In the dark of the night, Xander, Harrison Roberts, and I crept along the tree line. We each wore all black, with black face paint on to ensure we weren’t easily spotted. As we approached the house, I reached out and tapped Xander whenever I saw a guard walking nearby. He used hand signals to alert Roberts.
There were no searchlights or spotlights outside the Great House. Why would there be? Vampires didn’t need any additional light to see. Their eyesight was already heightened.
In this adventure, Xander and Roberts were the ones at a disadvantage, so I made sure they each had night vision goggles on. Roberts simply thought I was letting them take the lead. Kat stayed behind at the vehicle, waiting for a signal from us to get the car ready. I was more than ready to send that signal to her when the time came.
Approaching the five-car garage, we waited until the guards were rotating through, each heading away from the structure. We each moved forward, hunched low, fast-moving and quiet. I flattened myself against the garage door while Xander and Roberts each took position on either side of me.
A rat crawled by where I stood, and I quickly moved away. I didn’t dislike rats, especially domesticated ones, but now was not the time for me to scream in girlish fright. I nudged it away with my foot, and it ran off towards the house.
I wondered if Cressida knew she had rats in her home.
I picked the lock to the normal-sized door that led into the garage, and the three of us crept inside. There were three SUVs inside, along with two cars and three motorcycles. What wasn’t there were any guards. It was a definite stroke of luck.
Suddenly, the door leading into the house began to open. We ducked and hid. The same vampire that I had ripped the handoff of was there, still looking slim and like a sexy music god from the 1980s. He headed toward one of the two cars, a red Mini Cooper with a British flag on the top, and climbed in. Fortunately we were hidden behind an SUV. He started up the car as the garage door opened, then pulled out and drove away.
One vampire down, multiples to go.
The garage door came back down, and we put our plan into motion. I went into the corner of the garage furthest from the house and found a workbench. Grabbing some rags and sponges from nearby, I put them in a pile on top. From within my knapsack, I retrieved my lighter fluid and sprayed the cloth down and saturated the sponges. Then I pulled out my matches and stepped back. Lighting one, I threw it towards the pile, and it erupted into a blaze of fire and smoke within seconds. I ran back to where the men hid behind the SUV, then we headed towards the house.
We entered quickly, Xander taking the lead and Roberts pulling up the rear. I used my intuition to guide me and tapped Xander’s shoulder when we approached a hallway on the left. We turned and went down.
The part of the house we had entered didn’t match the outside. These were drab and dingy cream-colored walls and super short beige carpeting. There were no decorations, nothing adorning the walls, and each door matched the next. Without knowing where you were headed, it would be easy to get lost in here.
Yells came from outside, and we could hear them faintly through the walls. The guards had discovered the blaze and were rushing to fight it. We hid around a corner as some of them ran past us, heading towards the garage.
Without warning, the door behind us opened, and a guard was leading Michael out into the hallway. My eyes locked with Michael, and, despite his bound hands, he swung an elbow back into the guards face, cutting him down. I ran over and kicked the guard, hopeful that I was knocking them unconscious. I turned and grabbed onto Michael, pelting him with kisses.
“Oh my god, oh my god. I can’t believe we found you!”
“Celie. Oh Celie. I’ve missed you so much.” He returned my love, finding my mouth and eagerly, passionately kissing me. “How did you find me? I couldn’t reach you.”
“The woman in New Orleans helped us. She gave us a rough idea of where you were.” I pulled back. “Why couldn’t I talk to you, Mike? What’ve they done to you?”
“Somehow they put a stop to my extra abilities, leaving me only with the most basic of attributes. I suspect if I can get away from here, I can get them back.” He paused. “I know who did this, who’s done all of this.”
“We know, too.” Startled, Michael stared into my eyes. “You don’t have to say it. It’s monstrous.”
“She wants us both dead. I’m not worried about myself, but you need to get out of here.”
“We need to get out of here.”
From behind me, Harrison Roberts spoke up. “I’ll be taking him from here.”
I turned around and Roberts had knocked out Xander and was pointing a gun at me. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing!” I was massively angry at this display, especially right now.
“I’m taking him back to the Bureau. We have plans for him.”
“What kind of fucking plans could you possibly have?”
“Scientific ones. Experiments.”
“Experiments? What sort of experiments?”
“We’re going to find out how his body works, why he lives forever.”
“You’re crazy.” Michael was seething at this complete stranger. “I can’t do that.”
“That’s not what I’ve heard, Mike.” Roberts’s voice dripped with sarcasm. “I’ve heard you can’t die.”
“Tell that to the cult members we interrogated.”
“You heard me. The Sons and Daughters told us all about you, and now we’re going to take from you what you have hiding in your blood.”
I growled at Roberts, stepping between him and Michael. “You’ll never take him. You’ll have to go through me first.”
“So be it.” He gestured at me with his gun. “Go stand over there.”
“And if I refuse?”
“I’ll shoot you.”
Michael gently pushed me to stand across the hall from him. I looked over at him, pleading with him not to give in. He silently urged me to let him go. I watched him stand up straight and tall, his hands bound in front of him like a prisoner, and I wanted to jump back in front of him, to protect him.
Roberts took a step towards him, and I felt myself getting ready to morph into a panther. I didn’t care if I was caught. Nothing mattered anymore. I couldn’t let him take Michael away from me.
At that moment, I saw a rat crawling down the hallway, and I hesitated. Was that the same rat as before? It looked the same… How did it get inside? Was it… Was it following us?
Then it hit me, and, in an instant, I knew more than I should. I reached over and grabbed Michael, jerking him backwards. Roberts followed my eyes and whirled around as the rat leapt at him. Then more rats, dozens of them, came flooding around the corner, leaping at Roberts and heading towards us.
I shouted for Xander, and he groggily came to. He saw the rats, and they were enough to wake him up completely. He jumped up and ran around Roberts to come over to us.
Roberts was in no shape to go anywhere. Dozens of rats were crawling all over him: his arms, his torso, his head. He made attempts to swat at them, to grab them and rip them off of himself; it was no use. When one of them began gnawing at his eyes, I had to look away. He was screaming and crying out, and there was nothing any of us could do for him.
Not that I minded terribly. He was a horrible human being and needed to go away. I just didn’t think anyone should be gnawed alive.
Xander used a knife to cut through Michael’s bonds, and we fled down the hallway. We were turning corners, this way and that, but before we got very far, she was there. Cressida herself was at the end of the hallway, standing there, waiting for us.
Her feet were shoulder-width apart, her left hand on her hip. Her right hand was up, her fingers plucking at each other as she looked them over. Then she stopped and looked down the hallway at us. Her eyes were perfectly round and surreal, like a bird. Her mouth opened wide, and she let out a shriek that was pure insanity. I’ve never heard anything like it, and doubt I will ever again.
In moments, the rats were coming around the corner behind her and pushing their way towards us. I realized that she controlled them; that had to be one of her abilities as a vampire. I was simultaneously amazed and terrified.
We attempted to retreat but in our way was that large, black-haired vampire again, the one with the bright blue eyes. From this close, I could see the angles of his face and his previously broken nose. He snarled at us, crouching low as if ready to strike.
Michael turned to me. “You need to go. Get out of here. I’ll stay and hold them off.”
“No! We fight together.”
“We can’t win this. Not today.” He reached out and grabbed the back of my head, pulling me in for a deep kiss. “I love how stubborn you are.”
He touched our foreheads together. “Please go, Celie. I love you.”
Then Michael shoved me away and ran forward, lunging at the black-haired vampire and mowing him down. I stood there, motionless as my love sacrificed himself to save us.
“Get her out of here, Xander!”
At Michael’s words, Xander yanked me forward. Together, we ran past the two of them, locked in a brawl that had fists flying furiously.
Rats were still on our heels as we went back the way we had come, running and dodging the carcass of what was once Harrison Roberts. I nearly fell, but Xander pulled me up, and we were hauling ourselves through the halls and out the front door. We raced down the driveway and through the main gate that had begun to shut, making it just in time before it closed and would have locked us in.
Kat was waiting by the car, and Xander shouted to her. “Move!”
“Fuck that guy! Just start the fucking car!”
Frightened, she jumped into the driver’s seat and started the engine. We ran up to the passenger side doors and flung ourselves in, letting her peel out and down the street.
I don’t think I began to breathe until we were on the highway heading back to the apartment. And once I did start to breathe, the breathing turned into heaving, and the heaving turned into crying. I sobbed into the backseat, covering my face with my hands.
I had lost Michael again.
* * *
“How did she know?”
“She controlled them. I think she has the ability to control animals. Or maybe just rats. I don’t know, but she was definitely controlling them.”
“There is more to her than meets the eye, that’s for sure.”
Kat was intrigued by the most recent foray into vampire adventures. “So she sent rats after you? That’s bananas!”
I smiled at her, albeit a little sadly. I was still not over the fact that we had left Michael behind. What was going to happen to him? Had he survived the attack on the other vampire? With his abilities dampened, did he no longer have the strength to withstand such a fight? The unknowns were enough to make me go a little bit mad.
To be honest, I hated Cressida even more than I had previously, even if she was his mother. The woman was diabolical. She was insane, crazy, and more terrifying than I had realized. What was that shriek about? Was it to call on the rats? Or was she transforming into something? Her eyes had been the worst of it, eerie and unnatural. I wondered what else we didn’t know about her…
I was also a little mad at Xander. He had brought that asshat Roberts into the mix. I knew his intentions were good, but when a hoodoo priestess tells you that you shouldn’t trust someone… Well, you damn well better not let them join you on a rescue mission.
“So now what?”
I looked at Xander. “Now we need to come up with a new rescue plan. Something that doesn’t involve bringing strange and untrustworthy people along.” Xander winced. Ouch. I didn’t mean to be so snarky, but the words escaped my lips before I had a chance to catch them.
Xander cleared his throat. “Our chance to extract him from the compound is gone. We need to come up with something entirely new.”
I sat there, contemplating what new avenues we could take. “I could try to get him out by myself. After all, I am a vampire. What better means to save a vampire than another vampire?”
“Michael would kill me if he found out I let you go in alone.”
“Better he try to kill you after he’s freed than sitting there and dying by her hands.”
“True, but I still think it’s a horrible plan.”
Kat chimed in. “Xander is right. I don’t get a good feeling about you going in by yourself.”
I frowned. “I know that it’s probably dumb and foolhardy, but we don’t have any other options right now.”
“What about Michael’s friend? The one that Priestess Belli – I mean, Gloria – told us about?”
I felt my tension ease slightly. “There’s an idea.” I looked over at Xander. “I remember Michael talking about a friend named Marcus…”
“Marcus? You don’t mean Pendleton, do you?”
“You know him?”
“Yeah…! A good guy. He and Michael go way back, before my time.”
“Do you know how to reach him? We need to get him onboard with this rescue, and the sooner we can do that, the better.”
“I can try. I think I remember something about him being a pilot…?”
“That makes sense with Michael mentioning he could fly. Okay, we’ll start there.” I turned back to Kat. “I know you spoke with Gloria about calling on her for help. Can you do that? Can you ask her if she can do a ‘long distance’ reading?”
“Sure! I love that idea.”
“Great. We have a plan!” I high-fived everyone.
* * *
“Three of Cups. Friendship. Coming together. That friend I saw coming to your aid will help bring all of you together.”
“That’s fantastically affirming. What else do you see?”
“Knight of Cups. Another person will come to fight by your side. He fights for love.”
Kat was shocked into silence. “A stranger?”
“Indeed. A stranger now, but one whose action is led by his heart. They are impulsive, but they will help you win this fight.”
“Can you give us an idea of what they look like?”
“Fair skin… Blue eyes… That is all I see, cher.”
“That’ll work. What about the third card? You always have a third card…”
Gloria was silent for a moment, then sighed happily. “The Devil…reversed. Freedom. Her lover will be freed. Thank the loa.”
“They are my gods.”
“Oh… Um, how many are there?”
“Hundreds. A thousand at least. They are like stars in the sky.”
“Well please give them our thanks, too.”
“I will, cher.”
“Is there anything else that you feel or see that might help us, Gloria?”
“Nothing else, but I will let you know if the loa speak to me about you.”
“It’s a deal. Thank you so much.”
“Ca viens? How are things?”
Kat took in a deep breath and let it out loudly. “Well, we met that betrayer you warned us about. Definitely a bad guy.”
“I was afraid of that. But you survived. This is good, cher.”
“Yes, but he didn’t.”
“We’re working on a new way to free Michael now. Your reading has reassured us we’re on the right path.”
“But don’t forget that paths can change. They come in many forms, cher. They curve and wind, even split and fork. My reading is good for now, but how the path lays out will be determined by the choices you and yours make.”
“Thank you again, Gloria. Your help has been invaluable.”
“You’re welcome, cher. Be kind. Be true. I am here if you need me.”
With that said, Gloria disconnected the call. It was late, close to midnight, and she had an early morning to prepare for. The Hoodoo Bayou Conjuration festival was tomorrow, and she was a key speaker. She needed to get her beauty sleep.
She put the cards away in her nightstand drawer and stood up, taking off her blue silk robe. She draped it across her bedroom armchair and returned to the bed, stepping out of her feather slippers. Climbing in, Gloria pulled her covers over herself and then reached out to turn off the bedside lamp. She snuggled in and sighed, finally letting her body relax.
She never saw the glowing eyes of the rat in the corner.