“A Feeder,” gasped Bran.
“A Sventé Feeder,” said Kaiser. I winked at him and leant back in my seat. “But that is only a Pagori gift.”
“And that is only one of many things that make Sam unique,” announced a new, deep, rhythmic voice as he, Luther and Sebastian strolled into the room. Antonio.
As usual Nero came to greet me with a lick to my arm and then he squeezed himself between mine and Evan’s chair, eager to be stroked. When both Antonio and Luther looked sharply at me with intrigue written all over their faces I knew Jared had told them telepathically about the surfacing of my new gift. I could see that they were itching to know more. I merely smiled.
After Antonio made all the introductions he began, “Bran, Rupert” – he called Connelly by his first name the same as Jared did – “and Kaiser have arrived to inform me about certain things that Bennington of Great Britain was heard to have said last night at Rupert’s gathering. All of it supports Luther’s vision: Bennington intends to attack The Hollow and is trying to recruit as many vampires as possible. Bran, Rupert and Kaiser have agreed to support the defence of The Hollow by adding their own legions to ours, which has increased our numbers greatly. In fact, their legions are being teleported to the Guest House and other accommodations as we speak. This sense of urgency I have is in light of what we didn’t otherwise know before: Bennington intends to attack at midnight tomorrow.”
There were gasps and mutterings and curses. I was pretty much mute with the dread running through me. That gave us no additional time to train: we would literally have to put ourselves in place tomorrow evening and lie in wait. Jared’s hand gripped mine under the table. I could sense his rage and his unease. Bennington might himself be nothing but a little fart, but his army of specially gifted vampires were a big concern. And God only knew how many allies he’d manage to secure.
“It would seem that he decided to bring his time-table forward, probably because he suspected that my Advisor may have had a vision and so he hoped to catch us off-guard. We may not have had as much time to prepare as we would have liked, but had it not been for Luther’s earlier vision we might never have been as psychologically prepared as what we are now. I would advise all commanders to spend this evening familiarising yourselves and your squads as much as possible with the surrounding rainforest. I have additional security measures in place, including a stronger shield over The Hollow so that no one may teleport there until I have removed it. Even now the other vampires and humans are being hidden underground.” Antonio cast a look at the three High Masters. “If you wish for your Consorts to also be hidden then that can easily be arranged.”
“I think I can help,” the red-head blurted out. Bran castigated her with a look but Antonio waved away the break in etiquette.
“We have become used to outspoken females,” said Antonio with a smile. “How is it you believe you can help, Miss…?”
“It’s Alora. Well, you said you’d be using the rainforests and I can communicate with and charm animals. Ordinarily they wouldn’t aid us in any way: they see as the ultimate predator. However they’ll sense that Bennington’s lot are a threat to their surrounding environment, they won’t like that. Even having them as spies would be useful.”
I saw how Evan had stiffened and I knew he fully intended to suggest she was locked away for safe-keeping. I subtly kicked him under the table and then said, “I agree that she might be able to help.” She smiled at me gratefully for that. Last night she’d looked at me like I was no better than a dung beetle just because I was a Sventé. I felt Evan’s eyes drilling into me and condemning me. “Haven’t you learnt anything from me being here?”
He sighed and looked away but mumbled something about God needing to save him from women with iron-wills.
“Jared, Lou, Will,” began Antonio, “I consider you three to be the specialists on formations. Where do you suggest we place each squad?”
Jared spoke immediately, his voice filled with determination, “I’m covering the front line.”
“We agree that it would be an advantage for Jared and Sam’s squad to be one of the squads covering the outer perimeter,” said Lou. “From what we have heard and seen, although the squad is reasonably new the recruits are as prepared as any can be.”
“They kicked the ass of my squad,” grumbled Evan.
Antonio nodded. “The fact that they will have both Jared and Sam leading them makes them an excellent choice for that position.”
“Wait,” said Jared. “I’m not sure Sam should -”
My voice was like a whip. “I really would ask yourself if you like your eyes because if you finish that sentence there’s a good chance I’ll gouge them out.”
He raised his hands in a placatory gesture. “It’s nothing personal, Sam, I just -”
“When are you going to grow up and accept that we have to work together?”
“This ‘I don’t need help’ crap is getting old now. Hurts your pride that you have a female Sventé backing you up, does it? Tough. That squad is mine just as much as it is yours.”
“I didn’t say it wasn’t. There are plenty of other places you could cover.”
“I believe I already stated, Jared, that I wished for you to both lead the squad together during the attack,” said Antonio. “It wasn’t a request. Now, let us move on.”
While Will and Lou put forward suggestions for the placing of the squads during the attack and what tactics each should use, I sat there seething. I didn’t care that the irritation and lividness was pouring off me, or that everyone in the room could sense it. That sod had just tried to cut me out again. I felt utterly betrayed; he hadn’t ever really seen me as an equal at all, had he? Not as a colleague and probably not even as a person. He definitely didn’t respect me if he thought he could shag me one minute then turn on me the next. I’d understand if I didn’t take my job seriously or something, but it was the opposite. I loved my job and I had tried so hard with those recruits; I’d invested time and sweat in their training and it had paid off. And now Jared was happy to cut me out again.
I was surprised by how much it stung. This was a person I had come to care about and, as painful as it was to face, Joy had been totally spot-on: I was just ‘another piece of ass’ to him.