“You did well, Michael. I am very pleased with this turn of events. Do as the woman has bidden you.”
The voice inside his head was filled with pride, a soothing warmth that made the vampire sit a little straighter in the hard backed chair as the emotions washed over him. It meant everything to him to please his master. His pleasure washed away all other abuses he may have suffered or would come to suffer in his life.
“Should I tell Louis about the call, Master? He is very angry with Thereasa. He will likely send a team over there to assassinate her.”
“Yes, he may just do that.” There was indulgence in the tone, that bordered on amusement. “It is no matter if he does. I think it highly unlikely he will succeed and it will be good opportunity to test their defences. Ensure that you are in any party he may send over, Michael. I will need your eyes and ears.”
More pride flowed down the mental link, causing euphoria to envelop the weaker mind. Michael’s mental voice oozed zeal; an obedience so complete the other persona had to dial back the emotions it projected to avoid rendering the vampire useless.
The results were instantaneous, disappointment cutting through some of the euphoria.“Master, have I disappointed you in some way?”
“On the contrary, Michael, I am particularly pleased with everything that you have achieved. You have endured much in my name. Continue as you are, and I may allow you another taste of that which you crave.”
“Yes, my Master. I will ensure I am your eyes and ears over there. Might I taste before I leave?
There was so much hope in the words, so much yearning, the stronger mind felt a moment’s disgust. He quickly dampened it to avoid detection. “We will discuss it when you return, Michael. Now, do as I bade.”
The other presence vanished, leaving the vampire alone with his thoughts. Michael took a deep breath and turned his head to the side, stretching out with his enhanced senses. He was still alone in the office gym, and the enshrouding silence from the other rooms told him no one from the coven was near.
It was early morning and the others had yet to surface. He had chosen the time specifically to contact him, relieved to be afforded some time to discuss Thereasa’s call before Louis returned from his trip. His leader was due back this morning and Michael was sure he would be able to justify his lack of contact with the volatile French vampire. He blame it on security concerns...at least, he hoped so.
Louis was a law unto himself most of the time, unpredictable in the extremes. His fury at Reasa’s betrayal was a cold burning rage that had everyone treading on eggshells. He had punished Michael on his return, even though he’d carried out the orders he’d been given by both Reasa and his coven leader. Still, it hadn’t been enough to dampen Louis’ wrath at the fiasco in Edinburgh.
Memories of excruciating agony clouded Michael’s thoughts, and he had to bite his lip not to issue a hiss as his most painful lesson sifted through his mind. He pictured red-hot coals, stoked in the furnace until they glowed white; a deep incision slashed down his torso, into which the coals were placed before he was allowed to heal. Oh, how he had screamed as his internal organs burned from the coals; he had healed, regardless, and the process had been repeated so many times that his babbling became incoherent.
All the while Louis had sat on his makeshift throne atop the dais in his audience chamber. The rest of the coven were seated on opposite benches, eagerly watching the punishment being meted out. Michael saw the cold hazel eyes of his Leader, felt them boring into him as he lay spread-eagled, naked on the cold tiled floor. He had been bound as uncontrolled screams had been ripped from him, his wrists a bloodied mess as the inquisitor had plied his trade.
“Where is she?”
It had been the only question asked, and it was the one question he had no answer to. His inability to offer up an acceptable response didn’t stop it being repeated as his insides melted down from the flames within.
An intense hatred for Thereasa burned in Michael’s soul as the memories continued to play out like a broken records. It was her fault he’d been tortured, her fault he had been punished for the fiasco that had happened. He was glad he might be chosen for the mission Louis would most certainly order He would hunt the traitor down; when he got his hands on her, she would scream...longer, and far louder than he had ever screamed. By the time he was finished with Thereasa, she would yearn for death!
“Now that is an interesting expression, Michael. Pray tell me…just who is it that engenders such hatred in you?”
The colour leeched from the younger male’s face at the sound of the voice behind him.
“Louis! I did not hear you arrive home.” Michael’s voice shook slightly and he had to swallow hard before he turned around. His coven leader was leaning casually against the wall beside the French doors that led out into the garden.
Louis was one of the closest things the European covens had to an Ancient. No one still living knew his real age. They just knew that if anyone stood a chance of reaching the illustrious two thousand year mark, it would be the barely tame vampire that was waiting for his question to be answered.
His hazel eyes displayed a weary patience; his black, wavy hair brushed the collar of his leather jacket in its inimitable, haphazard style. He looked to be in his late twenties, but his eyes told another story. The hard angles of his face held an austere beauty, the slash of his lips a harbinger to the cruelty that could be summoned at the drop of a hat. Everything about Louis St. Geraint spoke of power, a power that he did nothing to conceal His expression hardened further as he struggled to hide his escalating irritation.
“I asked you a question, vampire.”
His cold tone had Michael swallowing hard again. “Please forgive me, Louis,” he stammered. “I was startled at your arrival. I received a telephone call yesterday…from Thereasa. I was thinking of her when you arrived.”
The other vampire moved so quickly Michael had no chance to protect himself. Not that he would have been foolish enough to try to, he would never have dreamed of attacking Louis. Michael may have been prepared enough that he could have mitigated some of the damage. As it was, both arms snapped painfully and his spine shattered as Louis pounded him into the opposite wall.
“You didn’t think this was something I needed to know immediately?”
Louis’s icy tone appeared incongruous with the venom in his expression as his talons dug into Michael’s throat and left him gurgling.
“Uh, Louis, it might be easier for him to answer if you weren’t choking the life out of him.”
For a second there was only silence and then the coven leader slowly turned to survey the new arrival.
“I thought I told you never to come here again.” The words were issued in the same cold tone, their warning explicit.
The other male merely smiled, as he ran a hand through his short dark, wavy hair; almost a mirror image of the irate vampire before him.
“Maybe you should be thanking me for passing through. That is, if you wish to glean any information from that vampire you’re about to decapitate.”
His words sank in and Louis swung back around to look at Michael. With an annoyed growl, he let go of him and watched him sink down to the floor in a boneless heap.
“What do you want, Dante?”
“Like I said, I was just passing through the area and heard there had been a little excitement recently. I was intrigued when I heard it was your coven, Louis. It’s not like you to have problems.”
Dante entered the room fully, ignoring the recovering vampire as he kept his gaze firmly on the Frenchman. It was never wise to take one’s eyes off the deadliest predator in the room, and he was certainly no fool. Louis was barely in control, and appeared more volatile than usual. Something was amiss, something he had been sensing for a long time though unable to determine the cause.
So far, he hadn’t been successful in ferreting out anything useful, despite his endless travels. He knew there was a danger out there, something that could bring harm to all of the covens in Europe. As soon as he’d heard talk of trouble in Louis’ coven, he’d come back immediately. This was the most stable coven in the area and if it was being affected…the instrument of that disaffection had to be nearby.
“My coven is none of your business. I suggest it remains so; otherwise I may have to reconsider our non-aggression pact, Castillo. You did me a service once in the past. Do not presume that gives you carte blanche to become involved in matters that are none of your concern.”
Sitting down behind the desk, Dante levered the chair backwards until it rested against the wall. “Perhaps I can assist you once more? Has that not occurred to you, Louis? I hear you have recently lost one you valued highly. Perhaps I can fill that role for a short time until you find a more permanent replacement?”
At his words, the other vampire stilled completely. There wasn’t even an indication he was drawing breath as his eyes darkened to the point of turning feral. “Just what have you heard?”
Righting the chair, Dante turned serious, and allowed his true thoughts to show. “Be calm, my friend. The rumours are not common knowledge…yet. You know that I have a discreet network covering most of Europe. I picked up small snippets here and there and managed to weave them together to form a more complete picture. For the moment, none of the other covens are aware of the dissent within yours, and I came here in an effort to keep it that way.”
The Frenchman regarded him intently for a long moment, searching his open expression for any sign of deceit, and then he slowly relaxed and pulled up a chair to sit down. Behind him, the younger male was moving to make himself more comfortable against the wall as his body slowly healed from the damage inflicted.
“You ask for trust, when in the same breath you admit to having spies everywhere. Who are you, Dante, and why do you have such an interest in my coven?”
A low chuckle escaped from Dante’s lips unbidden, though his expression clouded. “You know who and what I am, Louis. You have always known that. You just can’t understand me, and therefore you search for something that is not there.”
Distrust remained in the coven leader’s eyes. “You expect me to believe that all you are is a reluctant vampire living his life in constant penance? That your sole intent is to move from coven to coven and help where you deem it necessary?” Louis barked out a laugh, devoid of any humour.
“Vampires are not altruistic, Castillo. Even those across the water who believe themselves better than us still do what they do for their own benefit. They may try to convince themselves otherwise, but they are lying to themselves. There is no we in vampire. Everything we do is ultimately for our own selfish needs.”
“I know you believe that, my friend, which is why I said you do not understand me,” Dante sighed, and leaned on the desk, his expression still clouded. “I do not lie to you, Louis. I am who I am; a reluctant vampire.”
He then smiled as a glint of humour danced in his pale brown eyes. “I quite like that. It sounds suitably tragic. However, we digress from the point of my being here. Your coven has lost a high-ranking member, and when I arrived, you were interrogating your subordinate. How may I assist you?”
He waited for his friend to weigh up his options. Louis wasn’t a fool and hadn’t lived so long by being weak. All through his coven’s history he had aligned himself with the strongest of vampires, choosing his allegiances wisely to build up his powerbase The Frenchman was now in the enviable position of having the strongest of covens and had no further need to seek alliances with some of his past cohorts. Maybe he would decide he didn’t need Dante’s help after all.
The silence stretched out longer and then finally Louis snapped his fingers at the young male. “Come here, Michael.”
The blond vampire rose on unsteady feet and painfully made his way closer. “This is Dante Castillo. He takes Thereasa’s position until I say otherwise. You will obey him as my second.” He didn’t wait for any sign of agreement. His entire coven knew better than to question one of his edicts.
His intent gaze turned back to the new arrival. “So, tell me what you think you know.”
A small smile settled across Dante’s lips as relief coursed through him. The odds had been fifty/fifty that Louis would accept his help. It was gratifying that he had. He ran an experienced eye over Michael and noted his healing was almost complete, though there was a shadow of fear still lingering in his eyes.
His gaze swung back to Louis. “It would appear you have drawn the eyes of the Northern American vampires to us. You’ve garnered the attention of none other than Demetri Bozic, himself, from what I’ve managed to learn. I’m intrigued as to why you have suddenly decided you want to tangle with Ancients, my friend. It’s not like you to be so reckless.”
“It was a simple information-gathering exercise which turned sour,” Louis growled, his eyes flashing with fury. “I presumed Thereasa could handle the imbeciles I sent with her, but she failed and it got out of hand. There was never any intention to tangle with the Ancients. The coven leaders merely wanted to know what was happening with the mixed matings and their offspring. Michael here, and the recently departed Bruce, became overly zealous in their task. Reasa was supposed to clean up the mess, but it appears she found her own fervour unexpectedly and decided to take matters into her own hands.”
He snapped his fingers at the younger male. “Speak.”
Michael swallowed hard in fear and also to test that his throat had healed enough to work. His voice shook as he began to talk. “Thereasa telephoned yesterday. She said she was being held captive in one of the wolf packs that are aligned with the vampires over there. She demanded to be rescued, said she had something to tell you that was a threat to all the covens. The call was interrupted. I heard her scream before the line went dead.”
Dante remained quiet, as he mentally added the extra information to what he’d already gleaned. The covens had suddenly decided to work together to determine the threat level from across the pond? Never, in all of European history, had the covens ever worked together for anything. Louis meant it when he said there was no we in Vampire. The fact that the coven leader had unwittingly offered the information—without appearing to understand the implications of it—definitely set off warning bells.
Thereasa had always been passionate, from what he remembered of her. One of the reasons he had liked her so much had been her unwavering loyalty to not only her coven, but also her leader. Now she was recklessly endangering her family? That was what the coven signified to her: the family that she had lost all those centuries ago, something she would have gladly sacrificed herself for. Had she discovered something so frightening that it was enough to cause her to abandon everything she held dear?
The more he heard, the more unanswered questions there were, and the more his unease grew. Something was very wrong and it appeared he was the only one who could see it. Perhaps he should go and visit the Ancients? Maybe they would have the answers he was seeking and he was wasting his time in Europe? It was definitely something he would consider; but for the moment, the threat level still felt too close to home.
“Are you intending to rescue the girl?”
Louis growled loudly and stood up, his chair crashing to the floor. “Betrayal does not warrant a rescue, but she can’t be left there. She knows too much about my coven, she knows all our safe houses and where I would most likely settle if they were compromised.”
Hazel eyes turned to Michael and bore into him mercilessly. “You deserve no reward for having failed me, vampire; however, I believe your hatred for Thereasa is second only to mine. Assemble a team. When you have, Dante will approve your selection and you will find Thereasa and kill her. Do not return until you have her head to show me.”
Michael stood up straighter, his eyes glowing with an emotion that was hard to define. His lips curled into the semblance of a smile as he nodded his head in agreement. “As you command.” Without another word, he turned and hurried from the office.
“Is that wise, Louis? You’ve just said he failed you before and this mess is largely his doing. Can you trust him to do as you want?” Dante was curious to why his friend had chosen the younger male. He had been expecting to be sent himself.
“All the more reason to send him,” the Frenchman answered, the first hint of a smile crossing his face. “He knows death awaits him if he fails me again, and I am fairly certain Reasa will die at his hands if he’s able to reach her. And if he does fail…well the Ancients will take care of him and I won’t have to deal with him any further.”
“Won’t that leave Thereasa alive if he fails? Won’t your coven still be at risk?”
Louis turned to walk out of the office, and Dante followed him into the main gym area, which was beginning to fill up with coven members arriving to train.
“If she intended to betray the coven, we would all be dead already, Dante. Whatever her reasons were for doing what she did, there is one thing I am willing to bet my life on and that’s Reasa would never betray this coven.”
“Then why kill her? You told Michael she had to die to keep the coven safe.”
The expression on the Frenchman’s face was chilling as he turned to look back at the one male he would have called friend, if he could ever trust anyone that much. “Because she betrayed me, and the penalty for that will always be death.”