Home > Life Cycle (Preternaturals, #4)(2)

Life Cycle (Preternaturals, #4)(2)
Author: Zoe Winters

The vampire cleared his throat. “Sitting next to you is Father Hadrian who is one of mine… And over here is our resident sorcerer, Dayne, and his lovely werecat, Greta.” Anthony leered at the brunette beside the sorcerer and Greta gripped Dayne’s hand tighter.

“Therian, not werecat! You know I hate that term,” Greta hissed.

“Whether you like it or not, it’s accurate.”

“Really, Anthony?” Charlee said, an irritated expression on her face at her mate’s goading.

The vampire chuckled. “What? Is it my fault your friend is so easy to mess with?”

He took a clear plastic sheet with writing on it and placed it on the overhead projector. “I apologize for being so vague as to the purpose of this meeting. Half of you are officially enemies, but if I go to the Preternatural Council with this, my vampires will all know, and I’m not prepared for it to go public yet. We can go back to hating each other after we’ve eliminated the threat.”

Anthony flipped on the light of the projector, and an electric buzz filled the silence. “I had this letter reproduced onto a transparency for our purposes. In case the context doesn’t spell it out to you, we’ve been contacted by Jack the Ripper. He’s still alive, and he’s one of us.”

“You couldn’t just use a computer program?” the werewolf asked. Cole was the most tech-savvy of the group.

“Don’t try, it won’t get you anywhere,” Charlee said.

Dear Boss,

I’m back. You didn’t take the threat seriously last time. Shame on you. Did you not understand my joke? It wasn’t for the common people. It was for the others. Was “from Hell” not a big enough clue? It’s where we all are, after all.

When I’ve killed the other cyclers, I’ll change the world. There are 13 of us, a perfect coven. The first kill was an accident, the second an experiment. Whitechapel was only three. You were wrong. It wasn’t five. Those and others were copycats all wanting Ripper’s glory.

Since then, there have been four more, but I’ve been quiet as a mouse, giggling at my funny little games. With you in power, I thought I’d make this interesting. Only three left to kill; catch me first or Hell is mine.

Yours Truly,

The Cycler

Don’t mind the new trade name. The old one was stale, and this one will give you something new to chew on. A new mystery to solve. Do better this time. The stakes are higher now.

P.S. Have fun when the human media gets this letter. I’ll give you a head start. Tick, tock.

Cain read the letter on the projector once, twice, and then a third time. “Why did he send this to you? And addressed the same as the original letters? And what the f**k is a cycler?”

Anthony seemed annoyed by Cain’s tone, but he answered anyway. “I believe I’ve met him before. At previous points in my history, I’ve chosen to blend with the humans, exploring various ways of living to satisfy my boredom. During the Whitechapel murders, I worked for the London police department under an assumed name. But a few decades before that, I owned a small fish shop. All my other employees called me by the name I was using at that time, except one. He just called me “Boss.”

“There was something off about him. I suspected he was a magic user, but it was more than that. The way he gutted a fish… it was so clean. Surgical, almost. Even being a vampire, this guy gave me the creeps. But I never realized he knew I’d joined the London police or that the letters might be for me. He must have discovered what I was. He was playing games then; now I think he’s ready to end this. Which brings me to your other question. Does anybody besides Hadrian know what a cycler is?”

There was a consensus of head shaking.

“Father Hadrian, perhaps you could tell us about your experience.”

The priest poured a glass of wine from a bottle on the table and took a leisurely sip. “When I was turned in 1955, my first meal was a blonde witch—maybe in her twenties. Her name was Tamara. I left her corpse and went to hunt for more. When I returned to the church, there was a young girl, maybe eleven or twelve or so with the same blonde hair and the same eyes, wearing the same dress as the woman I killed. She told me she was a cycler. She was powerfully magical, much more so than I thought even a woman in her twenties should be.”

The hair on the back of Cain’s neck stood up. There were millions of women with that name, and probably plenty of blonde witches with it as well, but his experience with Tam had always been one of confusion over how she could take him down so easily with a flick of her wrist.

The demon glanced at Anna, wondering if she’d made the connection, but the idea that Father Hadrian was speaking about the Tam they both knew hadn’t penetrated for Luc’s mate.

“Anna, do you understand yet why this involves you?” Anthony asked.

Her eyes widened but she maintained her denial. “No… I… Why would it involve me?”

The vampire laughed and shook his head. “I forget how recently you were introduced to our world. Your friend has been keeping a monumental secret from you. Tam is the woman Father Hadrian met in the fifties.”

“That’s not possible. I mean… we grew up together. Since we were kids…”

“Since you were about twelve?”

Anna shut her mouth and looked down at her hands.

“That’s what I thought. She must have died and started a new life cycle right around that time. We’re still not sure exactly what that means.”

The vampire king turned to the sorcerer and werecat. “Dayne, Greta, did you do the research I requested?”

Dayne nodded. “I might have a theory. Since magic users are human, we’ve always been a wild card. Up until now, we’ve kept ourselves mostly secret from normal humans and considered ourselves part of the preternatural world, but if Jack gets enough power, he could sway magic users to his side. I think he wants to expose the preternaturals and fight. He’s absorbing power from his kills to make it easier.”

Greta interrupted. “I don’t think anyone considered there could be magical and ritual significance to the way Jack the Ripper was killing. The killings got more complex, but if he was experimenting with the most potent methods for power absorption, that would happen. He could become unstoppable if he kills the other cyclers.”

“He’ll also be a true immortal,” Dayne said. “The more power a magic user has, the more slowly they age. Considering the nature of what he is already, my suspicion is that he’d become unkillable. He wouldn’t have to start over in a younger human body like what Hadrian observed with Tamara.”

Cain squeezed his eyes shut as images flashed in his mind of Tam being ritualistically and gruesomely murdered. He didn’t know why it pissed him off so much.

“Cain?” Anthony said.

The demon looked up, startled at being included in the discussion. He tried to maintain a bored mask, but he couldn’t keep the hot glow from his eyes, nor stop his hands from balling into fists. “Yes?”

“We need you to protect the witch in your dimension. It’s the only place we’re guaranteed she’ll be safe. If he kills all the cyclers, and magic users come out of the closet, they’ll band together, which risks your demons as well.”

Magic users were a demon’s one weakness. Demons were exempt from death and could heal any injury—true immortals, but they could still be trapped by a curse. They could still feel the suffering of starvation. They could still be hurt.

All eyes were on him, waiting for his response. He didn’t know how he felt about the little blonde witch, but if anybody was killing her, it was going to be him, not some cheesy magical serial killer with a world domination plot, and not one of Anthony’s thugs, either.

“I’ll protect her,” Cain said, avoiding eye contact with the others. This was killing the shit out of his reputation. There were dramatic gasps and whispering, but he ignored it.

“Of course, killing her would be more expedient... if you could find a way to make her stay dead.” The vampire king’s tone was bland.

“No!” Anna said.

“Anthony!” Charlee said.

“I said I’d protect her,” the demon snarled, finally meeting the eyes of everyone at the table. He dared them to start something with him.

“We’ll also need you to get her to tell you everything about being a cycler. We still don’t understand how or why they exist or the extent of their powers,” Anthony said.

Cain growled. “Watch yourself, half-breed. I could take you out without blinking. I’m sure you want to survive to be a daddy.”

Charlee’s hand went protectively over her pregnant belly, as if the child were in danger instead of the cocky vampire standing beside the projector screen.

Anthony glared. “Don’t forget, I have magic users in my employ. I have a coven of vampires that stretches across North America and contacts with vampire leaders all over the world. Our numbers are far greater than yours. Let’s not make this personal. We’ve got a bigger enemy to fight.”

Cain was bored now. “Are we done here? I’ve got a witch to collect.” He stood, already turning toward the door.

“Cain…” It was the first word Luc had spoken since the demon had arrived. “Take Anna with you. She knows where the witch lives.”

That would make things easier.

Luc’s mate recoiled, gripping tight to his arm. “What? No! Come with me,” she said.

“I should stay for the rest of the meeting. My brother can’t harm you, remember? You can’t hold a solid form without me,” Luc said.

When she’d given her soul and became a demon’s mate, she’d had to die first. It made her existence somewhat ghostly. Only her mate could give her a full, solid form. Gradually, she would gain the same powers as Luc, but it was a lengthy process—centuries. Anna looked from Cain to Luc a couple of times. She finally sighed and let go of her mate.

   
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