“She knew things, incredible things.”
“Like she knew what I am! What you are!”
“Maybe she was just familiar with our kind?”
I paused. “Wow. ‘Our kind.’ Never heard it said like that.” I looked at Michael, smiling softly. “I kinda like it.” Michael smiled back at me and reached out for my hand. I smacked it away and stood up from the bed to begin pacing.
“You don’t understand. She told me things. Things that she said are coming, and my instincts are telling me they’re coming for you.” I turned to look at him. “Oh, and I forgot to mention. She wasn’t human herself.”
“Yeah. I’m not positive, but I think she’s a werewolf?”
Michael was shocked. “But they haven’t been seen around these parts of the country for decades. That’s next to impossible!”
I stopped my pacing. “Excuse me?”
“Yeah, no, I heard that part. What I didn’t quite catch was the part where you said that they ‘haven’t been seen for decades’?” I threw my hands up in the air. “What is this? Twilight?”
I resumed pacing. “Have we all gone mad? Where are my Lost Boys at? Will Swamp Thing be joining us anytime soon? Gah!”
Walking back to him, I sat down next to him on the bed. It sank down with the weight of me, and I remembered I needed to workout more often. Fark.
“In all seriousness, I’m starting to feel lost in all of this again. And what’s worse is that I’m dreading this ‘Queen of Swords’ woman that’s supposed to come and wreck my world. I don’t know what I would do if something happened to you, Mike…”
Michael took my hand in his and squeezed it. “Nothing will happen to us. I promise you. We will withstand anything that comes our way, and we’ll do it together.”
He reached out and touched my cheek, turning my face so I had to look at him. “Look at me.” I looked up, and his face was serious. “I swear to you.”
I outstretched my arms and collected him, holding on tight. “I’m not letting you go again. Last time was too much.”
I felt his hands on my back and his breath against my ear. “As long as we love each other, nothing can tear us apart.” He pulled back and kissed me passionately, and I returned his kiss in kind. Our lips were melding together, his tongue dancing with mine. His hands were in my hair and mine were on his muscular back, pulling him closer. A knock at the door interrupted what was surely going to turn into something physical.
Michael broke our kiss and gave me a quick peck on the nose, then he stood up and walked over to the hotel room door while I attempted to smooth my disheveled hair. I heard him greet someone happily, and in walked Kat and Xander. I looked up at them in surprise. It was near 11pm on our first day in New Orleans, and I had assumed they would be turning in (or at least spending some time in bed).
“Hey yourself. What are you and Kat doing up? And in our room, no less?”
“Yeah, sorry about that, but it couldn’t wait.” Xander glanced at Kat, then back at me. “Kat has something she wants to tell you.”
Kat cleared her throat and gestured for me to follow her over to the couch to sit down. I got up and met her over there. Her face had that same perplexed and confused look on it that I remembered from the hoodoo shop. Something was definitely wrong.
“So… Um, geez. How do I say this?” She looked over at Xander who motioned for her to keep going.
“Just say whatever you have to say,” I whispered. I was steeling myself for bad news.
“Right. Gloria…told me that something bad is coming.”
“She told me the same thing! What did she say to you?”
“Only that we could expect a visitor and that we will need to stick together to make it through the fight.”
“That’s similar to what I got! Except she was clear that my entire world would be flipped upside down by some evil woman, possibly carrying a sword.”
“Seriously? That’s insane!”
“Right? I mean, how many women carry swords these days.”
We continued chatting about our experience at the shop when there was another knock at the door. I saw Michael and Xander exchange glances as Kat and I looked towards the door. Michael stepped forward to look through the peephole, his fist clenched. “Yes?”
Startled, I jumped up from the couch and ran over to the door, loudly whispering, “Let her in! Oh my gosh, let her in!”
Michael turned the doorknob and there stood Priestess Belliveau, a.k.a. Gloria. A Creole woman of regal-bearing, her reddish brown curls splayed out from her head and touched her shoulders. Her pale amber eyes sought mine, and she pushed past him to enter the room. She only had to take two steps in her grass green dress and gold sandals to reach me. I was already waiting for her.
“Gloria? What brings you here at such a late hour? And how did you find our hotel room…?”
“You know that answer, cher. I come here to warn you.”
Gloria glanced about the room, her left eyebrow popping up at the sight of Xander. I walked with her over to the couch, and we sat down, with Kat at my back. She first focused her attention on Kat behind me.
“I told you to expect a visitor, no?” Kat nodded. Then Gloria turned to Xander. “That visitor will be for you. You cannot trust him. He will betray you.” Xander’s eyes nearly popped out of his head.
Then she smiled and turned back to me. “I have seen an ally in your future, though.”
“Who? Can you tell me their name? Or what they look like?”
“No, cher. They are shrouded in mystery. I have a feeling about them, though. You will know him when he arrives. You can trust him.”
“So it’s a man?”
Gloria paused, tilting her head, then looked over at Michael. “There are people in town that are looking for you.” She glanced around the room. “All of you.” Her gaze returned to Michael. “You need to be on your guard.” He nodded.
Then Gloria turned back to me, taking my hands. “Take care, cher. If you need me, call me. Here is my number.” She handed me a blank white card with her telephone number written on one side. “I hope my visions for you are wrong, but they usually aren’t.”
She patted my hands and then let go. “I need to be leavin’ now. I’ve worn out my welcome.”
Gloria nodded to Kat, then turned around and walked out of the room, nodding to Xander and Michael as she left. The door shut and made a click as the lock engaged.
I felt my heart pounding in my chest, and I finally took a breath, realizing I had been holding it all this time. I made eye contact with Kat, whose eyes were wide with fear and awe. We sat there staring at each other for what seemed like forever before anyone spoke.
Michael cleared his throat. “I think we’re done with visitors for the evening.”
“I agree. We’ll head back to our room.” Xander came around and held his hand out for Kat to help her up from the couch.
I continued to sit there, flabbergasted at the visit from Gloria. I barely managed to wave goodbye to Kat and Xander as they left. Once they were gone, Michael came over to sit next to me.
“Are you alright?”
“I suppose I am. That was incredibly unnerving.”
“Considering everything that we’ve been through, that we’ve experienced, and that is what unnerves you?”
“Well…yes. I’ve never had someone tell me my future before.”
I rolled my eyes. “Of all the… Okay. I’ll keep that in mind. Now, how are we going to handle this? I don’t like her comments that people are here in the city looking for us.”
“Me either. I can’t help but think this has to do with Ricky’s sire. I know they are still out there, looking for me. For us.”
“The seer said we should be on guard. I don’t need sleep, and you don’t either. I think we should keep an eye on Kat and Xander.”
“That’s a brilliant idea.”
“I’ll take first watch. How about you relieve me in four hours?”
“Great. I’ll go let them know.” Michael leaned forward and gave me a kiss on the cheek.
“Okay. See you back soon.”
He stood up and exited the room, making sure to pull it closed behind him.
I sat in the room, all stillness and quiet, and focused on my breathing. I closed my eyes for a moment, willing myself to calm down. I was afraid but simultaneously angry. It was exhausting having to worry about us, to have to worry about our friends. Part of me wanted to send Kat and Xander back to Bantum, to get them out of the crossfire.
I stood up and went over to the bed. I undressed and threw on an oversized t-shirt. Climbing under the covers, I reached out and turned off the sconce next to the bed, then pulled the blanket up to my chin. There in the dark, I whispered my thoughts to whatever gods were listening, hoping one of them would deign it acceptable to watch over us. Before Michael returned, I fell asleep.
* * *
I was dreaming, I knew it. I had no clothes on, and a woman was stalking me, her predatory gaze burning into mine like a hole in the ground whenever our eyes met. Her movements were quick, then slow, then quick again, and she took her time to catch up to me. I kept running but there was nowhere to go; everywhere was black and empty.
Suddenly she was in my face, her breath on my skin, and it reeked of stale blood and wine. I flung my head to the side, and I could see her pale green eyes widen with delight. She leaned into my neck and sniffed. Then I felt her lick my skin and heard her purr. She was salivating.
I knew I needed to get out of there, but where could I go? Other than the glow in her eyes, the only thing I could see was her. Her warm brown hair slid over her ears and into my face.
Something about it was familiar…
Without warning, she was biting down, tearing into my neck with savage glee. I could hear my blood gurgling in her throat as she chuckled. My awareness was dimming as my life’s blood flowed out of me into her. She jerked her head roughly to the side, and I felt my neck break.
Before I knew what was happening, I was falling. I hit the black, empty floor and was still, unmoving as she towered over me. She threw her head back and laughed, her face decorated with my blood. Then she looked down at me and smiled a most sinister smile.
“You’re mine now, girl. Mine…”
Her eyes transformed into that of a bird, and she flung out her arms. They were wings…
* * *
“Wake up, Celie.”
“Mmm, Michael? Wha…?”
“I need you to wake up, now.” The urgency in Michael’s voice was like an alarm blaring in my head. I jerked awake and flung the covers back. Sitting upright, I narrowly missed banging my head into his.
“What is it? Is it Kat? Is it Xander? Are you hurt?”
“No, none of those things.”
I froze. “Who’s here?”
“Them. The people she warned us about. Vampires.”
“Are you serious right now? Holy fuck. Let me outta this bed.” He backed up, and I hopped out of bed, shoving my jeans back on and throwing on a normally-sized black t-shirt that was emblazoned with the AC/DC logo on it. My boots were crammed on and zipped up. I was ready.
“Where are they?”
Michael had walked over to the french doors and was peering around the pale gray curtains. “I counted five of them entering the hotel just a minute ago.” He turned his gaze to meet mine. “We need to get Kat and Xander out of here.”
I strode to the door and yanked it open. Looking to the right, there was nothing, so I stepped out into the hallway and jogged down to their room. Knocking heavily, I kept watching my surroundings waiting for them to open the door. Nothing to my left, good. Then I saw it.
To my right, at the far end of the hallway, was a vampire.
This was a large guy, built like a tank and with a heavy muscular frame, and he came bearing a handgun in each of his hands. His black hair was slicked back, and even from this distance, I could see his piercing blue eyes deep set in his alabaster face. He took one look at me and began barreling forward.
“Run!” I shouted for Michael just as Xander opened the door. Shoving him inside, I slammed the door shut and twisted the deadbolt on it. Inside, he was already grabbing his boots while Kat was standing there looking scared and confused.
“We need to get you out of here.”
“But how? The only way out is through them!”
“There’s another way, but you’re not going to like it.”
I quickly strode over to the french doors and flung them open. We were on the second floor, so it wasn’t that much of a drop once you were hanging from the wrought iron balcony frame. I turned around, and Kat looked like she had seen a ghost, her face pale and her jaw hanging open.
Xander didn’t say anything. He simply grabbed Kat by the wrist, hauling her after him as he made his way across the room to the balcony. His military background was kicking in, and he knew exactly what they needed to do. When they reached the balcony, he threw a pack over the side, and I heard it thunk as it hit the pavement below.
By now, loud banging was coming through the walls, and I could hear something slamming against the hotel room door. Morphing my legs into panther ones, I stepped out of my boots and grabbed them before I jumped over the balcony railing. Landing easily on my feet, I transformed my legs back into human ones and quickly put my boots back on. The street was still fairly busy and filled with people, but no one paid any attention. Looking up, I waited for Xander and Kat.
Xander looked over the railing. “Can you catch her?”
“Of course! Help her over!”
“Already on it!”
Kat’s cries were like that of a mewling kitten, but she did it. Xander held onto her wrist as she crawled over to the street side of the balcony railing. She looked down, and her cry echoed off the other buildings and down the rue (street).
“C’mon, Kat! There’s no time! Just let yourself hang down and drop. I’ll catch you!”
“Oh god…” Kat moaned as she hunched down at the edge of the balcony rail. “I don’t know if I can do this…!”
“You can, I promise! I’ve got you, girl. Trust me!”
Kat put one leg over the edge, leaned down into it, and then brought her other leg over, letting loose an “Oh!” as she dangled on Bourbon Street. I was in position, and after a moment, she dropped. I caught her by the waist, and helped her gain her footing. She hugged me, terrified and exhilarated. Up above us, Xander climbed over and dropped down, landing heavy. He stood up, and together, we looked around for Michael.
I heard glass breaking and looked up. A chair came flying out of what had been my hotel room with him. People on the street screamed in surprise, then screamed again as a random vampire was thrown off the balcony. He was thin and beautiful, a throwback to a time gone by, but his classic features were claimed by anger and resentment. He saw me and began to charge at me.
We needed to take this off the main rue.
I ran and led him around a side street, running into the alleyway behind the hotel. Having gained a few seconds, I transformed my head and hands into my panther shape again. When the vampire came around the bend, he skidded to a halt, startled by my appearance.
I growled at him, fierce and menacing. It wasn’t long before he snarled at me and came forward. He swung at me with a knife, narrowly missing my torso. I reached out with my claws and grabbed his fighting arm, then I wrenched it, causing him to drop the knife. Bringing it to my mouth, I bit down, and my numerous teeth severed his hand from his arm.
The vampire howled in pain, shoving me away and cradling his arm to himself. Then he took off like a shot and ran back the way he had come, his frame a blur in the night. I spit the hand out and morphed myself back into my full human appearance. The vampire’s tangy, rich blood still lingered in my mouth, and I spit once more.
Kat and Xander came running into the alley.
“Isn’t he with you?”
“No, he was still up in the room.”
“What? Everything went silent up there. We thought he ported himself to where you were…?”
“Oh my god…”
I took off running back down the alley, desperate to get back to the hotel, leaving Xander and Kat in the dust. Reaching the Hotel de Bordeaux, I burst through the front door and took the stairs up to the second floor. The hallway seemed to stretch on and on, never ending. Some people were standing around the doorway, and I shoved them aside. I stepped into the room and over the debris that lay strewn about: broken lamps, glass, the mattress ripped apart. The single chair was left alone and solitary in the middle of the floor while the sofa was overturned.
Yet no one was there. There were no bodies or any evidence that anyone had been physically injured. The fight that had taken place looked more like a party gone wrong.
Checking under the ripped mattress, I fell to my knees, cutting them on the broken glass and instantly healing. I couldn’t help the tears that came, and I didn’t try to hide them.
They had taken Michael.