The next morning, we headed into the lion’s den. We arrived just after 5am, a good time for conducting a rescue mission when you’re a vampire. As it stood, we were getting there just before a shift change. Yoshi and Marcus came with me towards the house while Xander and Kat stayed back with the vehicle.
Moving swiftly, I went along the fenceline while Yoshi went along the treeline. I had taken on my panther form, using the natural stealthiness of my paws. Yoshi showed us some of his skills, transforming into what he referred to as a Tengu, with black kite-like wings and a red face. He continued to carry his sword, the back scabbard holding it on his back between his wings.
Marcus finally showed us his flying ability. He seemed to float upwards and then began moving overhead, roughly 50 feet in the air above us. His clothing billowed and ruffled in the wind, and he reminded me of Henry Cavill as Superman, just without the cape. He reached the house first and maintained watch over us from the near impervious vantage point up above.
As we neared the property, I gave the signal to Yoshi to take out the guard nearest to him. He crept closer and closer until he was nearly upon him. Then, with a cunning spin, he deftly wielded his nodachi and sliced the guard clean in half. I barely contained my surprise at the impressive display of swordsmanship. Since I was still in my panther form, I chuffed for him. He glanced over and nodded in acknowledgement.
Unfortunately, my chuffing drew the attention of the guard in front of the house, and he came running towards me. I was momentarily distracted by this, mostly because I wasn’t used to seeing someone come barreling at me while I was in this form. I mean, really – who comes running at a panther? Shaking my head in disbelief, I let loose a roar, knowing that our cover was blown, and Cressida probably already knew we were here.
As he was running, the guard began to transform, and I realized at that moment why he was unafraid to charge me. Limbs reformed, the torso lengthened, and hands became paws with dangerously sharp claws. Instead of facing a guard, I was now facing a mountain lion.
We were roughly the same size and length, but I had the advantage of having more muscle. Feeling them ripple beneath my black fur, I braced myself and lowered my head, snarling. The mountain lion leapt and swiped a front paw at my neck, hoping to tear my flesh open with its claws. I dodged and hissed at my attacker, then I lunged and struck out with my own paws. I caught the lion by the head and knocked it sideways. For a moment, I thought it was going to fall but it shook it off and returned with a vengeance.
We engaged in a growling series of strikes and dealt blow after blow upon each other. I snagged the lion’s throat with my teeth, relishing the taste of its fur and blood in my mouth. Clamping down hard, I shook my head, feeling the flesh in my mouth tear and rip. There was a popping sound, and the lion let out a sudden yelp before it stopped moving. I unclenched my jaw and dropped my prey to the ground. The lion was still and quiet.
I knew it wasn’t dead; vampires have a much harder time dying than the average human. However, I knew it would be awhile before this one was going to be a threat to anyone. Leaving it where it lay on the ground, I made my way over to the garage with Yoshi.
Still bearing his black wings and red-face, Yoshi opened the door into the building, and we headed inside. Marcus flew down and followed us inside. There was no setting a fire this time. We were just going for it. I sniffed the air as we walked to the inside door. Nothing seemed amiss.
Marcus opened the door, and I took the lead, using my panther senses to detect any unwelcome visitors. Sensing none, we moved forward and traversed the long corridor toward the main hall. The second we reached it, Marcus suggested we split up.
“I’m going to use my other abilities to provide a distraction.”
This time, Yoshi spoke up. “What are these other abilities?”
Marcus remained perfectly calm and casual, smiled, and blinked. Without warning I was immersed in the ocean, underwater and alone. It was as if I had been ported, without the usual temporal sensations. My panther body was surrounded by ice cold, dark blue water and sea creatures, and I struggled not to inhale sea water. Trying to swim, I paddled against the underwater current, and found my lungs burning as they yearned for air. I nearly opened my mouth when, miraculously, we were back in the main hall. Yoshi and I stood there, both bone dry, and I realized I hadn’t moved an inch.
What the farking hell was that?
“That was a combination of my abilities.”
You can transport people to the ocean?
“No. I can make people think they were transported to the ocean. I can read thoughts and project visions. I can figure out what scares them and use it against them.”
Astonished, Yoshi gave a full eyebrow raise. “Most impressive.” He turned towards me. “I agree. He should remain here.”
I bobbed my head in agreement. Marcus winked at me and gave me a pat on the head. I shook his hand off and proceeded across the main hall to the staircase.
Yoshi and I both headed upstairs but split up at the top, with me taking the rooms to the right while he took the ones to the left. Continuing forward in my panther shape, I cautiously made my way down the hall, pausing and sniffing outside each door. All of them were empty except for the one at the end. I sniffed the air and caught the scent of spices and pine, man and sweat. I checked and the door was completely shut, but my paws were able to turn the doorknob.
Letting the door swing open, a vampire stood inside, naked from the waist up and securing a watch to his right wrist. He looked up as I padded into his room, growling at the sight of me and immediately bracing himself for a fight. It was him, the black-haired guard that had been present in New Orleans and again when Xander and I were here with Harrison Roberts. I pounced on him, letting most of my weight knock him over and to the floor. Holding him down with my mighty paws, I recognized Yoshi as he came creeping into the room behind me. He had changed back into his human form. Reaching overhead, he pulled his nodachi from its scabbard and held it to the guard’s throat.
“You will come with us.”
“What if I say no?” The guard had a strong eastern European accent. Maybe Russian?
“We will take you anyway.”
With that, Yoshi used the butt of his sword and hit the guard in the face, knocking him unconscious. He threw the guard over my back, and we made our way back toward the stairs. Taking the carpeted stairs two at a time, we descended to the first floor and met up with Marcus.
Marcus had his hands full. He stood still in the entrance hall, focusing all of his energy on the swarm of rats that had emerged from the offshoots. Rats of all colors had come forth and were surrounding him; yet, they remained stationary, frozen as if in a trance. On our entry into the hall, Marcus glanced at us for a second and smiled, then he began moving in the direction of the hall leading to the garage.
Dashing across the main hall toward the hallways, Yoshi and I dodged the rat bodies. Marcus took the lead, and the three of us quickly made our way back towards the garage with our catch in tow. Once we reached the outside, Marcus went back to flying overhead, keeping an eye out for guards and rats. When he realized none were coming, he met us at the gate.
Xander saw us coming and hopped into the SUV with Kat. Together, the three of us with our unconscious guard reached the vehicle and the men climbed in. I paused to change form and throw on pants and a shirt.
Hearing a shriek, I looked up and saw a falcon flying over us. Dawn was fast approaching and the falcon looked golden in the rapidly increasing sunlight. My immediate reaction was to run, the falcon instilling a sense of dread within me. I jumped into the vehicle and yelled.
“Step on it!”
Xander hit the gas, and we sped out of there. I turned in my seat and pressed my nose to the window, looking for the falcon. It continued to fly over the Great House, circling overhead rather than following us. I leaned back in my seat and breathed a sigh of relief.
For the first time, we had a victory.
* * *
Michael was smiling in the basement.
Go, Celie, go!
He wasn’t exactly sure what had just happened, but he knew it had to do with her. The guards had been scurrying around upstairs, the thunderous sound of running footsteps waking him from a cat nap. Eventually, one of them made their way down to where he was locked up, checking on him. The door to his room suddenly swung open, blinding him, and causing him to wince at the light. Satisfied that he was still in his cage, they quickly shut the door and hurried up the stairs.
Putting his hand down, he smiled, relishing that something had happened to stir them up. It was about time they were served up some equal justice. If only Cressida understood what real love was about, she wouldn’t have bothered with this fiasco. Her mind was so clouded by revenge that he doubted her memories of the love she had experienced with Amelia were true.
The thought still blew his mind. His own mother and his sire. Had she ever loved his father? Or him? The fact that she could so easily torture and abuse him was enough to tell him ‘no’, but part of him wondered if it was the impact of time. The way she smiled at his cries of pain told him there was nothing left of his mother inside.
Before Michael could get comfortable again, more footsteps came rushing down the staircase, eager to get to him. He prepared himself for the door to open, and when it did, he didn’t know what to make of the person standing there. He could tell it was a tall, lanky male vampire that stood in front of him, but backlit by the stair’s light, he couldn’t make out much detail except that they were missing a hand. And they were pissed.
Within seconds, the vampire rushed at him, grabbing the cage by a single bar, and throwing it and him across the room. Caught by surprise, Michael was flung against the inside of the cage, rolling around in it until he could right himself back to a hunched position. There was little he could do inside of his confines, so he would have to bear whatever was going to happen and hope that it was brief.
The vampire let loose a howl and stalked over to grab the cage again, picking it up and hurling it against the far wall. The cage made a thunking sound as it collided with the concrete, and Michael quickly staggered to his feet within the tiny prison. The vampire remained where it stood this time, though.
“Where is he!”
Michael was startled. Someone was missing, and the vampire came looking for him here? Realization dawned on Michael that Celie must have taken one of Cressida’s vampires. Casually, he replied to the vampire. “Where is who?”
“Dmitri! Where has the bitch taken him!”
“I’m sorry, friend. I’ve been locked away down here and don’t know anything about what’s been going on up there.”
The vampire snarled at Michael and rushed towards the cage. Stopping mere inches from the bars, he ground out, “I am not your friend. I want Dmitri back, and you will tell me where your lover has taken him.”
“I’m sorry but I don’t know.”
He gripped a bar with his hand and Michael watched as his knuckles turned stark white. “You will tell me, or I will find her myself. And I will make sure she loses more than just her hand.”
The threat hit home, and Michael felt anger burst to life within his frame. His eyes narrowed on the vampire. “You touch her, and there will be nowhere you or your ‘Dmitri’ can hide.”
Both men turned and saw Cressida standing in the doorway.
“Francois, what are you doing down here?”
Without answering her, Francois turned back to Michael and chuckled. The sound was guttural, barely audible. Despite the low light, Michael could make out his face, and he found himself growling in response to the vampire’s expression; it was menacing.
“We’ll see. Par Dieu (By God), we will see…” Rising up, Francois kicked the bars, shoving the cage back several feet. Michael rocked on his heels but stayed up. Turning around, Francois walked towards Cressida and stopped just in front of her.
“Tu dois mettre fin à ça. (You must end this.) The costs are growing, and they are too much to bear.”
Cressida said nothing. She barely moved aside as Francois brushed past her and headed up the stairs. Once he was gone, Cressida’s angry attention shifted from Francois to him.
Michael exhaled, then took a deep breath. He could feel his body naturally tensing in preparation for whatever punishment she felt was necessary. She walked slowly over to his cage, now pushed to the back corner, and as she walked, she spoke to him.
“Your lover has become a handful.”
Michael kept his mouth shut, knowing anything he said would only fuel the fire.
“She stole one of my guards. One of my beloved guards.”
Reaching his confines, Cressida hunched down and stared Michael in the face. He could see her eyes were burning now, smoldering with heated outrage. She tapped the bars.
“You like your little cage?”
Still, he refused to speak.
“Cause you’re going to be staying in here for quite a while…”
Suddenly she struck out and slammed her hand on top of the cage. “And once I find your lover, I’m going to feed her to my little friends.” She leaned closer. “Piece. By. Piece.”
Then she laughed, the evil sound filling the room and bouncing off every surface to echo back into Michael’s ears. He stared at her, unwilling to give her the satisfaction of an emotion or reaction. She smirked at his stoicism.
“Don’t worry, dear. I’m going to come back for you later today. We still need to have one of our daily chats.”
On that note, she stood up and walked toward the door. Reaching the doorway, she called over her shoulder. “I’m so looking forward to it.” Then she walked through and closed the door, leaving him alone in the dark basement again.
Michael smiled to himself. Not only had Celie stirred the pot, she had managed to get away with a guard in tow. This was great news! He wasn’t sure how she had managed it, but he didn’t care. The satisfaction in knowing that she hadn’t given up on him meant everything.
There in the dark, Michael stretched out and lay back, his arms underneath his head. He promised himself that he would dream about Celie. He would dream about freedom and about being home again. He knew it was coming, it was only a matter of time.
Closing his eyes, he didn’t notice the little imp in the corner.
* * *
The imp watched him carefully, stroking its tiny pointed chin. Two days left before it would commence with his request to dispatch several demons to his aid. He already had three in mind that would be happy to jump into the fray. Demons were always happy to join in on earthly destruction; they simply disliked behind beholden to another creature.
The imp was curious if the vampire knew another vampire had made a similar request? Vampires and their demands, always thinking they ranked high on the scale of demands. It rolled its little eyes. If only they knew about the demands of the gods, they’d probably shit themselves.
Giggling to itself, the little demon climbed back into the crack in the floor and disappeared into the underworld. The crack sealed itself and to the untrained eye, it had never been there at all.