoulders sagged and lips parted, a million questions bubbling to the surface.
“Where is it?” She breathed, leaning forward on the b***s of her feet.
I blinked at her; my expression unchanging. “You know I can’t tell you that, but depending on what you tell me, you may live to see it one day.”
Bridgette nodded slowly, hope a potent chemical that brightened her eyes and took years off her face. “I apologize for my role in this, just as I apologize for what I am going to tell you.”
Several minutes had passed since Bridgette told me her story, of the life she had left behind when a small coven of witches descended upon the lair she and her mate had formed.
Upon my father’s d***h, many of the Vampire’s scattered across the country, slowly gathering to form families of their own. They sought out shelter and food whilst searching for a way to navigate this new world.
According to Bridgette, the allegiance of many Vampires was undecided. Far too many had been seen as disposable to my father, as heads in his army, as soldiers ready to perish for the world he had envisioned.
These witches were beautiful, wielding magic they had never seen before. It wouldn’t have taken much considering the witches have kept themselves hidden for centuries, but the fact that they were crawling out of the woodwork was nerve-wracking enough.
“My mate was smart. He was suspicious, made some of the others feel that way too. I should’ve listened to him.” Bridgette said dryly, folding her arms over her chest. She let out half of a laugh and said, “he’d say that if he were here right now. I always had to make the mistake myself first before I’d listen to him. Look at where it’s gotten me.”
“You might be in a cell, but you’re about to save a lot of Vampire’s…one of those being your mate.”‘ I assured her, hoping she could see the promise in my eyes, the one I intended to uphold no matter the cost.
“I’ll tell you where the lair is, but you can’t waste any time going. The way we’d keep under the radar was to move locations every couple weeks. It’s coming up on that time again, so you have to hurry.”‘ The desperation in her voice told me she knew she was out of options, and that this was the biggest risk she had taken. Perhaps even bigger than trusting the blood witch.
I memorized each detail she gave me, from the twists and turns in the road, to the street signs flecked with a miniscule splotch of glow-in-the-dark paint that would take me to my destination.
As I turned to leave, with Tristan at my flank, Bridgette’s voice rang out loud and clear.
“Queen Lola, I’m trusting you not to harm them. I’m trusting you to be exactly what you said you were. If you’re on our side, if you care about Vampire’s the way you claim, don’t hurt them.”
Once the guards led us upstairs and we navigated our way through the semi-crowded bar, Tristan turned around and speared me with a knowing look.
“You’re really going to listen to this random Vampire and head straight into a lair that could easily be a trap.” He deadpanned, already knowing my answer.
I lifted a shoulder in a half shrug. “It’s what a Queen would do.”
“No, a Queen would send other people in her stead rather than risk the journey herself.” Tristan laughed humorlessly, his slender face haunted by the shadows that formed around his eyes and jawline. “There’s no way this is going to end well. You show up with a full squad of werewolves and you might as well declare war yourself. You show up alone and you’re all but slitting your own throat.”
“Well, are you coming with me or not?” I asked stubbornly.
He rolled his eyes and stopped his grumbling. “Obviously, but there’s one last thing you need to take care of before we go gallivanting to some dangerous Vampire lair.”
“Really, what might that be?”
Tristan turned around and flashed me a smile that was all teeth. “You have to tell your mate.”