“I love you, mother.”
“Stop with the lies, boy.”
“It is no lie.”
“You’ll say anything to get what you want, won’t you?”
“I’ll say anything to show you I want to be by your side.”
Cressida huffed and stood up, pacing the room that held Michael in his cage. “Why this sudden desire to be with me?”
“Had I known you were alive, I would have been by your side sooner, of course. But as it stands, I didn’t learn of you until you brought me here.” Michael smiled faintly. “And here we are.”
“Here we are, indeed…” Cressida stared at him, unsure what to believe anymore.
“I have made no new attempts to escape. You continue to abuse me, torture me, yet I don’t complain. What else can I do to convince you?”
She remained incredibly still, not moving, not speaking. Hell, she didn’t even blink; she just stared. Michael wondered what was going through her head. He pressed further.
“So what say you? Will you allow me to prove my devotion to you? My loyalty?”
Cressida shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “I… No. No I cannot. You killed Amelia. You must pay for your crime.”
“Even though I am your son?”
“And even though I promise you that I will be your most loyal servant?”
Cressida again stared at Michael, doubt creasing the delicate skin around her eyes.
“You can trust me, mother.”
Cressida shook her head and walked over to the door. As she grasped the doorknob, she looked back at him over her shoulder. “That may be, but I cannot disengage you from what you have done. You will pay.”
She walked out of the room and shut the door abruptly behind herself.
Michael scowled. It had been one month since he had seen Celie, one whole month since the attempted rescue by her and Xander. Every day he seemed to weaken his mother’s resolve just slightly. Every day he seemed to break her down, little by little. Each time he approached the subject of promising himself in servitude, her resolve cracked a little more. All he needed to do was get it open wide enough to slip inside, then he could break her down from the inside out.
After some time, he had determined how they were shutting off his abilities: a SpellCaster came on the property each week to recast a spell on him. The spell was one of great power, using up most of the Caster’s energy and sending them unconscious afterwards. This particular Caster was appropriately named Abaddon, “the destroyer” in Israeli. With chin-length dark hair and wild eyes, Abaddon was a towering menace. He had cryptic tattoos creeping across his eyelids and down his cheeks, and he wielded hands with double-jointed fingers that moved independently as he conjured the magic. Each time he cast his “removal” spell, smoke tinged with red lightning would envelope Michael. Swirling and swirling, the smoke would bind to Michael’s abilities, and Abaddon would literally suck them away from him, inhaling every last speck of smoke. Upon passing out, vampire guards would come and cart him away, but he would always come back in a week or so.
Abaddon hadn’t been to see Michael in what – four days? five? – so Michael had begun testing his abilities to see if any of them were rebuilding. He tried calling out to Celie, but it wasn’t long before he confirmed that wouldn’t work. Then he tested his ability to summon demons. He slammed his hand on the concrete and whispered the names of demons he knew: Azmodeus, Sabazios, Metztli, Rimmon, Chemosh, Damballa, Yaotzin… Nothing. He tried again, and after a few minutes of heavy focus, the ground cracked open, and the tiniest of imps crawled forth. It was miniscule, no bigger than five inches in height, and covered in red, leathery skin. A single horn adorned the middle of its forehead, twisted and curved up toward the ceiling. The imp’s eyes glowed bright, neon green, and its long claws clacked on the floor as it walked over to where Michael sat.
“What be you that calls to us?”
“I am a vampire. I summon your kind to do my bidding. Although, they’re usually bigger.”
“Ha! You have no power over us, vampire.” The imp turned around as if to leave.
“I do. I have a binding contract with Melek Taus.”
Stopping in its tracks, the imp spun around. “You lie…”
“I do no such thing!”
“Melek Taus makes contracts not with vampires. Gods are his fare. Man does not dare.”
“God or not, he made one with me.”
Eyeing him shrewdly, the imp stepped forward again, walking up to just in front of Michael’s knees. It poked him with a clawed hand. “Speak the truth. If you are bound, why are you here, caged as you are?”
“I have been captured and placed under a spell.”
“Ah… You desire a means of escape.”
“Then let me bring forth Nergal.” The imp prepared to clap its tiny hands.
Michael swiftly brought up a hand. “But not yet.”
“Oh? You prefer confinement?”
“I have more to accomplish.” The imp smirked at this, but Michael continued. “I need reassurance.”
“What do you ask of me?”
Michael smiled wickedly. “I ask that you send a demon to my aid in a fortnight. No earlier, no later.”
“And if I refuse? Leave you to abuse?”
“When my powers return, we’ll ask Melek Taus what punishment befits you.”
An eye-brow went up on the little imp. It stroked its pointed little chin for a moment, then straightened up. “Agreed.”
Michael reached out a finger, and the imp shook it, binding their miniature agreement. With that, the imp headed back to the crack in the ground. It climbed in, and the ground swallowed it up, the crack disappearing as if it had never existed.
Michael smiled. He would not be caged for long.
* * *
Cressida finished her lunch and dropped the body in the chair. It landed heavily with a thud, and she stepped back to avoid a splash of blood that sprang from the corpse’s neck. Placing her hand on the back of the chair, she called out to her butler.
“Holden! Come clean this up!”
“Yes, madam,” came his call from the butler’s pantry.
Cressida reached forward and picked up her wine glass from the table. As she took a sip, she heard someone clear their throat behind her. Whirling around, she saw Amunet, her Egyptian warrior goddess, standing present at the furthest doorway. Her long dark hair was pulled back in an ornate ponytail, her green eyes brightly shining against her bronze skin. She was dressed in all dark per usual, a warrior’s uniform of black pants, black long-sleeve shirt, and black boots. If she had a voice, Cressida was sure it would have been strong but also suggestive and husky. Unfortunately, though, she was mute.
Amunet made eye contact with her mistress and nodded.
“Ah, Amunet. What is it?”
Adept at American Sign Language (ASL), Amunet made a series of hand gestures in rapid fire succession. It is the SpellCaster. He has come to cast the prisoner again
“Fine, fine. Let him in.”
Are we to continue entertaining this vampire killer? Each week he comes and casts on our prisoner. Can we not kill the prisoner and be done with it?
Cressida peered over her wine glass at Amunet, one eyebrow cocked up into the air as she weighed the audacity of her comment. “I believe I make the decisions around here, Amunet.” She refocused her attention back to her wine. “Ensure the Caster is removed once the spell is complete.”
Amunet nodded and left the room.
Cressida sighed. It was getting hard to find good help these days.
* * *
Amunet walked back to the garage to let the SpellCaster inside. She hated being around them. Murderers. She never understood why her sire continued to work with them, considering their predilection for killing others of their kind. If it was up to her, they would all be dead and would have been decades ago.
To that end, Amunet hated seeing their prisoner tortured this way. When she learned that this Michael person was responsible for killing four of them 3 months ago, she had silently cheered. How divine it was to see a vampire dispatch them after such a long period of murders. Knowing this, it felt strange and unusual to hold him prisoner.
However, it wasn’t her decision; Cressida was the one in charge. She was the one Amunet was beholden to. Despite her salvation by Dmitri, ultimately her unnatural long life was thanks to Cressida.
During the Battle of Tel El Kebir, Amunet fought alongside her countrymen. She kept her hair tied up and under a turban, covering her face with dust and dirt, never letting them know a woman fought alongside them. Many enemies were dispatched during the fight thanks to her, and she was considered a strong warrior, known to many as Jabari Bahadur or “brave fighter”.
However, during one of the skirmishes, her turban fell, and she was revealed to be a woman. In pure outrage, some of the other men dragged her into a tent, held her down, and forcefully cut out her tongue. She barely survived.
Held prisoner by her own people in a tent near the battlefront, not much time passed before the British began their final push forward into the encampment. Dmitri found and stole away with Amunet. He was in a bad way, having just lost his lover, Sebastian, and he was questioning everything: the battle, his maker, his very existence. Yet, rather than kill Amunet, he opted to take her with him, recognizing her from the battlefields as the fierce warrior his battalion had fought against. Amunet had nothing left in her homeland, so she decided to go willingly with the man who had saved her from certain death.
Along the journey, Dmitri began teaching her hand signals as a way to communicate. She could eventually “talk” with him, and they became friends, bonded over battle. When he introduced her to Cressida, she took comfort in knowing that she could have a family again, and presented herself as a candidate of her own volition. Cressida jumped at the chance to have another warrior in her guard and sired Amunet that very night. Since that fateful day, Amunet had stood guard for Cressida, mounting defenses and taking point in strategic offensive attacks to prove her devotion.
But lately things have taken a turn. Cressida was acting erratic, letting her progeny (namely that young vampire Ricky) make fateful mistakes in the plan to take revenge on Michael. She never understood why she wasn’t the one sent to kill Michael and his lover. And using the SpellCasters? Ridiculous and dangerous. A true leader would not work so closely with the enemy.
What’s worse is she couldn’t understand the desperate need for revenge after so long. So Michael had killed Cressida’s sire, Amelia. So what? That was centuries ago. After everything that had happened in her life, in the world, you would think she would have moved on by now.
Amunet had grown skeptical of Cressida these past few years; although, she tried not to let it show. She continued to take orders and be a good soldier for her, working hard and training each day. She only hoped Cressida would come to her senses, and soon. There was only so much she could take.
As she approached the garage, Amunet gritted her teeth. She paused as she took hold of the doorknob, inhaling and regulating her emotions, then rotated it and opened the door. Leaning against the Range Rover SUV was the SpellCaster, looking just as deranged as before. His hair was curly and unkempt, hanging partly in his near-black eyes and casting his face in shadow. Amunet’s eyes narrowed at his disheveled appearance, but she still gestured for him to come into the main house.
Abaddon smiled slyly and pushed off from the vehicle. Striding up the handful of steps, he walked past her, and she winced; he smelled of rotten meat. Inside the house, she made sure to walk a few steps behind him. He already knew the way to the basement and headed there purposefully. Reaching the basement stairs, he paused and let Amunet go first. She did so and unlocked the basement door at the bottom.
Abaddon went inside and began casting his spell to diminish the vampire, Michael’s powers. Amunet watched the smoke envelope him as he sat still and quiet in his cage. A part of her wanted to stop the spell from being cast, to stop Abaddon, but she remained steadfast at the doorway. As the smoke was drawn back into the SpellCaster, Amunet looked away; Michael looked weak. He looked…human.
She had a hard time watching a warrior fall.
The Caster collapsed, and she ran forward to catch him. The stink of him filled her nostrils, and she gagged, heaving slightly. Then she began to lift him over her shoulder.
“That bad, eh?”
Amunet looked around and realized it was Michael who had spoken to her.
“He looks like he smells like the rear-end of a donkey.”
Amunet agreed but said nothing, watching Michael. Her eyes bore into his, and she gave him credit – he didn’t look away.
“I notice you don’t speak much.”
She made sure Abaddon was securely on her shoulder, then turned to Michael. She pointed towards her mouth and shook her head.
“Ah, you can’t speak. That’s a shame. I’m sorry to hear that.”
She grunted and began walking the Caster out of the room.
“I bet you have some amazing stories.”
Amunet stopped and the hint of a smile curved the sides of her mouth. She was cautiously optimistic about Michael as she still recognized him as a warrior. Besides, she had been a prisoner once herself, and being a prisoner didn’t mean he was an enemy. She turned and looked at him again. Maybe there was more to him than just being an enemy of her sire?
Amunet raised her eyebrow at him, then followed it up with a nod of her head. Turning back to the door, she carried Abaddon out and pulled the door closed behind her. Marching up the steps, she headed back towards the garage and entered it.
Jonas approached her.
“Who’s this? That devil SpellCaster?”
Amunet dumped Abaddon on the hard concrete floor of the garage. He fell on her foot, and she quickly pulled it out from under him, kicking him for good measure. She glanced up at Jonas and nodded.
“I hate having these guys around. Seems to be in poor taste to use them.”
“How’s the prisoner doing?”
She looked up at Jonas and began to sign. He’s okay. He’s starting to look more human than vampire.
“Really? Spells doing a number on him, eh?”
“Well better him than me.”
That’s what we all think until we’re the ones in trouble.
“How do you mean?”
Nothing. Amunet paused and frowned. Being on her bad side is not where any of us ought to be.
“You’re telling me! Cressida is not to be fucked with.”
It’s too easy these days to be on her bad side.
“Understood. Wait – are you worried you’re heading there? Cause I know for a fact that you’re one of her most trusted guards…”
Today. Right now I am.
Jonas watched her, unsure of what to say.
What about tomorrow?
“I don’t know, darlin’. All I can tell you is that you are a sure thing here as long as you keep your head in the game and don’t step on her toes.”
Amunet signed. But I don’t know if my head is in the game anymore. What with the prisoner be–
“You can’t abandon Cressida or us over this Michael fella.”
I’m not. But this guy killed four SpellCasters. Four. He shouldn’t be a prisoner. He should be a hero.
“But Cressida wants him dead. Hero or not, we can’t go against her.”
Amunet sighed. Because she’s our sire.
“Because she’s our sire. She made us, darlin’. We can’t abandon her in favor of a complete stranger.”
Jonas reached out and gave her a pat on the head. Amunet shrugged it off and scowled at him. Jonas laughed and the small act made her smile.
“Do you need help throwing out the garbage?”
Amunet shook her head no.
“Okay then. I’m heading inside. I need to eat before the next watch.” Jonas began to walk away as Amunet leaned down to grab Abaddon’s arms.
She turned to see what he wanted. Instead, Jonas walked back over and gave her a huge hug, wrapping his strong, muscular arms around her diminutive but athletic frame. Shocked to feel the warmth of Jonas pressed against her body, it took her a moment to absorb what was happening. Once she did, she immediately shoved him away and signed.
What are you doing?
Jonas held up his hands in defense. “I just thought you could use one. My apologies, darlin’.” Then he winked at her and headed up the stairs and inside the house.
Amunet stared after him. No one dared touch her in decades. Her stomach was in knots. She wasn’t prepared for the feelings it welled up within her, and she shivered. She struggled to shake it off.
Turning around, she reached down and took one of Abaddon’s double-jointed wrists in her right hand. She pulled and pulled, dragging him roughly outside the open garage door, and dropped him off next to his vehicle. Dusting her hands off on her pants, she turned back around to stare at the door to the house within the garage. She squinted in the late afternoon sun and then looked down at herself.
Despite her best efforts, she could still feel the touch of Jonas.