Gathering Storm:(Black Swan 5)

By: Victoria Danann

Victoria Danann

Archer jerked awake when the science fiction book he was reading fell from his hand. He'd been having trouble sleeping ever since a team of twenty of the Ralengclan's finest had left on a mission to assassinate the last surviving member of the Laiwynn clan, Elora Laiken. That was three weeks ago. None had returned. All were presumed dead.

He thought about Rystrome and knew it seemed silly to use the term "innocent" when describing someone who was also an assassin, but the young soldier left that impression. He had taken the job so that he could educate his children and buy his wife a flute to replace the one that had been taken from her. Like all of them, he had stories to tell about Laiwynn ruthlessness, which meant that he also had good reasons to hate the Laiwynn.

That zealot, Rothesay, was so obsessed with making sure all Laiwynn were exterminated that the deaths incurred in pursuit of that goal were shoved into the "acceptable loss" column and forgotten. At least by him.

Since none of the twenty had returned, they didn't know any more about how to prepare for a mission than they had the first time. Nothing had been gained. Nothing had been learned. And a lot of lives had been lost.

They had speculation about what may have happened, but no facts.

Archer was the sort who dealt in facts and didn't have much patience with other modalities. Belief in gods? Until there was evidentiary proof, there was nothing to discuss. Sun coming up every day? The only thing that could be said with certainty was that "sunrise" had been happening lately in cosmic terms. Life after death? Don't be ridiculous.


Dunkilly, Ireland

Glendennon Catch caught the eye of the bartender who simply pointed toward a back corner. He couldn't see what the man pointed to, but he nodded his thanks and began making his way toward the rear of the pub.

He wound through a crowd of people standing, holding glass mugs and talking loudly to be heard over the music. When he was closer to the back, a rear corner snug came into view. It was close to a window so there was enough light to see, even with the thick haze of smoke hanging in the air, that the bartender had been right in surmising that he was looking for Z Team.

There they were, the farthest thing from inconspicuous. Glen couldn't begin to guess how they had managed to be successful vampire slayers when everything about them drew attention and broadcasted vibes of this-is-your-last-chance-to-run. It was a message that floated around them like a diaphanous cloud of warning.

The four of them fit comfortably in a snug designed for eight. That was partly because of their size and partly because they had a casual way of draping arms and legs so that they took up more space than was normally allotted for a civilized person, even a large one. The posturing also communicated disdain for established notions of propriety. Glen knew instinctively that even the word "propriety" would make Black Swan's infamous misfits laugh out loud.

One of them was wearing a sleeveless shirt that had once been a denim jacket. His left arm had been transformed into a tattooed sleeve by an intricately inked mural of muted colors. Bare biceps seemed out of place in a part of the world where it was brittle-dick cold outside, but Glen supposed that if he'd made that much of an investment in ink he might want to show it off, too.

Glen's initial impression of the guy sitting next to Sleeve was that he should have the nickname, Dark, or Black. He wore black jeans, a black metal band shirt that was probably vintage, maybe collectable, and his spiky hair was so blue black it had to have been dyed that color. He was eye-catching, all that black paired with eyes so pale he could almost get away with going undercover as a vamp. He wasn't wearing eyeliner, but the contrast between his ice-color irises and those thick ebony lashes made his eyes pop in a dramatic way that probably drew interest from a lot of babes. The Black Knight. Glen smiled a little to himself, enjoying the company of his own voice in his head and his own offbeat sense of humor.

The third wore a plain gray long sleeve tee that covered his upper body, but Glen could see black ink climbing out of the neck of the guy's shirt, stopping just below his pronounced jaw line. Either tribal pattern or angel glyph. Hard to tell with just snake tails in view. He had a serious case of bed head going, maybe by design, maybe not, and one eyebrow that was raised and had been since he'd noticed Glen standing there watching them.