The following evening Katelina prepared for her shopping trip. Out of the corner of her eye she could see the old landline phone, its light up buttons a guilty reminder of someone she was supposed to call.
She groaned and lifted the receiver from the cradle. She was an adult in her own right, and didn’t need to report to Mommy, but since she didn’t know how long they’d be in Munich she’d better get the call out of the way. The last thing she needed was to be listed as a missing person again.
Her mother answered on the third ring. “Hello? Who is this?”
“Hi, Mom. It’s me. Katelina.”
“Kately! Where are you calling from this time?”
She breathed a sigh of relief. Apparently the caller ID didn’t say Vampire Citadel. “Jorick’s office. I just wanted to let you know we’re going to be away for a while.”
“You’ve been nothing but away since you met him!” her mom huffed. “If his computer-what’s-it job is so lucrative, then why hasn’t he bought a house yet? Are you still living in that van?”
Katelina sighed. It was the same conversation she’d had before. “We don’t live in a van! He owns a house in Maine and he travels for business. I already told you that. If you don’t have anything else to talk about…”
Her mother sighed. “Fine. It’s your life. But be warned it’s going to take me a long time to forgive him for luring you away without giving you time to tell anyone!”
“He didn’t lure me-” she broke off. There was no point. “Forget it. What’s new with you?”
“Oh, not much. Brad’s going back to school.”
Brad. He’d dated Sarah, Katelina’s best friend, until she disappeared. Brad thought that she was kidnapped by drug dealers or other shady characters related to Jorick, and he was partially right. She’d been taken and murdered by vampires who mistook her for Katelina. It was a guilt Katelina had to carry forever.
Her mother prattled on. “He’s going to be a pharmacy tech. I’m not sure if it makes more money, but we discussed it and agreed he’s getting too old to be a bartender. He’ll be thirty-one next month.”
Her words pulled Katelina from her funk. “You discussed it? Oh God, you guys aren’t still…” she couldn’t say the words.
“We’re friends, Katelina, if you must stick your nose into things. I am allowed to have friends.”
“But not the kind who stay the night. Ew! Mom! You’re sleeping with my old best friend’s ex-boyfriend!”
“Old best friend? What does that mean? Do you know something about Sarah?”
Katelina stifled a groan. Shit! She needed to stay on the offensive. “No, I don’t and that’s beside the point. Mom, he’s young enough to be your son! What can he possibly see in you?”
“You don’t think he could find me attractive because I’m old? Is that what you’re saying?”
It was, but she knew better than to admit it. “No. I’m saying that you’re too… different. I’ve seen his apartment. Talk about a Spartan ‘everything-in-it’s-place’ kinda guy. Your chaotic clutter would drive him nuts. And he likes to go dancing, and to hot tub parties and crap like that. And he always wanted Sarah done up to impress his friends.”
“Maybe I like to go to hot tub parties and go dancing. It might surprise you, but I’m not a grandmother.” She broke off. “Am I?”
“All right then. I married your father right out of high school, had you a year later, and then he died when you were three. I stayed single because I owed it to you, Kately. I didn’t want you to be one of those girls whose mother drags in a man, only to later break up with him and bring home another. You’re not a child anymore. You’re grown up, off with some bum-”
“- and you don’t need me to take care of you. I don’t owe you my celibacy. As for being ‘old’, I’m not old enough to be his mother. He’s only thirteen years younger. And, though you don’t believe it, I still dress up pretty damn nice. Now I don’t want to hear any more about it.”
“What about Dad?”
“What about him? Kately, I loved your father very much, but we were only together for five years and that was a long time ago.”
Katelina struggled for understanding. “If you’re not ridiculously devoted to his memory, then why do we have to do Grave Day every November? I thought it was because you were still in love with him! That you couldn’t get over it!”
Her mother gave a sad laugh. “No, honey, it’s because 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.”
“I never thought you were emotionally crippled! Just… committed. Forever. Like people are supposed to be.”
“There’s nothing wrong with being committed forever, if that’s what you want and it works out, but honey, no one should chain themselves to someone, living or dead, just because that’s what you’re supposed to do. Commitment isn’t a prison.”
“Sure it’s not.” The words were out before she could stop them, but it didn’t matter. “Look, I have to go. I have an appointment to go shopping. I’ll send you a postcard or something.”
Her mother sighed. “Fine. I’m sorry if you’re mad, but I’m not going to pretend to be something I’m not just to make you happy. I love you.”
“Yeah, I love you too. Goodbye.”
She dropped the receiver into the cradle and flung herself on the couch. She suspected that a psychological breakthrough was hidden in their conversation, but she didn’t want to think about it.
Later she headed out to meet her escort. His keycard wouldn’t get him into the Executioners’ block, so she had to wait for him in the main corridor. Tall and dark, he turned up on time dressed in his gray uniform. He introduced himself as Neil and his uncomfortable eyes told her that Jorick was right; he understood the penalties for failure and was terrified of them.
In the elevator, their fellow passengers stared at them curiously and Katelina shrank back into the corner. If only he wasn’t wearing his uniform, then she wouldn’t look like a prisoner being escorted!
The first floor was less packed than usual, no doubt because of the casualties of the recent battle. The atrium's ruined doors had been replaced, and she stopped to peer inside. The debris had been cleared away and the six story high ceiling had been repaired. Several vampires in coveralls were retiling the floor.
Katelina’s eyes moved past them to the back wall. The waterfall was silent, and the pool beneath it was empty and oblivious to the fact that it had been used to execute vampires only three days ago. She’d never forget the way that Alex, Fabian and Jeda had been thrown into the sundrenched water.
The memories made her sick and, without a word to her guard, she turned for the shopping mall. She didn’t look back, but she could feel him following. Though he was a vampire, he was too nervous to be intimidating.
She ducked through a doorway draped in vines and emerged in a large, round room. The ceiling was made of thick, milky glass over light bulbs, to imitate a skylight and sunshine. The trick worked and between the light and the warm red bricks, the shopping area felt comfortable and inviting. Or would have if it didn’t have a handful of pale vampires shopping in it.
Open fronted stores lined the walls, selling everything from vacuum cleaners to computers. Katelina walked past them and through a second doorway that led to an identical room. The difference was that the next batch of stores sold only clothing and jewelry. The displays were a jumble of eras and styles; as if all of history had crowded into one place and someone had put price tags on it.
It was nearly impossible to find normal clothes, but Katelina tried. Neil followed like a nervous puppy, and they drew more attention than she liked. The cashiers rang up her purchases, and each time Katelina told them to charge it to Jorick’s account.
After an hour of shopping she’d gotten everything on her list except underwear, and she didn’t want to shop for that in front of the guard. She’d have to get rid of him.
She stopped near to a bench and Neil teetered to a stop. He was barely visible under the pile of purchases, including a set of luggage. “Maybe you should take some of that down to our apartment?”
He peeked around the edge of a bag. “I don’t have a keycard for that.”
She fished her card from her pocket and held it out to him. “Here, use mine.”
He shifted the bulk and reached for it, then stopped. “Jorick said I should stay with you, no matter what.”
She cursed her boyfriend silently. “It will be fine. You’ll only be gone a few minutes. What could possibly happen?”
He peered around the purchases, as if seeking potential hazards. “I don’t know. How much shopping do you have left?”
She lied, “Clothes for Jorick, at least.”
He groaned softly. “All right. But wait here.” He juggled the parcels and snatched the card from her fingers. “I’ll be right back.”
She waited until he disappeared through the doorway, then hurried to the lingerie shop. There was very little in the way of practical underwear, so she was back in the brick room before he’d returned.
She dropped onto the wooden bench and stretched her legs out in front of her. A pair of vampires walked past and, as their eyes swept over her, she suddenly wondered if sending Neil away had been such a good idea.
The pair moved on and she relaxed. She was just being paranoid. They wouldn’t really do anything to her in the middle of the mall.
“What’s a little human doing all on her own?”
Katelina jolted. The voice in her head wasn’t hers, which meant there was a powerful vampire lurking around.
“Powerful? I’m flattered.”
Katelina snatched up her shopping bag and hugged it to her like a shield. She told herself to stay calm. Neil would be back any moment and then-
“But where will you be?”
“Not here.” Katelina jerked to her feet and spun towards the exit. A broad shouldered vampire in a green coat suddenly blocked her path. She didn’t recognize the bearded face or the dark shaggy hair, but the look in his eyes was familiar and hungry.
She swung the shopping bag in a panicked arc and jumped away. The vampire dodged and grabbed her wrist. He jerked her towards him and pushed his face close to hers, staring deep into her eyes. She struggled to look away from the green orbs but her resistance melted into a pool of nothing and the sounds of the mall faded. She was trapped in the center of a glittering emerald green prism, and she didn’t even care.
The voice seemed to come from both outside and inside her head at the same time. “Isn’t that better? Now let’s go back to my room and discuss how powerful I am.”
She didn’t notice the bag that slipped from her fingers, or the room that moved past as her legs mechanically followed his lead. The only thing she was aware of was a steady thrumming in her head that grew louder and louder by the second. It vibrated the false green walls of her mental prison and rolled through her.
The thrumming turned into words, murmurs, thoughts. His thoughts. He was bored. It was just a bit of fun and why not? He deserved some fun. “Don’t we all deserve some fun?”
“Not with someone else’s property.”
The new voice jarred her and the green prison flickered. She was suddenly aware of motion. She was walking. Her shoes were soundless on the thick carpet.
“Okay joker, back off.”
It was like the voice in her mind but it was in her ears. She clutched at the sensory sensation and clawed toward the real world; light, sound, a corridor lined in doors.
Panic surged through her and scattered the last shreds of the emerald colored prison. Her knees locked and she froze in place. Where the hell was she? It looked like one of the hotel-style corridors, but how had she gotten there?
The vampire in the green coat stopped in front of her and growled low in his throat as a pair of figures approached. It was a tall, thin vampire with long dark hair. Behind him was a young man with an open shirt and a mass of crisscrossing scars. His messy blond hair obscured the top half of his face. What was visible looked to be sixteen or seventeen. He had a black collar around his neck, complete with a slender silver chain that the vampire held like a leash. It was Verchiel’s treasure hunting friend Sorino and his human, Kai.
What in the hell is going on?
Sorino’s cold eyes flicked from the disorientated Katelina to her captor. “Back off? Might I suggest that you take your own advice?”
“Thanks, but it’s none of your business.” He spun around, as if suddenly aware that Katelina had broken free of his influence. “Oh no you don’t-”
Sorino shrugged. “If you wish to throw away your life playing with Executioner property, who am I to stop you?”
Her captors’ face went white and he stepped away from her. “Executioner?”
Sorino’s smile was as chilly as his gaze. “Yes, she belongs to one of them. The Hand of Death, they call him. He’ll be interested to hear you have her.”
Katelina pressed back against the wall, her heart pounding and her hands shaking. Her thoughts were a tangle of fear and confusion. What did Sorino mean by “have her?” Who “had” her? Who was the vampire in the green coat? How had she gotten there? The last thing she remembered was the shopping center. She was sitting on a bench and then-
The green coated vampire shuddered and his face contorted in anger. “He isn’t going to hear about it, if you understand me.”
“Really?” Sorino asked. “And what’s to stop me from telling him?”
Like a scene from a cheesy movie, the green coated vampire cracked his knuckles. “If you can’t be a gentleman about it, then I will.”
With obvious boredom, Sorino handed Kai the leash and then carefully shrugged out of his purple smoking jacket. “If you must insist on a public brawl, then so be it.”
The green coated vampire snarled and charged him. Sorino deftly stepped to one side, and Kai moved to the other. His hair flapped out of his face and for a second Katelina had a flash of calm green eyes.
Well isn’t it great that someone can be calm? She thought wildly. Her racing heart sped to a gallop and her knees trembled. Whether it was the aftershock of something the vampire had done, or a reaction to the situation, she didn’t know, but all she wanted to do was curl up and hide.
“You should run.”
She looked up sharply, but no one met her eyes or took credit for the implanted thought. She could only assume it was Sorino, and he was right. She should run. If only her legs would work.
The angry vampire spun around and swung at Sorino. Again, he deftly dodged the blow. He skillfully maneuvered away from a third and a fourth, his hands behind his back and his face placid.
Unnoticed by the fighters, Kai moved down the corridor, his back to the wall, until he stood next to Katelina. She made a soft, strangled noise, meant to be a question, though even she wasn’t sure what she was asking him.
The vampire in the green coat growled, his lips pulled back from his snapping fangs. He lunged for Sorino again. The slender vampire dodged and, at the last second, the attacker threw a punch with his left. Though it only grazed Sorino, the contact was enough.
Sorino’s calm demeanor was instantly replaced by outrage. The green coated vampire swung again and, in a move almost too fast to see, Sorino jumped to the right, planted his feet half way up the wall and, like some kind of preternatural cat, used it as a springboard. Katelina had a nanosecond view as he glided through the air, his face twisted and inhuman, and his arms stretched before him, claw like hands ready to strike. He landed on his opponent in a flying tackle that took them both to the ground at her feet. The green coated vampire tried to throw Sorino from his back, but he couldn’t get the leverage. Sorino pulled himself up so that he straddled his opponent, then grabbed his hair and slammed his face into the floor with a loud crunch. Something warm and wet splattered the walls, the floor, and the pair of observers.
Sorino stood and brushed his hands off on his trousers, disdain in his eyes. A nearby door opened and a vampire leaned his head out, surveyed the scene, and disappeared without a word.
That’s when Katelina looked down. A thick crimson puddle spread from around the prostrate vampire’s crushed skull. With the angle of his head, she could see one bloody green eye bulging from its socket, and part of his jaw shoved to the side, teeth sticking through his cheek.
She gagged and looked down at herself to notice the flecks of blood and gore splattered on her clothes and her hands.
That was when she screamed.
Sorino’s lip curled with distaste and he motioned to Kai, as if telling him to make her stop. The young man moved in front of her, blocking the view, and shook her gently. The scream died in her throat and she blinked back at him.
“You’re all right,” he said softly.
Though it was a statement, she took it for a question and words tumbled from her mouth. She’d been shopping and then… and then she remembered the vampire in the green coat. She remembered him telling her to come to his room and then… she’d obviously gone. Of course, like Jorick he must be a whisperer –“or was,” she amended hysterically.
“He’s still very much alive.” Sorino sniffed. “I only fractured his skull; I didn’t tear out his heart.”
Footsteps sounded in the hallway and someone called, “What’s going on?”
Katelina looked to see four lesser guards, clad in gray with weapons drawn, dashing towards them.
Sorino stepped away from the downed vampire. “You’re late, as usual. One would think you’d monitor the corridors better.”
The guards pulled to a stop and one bent to examine the bleeding vampire, while another turned to Sorino. “Look buddy, between all the repairs, the extra security and our regular duties, we’re overworked and understaffed. You got a problem, take it up with our superiors. In the meantime, we’re going to need some statements.”
He pulled a walkie-talkie from his coat. Like something from COPS: Vampire Edition, he gave a quick report and asked for someone to bring the paperwork.
The other three guards scraped the defeated vampire off the carpet. As they hefted his bulk, Katelina had a good view of his ruined face. Like his jaw, his nose was jammed to one side. Luckily, thick dark blood covered most of his injuries and turned his face and the side of his head into a mass of red gelatin.
It still made her sick.
Kai resumed his position next to her and patted her gently on the arm, as if to say everything was okay. Only, it wasn’t. Maybe she should be used to this by now, but did anyone ever really get used to it, or did they just pretend?
Two new guards with clipboards arrived. In keeping with their superior attitudes, they spoke only to Sorino. “I don’t know who he is,” the vampire answered. “Nor do I know how he came to be in possession of Jorick’s human.”
“Jorick?” The guard squinted at Katelina. “Oh dear. If she isn’t your human, you can’t sign the official theft complaint.”
Theft? As if she was a car stereo!
“That’s no concern of mine,” Sorino said. “However, I do wish to file assault charges.”
He detailed the fight to the guard and then signed the paper with a flourish. The guard glanced towards Katelina, but still didn’t speak to her. “Do you know where her master is?”
Katelina had had enough. She wasn’t an inanimate object and she was capable of speaking for herself! “He’s with Eileifr, trying to break into Malick’s chambers.”
Interest flared in Sorino’s eyes. “As you’re understaffed, I’d be happy to escort the human to her master and alert him of the situation.”
The guard hesitated. “He’ll need to fill out paperwork.”
“I’ll tell him to stop by the guards’ office, shall I?”
The guard looked at his watch and then to the congealing puddle on the carpeted floor. “You know him, right? You’re… friends?”
Sorino’s smile did little to convince Katelina. “We’ve known one another a long time.”
“Fine.” The guard flipped through the papers on his clipboard and hurriedly filled another one out. “This says we’ve handed her over to you and that you take responsibility for returning her to her master. Sign here.”
Sorino signed his name and pocketed the pen. “Anything else?”
The guard looked like he might comment, but apparently changed his mind. “Someone will have to let you in to the detention level.” He waved the nearest guard over. “Take them to the detention level and then get a cleanup team to deal with this.” He motioned to the mess. “I’ll keep the lookee-loos back.”
The guard nodded stiffly. Sorino signaled to Kai and Katelina to come with him. The thought of seeing Jorick cheered her and she carefully stepped around the puddle of congealing gore. The guard pushed a crowd of gawkers out of the way and she scrambled to follow before they closed in on her.
Sorino led them to a secondary set of elevators. While they waited, he drew a handkerchief from his pocket and offered it to Kai. Silently, the boy took it and dabbed at the blood that dotted his face and body. When he started on his chest, Katelina looked away. The thick knots, valleys, and ridges of scars made her stomach turn. She didn’t know if they were left over from when the rogue vampires had wiped out his family, or if they were something Sorino had done, but they made her uncomfortable.
When Kai finished, he folded the handkerchief so the clean side was exposed, and handed it to Katelina. The blood was mostly dry, so she spit on the cloth and used the moisture to clean her hands and dab at her shirt. The stubborn blood looked like red polka dots against a field of light blue, and she knew it wasn’t going to come out. Maybe Jorick was on to something with all the black.
The elevator opened and they climbed in with a group of vampires. The guard stood before the panel and pulled a key ring from his pocket. He slotted a tarnished key into the slit next to the bottom button.
The detention levels. So called because that was where the detention cells and the execution chamber were. It was also where the members of the High Council lived. Katelina didn’t have a single good memory associated with that floor.
After the other vampires exited at the first floor, they went down another level. The elevator opened on a corridor made of marble so black it seemed to suck up the light. The only thing to break the monotony were blood red stripes where the walls met the ceiling and the floor.
The guard pointed them towards Malick’s old chambers. Sorino nodded and led Kai into the hallway by his leash. Katelina hung back, but reminded herself that Malick was gone and it would be Jorick at the end of this.
The corridor made a sharp right. The moment that they were around the corner, Katelina could see that the massive doors to Malick’s chamber had been ripped from the hinges. They leaned against the wall, still fused together.
Sorino’s pace quickened and Katelina was nearly jogging by the time they went through the doorway and into the antechamber. The double doors on the other side of it were similarly missing and they hurried through and into the stone room beyond.
The last time Katelina had been there, it had been stuffed with plants, furs, and even a fountain, but now the room was empty except for three large jagged pieces of wood that had once been the interior doors. Sorino turned to the nearest doorway, one that led into what had been Malick’s office, but Jorick was suddenly in front of him, his expression cold. Then he noticed Katelina and his eyes danced with surprise and fury. “What are you doing?”
He obviously pulled the answer from someone’s mind, because his fury doubled. “You can tell the guards I will see to his punishment myself!”
“Whose punishment?” Eileifr seemed to glide through the doorway, holding an empty glass box.
Though Jorick started to speak, Sorino cut him off and gave a quick account of the scene in the hallway. As he spoke, he edged closer to the master. His eyes danced from the box in his hands to the empty room beyond. Jorick moved around him to examine Katelina. Obviously satisfied that she wasn’t injured, he took her hand in his and squeezed it.
When Sorino finished his story, Eileifr nodded. “Very well. Jorick and I thank you for your assistance. You may go now.”
Sorino gave the box a last, calculating look, then snapped around and strode from the room, Kai hurrying behind him.
“Where in the hell was the guard?” Jorick demanded. “He was ordered to stay with you!”
As if summoned, Neil suddenly raced through the yawning doorway and skidded to a halt. His face was pale and his hair was mussed. He took in the figures before him and the terror on his face doubled. “Th-there you are!”
“And where were you?” Jorick roared. He dropped Katelina’s hand to take a menacing step towards the newcomer. “You were supposed to protect her!”
“I know, I know! I’m sorry! She said she’d stay right there! She said-”
“I told you to remain at her side, no matter what! If you’re incapable of following a single order-”
Katelina had had enough of being talked about as if she wasn’t there. “I told him to take the suitcases to our rooms!”
“He had orders not to listen to you.”
Katelina’s eyes bulged and regret flashed on Jorick’s face, but it was too late. “You told him not to listen to me? Of all the conceited, asshole things!”
“Yes,” Jorick snapped irritably. “Because I knew something like this would happen.” He turned to Eileifr. “I assume we’re done here? Apparently I need to deal with this.”
The master regarded them. “Yes, you may go. Please tell Ark to see me in my chambers later.”
Jorick spun back to Neil and jerked Katelina’s keycard from his shaking hand. “I’ll deal with you later.” He marched out of the room, Katelina on his heels. Neither of them spoke until they reached the elevators, and then Katelina exploded. “Excuse me, I didn’t want to go underwear shopping in front of him!”
“Then you shouldn’t have gone underwear shopping at all!” Jorick shouted back. “Do you realize what could have happened if Sorino hadn’t come across you? That vampire could have taken you back to his room and done anything he wanted to you. Chances are he only had a snack in mind, but who knows? He could have hurt you. He could have killed you. He could have tried to claim you!”
“He couldn’t have claimed me, you already did that, remember?” She jerked down the collar of her shirt to show the scar of her mark: a bite with a cross cut underneath it. It was the symbol that she belonged to Jorick.
He waved it away. “If he made you drink his blood he could try! In order to lay claim to a marked human, all a vampire needs to do is give the human their blood and then mark them again. The original master can contest it to the council and they’ll determine who the human rightly belongs to, but it takes weeks!”
“Or he can just kill the new master?” Katelina suggested.
“Yes, and then his coven mates can complain and the council can rule on whether the death was legal or not, based on who owns the human. It’s a complicated web, Katelina, and one I’d rather not get tangled in. So the next time I assign a guard to you-”
He went on, but she tuned him out.
They got out on the sixth floor. When she asked where they were going, he answered, “I have to deliver a message to Ark.”
He slipped his coat over her shoulders, then led her upstairs through the seed company office and outside. The rolling stench was absent this time, and she followed him around the buildings to a large open area beyond. As they drew close she could see a field of embers glittering orange in the night and the shadowy figures of vampires milling around with shovels.
Ark stood to one side near a giant mound of rocks. As Katelina and Jorick came to a stop near him, another vampire approached with a wheelbarrow and dumped a rattling load onto the heap. Something large and round rolled down the pile and came to a stop at Katelina’s feet. She stared down into a set of empty eye sockets. It was a skull.
She jumped back and eyed the mound. They weren’t rocks, rather the bones of those killed in the battle a few days ago.
Jorick soothed her absently and delivered his message. Ark nodded, then made the mistake of asking what they were doing. Jorick’s tirade was instant and long, and by the time he’d finished Katelina had edged back several steps, her attention focused on the grisly pile.
“You’d best fill out the paperwork,” Ark advised. “Otherwise they won’t be able to detain him.”
“They won’t need to detain him because I’m going to kill him.”
He turned to go and Ark called after him, “What did you find in Malick’s chambers?”
Jorick’s shoulders tensed and he answered, “Nothing.” Then they headed towards the seed office.
Katelina went to their apartment and took a shower while Jorick charged off to see the guards. It wasn’t as though they’d listen to anything she said, anyway. He came back in a bad mood that only got worse when she mentioned that she still needed to buy underwear, since her shopping bag had disappeared.
The trip to the mall was short and they were back in the apartment within an hour. Jorick left again to fetch their dinner, and Katelina turned her attention to the packing. Frankly, if Munich was anything like the American Citadel, she hoped the trip was as short as Jorick had forecast. She didn’t think she could take much more.