From Chapter Two

“Why —ow!— aren’t we —hey, watch out for that...!— on the —OW!— road?!”

Neva did not answer, far too intent on evading an endless supply of trees that appeared to leap out of the darkness at the most inappropriate moments, almost in a conscious effort to tangle with her motorcycle and send the two of them spiraling and skidding and crashing to a premature halt.

She was not happy with this route. Not in the slightest. Of course she would have preferred the comfortable, safer path along the road, where tree roots and small boulders and rotted logs and ditches did not conspire against the traveler. She would never have suspected that she would willingly elect to navigate through a densely packed forest on her bike with a confused and angry teenaged boy latched to her back, instead of taking the comparative pleasant jaunt through the park along the smooth, paved road which was far kinder to spinning rubber wheels and hairpin turns and rear ends (among other things).

But the road was no longer safe, and she would gladly put up with a sore butt if it meant getting Elijah out of the city —let alone the state of Michigan— alive.

If what the Lanes had said was true...

She wondered how much time they had.

“Hello?!” One hand briefly relaxed its death - grip on her shoulder and snagged her ponytail, giving it a forceful yank. “What the hell are we doing?!

Neva was an extremely patient woman. She understood that this was an incredibly chaotic, earth - shattering, incomprehensible, nerve - wracking situation that Elijah had been thrust blindly into through circumstances beyond his control. She yelled at him. “Callate! Do you want me to wrap this bike around a tree?! Don’t distract me!”

This appeared to have the desired effect. The hand returned to her shoulder, followed by a chin. The Hunter felt a brief pang of guilt. Humans were animals, after all. They lashed out when frightened... and Elijah truly had to be terrified right now. She really couldn’t even imagine how he could feel after... what his parents had...

The motorcycle shot over a particularly nasty bump, and Elijah yelped. “Sorry!” Neva threw back over her shoulder. She was anxious not to be distracted any further by her passenger, but her flash of guilt had incited her to make up for her earlier explosion.

However, there was no way for her to ignore the young Ailuran when his grip slackened and his weight sagged into her back.

Neva’s first panicked thought was that he was fainting. He was surely overwhelmed, after all, what with all that had happened in such a small span of time. But she couldn’t have him falling. “Elijah, please, hold on!” she implored as she snaked around the remains of a fallen tree and sideswiped the slender trunk of a living relation, its stray, frail limbs batting at her face and causing her to splutter. The unpleasant sting of the scratching branches was not enough to sidetrack her, try as the forest might to thwart their escape, and she realized with a jolt of horror that the weight on her back was gradually sliding off. “Dio! Elijah, what are you doing?!” Her voice rose to a shriek over the roar of the bike’s engine. “You are slipping! Elijah!

He had gone completely slack; if she didn’t stop now, he would surely fall off the back of the motorcycle, and if he had fainted, he was not going to land on his feet. On top of that, she could not grab him and right him without abandoning the handlebars. So, after a quick, desperate, sweeping look to take in the dark surroundings, Neva determined there was enough room to slam on the brakes and swing the bike into a side-winding halt.

Perhaps slamming hadn’t been the brightest idea. The motorcycle skidded out from under her straddling legs, shooting straight for the largest tree she’d seen yet in this forest, and she only just managed to snatch Elijah in midair, flinging her arms around him and twisting to bring herself closer to the ground, before together they tumbled into the bushes. She rolled —collecting a handful burrs and cuts and bruises along the way— and sprang nimbly into a crouch, while her companion only flopped and landed without a vestige of grace, sprawled on his back.

The petite Hunter scrambled over to him, cursing inwardly. He sounded conscious, not doing much more than mumbling, but it seemed apparent that he had not fainted after all. Not even a faint, and now that mess was their only means of a quick getaway— a twisted mess of metal at the foot of a triumphant tree. Once she reached him, she seized his shoulders and gave him a shake, lifting him off the ground a bit. “Elijah, you may have cost us our escape!” she hissed, unable to quell her aggravation, fully believing it to be justified. However, her anger fled when she finally registered that something was wrong. Very wrong. The teenager was limp in her hands, eyes rolling, drool issuing from the corner of his mouth.

She had been wondering how much time they had. She appeared to have received an answer.

Quickly, she flipped Elijah over on his stomach and sifted her fingers through his tousled hair, pulling out gnarled tangles and fishing around for a foreign object. If her suspicions were correct...

There. A cluster of feathers, nestled between the back of his right ear and the curve of his neck. Neva exhaled shakily, her fears justified, and carefully extracted the dart, holding it up to inspect in the light of the wavering beams from her fallen bike.

Tranquilizer guns were not typically part of a Hunter’s arsenal. Those who committed themselves to the subduing and eradication of preternatural beings were not ordinarily wont to disable a target in favor of killing it at the first opportunity. A Hunter would sooner see his foe dead than merely passive and approachable. Furthermore, drugs simply were not reliable. It would be no easy task to determine the proper amount needed of a particular compound in order to fell a particular creature, and very few wanted to bother with such exhaustive minutiae.

Nevertheless, someone had had the patience, and Neva was fairly sure she knew who it was. He had not struck her as the humane type, nor as particularly patient, for that matter, but in her experience she had found that he was unbelievably determined (“stubborn” was a more appropriate term, she felt), enough, it would seem, that he would put in the research required to figure out the chemistry involved in tranquilizers. She was momentarily stumped as to why he would do such a thing... but as she rolled the tiny dart between her fingers, frowning, it came to her. They’d been moving so quickly; to have even hit Elijah, let alone with such precision as within a few inches of the carotid artery, would have meant a hell of a shot. If Brian Zimmerman —for who else could it be?— had used a silver bullet, and had missed, there was the possibility of the bullet accidentally striking Neva.

And while they were not especially good friends, neither of them intended the other harm.

Well. Harm, perhaps. But definitely not death.

Elijah, on the other hand, was fair game. Gently, the little woman turned him over again, brushing dirt off of his pale face with one hand while she bent over and tilted her ear towards his open mouth. She strongly suspected that a silver component had been entered into whatever drug Zimmerman had used, and needed to be certain that it hadn’t triggered an allergic reaction.

His breathing was slow, but steady. No whistling or wheezing. Good. She straightened, tucking a few stray locks of her nearly fluorescent hair behind her ears, turning her head to cast a wary gaze around at the looming trees that seemed to stretch on interminably.

They’d been heading east. The dart had struck Elijah on the right side. She was confident that she knew, at the very least, which direction would lead them straight into the other Hunter’s waiting arms.

So they wanted to head in the other direction. But how?

It was safe to assume that Zimmerman was packing more heat than a meager tranquilizer gun, but as long as Neva stayed close to Elijah, he would not risk a fatal shot. That much was clear.

“Here, kitty, kitty,” she muttered somewhat sardonically, sliding one arm around the teenager’s back and curving the other under his knees, bracing herself for his weight. Carefully, she stood, with a soft, initial grunt. Not too bad. Just as she happened to be unexpectedly strong, Elijah was surprisingly light. It was not too terribly difficult for the tiny Hunter to negotiate the awkward, flopping limbs of the Ailuran and mold him into a more compact, mobile position. Once he was curled up into a ball and pressed tightly to Neva’s chest, head nodding forward, almost kneeing himself in the nose, she gingerly began to thread her way across the uneven ground toward the mangled bike.

Upon closer inspection, she realized —with a great sigh of relief— that the damage was not as extensive as she’d first thought. It was pretty badly banged up, but not impossible to ride out of here...

...Granted she take the road.

Much Later in the Story

“We shall convene in the evening,” Raoul announced graciously, executing a flourishing bow before angling his arms to indicate the doorway. “For the rest of the day you may rest and feed at your leisure. Please enjoy my humble palace.”

“I’m sure we shall do our best,” Aurèlie muttered under her breath, and Caspar smirked. Veses Lex either did not hear her, or chose not to take notice, for he swept out past her without so much as an admonishing glance.

Manon, on the other hand, was a much more straightforward woman, stopping before Raoul Michel and mimicking his bow with ridiculous accuracy. “Humble, Monsieur?” she echoed, iridescent eyes sparkling impishly. “You are perhaps the most arrogant Master I have had the pleasure to meet, and you think you flatter your image with false modesty?” She laughed and held out her hand. “Non, non, it does not suit you, Monsieur Michel.”

Unfazed —perhaps humoured, if anything— the Psi-Vampyre took her hand and delivered a perfunctory kiss to its back, never shifting his unblinking, lavender eyes from her face. “Whatever you say, Mademoiselle Garnier.”

While this was going on, Pavoni slipped silently from the room, mouth still twisted in its permanent sneer. Aurèlie Taquette finally took her leave, as well, slinking along behind the Italian and making rather undignified faces over his shoulder, much to the amusement of Caspar, who sniggered softly and stuck close to his Mistress.

“If you could please point me in the direction of your wolves, then...?” Manon queried, looking quite pleased with herself. “And I mean true wolves. Not mere Lycans.”

Raoul was a seasoned Vampyre. He did not allow his eye to twitch in his irritation, and easily kept the emotion from manifesting in his voice. “Ah, mais oui... just follow the red hallway, it will lead you right out to the grounds— as long as you do not object to the sunlight, ma cherie. They are in their enclosure, you need only speak to Noel to access them.” Conceited brat.

Manon expressed her thanks as ungratefully as she knew how —or so it seemed to Raoul— before departing, leaving only two more Vampyres in the room: that waifish German boy, who still appeared more interested in the painting on the wall than in the discussion at hand, and that peculiar little British tart, who was currently humming to herself and crawling under the table.

Raoul hastened forward and caught a half-filled glass before it tumbled and caused irreparable damage to the pristine table cloth, which, ironically, was the source of the disturbance: Patience was inadvertently dragging the cloth under the table with her. “Mademoiselle!” he said sharply, placing one palm on the table to arrest further disruption of the fabric and ducking his head to peer after her. “Is there something you seek down there?”

Her wide, bright blue eyes reappeared, blinking out of the relative darkness. “Oh where, oh where has my little dog gone?” Once again, she was singing, her voice high, sweet, clear, and chilling. “Oh where, oh where can he be?”

Im Lauterbach hab’ich mein’ Strumpf verlorn,” the German muttered under his breath, still facing the painting and folding his arms stiffly over his chest.

The French Master was growing weary of Patience’s little games, but he knew of her reputation. She was not young, but nor was she as old as any of the others he had called to this meeting; yet, she was just as notorious as any of them, her name traveling in frightened whispers amongst the nervous cowards and weaklings of the preternatural community... and even extending to those whom were considered braver than most. He respected her. He just did not like dealing with her. “Where is what, now, Mademoiselle Patience?” he asked in a parody of politeness, so ingratiating as to cause any rational individual to shudder and grimace.

She emerged, ballooning skirts wadded in one hand, reaching up towards Raoul with the other, sleeve slipping back to reveal her slender, adolescent wrist. “A little child of beauty rare,” she sang, as the older Vampyre bore her to her feet, where she swayed a bit, unsteady, before continuing. “With marv’lous eyes and wondrous hair; Who—” and here she leaned into Raoul, twisting her fingers round his supportive hand and nestling her blond head into his chest— “in my child-eyes, seemed to me; All that a little child should be!”

He allowed her to snuggle up against him, but he did not reciprocate, and merely gazed coolly down at her. “I do not understand, I’m afraid. Perhaps if you were not to speak in verse—”

He was a little boy!” Patience sounded insistent under the melody.

Raoul frowned. “You’re still singing, but are you at least now referring specifically to that which you seek?”

“He was a little boy!

The Master jerked his head to the side. It was not Patience who had uttered those last words, but Johann. Needless to say, he was not singing. He barked out the words like it pained him to do so, and now that he had finally turned to face the room beyond the painting, his aggravation was plainly etched in his feminine features.

“She may draw from many sources, but only an uncultured fool would not notice by now that she falls back on Gilbert and Sullivan more often than not!” the washed-out youth snapped. “In this case it is Patience, or Bunthorne’s Bride! Besides that, taken out of context, it should be clear to you, with the abilities you boast, about whom she sings! That is all!” With a click of his heels, Johann spun sharply back to face the wall, abruptly still and stiff as a board, as though he hadn’t even moved or spoken to begin with.

There was, Raoul realized, not much he could do in response to the young German’s outburst. His angry speech had ended on such a note of finality that it left no room for rebuttal. Even if he were to express his amusement (for that was what he felt; there was nothing more comical, in his opinion, than persons of that nature), it would not be received kindly, and, of course, Raoul did not invite all of these powerful Vampyres here to his home to insult them. So, instead of further acknowledging Johann, he merely took into consideration what had just been said.

Well, then. Clear for a man of his abilities? Taken out of context? Patience was singing about a “boy”, then, a beautiful boy with marvelous eyes and wondrous hair... well, Mon Dieu! But that could refer to so many—

He set a hand on the girl’s blond curls and tilted her head back. “You sing of Joseph, don’t you? My newest pet.” Of course. It was so very obvious. He had even been in the room earlier, just before Raoul’s guests had arrived; it would not take a terribly powerful Vampyre to sense him, even form an image of him in his or her mind.

Patience nodded excitedly, clasping both of her hands over his, wringing it and bouncing on her heels. “A most intense young man,” she sang, eager, “A soulful-eyed young man; An ultra-poetical, super-aesthetical; Out-of-the-way young man!”

“Well,” Raoul remarked drily, “I’m not so certain how accurate your choice of phrase is, but it does appear, at least, that you are referring to my Joseph.” He gently shook free of her grasp and took a step back, elegantly bowing as he moved. “If it is his company that you request, then you are welcome to him. My generosity is not without stipulations, however.”

“My eyes are open; I droop despairingly; I am soulfully intense; I am limp and I cling!” Miraculously, the singing had stopped. Still, the words she spoke were not much more comprehensible— although she was somewhat describing her current disposition, in spite of the fact that Raoul was standing well away and no longer allowing her to hang onto him for support.

He ignored her and continued. “No overwhelmingly traumatizing harm may come to him. Nor may you attempt to beguile him into your own clutches, not permanently; he is mine, and I do not take kindly to thieves. If he comes to me afterward and is not perfectly composed as he should be, there will be consequences. Is that clear? And,” he added, long-suffering, “answer me in a lucid, articulate manner, s’il vous plait.”

Her response was to flash him a charming smile and to utter, sickeningly sweet, “A babe might understand it.”

Finally. A shred of sanity... possibly, anyway. Raoul Michel straightened and gestured to the doorway. “He is in his quarters. I do not doubt you can find him on your own, petite Patience.”

Still smiling happily, the doll-faced blond curtsied, gathered up her skirts, and paraded out of the room, reciting a poem as she went, which faded into nothingness —not that there seemed to be much substance to it to begin with— as she disappeared down the hallway. “Gentle Jane was good as gold; She always did as she was told; She never spoke when her mouth was full...”

Once her nonsensical strains had trailed off, Raoul eased himself into the nearest chair, expelling a long sigh and slipping one hand over his face, resting his elbow on the table. He remained like this for several minutes, motionless, composing himself.

This was why he had deliberately refrained from overexposure to the preternatural community, particularly to fellow Vampyres, for a good three centuries. It was tiring. Hell, he didn’t even care for dealing with the natural, human community— public relations and the representatives of his company and so on and so forth (let alone the mere peons he encountered on his incognito excursions). He could put on a smiling face, full of charm and charisma, to be sure. He could act for all the world like the most courteous and cordial man alive... or not quite alive. Child’s play. That wasn’t the problem. For Raoul Michel, it was not at all a question of can or could.

It was want.

But he was not a stupid man. He knew his limitations. Acting as he wished to act... that was not something that could happen right now, not with the present state of affairs in the world regarding preternatural beings, not with his current level of power and support.

In due time, yes. For now, he had to put on his faces and airs and graces.

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Cara Cioffari