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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

The Light at the End of the Tunnel - 20. Chapter 20

Let's hope Asa is okay.

Darkness can take many forms. It can be the shroud beneath which nightmares lurk. It can be a cloak in which to hide from who or whatever might be looking for you. There is the gloominess of a room with the shades pulled that eases the blinding pain of a migraine. Crepuscule is the approach of night and the arrival of the creatures that thrive in its environment. Dawn is the quiet moment before the witching hour loses its grip on the advent of daylight.

Never before had Asa experienced a darkness like the one that enveloped him in its ironclad grip. The complete absence of light created an alien environment. It was hard to tell which way was up. The only reference Asa had was the feel of his feet on the floor. He removed his shoes and socks to keep himself grounded and preserve his sanity. The cold concrete beneath his feet gave him a sense of self-preservation. As long as he could touch the floor, he could touch reality. He had no way of marking the passage of time.

Upon further exploration, he discovered his small space had a rolled-up foam pad and blanket in the corner. A toilet and sink were tucked into a small recessed area. Other than that, the rest of the room was barren.

After Huntington confirmed his presence somewhere in the immediate vicinity, he’d gone radio-silent. In addition to complete blackness, very little sound made its way through the concrete walls of his prison. Occasionally, he could hear the odd, muted hum and click of what might be a nearby door opening or closing. It was hard to tell. Even the sound of air moving through the vent above him was nearly impossible to detect.

Without a light source to travel by, Asa couldn’t utilize the tiny vent above him as a means of escape. He knew at least one day must have passed. The panel in the middle of the wall that he discovered right after he found himself in the room turned out to be a pass-through for food.

The first time his captors provided food, a voice spoke, instructing him to slide the panel to the right after the buzzer sounded. Upon doing so, by touch, he discovered a tray with a sandwich, an apple, and two large bottles of water. The far side of the panel was firmly secured and wouldn’t budge when he tried to open it. Not a single sliver of light leaked through.

He took the food and water carefully, knowing he’d have a hard time finding it if he dropped anything. He sat on the floor below the pass-through and ate. Asa knew he needed to eat. There was no way to know how long he would be stuck here, and he had to keep his strength and energy level as high as possible.

So far, he’d been provided six meals. All were similar, either a sandwich and fruit or another hand-held option such as the burrito he’d been given last time. The food choices didn’t give him any clue as to the time of day. There was no distinction between breakfast, lunch, or dinner. In other words, he still had no clue how much time had passed.

Asa hummed and whistled just to break the silence. Staying still went against his natural disposition. To pass the time, he paced the room and did push-ups, squats, and anything else he could think of to keep his body toned. He knew he was being watched; of that, he had no doubt. Nowadays, technology is advanced enough to provide clear images without visible light. In all likelihood, Huntington had cameras that operated on an alternative spectrum, like infrared. He hoped whoever was monitoring him was bored silly. Asa didn’t give them anything to get excited about.

Instead, he kept vigilant, knowing that eventually, someone would screw up. He needed to be ready.

As he dozed lightly, he was jolted fully awake by Huntington’s voice.

“I’m sorry to interrupt you,” the lion shifter said, not sounding one bit sorry. “I do hope you are enjoying your stay. I’d apologize for the lack of amenities, but I’m sure you understand why we’re not turning on the lights.”

Asa remained seated on his foam mat on the floor. His back was against the wall, and while he had dozed, his head rested on his arms, which were folded over his knees. Now, he stretched his long legs out in front of him and crossed his arms over his chest.

“What do you want?” Asa had a hard time leaving the contempt out of his voice.

“Is that any way to speak to your host?” Kasar’s voice was hard and cold.

“Host? Really? Sure, I’ll play along. Excuse me, Mr. Host. Would you be so kind as to go fuck yourself?

Huntington gave a clipped laugh. “Posturing will do no good. I was going to tell you about your friends, but if you don’t want to hear about them…”

Logically, Asa knew Huntington was trying to get a rise out of him, but his mind was becoming muddled without being able to track the passing hours. Sensory deprivation had been effectively used as a means of torture for thousands of years for no other reason than it worked.

“Either you’ll tell me, or you’ll leave me hanging. I’m not playing your games.”

Huntington chuckled, but it held a sinister quality that sent cold fingers of dread up Asa’s spine. The man was devious, and there was no telling what lengths he would go to nor how low he would stoop to get what he wanted. If the people Asa loved and cared about became collateral damage, Kasar Huntington didn’t give a damn.

“I can’t wait for your mate and his posse to come charging to your rescue.” Huntington gloated. “I’ve set so many traps for them; they’ll never know what hit them—especially your mate and your shapeshifter buddy. Capturing you was child’s play.”

“You must be so proud. I’m curious. How did you know someone would come?”

Huntington hummed. Asa imagined the king of Hell making the same sound.

“I didn’t. Instead, I prepared for every possibility I could imagine. I sincerely believed Sebastian would send one or two of his pack. I was hoping for the fireshifter. Her betrayal still stings. You were a pleasant surprise. I’m shocked you were alone. Was your mate too chicken shit, or did you even tell him?”

Asa refused to show any emotion. If Huntington thought he acted alone, that meant Caleb got away. Unless the lion shifter was playing with him. He loathed the thought of being a mouse the cat batted around for entertainment. He ignored the taunt and deflected the conversation. “You want me to believe you don’t have a spy?”

Another sinister chuckle echoed in the small room. “I don’t need spies. They’re unreliable. The one I had who poisoned your mate went and got himself killed. Sebastian isn’t the only one with access to satellites. I’ve been watching his every move. If he thinks he’s ready to take me on, he’s sorely mistaken.”

Asa’s blood ran cold. He schooled his expression the best he could. There was no way he could let on how disturbing that thought was. He would do anything in his power to protect Caleb and anyone in his former pack or their current pack. However, he refused to let Huntington know how much his words struck fear in his heart for his loved ones.

“My mate, as well as everyone else I know, is more than capable of handling whatever you have in store for them.”

“So you think. I have a little surprise in store for them. I can’t wait to see Sebastian’s face when he sees what breakthrough we’ve made. My new soldiers make those nasty hybrids look like circus side-show attractions. I’ve even given them a special assignment. I’m going to enjoy watching your beloved Caleb fall apart when he sees his son torn to pieces. ”

It took tremendous restraint to remain silent. Christ! How dare he threaten Vann. That’s all they needed. If Huntington continued his experiments, there’s no telling what monstrosities his minions came up with this time. Asa needed to get the fuck out of here and find out.

Feigning indifference and ignoring the reference to Caleb and Vann, he said, “I don’t care what fucking breakthroughs you think you’ve made. Whatever you did, we will undo. You’ve already proven your scientists are clueless when it comes to genetic manipulation. Ninety percent of your failed attempts are back to normal. It was just that easy.” Despite the pitch blackness, Asa couldn’t help grinning from ear to ear.

Through the speaker, he heard a sharp intake of air. Ooh, the kitty cat wasn’t purring now. Poor pussy.

“You may have undone our previous work,” Huntington oozed sarcastically. “But I guarantee my latest project makes those hybrids look like child’s play.”

There was no way Asa would prod for more information or even show the slightest interest. He filed away everything Huntington hinted at to mull over later. Right now, he still needed to get out of there. His chances were looking bleaker with every passing minute.

When Asa said nothing, Huntington laughed. “What’s the matter, light shifter? Cat got your tongue?”

Huntington’s cackling laughter was abruptly cut off, plunging the room into silence again. Still determined to show a calm, cool, collected façade, Asa relaxed against the wall and took a deep breath. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Repeat.

Once more, he was left in solitude, with nothing but his thoughts. What the hell kind of shit was Huntington up to now? There was no telling with him. He was enough of a madman to allow Asa’s imagination to run wild.

The silence of his prison stretched out indeterminately. His wolf was restless and wanted out. The one time he let the animal take over, he froze and whimpered until Asa changed back. Since then, the beast retreated to the back of Asa’s consciousness.

The buzzer sounded another dozen times at least, indicating his meals were ready. The tightness and grumbling of his stomach was the only indicator he had to gauge how long he’d been in the dark. He lost track of how many meals had been provided. After what seemed like an eternity, he sat with his back against the wall and felt a faint vibrating rumble. Straining, he thought he detected the sound of thunder. It was hard to tell. His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the buzzer, indicating another meal was ready.

Sighing, he used one hand to guide himself along the wall, and Asa felt around until he located the sliding door. The aroma of chicken and yeasty bread wafted to his nose. Gingerly, he felt around for the edges of the tray.

The meal consisted of sliced chicken and ham on warm bread. He couldn’t complain. Even though the meals were simple, they tasted good, and he wasn’t starving. In addition to the chicken and ham sandwich, there was a bag of chips and a banana. Two more bottles of water accompanied the plate.

He thought he heard a few more rumbles of thunder coming from overhead. His spatial awareness was severely compromised after so much time without the normal stimulation he was used to. One didn’t realize how much they relied on their sight or hearing until it was gone.

When he finished, he stood and pressed the button to signal he was ready to push the empty plate back through. Every time he’d done this, his side of the door would click, indicating it was unlocked, and he could open the door to place his tray into the narrow space. After sliding it shut, it would lock, and he would hear the other side opening up and someone taking the items away.

Today, Fate must have decided to grace him with a gift. As he placed his empty plate and two empty water bottles in the small space, he heard a loud clap of thunder through the portal. He sensed the hum of electricity as it stuttered from the storm’s disruption. Instead of his side of the pass-through sliding shut and locking, it remained open as the door on the other side swung open.

It took Asa no more than a second to register the shaft of light coming through the narrow chamber. It took even less time for him to do what he did best– become one with the light. He was gone before the soldier on the other side even realized the mistake.

Freedom!

Even though the skies were overcast, it was daytime, and the obscured sun provided enough illumination. It was all he needed. Knowing he only had one chance, he zipped through all the buildings, searching for the elusive breakthrough Huntington hinted at. Thanks to traveling at the speed of light, he had the information he needed and was gone instantly.

He rose above the clouds and saw the sun low in the eastern sky, indicating early morning, which, if he calculated correctly, was late afternoon in Frankfurt. The last thing he wanted was to head into darkness. Heading west, he materialized in Pieter’s office in the castle and damn near gave the man a heart attack.

"Asa!” Pieter cried, jumping up from his chair, papers flying off his desk as he dislodged them with his abrupt action.

It took a moment for Asa to assimilate into his surroundings. He blinked rapidly as his eyes were sensitive after spending so much time in the dark. The images he collected as his light form instantly translated to his human form, and what he saw scared the shit out of him.

“Where’s Caleb?” he demanded.

“H-he is in Montana. He left right after you were captured.”

“What about Corbin and the boys? Are they safe?” His heart thudded a thousand miles an hour in his chest.

“Ja, Ja. They are good. Caleb insisted they go to Texas. I spoke with them last night. They are worried about you.”

Asa sighed with relief. “Please let them know I’m safe, and I will call as soon as possible. Listen, you need to initiate lockdown protocols. Get everyone to safety. I can’t stay. I have to get to Caleb.”

“We’ve been in lockdown since your capture. Go. I will take care of everything from here.”

Asa didn’t bother saying goodbye. He disappeared in a blink and followed the sunlight across the Atlantic Ocean and over halfway across the continent, materializing in his human form in the front yard of Sebastian’s home. Never mind science fiction. This is what time travel was all about. He thanked whatever gods there were that it was summer, and he traveled at higher latitudes.

Still barefoot, he leaped up the stairs and barged in the front door, bellowing, “CAAAALEB!!”

Several sets of footsteps thundered through the house, but it was his mate who reached him first.

Asa!?

Asa fell into Caleb’s arms, and the dam burst. All the emotion he’d held back during his captivity came pouring out. He shook with relief as Caleb held him close.

The big man peppered his head and face with kisses before stepping back and running his hands all over Asa’s body, searching for injuries. The concern etched onto his mate’s face touched Asa to his very core.

“Are you alright?” Caleb asked, pulling him close.

Asa inhaled the soothing scent of leather and coconut. His Caleb. He needed to reimprint the smell permanently in his brain to erase the memory of his cell’s sterile environment– of too many hours spent trapped in that lightless, soundless, and scentless room.

“I am now,” he whispered. His body began to shake uncontrollably as the adrenaline that fueled his escape dissipated. Caleb held on tightly until the tremors ceased. It was only then that Asa realized there were others in the room.

Sebastian, Reilly, Elijah, and Tyler all watched with concern. Even though all he wanted to do was drag Caleb away and make love to him, there was a much more pressing concern. The stability of the shifter world was at stake.

“Sebastian,” he said as he eased himself from Caleb’s embrace. “You need to call an emergency meeting. Huntington has gone too far. I– I don’t know how we can defeat him.”

Asa knew his expression must have indicated the gravity of the situation. Sebastian didn’t hesitate to issue orders.

“Reilly, tell Wayne I’m initiating the plan Piper. I’ll text Hunter. Elijah, could you and Tyler head over to the lodge and help Sandi get the large conference room ready?”

Immediately, everyone sprang into action.

“Piper? What’s that? Asa asked.

Sebastian smiled, giving Asa a small glimmer of hope. “It’s nothing earth-shattering. It’s the code I picked to gather everyone in one place– like the Pied Piper. Wayne will contact everybody who needs to be there. Most live at the lodge, so meeting there is easier.”

Asa nodded. He should have figured Sebastian had contingency plans in place for various situations. Even though the Alpha had his status thrust upon him, he rose to the occasion, and his instincts topped any high-level officer the human military had. At least, that was the impression Asa had, and he knew Caleb shared his opinion.

It wasn’t long before he and Caleb were in the back seat of Sebastian’s truck, with Reilly riding shotgun on the ride to the lodge. His nerves finally settled down now that Caleb was beside him. It was the knowledge of what he saw that threatened to totter him back over the edge of anxiety into a full-blown panic attack.

He remained tucked into Caleb’s side as they arrived at the lodge. Donovan immediately appeared and jogged over to meet them as they exited the truck. The doctor automatically assessed him for signs of injury.

Asa held out his hands, palms facing the doctor. “I’m not hurt. Honestly,” he assured the man.

Donovan’s eyes narrowed as if he didn’t quite believe him.

Caleb cleared his throat, “Doc, you can look him over later. Right now, my mate has something important he needs to tell us. We should get to the conference room.”

Asa couldn’t help smiling at the way Caleb took charge. Even Sebastian and Reilly were trying to hide their grins.

Donovan sighed, conceding for the moment. “Fine. But you’re getting a thorough physical before the end of the day.”

Trying to look contrite, Asa made an ‘X’ over his heart. “Whatever you want, Doc. I promise.”

Appeased, Donovan allowed them to pass and followed the group into the lodge and down a hallway to the spacious conference room. Chairs were arranged in rows and were starting to fill as they entered. Sebastian and Reilly strode to the front of the room.

Caleb guided him to the front but stayed off to the side as they waited for everyone to arrive. They remained silent as the core group of shifters filed in one after another. Surprise registered on their faces as they recognized Asa. Most offered greetings of relief at seeing him unharmed.

Rosalie and Silas came in, accompanied by Hunter and Kellan. The twins, Ashton and Austin, joined Elijah and Tyler. Jack Porter, Enya, Logan, and Cooper were already seated. Wayne and Sandi strode through the door and sat beside Rosalie and Silas. The only two missing were Ben and Zev, who were still in Texas. Asa knew Sebastian would fill them in later.

Asa couldn’t control the knot of dread which took up residence in his gut. His brief glimpse of the horror that Huntington created gnawed at him. He couldn’t imagine what they could do to combat it.

Once everyone was seated, Sebastian got their attention. “Thank you for coming on such short notice. As you can see, Asa is back and thankfully unharmed. He asked me to get everyone here as he has information regarding Huntington. I’ll turn the floor over to him.”

Another wave of nausea rolled over him as he walked to the front of the room. The only reason he didn’t hurl was because Caleb was holding his hand tightly, giving him the support he needed.

Standing in front of the group, he rubbed the back of his neck with his free hand and cleared his throat. There was no sense in beating around the bush, so he came right out with it. “Huntington has created monsters.”

Murmurs swept through the room. He caught snippets of what was being said.

Did he say monsters?

What does he mean?

Huntington can’t be that crazy!

Sebastian loudly cleared his throat. “Let him finish.” The Alpha turned to him. “Asa, start at the beginning from when you were captured.”

He nodded. “Caleb and I were nearly done with our reconnaissance. We were in the building on the complex's northeast corner when suddenly I found myself in a dark room. Right before it happened, there was a pulling sensation and a vibration similar to an electric shock. I have no idea how Huntington managed to capture me. I’m just relieved Caleb wasn’t caught in whatever it was.”

Caleb squeezed his hand. “The room I was in was completely dark. I mean pitch-black. Not one single particle of light penetrated the darkness. It was disorienting. I had to take off my shoes and socks to ground myself by feeling the concrete beneath me. I still don’t know how long I was there.”

“Twelve days, fourteen hours, and twenty-two minutes,” Caleb whispered. Asa’s heart stuttered, realizing how much Caleb must have suffered, not knowing what happened to him. He wasn’t surprised at the amount of time that passed. He leaned into his mate reassuringly.

“Huntington spoke to me twice. He alluded to some “breakthrough” his scientists supposedly had. It’s not a breakthrough. They created monsters.”

Sebastian’s head snapped up. “What do you mean? Monsters?”

Asa continued. “I escaped through the opening they used to provide food and water.” He described the system so they could have a visual reference and speculated that the storm caused a power surge, which disrupted the locking mechanism on his side, allowing him to escape. “I knew I had to at least check it out to see what he was spouting off about. He created some kind of super-hybrid. He didn’t use adolescents. These things were full-grown adults. Their skin looked like an alligator hide, and they had sharp teeth and claws. The eyes on these things were red, like a vampire’s during blood-lust.”

The silence that befell the room allowed him to hear the beating of his heart loudly in his ears. The sight of the creatures Huntington created would give him nightmares for years to come.

“What the hell?” Hunter exclaimed. “He’s got some kind of super-soldier?”

“It looks that way,” Asa agreed. “I saw a dozen of them. I didn’t stick around to see if he was hiding any more somewhere else.”

“What do we do now?” Kellan asked.

Everyone started talking at once, offering suggestions. Sebastian quickly put an end to the chaos.

“We regroup and figure out what our options are,” Sebastian stated.

Asa knew they had to come up with something better. He had an idea but knew no one would be on board. Somehow, he had to convince them. It was their only hope. Caleb was probably going to kill him for even suggesting it.

“There is one thing we can do,” he offered.

The room hushed as all eyes landed on him again.

“I can go back and capture one of the creatures.”

The room exploded as everyone started talking simultaneously, trying to dissuade him. Even Sebastian was part of the fray, his voice booming over the others.

No! No way. You are not risking yourself like that,” the Alpha insisted.

A piercing whistle ripped through the room, instantly creating a hush.

“Everybody shut up,” Caleb ordered. “Let’s hear what my mate has to say.”

Asa was surprised by Caleb’s statement. He thought his mate would have been the first one to shut him down.

Thank you, he mouthed.

“Huntington told me he uses satellites to keep tabs on our side. He’s aware of our movements just like we’re aware of his. The last thing the bastard would ever expect would be for me to return so quickly. He’s anticipating Sebastian going on the offensive and planning a direct attack. He’s not expecting a stealth mission for the sole purpose of stealing one of his creatures.”

“How do you suggest capturing one of these things?” Reilly asked, worry lines creasing his forehead.

Asa took a deep breath. “I think I might be able to bring one of them with me in my light form.”

Sebastian looked at him pointedly. “Have you ever done anything like that before?”

“Not with a human,” he replied. “I once inadvertently transported my neighbor’s cat to Australia when I was in high school. I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but I think the cat wandered too close at the precise moment I lighted out and got sucked into my energy.”

“What were you doing in Australia?” Hunter asked.

Asa chuckled at the memory. “It was winter, and I wanted to go surfing. My fifteen-year-old brain thought the best solution was the sunny beaches of Down Under. The cat threw a monkey wrench into those plans. The little fucker bolted as soon as we solidified, and I spent the next ten hours chasing her down. That’s when I realized I could transport other living things.”

“It won’t work,” Elijah stated.

“Why not?” Asa asked.

“For the same reason Kage and I couldn’t maintain our shifted forms if we came into contact with each other. Some weird supernatural law of nature.”

Up until now, Rosalie and Silas had been silent. Their heads touched as they whispered, and then Rosalie spoke. “Actually, that law only applies to elemental shifters. Indeed, two elementals can not hold their element form if they come into contact with each other. You and Kage are considered part of them as you take on the appearance of another life form rather than actually becoming something else. Animal shifters don’t fall into the same category, and from your description, it seems like these creatures are a mutation of that subset.”

Silas added, “It sounds like these creatures were animals that had their DNA mutated and crossed with humans and possibly vampires. If that’s so, theoretically, you should be able to transport them.”

“So it will work?” Caleb asked.

“I believe it will,” Rosalie replied.

“Me too,” Silas said, nodding in agreement.

“I still don’t like it,” Sebastian declared. “It’s too dangerous. You’re not even one hundred percent sure it’s possible.”

“I could practice first,” Asa stated. “As many times as needed if it will make you feel any better.”

Beseechingly, he looked at Caleb, who appeared lost in thought. “What about you, love? Are you okay with this?” he asked.

Caleb grasped his chin and stroked his bottom lip absentmindedly. “It’s fine with me, but with one condition.”

Asa raised an eyebrow.

“I’m coming with you.”

Sorry about the delay. It's been a busy morning and then no matter what I did there, when I pasted the chapter it kept adding extra spacing between paragraphs, even though I copied from a Word doc. Ugh... stupid computers.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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