When they were airborne Wolfe threw off his belt and strode purposefully toward the prisoners, Sadihra on his heels. He’d barely disappeared through the door before Jorick did the same.
Katelina caught his arm. “Where are you going?”
His dark eyes twinkled. “Wolfe can only interrogate one at a time. I don’t see why I shouldn’t speak to the other.”
“You’re going to leave me alone? What if we crash?”
“In that case, I fail to see what difference my presence could make.” She glared and he gave a weary sigh. “If we start to crash I’ll race back to you, is that better? Or you could come with me.”
“I don’t like walking around with the belt unfastened.”
“Suit yourself.” He pulled his arm away and pressed a kiss to her forehead. “I’ll be back.”
He disappeared through the door. She fidgeted and then she unclasped the belt and hurried after him, muttering a prayer as she went.
The kitchen-“ette” deserved the miniaturizing suffix. A counter, microwave, mini fridge, and small bar were crowded into the space. There was very little room but Katelina squeezed in.
The prisoner sat on the floor, her back in the L-shape between the fridge and the counter. Her makeshift bandage was wet with blood and her hands were tied behind her back. Her cold blue eyes shone with defiance.
“Any luck?” Katelina asked.
Verchiel hopped onto the countertop and swung his legs. “Her name is Quenby.”
Jorick motioned him to silence, and held Quenby’s gaze. His dark eyes drilled into her consciousness. She held her own for a moment, then broke away with a gasp, her chest heaving at some psychological effort.
“Well?” Katelina asked.
Jorick’s brow furrowed and Verchiel cocked his head to one side. “Who are the Children of Shadows?”
Jorick made a noise of contempt in his throat. “They’re nothing but a legend now.”
Wolfe banged out of the sleeping compartment and stopped in the doorway. “Then it seems we walk among the legends.”
Before Katelina could ask, Jorick said, “They’re an extinct group of vampires, a cult really, that was devoted to Memnon the Destroyer.”
“Who?” She silently prayed it wasn’t another vampire bent on taking over the world.
“No. He’s long dead,” Jorick said to her thoughts.
Wolfe nodded to the bedroom. “The other one claims allegiance to the Black Vigil, and says they’re hunting the Children.”
Quenby growled. “She will be punished.”
Jorick rubbed his chin. “I’m not familiar with the Black Vigil.”
“Neither am I. I’ll send word ahead to Munich when I can. Perhaps they know more. We will keep the prisoners isolated and will hand them over when we reach the stronghold.”
Though Jorick nodded, the sound he made was noncommittal.
Wolfe started to leave, then tossed back, “You can interview the other if you like. I doubt you’ll learn more than I did.”
As soon as the Scharfrichter was out of sight Jorick motioned Katelina to follow him. She glanced back to Verchiel. “Aren’t you coming?”
“I’m on guard duty.” His smile grew. “I know it won’t be the same without me, but try to carry on.”
Jorick made an unhappy noise and Katelina rolled her eyes. “If you say so.”
The sleeping room was on the other side of the bathroom. Inside was a small bed, dressed up to look elegant with a lot of wood and heavy bedding. There was also a nightstand bolted to the floor, a flat panel TV, and something small and stuffed that served as a chair. Micah was sprawled across the bed shirtless, the TV remote in his good hand and a toothpick clenched between his teeth. Katelina was startled by his well-muscled chest, and looked away quickly to the bloody shirt heaped on the floor.
“Trading one Guild dog for another.” Micah nodded to Jorick.
“You can go,” Jorick snapped.
Micah leaned back. “I ain’t givin’ up the best seat on the plane.”
Jorick ignored him and turned to the prisoner. She knelt at the foot of the bed, her hands tied behind her. Her face was upturned and her violet eyes moist. Now that Katelina could see her up close, she looked about seventeen, with almond shaped eyes and porcelain skin.
Before they could question her she murmured, “He does not remember me.”
Micah shrugged. “That’s the main thing she says.”
“Who doesn’t remember her?” Katelina glanced to the bald vampire.
“That’s the funny thing. You’d think old tight-ass woulda asked, but he didn’t seem to care.”
Katelina met the girl’s eyes and tried not to let the sorrow sway her. An hour ago the vampiress had tried to kill them. “Who doesn’t remember you?”
The word she’d repeated over and over. Apparently it wasn’t a word, but a name.
When no one else asked, Katelina did. “Who’s Aki?”
Jorick stared at the girl, as if reading her thoughts, and then a strange, slow smile spread across his lips. “I believe we know him as the redheaded idiot.”
“Verchiel?” Katelina gaped. “He said he didn’t know her.”
“Or else he does not wish to admit it.” The girl sagged and Jorick motioned everyone to silence.
“What’s your name?”
When nothing else followed Micah asked, “How do you know the little freak?”
Ume scowled and Jorick snapped, “I’ll handle this.”
“Sure, you’re doing such a great job. Hell, Lunch has got more out of her than you have. Maybe you should let her ask the questions?”
Katelina waved them to silence and rephrased the question into “How do you know him?” but the vampiress stubbornly refused to answer. After several tries, Katelina turned to Jorick. “You picked Verchiel out of her head. Can’t you get anything else?”
The girl looked frightened and drew back, as if afraid of an immediate mental assault. Jorick made a dismissive gesture. “Her memories of him are foggy, no doubt from before she was turned. I only picked him out because of his ridiculous hair. The rest is more feeling than concrete.” He crossed his arms over his chest and surveyed her. “For what it’s worth, I believe she loves him.”
Ume’s head snapped up and her eyes burned with anger. “You should not speak about what you do not know, dream stealer.”
“He’s more than that, sweetie,” Micah said from the bed. “He’s the Goddamn Hand of Death.” The laughter that followed was coarse and earned him angry looks.
Ume’s face fell rigid and Jorick stepped back. “She doesn’t want to talk, and frankly I couldn’t care less about the idiot’s past relationships. What I want to know about are the Children of Shadows. You’re not a part of them?”
“No,” Ume said coldly.
“Were the others?”
Jorick’s calculated gaze said he was sifting through her thoughts. Ume winced and cringed then turned her face away and stared defiantly at the door. He nodded and said slowly, “I see.” He turned to Katelina. “Whether it’s the Children of Shadows or not, someone was at the marina before them. Someone killed the harbor master and the other people. I believe the first four we encountered were part of this group. She has memories of herself and others, part of the Black Vigil as Wolfe called them, chasing the perpetrators away. She and her partner circled back to check that the marina was clear. Obviously they’d missed a few, but we took care of them. The women arrived, found us, and assumed we were also part of the Children.” Jorick squinted at the girl and then said quietly, “There’s someone in her mind, one of the so-called children, who looks a lot like Cyprus.”
The name conjured burning fury. He was an Executioner sent with them to Munich by The Guild. It turned out he had an unhappy history with Sadihra and Wolfe. He was in love with the Scharfrichterin, and, in the Raven Queen’s temple, when he’d believed her dead, he’d betrayed them and joined Malick.
Jorick added, “I still can’t find anything in her mind associated with the name Malick.” He studied Ume a moment, then turned to Katelina. “We’re done for now. Come, little one.”
She hesitated, “How do you know Verchiel—or Aki, or whatever you called him?”
Ume glared defiantly and said, “Ask him.”
“Ha!” Micah spat out his toothpick. “Like you’ll get anything useful from that son of a bitch. Hey, Lunch, tell pipsqueak to bring me a new shirt. Unless you like the view.” He flexed his muscles and chortled.
Katelina’s answer was an eye roll as she followed Jorick out of the room.
Verchiel was still perched on the kitchenette countertop, his chin in his hands. Though Jorick walked past him without a word, Katelina stopped. “You’re sure you don’t know her?”
The redhead shrugged. “I don’t think so.”
“She called you Aki. Does that ring a bell?”
“I might’ve run into her after Kateesha left but before I landed in the U.S.”
“When was that?”
“Oh, anywhere from 1710 to 1920 or so.” Katelina gaped and he grinned and held out his hands in a gesture of helplessness. “You can’t expect me to remember everyone I met in those two hundred years.”
She wasn’t sure why, but she felt snippy. “Not even some poor idiotic girl who’s in love with you.”
Verchiel’s hands dropped slowly. “Says who?”
“Jorick.” She leaned close and dropped her voice to a threatening whisper. “I suggest you go in there and get your shit straightened out, Casanova.”
He blinked in surprise and muttered something about “guard duty”.
With a look of disgust, she shot off the word, “Coward,” and then stormed back to her seat.
The flight was long and boring. Katelina bounced between clutching the arms of the seat, wandering to the bathroom, and raiding the kitchen for drinks and snacks. Each time Verchiel was stubbornly “at his post” and each time she ignored his attempts at conversation.
Boredom took its toll, and eventually she drifted off into dreams. She stood in heavy spring garden. A storm rumbled in the distance and the thunder made her jump.
“Do not be afraid.”
She spun around to see someone standing in the shadows. His long black hair hung down his back and a soothing wave of comfort rolled out from him and enveloped her.
“It’s not the thunder. It’s everything else.” Munich. Malick. Samael. There was so much to worry about, yet as the peace stole over her the worries drifted away.
“They cannot harm you. Nothing can.”
She let her eyes roam over the heavy headed flowers, to the gathering clouds. “Because I’m dreaming?”
“No. Because I am here.”
Her eyes snapped open to Jorick shaking her. “Katelina.”
“Huh? What?” She blinked as the plane came into focus. “Sorry, I was having a lovely dream about you.”
He gave her a suggestive smirk. “Perhaps when we get to the stronghold we can make it reality? Now fasten your belt, little one. We’re preparing to land.”
She didn’t have the heart to tell him it wasn’t one of those dreams. In a way it had been better because the peaceful, disconnected feeling had come with her into waking. Even as the plane descended, her usual panic was replaced with calm. It would be all right. He was with her.
When they landed, she was hurried off the plane, dragging her suitcase all the way. The winter wind smacked into her, and she recoiled, shocked back to reality.
A pair of SUVs and two vampires in long black coats and matching medallions waited impatiently, both Scharfrichter. They snapped quick salutes at Wolfe, who was the head of their force, then took charge of the prisoners. With a few quick words in German, they hurried their charges toward the vehicles, and motioned the others to follow.
The trip from the airport to the stronghold flew by. Soon they were in the city, surrounded by white multistoried buildings, whose cheery red roofs were kissed with snow.
They stopped before one where four vampire guards dressed in crimson uniforms waited. The Scharfrichter disembarked first, shoved the prisoners at them, and then motioned everyone out of the vehicles.
The front of the building was newly repaired, some of the paint whiter than the rest. Katelina thought it must be from the last time they’d been there. Malick had blown his way through, leaving smoking rubble behind, in a quest to speak to Jorick. In her mind, she could see the scene. Malick stood on the stairs, his face serene as he filled the hall with a throbbing noise and then, the noise had stopped and she’d fallen into his eyes; into the depths of some secret place where voices whispered aching words only her subconscious understood.
She shook herself back to the present and followed the others inside to a corridor. At the end was a large shadowy room littered with heavy furniture. A secret door in the back wall was already open, and Katelina could see into the next room where the guards and their prisoners waited. Three more guards were seated at tables with computers and security monitors, and a fourth spoke on the phone, obviously getting directions from someone higher up. He nodded along, and then motioned the guards and their charges through a second secret door.
Wolfe led the rest of them through the room with only a word and a gesture, and into a short corridor. Beyond it was a flight of stairs that led to the impressive entrance hall. Two stories tall and floored in white marble, the hall was flanked by pillars and arches. An information window had a sign that said “closed for the day” in various languages. Still, a human sat behind it, yawning and sipping a cup of coffee.
Two guards waited before the elevators, but the prisoners and their escorts were nowhere to be seen. Katelina wondered if they’d taken a different route once they’d reached the hall. It made sense, since the general vampire population traveled this way. Not that there was any “general population” to be seen. No doubt they were all tucked into their beds.
The heavy, crushing sensation Katelina associated with The Sodalitas built slowly, and when they reached the bank of ornate silver elevators it was as if she could feel hundreds of years of vampire authority weighing her down.
One of the guards saluted Wolfe, and murmured something in German. The Scharfrichter turned to his companions and explained, “Your rooms have been arranged, but there is a question of who to charge some of them to. Jorick and—” he paused as if he’d forgotten Verchiel’s name. “—Verchiel will of course be guests of The Höher Rat.” He looked pointedly at Oren and Micah. “It is late, so the details can be sorted later. When you wake tomorrow you should come back here to the desk and they will handle the arrangements.”
“It wasn’t my idea to come,” Micah said. “I was perfectly fuckin’ happy on the island.”
Oren cleared his throat stiffly and gave Micah a warning look. “We’ll worry about it tomorrow.”
The elevator chimed and the doors swished open. “We will not all fit inside,” said one of the Scharfrichter who’d met them at the airport. “The guard will take part of you ahead and the rest can follow with the other.” He motioned to the elevator’s red velvet interior and Jorick gently tugged Katelina inside. Oren, Torina, and Etsuko followed, leaving the others with Wolfe. As the doors closed, Katelina caught the worried glance that passed between Wolfe and Sadihra. It was one that said she might be imprisoned this time tomorrow.
Katelina pressed herself against the back wall and wondered where that lovely calm, disconnected feeling had gone. She was left with the crushing, heart pounding terror of one who knew what lurked in the bowels of the stronghold: The Kugsankal, or True Council.
Jorick squeezed her hand. “It will be fine, little one. I doubt we’ll see them.”
She nodded, but felt no relief. It was as if the True Council reached through layers of earth and stone to press into her consciousness; as if Inanna, the cerulean eyed vampiress, was already digging into her thoughts and memories.
The thought echoed through her mind and, as if a switch had been flicked, the crushing, clawing sensation ceased. She breathed a sigh of relief, and looked to see Jorick staring at her. He returned her nervous smile, but something like alarm slithered beneath the surface in his eyes.
Before she could ask what was wrong, the elevator stopped and the guard led them down the twisting, turning labyrinth of halls and corridors.
The guard finally stopped before a carved wooden door. “Jorick and human will be in this room.” He held out a key, as if hoping whoever Jorick was would take it. Katelina snatched it and, though the guard cocked an eyebrow, he turned back to his clipboard. “Verchiel will be in the next room.”
“He’s not here,” Oren said.
“Danke.” The guard stashed the key and went on. “Oren and human will be down here.”
He started to walk, but Oren didn’t follow. “I don’t have a human. This one belongs to a Japanese girl. She asked Jorick to take her on an educational trip. She’s his responsibility, not mine.”
The guard turned back, his brows knitted together. “Do you mean none of you are her master? She is traveling unaccompanied?”
Oren stiffened. “She’s not unaccompanied. We’re accompanying her! It’s—” He broke off at a warning look from Jorick. “Never mind.” He strode forward and snatched the key from the guard’s hand. “We’ll sort it out tomorrow.”
“Very good.” The guard looked relieved and started back down the corridor. “I have a Torina, and a Micah and Loren who are further this way.”
As their voices faded, Jorick took the key from Katelina and opened the door. “That was entertaining.”
“No it wasn’t. Poor Etsuko. It’s like she’s a pet dog no one wants and everyone’s stuck with. Oren is such a jackass!”
Jorick pushed the door open and waited for Katelina to go in first. “He’s not as terrible as you think. You notice he stopped when the guard hinted at repercussions.” He gave her a wink. “You humans aren’t allowed to wander off without your masters, you know.”
“Bite me,” she muttered as she walked inside. The room was as decadent as their last experience in Munich. A large bed was clothed in red satin and heaped with pillows. Red upholstered chairs sat between carved furniture. Instead of a second bed, a pair of coffins sat on low, polished platforms, in case the vampire guests preferred a more traditional sleep. Gilt framed paintings of trees and medieval figures hung on the walls. She knew from experience that one of them was actually a flat panel television. The painting would disappear, only to reappear on the screen when it was turned off. Modern conveniences with a classical appearance.
Before Katelina could peek at the bathroom, Jorick tackled her to the bed. She gave a strangled cry as he nipped at her neck.
When she got her head free she cried, “What in the hell are you doing?”
His expression was false innocence. “You said to bite you.”
She pulled away with a roll of her eyes. “No wonder you and Verchiel are getting along better. You’re turning into him.”
She wasn’t fast enough to dodge the pillow.<<Chapter 1 <Chapter 2 Chapter 3