At six a.m. a knock sounded on the apartment door. Jorick opened it to find Jamie, one of the Executioners. With long black hair pulled into a bun and chocolate brown eyes, he was good looking and, truth be told, he was nicer than many of the others. Katelina still wouldn’t say she liked him, though.
“Are you ready to go?”
Jorick nodded and Katelina climbed reluctantly to her feet. She pulled on her coat; a big black castoff of Jorick’s, and picked up her new purse. With no wallet, no credit cards and no phone, she had only makeup, a hairbrush and some random items inside. Still, it was a step towards normalcy.
The suitcases were stacked next to the couch. Jamie and Jorick each took two. Katelina grabbed the smaller case and moved to the door. She paused on the threshold to give the apartment a final look. She’d gotten good at leaving places, but not so good at coming back. Her eyes moved from the TV, to the throw pillows, to the second hand couch. Would she ever see them again? Did she even want to?
There wasn’t time to contemplate it, so she followed the men down the corridors to the elevator. No one spoke until they reached the sixth floor reception room, and then Jamie explained, “I’ll drive you to the airfield.” Katelina knew the information was for her benefit. Like Jorick, Jamie could read minds and she was sure the two men had silent conversations.
A black SUV waited for them outside the seed office. The vampires loaded the luggage and climbed in, Jamie in the driver’s seat and Jorick in the back. Katelina slid in next to him and gratefully shut the door. “I hope Germany is warmer than this!”
Jorick’s answer was to squeeze her hand. Katelina remembered another trip in the SUV that had taken her from the airport to the Citadel. Though it had only been two weeks, it felt like a lifetime.
The rural airfield was just as she remembered it. Black tarmac shone damp with winter moisture under the bright lights, and a scattering of buildings gave the illusion of civilization. Instead of the small white plane she’d ridden in last time, a larger black airplane sat at the end of the runway, lights on.
Jamie parked and the three of them climbed out. The vampires fetched the luggage and took it to the plane. Katelina stood by the SUV, her purse clutched in her hands and her eyes on the aircraft. She’d only purposely flown once before in her life, and she hadn’t liked it. The thought of flying over the ocean was even less appealing.
A second SUV pulled in and scattered her thoughts. The doors opened and Verchiel hopped out of the back. His ridiculous hair seemed even brighter under the misty lights and his long black coat flapped in the winter wind. He offered her a cheerful grin and tugged a leather bag out of the back.
Neil stepped around the vehicle with a pair of mismatched duffel bags. His eyes glittered with apprehension and Katelina wondered who’d been stupid enough to send him as Verchiel’s luggage carrier.
“He’s coming with us,” Verchiel announced. “I don’t need that much luggage.” He tapped his bag. “Always travel light.”
Katelina glanced to the uncomfortable guard. “He’s going to Munich? Whose idea was that?”
Verchiel blinked innocently and Katelina glared. Before she could chastise him, Jorick reappeared. “Eileifr assigned him the task before he made a complete mess of your shopping trip!”
Neil cringed into his coat. “I-I’m sorry.”
Verchiel clapped a hand on the worried vampire. “Don’t let him get to you. Jorick just likes to blow and bluster.”
Jorick snarled. “No, I like others to do what is expected of them. Excuse me if I find his complete inability to follow a single command unforgiveable!”
“But everything turned out all right,” Verchiel insisted. “It’s a shame we’ll all miss the trial though. I imagine the punishment will be swift and severe, especially after all the complaints you lodged, right Jorick?”
“He deserves death, and nothing less.” The vampire’s dark eyes snapped over Verchiel. “He isn’t the only one.”
The front passenger door opened and Cyprus, one of the new Executioners, dropped out, a bag in his hand. His reddish-brown hair hung loose down his back and stirred in the chilly breeze, and his brown eyes surveyed the group with mild interest.
Before Katelina could ask why a newbie was being sent, Jamie approached with four bulging manila envelopes. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but here is your paperwork.” He handed one to each of the vampires, then turned to Katelina. “Yours is with Jorick’s.”
The paperwork absorbed their interest. Katelina took the items Jorick offered her to find a passport, that eerily contained a photo from her old work ID, and her driver’s license which, even more disturbing, was an exact copy of the one she’d lost in October, down to the bad photograph.
“How did they get this?”
“Everything is digitalized now, which means anyone can get access to it,” Jorick answered and shoved his own IDs back in the envelope. “I’ve warned you before.”
Verchiel held his passport up and tilted it this way and that. “I don’t know about this photo, and what a name! Allan Wurtz! Was that the best they could do?”
“They gave you a fake name?” She glanced at Jorick. “What about yours?”
His nose wrinkled involuntarily. “Darryl Kelson.”
“Ugh! That’s terrible! Didn’t they ask you first?”
Jamie cleared his throat. “If you’d care to board the plane?”
Katelina stepped back involuntarily and her eyes went to the metal monster that was waiting to crash her into the ocean. Jorick reached for her hand at the same moment that Verchiel clapped her on the shoulder. “Don’t worry. It’s an airplane full of vampires. What could possibly go wrong?”
Jorick didn’t yell, but his cold even tone was worse. “Get your hand off of her. Now.”
Verchiel made a show of holding his hands up. “Just trying to be friendly.”
“Don’t. She neither wants nor needs your friendliness.”
Verchiel shrugged. “If you say so.” He tipped a wink in their direction, then sauntered to the plane. Neil practically ran after him and Cyprus followed.
Jamie watched them go. “One would think with your age would come the wisdom to deal with those you dislike.”
Jorick snorted. “If you mean work with them, then yes, I am more than capable, as you should know. But that does not extend to Katelina.”
“Then perhaps you should leave her behind?” Jamie’s eyes swung to Jorick’s and they stared silently at one another. It was Jamie who finally looked away. “As you say. Have a good trip and should you require anything else, you know who to call.”
With a nod, Jorick took Katelina’s hand and led her towards the plane. She was nervous enough, and then Jamie called, “Have a safe flight.” It was as if his words proved there was an alternative.
The interior of the plane smelled like an expensive car and looked like something from a movie. Instead of neat rows of seats, white leather chairs were seemingly scattered around. Two sets had shiny fold-down tables between them, and beyond was what looked like a couch behind a half wall partition. With the gray carpet, gleaming wood, and white textured walls, it looked like a house. It was only the fuselage’s curved shape and the row of small, shuttered airplane windows that ruined the illusion.
Verchiel flopped on the couch and Neil perched near him, already buckled into a seat. Cyprus sat in one of the chairs, his feet kicked up on the seat across from him and his bag tucked under one of the tables. Nervously, Katelina took the nearest chair, and fished her seatbelt out of the crack. Jorick took the seat next to her and did the same.
“This isn’t the plane they kidnapped us in, is it?” she whispered, her large eyes still moving from one gleaming surface to another.
It was Verchiel who answered, “You guys were probably in one of the smaller ones.”
She purposefully spoke to Jorick, “Why do they need a plane like this?”
“For long trips,” he replied. “They also rent them out to vampires going overseas. It’s easier than trying to find a ride on normal transportation, but it’s expensive and it means The Guild knows where you’re going.”
The loudspeaker crackled and the captain announced that they were ready to take off. He gave them the usual airplane precautions, then added, “Please be advised that in order to arrive in Munich during the night hours, the majority of this flight will take place in full daylight. Every precaution has been made to keep sunlight out. Open the window shutters at your own risk.”
The engines seemed to hum louder and then Katelina was vaguely aware of motion. Even without external reference, she could tell when the plane started to climb. It felt like there was cotton in her ears and a small elephant sitting on her chest. It was after they leveled out that her ears popped and a roar of noise slammed through them.
The captain’s voice came back. “You may remove your seatbelts and move freely about the cabin.”
Katelina reached for the buckle, then dropped her hands. She felt safer with the belt on.
Jorick unfastened his and yawned. “You’d best get some sleep, little one. We should arrive in Germany around nine p.m. their time, so there won’t be a chance for rest.”
She clutched the arms of the seat and imagined closing her eyes – and missing the crash. “How am I supposed to sleep? We’re going to crash any minute!”
“I doubt that. Airplanes fly every day with very few fatalities.”
“But it does happen.” She wiped her sweaty palms on her jeans and gripped the chair again. “How can you be so calm? It isn’t like you’ve been on an airplane before!”
“We were both on one, albeit unconscious.” She stared at him and he sighed. “No. I haven’t been on an airplane awake, and I see no need to do so now. You should get some sleep.”
As if to say the conversation was over, he reclined his seat and closed his eyes. She nudged his leg with her foot, and he reluctantly sat up and looked at her. “Yes?”
“What if I need to pee?”
“I imagine there’s a bathroom back there somewhere,” he waved towards the other end of the plane. “And if the redheaded clown gives you any trouble, kill him. Or you can wake me and I’ll happily do it.”
Though it wasn’t much of an answer, he settled back down to sleep. Katelina swallowed hard and tried to relax her stiff shoulders. She needed a distraction.
“What about that vampire in the green coat? You know, the one who… What will happen to him?”
Jorick opened one eye. “He’ll be tried in the next couple of days, probably by the Lesser Council.” He snorted his disdain. “There were witnesses, so he’ll be found guilty and given a punishment that is far less than he deserves. Probably incarceration for a few months.” He yawned. “Though I saw that Sorino pressed assault charges, so perhaps he’ll get a year.”
Katelina remembered the cold gray detention cells and imagined being in one of those for a year. Worse, to be a vampire, who they rarely fed.
“No less than he deserves.” Jorick studied her. “You’re really worried about the plane.”
She tried not to roll her eyes. “I thought I mentioned it.”
“Sorry, I thought you were just being melodramatic.” The calming sensation that washed over her was manufactured; one of his vampire tricks. She debated on whether to accept it or fight it, and finally struggled free. She might be scared, but she didn’t want to be numbed. As long as she was coherent maybe she could survive the crash.
Jorick shrugged. “If that’s what you want.” He leaned up to kiss her and then relaxed again. “Good night, little one. Sweet dreams.”
She mumbled the endearment back, but she had no intention of sleeping.
She was the only one.
If vampires snored, the din would have been deafening, but they didn’t. They slept as silent as the dead while Katelina sat rigid in her seat and prayed not to crash. After an hour her eyes were heavy and her bladder was insistent, so she risked a trip to the bathroom.
As Jorick guessed, it was towards the back of the cabin behind a polished door. Though more luxurious than a normal airplane toilet, it was still tiny, and she hurried.
She exited to find Verchiel sitting up on the couch, a magazine in his hands. She moved past him and he commented, “Still awake? After the big exciting day you had, I’m surprised you haven’t passed out. Shopping, nearly being kidnapped by a whisperer, and now an airplane trip. Not to mention all that glaring at me. That has to take a lot of energy.”
“Shouldn’t you be asleep?” she snapped back.
He lowered the magazine and shrugged. “Unlike you, I can always have an extra big snack and –boom- I’m refreshed. But it’s nice to know you worry.”
“I’m not worried. I just don’t want you irritating me.”
“You tell yourself that if it makes you feel better.” He stretched and yawned. “So what happened with that whisperer, anyway? He nabbed you from the mall and what? Sorino said he found you before the guy got you back to his room or did anything.”
She wrapped her arms around herself and shuddered. “I don’t want to talk about it, least of all with you!”
“You’re really determined to play this angry card, huh? All right, suit yourself. But when you get tired of it, let me know.” He gave her a wink and picked up his magazine. “I think I’ll finish this article then take a nap.”
She had nothing to say, so she strode to her seat and buckled herself in.
Verchiel was as good as his word, and half an hour later he was stretched out on the couch asleep. Katelina dozed more than once, but the tiniest turbulence was enough to jerk her awake. Her tired eyes burned and her stomach was a knot of fear. It was ridiculous. She’d faced vampires, nearly died in bloody battles and watched children burn to death, and yet something mundane like an airplane was enough to give her a panic attack.
She wasn’t sure what time it was when Jorick woke. He blinked in surprise to see her awake and then laid a hand to her forehead. The familiar calming sensation flooded her, but this time she sank in to it gratefully. Surely it would be better to sleep through the crash. Wouldn’t it?
Her sleep was dreamless, and it was Jorick who woke her with a gentle shake several hours later.
She blinked groggily and the cabin came into focus. Neil sat rigid, clutching the arms of his chair. Verchiel was on the couch, a seatbelt around his waist. Cyprus was upright, but his eyes were still closed, and Jorick sat next to her, looking as well rested and perfect as ever. The elephant was back on her chest and the cotton in her ears. They were obviously descending.
The plane touched down and bounced and she squeezed her eyes shut and muttered a prayer that lasted until they coasted to a stop. The loudspeaker came to life and the captain gave them the usual speech, including the local time of 9:15 p.m. and the temperature of twenty-seven degrees Fahrenheit.
Katelina didn’t even have her belt off before Verchiel bounced past and out the door. Jorick fetched their luggage from the back and pressed half of it on Neil. The guard didn’t complain, only tried to juggle it with his own duffel bags.
Katelina, lugging the small suitcase and her purse, was the last one out. If the high fence and empty atmosphere was anything to judge by, they’d landed at a private airfield. Soft fat flakes of snow drifted from the sky and melted on contact with the ground. The bright lights reflected in the puddles to make smeary glowing pools on the tarmac. A black SUV waited nearby. Though the make and model were probably different, it looked the same to Katelina and she suddenly wasn’t sure if they’d really left.
The SUV’s door opened and a tall vampire hopped out. He came to a stop before the newcomers and Katelina noted the way the light glinted on his chestnut hair and sparkled in his cool gray eyes. The air around him seemed to shimmer like an approaching storm as he surveyed Jorick.
His voice was deep and he spoke with a lyrical accent, “It has been awhile, has it not?”
Jorick’s mouth twitched, as if imitating a smile. “Yes. It has.”
The vampire’s eyes moved to Cyprus. The cloud of power thickened for a moment and then dissipated. “I am Wolfe.” A medallion hung around his neck. Though different from the ones Jorick, Cyprus, and Verchiel wore, Katelina could still guess its meaning. What had she expected? Of course Munich had Executioners.
“They are called Scharfrichter,” Jorick murmured. “The females are Scharfrichterin.”
“Yes.” Wolfe cocked an eyebrow at the interruption. “The Sodalitas sent me to welcome you and escort you to the stronghold.”
“Who is that?” Katelina whispered.
“That’s what they call their Guild,” Jorick answered. “I’ll explain later.”
Wolfe cleared his throat loudly. “Jorick and… Cyprus are known to me, and I must assume that you are Verchiel and the guard?”
Cyprus and Neil both scowled, and Katelina could only assume it was at Wolfe’s attitude. Though Neil wasn’t worth a real name, at least he’d garnered a mention. She narrowed her eyes at Wolfe, but couldn’t bring herself to comment. It wasn’t as if he could really kill her right there and yet…
Wolfe instructed them to put their luggage in the back, and then motioned them into the vehicle. Katelina scrambled into the backseat and crammed herself in the corner. Wolfe didn’t find the driver important enough to introduce, and soon they were on their way.
“You and Wolfe know each other?” Katelina whispered to Jorick.
“We are… acquainted.”
When no more information came, she asked, “Did you work with him?”
Jorick drew a tight breath. “Yes and no. Kateesha and I worked for Malick. Wolfe was with another master, but we did work together on a few occasions.”
She dismissed it for another topic. “And the new guy, Cyprus? He’s not as old as you?”
“No, though he spent some time here, from what I understand.”
“What about this Sodalitas thing?”
Jorick slipped into his teacher persona; his voice lost all emotion and his face turned impassive. “From the beginning of time people have organized themselves under leaders. Those organizations and rulers began locally and branched out to include more territory and higher titles. Vampires are humans with immortality, so they’re no different. Much like feudal lords, different masters ruled different areas of Europe, with their own private ‘armies’, their own laws and their own Executioners. The Kugsankal – or True Council, as they call themselves - created the Sodalitas in Munich as the first modern attempt to rule those lords with a set of universal laws. It was before my time, the 1100s, perhaps, or the 1200s. They sent emissaries to the ruling masters and those who did not comply were replaced or had their power stripped from them. Some united and others were murdered until there remained only one or two Guilds in each country. The Sodalitas whittled it down to one, and it’s my understanding that since I left Europe, the individual Guilds have become like many countries’ monarchs; more symbolic than powerful.
“It was after I was gone that they changed the laws to abolish individual armies and tie the Executioners to the individual Guilds rather than to the masters. When Ark swore his oath, it was to the Guild, not to Malick, as mine was, or as Wolfe would have sworn to his master.”
“If it’s a Guild why are they calling it The Sodalitas?”
Jorick’s expression was mildly amused. “It’s Latin, little one. Naturally, each country calls their Guild after their own language. Latin was once the language of scholars. Only the True Council still uses the old language.”
“What language is that?”
He gave her a wink. “I don’t know, but it’s old.”
Katelina rolled her eyes and fell silent. The night slipped past, not dissimilar to other parts of the world, and Katelina watched it with disappointment. The snowy landscape looked vaguely like home, as did the pine trees. She wasn’t sure what she’d expected, but she’d thought a foreign country would look more foreign than it did.
The trees gave way to buildings and soon they were in the city. Many of the buildings were white with multiple stories and cheery red roofs. It was just such a building they stopped in front of.
Katelina was the last one out of the SUV. A short chunky woman stood on the sidewalk. Her blonde hair fell around her shoulders and her smooth skin gave away her immortality. Like Wolfe, she wore a long black coat and a medallion around her neck.
Verchiel gave the vampiress a wink, and Cyprus stared at his feet, as if they’d suddenly become interesting. Sadihra’s expression was cold, and her words crisp and efficient. “Welcome to Munich. I am Sadihra. If you will come with me, I will show you to your accommodations.”
She led them through a door into a narrow corridor. Verchiel went first, a suave smile on his lips. “Sadihra. That’s an interesting name. Where are you from?”
“I live here,” she replied stiffly.
His questions continued, but the answers were equally brusque. Katelina glanced to Jorick to silently ask if he knew Sadihra. His shrug said he didn’t.
The corridor ended at a large, shadowy room. Sadihra stopped next to the back wall and knocked against it. A loud click sounded and, almost magically, a piece of the wall slid aside to reveal a secret door.
“That’s cooler than The Guild,” Katelina whispered as they followed Sadihra into the secret room. Inside, four vampires in crimson uniforms sat at security monitors and computers. Wolfe, carrying one of Jorick’s suitcases, moved to the front of the group and spoke to them in rapid German. One of the guards tapped something on the keyboard, then picked up a nearby phone. He spoke to someone on the other end in a mesh of words Katelina couldn’t understand and then waved them to go on.
Like the entrance, the exit was a secret door in the back wall. Wolfe led them through it, Sadihra right behind him. Katelina thought she saw her scowling at his back.
They walked down a short corridor and then a flight of stairs that ended at a broad, two-storied entrance hall. Their footsteps echoed off the marble floor and a heavy chandelier hung above from the intricately carved ceiling. Pillars stood in strategic places along the walls, topped by arches, and led into rooms beyond. In the center of the back wall was an open space, like a ticket booth at the train station, and a pair of vampires sat inside. Wolfe waved to them, but didn’t stop to speak.
Katelina clutched the small suitcase tighter, as if it was a shield. The heavy atmosphere, echoing rooms and carved stone were closer to what she expected from a vampire Citadel, and far more intimidating than the shiny glass and chrome in Iowa. It was as if she could feel the hundreds of years of history pressing down on her at once.
A pair of curving stone staircases flanked a bank of elevators in the right wall. The doors swished open and a group of vampires stepped out. Their eyes swept over Wolfe and Sadihra and their shoulders went stiff. They gave them both tight, clumsy half bows and then hurried away. Katelina’s fear of the Scharfrichter suddenly seemed justified.
The interior of the elevator was red carpet, red velvet and gleaming silver. Jorick moved so that Katelina was in the back corner and he stood between her and the rest of the vampires. She leaned against the wall and tried to calm her pounding heart. She felt as though a hundred pairs of eyes were peering into her skull and picking through her thoughts, all at the same time. She wanted to throw up her hands, as if that would stop it.
A soothing sensation crashed over her, and a stray thought whispered through her mind, “Block them. Imagine a wall.” She looked up sharply and caught Jorick’s eyes. That was something he hadn’t done in a long time, but she supposed dire times called for dire measures.
The elevator stopped and Wolfe pushed his way out first. Sadihra went next, her steps fast enough to overtake her partner. As if to stop her from leading, he sped up, until Katelina had to nearly run down the stone and marble corridor to keep up.
The hallway was like a labyrinth lit with silver and glass sconces and studded with carved doors. After six turns, Katelina knew she’d never find her way out again. Were they purposely trying to confuse them?
The Scharfrichter stopped before a pair of rooms. Wolfe motioned to one of them and handed Jorick a key. “You will stay here and-”
Sadihra interrupted, pointing to the other door. “The rest of you will be in here. After you’ve had some time to freshen up, please meet us in the lobby-”
“Meeting room,” Wolfe corrected. “Go down the corridor, then turn left and you will find it.”
Sadihra narrowed her eyes at her co-worker. “It is a larger room, so you will know it by sight.”
Cyprus snatched the key from her hand and quickly unlocked his door and disappeared inside, his expression a cross of rigid irritation and upset stomach. The door had barely closed before Verchiel leaned closer to Sadihra. “It’s going to be a bit crowded in there with all three of us, so what do you say about letting me bunk in with you?”
Offense flamed on her face and she took a hasty step back that knocked her into Neil. The guard scrambled to get out of the way and Wolfe snorted. “You’d have better luck in the field. At home she prefers to sleep alone.”
Sadihra’s face turned red and she snapped a string of angry German that only made Wolfe’s cold sneer grow. Jorick muttered something to the pair and then unlocked the door and practically dragged Katelina inside after him. Even after the door shut, she could hear the voices in the corridor; Wolfe and Sadihra bantering back and forth, but the words meant nothing.
“If you’re going to change, you’d better do it.”
Katelina turned to find Jorick standing next to a large bed. The royal blue bedspread matched the upholstery on the scattered chairs. Heavy gilt frames showcased a series of paintings. Chubby cherubs looked back at them from hazy forests. The work was rendered too realistically to have been painted by mortals.
Two shiny black coffins sat in place of a second bed, with a nightstand between them. A carved wardrobe was open and empty except for a sachet of flower scented potpourri. Katelina turned to the suitcases, unsure if she should put the clothes away, but Jorick shook his head. “The guard has the rest of them, and we won’t be here that long, anyway.”
She lugged a change of clothes and the small suitcase with her to the bathroom. Like the room, it had an old fashioned feel to it. The walls were painted a light blue and instead of a shower there was a claw foot bathtub. The sink and one wall was made of delicately veined marble and the rug in front of the tub was at least two inches thick. If they were trying to impress her, they’d done a good job.
Time was short, so she promised herself that she’d try out the huge tub later, and settled for changing her clothes and freshening up.
When she emerged, the suitcases Wolfe and Neil had carried were stacked at the foot of the bed. She couldn’t tell whether Jorick had changed or not, but it hardly mattered. He didn’t sweat, and so long as he was well fed he looked perfect. It wasn’t fair.
They followed Wolfe’s directions to a circular room littered with overstuffed couches, plants, and white paneled walls. It reminded her of an old-fashioned smoking room.
Wolfe and Sadihra waited off to one side and they stopped next to them. Katelina drew closer to Jorick, her eyes on the handful of vampires who occupied the area, obviously waiting too.
Wolfe’s gray eyes touched on Katelina and then moved to Jorick. “Perhaps you should leave your pet in your room?”
Katelina shook her head no and Jorick answered, “No thank you. I prefer to keep her with me.”
Something like a smile found its way to Wolfe’s face. “As you wish. You always did things your own way.”
“Did you miss me?”
Katelina turned to see Verchiel come to a stop behind them. His black Executioner garb was replaced by a red t-shirt and a pair of blue jeans. Neil trailed behind him, still dressed in his gray guard’s uniform, and Cyprus brought up the rear wearing black trousers and a dark green pullover. Like Jorick, the two Executioners still wore their medallions around their necks.
Wolfe nodded to the newcomers and all sense of good humor faded from his eyes. “Good, we are all here. Tonight we only give you a tour and then let you rest.” His attention lingered on Cyprus a moment too long and then flashed away. “Tomorrow you will meet the Kugsankal, but for now relax.”
Katelina caught Jorick’s hand. “The Kugsankal, that’s the True Council, right?”
“Yes.” Jorick gave her a wink, but it didn’t cheer her. In her mind she could see the way Wolfe’s eyes had darkened when he’d said “Kugsankal”, and she hoped that was something she got to skip.