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die casting – (noun) a process by which molten matter is forced under high pressure into a mold
casting the die – (idiom) to commit an irrevocable decision; leave to fate
It might have been impossible if not for Victor Creed. The project would have taken decades to complete, perhaps even left unfinished by the power-starved, results-driven military, aborted by ethics treaties or a lack of financial backing or God knows what else the U.S. government could pull out of its filthy, corrupted asshole. But Creed, unlike Wraith or Dukes, had no conscience to contaminate with guilt; he was easily bought, asked for little, seldom complained, and genuinely seemed to enjoy his job. The hallmarks of a true soldier.
But soldier was only a title. Victor was foremost an animal, a predator, and he preyed upon the young and unsuspecting, hunting them down with an instinct only a rare few of his kind possessed.
Zero would have been Stryker’s first choice for the task, being that he was more loyal and obedient than his violent, unpredictable associate, but he lacked the one thing that made Victor so special: the ability to track mutants, to sniff them out like a feral cat and catch them, no matter how well they hid or how far they ran. Victor was all instinct and gut-reaction; Zero was calculated skill and self-discipline, and he didn’t have Creed’s gift.
After Logan had walked out on Team X in favor of the simple life, Stryker appointed Creed as the head of the “collections department” for his new enterprise. Victor was allowed to indulge his natural hunting instincts and promised a handsome bonus in the future, making the arrangement satisfactory for both parties. Of course, being prohibited from killing his catches often left Victor with a gnawing, consuming frustration and enough rage to level a city block. But he found other ways to appease his hunger without completely annihilating his prey. Stryker either didn’t know or didn’t care—all that mattered to him was adding to his little zoo, and the condition in which his test subjects arrived didn’t concern him in the least. So Victor got his pound of flesh, Stryker got his syringe of DNA, and everyone except the lab rats lived happily ever after.
But, like all great romances and genocides, there was always The One That Got Away.
They were two years and ten-something “volunteers” into the project when Victor’s continental scavenger hunt brought him to the humid, murky bowels of Louisiana, sniffing through kudzu, stalking the banks of the Mississippi, prowling the heavily-wooded highways and seedy truckstop bars in search of mutant flesh. Zero, never more than an hour’s flight away, operated out of the major cities and was always ready to swoop in and pick up the cargo. Mostly, though, he just sat back and let Creed do his thing. Pounding the pavement was for grunts.
It was in a steamy, cluttered alley on the shittier end of Bourbon Street that Victor finally picked up the scent. It was thin and subtle, floating on top of the odors of grease and garbage and car exhaust; most likely a young mutant with budding new powers. Victor paused, nose high and nostrils quivering, the hair on the back of his neck standing up in excitement. He inhaled deeply, filling his lungs, letting the aroma find its way into his primal core, adding to the collection he had been carrying for nearly two centuries. Once committed to memory, a scent was never forgotten.
With a predatory grin curling his lips, Victor bounded into the shadows and vanished to human eyes, following the trail that would lead him to his prize.
It was indeed a young mutant: male, brunette, 5’8”, about 140 pounds, barely sixteen years old. He reeked with the musk of testosterone and sweat and raw sexuality. He also smoked Gauloises, drank Jack Daniel’s, and had recently eaten sweet and sour shrimp, but Victor didn’t need to see him to know that. Not that he didn’t mind looking—the kid was easy on the eyes, at least a seven or eight, though more pretty than handsome at this particular stage of development. The silk shirt, black jeans and snakeskin boots complemented his slim frame nicely. Maybe in a few years he’d fill out into a ten, becoming a sturdier, more chiseled version of the rangy adolescent Victor saw before him. Of course, Victor wasn’t particular about the age or sex of his prey; meat was meat, and as long as it was served fresh, nothing else mattered.
He did, however, savor the tender stuff.
He stalked the boy through the drizzly dregs of the French Quarter, past the gleaming neon signs of adult movie theaters and crowded bars and gambling houses blasting blues and rockabilly out into the streets. Victor’s hunger grew deeper the longer he shadowed this kid, his anticipation and arousal sharpening with each passing minute until he didn’t know whether he should fuck this pretty little morsel or eat him. Both ideas sounded great at this point, but Stryker would probably be annoyed if he was brought a mangled, masticated corpse instead of a living, breathing specimen. But Stryker didn’t have to know, and what Stryker didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. Victor decided to wait, see how things went. If the kid cooperated, maybe he’d be worth keeping around.
His patience was soon rewarded; the boy turned down a narrow, empty avenue and began making his way toward the row of dilapidated apartments crouched at the opposite end. Victor lowered himself onto all fours, his pupils dilating as he homed in on his prey, then he leaped out of the shadows as silently as a panther.
He expected an easy take-down—pounce, pin, drag away—but discovered too late that he had underestimated his quarry.
He was stretched out in mid-air, claws extended, when the kid whipped around with a half-dollar coin glowing between his burning red fingertips. His eyes widened when Victor’s shadow fell over him, and he cried, “Sacredieu!” before hurling the coin at his attacker.
The blazing projectile, more missile than money, hit Victor squarely in the chest and erupted like a fire bomb, sending him careening up into a fire escape and crashing down into a cluster of garbage cans. As the pain receded to a dull ache, he bared his teeth and snarled angrily, hauling himself from the pile of trash and launching down the alley in pursuit of his fleeing target. In two bounds he had caught up and leaped into the air again, only this time he was prepared for the counterstrike.
The kid turned at the last second and tossed another ballistic coin toward his assailant. A look of horror crossed his attractive young face when the makeshift bullet streaked over Victor’s shoulder and exploded harmlessly against the side of a building. Then two hundred and twenty pounds of muscle and malevolence slammed him onto the wet pavement like a fist hammering an insect. The back of his head struck the asphalt and half a mil in Mardi Gras fireworks blossomed through his darkening mind. His eyes fluttered shut, his muscles went limp, and he was out like a light.
Victor raised himself into a crouch and took a few moments to study the teenager sprawled beneath him. He looked dead—maybe a broken spine or a smashed skull. Victor reached out and wrapped his hand around the slender throat, feeling the faint pulse throb against his claws. Still alive. Unconscious, possibly crippled, but still alive. Excellent. This had worked out better than expected.
With a neutral expression, Victor hauled the boy onto his shoulder like a carcass and rose to his feet. That storehouse over there seemed like a good place. Dark, secluded, relatively quiet; he’d be able to take his time and enjoy the spoils of his hunt.
Like a jaguar dragging a fresh kill to the safety of the trees, Victor strode toward the building with his senseless victim.
Dim orange streetlight slanted through the filmy window panes and onto the concrete floor in uneven rectangles. Victor dumped the boy half-in and half-out of the shadows and squatted down, studying him at a more intimate range. The smell of blood entered his nostrils and he leaned down, sniffing until he found the source: a small abrasion on the back of the kid’s head, probably from that little tap on the tarmac. Nothing serious.
Victor didn’t jump in immediately, as was his usual method of operation; this time he had the rare luxury of unconscious prey and no deadline, and he planned to use both to his advantage. Moving from toe to temple, he slowly partook of each scent offered to him by his quarry, not so much sniffing as reading the events of the boy’s day: homemade soap from that morning’s shower; bacon and orange and cigarette breakfast odors in his hair; old wallpaper and termite-eaten wood of a shabby home; lavender shampoo that didn’t overpower the sweet natural oils of his scalp; no cologne, thank Christ, Victor hated the stuff; week-old jeans, days-old shirt; lingering perfume from a female admirer; buttery sidewalk popcorn and coffee with vanilla cream; 24-hour New Orleans street sweat; coins and cards on his fingertips; and something else, perhaps his mutant power—electric and acrid, overheated atoms and ozone, salt and skin. Victor couldn’t decide if he liked it or not, but it was certainly an interesting smell.
Now that his nose was satisfied, other parts of his body required similar attention. Using the claw of his index finger, Victor reached out and drew a line down the length of the boy’s shirt, popping off buttons and quietly shredding through the silk fabric. The torn shirt slid open, revealing a smooth, hairless chest and lean stomach that Victor took in with the carnal appreciation of an experienced rapist. He set to work on the jeans next, fumbling with the button and zipper, neither of which were designed for ease of use by men with three-inch claws. He jerked the denim down around the kid’s thighs—good enough for now—and leaned down to inhale the warm, musky scent rising from his exposed genitals.
Victor began to salivate uncontrollably, his cock hardening at the same time. He unbuttoned his trousers with one hand and allowed his erection to spring out, already flushed red and beading at the tip. He moved up to the boy’s face and grasped it with one large hand, prying his jaws open. His claws dug into the tender cheek as he ducked his head, licking the soft, full lips before thrusting his tongue into the pliant mouth.
It wasn’t a kiss. Victor Creed had no concept of romantic love and was incapable of expressing anything remotely resembling care or affection. This was a vulgar imitation of a kiss, a ruthless, penetrative act of lust and violence, and he did it purely out of sadistic pleasure.
He moved to the kid’s neck, leaving a trail of saliva from ear to throat, dragging his teeth across the pulsing jugular—so much blood just waiting to be spilled—and sucked at the warm, salty skin. He could almost taste the blood, thick and hot and coppery, filling his entire mouth. His cock gave an excited twitch at the thought, and he gently clamped his fangs onto the throbbing flesh, almost daring himself to bite down. But there was still so much more to be enjoyed; it would be a shame to waste it because he couldn’t control himself.
Lifting away from the temptation, Victor sat up and straddled the boy’s legs, scraping his claws down the bare chest like a cat stretching after a long nap. Red streaks appeared on the once-flawless white skin, jagged trails that ended just below the boy’s navel. Victor leaned down and dragged his tongue over the marks he’d just made, lapping his way up the lambskin-soft flesh of the kid’s chest, latching onto a warm, pebbly nipple and biting it lightly.
The taste of this kid was amazing. Victor had never had anything like it before.
He wanted more.
Slipping his deadly hands beneath the boy’s limp upper body, Victor dragged him up off the cold concrete and into a sitting position. Then he grasped a fistful of that fine brunette hair, pulled it back, and sank his teeth into the kid’s trapezius.
There was a dull pop as Victor’s fangs punctured the flesh, then the warm, metallic flavor of blood rushed into his mouth. The taste and the feeling and the satisfaction of the first bite was almost enough to push him over the edge. He clutched the boy tightly, his claws piercing the delicate skin, and bit down harder, squeezing more blood into his mouth. How he would love to lift his head, just tear out the side of this little gutter rat’s neck, tendons snapping and blood gushing—
The muscle under Victor’s mouth suddenly moved. The heartbeat on his tongue quickened. The legs beneath him shifted, waking up. Coming to.
A soft, wordless moan escaped the boy’s lips.
Victor pulled back just as the kid raised his head, and he was suddenly staring into a pair of very confused, very pretty green eyes.
A second passed before the teen’s senses finally caught up with him, and when they did, those pretty green eyes flared ruby-red like all the flames and fury in Hell.
Not a problem.
Victor nonchalantly grasped his victim’s throat and shoved him down onto the concrete, pinning him with practically no effort. The boy reached up with glowing fingertips to scrabble at the iron-like hand wrapped around his neck.
“Be still,” Victor muttered in a low, threatening growl, “or I’ll crush the life right outta you.” He tightened his grip to show that he was willing and capable of such a feat, and the kid let out a strangled cough.
“M’suh, p-please,” he grunted, squirming and writhing as his wounded shoulder began to seep blood onto the floor. “Don’ do this. Listen, I, I fix whatevah I done. I give it all back, I swear, jus’ le’ me—”
Though Victor was less than happy about the interruption, he was intrigued to hear the attractive drawl in the kid’s scratchy, pubescent voice. “Well, well,” he rumbled, giving a half-smile and showing off his bloodstained teeth. “Cajun, huh? Never had that before . . . I hear it tastes great.”
The red light in the kid’s eyes went out, replaced with utter horror. Victor chuckled. That was more like it.
“Let me tell you how this is gonna go, kiddo,” he explained patiently. “You’ve got somethin’ I want. I’m gonna take it from you. I don’t need your cooperation, but it would probably be in your best interest to do what I say.”
Tears of desperate, helpless rage welled in the young man’s eyes as Victor tauntingly pressed his claws into his skin.
“But if you wanna fight me, give it your best shot. You won’t win. Get me angry enough and I might even rip your guts out and eat ‘em. And believe me, sweetheart, you will be alive to see it.
“Now, was any of that unclear? Do I need to repeat myself?”
Lips trembling and tears rolling from the corners of his eyes, the boy gave a faint shake of his head. Victor loosened his grip by slow degrees until he finally lifted his hand from the kid’s throat. The boy stayed where he was, obediently frozen in place, sprawled out on the concrete half-naked and bleeding and disheveled—truly a gorgeous sight, but Victor had never been one to appreciate beauty, at least in its natural state. He appreciated the smell of fear, though, and his victim was positively saturated with it.
“That’s better,” he murmured, leaning down and laying his large, rough hand on the kid’s chest, feeling the marrow-deep shivers of adrenaline and shock coursing through his body, muscles all tight and tense, like a frightened rabbit trapped under the paw of a cougar, paralyzed by its own terror.
Victor couldn’t help but smile as he slid his hand downward, over the boy’s jumpy, nervous abdomen and into the wiry patch of hair between his legs. The kid closed his eyes tightly and turned his head, clenching his fists as claws scraped down the length of his flaccid penis.
“Please, m’suh,” he hissed between his teeth, “I m-make a deal with you. Anything. I have friends—”
“No deals,” Victor muttered, placing his other hand on the boy’s throat again. “Now quiet.”
“Non, wait, please-!”
The kid’s voice cracked as he realized the futility of his bargaining and the imminence of his fate. Though Victor was beginning to miss the silence and was sorely tempted to do something about it, the experience would be far more enjoyable if he kept the boy conscious; nothing felt quite so good as a little resistance.
So he grabbed the runt by the jaw and looked him in the eye, feral hazel to domesticated green. “You wanna spend the last moments of your life in agony? It can be arranged,” he said in a deep, menacing growl.
The boy shook his head as best as he could in Victor’s grasp.
“Then shut up. Relax. It’ll only hurt for a little while.”
It was a lie, of course, but honesty had never mattered much to Victor. It still did the trick. The kid complied from then on, though he cried out and struggled briefly when Victor first penetrated him with his clawed fingers. After that he remained surprisingly composed, sobbing only once or twice as he lay pinned beneath his attacker, enduring the escalating savagery of the brutal assault. And Victor was brutal, holding nothing back as he relentlessly thrust and bit and left violent welts all over that smooth young body. Kid could take a beating, that was for sure. Victor was faintly impressed.
“Good boy,” he purred, sitting back and watching his cock, blood-streaked and spit-slick, glide into the kid’s clean, pretty little ass. It must have been painful, given Victor’s impressive size, but the kid just bit his lip and endured, his brow creased in silent agony and his eyelashes wet with tears. Kind of cute, really. He probably thought he was denying his rapist some sort of pleasure by holding back all his reactions and playing it tough, stifling the screams and the wails and the begging when it was obvious they were all there on the inside.
Teenagers. They think they’re so goddamn cool. Victor put a little more power into his thrusts, just to add to the hurt. He was a bastard like that, and he liked to test his victims.
But the kid took everything Victor could give him, even when Victor climaxed with a wild snarl and slammed in balls-deep, clutching the slim thighs and spilling his thick, vile seed into his shuddering prey. Sure, there were tears pouring from the kid’s eyes and he looked as if more than his body had been violated, but he didn’t fight and he didn’t scream—just stared at Victor’s swinging dog tags and held his bottom lip between his teeth. Probably in shock, catatonic trauma, some psychological bullshit thing like that. It happened to a lot of Victor’s conquests. Not everyone can get ravaged by a feral mutant and come out whistling Dixie in the end.
The kid shut down after that, either passing out or slipping into a deathlike sleep. He didn’t respond to any of Victor’s skin-piercing nudges, so he wasn’t playing possum. Confident that the little swamp rat wasn’t going anywhere, Victor ducked out for a few minutes and put in the call to Zero. He returned to the storehouse a short while later to find his prey lying in the lone square of streetlight, curled up on his side on the cold concrete like an aborted fetus, slimy with blood and sweat and leaking semen from his abused hole. He was still unresponsive, but Victor didn’t trust him to stay that way for much longer. He sat nearby and kept vigil over his trophy and waited for Zero to arrive.
The kid woke up about thirty minutes later, shivering and pale and folded in pain, mumbling an incoherent mixture of Southern English and Cajun French. Victor told him in very coherent English to shut up and get dressed—they were going to take a ride. The kid numbly obeyed, pulling his jeans up over his scratched-to-hell thighs with shaking hands and doing his best with his shredded shirt; he folded one side over the other and wrapped his arms around himself, looking sick and miserable.
Victor took him by the elbow and dragged him up several flights of rickety metal stairs to the rooftop, where they waited in the mild, humid night. Everything was normal down on the streets—music playing and dice rolling and people getting drunk, having a good time. They had no idea. They never do.
After about twenty-five minutes, the thumping of copter blades cut through the swampy air and a matte-black UH-60 touched down on the rooftop. The side door slid open and the kid was bundled into the helicopter by two members of Stryker’s research team. They immediately set to work cuffing, sedating and restraining the valuable—if battered—test subject.
Turned around in the co-pilot seat, Zero studied the wounds on Victor’s latest catch, then gave his associate a cold, irritated glare. “Do you always have to do this to them?”
“Just weeding out the weak and worthless,” Victor replied cattily, sliding into the rear seat.
“You could alter his mutation at that age, did you know that?” Zero snapped. “Put enough DNA from a mature mutant into one who’s just developing and you can affect him for life.”
Victor grinned smugly. “I’d say I’ve definitely affected him for life.”
Zero, realizing that it was pointless trying to reason with a dumb animal, shook his head and ordered the pilot to take off. The helicopter slowly lifted into the air, banked eastward, and left the glittering golden lights of New Orleans behind, taking with it a young Cajun whose name no longer mattered.