It’s time again for Blogophilia, the fun blog group where Martien gives participants prompts to use in their weekly blog. This week’s prompts are:
And this week we have the conclusion to Zuri, which aside from needing some punchy phrasing I was happy with. In other news, the data restoration/PC place thinks they can fix/recover 100% of my data for… drum roll… $1100. No, that is not a typo. Luckily, my father has volunteered to make a gift of it (via his credit card) as a stand in for the next several birthday presents. As my data is worth never getting a birthday present again, I can only say thank you a billion times. So now I just wait for it to be done and all sent back to me.
When that happens it will be like Christmas, which gives new meaning to ‘Twas the night before Christmas. Or not. I couldn’t work the prompt in any other way.
Anyway, got my 20 year old cat back from the vet. Have to give her fluid treatments every day and limit her physical activity. That should be interesting.
And now the conclusion of Zuri:
“You’re an Executioner, then?” John asked. Zuri’s reply was a grunt, so he went on. “I imagine your vampire experience has been pretty…bloody. But I have to say mine hasn’t been traumatic. It’s actually been pretty nice.”
“It would be, being turned by your mother, I imagine. No loss, no old life left behind. That’s not how they used to do things.” He stopped before he sounded like an old man complaining about how the kids did things “these days”. “You haven’t been immortal long, have you?”
“Ten years now. I guess that’s nothing compared to you and everything you’ve seen.”
“Sometimes I think I’ve seen too much.” Zuri finished the drink and sat the glass on the bar. “Eh, ignore me. It’s just this sitting around that’s getting to me.”
“So you said.” John gave him a good humored wink, as if to say, “Sure.”
“It is,” Zuri insisted. “I’m not used to the inaction. There’s only twelve of us for the whole damn country. Did you know that? Twelve. So we’re always gone. An Executioner is lucky to spend a day sleeping in their own bed, let alone five. It’s just not normal.”
“I could see that, if you’re not used to it.”
John shrugged as he refilled the glass. “Still, it has to be a little bit nice, not having to do all that stuff you said.”
“The killing children and all that. It seems kinda wearisome.”
Wearisome. It was an interesting word choice. Was it wearisome? He knew some of the Executioners found it all exhilarating – or ex-Executioners, he should say. They’d pretty much left with Malick, hadn’t they? The ones that remained…how did they feel about it? How did he feel?
I don’t know.
The answer was an uncomfortable one, the kind that should lead one to soul searching. But Zuri didn’t feel like searching his soul – if he even had one anymore. Many vampires believed that they shed that with their mortality.
“Still, maybe it’s better than whatever trauma they think you suffered.”
“You’re right about that, though I don’t want to talk about it.”
John chuckled. “I figured that. Can’t say I blame you. Hey, you know what you should do? Now that you have some time off, you should take up a hobby.”
Zuri paused, the glass halfway to his mouth. “A hobby? Like what?”
“I don’t know. There must be something you’re interested in.”
“I’ve probably quit more hobbies than you ever dreamed of starting,” Zuri murmured.
“Just a suggestion.”
Zuri downed the drink and John turned to some task – why would he want to do that? Why spend immortality serving vampires? Washing glasses, wiping tables, mixing blood and spices? Why not coast on the good life? Put his feet up, relax, have some fun?
Right, like I do. I can’t even stand five days without an assignment.
It was another soul searching moment he didn’t care for, so he finished his drink, paid his bill, and headed back to his apartment. Maybe there would be something worth watching on TV.
Zuri dug through the closet. Boxes held remnants from his past; things he’d once been interested in and then gotten bored with. A chunk of wood was at the bottom of one, half carved into a turtle. He’d done a lot of woodcarving once upon a time, when things had been quieter. Then the world sped up. They started driving automobiles instead of taking the train or riding a horse. Things happened faster, with less time to just sit and wait, and the hobby had fallen by the wayside.
Zuri set the partial turtle aside and dug out the old wood carving set. The blades were rusty, which meant he’d have to make a trip to the shopping area. Was it worth all that?
Though he wasn’t sure, he had nothing better to do, and he had money to burn.
At least being an Executioner paid well.
Bed time found Zuri with a new set of tools, but no will to actually do the work. It was late, anyway, so he changed into a pair of pajama pants and climbed into bed. The blankets were soft, and the pillow fluffy, but when he closed his eyes he saw the dark room in Oren’s war den, heard the distant murmuring of the occupants, and felt the phantom ache in his arms.
It’s over, he told himself. It’s over, it’s done with, and it doesn’t matter. You’re too old for this. Too strong for this. You’re not a wimp, not like one of these young vampires.
Despite the pep talk, sleep remained hard to find, and when he did, his dreams were more memory than fiction.
“Is he awake?”
Zuri blinked against the blurriness that sucked him down. He was so tired, so…so…thirsty. His throat burned so bad. If he could just have a drink…just one drink…
“I think he’s out still,” another voice said. It sounded like Fabian.
“Good. It will make it easier for you to put his arms back.”
Put my arms back? My arms? My…my…
Right. They were gone. He’d seen that the last time he’d woken up. Or maybe the time before that. It was all a confusing smear punctuated with burning thirst. He just needed a drink…
“Me? You’re the one who wants to put them back! I say leave them off.”
Zuri forced his eyes to focus and saw his dark haired captor and another vampire; one who looked like a fairytale prince, complete with ruffled shirt.
“Idiot.” The prince sneered. “How can we bargain with him if he’s ruined? They need to be reattached for a few hours, at least.”
Fabian scoffed. “You’re just saying that because Jorick and his monkeys want them back on.”
“I hardly care what Jorick wants, though to my knowledge he doesn’t care either way.”
“Right. That’s why Loren and Micah have been chattering about putting them back? They’re Jorick’s mouthpieces, just like you!”
With a snarl, the prince-like vampire grabbed Fabian by the front of his shirt and slammed him into the wall. “Say such things again and I will cut out your tongue. I swore an oath to Oren, not to you.” He flung Fabian aside and straightened his shirt. “Now replace his arms. Tomorrow you can remove them again, if it suits you, but they can’t remain unattached for more than a day or two at a time, or they’ll wither. Malick will not bargain for a ruined Executioner. Remember that.”
He strode out the door, leaving Fabian to snarl after him, “One of these days, Traven, I’m going to kill you.”
Zuri moaned softly as Fabian jerked open a nearby box. The scent of old blood wafted out; and though Zuri knew it was his own blood, the smell drove his hunger. He needed a drink. Oh God, he needed a drink…
Fabian snarled and jerked a dagger from his pocket. He grabbed the left stump of Zuri’s arm, just a few inches below the shoulder. Though he hadn’t fed, sleep had healed him, and the skin had grown over the severed bones and muscles, leaving a perfectly smooth nub.
“Fucking Traven wants this done, next time he can do it himself.”
Zuri saw the flash of the blade, and then the pain came as Fabian cut the skin away. Zuri tried to fight, tried to kick and struggle loose, but he was too weak. His fight came to barley more than a flinch, and his cries to a dry gurgle in his throat. They’d drained him of blood and left him that way to keep him weak, to stop him from escaping, from defending himself.
Fabian peeled the skin away to leave exposed bones and muscle. Zuri’s rattles turned into dry screams. The scent of his own blood left his heart pounding, and the pain from his arms burned like fire. He knew his reaction only fueled Fabian and made him feel more in control. He needed to hold it in, to stoically accept, to-
The logic died as Fabian cut into the other arm, slicing skin. Zuri squeezed his eyes shut and howled, though the sound was more like the wind through a tin can. Fabian ignored it as he fetched the withered arms. With another snarl, he lashed them in place, lining up bones and gory meat. Zuri tried to move, though he knew it was futile. It would take blood or sleep for the skin and muscles to grow again, knitting back together as they did. Blood they weren’t likely to give him.
“Don’t get used to them,” Fabian snapped. “They’re coming off again.”
Zuri didn’t bother to try to reply. With a scoff, Fabian kicked him in the ribs, then stormed out.
The world swam, wavered, then faded to black. It came back studded with pain, and he opened his eyes to see Fabian there again, cutting through his arm with a hacksaw.
“Is that really necessary?” a teenage vampire asked.
“Have you forgotten who this is? What this is? This is an Executioner! A demon from hell! It was his kind that killed my sister! I will not rest until he suffers – until they all suffer and die, screaming, like she died!”
His sister. Oren’s wife. Right. Zuri had been there. He’d been there but he wasn’t the one that killed her, the one who had to kill her, because she’d made those illegal children, hadn’t she? There was even a baby, an immortal baby, trapped forever. That was a sin, that was…that was…
He lost touch with his thoughts, lost touch with the world. There was only the pain as they cut his arms free, the sound as they slammed them back in that box, the snicker as Fabian promised they might never go back again.
But they did. The skin was peeled away from the stubs and the arms reattached, only to be cut free again. He didn’t know how many times it had happened, only that the last time was there, at the citadel, in the medical facility.
And that time he’d had enough blood in him to scream.
He jerked awake with a start. His heart pounded and the familiar agony burned through his arms. He rubbed them, as if that would chase away the remembered pain, the remembered fear…
As if anything could ever take that away.
Zuri felt instinctively that the sun was down. Thirst burned his throat. Though not as violent as in his memories, it was enough to get him dressed and out the door. He stopped in at a café, ordered a large decanter, and took off, dodging the casual attention of the other patrons. He didn’t want their stares – or their company.
He retreated to his apartment and his half-carved turtle. A hobby, John had suggested. Sure. Why not? He took a seat and selected the tools, now foreign in his unpracticed hands. His cuts were clumsy, and rather than making him feel better, the work made him feel worse. When the chisel bit into his thumb, he swore and threw it all across the room.
Sucking the cut, he stomped over woodchips and out the door. His feet led him to the elevator, and finally to the empty club. John was in his usual place, sorting through a rack of spices and syrups.
“Welcome back! If you stick around tonight you can see Lua’s performance.”
Zuri snorted his opinion and took the glass John set in front of him. He wasn’t really thirsty now; he’d downed the whole decanter earlier, but he sipped at it anyway.
John went back to his work, humming, while Zuri waited for him to strike up a conversation. It was just a matter of time. Any minute now…
When the seconds stretched, Zuri decided it was better to do it himself than to wait. Right. Better to just get it over with. Sure. Not like I want someone to talk to.
“You’re too cheerful.”
John chuckled. “I have a lot to be happy about, I guess. You do too, I’m sure.”
Zuri scoffed, “Like what?”
“You’re here, in the best club in the citadel, huh?” John laughed and then turned serious. “But you are here. Alive. If not family, you have friends.”
“Sure. You see them all sitting here.” Zuri motioned to the empty space.
“Do you see mine?” John asked. “They may not be here, but that they’re here.” He touched his heart. “You’re feeling miserable now, but it will end. You just have to have the patience to fight through to the other side. There’s always light just beyond the horizon.”
“Yeah? Where was my light when I was held prisoner for twelve days? Starved, tortured, left by my so-called ally? Huh?”
John blinked away his surprise quickly. “You got away, didn’t you? I mean, you’re not a prisoner now. Except in here.” He tapped the side of his head.
Zuri growled low. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Take it however you want.” The bartender rubbed his hands together. “Sure you don’t want to see Lua?”
He grunted his opinion, and, with a shrug John grabbed a rag and moved to wipe tables.
Zuri gulped his drink and focused on the shiny glasses behind the bar, then on that neatly stacked rack of flavorings. When had vampires started adding flavor to blood? How long did the thrill of the hunt, of the kill last, before it became something you just did to survive, like eating had once been? Just a chore you needed to do in order to keep chugging on.
Like everything else.
John returned to rinse his rag, and Zuri paid his bill. He wasn’t in the mood for the cheerfulness, or the clever quips. Light beyond the horizon… only a prisoner in his head…Pfft. As if.
He stomped back to his apartment and snatched the half-carved turtle from the floor. It looked at him with accusing eyes – eyes that screamed, “You were a prisoner for twelve days, but you’ve left me one for how many decades? Trapped, half-formed, unrealized.”
“And what should I do, huh? Look at this.” He jabbed the newest cut with a finger. “It looks like crap.”
But the wooden eyes didn’t care. With a snarl – maybe anger at the turtle, or anger at himself – he dropped into the chair and grabbed his tools. The cuts were clumsy, chunky, obvious from the older, smoother work. Still, he kept at it, dropping wood chips around his feet. The minutes slipped past, then the hours. Zuri paused to survey the nearly complete turtle. He supposed he should thank John for the hobby suggestion, not that he felt like thanking him for anything just then. Tonight’s comments had irritated him in an almost irrational way.
He turned back to the work, running over the conversation in his head. Friends. Light beyond the horizon. Sure, he was alive, but so what? Sure, he wasn’t a prisoner of the war coven anymore, but he was still a prisoner – a real prisoner – stuck in the damn citadel, forced to look at the same rooms night after night, reliving the same agonizing memories-
In my head.
That was where the reoccurring memories were, where the cycle kept repeating, where he was really trapped.
“You’re not a prisoner now. Except in here.”
John was right.
With that thought, the last of the wood fell away, and he cradled the turtle in his large hand. Though imperfect, the wooden creature was free of the block, of his prison. The time he’d spent stuck in limbo showed, from the difference in the quality, to the subtle colors of old and new cut wood. He was forever marked by the years he’d been trapped.
Just as I am. Though he wanted to pretend it hadn’t affected him, those days of imprisonment had left their mark; not just the nightmares, and the memories, but a secret, burning fear in the pit of his brain, a fear that it would all happen again. The kind of fear that made you kill first and ask questions later, the same kind of fear that had driven other Executioners over the years. Executioners like Senya, who would run, terrified tail between her legs, rather than try to help a colleague.
The kind of fear Eileifr didn’t want making decisions anymore.
And that was why he was on recuperation leave. Not as a punishment, but a precaution. It wasn’t something he should hate, or fear, but something he should embrace. Just as he needed time to hone his skills and make that turtle smooth again, so he needed time to heal inside, to make himself smooth again.
But in the meantime, he needed to remember one thing; the most important thing. No matter how it had happened, or what it had left behind, now, just like the turtle, he was free.
And now for guesses:
Picture 1: Colleen
1. a lot of bottles 2. Oh Christmas tree. 3. O Tannenbaum 4. bright light 5. see how is sparkles 6. this tree is makin’ me thirsty 7. the day after the christmas party 8. I wouldn’t want that hangover. 9. how lovely are your bottles 10. they must not have bottle deposits.
photo 2: Myke
- dashing through the snow. 2. here comes santa claus 3. jingle bells. 4. one moose open sleigh 5. or is that a reindeer? do they get that big? 6. They have reindeer herders in Finland. 7. where’s rudolf? 8. Is this comet or cupid? 9. Prancer or vixen? 10. Maybe Blitzen or Dasher? Isn’t there a dancer? And Donner is rudolf’s dad…
It’s time again for blogophilia, the cool blog group where Martien gives participants prompts to use in their weekly blogs. This week’s prompts are:
I missed last week. I had actually started it, and technically could have posted what I had, but I got greedy and wanted to wrote more and… and with limited computer time I wasn’t able to, nor was I then able to post what I already had, so you get it this week instead. I’d hoped to finish the story, but I rewirked the beginning, (which y’all won;t see until it’s published later this month or whatever), and that took forever.
Anyway, Zuri is in the bar, talking to the bartender, wishing vampires could get drunk to distract him from his forced “leave of absence” from the Executioners.
Zuri reached to tug on his necklace, a nervous habit, but stopped when his fingers found nothing. They’d ripped away the Executioner amulet when he was taken prisoner, and laughed about it. He’d expected to get a new one, but since he was still on leave…
“You lose something?”
Zuri looked sharply to the bartender, but saw no malice in his eyes. No, he had no way of knowing. The comment had probably been an innocent one.
Footsteps came down the corridor, then a pair of vampires swept aside the filmy black curtain and ducked inside. The bartender moved away to serve them, and Zuri took his cue to leave. Though his apartment was the last place he wanted to go, he hated the thought of a crowd even more.
It could be worse, he told himself. I could still be with them.
“What am I?” Zuri stared through new eyes, looking at his extended palms, stained in blood, then on to Logan.
The man smiled; revealing those strange elongated teeth, like the smile of a fox. “You are as I am, made stronger with my blood.”
Blood. There was a lot of it. It was on Zuri’s hands, splashed on his chest, staining his shirt, pooling on the floor around the savaged body of a young girl. He squinted and recognized her as the inn’s serving girl who’d shown him to his room earlier. That she was…had he…
And then the pain came, ripping through him like a hot knife, and he fell to the floor next to her. He writhed, eyes squeezed closed, as if to blot out everything, including the sick memory of what he’d done, of the way her flesh had rent, the way her blood had tasted so delicious…
Zuri jerked awake and the memory-turned-dream faded. Logan. How long had it been since he’d last seen his master? 1779, wasn’t it, when Logan had announced he was bored.
“I have more than taught you what you need to know; nature herself could have shown you the way. Perhaps it was my vanity that held us close, or my curiosity. Regardless both have run their course and the time has come for us to part ways.”
Zuri had stared at him for a moment, and then shrugged. What else was there to do? It wasn’t as if he had the words to describe the complicated mess he felt; a mess better kept to himself, anyway.
And that was it. Logan had tipped his hat and walked away into the night, his boots clacking on cobblestones. Zuri had watched him for a moment, then turned back for the inn and their rented room. After that he’d followed the same life style – rented rooms, nightly meals, money taken from victim’s pouches – until he’d become a guard for The Guild. From there he’d moved on to greater guard, and finally became an Executioner when Kateesha left the first time.
Ancient history, he told himself. More than two hundred years ago. Does any of it even matter anymore?
He had no answer, only a gnawing thirst that told him the sun was gone it was time to rise.
He climbed out of bed, showered, and dressed, stopping again when it came time to slide the missing necklace over his head. For a moment he saw the twisted face of his captor – a sniveling, dark haired vampire with deep eyes and a sneer of contempt. Fabian, the brother-in-law of Oren. Fabian had ripped the necklace free and thrown it on the floor.
“You’re nothing now, Executioner. This – this is a symbol of what you were, and now it’s gone and you’re nothing!”
The world had faded in and out, blurred and cleared in time for him to see the raised dagger in Fabian’s hand, in time for him to realize he was going to die, just as Dismas had died.
But another had stepped in. Muscles stacked like building blocks gleamed under his ebony skin. A voice like molasses murmured, “There’s been enough death.”
Fabian jerked away. “Who the hell are you to tell me what to do?”
Jorick had stepped in then. “You can fight over his bones later. We need to catch up to the others.”
Fabian looked ready to argue, but Oren shushed him with a motion. “Jorick’s right. Pack him up and we’ll head back to the den.”
Zuri couldn’t move his arms. Was he tied? He tried to push against the bonds – as a titan he was stronger than other vampires, and stronger than any rope they could find – but for some reason he couldn’t fight this, he couldn’t…
A loud knocking pulled Zuri back to the present. He tugged his shirt smooth and moved to open the door. In the corridor stood Beldren, tall and slender with a blonde ponytail and his own flashing silver medallion.
Zuri nodded a greeting. Beldren didn’t bother to disguise peering over his shoulder, eyes raking over the tidy apartment.
“I have to go back out in a couple of hours, but I wanted to see how you were doing.”
Zuri shrugged and stepped to the side to let Beldren pass. The vampire moved to his accustomed chair and smoothly folded himself into it. “Jorick is leaving tonight for Munich.”
Jorick had left Oren’s war coven the day after the fight. Even as a prisoner, Zuri had figured that much out, and oddly in Zuri’s blurry memories it was Jorick who’d returned twelve days later, to drag Zuri back to the citadel. A penance for the crime of leaving him there, perhaps? But if so…
Something didn’t seem right.
“Leaving? He’s still here?”
“Of course. He hasn’t been let go yet.” A muscle in Beldren’s jaw twitched. “After you were…imprisoned, Jorick and his human were apprehended for those murders, which they didn’t do. But during the trial he was found culpable of Dismas’ death and your predicament. As punishment, Malick reinstated him as an Executioner.”
Zuri stiffened. Punishment? He was punished by being given an Executioner post – the same post Zuri would give his eye teeth to have back?
“Eileifr was against it, and in hindsight everyone thinks Malick did it because he was hoping Jorick would join him in the revolt, so he wanted to make sure Jorick was available. As you know, he didn’t. Anyway, you won’t have to worry about running into him. He’s heading out for Munich tonight.”
Zuri shut the door and paused, an eyebrow arched. “Munich?”
Beldren nodded. “Someone has to report to the True Council about what happened here. You know how old ones are. They have to have someone in person so they can pluck it from their brains. Anyway, I believe Eileifr is planning to send Verchiel and one of the new Executioners with him.”
Beldren went on, as if he already guessed the question. “There are three new ones, to replace the defectors. There’s Cyprus, I think his name is. He was a guard here. You might have seen him. A mane of long red hair nearly to his waist.” He motioned the appearance, then waved it away. “Then, there’s a woman – Lisiantha I think her name is. Dark hair. We’ve worked with her a few times. And…who was the third? Oh yes, Fallon. He’s been a greater guard for some time. I remember him from clear back in the fifties. Or maybe the sixties. He’s blonde, curly hair, looks young. Anyway, Apparently Cyprus used to be a guard for Munich, so he’s going with Jorick as a kind of liaison. Why Verchiel is going is anyone’s guess. Probably because Eileifr wants rid of him as much as we do.”
Zuri took the opposite chair and folded his hands in his lap while Beldren added, “I assume you know everything else that happened? Oren and Traven’s covens attacked, Malick revolted and took off, Eileifr’s taken over the council-”
“I know that.” Bitterness made Zuri’s words brittle. “He’s the one who insisted on this ‘recovery time’.”
“Is that what he’s calling it?” Beldren asked. “Not that you couldn’t use some time off. We all could. I’d fancy a vacation, too-”
“A vacation,” Zuri cut in. “But this isn’t a vacation. This is little better than being Traven and Fabian’s prisoner!”
Beldren picked invisible lint from his coat. “You can’t really mean that. I’ve heard about your…imprisonment.”
Anger bubbled to Zuri’s lips, but he swallowed it back to say instead, “How long until I’m reinstated?”
“Good grief, I have no idea. It’s certainly not my decision. If you want, I can put in a word with Eileifr, say that you seem to be…altogether, or whatever. Not that I think it will make any difference. He’s a demon eye, and can see the outcome before he makes the decision. I assume he’s keeping you on hold because he’s seen something.”
Zuri cocked an incredulous eyebrow. There was a good chance this so called “recuperation” was to make sure he didn’t cause waves with Jorick. Malick might be gone, but he doubted the favoritism was.
“Anyway,” Beldren rubbed his hands together. “You’ve stewed in here enough I imagine. A drink, perhaps? My treat.”
Zuri shrugged. It wasn’t like he had anything else to do.
Zuri saw Beldren and his company of guards off, then slumped back for the elevator. He reached for the second floor button, but on a whim hit the first floor. Though he’d fed with Beldren, a cinnamon and sugar mix sounded good.
The nightclub was empty except for the bartender, who was whipping tables. Today he wore a shirt that proclaimed “My Name is John” in a scrawl similar to a handwritten name tag.
Zuri took a stool and nodded to the garment. “Is it?”
The bartender looked up from his task. “Is what?” he followed Zuri’s gaze and grinned. “As a matter of fact, it is. Pleased to meet you. Again,” he added with a laugh.
Zuri grunted a reply and turned his eyes to the glasses behind the bar. Shiny rows waiting for the late evening rush.
“Do you really get that many customers?”
John finished his task and joined the Executioner. “Sometimes. Business is down a little, though not as much as you’d expect. There may have been a lot of casualties, but the looky-loos have started showing up, wanting to gawk at the ruins. Enough about me. What can I get you?”
Zuri muttered his order – the same as last night’s – and soon had a glass in hand. He sipped the contents and waited for the bartender to start the chitchat. Just like he did last night.
When nothing came, Zuri decided he might as well do it himself. Save the guy the trouble.
“So you live with your mother?” When John blinked, Zuri added, “She’s your master?”
“Oh well, true enough there.” He smiled affably. “But no, she’s in Oklahoma still. How about you?”
Zuri shrugged. “My mother is long dead, and my master is long gone.”
Zuri shrugged again. “It is what it is. Not like the memory is my kryptonite.” He took another sip. “She died of smallpox when I was a child. As did my sisters. I survived.” Though he didn’t pull up his shirt, he knew the familiar patchwork of scars that covered his trunk, smoothed by immortality, the pits were still barely visible, the mark of the disease.
Though not a mind reader, he could sense John’s discomfort and added, “It was a long time ago. I barely remember them. Or it.”
“I guess that’s the good thing about time,” John said vaguely.
Zuri scoffed. “That it hides all wounds in a fog, like some kind of chrysalis that entombs our misery? We forget no chrysalis is permanent. Just as the butterfly bursts forth in the spring, so do the memories.”
“But surely they’ve been changed, just as the caterpillar turned into the butterfly?” John countered. “Dulled by time?”
“Or twisted into something darker.” Zuri drained his glass and set it on the bar. One look at John’s uncomfortable face left him backtracking. “I’m sorry. Just ignore me.”
“No, it’s okay. You’re obviously in a pretty dark place right now.”
“I’m nowhere right now. Trapped here until Eileifr decides I’m ‘well’, whatever that means.”
“Eileifr…That name’s familiar.”
“He’s in charge of the High Council now that Malick’s gone – and in charge of the Executioners. He thinks I need time off to ‘recuperate from the trauma’. As if all of vampiredom – and being an Executioner – isn’t traumatic. Do they think that killing illegally created vampire children, or burning bodies, or destroying unmarked humans isn’t traumatizing? Malick knew it was, but he believed trauma made us stronger. Eileifr on the other hand…Eileifr…I don’t know what he believes.”
“You’re an Executioner, then?” John asked. Zuri’s reply was a grunt, so he went on. “I imagine your vampire experience has been pretty…bloody. But I have to say mine hasn’t been traumatic. It’s actually been pretty nice.”
“It would be, being turned by your mother, I imagine. No loss, no old life left behind. That’s not how they used to do things.” He stopped before he sounded like an old man complaining about how the kids did things “these days”. “You haven’t been immortal long, have you?”
“Ten years now. I guess that’s nothing compared to you and everything you’ve seen.”
topic – Christopher
pic – Sallon
- fish tales 2. it was this big 3. roar. 4. lunchtime 5. the sky is falling 6. the meteor is coming! 7. are you a lizard or a dinosaur? 8. how about a hug? 9. free hugs 10. monsters. 11. they’re kinda cute. 12. If i was good I could tell you what game/show/whatever they are from. 13. I think it’s a game. 14. Not little big planet, though. 15. I want a candy bar thiiiis big. 16. boo! 17. Ah! A lizard! 18. rain dance 19. jumping jacks! 20. time for dance lessons.
It’s time again for Blogophilia, the fun blog group where Martien gives participants prompts to use in their weekly blogs. This week’s prompts are:
I’ve finally finished the Griselda story, only putting me two weeks behind schedule. My own fault, but I admit the Pronoun mess threw me for a loop. I’ve recovered now, and am back to it – Smashwords and it’s partners were good enough before, and they’re good enough now.
Anyway, when we left off, Griselda had ordered a new human guard dog from Harry because her current human, Sergei, had been fraternizing with the enemy …
Griselda was barely inside when the phone rang. Sergei made a point to ignore it, and with a hard look at him she snatched it up. “Hello?”
“That is who you called, isn’t it?” she snapped. Who did they expect? Cinderella?
“Um…Hello. This is Brantley, in the Executioner office. The, uh, the council has requested more information regarding your request for a new vehicle. If you could come and fill out-”
“Are you serious?”
It took him a moment to find his track again. “Um…Yes? Sorry, I’m just following orders.”
She muttered a curse word under her breath. “Fine. I’m on my way.” Then she hung up before he could reply.
She stormed out in a swish of red satin, and made her way to the Executioner office. She drew up short inside, eyes flicking over the occupants. Beldren and Zuri stood at the desk, handing over paperwork.
“No, uh, trouble, then?” the guard asked them.
Zuri, stocky with a shock of black hair that stood at odd angles, grunted a reply, but Beldren, tall with a blonde ponytail and features that some women might call lovely, replied coldly, “Everything is in the report. We have better things to do than stand here.”
The blonde turned on his heel, then spied her. He slowed his pace as he passed her, but headed to the hallway, Zuri behind him.
Alone with the guard, Griselda stomped to the desk and grabbed the paper he offered. “What do they want to know?”
“They, uh…” The guard rifled through a pile of papers and stopped at a pink one covered in handwritten notes. “They want an itemized list of everything wrong with the vehicle that warrants it being replaced.”
“Why don’t they ask the mechanic?”
“They, uh, they did, and he said that it just needed a minor repair.”
“The idiot!” She smacked the desk and the guard jumped. “Never mind. I’ll go talk to him myself. When do they need this returned?”
“Um…I’d guess as soon as you can. They won’t look at it again until tomorrow, though.”
She didn’t bother to reply, only huffed out of the office to find Beldren and Zuri loitering in the corridor. Seeing her, Beldren straightened and tugged at his coat. His green eyes showed an appreciation that his carefully masked face hid.
An appreciation she wasn’t looking for.
“Do you want something?”
Beldren hesitated, and finally turned on a smooth smile. “I heard you’ve been harassing our resident annoyance.”
“You mean Verchiel?” When he nodded, she narrowed her eyes. “And where did you hear that? I understood you’d just returned.”
“We got back an hour ago, had to do the paperwork,” he added with an eye roll.
“That still doesn’t explain who told you.” It was Bren, wasn’t it? Damn. She should have known it was only Senya that held him in line.
“The pest himself.” Beldren fought a smile. “They sent him out again while we were working on our reports, and he made a point to call his little guard dog and tell her specifically not to rile you up ‘any more’. I can only assume the story behind that conversation is amusing.”
“Not so much amusing as annoying.” She eyed Zuri, who hulked to the side, conspicuously silent. He’s always silent. Like he’s processing everything, cataloging it, and privately plotting.
Plotting to get all of us.
When nothing more came, Beldren pressed, “I imagine his little mongrel has done the same thing to your guard dog as the last one did to Bren’s?”
Bren had mentioned having to punish his for fraternizing. “Perhaps.”
“It was a shame,” Beldren added. “That he had to go to such lengths to keep them apart.”
Such lengths? Bren had made it sound like a onetime incident. With some Executioners she’d do better to pretend she knew what he meant, but not with Beldren. “Oh?” she asked innocently.
As she expected, his green eyes lit with the joy of passing on information. “Oh yes. They had quite an affair, I hear. So much so that she turned up pregnant. That’s when Verchiel quietly disposed of her and got this newest one. Bren’s dog wanted to follow, even tried to escape to find her. I have an… acquaintance who was in the hospital wing with her human when Bren brought his dog in. She said he’d beaten the human nearly to death, and demanded the healers do something. Not that there was much for them to do except set the bones and wrap him in gauze.”
Griselda kept her surprise to herself. How had she missed this?
“Of course, the guard dog made a full recovery, as you’ve noticed, no doubt with healthy dose of vampire blood to speed things along – humans do heal so slow – and now he’s happily lurking at his master’s feet, where he belongs. Have you tried that?”
Griselda blinked. “Tried what? Beating him to death?”
“Well, that could work, too, but I meant giving him blood. Forging a loyalty bond. I did with my newest and haven’t had the slightest trouble.”
Zuri coughed loudly, and Beldren arched a golden eyebrow. “Care to share what you’re choking on?”
To Griselda’s surprise, Zuri seemed to be fighting a smile. “Is it the loyalty bond, or that he prefers a more masculine partner?”
Beldren sniffed. “Even if he did, Verchiel would try to seduce him, himself. No. It’s the loyalty bond.”
“If you say so,” Zuri muttered, his dark eyes still dancing.
“Anyway,” Beldren said crisply. “That’s my advice. Of course, you’re welcome to ignore it. Everyone else does, usually to their detriment.” The look he gave Zuri said his friend was guilty of this. “If I were you, though, I’d destroy that one, and forge the bond with the replacement right away. Verchiel and his mongrel aren’t the only ones to watch out for. Migina has that little piece, and have you seen Ark’s newest? No doubt trained to seduce.”
Hmmmm. “I didn’t know he had a new one.”
“Oh yes. Just last week. I think you were out at the time. I don’t know what prompted the replacement, except he’s taking a page from Verchiel’s book.”
“Luckily, it won’t do any good where your guard dog is concerned,” Zuri muttered.
Beldren rolled his eyes. “You’d do better to worry about your own, Zuri.”
“He’s fine. And loyal,” Zuri added with a touch too much emphasis, his eyes on Griselda.
He’s making sure I know he’s protected – just when he’s found out I may not be. It was an unallowable situation, one that made the decision for her. Sergei would have to be replaced, if nothing else because the others had lost faith in him. A human guard dog was like a padlock; it only worked if the would-be thief believed it worked. A lock only kept out people who thought, “This is locked, so it’s impossible to get through.” Once a thief knew he could just cut through it, the lock did no good. Just as a disloyal guard dog did no good.
Even if he’s only perceived to be disloyal.
“For our sake, I hope you’re right,” Griselda said breezily. “You never know what lurks underneath, in the murky corners of their mortal minds. Unless you’re Ark or Jamie, of course. But then whisperers don’t just know, they can control them.”
Beldren looked around the corridor, as if checking for eavesdroppers. “Yes. I’ve thought of that. What stops Jamie from tampering with them? Surely not a sense of honor. At least Ark can’t control them, he’s only a dream stealer.”
“True, but that’s dangerous enough. Still, I’m sure you’re both fine, with such loyal dogs.” She hoped her smile held the touch of sinister she intended. “If you’ll excuse me? It seems I have a meeting with a mechanic.”
Beldren gave a little bow, and sent her off with a wink and the words, “Of course. And should you find yourself available this evening, I have an open schedule.”
I bet you do.
The mechanic wasn’t excited to see her, but when she pushed him against the wall and threatened to rip his heart out, he finally gave her a list of “potential problems” with the roadster. “I have it running,” he snapped, pulling his shirt straight. “And I stand by my original statement: it doesn’t need replacing.”
Griselda scoffed. “Yes it does, and it’s not the only thing.” She glared the warning. “It would be a shame if our lead mechanic’s heart ended up skewered by some bizarre shop accident.”
“Isn’t it lucky I’m careful?” he asked, though she saw concern crinkle the corners of his eyes.
She dropped her list off at the office, and headed back to her apartment. Sergei was closeted in his room, probably taking nap. At least he’d be well rested in case Zuri or Beldren decided to try anything.
I hope Harry finds that replacement quickly.
The council didn’t bother to make a ruling the next day, so when Griselda was called to the office for an assignment she refused. “I don’t have an automobile.”
The guard behind the desk fidgeted nervously. “The, uh, the report said that your vehicle was functioning.”
“I’m not driving that…that lemon!” She was pretty sure that was the modern term. Or was it orange? Without waiting for correction, she pushed on, “You can tell the council I will leave the citadel only when I have a reliable automobile, and not before.”
The guard groaned and checked a clipboard. “It looks like Migina is in.”
“Beldren and Zuri are,” Griselda added.
“Yes, but they want a, erm, a woman.” He gave a nervous sort of grimace and dialed the phone. “Hello? Executioner Migina?”
Griselda left before she could catch the rest of the conversation. Not used to being in the citadel for more than a day at a time, she wasn’t sure what to do. They were putting in a cinema in the public area, but she didn’t think it was open yet. She’d already fed. She wasn’t interested in shopping. It was too late for television; the human’s programming ended while the night was still young.
A book seemed a good option, so she headed to the citadel’s library to emerge some time later, three novels tucked under her arm.
Near the executioner block she saw a familiar figure. Migina moved with the grace of a predator, her long black braid thrown over her shoulder. Dressed in men’s pants and boots, she was nearly as tall as Griselda, and probably a hundred years older.
The Executioner drew up and eyed Griselda disdainfully. “I suppose I should thank you for dumping your assignment on me.”
“Talk to the lesser council. They have yet to approve my request for a new vehicle.”
“Then drive the old one,” Migina snapped back. “Never mind. I don’t have time for your argle-bargle. I have an assignment to go on. I was home for a whole two hours. Wouldn’t want to get too cozy.”
Migina swept off down the corridor, leaving Griselda to glare after her. What the hell was argle-bargle? Was it an Indian word – or from whatever race Migina was supposed to be?
It’s probably some kind of insult.
“I’m sure your guard dog will be happy to keep Franklin warm for you,” she shouted after the retreating vampiress. When Migina spun, fury in her eyes, Griselda amended with a smirk, “I mean keep your den warm for you.”
Migina’s mouth worked, but then she scoffed, and stormed away without rebuttal.
That’s what I thought.
Griselda found Sergei vacuuming. She walked past him without comment, and shut herself in the bedroom. It really was a shame that she needed to replace him already. He’d just finally learned how to keep a clean house.
The next evening, Griselda stopped in at the café for breakfast. The waiter half forced a couple out of their table in his rush to seat her. She took the seat, still warm from the previous occupant, and ordered a glass with cinnamon.
She waited, hands folded in her lap, and blue eyes watching the other patrons. Vampires hunched in little cliques, drinking and talking. She was suddenly hyper-aware of the empty chair across from her, of the way other guests’ eyes would move toward her and then dance away, as if they were afraid to make contact.
Well they should be. I’m an Executioner for God’s sake. I could kill them with a thought.
And as an agonizer, she could, too, or at the very least make them wish they were dead. If only she’d gotten the mind reading abilities that usually came with such a gift…
“Not all gifts are the same, child,” Malick had once told her. “Though you do not read minds, your ability to cause pain is one of the most focused I’ve seen in an Agonizer. With time, and luck, perhaps you will find yourself in the next evolution.”
But still an evolution without mind reading, she reminded herself glumly.
“-with your friend.”
Griselda’s attention snapped up and she saw the waiter standing next to her table, motioning a vampire to the empty chair. And not just any vampire. It was-
“Philip.” A fellow Executioner, he’d been promoted from greater guard the same time as she had, when the Hand of Death and the Tormentor left. But that did not make him her friend.
No matter how good looking he is.
And he was good looking, with black hair and intense chocolate colored eyes; the kind of eyes that seemed to stare right through you – or right into your future. To a well-developed demon eye, they were the same thing.
Philip gave her a heartbreaker’s smile and took the empty chair with a flourish. He rattled off an order, and the waiter hurried away, as if hounds were chasing him.
“You look unhappy, Zelda, dear,” Philip said as he leaned back in his seat, long fingers drumming lightly on the tabletop.
“I didn’t invite you to join me,” she replied stiffly.
“No, but our dear waiter is under the impression that wearing matching necklaces makes us friends. Remember when we used to be friends?”
The innuendo in his voice sent warm shivers down her back. She remembered a time when they’d been…something. Perhaps not friends, but bedfellows. When his hot hands had slid over her naked shoulders and down to-
She pushed the memories away and forced her face neutral. “Vaguely.”
“I could refresh your memory, if you’d like? You could come back to me den, admire the art on my wall. I have a new print of Picasso’s La Douceur we could imitate. I have a couple of hours before I have to leave for Cincinnati to deal with a rogue. That should be plenty of time.”
She’d seen his art collection, and though she didn’t recognize the name pf the painting he mentioned, she could guess it would be something erotic, just like the others. “No thank you. I have my day planned out.”
“Really? I heard you were stuck here until the council approved a new car? And since your guard dog’s gone off the rails-”
She ground her teeth together. “Just who told you that?”
“Beldren might have mentioned it when I talked to him earlier. He warned me to keep a tight rein on my own, that Verchiel and Ark’s humans were on a seduction crusade. Ark’s I believe, but Verchiel’s is too…too child-like for most men to find attractive. Like a doll. A real man doesn’t want a child’s play thing in his bed. Migina’s guard dog on the other hand, have you seen her? She’s exquisite. And she tastes delicious.”
He broke into laughter as the waiter appeared with their glasses. He dropped them off and hurried away, leaving Philip chuckling.
“I suppose you’ve had her,” Griselda commented with no interest.
“All three of them, though Verchiel’s is too cumbersome to make for a repeat visit.” He studied her frown. “You can’t tell me you haven’t sampled at least one of the guard dogs? Not even your own?”
Griselda took a long draw from her glass before answering, “Not in a sexual way, no.”
“You’re missing out. Seriously while Migina is gone you should pay a visit to her den. I know you prefer men, but once the blood starts flowing, they all taste the same, and she has a repertoire of talents you can’t imagine.”
“And I’d rather continue not imagining them, if you don’t mind. I have my standards. They’re low, but I have them.”
“Too good for a human lover?” Philip smirked. “They have their place, you know. You can break them without repercussion, if the mood strikes. And you may like to pretend now, Zelda, darling, but I know the mood does strike you.”
Griselda drained her glass in a single long gulp, and stood. “The only thing I feel like striking now is you. Have a lovely trip. Good luck to the rogue. May he take your heart.”
She stormed through the café and out, hands fists at her sides. Philip always did that to her; left her confused, angry, fumbling for a decent comeback. Whether it was their brief history, or just his smoldering presence, she didn’t know, but she didn’t trust him as far as she could throw him.
As if to make her night complete, she ran into Verchiel just inside the Executioner block.
“Good evening!” He said cheerfully.
“I thought you were gone,” Griselda snapped. After Philip, she didn’t have the patience for this.
“I’m back now. I hope Valerie didn’t cause you any undo stress in my absence.” He batted his eyes innocently.
“If you mean your stupid human, then no, she’s been too busy in someone else’s bed to bother Sergei. Probably Philip’s.”
A frown flickered over Verchiel’s face, to be quickly replaced by his usual clown-ish smile. “So she’s moving up to seducing Executioners now? Good for her.”
Griselda scoffed. “If you believe a word Philip says. He’s as full of lies as everyone else.”
“That’s not very nice,” Verchiel said. “And especially about your fellow Executioners! We’re like a family-”
“A family that’s waiting to stab one another in the dark, you mean?”
“A royal family then,” Verchiel said cheerfully. “The things they do to get the throne…it makes us look angelic.” He turned suddenly serious. “Though in all honesty, what has anyone really done? It isn’t as if you’ve bene attacked in your sleep.”
“Not yet, but I expect to be, thanks to you and your whore.” Verchiel looked ready to argue, so she added, “Everyone knows Sergei has been compromised by your bitch in heat. It’s only a matter of time until someone realizes this is their chance and takes it.”
Verchiel cocked his head to one side. “Do you really think Philip, or Migina, or Zuri, or Senya would sneak into your room and cut your heart out. Really?” He paused. “Okay, maybe Senya, but the others…”
Griselda scoffed. “Of all of you, Senya’s the one I suspect the least. Bren calls her blunt and tactless, but I call her honest. At least you know where you stand with her, unlike the others, who speak with honey one moment and venom the next. Especially you. Your smile doesn’t fool anyone. The broader it is, the more devious the thoughts behind it.”
“I will say you have a point about Senya, but as for the rest…If that’s how you want to view the world, I guess that’s your choice. If you don’t mind, I have an appointment with the lesser council to pick out a new vehicle.”
He started past, but Griselda grabbed his arm and dragged him back. “A new vehicle? Are you serious? I put in for one days ago and am still waiting for approval! How did you get it?”
He tugged loose and shot her a wink. “If you want a new one, the best thing to do is total the old one. Preferably mid-assignment. They’ll approve the new one as fast as they can, so you can get back out there and get things finished up.” He tapped the side of his head. “Just a little bit of deviousness, there. Ciao!”
He headed through the door, leaving her to stomp back to her apartment. It was ridiculous that he’d be approved that way! Surely the council could see through him – see the trick – and refuse him.
Except they didn’t.
Griselda woke the next evening, wrapped in a gray cloud. She dressed and ordered in breakfast. Unfortunately, she’d finished all three library books, so when the television went off air for the night, it left her with nothing to do but stare at the carpet and try to ignore Sergei’s sulking presence.
“If I could go to the sixth floor,” he began, but she cut him off.
“And fraternize with God knows who? No. You’ve done enough. I’m surprised Beldren or one of the others hasn’t barged in and killed us both already.”
“Because I’m in love with Valerie? That doesn’t make any sense!”
“I said shut up!” Griselda shouted, even though she knew she hadn’t said it. “You’re driving me insane,” she muttered. “Being stuck here is driving me insane. I need an automobile and an assignment!”
She stormed out, leaving him with a scowl.
In the Executioners’ office, the guard cringed behind the desk, his eyes everywhere but her. “I-I’m sorry, but the council denied your request. You have the right to appeal.”
Griselda slammed her fist into the desk. “Why did they deny it?”
“I-I don’t know. They, uh, they didn’t say, only that it was denied. I’ll, uh, get you the appeal paperwork.”
“Yes, do that,” she bit off angrily. How the hell had Verchiel been approved – and so quickly – when she’d been denied yet again?
Probably because he’s a low level whisperer. Or because he’s a man.
Either one was possible.
With the paperwork in hand, she stopped at the library for a new book. Among the rows she recognized a familiar dark head, long hair pulled back in a sloppy bun. She didn’t need to see his face – or the medallion around his neck – to know it was Jamie, a fellow Executioner.
Though she avoided him, he ended up in line behind her at the checkout desk.
“Griselda,” he said with a polite nod.
“Jamie,” she returned.
“I hear you’re having trouble with your vehicle.”
Yes. Because everyone hears everything. “I’m planning to appeal their decision.”
She doubted that he meant it, but made a noise that sounded like “thank you”.
“If you want to win your appeal, the best way is to appear cooperative,” he added.
“Yes. I’ll get right on that.”
He shrugged. “Not that you want advice, but refusing to accept an assignment-”
“I’m not refusing to take assignments, only refusing to ride in that…that death trap of a roadster! What happens when it breaks down – again – and this time leaves me stranded hours from civilization and shelter? Shall I just burn up in the sun, waiting for help?”
Jamie kept his tone even, “I doubt that would happen. There are very few stretches of land that uninhabited anymore.”
She rolled her eyes as she handed her book to the librarian. “Then risk your life in it and I’ll take your vehicle.” He only blinked at her and she sneered. “That’s what I thought. Have a good day.”
Then she swished out, the book clutched to her chest like a shield against stupidity.
She marched back to her apartment and locked herself in her bedroom; the only safe place from the others. She wasn’t sure how many more days she could take of this – of running into every Executioner, or their advice and comments.
I need a goddamn automobile before I kill someone!
It was later that evening when Sergei knocked on Griselda’s bedroom door. “You have a call from someone named Harry.”
Griselda stuck the bookmark in and laid the novel aside. Had harry procured someone so quickly? He’d acted like it might take weeks.
“He usually comes through faster than he says he will.”
Apparently Bren was right. That made for a change.
She lifted the receiver form the cradle on her nightstand. “Griselda here.”
“Executioner?” Harry’s voice came back. “I have the package you ordered. If you’d care to come pick it up and make payment?”
It felt a little like prostitution, but she reminded herself it was more like buying a pet – such as a dog. Yes. Just purchasing a soulless animal. “Where do I meet you?”
“On the sixth floor…let’s say the recreation room, shall we? In twenty minutes?”
Griselda agreed and hung up. Though it was ridiculous, she thought Sergei looked suspicious as she walked past him. There was no way he could know that she was replacing him, no way he’d know what his fate was to be.
It’s your own fault. If you’d just kept to yourself.
In the corridor she found Verchiel , like a bad penny intent on ruining her day.
“Just who I was looking for!” he said cheerfully.
She tried to dodge around him. “I don’t have time to mess with you. I have an appointment.”
“Actually, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about,” Verchiel said. “You’re planning to replace your human?”
She stopped and turned back to face him. “And how do you know-” she broke off when he tapped the side of his head. Of course. Though not accomplished, he was a dream stealer of sorts. “What does it matter to you?”
“Well, it seems if you’re replacing – Sergei, isn’t it? – then you won’t need him anymore.”
“Obviously,” she snapped. “I really am in a hurry. If you could cut to the chase?”
“How would you like to sell him?”
She choked on the suggestion. “Excuse me? Sell him? To who? You? Hardly! He knows things I’m sure you’d find useful.”
Verchiel shook his head. “Anything he knows I can find out. From you.” He tapped the side of his head again.
“Then what do you want him for?”
“Let’s say breeding purposes. He and Valerie make a fine pair, don’t you think?” She scoffed and he added, “I’m willing to trade for him.”
Griselda scoffed. “Trade what?”
The redhead jingled a set of car keys. “I mentioned that I got approved for a new car? Give me Sergei, and it’s all yours.”
She narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “Just what kind of vehicle is it?”
“A Hudson Hornet, painted black. Brand new.” He jingled the keys again. “It’s not really my kind of car, you see.”
“And just what will you drive if I take it?”
“I’ll manage. I have enough in the bank I can buy my own outright. Maybe a racecar, for fun. Anyway, what do you say?”
She tried to calculate various scenarios in her head. What could Verchiel really be up to? Why would he really want Sergei? The breeding excuse was thin at best…but the automobile would end her stalemate with the council and get her out of there before she went insane.
“Fine. He’s yours.”
She snatched at the keys, but Verchiel pulled them away. “Not so fast. Once I have him, you’ll get these.” He jingled them again. “Not that I don’t trust you, but…”
“Fine,” she snarled. “Go get him and his belongings, and leave those.” She leaned down, so that her fangs flashed close to his face. “And if you cross me…”
“You’ll send your new guard dog to kill me in my sleep?” Verchiel suggested. “How scary.” Before she could react, he grabbed her hand, pumped it up and down, and then disappeared in a blur of speed, tossing back, “It’s great doing business with you!”
Griselda shook her head. “Idiot.”
Not well versed with the sixth floor, it took Griselda a couple of tries to find the meeting place. Stuffed with couches, a pool table, and a television, she understood the name recreation room. What she didn’t understand was why they were meeting there.
Still, Harry seemed at home, wearing a new suit and a fanged smile. On the couch next to him sat a young woman of maybe twenty-two. Mousy brown hair hung limp, and giant eyes shimmered with unshed tears. Her hands were pulled behind her back, probably tied at the wrists. She wore a torn dress, dirt knees peeking out from under the full skirt.
Harry swept to his feet, the fanged smile growing wider as he bowed. “Executioner Griselda. I believe this will fit your requirements?”
She looked over the trembling human. “I wanted a guard dog, not a trembling puppy!”
“Ah, but the fiercest guard dog was once a pup, was it not?” Harry smiled. “I believe she has potential.”
Griselda rolled her eyes, but moved past him to examine the girl. She lifted her chin, forcing the teary eyes to meet her own. “You! What’s your name?”
“Stand up, Linda.”
The girl tried, but without her hands, she fell back. Griselda caught her shoulder and pulled her up. Shorter than she was, she was of medium build, not too thin, but not fat. Meaty, her grandmother would have said, with child bearing hips but very little to feed the babes with.
“Do you know why you’re here?” Griselda demanded.
“I…” She looked to Harry, and her face crumpled as her eyes shifted back. “No. I really don’t. I don’t understand-”
“Would you rather go home?” Griselda pressed.
“I…Not home but…I…my husband…I have nowhere to go.” The tears dripped down her cheeks, growing torrential as she sobbed. “They’ll put me in prison.”
“prison?” Griselda gave Harry a sharp look. “Who will put you in prison?”
“The…the police. But he deserved it. He…he deserved it.”
At another sharp look, harry finally relented. “Our dear girl murdered her husband in cold blood; shot him in the heart.”
“He deserved it!” Linda sobbed. “They all deserve it!”
“Who?” Griselda asked.
“Men!” Linda choked on her tears and snuffled her nose with a disgusting liquid sound. “They’re all the same. They’re full of sugar lies and cotton candy dreams, but then they have too much to drink, and they want to show you who’s boss, and maybe you can take a little of that, until you catch them with their secretary, and then…and then…”
“And then a bullet to the heart,” Griselda finished. She reached behind the girl and pulled the rope free. “Thank you, Harry. I believe she’ll do just fine.”
“There is a little matter of payment. Two hundred dollars should do it.”
Griselda stiffened at the price. Two hundred dollars, for a human? They were running around out here for free; thousands of them! She could wait and…and…and she’d already traded Sergei off to Verchiel. If she refused to pay, it would leave her defenseless – leave Verchiel with an opening to sneak in and cut her heart out.
And if he knows I’m defenseless, the rest will too. Nothing stays a secret here.
“Fine. I assume you prefer cash?”
With the transaction complete, Griselda led Linda down to the Executioner block. The woman seemed caught between terror and perverse excitement at the prospect of serving vampires. It was a fascinating mixture.
“This is my den,” Griselda announced as she unlocked the door.
She led Linda inside. Sergei’s absence stood out like a missing tooth, and she left her new acquisition alone to check the bedroom. Sure enough, it was cleaned out, with no sign that the human had ever been there.
She spun for the doorway when the glint of something metallic caught her eye on the dresser. She snatched up the car keys like a prize. Verchiel was many things, but at least he’d kept his word.
Clutching the keys, she headed back to her new guard dog. Hopefully by this time tomorrow she’d be on the road, and Linda would be settled in, ready to defend against both man, woman, and vampire, even if that meant putting a bullet through their heart, just like she had her husband.
As she said, they’re all alike, and they all deserve it. The secret it to get them before they get me.
- Kinda looks like Axle Rose. 2. three faced 3. triplicate 4. trio 5. kind a looks like a Duran, Duran album cover, too. 6. Impressionist or whatever 7. I don’t know all the fancy art terms because I don’t like most of the movements. 8. I know cubism, but this ain’t it. 9. Kinda looks like Picasso (also in blog). 10. in gray scale. 11. shades of gray. 12. though I don’t think there’s fifty shades of gray there. 13. See what I did there? 14. sisters 15. triplets 16. There are weird noises here. 17. I swear someone just shouted “Oggie, Oggie, Oggie!” but no one is awake except me. 18. I bet it’s some of Jonathan’s voodoo 19. Makes as much sense as my guesses this week. 20. It’s just to abstract for me, I guess.
It’s time again for Blogophilia, the fun blog group where Martien gives participants prompts to use in their weekly blog. This week’s prompts are:
I’d hoped to finish this story this week, since I will be wayward bound next week on a trip to West Virginia (don’t worry, I’ll still blog, but no story writing time) However, I didn’t get this finished because I’m not sure where it’s going.
Last week we met Griselda, whose car broke down, and whose human guard dog has been visiting with another Executioner’s human on a romantic basis. Tsk Tsk.
When she woke the next evening, she found that Sergei had unpacked her bag. A stylish dress lay draped over her vanity chair. Red, with a small waist and long full skirt meant that ended midcalf. Though catalog and store shopping had recently become popular – there was even a new boutique in the citadel’s shopping area – Griselda was rarely able to buy clothes that fit right. Taller than average, pre-made clothes were usually too short for her. Not that she couldn’t make her own – shed been sewing for herself since she was a child. Still, the idea of being able to just pick something up and drop it on was appealing.
And this should fit. The lady who’d worn it had bene tall, too. She’d had dark hair secured with a clip, shiny shoes, and a matching handbag. And she had made an excellent meal the previous night.
Before the damn automobile broke down.
Griselda put on the myriad of support garments expected of a woman – fewer than the last decades had seen! – and slipped into the dress. She had to breath in deeply to zip the back, but otherwise it was a perfect fit.
She turned this way and that in the mirror, and gave an experimental twirl. The silky skirt flared, then fell back into place when she stopped. The small waist was all right for standing, but she suspected sitting might be an issue. Maybe she should pull out one of her old corsets?
She heard movement in the next room, and abandoned her fashion to investigate. Sergei moved between the furniture, pouting and pretending to dust.
“I left the red dress on your vanity,” he said petulantly, eyes on his task. “I wasn’t sure if it needed laundered or not. I imagine they’ll be an extra charge for it since it’s a dry-clean item.” He looked up and stopped. “Oh. You’re wearing it now?”
She glanced down at the garment, then back at him. “And why not?”
“A cocktail dress is an odd choice for the daytime.” He snickered, flicking the feather duster uselessly.
“If I wanted your opinion, I’d ask for it, human.”
“Excuse me, master.” His bow seemed mocking.
She crossed to him and grabbed him by the front of his shirt before he could react. “Yes, I am your master, and forgiveness is something you’d be well placed to beg for.”
She shoved him away and swished for the door. “Is Verchiel home?”
She could hear the frown in Sergei’s voice. “How should I know?” A hard look from her, and he relented. “He was on an assignment yesterday, but Valerie thinks he’ll be home tonight.”
“Good. I plan to have a chat with him. I’ll be back.”
Wisely, Sergei kept his mouth shut.
Griselda stopped first at Verchiel’s apartment. After several short, angry knocks, his guard dog opened the door. Dressed in some kind of overlarge night dress, one slim shoulder was exposed. Her long dark hair was unbound, and her china doll face wore no makeup, not that she needed any. With milk skin, her dark eyes were a better contrast than lipstick could ever offer.
“Yes?” she asked, with the right amount of reverence and timidity. As if it had been practiced a hundred times.
It probably has.
“Where is your master?”
“Master is on assignment.”
Griselda tapped her foot impatiently but the human only blinked large liquid eyes. “And when will he return?”
“Master should return soon.”
It wasn’t much, but it was enough. “When he gets here, tell him Griselda wants a word. Understand?”
The girl nodded. Griselda turned to find herself confronted with a short vampire. Red hair stuck up at odd angles on top, and fell to brush his shoulders. Violet eyes were just as weird, as was the perpetual grin he wore.
It was Verchiel.
“Zeldy! Are you looking for me?”
Griselda bit back the desire to slam him into the wall. “It’s Griselda, to you.”
He gave a sweeping mock bow. “My apologies, Mighty Griselda. Now what can I do for you?”
“You can keep a tighter leash on your dog.”
Verchiel scratched his head. “Hmmm. A dog? I don’t own a dog. I mean, I could file the paperwork and get one, but they’re kind of inconvenient indoors like this. Where would he pee?”
“What do you think you’re doing?”
He paused to look baffled. “I’m standing in the hallway…just coming back from an assignment…I’m talking to you-”
She cut him off. “Do you think you’re being funny?” He grinned and she snapped, “I don’t need you to be funny. I don’t want to be entertained, I want this situation resolved! If you won’t do something then I’ll go to Ark – or Malick!”
Verchiel sighed, and then suddenly drew up, his face serious. “Go inside, Valerie.”
The human, who’d been hanging in the door, nodded quickly and disappeared inside. As the door shut, Verchiel turned his attention to Griselda. “What are you claiming she’s done?”
“I’m not ‘claiming’ anything. She has done – and you know damn well what it is. I don’t want to see – or hear about – her being near my guard dog, or I will report both of you and demand that she’s destroyed.”
Verchiel’s eyes narrowed and he rubbed his neck. “Why do you care? Are you jealous?”
She gaped at the implication. “Of course not! But he is my property. His job is to guard my den – and me – from the rest of you. How can he do that if he spends all of his time preoccupied with fucking your bitch in heat? I’m not stupid, Verchiel. You have her seducing everyone’s guard dogs so you can use it to your advantage. One day she’ll come to my door while I’m asleep. Sergei will let her in and, the next thing you know, my heart will be on a plate and Greneth will be writing a requiem for my funeral.”
“You really think that’s what’s going on?”
“I know it is. You might be able to fool Beldren or Zuri, but I’m on to you. You want to kill the rest of them in their sleep? You go right ahead, but try anything with me and I’ll cut off your head and nail it to the wall. Are we clear?”
He held up his hands. “Ooooo. Scary!” He dropped them, and his featured hardened. “I’m not afraid of you, Griselda, any more than I am the rest of the Executioners. And I don’t need to use Valerie to infiltrate your dens. If I wanted to kill you, I’d do it in the hallway, not in the middle of the day, but don’t worry, she’ll stay away from your pet.” He cocked his head to one side. “I just wonder if your pet will stay away from her?”
Griselda scoffed. “He doesn’t have a choice.” She leaned down, pressing her face close to Verchiel’s. “See that you keep your end of it, or I will have her put down.”
She turned on her heel and stormed away, the cocktail dress swishing with each angry step. She reached her own door, hand on the knob, when a voice called, “Zelda!”
She looked up to see Bren, hands on his hips as he surveyed her. “I heard you had some automobile trouble?”
“You could call it that.” She stepped away from the door and lowered her voice. “Your guard dog. Has he been fraternizing?”
Bren’s face darkened. “With Verchiel’s mongrel, you mean? Only once. I took the skin off his back, and he’s stayed away since.” His scowl twisted into a grin. “Having trouble with yours?”
She hesitated. She trusted Bren only because Senya controlled him. But how far did her control extend? “Perhaps.”
Bren moved closer. “Take my advice. Remove a few toes, or a finger or two, and he’ll straighten right up.”
“And then he’d be…defected.”
Bren blinked. “I don’t think that’s the word you want. Impacted maybe?”
“Weakened,” she snapped. “What good is an injured guard dog?”
He shrugged. “Do what you want. You could always put him down and get a new one. There are several humans working on the sixth floor. One of them would probably be happy for the promotion. Though I’d be careful which you choose. Rumor is you-know-who frequents a few of them for recreational purposes.”
Griselda wrinkled her nose. “I wouldn’t be surprised.”
Bren stepped back, and his voice sprang back to normal. “Have you fed yet? I was on my way to the café.”
“Out. A week or two. You know how it is. Ready?”
She wasn’t sure she trusted Bren without Senya’s leash, but what could he do in public? Jam a dagger between her ribs? Even he wouldn’t get away with that.
Ark probably could.
With a nod, she followed Bren out of the Executioner block and into the public area of the citadel. The café was brightly lit and decorated to resemble a sidewalk café, with wicker chairs and crisp white tablecloths. Plants hung from hooks around the wall. Murals were painted like a cityscape, complete with a blue sky overhead.
Bren flashed his necklace at the attendant just inside the door. The vampire rushed to find them an empty table, bobbing his head as he stumbled through a welcome speech.
Bren smirked. “Relax. We’ve been here before.”
The attendant bobbed a final time and hurried away, promising that a waiter would be along any minute.
Griselda looked toward a menu board painted in pink and blue. It listed different glass sizes and add ins.
“I’m thinking…spearmint,” Bren said. “You?”
“That sounds fine.”
“We could get a pitcher then?”
She shrugged it off, and let him order. As the waitress bustled off, Bren leaned back in the chair. “I’ll go up to the sixth floor with you, if you want.”
Griselda toyed with the napkin. “It would mean training a new one.”
“True, the training is a pain, but better to know your dog is loyal than have one who lets the enemy in.”
She flicked her blue eyes to his face. “What an odd way to phrase it. The enemy.”
He shrugged. “If we didn’t have enemies, we wouldn’t need locked doors and guard dogs in the first place.”
“True. I just find it…interesting. We’re supposed to be part of an elite team, working together, and instead we need guard dogs to stop us killing one another in our sleep. It’s like a fractured coven, who’s been together so long they’ve lost any affection and feel only hate.”
“I wouldn’t say I hate everyone,” Bren replied.
She leaned her elbows on the table and surveyed him. “Then tell me who you feel affection for among the Executioners – who you trust with your life.”
He scoffed and waved it away. When she continued to stare, unblinking he muttered, “I-I don’t know.”
“Not even Senya?” Griselda asked with mild surprise.
The waiter appeared before he could answer. He deposited the pitcher, and two tall glasses. With a flourish he filled them, then asked if there was anything else.
Bren dismissed him, and they drank their breakfast in silence. Griselda inhaled the minty scent, and thought of her childhood home, and her grandmother’s herb garden. The memories were blurred by time, and over bright with sunlight, but she could still feel the warmth that had shone in her grandmother’s eyes; a warmth that had bene extinguished far too soon.
“I might trust Senya.”
Griselda looked up sharply. “What?”
Bren set his empty glass on the table and fixed her with an irritated stare. “You asked if I trusted Senya. I said I might.”
She suppressed a smile. “I suppose that’s something.”
They finished their breakfast and, though her mind wasn’t made up, headed upstairs. The sixth floor was a mix of humans and vampires, including human only areas. Though Griselda failed to see the point, the vampire government had human emissaries, and they didn’t like being close to the monsters if they could help it.
She followed Bren to a restaurant. The heavy scent of cooking meat overpowered the smell of the occupants’ blood and made her think of bodies burning – the official approved way to dispose of vampiric corpses.
They stopped just inside the door and he scanned the customers. With a frown, he shook his head and motioned her out and further down the hallway. A recreation room wasn’t what he was looking for, and neither was an exercise room.
Bren made a low noise in his throat. “Where is he?”
“Who?” When Bren didn’t answer, she pressed, “I thought we were looking for a human replacement?”
“Of course, but we’re not going to recruit one ourselves,” Bren snapped back. “Don’t you know how it works?”
She didn’t reply. All of the guard dogs she’d had so far had come from outside, found while she was on assignment. She had no idea how it was done in the citadel.
Bren took her silence as an admission of ignorance. “To procure a human, one sees Harry, as he’s calling himself now. You tell him what you want – male, female, snack, dinner, play toy, sex partner , whether you plan to let them live or kill them – and he finds what you’re looking for.”
Griselda arched a suspicious brow. Was Bren in the habit of procuring humans? For what? The way he’d casually tossed out play toy and sex partner made her wonder.
They checked a few other places, and circled back to the restaurant. Bren stepped inside, and gave a triumphant cry. “You!”
A short man with a mustache looked up from a glass of crimson. Dressed in a light sport coat and button down shirt, his hat was perched on the table near his arm.
“Ah! Sir Executioner!” The man stood quickly and gave a half bow. “And madam, my apologies for not recognizing your office immediately. My mistake. How can I help you tonight?”
Griselda touched the silver medallion that hung around her neck, three circles intertwined. The emblem of the Executioner, and a piece of jewelry that no doubt looked odd with her dress.
Bren surveyed the diminutive figure with a grunt, and dropped into a chair. “Zelda needs a new guard dog.”
“Of course, of course.” The man smiled, showing a set of sharp fangs. “What does the lady have in mind?”
Griselda straightened her full skirt. She had no love for humans, but even so this seemed strange. Like ordering a sofa. “I’d like a female.” She thought of the casual way Bren had mentioned snacks, sex, and play toys. When a human drank vampire blood they created a bond – a bond that would trump their loyalty to her. “One who hasn’t been preyed upon.”
The man gave a small cough. “That is quite a request, my dear. I’ll have to have someone in the field procure a new recruit. That will be expensive.”
Expensive? Did he expect her to pay? The other humans had been free!
“She’s good for it,” Bren said dismissively.
“Of course.” Harry lifted his hat and tugged a notepad out from under it. He unclipped a small pencil form it, licked the tip, and offered her a full smile. “What specifics do you have in mind? Age? Height? Build? Appearance?”
It is like ordering a sofa.
“I don’t care,” she snapped. “So long as she’s young enough to train, but old enough to defend herself.”
“Mid-twenties?” Harry suggested. “Late teens is more popular, but they can be emotionally fragile if you’r eplanning to keep her for a time. You are planning to keep her?”
“Yes!” Griselda cried. “I want her as a guard dog.”
“Right, right. That curious arrangement you Executioners have at the moment.” Harry scribbled on his pad. “I assume virginity isn’t important? It’s extra, you see.”
“Of course it’s not important!”
“Mmhmm. All right, I’ll get the men on it. It might be a day or two, if that’s all right? I can send a message to…” he trailed off meaningfully.
“Griselda,” she said stiffly.
“Good, good. Executioner Griselda.”
Bren rolled a pepper shaker. “How much is it going to cost?”
“I can hardly negotiate the price when I don’t know how much work it will be to procure, now can I?”
Bren snorted. “No, I’m sure you can’t.” He stood and leaned over the table, his face close to Harry’s. “See that it’s reasonable, hmmm?”
Harry smiled serenely. “Of course, of course. I’m always reasonable.”
“Right.” Bren rolled his eyes and motioned Griselda after him. She glanced back to the short man, then followed. They were both quiet until the elevator doors had shut.
“He usually comes through faster than he says he will.”
Griselda tugged at her skirt. “You’ve used him before?”
“Of course. Where do you think my guard dogs come from?”
“I assumed you caught them yourself.”
Bren chuckled. “I don’t have time to mess with that. Let Harry handle it.”
The elevator stopped on the fourth floor and the doors swished open. A harried guard rushed inside. At seeing them, his face lit up. “Sir, Master Malick requires you.”
“See what I mean?” Bren asked with a smirk. “Who has time to hunt?”
The elevator stopped at the third floor. Griselda thanked Bren for his help, and disembarked, leaving him and the guard to see what the ancient master in the basement wanted.
She paused at the door to her apartment and sniffed. She could smell Sergei inside. Alone for a change.
No doubt Verchiel’s mongrel is busy tending to her master.
No story next week, but you’ll get the end of this the week after I hope.
And now for guesses:
- vintage 2. retro 3. shiny 4. back in the day 5. antique 6. classic 7. red racer 8. race 9. drag race 10. chrome 11. happy days 12. cruisin’ USA 13. on the strip 14. roadster 15. gas hog 16. need for speed 17. rebel without a cause 18. ready to rumble 19. low rider 20. little red corvette
It’s time again for Blogophilia! The fun blog group where Martien gives participants prompts to use in their weekly blog. This week’s prompts are:
Last week I got a whole story done, but no such luck this week. I’m not even sure where this is going yet, to be honest, but I guess we’ll see next week.
Griselda tossed a packet of papers on the Executioners’ desk. The guard behind it looked up from a typewriter. The clacking of the keys dropped off as he stared. “How-How did it go?”
Griselda slopped wet bangs from her face. “It was a disaster. My car broke down.”
The guard glanced at the damp paperwork. “Um… I don’t suppose you know what’s wrong with it? I mean, you are a woman.”
“Oh of course, being a woman how could I?” The guard recoiled at her fury and she added, “I think it might be the alternator. Again.”
The guard looked over the request form. “So you want a new car?”
“Honestly, if you were any slower, you’d be going backward! Yes! I’m putting in for a new car, and I’m filing my paperwork from the assignment.”
“Of course, of course.” The guard gave a sharp nod. “Well…um…I think I have everything. You probably want to go change.”
“And why would I want to do that?” She asked sarcastically.
“Well, you are dripping on the floor. A bit,” he added hastily. “I – I don’t mind the puddle. I can clean that up in a jiffy but, you know, it can’t be comfortable.”
“You’re right.” She purposefully wrung out her shirt, watching the water splatter on the tile floor at her feet.
How’s that for a puddle, jackass?
He was at least smart enough – or else to shocked – the comment. She grabbed her soggy overnight bag, then stormed out of the office and down to the elevators. A pair of vampires signaled her to hold the door, but one look at her face – and silver medallion around her neck – and they backed off.
Good. I’m not in the mood.
She exited on the third floor and stomped her way to the Executioner block, the area of The Guild’s citadel where the Executioners lived. Behind the locked door a square corridor was lined with their apartments. Though some of her fellows thought it was a sign of their rank – to keep them separated from the rabble – Griselda suspected it was to protect them from the rabble. As law enforcers, the Executioners had more enemies than friends.
She let herself through the block door, and then into her apartment. Quiet and clean, it looked like it had when she left five days ago on what was supposed to be an easy assignment. What might have been easy, had she had all of the intel, and if her stupid vehicle hadn’t decided to die in the middle of a storm.
At least it was within walking distance. If one considered five hours on foot walking distance.
The guards had fared worse. One was stuck behind to watch the car, and the other had accompanied her, carrying her bag and listening to a growing strong of curses. She assumed that someone would go to rescue the one they’d left behind and bring the car back with them. But they’d better not try to fix the piece of junk and stick her with it again. It was from 1939, for crying out loud. How could they expect it to still work right?
When she’d picked the Roadster out, she’d been excited, and she had to admit it still looked good, if not a little dented. But it was 1956, and she needed something new, something that blended in better, something bigger.
A key ground in the lock and she spun, hands on her hips, as Sergei slid inside. He spotted her and froze, half in, half out of the door, his eyes wide, and his dark hair ruffled.
“And where have you been?”
“Oh, you’re home, mistress.” He stepped through, closing the door behind him. She flicked angry eyes over his rumpled appearance and he quickly straightened his clothes and tried to flatten his hair. “How was your trip?”
She tapped her foot. “I asked where you were.” He looked at the floor, and though didn’t have mind reading powers, she could feel him trying to think of something. “You with Verchiel’s guard dog again, weren’t you?”
Sergei rubbed the back of his neck. “Well, in a manner of speaking-”
“How many times have I told you stop fraternizing with her? Don’t you understand that it defeats the entire purpose of having a guard dog if you make friends with one another? Or in your case, more than friends?”
“I don’t-” He broke off at the look on her face. “Yes, mistress.”
“Good. And don’t try to give me any crap that you’re in love with Verchiel’s guard dog. You’re not. You’re just using her as a convenient bed fellow because she’s willing. And like her master, she’s willing with everyone, no doubt.”
“She has a name,” Sergei muttered. “And she’s not loose.”
“If she is with you, then she is with the others, too. A liar lies to everyone. A thief steals from everyone. And a whore whores with everyone. Now, I’m going to take a shower. Don’t open the door to anyone. Not even your little whore.”
She shut herself in her private bathroom and stripped off her wet clothes. At least Sergei had kept the place clean while she was gone. There was nothing worse than coming back to a mess.
Except coming back to find Sergei and Verchiel’s guard dog mating.
After that, she’d punished Sergei and thought he’d gotten the message, but apparently not. Or maybe he had and the little floozy pushed it. Men were notoriously unable to resist the lure of the fair sex, especially when one offered herself so willingly.
Griselda climbed in the shower and let the hot water run over her. Truthfully, she wouldn’t be surprised if Verchiel encouraged his human guard dog to be a whore. It was a good way to infiltrate the other Executioners’ houses. And most of the guard dogs were male, which made them easy prey. Train them with sex, make their brains soft, and soon Verchiel – or just as likely his guard dog herself – were sneaking in during the day, pounding a stake through your heart.
It’s not going to work with me.
No, if Sergei couldn’t be trusted, then it would be better to be rid of him and find a replacement. A woman this time. One who’d figure out Verchiel’s game and be too intelligent to fall for it.
With my luck, he’d turn to seducing her himself.
And if not him, then one of the others. Beldren was suspect. And Zuri. He was too quiet. It meant he was observing, analyzing, plotting. And Philip. Now there was a heartbreaker just looking to cause trouble. He’d been promoted at the same time she was, and she’d never trusted him as far as she could throw him.
Franklin was just as suspicious, and Migina was no better. The way she sneered at everyone made her opinions clear. Really, the only ones Griselda trusted were Senya and Bren; Senya because she was so blunt that you always knew where you stood, and Bren because Senya controlled him.
And they’re all a million times more trustworthy than Jamie or Ark.
They’d been Executioners the longest, and had earned the titles of captain and second in command, and they both used it. In fact, it was an incident with Ark that had prompted the human guard dogs in the first place.
Griselda liberally soaped herself as she tried to remember how it had happened. She hadn’t been there, but Greneth had heard the whole thing and reported it to her. Ark and Beldren, wasn’t it? Yes. They’d gotten in a fight and Beldren threatened Ark with something like sneaking in his room and cutting his heart out while he slept. Then, in the middle of the day, an earsplitting scream had wakened Greneth. He’d grabbed his weapon and run to the Beldren’s room, where he found the Executioner up, sword in hand, shouting that Ark had been in his room, trying to kill him. Ark denied it, but Beldren when Beldren returned from his next assignment he had a human with him.
“To keep an eye on things while I sleep. A guard dog, if you will.”
No one liked the idea of Beldren having a human running free while they were unprotected, and so they’d each gotten their own. Even Jamie, who’d rolled his eyes and commented on the stupidity.
It might be stupid, but I don’t see you sleeping alone.
That had been in ’42, she was pretty sure, and since then she’d been through three. Since Sergei can’t think with the brain in his head, it looks like I’m going to have to find number four. Though going through them quickly wasn’t unusual. Verchiel had been through two already, both women, and she imagined when he picked his next it would be a woman too. A good looking, cute little thing that he could encourage to be friendly with the men.
I know what you’re up to.
And now for guesses:
- Duck l’orange 2. Who’s hungry? 3. Today’s special is duck! 4. Duck; the gift that keeps giving 5. Quackers! 6. Polly want a quacker? 7. It’s daffy! 8. How do you get down off a duck? 9. A ladder! Ha ha! 10. looks like a duck, quacks like a duck… 11. choked up. 12. choke your….duck (cough) 13. Isn’t this a pretty duck? Half off today! 14. Look what I got for my birthday! 15. I wish I had some of Jonathan’s voodoo because this is ducking hard. 16. duck, duck, goose. 17. I found the duck! 18. I wonder if that’s the right way to hold a duck? 19. It’s a strangle hold! 20. this is just ducky
It’s time again for Blogophilia, the fun blog group where Martien gives us prompts to use in our weekly blogs. This week’s prompts are:
I hadn’t planned to write the whole story in one swoop, but sadly the main prompt needed to go at the end, so… here it is all in one.
(this takes place in 1997)
“It could be fun, Zelda.” Greneth gave his best smooth smile and waited. It was a proposal Griselda couldn’t turn down.
Or so he thought.
She shifted her weight from one foot to the other and crossed her arms uncomfortably. “I don’t know. Aren’t we a little old for something like that? Scares are for children.”
“Not anymore,” Greneth said. “Modern mortals enjoy it into old age.”
“I don’t know.”
He sighed and shoved his hands in his pockets. This wasn’t the way he’d imagined the conversation going when he’d seen the advertisement for a Halloween haunted house. The sign promised that the hour’s travel was worth it. “Thrills. Chills. Lose yourself to the terror!” Or something like that, all written in bloody red letters. The clip art ghosts had drawn Greneth in, and the vampire sealed the deal. Now all he needed was someone to go with him.
Griselda seemed the perfect choice. They got along well, and she was good looking. The same height he was, and a fellow blonde, people often mistook her for his sister, even though her eyes were blue and his brown. A detail he supposed no one really noticed. Even more amusing was that he was nearly a hundred years older than her, and had never been to Germany, where she’d been both born and turned. Not that she talked about her past very often.
Or anything personal for that matter.
He’d waited for her at the entrance to the Executioner’s block; the area in the citadel where the elite lived in individual apartments. Finally, she’d shown up, wearing an autumn colored sweater and a pair of knee-high boots, her hair braided around her head like a crown. When he smiled, she’d looked suspicious, and had been on guard ever since, even after he explained the plan.
“If you don’t want to go, I’ll invite someone else,” he said finally.
“It just seems…” she trailed away but he could guess the rest: childish? Trivial? Stupid?
The imagined insults twisted a sneer over his lips, and he was ready to give her his opinion when footsteps pattered down the corridor. His body tightened when he recognized the familiar cadence.
Anyone but him.
Griselda turned to look as a redheaded vampire came around the corner, hands in his pockets. His hair stood at odd angles, like a punk rocker, and his faded jeans and logo t-shirt were straight from a music video.
He has no class.
The newcomer lit up enthusiastically. “Well hello you two! Having a clandestine meeting?”
“In the corridor?” Greneth snapped impatiently.
“Seems as good a place as any.” He stopped next to Griselda. Shorter than her, he had to tip his head up to wink at her. “If you’re not having a secret meeting with him, you could always have one with me.”
Griselda rolled her eyes and stepped away. “No thank you, Verchiel.”
“Are you sure? I think I’m free.” He made a show of checking his neon wristwatch. “Yep. Nothing going on.”
“I’m sorry.” She took another step away. “I’m going with Greneth. If you’ll excuse me, I need to get my wallet.”
She hurriedly unlocked the door to the Executioners’ private hallway and disappeared inside.
Verchiel gave a melodramatic sigh. “Looks like you won this round, buddy.” He winked, and added in an almost whisper, “You’re welcome,” before he headed the way Griselda had gone, chuckling as he disappeared.
Greneth glared after him. Did Verchiel expect him to believe that he’d purposely taunted Griselda so she’d accept his invitation? Absurd. It was the kind of thing the redhead did all the time; pretending that he’d been planning some specific outcome from the beginning, as if it was an excuse for his inane behavior.
I’m not falling for it.
Griselda returned a minute later, a purse draped messenger style around her. She hesitated, then with a resolute nod – maybe to herself – she stepped up next to him. “I assume you’re driving?”
“I’d planned to. Unless you’d rather?”
“No. I’d hate to take it away from you,” she said and marched ahead of him towards the elevators.
He rolled his eyes. Maybe this wasn’t as good an idea as he thought.
Griselda sat in passenger seat and eyed the paper pine tree swinging from his rear view mirror. “New Car Scent?”
He tugged his tailored leather jacket to give his arms more room to move. “It’s better than pine.”
She leaned closer and sniffed the air freshner. “It doesn’t smell like a new car.”
“Not really. I think it’s supposed to smell like leather.”
“And does it?”
When he didn’t answer immediately, she leaned close, her lips near his neck. He stiffened as a thousand ideas ran through his mind, none of which involved air freshners or haunted houses. But, she only sniffed and drew back again.
“I suppose not,” he mumbled as he dropped the car into gear. Despite the air freshner, the only scent in his nose was her perfume; not weak and flowery, but spicy like the autumn leaves outside. Somehow it suited her.
He sneaked a sideways glance at her, at the way the sweater hugged the curve of her breasts, and the way little wisps of hair tickle the back of her neck.
He slammed the brakes in time to miss hitting the closed garage door. He muttered something about idiots who closed it, even though he knew it was procedure, and climbed out quickly to open it. When he was back in the driver’s seat, she raised an inquiring eyebrow.
“You’re sure you want to drive?”
“I’m fine,” he snapped and slammed the gas hard enough to squall the tires.
He expected a reprimand, instead she rolled her eyes and dropped back into her seat. “If you say so.”
After several miles of silence, Greneth turned the radio on. Local stations played country music that he skipped over. When she stopped him on a particularly whiny song, he ground his teeth. The warbly lyrics lamented a life of misery but he bit back his comments when he noticed she was singing along to it under her breath.
“I didn’t know you liked this kind of music.”
“I like a little bit of everything,” she said.
He had to stop at a gas station to get directions to the haunted house. The attendant was an acne spotted teen who smelled like marijuana and greasy hair. Like a rabbit, the kid seemed to sense a potential predator. Without meeting Greneth’s eyes, he mumbled a handful of disjointed street names. Greneth rewarded him with a fanged smile, that made the kid jump, and mutter, “Uh, cool teeth, man,” before he scurried to the back room.
Greneth was still chuckling when he dropped back into the driver’s seat.
“You look happy?” Griselda folded up the vanity mirror.
“Is it my imagination, or are modern humans stupider than they used to be?”
“Anyone in particular?”
“Just that attendant. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.” He started the car and backed out of the space.
“Did you at least get directions?”
Greneth stopped from snapping back a sarcastic reply. “Yes.”
“So this haunted house…what is it exactly?”
To be honest, he wasn’t completely sure, but it was a little late to admit that. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, is it a real house that is supposed to be haunted?”
“It can’t really be haunted. There’s no such thing as ghosts, only silly superstitious people.”
It took her a second too long to respond, and he glanced to see her lips pressed tightly together. Finally, she said, “How can you be so sure?”
Shit. How was he supposed to know she was one of them? She seemed more down to earth than that! Though it was amazing sometimes what strange superstitions vampires held on to from their mortal days. He’d given up his own religion long ago, not the he’d ever believed in it whole heartedly anyway, and with it had gone all the ridiculous beliefs. There were no angels, no demons, and no ghosts.
“Because it doesn’t make sense for some mysterious spirit entity to hang around terrorizing people.”
She crossed her arms. “Why doesn’t it? If someone died suddenly, their spirit might not know they’re dead. Or maybe they know it, but are so determined to finish something that they can’t let go of this world.”
“This world. Like there’s another one!” Her expression hardened, and he realized he was getting dangerously close to religious territory – a place he knew better than to go with anyone. Though it seemed logical to him that all vampires were atheists – how could they seriously believe a god existed after everything they’d seen and done? –many weren’t. He didn’t know Griselda’s affiliations, and right now he didn’t want to find out. Better to stick to the ghosts.
“All right. Have you ever seen one?”
“See? I – oh.” It wasn’t the answer he’d anticipated, and he had nothing ready. “Well…um…really?”
“Yes, really.” She rolled her eyes and turned her face to the window.
Looking at the back of her head, Greneth saw his dreams for a good evening slipping away. “And? Are you going to share the story or what?”
“No, I’m not.” She turned back to glare. “You’re only interested so you can disprove it.”
“How could I disprove it? I wasn’t there.”
She scoffed. “That doesn’t stop you non-believers. You’re all the same.”
Silence ticked by while he tried to think of a way to salvage her mood, and their date. “I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you’ve had this fight before?”
“Several times,” she said coldly. “And I’m not interested in having it again.”
He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel and looked for the right words. “But it doesn’t have to be a fight like the other times. I’m genuinely interested in your…experience.”
“I find that hard to believe.”
He stopped at a red light and turned to her with his best serious expression. “I mean it. I really am interested.”
“I doubt it.” Despite the harsh words, her tone and eyes both softened. “I’ve seen several. The first was when I was a little girl in Germany. My grandmother was very sick and we weren’t allowed to visit her or bother her. Then, one night, she came to see me. She sat on the edge of my bed and told me that she had to go away, but that I shouldn’t cry too much. That I should be good and help my father – my mother was already gone by then. Then, she sang a lullaby to me until I fell asleep. The next morning, when I told my father about it, he turned red in the face and said it was impossible. When I insisted, he told me that Oma had died in the night, and punished me for lying.”
Greneth strangled back his disbelief. Rather than a spiritual visit, it was more likely the wishful dream of a sad little girl, but he knew better than to say that. Instead, “That’s…much…nicer than most ghost stories.”
“You mean less scary?” she asked. “I have a few of those, as well.”
“I’d be interested to hear-” he broke off as a large parking lot came into view. Past rows of cars was a strip mall. Some of the stores were brightly lit, their neon signs proclaiming things like sandwiches and tattoos. “Hmmm. This is where the kid said to go.”
He pulled in slowly, and Griselda leaned up in her seat, eyes narrowed. “I think it’s in that building. Look.”
He followed her pointing finger to a sign plastered over a set of glass doors. “Bloody Castle of Terror” was written in the same drippy font as the advertisement had been, but if that was it, it certainly wasn’t a house, haunted or otherwise.
A long line of people, mostly teenagers and those in their early twenties, twisted away from the doors and around the edge of the parking lot. As he parked, Griselda shot him an incredulous look. “Just what is this?”
He shut the car off and sighed. There was no way around it. “I have no idea. It just sounded interesting.”
“Perhaps a little more research next time?” When he didn’t reply, she opened the passenger door. “Oh well. We’re already here. We might as well see what it is.”
He gave a soft sigh of relief and followed her out of the sleek black car.
“I suppose we get in line,” she murmured.
“I suppose.” They took their places behind a pair of girls wearing black cat ears and furry legwarmers. If he was a whisperer they wouldn’t have had to wait with the mortal rabble, they could have gone right in. But demon eye powers were useless when it came to persuasion.
Griselda eyed the girls with annoyance and pulled tighter into herself. “It’s a good thing I fed earlier, or this might be a very different night.”
Greneth wondered if it was really such a good thing. Tearing through a crowd of annoying humans sounded like fun to him, but he kept the thought to himself. “So, about the other ghosts?”
“You’re not still on that? Why?”
Because I can’t think of anything else to talk about that’s safe for humans to overhear. “I told you, I’m interested.”
“Somehow I doubt that. But all right. The scariest one I ever encountered was in Massachusetts. We were there on an assignment-”
Greneth shot a sharp look at their surroundings; a silent warning, but she waved it away impatiently. “They were squatting in an abandoned house. After we’d dealt with them, and were ready to leave, we heard someone walking upstairs. I sent an underling up to check. He came back and said there was no one there – just as the footsteps started again. He went back, and returned again with the same report. When the steps started a third time, I went myself. I expected to find someone we’d missed, of course, but when I got upstairs, there in the hallway was a little girl. She was wearing a torn dress, and had blood splattered over her. Under one arm she had a dirty teddy bear. Though there was something wrong with her eyes, I took her for a victim then, and moved toward her, slowly, trying not to scare her. As I drew closer, I realized what was wrong with her eyes – they were gone. There were only dark holes where they belonged. I drew up short, surprised, and the girl screamed, loud enough to make me cover my eras, and charged right at me. Before I could react, she was gone, as if she’d never been there. I looked everywhere, but there was no sign of her, only a dirty teddy bear in one of the old bedrooms, lying alone in the corner.”
It was like something from a movie, and a bit too Hollywood to believe, though he had no explanation for it. That mortal brains manufactured hallucinations and false memories was accepted, but the immortal brain was usually sharper. He couldn’t come up with something that would make a vampire see things like that.
Unless it was a defect she brought over from mortality.
He knew better than to say that, so instead asked, “What did you do?”
She shrugged. “What was there to do? I took the teddy bear and we left.”
“You took the bear?”
“Why not? I thought perhaps if I had it the girl would come back, and I could find out what had happened to her, but she never has. I suppose she must be attached to the house.”
“And you took her only friend away,” he joked.
Griselda’s forehead creased. “I know. I’ve thought of that; even thought about taking it back, but I’m not sure the house still stands.”
Oh brothers. “You could always check. That would be an interesting vacation.”
“I’d rather spend a vacation being left alone somewhere. Not that we’re likely to get a vacation.”
He couldn’t argue with that. Despite being so-called elite, they got very little in the way of benefits, as the mortals would say.
A loud speaker crackled and a voice boomed over it, “Do we have a group of two? Group of two, come to the front of the line.”
That was their cue. Greneth grabbed Griselda’s hand and dragged her to the doors, the cat ear girls on their heels. Though he expected Griselda to pull away, she didn’t, and they arrived at the front of the line, her hand still in his.
The man at the door – dressed in an oversized top hat and bizarre clown makeup – looked them over. “Group of two?”
One of the teen girls leaned up from behind them. “We were in front of them.”
The guy looked them over, then looked Griselda over. The gleam in his eyes said she was more to his liking. “Sorry, kiddies, they beat you to the door. Better luck next time. You two,” he nodded to Greneth and his date. “That’s five dollars each.”
Greneth reluctantly let go of Griselda’s hand to pull out his wallet. He handed over the cash, and the weird clown grabbed his hand. He started to growl, but the guy stamped something on him and moved to Griselda before he had a chance.
“There you go. Now, watch your step and beware the ghouls.”
He gave a long, theatrical laugh as he ushered them through the doors into a tiled lobby. Makeshift walls consisted of large black drapes, and crimson was splattered across the floor. Blood? No. The smell was wrong. It smelled…he wasn’t sure what it smelled like, but not like blood, anyway.
A group of people stood in little bunches, pointed toward a red painted door and a woman wearing a nurses costume, spotted generously with more fake blood. She did a quick head count and stretched bright red lips into a smile that looked wrong. “Welcome to the Castle of Terror. Please stay on the path, do not wander into any areas marked “Private”, and if you don’t touch the performers, they won’t touch you. Good luck.”
Greneth frowned. Performers? Path? What in the world was this?
He looked to Griselda, but she only stepped ahead of him, following the group of humans through the red door into a narrow hallway.
Greneth sighed and joined her. As he stepped over the threshold, the nurse gave a sinister laugh and slammed the door, barely missing his elbow. He glared back, but let it go. He didn’t want to get left behind.
He caught up to Griselda and moved slowly with the group. The hallway – whose walls were made of more black drapes – narrowed until they could only walk single file. Loud noises filled the air; metal clinking, a ghostly moan, maniacal laughter. He looked over his shoulder more than once, trying to figure out where the sounds were coming from, and what was causing them.
The humans in front seemed just as nervous, if not more so. Maybe they sensed that real killers walked the hall with them, or maybe they knew something he didn’t.
Like what’s going on.
And then the lights went out, plunging the group into darkness. The humans screamed and shuffled to a dead stop, crashing into one another with even more cries. Thanks to his vampire eyes, Greneth could see perfectly fine, but the lack of light was disconcerting. Humans needed it, and this was an amusement meant for them. Wasn’t it? He could sense them, smell them everywhere. Behind him, in front of him, to both sides of him, most unseen, but there, somewhere. So many that he couldn’t figure out where any of them were.
Something roared to life on the right, and Greneth spun to see a man step from between the curtain walls, carrying a chainsaw. With a snarl, Greneth readied to attack, when the lights snapped back on. The chainsaw wielder laughed and lunged at the humans, who screamed and raced away, tripping and stumbling in their terror.
The man laughed heartily and lowered the saw before he spotted them. He lifted it menacingly, then chuckled. “Harder to scare are you? Don’t worry, they’ll get you.”
Before Greneth could respond, he disappeared behind the curtain again, and the chainsaw sputter to a stop.
Griselda rolled her eyes and grabbed his arm. “Come on!”
He let her pull her down the twisting corridor, pausing only to dodge a clown splattered in more fake blood. A chorus of screams up ahead said that there was something more coming, and when they finally caught up to it they found what looked like a dungeon. A cage along one wall was stuffed with gory dummies, and torture devices held fake victims.
Before Greneth could ask what the humans had been screaming about, one of the caged dummies slammed into the bars with a shriek. Greneth jumped back, barely missing a grasping hand.
“Help us!” the prisoner moaned, not dummy, but human.
A second further down banged the bars and hissed, arms shooting out to try to snag them.
Griselda pulled Greneth trough the room and back into a snaking corridor heavy with shadows. Circus music drown out the weird sound effects, and they stumbled into a room hung in striped cloth, like a circus tent. Three clowns, all tattered, dirty, and dotted in more of that fake blood were in the center. Two juggled severed dolls’ heads back and forth, tiny unblinking eyes staring as they sailed through the air. The third, a girl in a tutu, did slow ballet moves, grinning with a mouth full of pointed teeth. Shadows writhed on the walls, and strobe lights flashed.
Suddenly Griselda leapt with a screech, hand to her back as if she’d bene touched. Greneth spun, instinctively ready to kill, and saw a fourth clown, laughing and waving what looked like a rotten banana.
Griselda gave him a hard look, and dragged Greneth out of the circus room, and into more twisty corridor. Colored lights flashed, red, blue, purple, and smoke rolled from the sides, filling the make-shift hallway with fog.
Greneth pulled his date to a stop in the midst of the rolling cloud. “Are you all right?”
She blinked at him, like he was an idiot. “Of course I’m fine. It was just a man in makeup with plastic fruit.”
He gritted his teeth. “I meant are you…upset?”
“Why would I be upset? This is the point of the haunted house, isn’t it? To make people scream?”
As if on cue, the group they’d long ago lost shrieked in the distance.
“It appears so.”
“Then we’re getting the experience we paid for. Now come on, before we’re completely lost.”
He followed her through the fog, and then past a dining table set with cracked dishes. Serving ware was filled with fake internal organs. The centerpiece of the macabre banquet was a silver platter with a still beating heart surrounded with lettuce leaves.
Greneth snickered. “That’s not even remotely close. Look, it’s the wrong color, and three times the size. It wouldn’t even fit in a human’s chest cavity.”
“The lungs are pretty close, though,” she pointed to another tray.
From there, the haunted house led through several other surreal scenes; a mental hospital complete with electroshock therapy and screams, an operating theater presided over by a mad surgeon, a room of hanging limbs, and on and on. Despite the cheesiness of it all, Griselda jumped and squealed, more than once leaping into Greneth’s arms. The first time she pulled away immediately, but each time she stayed just a millisecond longer.
At this rate I might get a hug in a year.
With each room, and each scare, Griselda grew more eager, dragging him from horror to horror, until they reached a set of heavy double doors.
Greneth frowned. “Are we supposed to-”
He didn’t get the sentence finished before she threw the doors open and dragged him into a dark room. Greneth could see through the gloom, to a heavy Victorian bedroom, complete with a curtained four poster bed. There were people, poised and ready, waiting for the right moment to move.
The doors shut behind them with a bang that made Griselda jump. Greneth caught her, and as the lights came up he expected her to pull away. But she stayed, her heart racing and her eyes glowing with excitement.
A soundtrack of moans started, and Greneth saw the advertised vampires at last. A count-like figure sat in a heavy chair, and three scantily clad vampiresses, mimed licking blood from a fake corpse spread out on the bed.
One of the girls turned to them and hissed, flashing oversized fake fangs.
The count smiled – another set of plastic teeth – and asked with a thick accent, “Vould you like to join us?”
Griselda shook her head, as if clearing her thoughts, and grabbed Greneth’s hand. The count’s laughter followed them out of the room and into the corridor. The path twisted away, but Griselda pulled him through a break in the curtains instead.
He glanced at the undecorated area; a bare brick wall and a tangle of extension cords that snaked away. “I don’t think we’re supposed to-”
She knocked him back against the wall, her voice a low purr. “It wasn’t marked private.”
One look into her gleaming eyes silenced his arguments. “You’re right. It’s not.”
She growled low and hungry, then pounced. Her body pressed against his and her fangs sliced through his neck before he’d even registered the tickle of her breath.
He gasped as the world slipped away, replaced by a red tinted world. Eagerly he bit through her sweater and into her shoulder. Her blood filled his mouth, bringing with it the flickering phantoms of her memories. He saw though her eyes for a moment, saw the blurry distorted images of a small house, an old woman – her grandmother? – and an angry man with meaty fists and tired eyes.
He felt her squirm against him and he let it go, moving past it, and deeper into more primitive recesses, where the center of pleasure lay. He heard her gasp as he mentally pressed at her center, like fingers stroking her most sensitive spot.
She ground against him, and reciprocated. The mental caresses were like lightning dancing over his skin; sparking, burning, fading before the pinch of pain could turn from ecstasy to agony.
An image popped in his head, clear and sharp; it was the fake vampiresses from the last room, no longer fake but imagined real, their tongues stroking a writhing body. Blood was smeared over naked abs, and down to muscled thighs. No, it wasn’t those girls, but two others, one with dark bobbed hair and the other with a spill of blonde, and lustful, cornflower blue eyes.
The scene exploded in the shudder of Greneth’s orgasm. Griselda followed a second later and collapsed against him, breathing raggedly. His arms wrapped around her heaving body and he closed his eyes. The last scene hung behind his eyelids; Senya and Griselda, half naked, wrapped around an unknown man, his hot blood painted on their breasts, and dripping down their chins.
Griselda took a deep breath and pulled free of his hold. Without comment, she tucked strands of her fallen hair up, her eyes on her feet, on the wall, and then on the ragged bloody hole in the shoulder of her sweater.
Greneth touched his still bleeding neck, then uncomfortably tugged his tailored coat smooth. “About that…I’m sorry.”
“It doesn’t matter,” she said quickly. “Let’s finish this.”
She darted through the curtains again. He watched the cloth swing back and felt something cold settle in the pit of his stomach. He’d had encounters like this before; quick, hot, intense, and over in an instant, but usually his partner had a smirk, a wink, some sign that they’d enjoyed it.
Something more than a furtive glance as they ran away.
He shook it away and followed. There was no sign of her in the twisting hallway, so he hurried on. A room hanging with skeletons was empty, as was another smoke filled stretch of hallway. Dark curtains had a glowing exit sign over them, and he burst through the tatters to find the other side of the tile lobby, separated from the beginning by those large black curtains.
Griselda was already at the exit. She cast a look back over her shoulder before she shoved her way outside.
A man dressed as a monkey shoved a flyer at Greneth, but he pushed it away with a growl and rushed after her. He pushed through a crowd of laughing teens, to see she’d already made it to the car. For a moment his instincts told him to run to catch up, but then his pride kicked in. He didn’t run for anyone, let alone someone acting as bizarre as she was. She was the one who’d initiated it, so to act like she hadn’t wanted it now…
What do you expect? She believes in ghosts for crying out loud.
He straightened his shoulders and took his time getting to the car. She waited next to hit, her arms crossed, and didn’t meet his eyes even as he unlocked the doors.
The ride home was silent. He snuck glances at her from under his eyelids, but she was turned away, her attention focused out the window. Her stiff body was drawn away from him, her hand occasionally sneaking up to cover the wound on her shoulder, as if trying to manually press it into nonexistence.
When they parked in The Guild’s garage, she was out the door before he had the motor shut off. As she dashed away between the parked cars, he called after her, “Gee, I had fun Greneth! Thanks for taking me! You’re welcome, Zelda!”
He muttered a few choice words under his breath, and kicked the tire of a nearby car for good measure. This wasn’t the way the night was supposed to end. The haunted house wasn’t supposed to be like that. It was…well, he didn’t know what it was supposed to be, but something less exciting than that. Something amusing, that left them laughing all the way home, so that they could walk back to the Executioners’ block lost in conversation – a conversation they’d have wanted to continue into one of their apartments. And afterwards, she wouldn’t have run away.
Growling low, he dropped down the ladder and then down a corridor and past a pair of nervous guards. When one looked at him twice, he snapped at him, enjoying the way the vampire recoiled.
That’s what I should have done to the humans in the stupid Castle of Terror. I should have shown them what real fear was!
Greneth took the elevator to his floor and stormed to the Executioner block. He let himself inside and was nearly to his door when Verchiel stuck his head out. “How did – That bad?”
Greneth snarled. “It’s none of your business!”
“Wow! So touchy.” Verchiel padded out into the hallway. “What happened?”
With another growl, Greneth jammed the key in the door lock, and shoved it open.
Verchiel winced. “Oh wow. But hey, you got lucky.”
Greneth spun on him, snatching for the front of his shirt, but the redhead evaporated and reappeared a few feet away. “Don’t take it out on me!”
“Get out of my head, before I rip your heart out and show that goddamn haunted house what it’s supposed to look like!”
“Hey, hey! Sorry.” Verchiel held his hands up. “If it makes you feel any better, I don’t think she’s mad at you. I think she’s more likely embarrassed. You might try talking to her.”
“It’s none of your goddamn business!”
Greneth stormed into his apartment and slammed the door. If he had to look at that idiot for one more second, he’d kill him, right there. Why Malick had ever made him an Executioner was beyond him.
Greneth flung his coat over a chair and stomped into the bathroom. He took a shower, but it did little to settle his irritation. As he flopped in bed, he wasn’t sure who he was really irritated at. Himself, or Griselda.
He rolled over and pressed his face into the pillow, as if he could suffocate the memory. He hadn’t thought of her in a long time, at least not when he was awake. He could still see her, etched perfectly in his immortal memory. Long red hair, a sprinkle of freckles, and those strange eyes, one brown and one cornflower blue, like Zelda’s.
In his memory she smiled and turned away, face upturned to the moon. He’s loved the way the light traced over her skin, the shadow it painted between her breasts. He’d loved the way she smelled, the soft way she purred like a contented kitten in his arms, the way she always enjoyed the rain.
The way she loved me. Until the day she didn’t.
He hadn’t noticed the waning of her affection, or else he’d pretended not to. He was only a guard then, but The Guild kept him busy enough that he could ignore it. He’d come home to her, flecked in the blood of another vampire, and taken her before she had a chance to even say hello. When he’d finished, she pulled away, her eyes everywhere but him as she pressed a hand to her bleeding neck. He’d seen it on her face, in her stiff posture, in the way she wouldn’t look at him. All the million moments he’d ignored leapt into crystal clarity, and though he was no mind reader, he saw to the core of it all, to the core of her.
She doesn’t love me anymore.
Even now he could feel the shadow of that crushing moment, feel the unneeded air stolen from his lungs, feel the sick ice that froze his insides.
“I’m sorry,” was all she had to say. “I’m sorry.”
So am I.
“You’ve changed,” she told him later, while she packed her dresses. “You enjoy killing too much. We may be vampires, but we don’t have to revel in the blood.”
Of course we do. What else is there?
And that’s what he’d told her. When she tentatively suggested love, he’d laughed. Long and loud, and when tears sprang into her eyes he laughed harder. It was a laugh of fury, not humor, but she wasn’t a mind reader and he didn’t tell her. How could he?
What was I supposed to do? Tell her that she broke my heart like some weeping school girl?
And now there was Griselda, eyes darting away, hand pressed to her bleeding wound as if she was ashamed.
At least she didn’t apologize.
Greneth rose the following evening, dressed, and drank a draught of blood from the refrigerator. He shook the container and admired whatever they did to it to stop the congealing. If only they’d had that years ago.
With no messages waiting, it seemed he had a day off. The door beckoned, with the promise of a thousand entertainments scattered in the citadel’s public areas, but he couldn’t make himself go through it. He didn’t want to see what else might be out there. Verchiel. Or Senya.
He flipped the TV on and tried to feign interest in the shows. Most were too stupid to bother with. He landed at last on a music channel. Videos flashed by with made up men in leather, woman bound in chains, cut up dolls.
It looked too much like the haunted house, and he shut it off and threw the remote across the room. This was ridiculous. He was going to have to leave his room eventually, see her eventually. He might as well act like a man and get it over it.
Despite his resolution, he took extra time dressing and rebrushing his already perfect hair. Out of excuses, he charged out into the empty corridor. He spun both directions, then strode around the square shaped hallway, to Griselda’s door. He raised his hand to knock, then hesitated. He could smell her inside, or thought he could. Was this really a good idea? Going out and bumping into her was one thing, but purposefully hunting her down? That was something else entirely.
Stop being a child!
With that self-rebuke, he pounded on the door. Silence greeted him, and a small flame of relief flashed in him. Maybe she wasn’t there, after all. Maybe-
He heard someone move, heard the soft sound of feet walking the door. As he could smell her, he knew she could smell him, that she knew who her visitor was. Maybe she wouldn’t want to see him either. Maybe she wouldn’t open the door.
As if to prove him wrong, the lock clicked, the knob turned, and the door swung in. She stood in the opening, her blonde hair down around her shoulders, wearing a free-flowing dress of blue that ended at her knees and matched her eyes.
They stared at one another, until she dropped her gaze, nervous hand still playing wth the doorknob. “Look, about last night…I’m sorry.”
So much for not apologizing.
He stepped back and held up a hand. “Forget it.”
She looked up sharply as he turned to go. “Wait. It’s-“ She made a low growl and grabbed his arm. Before he could react she dragged him inside and slammed the door.
She released him and stepped back quickly, wringing her hands. He’d seen her apartment before, even been inside. On those occasions it had been clean to the point of weirdness, but today it was a mess. Scattered magazines, knickknacks laying at odd angles, a broken glass. Had she had some kind of temper tantrum?
She snarled again, more to herself than at him, and finally snapped, “Look, I know I made an idiot out of myself, but I’d rather you not tell anyone.”
He blinked from the mess to her. “What?”
She glared. “Don’t play stupid. I know how men work, how they high-five each other and snicker. How they brag about their conquests.” He hands balled into fists. “I’m not a goddamn conquest!”
Greneth eased away from her anger, sliding along the green painted wall. “I never said you were.”
“Right. That wasn’t what you had in mind when you took me to that ridiculous place? And don’t pretend you didn’t. That’s why you humored my ghost talk, wasn’t it?” She tossed her hair and bored her gaze into him, her eyes like two burning lasers seeking the truth.
“Well…” he licked his lips and tried to decide how much to admit. “I won’t say I hadn’t considered something like that, who wouldn’t if they were out with you? But not like that! And I didn’t plan on telling anyone, or high-fiving anyone, or…or whatever.” When she didn’t immediately try to kill him, he added, “And I didn’t humor your ghost talk just to have sex with you. It – it was interesting.”
“You’re lying.” She stepped closer, eyes narrowed, as if she was focusing those truth seeking lasers into razor sharp points.
“I’m not. Really. Just because I’ve never seen…I mean there was a time we didn’t believe in vampires, huh?” He tried a smile, but it faltered under her glare and he surrendered. “Look, I’m sorry if you think that’s all I was after. Sure, I was hoping it might go that way at the end, but I thought we’d get home first, and I didn’t plan for it to end with you stomping off. Maybe staying awhile, waking up today and…I don’t know, but not running off and acting like I’m some bad guy who took advantage of you.”
“I never said that!”
He pushed away from the wall. “You don’t have to. It’s pretty obvious from the way you’re acting. Forget it. I have other things to do.”
He turned for the door when she grabbed him by the back of his shirt, he spun, readying for an attack, but instead she pressed him back against the wall and covered his mouth with hers. He froze, eyes wide, hands in the air as her tongue dove into his mouth. Coppery tasting, like the blood they drank. At the flavor, he melted around her, pulling her into him, tipping her head back to delve his own tongue past her lips.
She moaned in her throat, and then wrenched free, leaving him blinking in confusion. She stood back, and he waited for her craziness to swing back, for a slap or a shout. Instead she just stared at him, calculating.
“I don’t need a boyfriend.”
He blinked at the statement. “Um…all right.”
“I’ve had boyfriends. They’re a complication.”
He nodded, trying to puzzle out where her lunacy was headed.
“And I’m not going to be the topic of the boys’ club. No bragging around, or making a big deal out of…whatever.”
Was she setting ground rules? It sounded like it, but ground rules for what?
She tapped her foot, hands on her hips as if expecting a reply, so he finally mumbled an agreement.
“Fine.” She turned to the mess and fished her purse from between the couch cushions. “Are you driving or am I?”
He stopped from scratching his head like an idiot. “Driving where?”
She muttered something in German that sounded like an insult. “Back to the haunted house. If you’re taking me out, it might as well be somewhere we know is fun.”
Greneth was still confused, but it didn’t seem worth discussing. He was smart, he could figure it out as they went.
Next week is Griselda’s story. How fun!
And now for guesses!
1.ruby red lips 2. three way 3. bite 4. bauble 5. want a kiss? 6. why does this make me think of twilight? 7. Or rocky horror picture show. 8. That at least makes sense. 9. Just a taste 10. this one is hard 11. I bet Jonathan guesses it 12. Maybe not. Maybe his voodoo is not that strong. 13. Mine sure isn’t. 14. I mean – no voodoo here. 15. Um…the taste of money 16. a taste for the finer things 17. not for children under three. 18. small parts they could swallow. 19. that was lame. 20. I really have no idea.
It’s time again for Blogophilia, the fun blog group where Mariten gives participants prompts to use in their weekly blog. This week’s prompts are:
Ecrits Blogophilia Week 31.10 Topic – Vintage Lies
Hard (2 pts) Incorporate a lyric from the rock group Genesis
Easy (1 pt) Include a scent
Jonathan has been pretty busy lately, and is apparently out of rubber chickens (he did tag me on facebook with a shop in New Orleans that I believe sells new ones. I assume he’s hinting for a Christmas gift.) so he didn’t get to use his magic voodoo last week. Without it, I was able to swoop ahead of him and snatch the jacket! Bahahaha!
And now on to the story. This segment is kinda long. I was going to end it earlier, but Martien and Commander K wanted a fight scene, so I had to go all the way to the end.
WARNING: If you have not read Shades of Gray there are HUGE spoilers here!
Franklin pushed away the past and met the others near the house. Senya, phone pressed to her ear, motioned them into the vehicles.
She hung up and swung into the passenger seat. “The Execution Council is en route.” She looked over her shoulder. “We’ll park just down from the den and arrive on foot to prevent a surprise attack from them. The drive will be significant – more than an hour.”
Greneth elbowed Zuri for more space. “Why didn’t we stay closer?”
Senya scoffed. “Because we have no hosts that live nearby. Oren’s coven has been in the same place since before the Civil War, and his territory is well known. There have been incidents with those who get too close.”
She tossed a folder back. When Greneth only glanced at it, Franklin snatched it. He scanned the contents; amended lists of known coven members and various reports from over the years. The oldest were handwritten, then done with a typewriter, and finally neatly printed from a digital source. Just as Senya said, Oren’s coven claimed a large territory and defended it fiercely. Almost as if they had something to hide.
No wonder there are rumors.
Still, there were no records of them being random aggressors, or participating in anything like a kidnapping. Though Oren and Claudius had come in contact with one another several times in the past. From what he could see, Claudius had once lived nearby. Still, there were not hostilities until a dot matrix printed report said that Claudius had filed a complaint. Oren’s sister and one of Claudius’ coven fought over a man, and the later was killed. The complaint was full of flowery arguments, vintage lies that told a story a handwritten note denied. An Executioner – Verchiel by the handwriting – had deemed the fight legal, commented that Claudius was known to over exaggerate, and added that no legal action would taken by The Guild. Was that what the root of this was?
Franklin closed the folder and handed it back. If such a small death warranted a war, what did the massacre of your whole family warrant? Should he have killed Kelly?
Not that I didn’t think about it a million times.
With nothing else to do, Franklin turned to thoughts of the upcoming confrontation. He pulled his bag into his lap and dug out a set of daggers and something that looked like a machete in a leather sheath. He tugged it out, double checking that the three square cut notches were clean. They were what gave it the ability to grab a vampire’s heart and rip it out a single move that earned it the title, “heart breaker”.
He jammed it back in the sheath. We’re going to break some hearts tonight, sweetheart.
It was almost ten when the vehicles pulled over and they climbed out along the side of the road. Franklin’s instincts said to call Migina a final time, but dismissed it. He’d talk to her when it was over with. She’d only make him promise again that he’d come back alive – a promise he’d already made twice.
The rest of the guards were already waiting, nervous eyes darting to the quiet fields around them, hands curled around various weapons, but there was no sign of the Execution Council.
Senya checked the time impatiently and clicked her phone. A quick conversation later, she snarled and motioned towards lights in the distance. “They’ll meet us there. We’re to refrain from killing anyone until they arrive.”
Bren gaped. “Are you serious? They want us to…what? Take Claudius’ mate back without killing anyone? Has Malick gone insane? The Hand of Death is rumored to be there, and the Tormenter. Does he think they’ll hand her over without a fight? Does he think Oren and his coven will-”
Senya scoffed. “It’s because The Hand of Death will be there. Malick can’t risk us hurting his precious son.”
Greneth frowned. “You’re sure it’s because of Jorick?”
“Their exact words were, ‘Malick has a list of those who aren’t to be killed. The Execution Council will share it with you.’ Whose names do you think will be on it other than Jorick and Kateesha’s?”
“What about Jorick’s fledgling?” Bren asked. “Will he also be exempt?”
“I imagine so, as well as the rest of his bloodline. It’s disgusting.” Senya shook her head. “But no matter. We have a job to do. Let’s do it.”
With a murmur of agreement they headed in the direction of Oren’s den. As a large southern mansion slowly came into view, Franklin turned the orders over. It was disgusting the way the master had favorites, the way the law was enforced when it suited Malick and dismissed when it didn’t. But Malick was ancient – more than two thousand years if the stories were believed – and his age alone gave him the power to rule The Guild.
Senya stopped them at the edge of the property and glanced to Greneth. “I don’t suppose your demon eye ability can see anything useful?”
Greneth drew up. “Of course it does.” He closed his eyes, but as the seconds passed a valley formed between his eyes. “I see a fight. Fire.”
“As if we didn’t know that already,” Senya said with annoyance. “Never mind. If you happen to stumble on a vision of us finding the prisoner so we can cut this short, I’d appreciate it.” She turned to the group and motioned to half of the guards. “Go left with Zuri. You,” she looked to the others. “Go right with Greneth. Use the signal flares if you’re engaged.”
Her favorites – still not in regulation uniform- moved to join, but she stopped them. “With me.” She looked back to Bren and Franklin. “Come.”
Bren gave a mock salute and grinned, nudging Franklin. “She knows who the better men are.”
Senya shot him a look that said to shut up, then headed toward the house. Lights blazed in the windows, and the scent of immortal life hung heavy, mixed with the smell of humans. No doubt the coven had mortal slaves.
An autumn wind swirled past, carrying their own scent to the mansion’s occupants. Lights blinked out in some of the windows, then stopped abruptly.
They know we’re here.
Franklin drew the heartbreaker from its sheath, holding it at the ready as they crept over a curved drive and leaf littered lawn. He tried to peer through the windows, to guess what the flitting shadows inside were doing. Readying to fight? Hiding their prisoner? Burying their secret?
They’d nearly reached the porch when the front door swung open. A tall human stared out at them, eyes wide and hands shaking. Senya stormed toward him, flashing the medallion around her neck. “Who are you, human? Where is your master?”
“Ch-Christian,” the man mumbled. Beads of sweat dotted his forehead. “My master isn’t home.”
Senya grabbed him and in a smooth motion swung him to his knees, his back pressed against her legs, and her dagger pressed to his throat. “Do not lie to me, human. Where is your master? And where is his prisoner?”
“What prisoner?” Christian croaked.
Noise came from the right, followed by the flash of a flare. A second flash came from the left.
“So they’re ready for us?” Senya demanded, pulling the human’s head back by his hair. “Where is the prisoner?”
Franklin could taste the man’s fear, smell the terrified blood that pounded through his veins, laced with whisky. “What prisoner?”
Another flare went off, and another. With a snarl, Senya drew back the knife and slammed it through the human’s chest. When she ripped it free a spray of crimson was followed by a horrified scream; the scream of death.
Senya kicked the bleeding body away and pushed inside. A foyer led into a portrait lined hallway. A redheaded vampiress dashed through a door, wearing heals and a slinky dress. Sultry eyes flashed fear and then hardened with anger.
“Who are you and by what right-”
Senya brandished her bloody dagger and closed the distance between them. “By right of The Guild. Identify yourself.”
“I don’t have to tell you anything!” the redhead dropped into a fighting stance, her long nailed hands like readied claws.
“This is going to be tedious.” Senya lunged in a move similar to what she’d used on the human. Stronger and faster, the redheaded vampiress twisted free. She grabbed a nearby side table and swung it like a weapon.
“You are not welcome here!”
“We need no welcome.” Bren bounded past Senya. He ducked as she swung the piece of furniture, to hit her across the knees as he swung past her. Her legs buckled and she landed hard on the floor. The table flew from her grasp and smashed on the floor, sending bits flying.
Senya stepped over the mess as Bren held down the struggling redhead. “Bind her, and establish a base outside, well clear of the house.”
He shot her a questioning look, but she only turned to her guards and pointed to one with a bulky bag. “Set the explosives. If we have to do this the hard way, it is going to be spectacularly hard.”
He saluted and moved away, while the redheaded prisoner writhed and shrieked. “You’d better leave before Jorick gets down here!”
Though the name filled Franklin with a secret dread, Senya smiled. “I hope he hurries. I’d like to speak to him.”
“He’ll rip your heart out!” Their prisoner shouted.
“I rather doubt that,” Bren said, applying more pressure on her struggling body. His prisoner kicked shapely legs, and threw her curly tresses from her face. The fire in her eyes made Franklin think of Migina for a moment; furious and hungry for blood.
Senya’s voice pulled him back.
“Franklin! With me!”
He gave a mock salute and hurried to follow her deeper into the house. He could hear fighting outside, and then the crash of a window. Was someone jumping in or out?
Either way, they won’t escape us.
A vampiress met them in a room with a piano. Tendrils of black hair had fallen from her updo, and gray eyes flashed fury. “Who are you?”
Senya flicked the medallion around her neck. “You know who we are. Identify yourself.”
The black haired beauty raised her chin a notch. “I am Jesslynn, master of this coven.”
Franklin spoke before he could stop himself, “Master? I understood that was Oren.”
Jesslynn flashed him a cold look. “Oren is my husband. You have not been invited inside. Leave now.”
“That isn’t the way this works,” Senya said. “Where is your prisoner?”
Jesslynn met her eyes, unyielding. “I have no prisoner.”
“Of course you don’t.” She motioned to two of her remaining guards. “Take her to Bren. When enough have joined to guard her, return to me. It looks like we’ll need to play hide and seek ourselves.”
Jesslynn snarled as the guards closed in. Though Franklin glanced back to see her knock one away, he had to hurry to keep up with Senya’s deliberate stride. She moved through rooms, kicking aside furniture large enough to conceal vampires. In a sitting room, Greneth and two guards joined them.
“We found a nest of unmarked humans,” the Executioner announced.
Senya frowned. “You’re sure they’re e unmarked?”
He snickered. “We checked a couple of the women thoroughly. None of them know anything about a prisoner, of course.”
“Of course.” Senya tapped her fingers. “Tell Bren to oversee a bonfire. We can’t kill the vampires, but unmarked humans are fair game. Perhaps if we burn a few, the others will become more compliant.”
Greneth snapped his fingers and the guards with him saluted and quickly hurried outside.
“We took a few vampires as well.” Greneth fell into step with Senya and Franklin. “Zuri’s done better in that department. I imagine being a titan makes it easier.”
Franklin thought he detected a hint of jealousy in the demon eye’s voice.
“Your own ability should be useful enough,” Senya barked. “That is…”
“Not yet,” Greneth said petulantly.
Senya hefted her bloody blade. “I suppose it’s just as well, now that I’ve decided to enjoy this. Come. We’re still missing our Hand of Death.”
They circled back to the hallway, where they met Zuri. “We’ve rounded up most of the coven.”
“And?” Senya asked.
Zuri shifted his weight. “We found something strange upstairs. A nursery. And children’s toys.”
“Children of the servants?” Senya looked to Greneth. “Did you find a baby or children with the humans?”
As he shook his head, Franklin looked to Zuri, but the big vampire only shrugged.
“Never mind. We’re not looking for children. Have you found Oren or Jorick?” Senya asked.
A voice boomed from down the hall. “You have now.”
Franklin’s eyes swung to the sound. A tall broad shouldered vampire stormed toward them, long black hair fanned out behind like a war cape. An aura of fury and age emanated from him, weaker than Malick’s but no less similar. Though it had been more than a century since Franklin had seen him, he knew who it was.
“About time,” Senya drawled, hand on her hip. “Where’s your fledgling?”
A vampire stormed through a nearby doorway, hands fists and fangs bared in a snarl. Golden blonde hair, the color of a lion’s mane, fell to his shoulders. The fury in his eyes told his name before he spoke.
“I’m here! What business do you have with us!”
The vampires closed like two angry tigers. Franklin hefted the heartbreaker, threateningly. Greneth brandished his blades and Zuri his fists. Senya dropped into a defensive stance, and her eyes bounced back and forth between the two . “You know why we’re here. I offered to do this the easy way, but your wife wasn’t interested.”
At those words, Oren’s face wadded in fury and he charged. Senya dodged out of the way, leaving him to crash into Greneth. They fell to the floor, but Oren ripped free before the Executioner could do anything.
Jorick lunged and sent Senya flying into the nearest wall. Migina’s words ran through Franklin’s mind, “Don’t engage them. There will be plenty of smaller fish.”
So much for that.
Senya jerked to her feet, wiping blood from her eyes. “I’ve found them!” she bellowed. “To me!”
“You would need reinforcements,” Jorick sneered.
“I don’t know that I need them, but I see no point in wasting my assets,” she replied. “Don’t forget boys, we’re not to kill them.”
Franklin looked at his weapon and then the vampires. If he couldn’t kill them what was he supposed to do with it? Could he chop off limbs, or would that lad him in punishment for a lifetime?
On his feet, Greneth went for Oren. Franklin weighed his options, as he sheathed the heartbreaker. He couldn’t kill them, couldn’t maim them. With only his hands as a weapon, Jorick’s fledgling was the safer option. It wasn’t that he was a coward, but…
But I promised.
Oren pounced towards the blonde Executioner, and Franklin took the chance to attack from behind. He slammed Oren across the kidneys, and then in the back of the head. With a roar, his victim swung back to fight him. Greneth used the distraction to trip him.
Franklin jumped to restrain him when someone grabbed him from behind and flung him into the staircase railing. Spindles snapped and he banged his forehead on one of the steps. He pulled free, shaking splinters from his hair. His hand went to his weapon, and again he reminded himself that he couldn’t kill them.
I hate this favoritism.
With a snarl of his own, Franklin grabbed the nearest broken spindle. He charged Jorick, swinging the make shift weapon as a bat. His opponent’s growl sent a shiver through his fury, but he ignored it and swung.
It took him a moment to realize his enemy was no longer there. He skidded to a surprised stop, and looked down to see Zuri holding Jorick down. A titan, Zuri was stronger than even an old vampire who had Malick’s blood.
Oren sprang at them, but Greneth tackled him to the ground in a snarling heap as the other guards charged through the door, some bearing flaming torches.
“You will pay for this!” Jorick seethed through clenched teeth.
Senya, her hair mussed from battle, wiped a smear of blood from her chin. “I doubt that.” A cruel smile flickered over her lips. “I imagine Oren would like to join his wife. Take him outside to the bonfire.”
The amber haired vampire roared, and Senya laughed.
“If she has been harmed-”
“Then you’ll share her fate,” Senya tossed back. “You! Which one of you is a titan?”
A guard with a torch stepped forward. Senya wrenched the flaming wood from his hand. “Help Zuri with our legendary Hand of Death.”
The guard saluted, and another said, “The Execution Council is here.”
“Good. Perhaps we can get the go ahead to deal with this the right way.”
As three guards took possession of Oren, Greneth leapt up, his eyes alight. “The basement! There’s a secret door!”
Oren roared again, and Greneth gave a smug smile. “That reaction gave it away.”
“Gave what away?” Jorick demanded from under Zuri’s straining bulk.
“Where Claudius’ mate is hidden.” Senya snapped her fingers. “Franklin, Greneth, take guards and check. I’ll speak with the council.” She looked at the torch in her hand and thrust it at Franklin. “Burn down whatever you need to. No one said we couldn’t destroy the den for our trouble.”
Franklin took the flaming wood, then followed Greneth and three of Senya’s mismatched guards. They wound down a set of stairs to a stone basement. A row of coffins gave them an approximate count of the coven members – but two small coffins seemed out of place, one even littler than the other. What could need a box that tiny? A cat or small dog?
Or a baby.
Franklin sucked in a breath at the thought. That Oren’s coven had a secret…but such a secret? An immortal child – or children? Not only was it against The Laws, but it was the ultimate act of cruelty, to trap someone in a child state forever, leaving them with an immature body even as their mind tried to develop. There was a good reason it was illegal, and to do it to a baby…
They stopped next to the boxes. Franklin thought Greneth might have drawn the same conclusion he had, but instead he pointed to the back wall. “It’s behind there. I saw us opening it.”
“How?” Franklin asked.
“I don’t know. I just saw it swinging open. It can’t be that hard.” He forged ahead, and Franklin followed, the torch raised. Firelight danced off the stones as Greneth poked and prodded them. Finally, he grabbed Franklin’s heartbreaker.
“What do you-”
Greneth scraped the blade along the base of the wall, revealing a crack where it met the floor. Franklin shoved the torch at one of Senya’s guards, then jerked the weapon back. He dropped to his knees, and pressed his face near the crack. The scent of human and vampire seeped out. Two…maybe three immortals. But Franklin was starting to doubt it was Claudius’ mate inside.
He stood and motioned the guards. Two of them fell to scraping with their own weapons, while Greneth smacked the stones. At last a soft grinding noise came, and Greneth leapt aside as a narrow door sprang open.
Inside a small dark space was a pile of vampires. Greneth jerked a blonde female from the top of the heap. She hisses and fought, and he flung her at the guards. Franklin didn’t watch them try to subdue her; his attention was stolen by the remaining occupants.
A human woman sat on the floor. In her lap was an immortal child, dark large eyes full of fear, and half beneath him, clutched in the woman’s arms, was an infant.
An immortal infant.
Greneth pulled the boy out of the room, and Franklin hurried to grab the human. She fought him with one arm, but encumbered with the infant her resistance was worthless.
He let her g and she fell back a step, blue eyes darting around the basement. Greneth looked over he, and the thing she held. “Well, well, what is this? Another human slave left as a final defense? Some good you’ll be!”
With a grin he grabbed a handful of her hair and pulled her head back, exposing her throat. Her knee shot out and caught him in the stomach. It was surprise more than pain that made him let go. Free, she grabbed the small boy and raced for the stairs.
Franklin moved to follow, but Greneth held up a hand and nodded to the approaching footsteps. Senya’s feet came into view, followed by the rest of her.
“I can’t wait for her to see this,” Greneth murmured.
To Senya’s credit, if she was surprised about the children, she hid it well. “I don’t think so.”
She reached for the baby, but the human twisted away.
Franklin saw Senya’s amusement fade to impatience. “It won’t do you any good, human.” She knocked the woman to the floor, barely missing one of the coffins with her head. Franklin moved closer. He could feel the human’s terror, hear her heart pounding, and he knew Senya could too.
The woman’s horror seemed to soothe Senya’s anger, and she snapped her jaws playfully at her victim.
“Let me go!” The prostrate human shouted. “Get off of me!”
Senya smirked and swept to her feet, jerking the baby from her arms. She held it out, and ran her eyes over it. Franklin watched it wave tiny hands and feet, its thin hair tousled curls that would never turn grow thicker.
With a look of disgust, Senya dumped the baby on him. He stared at the pale, squirming things eyes and shuddered. They seemed to see straight through him, into his head, into his soul, but instead of acknowledging the revelations, the babe’s expression was blank, empty.
“Take them to the council to be discussed,” Senya ordered.
“No! Leave them alone!” the human cried. With a roll of her eyes, Senya kicked her in the stomach hard enough to shut her up. “This one is mine.”
Franklin started up the stairs, the baby in his arms. Behind him he could hear the little boy shout, “No! She belongs to Jorick! He’s marked her neck! You can’t hurt her!”
Franklin flinched in surprise, and looked back to see Senya crouch down to check.
“Well, well. The boy tells the truth. It seems Jorick’s got himself a pet.” She dropped her head. “Take her upstairs and see what is to be done with her.”
The Hand of Death with a human pet? That went against the legends. But then, so did his involvement in this. Franklin wished silently that it made sense. Then he wouldn’t feel so uneasy.
Outside, Bren and the guards had built a large bonfire. Around it were gathered the rest of the coven, most retrained or unconscious, and the remaining guards. Hs eyes found Jorick first, the Hand of death, held back by the two titans, both straining against his efforts. Jesslynn was also restrained, her arms behind her back. Her eyes snapped like the flames of the bonfire, but some of the heat turned into despair when she saw his burden.
As Greneth said, the reaction gave it away.
She’s the mother.
He kept the thought to himself, and looked to the redhead who lay on the ground, her hands tied. He wondered if she was the sister that had caused the trouble to begin with. If he had to choose a woman from the lineup, she’d be the one he’d pick.
Oren fought against his guards, one of the regulars, and the last of Senya’s favorites. The bag he’d carried earlier was gone, and Franklin wondered about the explosives Senya had mentioned.
“Come to join the fun, Senya?” the guard called.
“I wouldn’t miss my favorite part of this.” Louder, she announced, “I’ve brought the last of them.”
The newest prisoners were dropped to the ground. The blonde they’d pulled from the secret room first wrestled and fought like a hellcat as her captors bent and tied her hands. She snarled and snapped, kicking and writhing. The fury in her eyes wasn’t normal, and it took Franklin a moment to figure out what was wrong with it.
There’s no sanity there, he realized. Most anger was tinted with cunning with machinations, but hers was like an animal’s, just raw instinct.
This coven is insane.
The boy crawled to her, and Franklin looked down at his own burden, at the soulless, terrifying eyes. With a shudder, he dumped it on Bren.
“What in the hell is this?”
Franklin didn’t bother to answer, because he had no explanation.
The infant broke its eerie silence to scream, a long, soul curdling wail that drew the agonized attention of its mother. Franklin stepped away quickly. He’d rather guard the hellcat than that thing.
“Is anyone else hiding inside?” Senya shouted.
Franklin cringed and looked to Bren. Had they found Claudius’ mate yet?
As if he sensed the question, Bren shook his head, his nose wrinkled in disgust at the screaming thing in his hands.
“Let them go!” Jesslynn cried.
“That didn’t answer the question,” Bren called over the wails. “I guess we’ll have to take precautions against any surprises.”
One of the guards headed to the house, and Franklin realized what was coming a second before the explosion ripped through the night, sending a shower of bricks and embers.
Franklin swiped burning ash from his coat and looked to Bren. “But Arowenia?”
“She’s not here,” Bren muttered. “They’re getting ready to interrogate the humans about it.”
Franklin followed Bren’s gaze to see guards dragging a human towards the bonfire. A too big maid’s uniform, weirdly comical considering the situation, flapped around her body as she screamed.
Jorick’s human tried to stand, and with a smile Bren kicked her to the ground. “You’ll get yours in a minute. Do you rush to meet death, servant of abominations?”
Senya stopped before them, and looked down her nose at the fallen human. “She is Jorick’s toy, Bren, not one of the others.”
“Jorick’s?” Bren asked. “How interesting. I had no idea! I thought she was the nanny.”
He broke into laughter that was drown out by the burning human’s screams. Though over dramatic, Franklin understood the display. It wasn’t just to scare the human slaves, but also the vampires. Of all the forces in nature, it was only fire that could kill them. They could heal from everything, except having their hearts torn out and being turned to ash, because once you were ash, there was nothing to come back from.
Bren stepped closer to Senya, and Franklin had to strain to hear over the screams. “What did the council say?”
Senya’s good mood slipped. “We can’t kill Jorick, or any of his blood, or any of Oren’s coven, except in self-defense, which seems unlikely at this point.”
Bren looked down at the crying baby. “What about this? And its maker? The penalty is death.”
“I’m going to ask them, now.”
Bren nodded and Senya slipped away, toward two figures who stood in the shadows. Dressed in long hooded cloaks, they looked the part of mystic councilmen.
If only they were more than Malick’s mouthpieces.
He watched Senya’s quick conversation, and saw their slow nods as they acquiesced the punishment. Franklin wondered if they’d still be so agreeable if it turned out Oren, or even Jorick, had turned the monsters.
As Senya started back, the Execution Council moved away, no doubt headed back to their car and then on to wherever they were staying. And why not? It wasn’t their job to do any hard work, just to hand out Malick’s orders and then go sleep comfortably.
Franklin’s bitter thoughts fell away as Bren stepped forward, holding the baby up with one hand and pointing to the little boy with the other. “Who will speak for these abominations? Who will mourn their destruction?”
“No!” Jesslynn screamed.
Bren smiled. “She must be the mother.”
Franklin bit back a sarcastic retort, as Bren pulled up his best pompous face. “You know the laws! Whoever created these monsters shall be punished!”
He walked towards her, swinging the child, and Oren roared, “Leave them alone!”
“Tut, tut. You know the laws. This is an abomination and must be destroyed.” Bren raised his arm, to pitch the infant in the fire, but Jesslynn broke free. She snatched the child from his grasp and pressed it against her breasts.
“No! You can’t! He’s my child! You can’t!”
Franklin shuddered. Better to destroy him than to leave him like that.
But Bren wasn’t horrified, only amused. “You should have thought about that.” He ripped the baby from her by an arm and swung it into the nearest tree. The tiny skull shattered in a spray of blood and brains that rained on everyone within range.
Jesslynn fell to the ground, screaming. “No!”
Bren tossed the remains into the fire. “Bring me the other one!”
Franklin hesitated. Did he mean him, or one of the guards? He felt a wave of burning fury and looked to Oren. The vampire looked more like a beast than a man, struggling with his captors and roaring In wordless fury. Whoever handed that little boy to Bren might as well be the one to kill him, and the look in Oren’s eyes said whoever did that had earned a death sentence.
I did promise Migina.
Franklin stepped back and let one of the guards drag the small child away from the hellcat. As he was pulled to his feet, the mad vampiress snapped her bond. Hands free, she lunged at the guard, fangs tearing through his throat as they fell to the ground.
Franklin jumped towards them in surprise as a spray of blood soaked her. She blinked the crimson form her eyes and clawed at her victim’s chest. Tearing through his uniform and into his skin. With a snap she broke through his ribcage and ripped out his heart.
Franklin was already reaching for her when she abandoned her dead victim and leapt at him. Stronger than her slight frame appeared, she pinned him to the ground, Blood dripped from her face and hair into Franklin’s eyes. He tried to blink it away, and shoved blindly at her.
One of the guards grabbed her arms. Before Franklin could do more than wipe his eyes, she’d flung the guard away and was back, claw-like hand ripping through his lucky red leather.
He grabbed for the heartbreaker at his side, but it was pinned by her leg. With a snarl, he started to roll over – but the crunch came. It echoed through him like an earth quake, followed by a burst of fire in his chest.
He glanced down to see her hand buried to the wrist in his bloody chest. He blinked, uncomprehending, then looked up into her gory face. Her wild eyes stared back, as strange as the baby’s, but not as helpless, not as defenseless. No, she might die too, but she was going to take them all with her into hell.
As she ripped her hand free, he had a momentary glimpse of his heart bulging between her fingers, clotted with crimson. He saw Senya, a hazy dark shape, saw the flash of dagger as it pierced the hellcat’s back, and then it all melted away and he saw only Migina, her jewel-like eyes glistening with worry.
“Then promise you’ll fight only the weaker ones.”
And he had. Except for that moment in the hallway, he’d kept his word.
I tried, Migina. I really tried.
And that’s the end. We’ll start a new story next week! It should be Greneth, but I might skip ahead to Griselda or Krill depending on the prompts.
- blowing smoke 2. telling tales 3. siren’s song 4. siren’s call 5. adrift 6. sea of dreams 7. sea shanty 8. song of the sea 9. wind in their sales 10. the four winds 11. drifting 12. on stranger tides 13. at world’s end 14. Tell no tales 15. sailing 16. little mermaid 17. Part of your world 18. lure 19. I need some of Jonathan’s voodoo. 20. alone