Call to Arms

Chapter Eighteen: A New Perspective

...

"Baby, you've got the sort of hands to rip me apart and baby,

You've got the sort of face to start this old heart."

….

Chase's anger was a terrifying thing.

By the time he reached the university, I was dreading the moment he would walk through the door of the teacher's lounge. Helge noticed my tension though he hardly looked concerned. Truly, he hadn't even bothered to do anything besides dump Jake as he was on the floor in the centre of the room.

I found myself pacing by the windows.

'You know,' Helge said casually from where he was sprawled in one of the chairs on the far side of the room. 'You might want to calm down if you are concerned about Chase's reaction. I don't doubt that your emotions might just exacerbate the situation tonight.'

'He's furious,' I said bluntly, forcing myself to take a seat directly facing the door. Helge was across the room to my left, Jake motionless directly between me and the door. I threaded my fingers through my hair in agitation and then abruptly forced them to my lap. 'He's going to kill him,' I worried aloud.

'And this concerns you?' Helge asked incredulously. 'Talia, he tried to wipe your memory of what he just did.'

I looked sharply over at Helge; that sliver of information hadn't registered with me yet.

'Exactly,' Helge said. 'Then we would have had a traitor running around the castle and the only person who could identify him completely unable to recall that they even knew at one point who it was.'

I shivered at the idea. Memory manipulation was a scary concept. I thought it wouldn't be half as bad if a person could at least recognise that their memory was faulty.

The door swung open and I jumped in spite of having anticipated Chase's appearance. He was just as angry as I'd felt through our bond, his eyes fixed with an implacable fury on the prone vampire. Then, his eyes lifted to sweep over my face and linger on my neck. I realised by the compressing of his lips that my skin must have been showing signs of bruising already.

I got to my feet cautiously, unsure how to defuse the situation. 'Chase, I—'

'Handled the situation quite well, I think.' We both turned to stare at Helge who shrugged. 'How long did you keep him talking before I got there, Talia?' he questioned.

'I… maybe a minute. Less,' I guessed, aware that while it had felt like forever, in reality it had probably been quite a short altercation.

'See? She's improving,' Helge said calmly.

By the tightening of Chase's jaw, I didn't think that Helge's reference to Will's attack had helped lightened the mood. I caught Chase's eye again. 'I'm sorry I…' Worried you? Raised a false alarm? I wasn't sure what to say. 'Well, I'm sorry anyway,' I muttered.

'This is not your fault,' Chase stated firmly.

Helge sighed and got to his feet. 'I can deal with this if you have other matters to attend to, Chase,' Helge offered and I gathered that he referred to me.

Chase hesitated and I suspected he was considering sending me from the room so that he could deal with Jake personally. It was a chilling thought. Finally however, I saw the anger shift to a deadly decisiveness and he nodded sharply.

'Very well,' he said. 'I—'

They both turned to look at the door a moment before it opened. I flinched guiltily but Zander was the only one who appeared. His eyes quickly swept the room, taking in the scene with a total lack of surprise and plenty of regret. He firmly shut the door behind himself and quickly crossed the room to crouch beside Jake's still form. As he turned the young vampire over, I cringed to see the drying blood over Jake's forehead. There was no sign of an injury and I guessed it had healed already.

Zander placed a careful hand to Jake's forehead and for a long minute, no one moved. Finally, he sighed and slowly rose to his feet, regarding the other occupants of the room seriously. 'It seems that our problem is greater than we first feared,' Zander said.

I noticed Helge glance at me from my peripheral vision and recalled his earlier words. He'd been the one to question what it was about this entire situation that was taking the two most competent vampires we knew so long to destroy one as young as Will. I pointedly never looked his way, aware of Chase's eyes now on my face.

At everyone's continued silence, Zander gestured to Jake. 'His mind is… heavily influenced,' he informed us heavily. 'Pockets of resistance remain in which his natural personality is in conflict with whatever force has compelled him to act in this way.'

I stared at him, wondering how on earth he even worked that out.

Helge wasn't impressed. 'You're saying Jake's been a puppet?' he asked.

Zander nodded. 'Yes. It came to my attention just minutes ago when one of Jake's classmates came to see me, expressing concerns about his sudden change of personality.'

I realised I'd been biting my lip and quickly stopped; that was a habit I thought I'd stopped. I shook my head. 'So it's a fresh lead,' I said aloud, drawing everyone's attention. 'Did his classmate say when Jake… well, changed?'

'She thought about two weeks ago,' Zander replied. 'Apparently for the first week Jake secluded himself and would hardly speak to anyone. Then, he started to get hostile tendencies.'

We all fell silent, contemplating the significance. It couldn't be a coincidence that every time something strange in the castle happened, it edged me another step closer to being in serious danger. Something had made Jake come after me and I knew we were all wondering if maybe, just maybe, the same had happened to Will.

Looking around, I saw the expression on Helge's face as he eyed Zander and couldn't help but agree with his concern. We were talking about quite a big hypothetical "if", which wasn't much to base our strategy on. We'd had enough trouble going after Will with clear intentions. Bringing uncertainty into the picture was sure to make things outright dangerous.

With a jolt, I realised that Chase was watching me and his expression wasn't all that dissimilar from Helge's.

'So, are we going to assume that whoever messed with Jake's mind also convinced a student to set off an explosion in the Irvine dormitory?' Helge posed. 'Because right now we've had three violent incidents, all of which have affected Talia's safety in one way or another.'

I felt uncomfortable with Helge words, even if I'd been considering something similar just moments before. 'He – Jake, that is – did ask me where Will was,' I said as neutrally as I could.

Zander nodded sombrely. 'The problem with that, however, is that we are dealing with a creature whose abilities work on vampires and Irvines. We can probably assume then that shifters are no different.'

'But,' I said before I couldn't help myself. 'Is that really unusual? I mean…' I paused, looking between Zander and Chase. 'From what I've seen, you both can alter vampire and shifter memories.'

Zander's eyes took on a slightly lightened expression and I half thought he'd reverted to Academic Zander, who was pleased whenever anyone younger than himself displayed the use of logic.

'Yes,' Chase agreed, speaking for the first time since Zander had arrived. 'But that is far beyond the abilities of any student here.'

Helge looked at me, a knowing expression on his face. 'You know this, Talia,' he said calmly. 'Jake's abilities have only progressed enough that he can remove memories if there is direct eye contact and even then I don't believe he'd be entirely successful. Most likely you would have retained a vague notion of something having happened.' He paused, flicking a glance at Chase. 'If it had have been Chase however, you can be sure—'

'Enough,' Chase said softly, a clear warning in his voice.

Helge grinned but fell silent. I shook my head, a little amused by the exchange while another part of my consciousness was uncomfortable being forced to acknowledge the true extent of Chase's abilities. It was no wonder Chase had quietened Helge.

'My investigation into the teachers found Amis as the only irregularity,' Helge said then.

Zander sighed and shook his head. 'Then we are dealing with someone external who is somehow contacting my students,' he said. 'We may as well lift the lockdown if a student can be compromised for two weeks before they act out.'

Again, I deliberately didn't look over at Helge. Our plan relied on the curfew being lifted so I knew, unless he aborted the idea, Jas and I would put it into action the following night.

'What is your plan now?' Chase asked Zander then and I had the impression he suddenly wanted to finish this conversation.

Zander hesitated and then sighed. 'Helge, I might ask for your continued assistance here. We don't have all that long until dawn and we might need to take Jake with us today. I believe he will wake with tomorrow's nightfall and we will need to question him immediately.'

Helge nodded in agreement and I noticed that neither of them asked Chase for his help. Probably they'd both noticed his desire to be done with it. Soon, I realised why.

Chase met my eyes firmly. 'Talia,' he said simply, gesturing towards the door.

All at once, I had a sudden sense of foreboding. Still, I said goodnight to Zander and Helge and preceded a taciturn Chase from the teacher's lounge. Idly, I wondered if the room had ever seen this much clandestine use in its entire lifetime before Chase had brought me here.

I paused outside the lounge and Chase placed a gentle hand to my back, guiding me towards the stairs. I felt a sense of cautious relief thinking that maybe he was simply walking me back to the dormitory. After a night like tonight, I found that I actually appreciated the excessive measure.

Instead, we continued on away from the dormitories and by the time we were stepping outside onto the grass, I was completely bewildered. I cast Chase a searching sideways glance. 'Chase,' I murmured. 'What are we…?'

'There's something we need to discuss,' he said calmly and I saw that we were headed for our regular training ground.

That comforted me. In some way, I felt safe there. I only ever went there with Chase and within that small clearing he had proven over and over again just how capable he was, even if I were only human. Also, I noted as we stepped past the trees into the clearing, we were far enough from the castle to ensure privacy for our conversations. That alone relaxed me though tonight I found myself pulling my coat a little closer around my body and I could see the fog of my breath before me. It was getting colder quite quickly.

Chase turned to face me and I saw the grim determination in the set of his face. 'I'm not certain if you realised the entire significance of tonight's conversation,' he began.

I hesitated and then decided he was probably right. 'I'm happy to believe you,' I said honestly. 'What did I miss?'

'I don't think that you are the main target,' Chase said bluntly.

I hesitated, considering his statement carefully. If I were being honest, I could only hope for such a thing. I really didn't want to die. On the other hand, as Helge had said; there'd now been three violent incidents which were very bad news for me. Finally, I gave up on figuring it out myself. 'How do you figure that?' I asked.

'You became of interest only after you came between Ryecart and Zander,' he pointed out. 'Since then, you have been publically linked with both Zander and myself again and again. I believe that you are in danger only because of this association.'

I was silent. It made sense considering Toby Bower's death. If I was linked so noticeably to Zander, then Toby watching my future might be an early warning system for Zander himself. Chase had an irrefutable point with Will; he'd only attacked me when he'd thought I could reveal him – again, to Zander. 'Jake is the only one that doesn't make sense, then,' I said finally. 'He specifically came after me to find out what had happened to Will,' I pointed out.

'I'm starting to suspect that whoever is responsible for all of this,' Chase said carefully, 'is not as competent at affecting vampires.'

My eyes widened. Of course. It had taken Will months to act and Jake's attempt at killing me – if that's what it had been – had been a complete failure. Instead, he'd been more concerned with locating his old friend and perhaps even confused by the hostility he felt.

'Then… what about the explosion in the Irvine dormitory?' I asked shakily.

Chase arched an eyebrow. 'Well, that was certainly successful, wasn't it?' he replied.

I released a shaky breath and ran fingers through the tangles of my hair, stunned. The Irvines then, were vulnerable. Vampires could be affected, though it was by no means effective. 'Shifters?' I posed.

Chase shook his head. 'It could either be that they can't be affected or that the targets have been vampire and Irvine through simple coincidence.'

Meaning, whoever had been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

'Which brings me to my main reason for bringing you here,' Chase said then. My eyes flashed to his face warily. 'Irvines, shifters, vampires – they all have a natural resistance to supernatural compulsion,' Chase said bluntly. 'You do not.'

I felt like I couldn't breathe. 'W-what are you saying?' I whispered.

Chase hesitated only briefly and I knew I wouldn't like what he was going to say. 'I want to give you my blood,' he said simply.

My eyes widened in shock. 'You…'

'If vampires are the hardest to influence, 'Chase continued, 'then it may be another weapon for you until this is resolved. In the same way it makes you react to silver, it may help shield your mind.'

I didn't even know what to say to that. It felt like my mind had shut down. All I knew was that I'd finally worked out why Chase had suddenly lost interest in the conversation earlier. He'd made a quick tactical decision and had moved to implement it. My own blood chilled. 'I don't think—'

'Talia,' Chase said softly, his eyes never leaving my face. 'This is not a suggestion.'

Shock slammed into me and I remembered with acute clarity the discovery I'd made when Chase had first given me his blood. I'd seen his determination to heal me, regardless of any objections I would have made. I'd raised no argument, given my state at the time. Not that it would have mattered. 'You'd do it anyway?' I asked, needing the clarification for some reason.

'Yes,' Chase said and I believed him utterly.

I tried to feel angry that he was giving me no choice in the matter but the emotion didn't come easily. While I hated his high-handedness, I couldn't completely disregard the fact that not only was he trying to protect me but that he'd lived much longer than I had and possessed knowledge that I didn't. I took a steadying breath and nodded jerkily. 'Fine.'

There was a brief flash of amusement in Chase's eyes and I could have kicked him. 'Humans are so peculiar,' he mused while closing the distance between us.

I just barely resisted the urge to wrap my arms defensively around my body. 'It's not my fault I don't drink bl-ah,' I gasped as I was suddenly swept off my feet.

Chase chuckled and walked over to the edge of the clearing. He sat down and leant his back against a tree, turning me in his arms so that my back was against his chest. The bulk of my coat didn't even appear cumbersome to him at all. 'You seem to still be squeamish about fangs,' Chase explained at my confused silence.

I didn't point out this time that it was a natural side effect of being human.

He slipped one arm around my waist while the other disappeared from my sight and I took a deep breath, knowing what he was about to do. Sure enough, his wrist appeared before me a second later and his mouth was at my ear.

'Drink, Talia,' he urged.

An uncomfortable shiver ran down my spine but I deliberately shut off my thoughts and lifted my hands to bring his wrist to my mouth. I closed my eyes and tried to not think about exactly what it was I was doing.

It worked remarkably well and when I felt Chase flex his wrist I let go immediately, glad that it was over. He moved his hand away once more and I shuddered, trying to get the remnants of his blood out of my mouth.

Chase chuckled quietly. 'See? It really wasn't so bad,' he said.

'Speak for yourself,' I replied, sure I could still taste it. He laughed and then gripped my elbows, pulling me to my feet as he rose. I turned to face him, eyeing him curiously. It seemed his earlier black mood had completely abated. 'What happens now?' I asked.

'Very little,' Chase replied and his expression radiated sincerity. 'There's a fair chance you will experience a greater awareness of my reactions and experience less fatigue for a while. I'd also recommend you avoid silver a little more diligently too,' he added.

I stared at him, surprised. Chase had willingly given me the ability to detect his emotions? I would have never expected that from any vampire, given the vulnerability it created. In my experience so far, it seemed that supernaturals went to great lengths to conceal any emotions that might represent a weakness. It seemed a huge leap of faith.

Chase eyed me knowingly, perhaps guessing the source of my shock. 'The other side of this situation,' Chase said calmly, 'is that if you intended to reveal what you knew about me to another person, I would definitely know.'

I stared back at him. I would never do that, I thought. There was an answering change to his expression. I know, said his eyes. In that moment, we understood each other.

o…o…o…o…o…o…o…o…o…o

A/N: Opening lyric: "Sort Of" – Ingrid Michaelson.