Chapter Two

     Katelina woke, lying on her side across a yellow cushion, and rubbed her aching head. Flickering lamps illuminated a pillared room. Four men stood against the wall, their expressions frightened. She followed their gaze to find Samael kneeling on a pillow near her, frowning.
     "It seems a mortal mind cannot contain so many millennia of knowledge. The old masters were not so ancient when they passed on their wisdom to their wives and children, so I did not realize. No matter. I have taken it back and will return it once the change has taken place."
     Katelina sat up slowly, unsure what he was talking about. She had a smeary memory of kneeling, of seeing her life flash behind her eyes. All the insignificant moments drained away to make room for something more important. There was a vision of two men and then...
     "My brother and myself," Samael said.
     "What was his name?" she asked vaguely. She felt as though she had known something important, but now it was gone.
     "I don't remember. Nor do I remember my original name."
     She only half listened, too busy trying to recapture what she'd lost. "It's Samael."
     "No. Samael was given to me long after I was asleep. I have had many names. The last I used before the darkness was Kanghui."
     "And Lilith?"
     "Lilith is not her name, only one she took later. Like me she has many."
     "What do you call her?"
     "There can only be one word for her. Hate."
     Katelina couldn't understand why he was married to her if she was so terrible.
     "She was not always so, or I did not see her for what she was. The marriage, if you wish to call it that, was done by arrangement. We were content enough for a short time." He frowned. "Memories of those days are shrouded in mist. Over the slow centuries I have tried to recall them clearly, but cannot. Perhaps they never were, but are only a figment of my imagination. Perhaps she always favored my brother."
     Katelina understood what he meant about foggy memories. Many of hers were that way now. From what she could recall, she plucked the legend of Samael and Lilith, a story that involved Adam and Eve and the beginning of the world.
     "I know nothing of the world's creation," Samael said to her thoughts. "I would suppose that in your legend Adam has come to represent my brother, and Eve his wife. I scarcely remember them, only that they were the cause of heartache." He paused then considered. "No, I suppose she was the cause and they were only caught up in it."
     Katelina waited for more and he supplied it. "The whore of the darkness, the one you call Lilith, preferred my brother. Though he rebuffed her, she pursued him relentlessly, and took no pains to hide her efforts. I was foolish and hoped that things would change, so I kept her. I don't recall how it came to pass, but my brother's wife came to me in tears. She was sure my brother had finally succumbed to Lilith. She wanted to get revenge; an eye for an eye, a husband for a husband. I don't remember the encounters, only that they were fruitful. Lilith discovered the truth, some clever thing to do with cycles. It was made more bitter by the fact that she herself had not been able to conceive. She had blamed everything from the gods to me, but now it was obvious who was at fault. The gods had allowed me to impregnate my brother's wife, but did not give Lilith a child because she was unworthy.
     "In her quest for vengeance Lilith did the same as I had done - an eye for an eye, a husband for a husband. She gave my brother drink and laid with him. When his wits returned, he crawled home to his wife, confessed and begged her forgiveness, never knowing that the child she carried was mine. She kept her secret and gave him his absolution. In my foolishness I carried guilt for what had happened, for the evidence that daily grew within my brother's wife, and so I thought nothing of Lilith's transgressions and sought only to appease her."
     Katelina tried to wrap her head around his story. "Didn't Lilith tell your brother that his wife's baby was really yours?"
     "If she did, she was not believed. Enough talk of the past. The night wanes and morning light comes soon. Though the sun does not burn me, you must be tired after this ordeal."
     He was right. She was tired. More than tired. Exhausted. Somehow she found the strength to stand and follow him. Outside, the sky was the navy blue of early morning, and she wondered where the night had gone.
     "To the ritual," he replied. "Even compressed, a thousand lifetimes take time to live through. Do not worry, the purification of the spirit will be less taxing."
     Katelina was barely in her room before the two women from earlier reappeared. In a flurry they turned down her bed, changed her clothes, and practically stuffed her under the blankets. Katelina was still blinking in confusion when they left.
     She shook off the whirlwind of their urgency and closed her eyes. For a moment the lost knowledge hovered just at the edge of her consciousness. Then sleep took her. She drifted on tides that were more memory than imagination, back to a happier time, and found Jorick in the shadows. She lay in the safe circle of his arms. The ocean surf lapped the sand in time to Jorick's heartbeat. Palm trees framed the edge of her vision, obscuring the group of vampires who lounged farther down the beach. Above them hung the moon, crowned in a silver halo and holding court over the stars. It was perfect.
     She brushed strands of his dark hair from Jorick's face. His eyes twinkled, and his smile left a pool of warmth in her stomach.
     "You look happy."
     He caught her hand and pressed a kiss to her knuckles. "Of course I am, little one. I'm with you."
     The school girl giggle escaped before she could stop it, and she blushed. "You say that, but..."
     "But what?" Some of the amusement slipped from his eyes.
     "I don't understand how you can prefer me. The vampire women are more appealing than I am."
     He laughed softly and stroked her hair. "Only to you, because their immortality dazzles the minds of mortals. I'm immune to that. But if you're worried about their vampiric charms when compared to your humanity, we can remedy the situation. What better place for the change than so-called paradise?"
     "I'm not ready yet, thanks anyway."
     "I know." He pulled her close and settled her head against his chest. "I know all about your commitment issues. But someday you'll have to. I won't watch you grow old and die before my eyes."
     "I'm only twenty-five. I have a long time before that happens."
     "It may seem long to you, but to me fifty years is nothing." He sighed and his mood lightened. "There are more important things to worry about in the company of a beautiful woman."
     His searing kiss silenced her reply. His hands moved down her, molding her against his hard body. She snaked her arms around his neck and parted her lips to let his tongue slide inside. He teased her tongue with his. They twisted and twined together, while he slipped the straps of her bathing suit over her shoulders. She started to pull away, started to say that someone might see them, but he deepened his kiss and drowned her worries in a tidal wave of longing.
      She shifted on his lap and pulled his shirt over his head. His naked chest gleamed in the moonlight. She traced the flat planes and hard angles of his muscles. A soft moan sounded in his throat and he peeled the swimsuit down to her waist. The cool, tropical air caressed her naked breasts, quickly followed by the warmth of his hands. She groaned into their kiss and ground her hips against him and the swollen evidence of his desire. Her heart pounded in her ears until she couldn't hear anything but the persistent drumming, driving her on and on.
     Jorick's lips left hers and moved to the pink cup of her ear, then down her neck in a slow, hot trail that left her whimpering for more. At last he hovered over her mark; the scar of his previous bites that proved she belonged to him. He traced the scar with the tip of his tongue. A soft whimper of anticipation slipped from her lips and urged him to bite her. That was where the real pleasure came from for a vampire; from the connection and the blood, and he could make it just as pleasurable for her.
     She felt the expectant intake of his breath. His teeth brushed her skin. A delightful shiver ran up her back and she clutched him tighter, tensed and ready. He bit. There was pain for a moment, as his teeth cut into her, then it faded away into the familiar crimson colored world of pleasure. She was half conscious of moaning and digging her nails into his back as wave after wave of pleasure crashed over her. It dragged her under, deeper and deeper, until she lost track of everything except him and the growing sensations. She could hear voices whispering, see ghost like images behind her eyes, moments crashing into one another, too fast and quiet for her to catch or understand. And she wanted to. Wanted to know. Wanted to feel. Wanted to taste.
     Without thought she bit into his shoulder and his hot, spicy blood filled her mouth. She swallowed again and again. The images grew clearer, the voices got louder, the feelings sharper. She was almost there, almost to the secret, almost to the center. Almost...
     Then the world exploded and she cried out. The connection severed when she released him. She collapsed in his arms, panting, dimly aware of the night pulsing around them and the sound of the surf.
     She leaned up and wiped her mouth with a trembling hand. She was left with a crimson smear; Jorick's blood. She'd bitten him, again. Her first impulse was to be embarrassed, but he soothed her with a smile and a salty kiss.
     She licked her lips and tried not to think about the flavor. It was her blood.
     "It's only fair," he teased. "You bit me."
     Though he laughed, she flushed. Jorick had told her before that it was nothing to be ashamed of and yet...
     He stroked her cheek with his thumb. "And yet what?"
     "I don't know. I guess having a vampire for a boyfriend isn't really normal, either."
     "Boyfriend? Don't you mean having a vampire as a devoted lover." She turned her questioning gaze on him and he smiled. "What?"
     "Devoted lover sounds so much more..."
     "Old-fashioned?" he suggested. "That's because the modern language has taken all the poetry out of words."
     "No, I meant more permanent. Like a declaration of forever."
     His smile shrank a little. "And what if it is?"
     How could she swear forever when she knew what forever meant? Forever was a prison, at first gilded in gold, then damp with tears while you hunched over your husband's grave, year after year.
     Jorick gave a sigh of surrender and pulled her close. She buried her face in his warm chest.
     "It isn't like that," he said softly. "Even your mother told you that."
     She pictured her mom in front of her father's tombstone, holding the customary wreath and telling the same tear-filled stories year after year. That was devotion. That was commitment.
     Her mother's words came back to her, "I wanted you to remember him. You were so young when he died. You don't have any real memories of him, so I tried to give you some. Maybe I went about it the wrong way, but I never meant to give you the impression that I was emotionally crippled."
     Jorick brushed her hair from her face and pressed a kiss to her cheek. "It's doesn't matter right now. As you said, there's plenty of time."
     Plenty of time.
     Jorick seemed to melt. In his place was Samael with his shining eyes, too beautiful for her to focus on. His voice was warm like the sun. "Do not be afraid. You have loosed my bonds and so I shall free you. You will stand above the world, a queen of darkness, who will never know suffering again, destiny fulfilled."
     As he faded away she screamed after him, "Whose destiny?"
     
     Katelina woke the next afternoon to sunlight. Her chest ached, as if something important was missing, but she couldn't remember what it was.
     The sound of a door drew her attention. Footsteps hurried through the rooms. The two women from the day before appeared. They carried a fresh robe and a box stuffed with hairbrushes and other items.
     They bowed quickly and the taller woman started to remove Katelina's clothing. She jerked away. "I can dress myself."
     Fear lit the women's eyes. Katelina wondered if they'd get in trouble. Would Samael torture them?
     "It's all right," Katelina tried to sound comforting. "I'll tell him it was my choice."
     The taller woman wrung her hands, but stepped back. "As the mistress wishes." She bobbed a few more times, then politely looked at the floor.
     Katelina shimmied out of her nightclothes and into the robe. It was bright yellow and intricately embroidered. As she fastened it closed, she wished for a pair of jeans and a sweater, or better yet a bath.
     The women insisted on brushing her hair. It felt strange sitting in silence, so she asked, "What are your names?"
     They looked at one another and finally the taller one said, "I am Chen Zhilan, and this is my sister Chen Lin."
     "You're both named Chen?"
     "I apologize. In English you would say it the other way. Chen is our family name."
     "Oh. How did you end up here?" Samael had said that they were "there already", but what did that mean?
     Zhilan hesitated. "We...We were staying at the hotel. It was Lin's birthday. And then - " She turned her attention back to brushing. "He is our master now."
     "He kept the tourists who were here?"
     "Those who were in the hotels, yes. The park was closed when he took over. I...I don't remember it well." She brushed with renewed vigor and Katelina fell silent. She didn't think her scalp could take another question.
     She wasn't sure when she'd last had someone else do her hair. A memory hid beneath the shadowy surface of the present. She tried to force it into the light.
     "Why can't I concentrate?" she demanded.
     Zhilan stopped brushing. Katelina could feel her look to Lin before she whispered, "It's him. Since he came I can't - we had a life before this but I can't remember it except in bits and pieces. It's the same for all of us. It is as if he overpowers everything. It grows worse with time."
     Katelina started to ask who "he" was, but she knew. It was Samael.
     Lin gave a terrified squeal. Zhilan quickly apologized and fell back to her brushing. Katelina wasn't sure if they were reacting to her, or to something only they could hear. Had Samael chastised them?
     When Katelina was groomed, the women bowed their way out to get her dinner. Katelina's bladder was ready to burst, so she dashed to the public restroom. When she finished, she took her time returning. The afternoon sky was lit with streaks of orange near the horizon, and she veered from the familiar path and drew closer to the wall that enclosed the grounds. On the other side she could hear traffic, and she wished she could see over it.
     "If you wish the view I will show you."
     The words sounded in her head and she jumped at the mental invasion.
     "Stay and I will join you."
     She felt him before she saw him. When she looked his way her breath disappeared. The late afternoon sunlight sparkled on his ebony hair and gleamed on his perfect skin. He walked with long, smooth strides, his hands folded before him. His deep blue robes matched the sky to the east, and his eyes glittered.
     He stopped before her. It was only when he broke eye contact that she was able to look away from him, her cheeks flaming.
     "You wished a tour?" His voice was soft, like the coming twilight, and left her wrapped in peace.
     "Yes," she murmured.
     "Then come." She followed as he led her away from the buildings and through a collection of ponds and pagodas. Ornamental rocks, statues, and other points of interest slipped past, but none were as absorbing as her host.
     It was several minutes before he broke the silence. "You may walk here if you like. I imagine you would find confinement wearisome. The landscape is lovely."
     She nodded as if he'd given her an order. By command she looked to appreciate the surroundings. A few late birds chirped in the trees. The winter grass was still trimmed, but without staff it would soon be a wilderness.
     She thought of the humans he'd "kept" from the museum. They could probably handle it. Thinking of them brought back her uncomfortable morning and she tried to find words. "The women...do they have to help me dress?"
     "You are no longer a peasant. It is their duty to serve you. Have they displeased you?"
     "No." She pictured the fear in their eyes. "But I can get dressed alone."
     "And no doubt you could serve yourself dinner, but such things are not your concern anymore." He motioned her up a rolling hill. "You will find your view here."
     Though the climb was steep she hardly noticed. When she reached the top she could see over the wall of rolling mountains to a handful of ornate buildings. "Where are the cars?"
     He touched her shoulder and turned her in the other direction. There she could see the hazy sprawl of civilization.
      "I have other things that require my attention. Once they have concluded we will turn our eyes in that direction."
     Did he mean they'd do something to the city?
     "Subjugate the chosen," he said to her thoughts. "And drink those less worthy. There will be some time before we will attend to such matters. Come. Your meal should be ready soon."
     She followed him back the way they'd come. His words left her unsettled, though she couldn't find the will to disagree with him.
     "Tonight will be the purification of the spirit," he said. "You will find it more enjoyable than last night's ritual."
    nbsp; She nodded. "Did you...when you were turned..."
     "Did I undergo the ritual? Yes, of course. The gods would allow no less."
     The gods. She had a momentary flash of vampires dressed in silk. "You served them?" It was more feeling than knowledge.
     "Yes. My memory of the beginning is not clear, as I told you last evening. I cannot recall how I came to be in their service, only that I was faithful to them. It was after Lilith learned of my transgressions, that I had impregnated my brother's wife, that she insisted I ask the gods for their favor. They refused. It was Nuwa's son who took pity on me." As if he anticipated Katelina's question, he explained, "Nuwa was the empress of all. The goddess of life. Once I was changed I stupidly begged permission to share the dark favor with the whore of darkness. After ten days of supplication the gods agreed. It made no difference, as they knew it wouldn't. Lilith went immediately to my brother and offered to share the gift with him. He was wise enough to know that she did not have the gods' permission. If he had accepted it would have meant death for all of us, even his wife and the unborn child, so he refused. They packed their belongings and disappeared. I know not where they went, or how they came to mean something in legends. I do not even know if they are the Adam and Eve from your stories. I do know that they were not the first people, nor were Lilith and I the first vampires. Those titles belong so far back in the mists of time, no one breathes who can remember them."
     Katelina nodded absently. Tiny flashes played behind her eyes as he spoke, like clips in a video. Was he sending them to her, or were they something left over from the ritual?
     He seemed oblivious to her question, lost among the demons of his past. "After that Lilith stayed, but only because she lacked another destination. When her boredom grew too great, and she brave enough to venture into the world, she left. I did not see her for over a thousand years. I heard later that she wandered the west, drinking from children and giving immortality at will, spreading the gods' gift across the lands. Near the end of her furlough she settled in what you would call Mesopotamia with a different set of gods. When she found that she could not claw her way to the top, she grew angry and returned to me. She was not pleased with what she found. Though I had the gods' favors I still served them. And, with the gods' permission, I had shared the dark favors with others."
      "Your three wives. The ones that Lilith murdered." Somehow Katelina knew they weren't really wives in a romantic sense.
     "The one you call Naamah might be considered so, but the other two, no. They were only her sisters. I knew Naamah as Ji, or that's what I remember of her name. She was kind and quiet. I don't know that I loved her, but I was fond of her." His voice turned bitter. "That was why she saved Ji's heart. At first it was in a jar in the chamber where she kept me, a bitter reminder, but later it was taken."
     Katelina felt bad for feeding it to him, even under duress.
     "It is no fault of yours. The inscription said it must be done that way, and who were you to question? Enough of the past. We are here and your meal waits. When you have finished I will return and escort you to the next ritual."
     Her dinner was the same as the previous night. The women stood near the wall, hands behind their back and eyes on the floor. Though the food was good, she had to force it down. It felt strange eating while the sentinels stood guard. She wanted to order them out, but Samael had as much as told her to get used to it.
     She chewed and swallowed mechanically and her mind wandered. She had a sudden vision of a beat up pan and scorched rice. It had been hot in the jungle. The thought seemed strange, and she pressed at the edges of it. Suddenly the memory expanded to an entire scene. She knelt next to a fire, stirring the contents of the pan furiously. Seated on a log nearby, a vampire with long black hair laughed. It was Jorick.
     With his name came a rush of emotion and she gripped the edge of the table. Where was he? Why wasn't he there? Why -
     The thought cut off and she stared at her half eaten rice. What had she been thinking about?
     Samael walked through the door and took all of Katelina's attention. He crossed the room and took a seat across from her. "You have not finished your meal. Eat."
     It was a command and she obeyed. She didn't even taste the food as she stuffed it in her mouth and swallowed.
     Samael frowned. "If you were finished there is no need to eat further."
     She dropped the spoon to the table and tried not to look at him. The compulsion was almost more than she could bear.
     He gave a resigned sigh. "I have no wish to cause you discomfort. Once the rituals are complete you will no longer be overwhelmed. Come. If you are finished we will go to the purification."
     He motioned the women to follow through the complex. The sky outside was a molten mix of silver and purple, and Katelina thought vaguely that it would be night soon.
     They stopped at a building with open doors. Inside, lamps and braziers circled a giant copper tub. Incense smoked at the four corners. Three women Katelina didn't recognize stood to one side, hands clasped.
     Steam curled from the tub. Katelina drew closer to see that small white bags floated on the surface of the water, like tiny pillows. She absently poked at one.
     "There are herbs inside, for the purification," Samael explained. "They will cleanse you."
     It seemed she was going to get the bath she'd wished for, though she'd had a private setting in mind. Obviously sensing her discomfort, Samael said, "Your modesty will be preserved. I will be there." He motioned towards a dark folding screen painted with tiny figures.
     Katelina wanted to say something about the women. Where would they be? The words stuck in her throat as Samael led her to a cushion and motioned her to kneel.
     Like yesterday's ritual, he knelt and performed a sing-song chorus. Katelina lost herself to the sound. When it stopped she felt as if she too had ceased to exist. She snapped out of it at Samael's command, and followed him to the steaming tub. He inclined his head briefly, then disappeared to take his place behind the screen.
     Though she couldn't see him, she could feel him. He sucked up all her coherent thoughts, like a black hole, and she didn't argue while the women nervously stripped off her clothes and helped her into the tub. As though commanded, she ducked her head under, letting the delicately scented water saturate her hair. It was only when her lungs felt ready to burst that she came back up with a gasp.
     She was suddenly aware of a strange chant. It wasn't Samael this time, but the women who ringed the tub, their expressions blank. Katelina wondered that they all knew the ancient words. Then she realized, they didn't. They were little more than puppets for Samael.
     A soothing peace washed over her and left her empty. She didn't care about anything. Not about the people, or the ritual, or her lost memories. Nothing mattered.
     The bath water was cool when the women ceased their chants and helped her out. Once she was dried and dressed, Samael appeared and motioned her to follow him.
     Outside the sun had set and the moon had risen. He led her to her chambers and deposited her on a stool. "How do you feel?"
     "Fine."
     "The night is no more than half finished. Is there something that you wish to do?"
     Katelina couldn't find any words, or desires, so she stared at her feet. A voice shouted in the back of her head, but she couldn't understand the words.
     Apparently Samael could. "You have questions you wish answered. Your lover, for instance. Where is he? Hmmm." Samael closed his eyes. Katelina felt his attention disappear, as if his will and all his thoughts had turned elsewhere. It was like she could breathe again.
     The freedom disappeared quickly. "He seeks for you, even now. He is not the only one. It is no matter. He will abandon his quest when he has bored of it. If there is one thing the slow turn of centuries has taught me, it is that lovers grow bored quickly, no matter what enticements you offer. For how can passion sustain eternally? Is it not by its very nature a sudden, fleeting moment? When it fades it leaves discontent, which leads to abandonment and betrayal. All lovers will betray the object of their ardor eventually, leaving only cold heartache where passions' warmth once resided. It is a cruel world, not made for the long life of gods, but for the short interim of the mortal. Nothing can satisfy for eternity. Love and excitement are fleeting and eternity is spent with only the chill comfort of hate."
     He was talking about Lilith again.
     "Yes. She was insatiable, seeking that thing which would carry her through the ages. She had taken lovers in her absence, and when she discovered that her latest would never be the one in command she returned to me. She had tasted the edge of worship. Mortals had fallen at her feet and begged to be taken by her. She wished that again, but I did not command such reverence. I served the gods faithfully, and though I was high among their servants I was still a servant. I loved her, or thought I did, and I desired to please her above all others. So when my brother in blood, Xiangliu, suggested that we take a land for our own, I agreed. Xiangliu offered me emperorship of what would be our new kingdom, but I had no desire to rule. I deferred the position to him whom I trusted."
     Wisps of emotions slipped through her while he spoke, as if she was feeling the residue of his sentiments. He had loved Xiangliu as a brother; trusted him, looked up to him. An undertone of bitterness told her something was about to go wrong. Part of her didn't want to know, didn't want to feel what had to be coming.
     "We gathered a following of our kind and left for our new empire. They were a lesser culture of mortals, and it was easy to overcome them. We divided this new kingdom into domains. We showed the mortals wonders, and they bowed to us, as though we were gods or angels. Through us they learned cultivating, medicine, the secret of metal. How to follow the stars in the sky, and their hidden meaning. They paid for this knowledge with their blood and with the blood of their children. My brothers took their women and their men for pleasure, sometimes to the death. Though I knew in my heart things had gone wrong, I stayed silent, for things were not so much better in my own dominion. Lilith wished to be empress and took her frustration out on those beneath us. She played, tortured, and bled, killed at will, and I let her with the hope it would eventually be enough. It never was."
     The red tinted feelings that swept through Katelina grew stronger. They swelled into fury and disgust, and she knew they weren't only for his wife and his brother, but also for himself. He'd allowed her to do as she pleased. He should have stopped her, but he was too weak.
     He cleared his throat, as if trying to clear away what came next. "We destroyed the balance. They began to share the gift with the mortals. Not as equals or companions, rather as slaves. The humans called them children of the gods. You would know them as the Nephilim. The humans feared them, while the immortals used them as weapons or sport. Soon there were too many, and it seemed the very land was saturated with the blood needed to keep such numbers fed. Mortals were drugged and bled, kept in what amounted to farms, but even that was not enough. Hunger led to anger and anger to war. My brothers allowed the god children to take neighboring civilizations, feasting and gorging. They knew not restraint, only endless gluttony, and that was what drew the ire of my gods."
     By that he meant-
     "Yes, Nuwa and the other gods that I had served so faithfully. They came to us on the wings of war, and the battles raged. I did not recognize my friend Xiangliu anymore, so bloated was he with power and lust. In his cowardice he fled, leaving death and destruction behind him. He was hunted across the lands, and eventually destroyed. In his absence, my brothers were killed until only I remained. And I believe you know the rest."
     "Lilith imprisoned you?" she guessed. But she knew more than that - had known ever since the moment in the temple when he'd looked in her eyes and revealed his identity. When the war settled he'd begged forgiveness from Nuwa, their empress, and he'd blamed Lilith. It was her doing, her war, her sin. Nuwa forgave him, but Lilith did not. He'd betrayed her, and so she betrayed him. They fought, bodies twisting in the firelight. He was stronger and he pinned her to the floor. His hands were like talons and he readied to rip her heart from her chest.
     The blow came from behind. Lilith's lover stood in the shadows, and before Samael could get a look at his face he felt the sharp cut of a knife cut across his back, diagonal from shoulder to hip. He swept to his feet and spun towards Lilith, but her lover attacked again from behind. The knife sliced cold and sharp across his throat and he stumbled, his hands to the wound to stem the flow of gurgling black blood.
     He fell to his knees and looked up to see them standing over him. Lilith with her long dark hair, and her lover with his orangey-brown eyes.
     Katelina jolted. She knew that face. She'd seen it in Munich, when she'd faced the True Council.
     "He calls himself Ishkur now," Samael said. "He was young then and seduced by her grace. As I said, I believe they had quarreled over his lack of power, and he had come to reclaim her, though I know not for certain. Once, I thought to seek vengeance on him, but no longer. He is of no importance. She is the only one that matters."
     Katelina nodded. His hatred of the vampiress was mirrored in herself, whether from the blood he'd given her or because his emotions seeped through her skin. "Where is she?"
     "That remains to be seen. Like myself, she can mask her presence. Do not fear, we will find her, and we will have eternity to do it."
     Katelina's stomach rumbled. She'd had only one meal yesterday, and she hadn't eaten much of her lunch.
     "You are hungry. I will have the humans bring some food for you." He stood and smoothed his robe. "This will be your last night as a mortal, and your last meal, so you should savor it."
     Alarm blared in the back of her mind, but she couldn't grasp the terror. In Samael's presence all she could feel was peace.
     
     Katelina woke the next morning to fading sunlight. She slipped from bed and scurried out to the public restroom. When she'd finished she took a moment to examine her shoulder and her back. After that night they'd be completely healed.
     Terror seized her. Without the ancient vampire to wash it away, it took hold. Oh God. Samael planned to turn her!
     No.
     A vision of Jorick swam behind her eyes and her chest tightened. Where was he? He couldn't let this happen. He couldn't let someone else turn her into a vampire. If she had to change then he had to be the one to do it. Otherwise...
     Otherwise what? She forced her memories in order and pulled up everything she could on fledglings. When someone was turned into a vampire they owed a blood debt to their master, leaving them something like a slave. She remembered what Jorick had said:
     "Only the master chooses when it has been paid. One vampire's blood debt may be finished in a year, while others have it dangled over their heads for centuries."
     Ancients had a different concept of time. What might seem long to her would be only a blink to someone who'd lived six thousand years. How long would her blood debt last?
     No. She had to stop it. She had to get away. She had to find Jorick.
     The urgency lasted until she left the bathroom. The nearer she drew to the complex of heavy buildings, the less important it seemed. By the time she reached the doors to her chambers she couldn't remember what she'd been worried about.
     Samael waited for her in her room, and offered her his arm. She took it and let him lead her back outside. The sky was streaked with red and to the west looked like blue velvet.
     His voice broke the silence. "Tonight will be the final ritual. You must prepare, however, I thought you might enjoy a walk beforehand."
     She wasn't sure whether she did, but she nodded anyway.
     They wound their way around cold lakes and naked trees; over a decorative bridge, and finally near the wall. Katelina could hear the soft sound of traffic and life beyond it, and wondered again at the proximity of people.
     "They will be dealt with," Samael promised. "Come now, it is time."
     They turned back, when the ancient vampire went stiff. He moved so fast Katelina could barely see him, and put himself in front of her, one hand raised.
     She followed his eyes, but saw nothing except a path and dead grass. As if on cue, the wind picked up. Samael's hair blew back from his perfect face and his robes billowed. He looked like the sorcerer from a fantasy epic, and she lost herself in him.
     It was his booming voice that brought her back. "Do you think I cannot see you, wind walker?"
     She felt his power coalesce into an invisible ball before them. It slammed into the ground several feet away, sending up a spray of dirt and pebbles. A figure was suddenly visible, sliding to a halt amid the cloud of debris. A black coat flapped and crazy, crayon red hair stuck up at odd angles. Around his neck hung a twisted silver medallion and clinging to his back, like a baby koala, was a pale blond human. The boy dropped to the ground and clambered away as the redhead whipped a sword from his coat and dropped into a fighting stance.
      "You know why I'm here."
     The face. The voice. The hair. She knew them. It was...
     "Verchiel?"



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