I pounded on the heavy wooden door, desperate for someone to answer.
“Please, Gloria! For the love of God, please open the door!”
Xander and Kat watched my back as I pleaded with the closed and locked door of Gloria’s hoodoo shop. Then a light came on overhead, glowing gold in the dark night, and I stepped back as I heard someone turning the locks on the other side of the door. It began to creak open, and there stood the tall, thin Creole man I had seen the day before.
“Hello. We need to speak with Gloria. Er, Priestess Belliveau?”
He looked at us skeptically, but I stared him down. “The matter is urgent.”
The tall man’s eyebrow went up. “Oui.” He stepped aside and let us come into the shop, but then paused. “Un moment. Reste ici, s’il vous plait.” (One moment. Stay here, if you please.) I watched as he headed towards a set of stairs and up into the building’s top floors.
I was near to bursting on the inside, ready to explode. They had taken Michael. I had to get him back, needed to get him back. The anger bubbled up inside of me, and I felt like punching a wall. Everything looked like a target. Who did this? Was it Amelia’s progeny? We had to find out.
“Ugh, where is she?”
“I’m sure she’s coming.”
“She better be.”
Kat reached out and put a hand on my shoulder. “Don’t let your anger ruin your chance to learn something.”
I stopped and looked over at her. “I can’t help it. I’ve never been good at this.”
“Good at what? Getting answers when your fiancé has been kidnapped?”
I cringed. “Yes. That.”
Kat smiled tenderly at me. “Just remember that she is a friend, an ally. We can’t be angry at her. She tried to warn us.”
I struggled to breathe. “You’re right. I know you’re right. I’m just so damn angry! I want answers!”
“Of course you do, cher.”
I looked up to see Gloria standing at the foot of the staircase, a silk, royal blue robe wrapped around her curvy frame. Her curls were wrapped up in a silk scarf colored in greens, blues, and oranges. Even as an older woman, there was something so commanding about her presence. She had the bearing of a queen: statuesque and magnificent.
I felt like I needed to bow.
Gloria turned her head to the side, blushing. “Oh, you flatter me.”
“Now you just stop that.”
“Mes excuses.” (My apologies.)
I regained my composure. “I apologize for barging in at this hour, but we need your help.”
“No apologies necessary.”
Kat stepped forward. “Let’s drop the formalities, shall we? Celie’s fiancé was kidnapped, Gloria, and we need to know who took him.”
“Oh my… So soon? I must be getting a little rusty…”
“What can you tell us?”
Gloria came down off the last step, her bare feet softly hitting the floor, and she walked over to the curtains leading to her back room. “This way.”
We crossed the shop floor and walked through the curtains as she held them open for us. She quickly followed us through, then headed towards her reading room. We followed her inside, and everyone pulled up a seat to her table. Suddenly, she clapped her hands together. All the candles in the room illuminated at once, sparking and flickering to life. I slowly turned my attention from the candles to Gloria, and she smiled a knowing smile.
“Now, you want to know who has him, right cher?”
“Alright then.” Gloria pulled her cards out from underneath the table; I assumed she had a hidden shelf. Shuffling them rigorously, her brow furrowed in intense concentration. After a minute or two, she laid the cards out on the table, facedown and in a row like she had done the previous day.
“Do I need to pull a card like before?” I prepared to reach out and grab a card I had my eye on.
“No.” Gloria looked over at Xander. “You will pull the cards this time.”
“Because we need his influence.” She never broke eye contact with him.
Xander hesitated. Kat put a hand on his arm and whispered something to him, then smiled. Xander shook his head, and Kat whispered to him again.
I grew frustrated “Just take a damn card, Xander. It won’t bite.”
Gloria was kinder. “It is alright, Xander. All you have to do is choose the card that calls to you.”
Xander looked up at Gloria. “I get that. It’s just a lot of pressure to choose the right one.”
Hesitantly, he reached across the table. His hand hovered over a few cards before he selected one. The one he picked lay just a few cards down from the one I had been planning on choosing. He overturned it, and Gloria’s eyebrows went up. Xander looked from her to the card and back again. I already knew this card; it was burned into my brain.
“So… You, too, have found the Queen of Swords in reverse…”
Xander looked at me, then Kat and back. I pointed to myself, and he looked back at Gloria in amazement, any skepticism he had been holding onto disappearing in that moment.
“The person is a woman: shrewd and cunning, cold and cruel. She has designs to punish Michael.” Her eyebrows were back down, but she turned and looked me dead in the eye. “She has a bloodthirsty heart and will stop at nothing.”
Gloria gave a quick glance at Xander. “Draw again.”
Xander did as he was told and selected the very first card in the row. Flipping it over, we all leaned forward and peered across the table at it. Two people stood across from each other, with each person holding an oversized chalice. Gloria tapped the card with the nail of her index finger.
“The Two of Cups. Partnerships. Relationships. This woman has strong ties to someone in Michael’s world. Someone…” She tilted her head. “…who has passed. Hmm…”
Gloria didn’t look up this time. “Please draw the final card, cher.”
Xander extended his hand and hovered over the deck. He was going to select the card that I was initially going to pick. Yes! But then he changed his mind and went to the far left, selecting another one.
What was that damn card?
“The World…reversed. This woman believes Michael is the reason she cannot move on. She is desperate for closure. He… He is the cause of her misère (misery).”
Xander sat back, and Kat exhaled slowly. I stared at that card, then eyeballed the card that I desperately wanted to pull. I wouldn’t apologize for what I was about to do; I wanted to know. Acting impulsively, I reached forward and grabbed it, Gloria unable to react fast enough to stop me. I held the card up, anxious to see what was on it.
It was the Empress, a female monarch with a ripe belly and bare feet, sitting on a throne.
“This. What does this mean?” I flipped it around and slammed the card down on the table.
Gloria gasped, which made me gasp in response. What was coming was definitely not good.
“No! Mon dieu, this cannot be.”
Gloria looked up at me, her expression one of pain and surprise. “This woman, who has kidnapped Michael and wants to punish him… She, whose loss of her partner is blamed on him…” Gloria took a deep breath. “She is his mère (mother).”
All three of us audibly cried out at this revelation.
“That’s not possible! She’s been dead for centuries!”
“The cards do not lie, cher. You were drawn to this card. You know it is the truth.”
Gloria collected the cards and shuffled them. Again and again, she shuffled, ensuring they were adequately disassociated from the previous reading. Taking in a long, deep breath, she laid the cards out, then gestured for me to select one. I reached for one that seemed to stick out from the row directly ahead of me.
“Ah…” breathed Gloria. ”Now it makes sense. Now I see the way of things.”
“Please tell us, Gloria. We’re dying over here.”
“Do you know who sired Michael?”
“The cards tell me that they, too, sired his mother. She is like him now, but her ties to her sire remain strong. Much stronger than they ever were to Michael.”
I put two and two together. “You said ‘partnership, relationship’ earlier. Are you saying that his mother and his sire were… They were lovers?”
“Oh my god.” I looked at Xander and Kat. “This is much worse than we ever thought.”
“You are right to be afraid.” I returned my attention to Gloria. “His mother’s bond to her sire is what drives her.”
“And Michael killed her.”
“Now you understand.” Gloria leaned back in her chair, placing her hands atop the cards. “The cards speak the truth. Always.”
I exchanged glances with Kat and Xander. They looked just like I felt: exhausted, fearful, and shocked. We now knew who had Michael, but we had to figure out where he was before we could attempt any kind of rescue.
“Gloria, this has been profoundly helpful to our fight, but where do we begin? Do you know where she is located?”
“I will try.” Gloria gave me a most grim look, then collected her cards and tucked them away under the tabletop. Rather than a tarot reading, she pulled her crystal ball over in front of her and began to scry, searching and gazing deep into the orb. Her body began to sway in her seat. She mumbled something to herself that I was unable to make out, then gave a short, sharp shout. All three of us jumped in our seats. After a few moments, she slowly raised her eyes from the crystal ball to mine, and her expression was one of cunning intelligence and deviousness. She looked like she had gotten away with murder.
“I have her now.”
“Where indeed! She is in a large house. It is French and surrounded by gardens and trees.”
“She’s in France?”
“No.” Gloria scryed a little more, then gave another short, sharp shout. I chose to grit my teeth to keep from falling out of my chair. “She is in…St. Andrew’s Village.” Gloria looked up again. “Do you know this place?”
“Know it? It’s mere miles from our apartment!” Xander was astounded and jumped up from his chair. “Thank you very much, Priestess, but we need to leave. We have somewhere we need to be.”
“It is Gloria, Xander, and you are most welcome.”
This time Kat spoke up. “If we need your help again, say…during the coming days? Can we call you? Would that be alright?”
Gloria Belliveau, our tarot reader and hoodoo priestess, made the most dramatic of gestures: tilting her head, she put her hands over her belly and bowed. “I am happy to be of service. Just give me a ring, and I’ll do what I can to help.” When she stood up, she looked at me and gave me a wink.
I wanted to hug her but thought it would be inappropriate.
“It’s alright, cher. Come here.”
I jumped at the chance and hurried over to her. She enveloped me in her arms, and I cried. I cried for Michael and for me. I cried for Kat and Xander who were wrapped up again in some wicked plot because of us. I cried for Gloria and her kindness to complete strangers.
“There, there,” she murmured as she patted my back, “everything will turn out alright. You’ll see.” She pulled back, and I looked at her, tears still in my eyes. “Remember you have the power of The Star inside of you. You will see this through.”
She hugged me again, then we parted company. The tall man met us at the curtains and escorted the three of us outside. When the door locked behind us, I let out the biggest sigh I could muster, wanting to release all my pent-up tension and anxiety to make room for courage and determination. I turned to my friends, two people that I cherished most deeply in this unforgiving world.
“Let’s go take this bitch down.”
* * *
Michael woke up with a major headache and a burning sensation along the right side of his face.
He began to reach up to touch it and realized his hands were bound in iron behind him. He was still dressed, fortunately, but his wallet and cell phone were gone. Struggling slightly due to the pain, he forced himself up into a sitting position, then slid his hands underneath himself and tucked his feet and knees through his bonds. Now that his hands were in front of him, he reached up and gingerly touched his face. There was a deep cut that extended from just below his cheekbone to over his eyebrow. His eye was well enough, and he hadn’t lost his sight. Yet, the burning pain had him curious; he should have healed by now.
Michael looked around and realized he was sitting inside a cage. The room was dark, save for slivers of light peeking from around a door ahead and to the left. Only he and the cage were in the room, and there was nothing else in the cage with him. The floor was solid concrete, and the walls were drab. He could hear the soft ‘whump, whump, whump’ of an air conditioning fan coming from somewhere nearby.
He immediately tried to port himself out. Nothing happened. There was no movement, no wind: just nothing. He tried again, willing himself to leave. Still nothing.
Startled, he tried to summon a demon to get himself out. Usually he would receive a whisper in his mind, a hiss of recognition, but there was no response. He leaned over and slammed a hand onto the concrete floor. Beyond the smacking sound of his palm hitting the ground, there was nothing but silence, the echo of which was deafening. He heard no floorboards creaking overhead, no bugs crawling, no blood pumping. The only thing he heard was his own heartbeat and that damned air fan.
Despite being unaware of his location, he tried to contact Celie. Picturing her in his mind, Michael called out to her, sending his thoughts out toward her. Silence was his only response.
He was beginning to grow afraid. No abilities, no communication, no way out. Was he even still a vampire? He checked and his teeth elongated, so there was that at least. But what happened to him to cause his abilities to disappear so suddenly?
Suddenly a thump came from above him. He looked up and widened his eyes to let more light in. The ceiling was made using metal tin copper ceiling tiles featuring filigree scrollwork. It was intricate and a peculiar detail, leading him to believe this was not a warehouse but someone’s home, perhaps their basement or a ground level room… But where? Where was this place?
The thump continued, moving and growing louder, and he realized it was someone taking stairs downward from the floor above. The thumps were heavy footfalls, and they ceased directly in front of the door to the room. Said door began to unlock, and Michael instinctively backed up in the cage. When the door opened, strong and bright light came streaming in. Blinded by it, he held up his hands to block some of it out.
“Ah, you are awake.”
He recognized the large vampire from the hotel. Black hair, blue eyes, an eastern European accent. Michael snarled, but the vampire just watched him, and he looked slightly amused at the display. After a moment, the vampire walked back out of the room. When he came back inside, he was dragging a plastic chair with metal legs, the legs screeching along the concrete floor. He placed the chair across the room and then sat in it. At first he sat upright, but then he leaned forward, arms resting across the top of his thighs.
“You know, I should kill you.”
Michael said nothing.
“It would make her happy.” The vampire sniffed, then leaned back in the chair, his hands in his lap. “Maybe then she would let me have what I want.”
Michael continued to watch the vampire, inwardly startled that he couldn’t ‘sense’ them. As they spoke, he realized that he couldn’t hear their heartbeat or blood pumping. It was like the vampire was a ghost, a mere presence, a figure with no substance.
“By now you are noticing that you cannot hear me. You hear my words, of course, but you cannot hear me.”
Eyebrow up, Michael began paying closer attention.
“We are keeping you locked up until she is ready. Your sposobnosti, your abilities: we shut them off. They do not work while you stay with us.”
But why am I staying with you?
“You are staying with us because she wants you. She wants to kill you, priyatel (friend).”
“So you read minds… Good to know.” Michael immediately shut down his thoughts and focused on a simple brick wall within his mind.
The vampire stood up. “We are taking great care of you, Mikhail. Do not spoil things by trying to leave. You will not be successful.”
With that, the vampire walked to the door, opened it, then closed it behind himself. Michael was left with more questions than he had to begin with. Who was ‘she’? Why were they keeping him alive? How did they shut off his powers? Was it Ricky’s sire? Was this the lost progeny of Amelia? He had to figure a way out of this place, and he had to do it soon before ‘she’ came to see him.