It’s time again for Blogophilia, the fun blog group where Martien gives participants prompts for their weekly blog. This week’s prompts are:
Ecrits Blogophilia Week 5.11 Topic – My Fate
BONUSES:** Hard (2 pts) Incorporate a lyric by the group Porcupine Tree – (A Purple Haze crawled on the lawn)
Easy (1 pt) Mention something found in a cemetery
I have maybe two people who read this blog, and one of them (Martien) said they liked having the whole story in one go, so, since I’m behind on my shorts anyway, I worked my fingers to the bone and got all of Kioko done in one shot. Yay!
This story takes place during the fourth novel (Ashes of deceit) and before the Zuri short I posted awhile back.
Kioko stood uncomfortably to the side while Ark gave the guards instructions. Two weeks ago she’d been one of them; dressed in black and taking orders. But now she was one of the elite, an Executioner, chosen by Malick, the head of the Guild, himself.
It’s strange, she thought. After more than a hundred years of immortality, two weeks can make all the difference. Just two weeks.
Though her appointment had come at another’s expense, killed in an altercation with Jorick, the legendary Hand of Death. Though Kioko had never met him – he’d been an Executioner and quit long before she ever moved to the citadel – she’d heard the awed whispers. Stories of things he’d done, vampires he’d murdered, superhuman deeds that she doubted any vampire could accomplish.
He has murdered three Executioners in three months, she reminded herself, or at the least been involved in their deaths. Franklin had been killed in October, then Philip and Bren recently. It was the latter that she’d replaced.
The guards saluted and moved away. Ark straightened his coat and glanced over his shoulder, at the small house. “I think we’re done here. We have a few hours until sunrise if you want-” His chiming cell phone cut him off. With an eye roll he tugged it free and answered, “Hello?”
Kioko watched his eyebrows shoot up. His mouth worked, as he tried to get a word in. Finally he snapped, “Both Dismas and Zuri?”
Dismas. The Executioner who’d replaced Franklin, he’d only held the post for three months. Before that, he’d been a greater guard. Kioko had worked with him several times, and had even attended a few of the same social events. They weren’t close, but…
Ark gave an impatient huff of breath. “Where is he now?” He fell silent, nodded a few times, and finally snapped, “We’ll meet you there,” before he hung up.
Kioko waited as he shoved the phone in his pocket and ran a hand through his chestnut hair. “Excuse me, but what about Dismas?”
Ark ground his teeth. “He’s dead.”
“Dead?” She realized the stupidity of her echo, but it was too late. “How did he die?”
“They say it was Jorick. Dismas is dead, and Zuri’s whereabouts are unknown. Truth be told, he’s probably in the grave, as well.”
Not three Executioners then, but five. Jorick had killed five of them in three months. That was almost half of their number.
“They say he and his human have been murdering covens,” Ark added. “He won’t get away with it this time.”
Kioko tried to keep the trepidation from her voice, “What do you mean, sir?”
“We’ve been tasked with bringing him in to stand trial.”
He’s killed five Executioners, but the two of us will bring him in alone? Though it was the obvious question, she kept it to herself. “What about the coven in Manchester?”
“They’ll have to wait. I’ll send the guards ahead to start the proceedings while we find him.”
“Where is he?”
“He was last seen in Kentucky, with another coven. We’ll get the details when we get to the citadel.”
Kioko didn’t like to point out that the citadel was the opposite direction of Kentucky. “We’re going back, sir?”
He checked the time on his phone. “Yes. We’re to report there for supplies. If we hurry, we should make it before sunup.”
Supplies? Did he mean reinforcements?
Instead of asking, she saluted, a habit too ingrained to break yet, then followed him to the cars. He gave the guards their orders, then motioned her into his vehicle.
Sleek and red, it looked as fast as it was. Kioko fastened her seatbelt and watched her guild assigned car drive away, full of guards. It wasn’t her personal car – she and Aine both needed to choose vehicles still – but she was responsible for it. If they wrecked it, or damaged it, the cost would likely come out of her account.
Assuming I survive bringing in the Hand of Death to worry about it.
Ark sped all the way to the citadel. Kioko watched the speedometer anxiously. It wasn’t his skill she doubted, but his luck. At the rate they were going, the human police would pull them over and then what? Ark was a dream stealer, but not a whisperer, and she was only a hunter. Neither would be able to persuade the cops to let them go. Of course, The Guild would make everything all right in the end, but in the meantime their journey would be delayed, leaving them little time to get indoors before the sun was up.
Despite her concerns, they arrive at the towering grain elevator just as the sky was blushing pink. Ark parked the car in the building, and they headed through the private entrance into the underground citadel.
Ark checked his phone. “Everyone has retired for the day, already. We might as well do the same.”
She nodded, catching herself from another salute. I’m an equal now, she reminded herself, though it was hard to believe.
As she followed Ark through the citadel, toward their chambers on the second floor, she wondered for the millionth time why she’d been chosen as an Executioner. When an opening came up, all greater guards interested in the post reported to Malick. He’d look them over, skim through their minds, and then choose the most powerful. For some inexplicable reason, this time he’d chosen herself and Aine.
There were better candidates, she thought. Stronger candidates. Aine and I were probably the weakest applicants, and certainly the youngest. Neither of us are over one hundred and fifty. Why would he choose us?
It was almost as if he’d wanted weak Executioners. But what sense did that make?
She dismissed the worry as she let herself into her apartment with instructions to meet Ark first thing the following evening. She nodded her agreement before shutting the door. The apartment looked as it had earlier that evening, left clean and ready for a two week or more absence.
How long will I be gone now? she wondered. Even if they were successful in bringing Jorick in, how much would that delay them? After Manchester, there was a rogue vampire, and coven they were supposed to tend to, then they were to split up and she was supposed to handle two territory disputes before she’d be able to come home again. Thanks to the small number of Executioners and the vast distances, they often had jobs stacked up. Changing even one of them could ruin the whole string.
Maybe he’ll kill us, too, then it won’t matter anymore.
The thought was hardly comforting.
Kioko woke the next evening, dressed, and exited to find Ark in the corridor.
“I was on my way to summon you,” he said. “Come, we’re supposed to report to the lower laboratory.”
The name sent a shiver down Kioko’s spine. A semi-secret area in the bowels of the citadel, no one knew what went on there, except Malick and the so-called men of science who ran it. She’d done a stint as a prison guard, just up the hall from the lab. The vampires she’d seen scuttling up and down the corridor, heads bent, soulless eyes darting, had given her the creeps. She couldn’t explain the feeling, except to say that there was an air of evil that hung over them.
It wasn’t just the occasional brush with the scientists that had made her time down there unpleasant. The guards who were regularly assigned to the prison were little better than useless. If there was a prisoner to fetch, she was the one who had to do it. If there was a visitor, she had to deal with them. That they managed to crawl to their posts each day was a miracle, and when she finally demanded a transfer she hadn’t left under the best of circumstances. To say they all hated one another was an understatement.
What a way to start the night.
Kioko and Ark stopped at the café to grab breakfast, then headed to the lowest level. As the elevator descended, she could feel the crushing presence of the high council, hidden in their chambers. Ancients all, with Malick the oldest and most terrifying.
They exited in the shiny black and red corridor, something straight from a nightmare, and walked toward the secret lab. The closer they got, the worse the suffocating presence became. When the locked metal door opened wide, she saw why; Malick waited for them inside.
“Master.” Ark bowed, and she quickly did the same.
Malick beamed a benevolent smile over his long white beard. Hair the color of snow fell past his shoulders, left long today. A black and gold robe dragged the floor, work over a well cut suit, complete with a matching tie.
“Come, come,” he instructed, motioning them over the threshold and into the room. Painted white with a shiny linoleum floor, a bank of computers sat to one side, tended by a vampire in glasses. Two doorways on the back wall led away, while a table to the right was covered in items, including a box of what looked like red grenades.
A vampire in a lab coat stood behind it, his dark hair brushed back. He rubbed his hands excitedly, the end of his long nose twitching. “Yes, yes. Executioner Ark, I believe you’re familiar with the NR canisters?”
NR? Kioko looked sharply to her superior, but he ignored her to nod. “Yes. Most of the Executioners are.”
“I don’t recognize your friend.” The scientist squinted at her. “I assume you’re new?”
Kioko felt herself drawing away from his scrutiny. “Yes.”
He nodded, muttering to himself. “We’ve had some improvements, anyway.” He patted the box of grenades. “Yes, yes, improvements. With this, you can incapacitate any vampire.” He lifted one and hooked his finger through the pin. “Pull, toss, and step back. Yes, yes, the… shall we call it nerve gas for you? It is very potent. A minute at most for the toughest vampire. That’s why you must take these.” He lifted a bottle of pills with a rattle. “We call them PREP. Take one each – don’t swallow, mind, but let it dissolve on your tongue – no more than twenty minutes before you use the NR2.”
“How does it work?” Kioko asked uncertainly.
“It changes your chemistry – temporarily,” the scientist added. “For the twenty minutes after you take the dose, you will not be as you are now. When it wears off, you’ll be back to normal.”
“Does it actually work this time?” Ark asked.
“Yes, yes. It works.” Some of the scientists enthusiasm dimmed, replaced by the edge of a sulk. “And the NR2 will no longer kill humans.”
Malick’s voice rumbled behind them like summer thunder, “How fortunate, as Jorick travels with just such a companion.”
As the scientist bundled up several canisters of NR2, the Executioners turned to Malick.
“If I may, master,” Ark began. “What is going on?”
Malick chuckled. “It seems my son has gotten himself into trouble. Ah, how refreshing to see him doing something besides sulk! Nevertheless, we can’t have him killing indiscriminately, can we? You have perhaps heard of the murders that Verchiel was investigating before his transgression?”
Verchiel. A fellow Executioner, Kioko hadn’t seen him for several days. She’d assumed he was on an assignment but…
Ark murmured acknowledgement, and Malick continued. “To shorten the story, I will say simply that Senya was investigating the latest, accompanied by Zuri and Dismas. Imagine her surprise to discover that Jorick and his human were visiting the nearest den, where another murder allegedly took place, this time before a witness who named the human a killer.”
Kioko could see Ark struggling with the idea. “Excuse me, master, do you mean that Jorick’s human murdered someone?”
“So they say. Without examining her, how can I say for sure?” He spread his hands helplessly, and went on. “For reasons we do not yet understand, Jorick led an attack on the Executioners. Senya reported that Dismas was killed before she managed to escape.”
Ark scowled. “And what o f Zuri?”
“His fate is unknown, but one can assume, knowing Jorick’s renewed thirst for blood…Ah! But it is refreshing to see him back to his old ways! To once again revel in the fight, the blood, the death! Perhaps the human is worth more than I first thought?”
Kioko wasn’t sure if they were supposed to respond, and if so what to say. She looked to Ark, but he was silent, his face unreadable.
“It is no matter, for neither of you children knew him in the days before. Ark, perhaps, caught glimpses of his beautiful fury, but you weren’t there, in the old world, to see him alight with youthful anger, desperate to quench the flame of rage with his enemy’s blood. As to the matter at hand, it would be easiest for you to simply incapacitate him, and bring him to me. But you do not choose the easy path, do you, child? If you wish to make it difficult, you may tell him I only wish to speak to him, though it’s doubtful he’ll believe such a tale. When that fails, you will perhaps wish to employ this wonderful invention?” He motioned to the box of gas canisters.
“And the human?” Ark asked.
“It will be best to bring her along, I believe. Though even Senya has cast doubt on the charge of murder, there is a human involved in the serial murders, so perhaps we were mistaken about her? Though I saw no violent malice in her mind, perchance, hidden in some dark corner, was a patch of homicidal darkness I missed. She must be thoroughly investigated. And of course there is the matter of theft.”
“Theft, master?” Kioko asked.
“Yes.” Malick’s jewel like eyes crinkled with amusement. “He stole Senya’s car. Or at any rate, one of his allies did. I have no doubt that my son will end up with it in the end; a trophy he won’t be able to resist. If not, whoever does will no doubt be in his company, or at the very least know where he has gone.” The ancient vampire snapped his fingers, and the vampire at the computer bank abandoned his post to shuffle towards them, an electronic tablet in his hand.
Malick took the device and handed it to Ark. “Unbeknownst to him, we have recently begun toying with tracking devices on Guild vehicles. How fortunate Senya’s car was one that was outfitted.”
Kioko leaned over to peer at the screen. A map was displayed, with a blinking dot and a set of coordinates.
“He is stationary now,” Malick said. “Though perhaps not for long? I am interested to see where he will go. Will it be to his den? Or to his fledgling? Or perhaps, to find a new victim?”
The delight in Malick’s laughter felt wrong to Kioko. Jorick was murdering his Executioners. He should be furious, not amused.
The scientist shoved a bag into Kioko’s hands. “Remember to take the PREP no more than twenty minutes before, or its effectiveness will be diminished and you’ll risk succumbing as well.”
Kioko nodded. “Will this also incapacitate the human?”
“No. It doesn’t do anything to them, anymore. There’s a hypodermic included for her, and some chloroform if you need it. Getting close enough to use it should be easy for an Executioner.”
Even if she’s a vampire killer.
“You’ll need to be careful,” Malick added, almost as an afterthought. “We wouldn’t want either to be permanently harmed.”
Despite the casual demeanor, the sudden tension in the room said that it was an order. Neither Jorick nor his human were to be hurt, no matter what crime they’d committed.
“You will of course want to get underway?” Malick’s suggestion was yet another order.
Kioko and Ark bowed to the ancient, and she gratefully hurried out the door. Her shoulders didn’t relax until the elevator opened on the top floor of the citadel.
Ark strode ahead of her, leaving her to carry the bag from the lab, without looking back. She expected him to comment, but there was nothing, even when they were both seat belted into the car.
He handed her the tablet , then started the car. The dot on the screen was still stationary, blinking but not moving. She zoomed out until she could see a town name. Altoona. It meant nothing, so she zoomed out farther to see the name Pennsylvania in large letters.
“Is his den in Pennsylvania?”
“Maine,” Ark answered. “Keep an eye on that and let me know if he starts moving.”
“Yes, sir.” Though they weren’t even sure he was the one in the car.
“As Malick said, whoever has it will know where he is,” Ark replied to her thoughts.
She ignored the intrusion. It was common enough with mind readers, and he was her superior. “Assuming we find him, at least we’ll be able to capture him with the NR2.”
“If it works,” Ark said. He sighed. “I’m loath to use it on him, of all vampires. Jorick…he has great faith in his own strength, and this will only encourage that. It’s as if we’re saying he’s so strong we can’t take him any other way.”
He shot her a dirty look and laid on the gas. “He’s not a God.”
“Of course not, sir.” Kioko silently cursed herself for deferring. Ark was the leader of the Executioners, but the others didn’t treat him like this. They were his equal. And so am I now. Why can’t I remember that?
“Remember the NR2 won’t work on the human.” Ark broke away to mutter, “A human. How ridiculous.”
“What’s ridiculous about his having a mortal pet? Many vampires do.”
“True, but Jorick isn’t many vampires. I remember a time he swore to destroy every human in the world. That he would forget that already…Though, I suppose it’s been more than a hundred years. Time softens everything they say.”
Something strange flickered across his face, and Kioko had the sense that it wasn’t necessarily true; there were some things time didn’t erase. It was a topic she wasn’t interested in touching, so she changed it. “Do you think Jorick and his human committed the murders Senya accused him of?”
“Senya?” Ark spat the name like a bite of poison apple. “I wouldn’t believe anything she said, especially not concerning Jorick. Even you should know she’s Malick’s pet, second only his children. I imagine Senya would like to see Jorick fall, leaving her as the favorite. I find it very convenient that she was able to escape this great, random attack, while Zuri, by her own admission, was left to suffer an unknown fate.”
Kioko hadn’t paid much attention to the details, but now that Ark mentioned it. “Do you think that she left him on purpose?”
“I think she deserted him,” Ark said bluntly. “Dismas was killed, and without Bren to back her up, Senya ran.”
Bren. The Executioner Kioko had replaced. Even the greater guards knew that the two had been lovers.
“If Zuri is dead, it’s her fault, no one else’s,” Ark added.
Not even his killer’s?
The dot eventually started moving. Kioko followed it into New York, mentally calculating where it might be headed. As the night wore on, it moved into Connecticut, then Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. Ark was confident it was headed to Maine, and she could hardly argue. If he was right, then so was Malick; it would mean Jorick had taken the car as a trophy.
And he’ll be waiting for us at the end of our journey.
It was near dawn when the dot stopped moving, in Maine. Ark took the tablet to zoom in on the nearest town, then nodded. “That’s him. At least we know he’s likely to stay put now. It will save us chasing him all over the country.”
They stayed the night with a coven whose hospitality was begrudging at best. Kioko and Ark took two of the boxes, leaving the usual occupants to bunk up on the floor. It was a new experience for her; as a guard she’d have been left to sleep on the floor with the displaced vampires while the Executioner took the best.
She lay awake in the dark box, eyes studying the smooth underside of the lid, listening as strange vampires fell asleep around her. It reminded her of that first night in Hekili’s coven. They’d greeted their newest member with mixed emotions, but had given her the use of Ano’s box, since he didn’t need it anymore. Just her luck, he’d returned two months later, and she’d been relegated to the floor until a new box opened up. More than once she’d suggested just building a new box, but no one seemed interested in it. Vampires came and went; new members joined and quit, while visitors drifted through for days or months.
It was that insane lack of structure that led her to The Citadel in search of an ordered, organized existence. She’d tried not to crave it, tried to be casual and fluid, but it was ingrained too deeply in her. She blamed her parents and their obsession with duty, honor, regimentation. Of Japanese origin, they’d immigrated to Hawaii, before the United States had stolen it. She’d been born shortly after they settled in, and grown up surrounded by palm trees and daily visits to the beach. That was the only problem with the citadel. Iowa was a landlocked state awash in corn fields and cows. At first the change had been charming; so different from the island life she’d known for eighty years. But some days…some days it was wearisome.
At least I get to travel as a guard, she told herself, quickly correcting it to Executioner. I’m an executioner now. I need to remember that; need to act like. Especially if I’m going to face the Hand of Death.
They fed on wildlife the next evening, while a purple haze crawled on the lawn, then climbed in the car. The dot was in the same location it had been in the night before. Kioko had cross referenced Ark’s assertion with the Guild’s app. It was indeed the listed location of Jorick’s den.
“We should be there in a few hours,” Ark commented, steering around a slower moving vehicle.
Kioko gave a crisp nod. “What’s the plan when we arrive?” She stopped herself from adding, “sir.” The other Executioners didn’t use it. Why should she?
“I’m going to try to talk to him first.”
Kioko swallowed the first objections that popped in her head, settling at last for, “But sire, Malick suggested-”
“I am well aware what he suggested.” Ark waved it away with annoyance. “However, as I’ve already told you, to attack first with no warning only underlines his importance in his own mind. Not to mention it’s cowardly. He deserves to at least know that we’re there. He may come for Malick.”
Kioko didn’t bother to reply, didn’t bother to point out that it was a terrible plan. She didn’t even bother to read him the long list of charges attached to Jorick’s file. Instead, she turned her attention back to the app and the neat details written there. Turned in 1568 by Malick. Whisperer. Dream stealer. Blood debt paid. The file summed him up, listed his years as an Executioner, noted some accomplishments and one disciplinary note, dated 1868. “Let it be known that Jorick, fledgling of Malick, has been found guilty of the murder of seven lesser guards, the assault of eight lesser guards, with intent to kill, and unlawful assault on Executioners Beldren, Bren, Mary, Jamie, and Ark.” There was no trial mentioned, and no sentence, but still there it was in black and white. The famous moment when Jorick had stormed the citadel and tried to kill everyone in his path.
And that’s why Ark wants to take him barehanded, she thought. He wants to prove that this time, he can best the Hand of Death.
Only, she wasn’t sure that he could.
As the miles between them and the blinking dot shrank, Kioko mentally practiced her speech:
“Jorick, fledgling of Malick, you and your human are wanted for questioning concerning the murders of nine vampires, as well as the possible deaths of two Executioners and the theft of Guild property.”
It sounded tough, official, and most of all succinct and to the point. In her imagined scenario, Jorick stood by as she quoted it, a faceless shadow who stood well over six feet tall with broad shoulders and bulging arms. As the last words dropped, he lunged for her and she threw the gas canister just in time. As colored smoke billowed around them, he dropped to the floor and lay as if dead.
“Good work,” Ark said.
And that’s when the scene evaporated. Ark wouldn’t say that. Instead he’d be angry that she’d taken him down, that he hadn’t done it himself.
And that stubborn anger is going to get me killed.
Though the conversation was an uncomfortable one, she took herself in hand. It must be my fate to do things the difficult way, but better difficult than dead.
“Excuse me, sir? I know you’re against using the NR2, but-”
Ark made a low aggravated noise. “Yes, I’m against it, but I’m not stupid. If it comes to it, we’ll do what needs to be done to complete the assignment. However, we’re going to try it without the chemical first.”
With nothing more to say, she turned her attention to the passing scenery. They hugged the coast, and the smell of the nearby sea seeped through Kioko’s window. She closed her eyes and, for a moment, it smelled like home, like childhood, like Hekili; her brown skin, thick dark hair, sweet laughter. In her memory she could taste Hekili’s kisses, see the way she’d looked at her with love sparkling in her dark eyes, until the day that love faded, leaving only a sort of dull affection, an obligation.
An obligation I wanted no part of.
She’d told her that, seen the relief in her once-lover’s eyes. She’d stayed with the coven for a while afterwards, but without Hekili to distract her, that was when the pure insanity of the arrangement got to her; the complete lack of logic or regiment.
Or maybe it was just a broken heart.
Whatever it was, it was the past, and nothing to dwell on. Not now. The sea pounding the shore was the wrong ocean. The sand was the wrong color, and there were no gracefully curving palm trees, lifting their fronds to the heavens like open arms.
It’s nothing like Kaua’i.
She straightened in the seat, tugging at her coat, as if physically organizing herself could do the same for the thoughts in her head.
Ark glanced to her, then pointed to a house in the distance, ringed in trees, a ling driveway leading to the road. “I think that’s it.”
Kioko checked the tablet. Sure enough, they were almost on top of the blinking dot.
They parked at the mouth of the driveway, and Ark signaled her to climb out quietly. She reached into the backseat and grabbed a couple of the canisters and the bottle of PREP. Ark frowned at the pills, but when she offered them to him, he snapped the top and popped one in his mouth. She did the same, holding it on her tongue. It fizzed as it dissolved, and burned, like tiny sparks.
As the sensation faded, a bang came from the front of the house; the sound of a door slamming.
“He knows we’re here.” Ark tugged his coat straight and squared his shoulders. “Come.”
She followed, forcing her spine straight and her face hard. She could do this. She would do this. By any means necessary.
They reached the end of the driveway, and paused to peer inside the shiny black sports car that was parked there. Though Kioko had gotten lucky and never been assigned to Senya, Ark nodded as if to say he recognized the vehicle.
They continued on, picking their way through the weedy front lawn to the small porch. Kioko could hear movement inside, and hushed conversation. She could smell a vampire and a human inside, no doubt Jorick and his pet.
She tensed as they reached the door, waiting for Ark to knock it in. Instead, he knocked. A moment passed, movement sounded from inside, and then the door opened a crack to reveal a slice of pale face framed in black hair. Dark eyes peered out from under heavy brows, and full lips were drawn in a tight angry line. “Yes?”
Though not a mind reader, Kioko could feel his anger, vibrating the air around them. She could only imagine what it would be like full blast.
Ark was unfazed. “Hello, Jorick. You know why we’re here.”
Kioko held herself immobile in the face of Jorick’s sarcasm. “No, Ark. I can’t possibly guess.”
Her rehearsed speech tumbled out, just as she’d practiced it. “You and your human are wanted for questioning concerning the murders of nine vampires, as well as the possible deaths of two Executioners and the theft of Guild property.”
Ark shot her a look that said he had it under control. “Thank you, Kioko.” He turned back to the man in the doorway. “This doesn’t have to be hard, Jorick.”
“You’re right.” And Jorick slammed the door.
Ark growled and threw the door open again. Jorick stood not two feet away, eyes narrowed, and Ark marched inside toward him. Though his shoulders were stiff, his voice was forced patience. “That isn’t what I meant. Malick only wants to speak to you.”
Just as Malick suspected, the line didn’t work.
“We’ve done that already!” Jorick snapped, holding his ground, his hands balled into fists.
“I know,” Ark said, an edge of menace to his voice. “However, I have my orders, and I will carry them out.”
“Really?” Jorick gave a cold, challenging laugh. “I’d like to see that.”
And there it was. The threat before the storm, the moment when he challenged, then charged. The two men stood, eyes boring into one another. As dream stealers, Kioko wondered if they were waging some furious mental battle, or if it was simply macho bravado.
A second passed, then another. The tension in the room thickened, multiplied, until Kioko felt uncomfortable under the weight of it. She could feel Jorick’s presence, his power, like a dark cloud that threatened to knock her to the floor. Ark’s was nearly the same but not quite as strong; not quite as angry.
Not enough to overcome him.
Finally Ark broke the silence. “Is this really what you want Jorick?” He looked away, met Kioko’s eyes. Before he spoke she saw the message on his face. He was okaying the use of the NR2.
“All right Kioko.”
She reached into the inner pocket of her coat and tugged out one of the round red canisters. She pulled the pin and tossed it, just as Jorick shouted, “You!”
The gas hissed, disappointingly invisible. Kioko suddenly wondered if it really would work. If it doesn’t…
Her fears evaporated as Jorick’s knees buckled. He landed on all fours, snarling like a cornered animal.
Ark watched impassively. “I’m sorry, Jorick. I didn’t want to resort to this.”
“No, I’m sure you didn’t.” The dark vampire growled and tried to stand. His weak limbs failed and he fell back to the floor.
A human woman bounded through the doorway, blonde hair flying around her as she dropped to her knees next to the fallen vampire. “Jorick! What’s wrong?”
“Jorick.” Not “Master.” This was no mortal pet, used for food and slavery, but…
“Gas,” He choked out. “They have gas-” he broke off and clutched at the woman. “I swear, if you hurt her…”
No. No pet, but a lover? Jorick, the Hand of Death had a human lover?
Kioko flicked her gaze over the creature, taking in large, horrified blue eyes, slender shoulders, small breasts, pale skin. Though not beautiful, she was pretty, and would be even prettier with the touch of immortality. “The human will remain unharmed, as per our orders.”
Jorick snarled and swayed. For a moment Kioko thought he might make it back to his feet. “I can’t believe…you’ve turned into a coward…Ark.”
“I’m sorry, but there wasn’t any other way.” He stepped forward, his hand out to the woman. “Come.”
The human ignored him, arms wrapped around Jorick as she tried to prop him up. Kioko watched with silent fascination as he clutched her coat and opened his mouth, then fell still and insensible.
It actually worked.
“Jorick!” The woman shrieked and shook him. “Jorick!”
Ark rolled his eyes, but his voice stayed neutral. “He’ll be fine in a few hours. Now come with us.”
The human glared back. “What have you done to him?”
When Ark didn’t reply, Kioko filled in. “It’s a kind of nerve gas. It specifically targets vampires.”
“Then why aren’t you affected?”
With an impatient huff, Ark grabbed for the woman, but she jerked away shouting, “Answer me! Why aren’t you affected?”
Though Ark had said they had a few hours until Jorick woke, Kioko wasn’t sure how much time they had left before the PREP wore off, or how long it took the invisible NR2 to dissipate. She didn’t want to fall victim to it herself.
“Your questions are unimportant, human. We will leave now.”
“Like hell!” The woman stood, hovering over Jorick’s fallen figure like a protective guard dog.
“You can do neither,” Ark said suddenly. The surprise on the human’s face said he must have been reading her mind. Kioko could only guess that she’s been trying to decide between fighting and fleeing.
“I suggest you cooperate,” Ark added. It will make things easier.”
“Can’t you just knock me out, too?” the human demanded sarcastically.
Kioko thought of the chloroform, still in the backseat. “If you wish.” She waited a heartbeat, but when Ark didn’t move she swooped in. The human tried to twist away, but her mortal strength was no match for Kioko’s immortal abilities. She swept the woman up over her shoulder and headed outside, away from the cloud of NR2.
She headed around the house and down the driveway while the human kicked and writhed. Kioko only clamped down harder and glanced back to Ark who shadowed her, carrying Jorick’s limp body.
This was easier. Why don’t we use the NR2 more often?
She stopped next to Ark’s car and waited as he stuffed Jorick in the backseat, coming back out again with the chloroform rag.
“We should render her immobile,” Kioko suggested. “It will make the trip easier.”
Ark prepped the rag as he spoke. “You may be right. He’s at least found someone as difficult as he is.”
He stepped forward and clamped the rag over the struggling woman’s face. She choked and fought, but Kioko held her fast.
When it seemed to be stretching out too long, Kioko asked, “How long does this take?”
“Usually not this long. She’s obviously had plenty of vampire blood.”
“That seems logical, since they’re obviously lovers.”
“Odd, isn’t it?” Ark asked as the woman finally fell still. He held the rag a moment longer, to be sure, then hefted her dead weight from Kioko’s shoulder and stuffed her in the backseat with her vampire master. “I’ll call The Guild and see where we should go from here. I’m loath to try to drive two days back with both of them.”
Kioko couldn’t agree more. Unless they planned a steady diet of PREP pills, they wouldn’t be able to use the NR2 to keep him subdued, and when he woke up…she didn’t want to be in a vehicle with him when it happened.
Ark’s conversation lasted only a moment. When it was over, he stashed his phone and turned to her. “There’s an airport not far from here. The Guild will rent us a plane to take him back to Iowa. After the prisoners are delivered, we’ll fly back here to pick up the car, then go on to Manchester.”
It seemed it would be smarter to just fly to Manchester and let guards come fetch the car, but she imagined he wouldn’t like that. It was his car, and leaving it in someone else’s care…No. He’d never agree to that.
Though if it was me, I doubt he’d give me a choice.
With an extended trip looming, Ark administered the hypodermic to the sleeping human.
“What is it?” Kioko asked as she watched him push the liquid into her arm.
“I have no idea. It usually knocks them out for several hours. Normally I’d say she’d be back to the citadel before she wakes, but as resistant as she is, she may wake sooner. Hopefully not on the flight. The last thing we need is a hysterical human.”
The airfield wasn’t very far. They met the pilot on the tarmac, a wiry man who didn’t seem interested in asking questions, though there were plenty he could have asked. Like, “Why do you have two unconscious people?”
Kioko could only assume The Guild was paying him enough money to quench his curiosity.
The plane itself was small and cramped. It rattled when they lifted off, and made horrible creaking noises once they were airborne. Though not normally afraid of flying, Kioko spent the trip tense, waiting for the plane to rattle itself apart midair.
Hopefully that human does stay asleep. If she wakes up in this…
Luckily when they touched down, the airplane was in one piece, and the human still unconscious. Kioko slipped out the hatch quickly, grateful for the tarmac under her feet. A chill winter wind blew, though it’s bite didn’t bother them. Mist bloated the airports lights into glowing blobs, and gave the place an air of loneliness peculiar to the wintertime.
Her attention snapped back to the plane, where Ark hung half out, holding the human. “Are you planning to take her, or would you rather carry Jorick.”
She silently cursed her inattentiveness as she scrambled to take the woman from him. “I’m sorry, sir.”
Ark rolled his eyes and disappeared back inside, reappearing with Jorick. “I called, but they said someone is already on the way.”
They’d taken a few steps away from the plane when Kioko felt the woman stir. Or did she? A second movement confirmed it.
“She’s waking up.”
Ark fumbled for the chloroform in his pocket, but a nearby car motor gave him pause. They both waited as an SUV came into view; one of the Guild’s fleet of “work” vehicles.
It stopped nearby, and Jamie and Greneth climbed out.
“You got him?” Jamie asked.
“That was the assignment,” Ark replied.
“But no one thought you’d actually pull it off.” Greneth’s mouth twisted into his usual smug smirk, an expression Kioko had wanted to wipe off his face many times over the years. But, she was always just a lowly guard while he was her superior. Now…
“If they wanted failure, they’d have sent you,” she quipped.
Greneth’s amusement melted into a scowl. “I could have gotten him just as easily as you did, especially if I had the NR2! How hard is that? You pull the pin and wait. A monkey could do it.”
“Then they should have sent you,” Ark said. “Come on. We have to take these two back to the Guild and then Kioko and I still have to fly back to Maine.”
Jamie surveyed the plane. “Good luck.”
They loaded Jorick and Ark into the back of the SUV, while Kioko took the middle with her prisoner. The human was awake, though like a drunkard, she didn’t resist. It wasn’t until they were moving that she seemed to really understand what was going on.
Jamie turned around in the front seat, and after shooting Kioko a look that said, “I’ll handle it,” he met the mortal’s eyes. A moment later, the woman’s body relaxed back into the seat and her eyes slipped half closed, on the edge of sleep.
“It would be easier if you just knocked her out,” Greneth suggested. “Or killed her.”
“We have strict orders to keep her alive,” Ark replied. “And unharmed.”
Greneth’s eyes were visible in the rearview for a moment, looking back at them. “I wonder what Malick has planned for them.”
“A trial,” Jamie said.
Kioko looked at the still and silent woman, checking to see that her chest was still rising and falling with her breaths. “Would it not be easier for Malick to simply read their minds and-”
“Of course it would,” Jamie said before she could finish. “But where’s the spectacle in that? Truthfully, Ark or I could read the human easily enough, and have all the answers we need.”
Not being a mind reader, she hadn’t thought of that.
“I already have,” Ark said hesitantly, his attention focused on the back of Greneth’s head, as if unsure whether to speak in front of him. “We both know they’re not the murderers, but her thoughts confirmed it.”
“And Dismas and Zuri?”
“Zuri is alive, or was. He’s being held prisoner. She saw him there. As for Dismas…she doesn’t know what happened. I haven’t had a chance to try Jorick’s mind yet.”
“You won’t get far,” Jamie said. “He’ll block you from seeing anything he doesn’t want you to.”
“Probably,” Ark agreed.
They fell silent, leaving Kioko to watch the countryside slip past. What kind of spectacle did Malick want to create? And why?
The vice that whispered through her mins sounded like her own thoughts, but she knew it wasn’t. Those answers are above your paygrade.
She glanced sharply to Jamie, but he pretended not to notice. She wanted to be angry, but he was right. She’d been an Executioner for two weeks. Better to keep her head down and leave such things to those who’d been there forever.
AT the citadel’s complex, Jamie parked in front of the small building marked office. Kioko climbed out and hefted the human over her shoulder. Jamie’s influence would fade soon, and then she was likely to be argumentative.
Greneth’s right. Killing her would have been easier.
Ark came around the vehicle, carrying Jorick. “Jamie said to take them to the detention center. They’re to be seen to tomorrow.”
Great. The detention center. Her favorite place.
The SUV pulled away as Kioko carried her burden into the office. Behind the counter sat a wrinkled farmer wearing a seed company hat. He nodded, and pressed the button to let them into the back room where, past shelves of seeds and binders, a space-age silver door led down to the citadel.
Kioko and Ark headed through it and down the stairs. Through the reception room, and into the corridor. As they waited for the elevator, Kioko tensed, ready for the woman to fight, to try to flee. Instead she hung compliantly over her shoulder, her breathing tight with terror.
Maybe she’s too scared to resist?
They took the elevator down, past the lowest level, to the subbasement; the home of the High Council, the secret laboratory, and the detention center.
I hope Paul isn’t working there anymore.
As if fate was determined to give her the most miserable week it could, Paul was not only still there, but one of two guards that greeted them. He gave her a cold once over and sneered, “We have a detention cell ready for them, if you’d follow me?”
As if she needed to follow him! She knew where the cells were!
Instead of saying that, she replied coldly, “It’s nice to see you doing your job for a change.”
Paul and his partner gave her dirty looks, but led them down the shiny black cell block. Silver padlocked doors set at intervals, some with prisoners behind them. Thanks to her stint as a detention guard, she knew what condition they were in; starved, withered, hungry, desperate. And the longer they’d been there, the worse they were. Kioko was glad at moments like this that she wasn’t a mind read after all.
Paul motioned to an open door. Ark dropped Jorick off first, and Kioko followed with the human. She stepped back quickly, barley getting out of the way before Paul slammed the door.
“Wouldn’t want her to escape,” he said, though Kioko knew better.
She gave the guard a withering look and marched past him, back to the central detention room and on to the corridor. She was already in the elevator when Ark joined her, looking curious. “What was that?”
“What was what?” She almost added sir, but didn’t bother.
“The guards. True, they’re usually hostile to Executioners, jealous I suppose, but that was more than that.”
“I was assigned to the detention center at one time.”
When she didn’t finish, Ark pressed. “And?”
“And I wasn’t a good fit.” She felt Ark’s eyes on her, and knew that in a moment he’d probe her mind, push through her memories, seeking what had happened to cause such a problem.
“Paul was… romantically interested in me. I was not interested in him. When he found out, he made the workplace intolerable.”
“Not your type?” Ark asked, his tone disinterested.
“No,” she murmured uncomfortably.
“If you’re picky you’d do well to avoid Verchiel as well. He likes to-” Ark broke off and looked at her, interest in his eyes. “Ah, I see. Never mind.”
Kioko closed her eyes, trying to fight her own humiliation. She told herself for the millionth time that it was nothing to be ashamed of, that it was okay.
Ark cleared his throat loudly. “There’s nothing wrong with…It’s more acceptable among vampires than humans most of the time. Though I believe it’s in vogue again among them.”
In vogue. Like it was a fashion statement. But it wasn’t. It had nothing to do with what was accepted, or what was popular it was just…
“It’s just who you’re attracted to,” Ark finished the thought for her. “It doesn’t matter. It has nothing to do with your job. The only one petty enough to want revenge for rejection would be Greneth, and he’s infatuated with Griselda and Senya, who may or may not be having an affair of their own. If you’re worried, I can promise not to tell anyone, though most can pluck it from your thoughts as easily as I did, if they cared to bother.”
Kioko didn’t answer. What was there to say?
The elevator doors opened. She stepped forward, but Ark caught her arm and pulled her back.
He cleared his throat uncomfortably. “You’re doing well, by the way. I especially like the way you handled Greneth earlier.”
She tried to hide her surprise. “Thank you, sir.”
He let her go to stride out into the hallway. “And quit calling me sir. You’re one of us now. You need to remember that.”
Right. One of them.
Now for guesses:
- hand of God 2. reach for the stars 3. reach for the sky. 4. he’s got the whole world in his hand 5. full moon 6. moonglow 7. reaching for a dream 8. outer space 9. for the taking 10. looks like a Dr. Who episode.