I prepped myself for the interrogation by vomiting.
That’s right: I upchucked. Puked. Hurled. Spewed.
I couldn’t hold in my paranoia that we had done a horrible thing by bringing this vampire guard of Cressida’s into the house. We had him held up in the basement, a fitting spot since that was where she held Michael. I had checked and rechecked his bonds, then had Marcus go over them twice for good measure. We couldn’t permit this guy to escape. What if he went back to her and told her where we were? Granted, she probably already knew where we were hiding out, but best not to make it super easy.
I took a few deep breaths and stood up straight, eyeing myself in the bathroom mirror. Turning on the faucet, I scooped up some water and rinsed my mouth out. Once I was sure I was collected, I left the bathroom and headed towards the basement door.
At the bottom of the basement steps stood Marcus and Xander. As I met them at the door, I peered through the doorway and saw that Yoshi was already inside, standing with his nodachi blade at the guard’s neck. With one quick slice, he could sever their head from their body, and there was no means of recovering from that.
Glancing at Marcus, I gave him a half-smile. “I’m probably going to need your help with this.”
“I can help, too.” Xander stepped forward. “I have experience with interrogation.”
“I’m not so sure your methods will work on a vampire.”
“You’d be surprised.”
I looked to Marcus for reassurance, and he nodded. “Okay then, you’re in.” Xander straightened up and gestured for me to go first into the basement. I obliged him and entered. Xander followed, with Marcus taking up the rear and closing the door behind us.
Inside, the vampire guard sat in his stationary metal chair, bound with steel chains. He glanced up at the three of us and smirked, his pale blue eyes watching us with icy coolness. He tried to adjust his seated position, but Yoshi would have none of it. The blade edged deeper into his skin, drawing a pinprick of blood. The vampire stiffened.
Xander stepped forward. “Now that we have your attention, we have some questions we’d like you to answer.”
The guard chuckled. “I will answer none.”
“Maybe. Or maybe you’ll be inclined to help us. That remains to be seen.”
“Doubtful, but you may proceed.”
“What is your name?”
“Your name is death?” Xander looked over at me. “Is he for real?”
I laughed. “He might be. Cressida is crazy, so maybe her guards are, too.”
The guard sneered at her name. “I am not crazy. But you are if you continue to keep me here.”
Xander returned his attention to the guard. “Why is that?”
“She will come for me. They will come for me.”
“That’s fine. Let her come.”
“You have no idea what you’re up against.”
“Maybe you don’t either.”
At that, the guard shook his head. “You do not understand. Duraki…” (Fools…)
This time, Yoshi spoke up. “We may be fools, but you are also a fool if you believe in her.”
Surprise lit up the guard’s face. “You know my language?”
“Hmm. Perhaps you are not duraki after all.”
I cleared my throat. “Can we get back to the point, here? Why are you so sure that Cressida is the good guy?”
“Who said I was sure of this?”
“Well, you fight for her, for one thing.”
“Da, this is true.”
“For many years, I have fought beside her.”
“But why? She’s a total whackjob. Why do you fight for her?”
“She saved me. I am indebted to her.”
“So crazy lady saves you, and what? She sired you, right? And for that you owe her your allegiance?”
The guard merely shrugged.
I smacked myself in the forehead. Turning to Xander, I said, “Please take over. I need a minute to get my brain wrapped around his ignorance.”
At my words, the guard sat up straight. “I am not ignorant.”
“Clearly you are, or else you wouldn’t still be fighting alongside someone who is batshit crazy.”
The guard shifted his eyes away from mine. “I have my reasons.”
Xander put his hand on my shoulder, urging me to be quiet. “We’d love to hear them.”
The guard sat quietly, saying nothing. Then I saw his eyes glaze over and he stilled, motionless and unmoving. His frame was completely quiet and calm. I stood there for a minute, confused about what I was seeing, when I looked over at Marcus and saw him briefly make eye contact with me and wink. Ah… Marcus was inside his mind. After another handful of minutes, the clarity returned to the guard’s eyes, and he began inhaling quickly, panicking like he had seen a ghost. His eyes met mine, and I couldn’t help but smirk. I knew what had happened, and it felt good for the shoe to be on the other foot.
“Chto eto bylo!” (What the hell was that!)
“That was Marcus. And you can expect more of that if you don’t cooperate.”
Startled, the guard looked at Marcus. “You were in my mind?”
“Then you know…”
“I do. You may as well tell them, or I will.”
“Blyad…” (Fuck…) The guard looked down and then up at each of us. His eyes stopped on mine, and I braced myself for his revelation.
“I stay for Francois.”
I blinked, unsure I had heard correctly. “I’m sorry?”
“Francois. I stay for him.”
“Who is Francois?”
“You know him. You took his hand.”
Oh… That Francois…
“Is he your brother?”
At this the guard began to laugh, low and quiet, then louder and louder until it was hearty and filling the room. His head tilted back, skin still tight against the nodachi blade. Yoshi looked at me, then back at his prisoner.
“Nyet. He is not my brother.”
Marcus put a hand on my arm. I looked over at him, and he shook his head, his eyes telling me the story within seconds. Realization hit me, and I stifled my words. I immediately felt sheepish and backed off.
Clearing my throat, I began again. “Is Francois a hostage?”
“In a manner of speaking.”
“For the same reason any of us are.”
“Just because she’s your sire doesn’t mean she isn’t dangerous. For you or for Francois.”
“Da. You speak the truth.”
“So why stay?”
The guard kept silent but for a moment. “If she found out, she would kill us.”
“So you stay to keep him alive?”
Marcus walked up to the guard and crouched down in front of him. Eyeing him warily, the guard adjusted his seating, perhaps uncomfortable with having an enemy so close. His eyes narrowed a little at Marcus’ soft tone.
“You should not be punished for who you love, or for who loves you in return. Everyone deserves the opportunity to experience happiness.” Marcus put a hand on the guard’s knee. “I had your kind of love once. He’s dead now, and I miss him every day.”
Surprised at this response, the guard’s eyes relaxed a little.
Marcus continued. “Two people who are in love shouldn’t be forced to remain apart because of someone else’s hatred.” He gave the guard a winsome smile. “We can help you, if you let us.”
The guard glanced up at me, and I nodded emphatically. Returning his gaze back to Marcus, he seemed to hesitate before speaking. “I…” He paused, then cleared his throat. “How do I know that I can trust you?”
“Truthfully?” Marcus smacked him on the knee and stood up. “You don’t. But we’re not the ones waging a war over a single death centuries ago.” Marcus turned to me. “I could have, but that’s not what Ramses would have wanted.”
Facing the guard again, Marcus continued. “You have a choice: you can fight against her, or you can stay trapped in this prison you’ve made for yourself.” Marcus walked back over to where I stood with Xander. “What ending will you choose?”
The guard continued to watch him, an internal conflict warring in his features. He closed his eyes for a moment, then murmured something to himself. After a few moments, he opened his cool blue eyes and found mine.
“My name is Dmitri Akilov. I will help you.”
* * *
“The entry point you have been using is wrong.” Dmitri pointed on the blueprints to the garage and the main entrance. “These are too easy. Her spies can find you in seconds.” He reached across the parchment and pointed at a spot on the far right side of the Great House. “Here is where you must go in.”
“But that looks like a wall?”
Xander leaned in and saw an air duct listed on the plans. “Who the hell is going to fit in there?”
Dmitri shrugged. “You wanted to know what was unguarded. That is my answer.”
I stared at the plans and mumbled out loud, “If only I was a stick…” Glancing up, I realized what I’d said and blushed. “Sorry guys. Didn’t mean to vocalize that.”
Refocusing, I pointed at a window next to the air duct. “Couldn’t we just go in through there?”
“The windows are all armed with an alarm system now. After your first break in, Cressida believed an alarm system would be…helpful.”
“Yeesh. So we’re really in a pickle.”
Xander spoke up. “What if you just let us in?”
We all glanced up from the design plans, presumably with blank faces because he continued. “I mean, if you’re going to help us, why not just open the front door for us from the inside?”
I slapped my hand down on the table. “That’s it. I quit. I’m clearly too dumb to be doing this.”
Xander reached over and grabbed my upper arm, pulling me back toward the table as I tried to walk away. “Enough of that. It’s not like you’re a pro when it comes to rescue missions.”
“Thanks for giving me an out. I’ll gladly take it.” I put both hands on the table and leaned forward. “I’m going to defer to you three. Clearly, you have a ton more experience than I do when it comes to these types of things. I just want to get in there and get Michael back, so whatever you think is best, I’ll happily jump onboard.”
Marcus smiled. “I’d say the three of us can get you sailing in the right direction.”
Dmitri nodded. “I have conducted several extractions, including the one that took your Michael.” He looked at me, his expression sorrowful.
“Cressida is the one who took him from me. Now we’re going to get him back.”
Yoshi was leaning on the table, studying the blueprints, and pushed back to standing straight up. “We know about the rats. What other surprises are there?”
Dmitri shifted his focus from me to Yoshi. “The rats are Cressida. But some of the other vampires have…problematic abilities.”
“Shapeshifters, weather controllers, and there is one who can cause spontaneous implosion.”
“You mean combustion.” I thought perhaps it was lost in translation.
“No, I mean implosion.”
I gasped. That was definitely not a language barrier issue. “Seriously?”
“I am very serious.”
“So I’ve noticed…”
Yoshi continued. “I agree. That all sounds very problematic. Now, are any of them willing to fight against her?”
“Perhaps.” Dmitri stared hard at Yoshi. “Some may require incentive.”
“That can be arranged. Will you be able to approach them? Secure their aid?”
“This sounds promising.” Xander glanced between the two vampires. “The more help we can have on our side, the more likely we can pull this off successfully.”
“There is one more thing.”
He fixed his gaze on me. “I need something from you.” I raised an eyebrow, waiting for some sort of reckoning on his part.
I stared at him expectantly. When he finally spoke, his voice was soft. “I need you to save Francois.”
“Um, won’t he try to kill me?”
“Eto zavisit.(It depends.) He might.”
“I took his hand, for fuck sake!”
“Da. And he is angry.”
I exhaled, exasperated. “That would make it a teensy bit difficult, then.”
“I need reassurance you will save him. That is the price of my help.”
I closed my eyes and murmured a few choice curse words under my breath. Opening them again, I met his eyes. “Okay. I’ll make sure he stays alive.”
“Nyet. You must save him.”
“Okay, okay. I’ll get him out of the house, too.”
“Now I will go back. I will pretend I have escaped and get to work.”
Xander began rolling up the blueprints. “How much time do you need?”
“Then you’ll have it.” He turned toward me and Yoshi. “Tomorrow night, we’ll fight and get Michael back.”
* * *
A mile away from Cressida’s Great House, Dmitri climbed out of the SUV. The sun was nearing the horizon, ending its trek across the sky. Good, it had been just long enough for the other vampires to believe he escaped on his own. He bid goodbye to his new ‘friends’ and began running down the street towards home.
Home. It wouldn’t be one for them much longer. He and Francois could begin a new life somewhere else, away from her prying eyes, finally free of her hold. It would be the first time that he had a new home in over a century, and he smiled at the thought of it being with him.
Reaching the main gate, he pressed the button below the speaker.
“Who is it?”
“Eto ya (it’s me), Dmitri.”
Immediately the buzzer sounded, and the gate clicked, beginning to swing open. Dmitri slipped through as it was still opening wide, running up the drive towards the house. The guards immediately trained their guns on him, then lowered them when they realized it was him. No one said hello, no one waved, and no one welcomed him back. It was as if they were simply robots, and Dmitri scowled. Not that he cared, but it would have been nice if he had been missed.
He opened the front door and entered the main hall. Inside here, it was different. He heard a southern drawl, and Jonas came around the corner. They made eye contact and Jonas came rushing up to give him a big bear hug.
“Hey man! How the hell are you? How did you get away from those people?”
“It is a long story.”
“We were just about to come get you, Amunet and me.”
Startled, Dmitri looked behind Jonas and saw tiny little Amunet standing there, looking angry as usual. She was a beautiful woman who always seemed angry about something. It had been that way ever since he had found her. He smiled at her, and her expression softened just slightly around her eyes; that was how he knew she was happy to see him.
Looking back at Jonas, he clapped him on the back before stepping away. “Thank you, moy drug (my friend). It makes me happy to hear that you would come looking for me.”
He glanced around the hall and upstairs before returning his gaze to Jonas. “Where is Francois?”
“Right. You haven’t heard.” Jonas turned around and exchanged a glance with Amunet, who immediately looked angrier than ever. Turning back to Dmitri, his voice dropped to a whisper. “Cressida caught Francois in the basement with her prisoner.” Dmitri froze. “She laid into him pretty fierce. He’s been holed up in his room since it happened.”
Dmitri muttered a ‘thank you’ and shoved Jonas out of his way, rushing up the stairs to the second floor. Making a left, he hurried to Francois’ door and threw it open, not even bothering to knock. As soon as he saw him, he came abruptly to a halt, sucking air between his teeth.
Francois lay in bed, beaten, bloody, and bruised. His eyes were a violet color and swollen shut. His nose had been cut off. From what Dmitri could see, one of his ears was torn almost completely off, too. Francois’ right leg was bent at an awkward angle, the lower leg nearly perpendicular to the upper. To add insult to injury, the stump that had been healed over was ripped open down the middle, split in two.
At the sound of his entry, Francois moaned. “Who… Who is there?”
Dmitri crept around the bed and over to him, speaking softly he did so. “It is me, love. I am here.”
“Dmitri? Mon ami! How…! When…!” There was a sad excitement to his voice, and Dmitri cringed. He hoped he could prepare Francois for what was coming.
“Just now. How did this happen?”
“Cressida. That she-bitch, she… she…”Francois broke down, sobbing. “I… You were gone, and I was so angry…”
“Shh. It’s okay, lyubov (love). I am home now.”
“What happened to you?”
“The infiltrators. They took me. But everything is okay now.”
“How? How did you escape?”
Dmitri paused. Then he leaned in and placed a kiss on Francois’ forehead. Into his ear, he whispered, “Everything will be alright. You rest now. Heal. I’ll be back in a few hours, and we’ll talk more.”
Francois gave a nearly imperceptible nod and swallowed. “Will you stay with me? Until I fall asleep?”
“Merci.” (Thank you.) Francois reached out and Dmitri took his hand, holding it close to his heart.
As Francois fell into a deep and healing sleep, Dmitri silently thanked Cecelia Moore and Michael for coming into his life. In less than 24 hours, he would be rid of Cressida Hawkins forever. He had them to thank for that, and after seeing what had happened to Francois, it was vital she be disposed of, now more than ever.
He simply needed to convince the others.