After Jorick left for his meeting, Katelina realized she didn’t have a key to their apartment. With nowhere to go, she and Xandria followed Micah and Loren to their room. Micah’s bald head gleamed under the lights. Tattoos and a brown goatee gave him a biker look that his tank top and motorcycle boots echoed. Loren, meanwhile, looked sixteen, with a mop of dark curly hair, large doe-like eyes, and a hoodie that was tied off under the stump of his missing left arm.
They boarded the elevator. Katelina gazed through the glass walls at the stories tall atrium. The rock wall was repaired so the waterfall flowed unobstructed to the pools below. The ceiling that had been a blasted mess was fixed, and the maze of plants and benches looked as fresh as ever. Only the missing fountain stood testament to Malick’s revolt.
On the fifth floor, Micah found his room. After three tries he unlocked the door. “Fucking cards,” he muttered as he pushed his way inside. “What’s wrong with a key?”
“They’re low tech,” Loren replied. “People can pick the locks.”
“And they can hack this computer shit.” Micah threw his bag on one of the beds and Katelina looked around.
The room was like a motel, with a pair of twin beds on each end and two coffins in the middle, in case the guests preferred a more traditional sleep. A small table and seating area were near a dresser and a wardrobe. Through an open door Katelina could see a bathroom, though she wasn’t sure if they had human facilities or just a tub and sink.
In place of a window hung a modern art painting; swirls in blue and green with a violent red triangle stamped over the top. Loren tilted his head this way and that. “I don’t get it.”
Xandria dropped into one of the chairs and lit a cigarette. “It’s symbolism. The green and the blue represent the rest of the world, flowing down expected paths, while the red triangle is someone who refuses to go with the flow, who stands out, who goes against the norm. It’s a challenge to the viewer to do their own thing, regardless of what is expected by the peaceful but boring society.”
Katelina blinked at her. “You got that from an ugly painting?”
“It’s not ugly. It’s jarring. That’s the point.”
Loren broke into a grin. “Are you an artist?”
“No. I used to know someone who was.”
Xandria’s eyes dropped and the atmosphere thickened. Before Loren could push the subject, Katelina said, “Are we making bets on whether Jorick’s really done with this Executioner crap?”
“I think he secretly likes it.” Loren dropped onto one of the beds. “It gives him a chance to stick his nose into everything.”
Katelina took the other chair and tried to ignore the nagging feeling that the teen was right.
On a roll, Loren asked, “What do you think Oren and Etsuko are doing?”
“He’s bitchin’ and she’s working on her needlework,” Micah answered. “She ought to have that fucking house coat done by now.”
“It’s a kimono,” Katelina said, though she wasn’t sure if that was the right term. Girls wore kimonos, but did men?
Loren’s shoulders sagged. “You don’t think they’re doing something romantic?”
Katelina scoffed. “Oren is as romantic as a shoe. And Etsuko’s idea of romance is to wait on him hand and foot.”
Xandria ground her cigarette out against the leg of the chair. “What about you and Jorick? What’s your idea of romantic?”
Katelina’s cheeks burned as all eyes turned to her. There wasn’t time for romance lately. Between fighting wars with vampire cults and crazy ancient masters, surviving was more important than flowers. “I don’t know.”
Xandria waved an encouraging hand. “There’s nothing to be embarrassed about. You’re a grown woman.”
Micah’s snicker was crude. “Shows what kind of romance you got in mind.”
Xandria shrugged. “Even if it is, it’s only sex. That’s not embarrassing. Everyone does it.”
Katelina understood where Xandria was coming from. As a modern, enlightened, revolutionized twenty-six year old woman she should be able to talk about it without turning red. She was modern enough not to feel guilty about sex, and she could even discuss some aspects of it with the right people, but chatting about it in front of Loren and Micah…she wasn’t modern enough for that.
“Romance is about more than sex.” She tried to look disapprovingly at Micah. “It’s about someone making you feel loved, like you’re the only one in the world they want to be with.”
“Does he?” Xandria asked.
“Most of the time,” Katelina answered. “When he’s not fighting battles and killing lunatic vampires.”
Loren cut in, “You can’t expect him to be glued to you all the time. That other stuff is important.”
“I never said it wasn’t. I’m not that insecure. I meant he does it when it counts.”
Xandria flopped back in the chair. “He is hot. How did you meet?”
Katelina shrugged. “I was sort-of dating a guy named Patrick—”
“How can you be sort-of dating someone?” Loren asked.
Micah grinned. “We aren’t in high school, shrimp. Not everyone is ‘going steady’.”
“They call it ‘going out’, and I get that. I’m just saying—”
Katelina interrupted him. “Patrick didn’t want a commitment. I thought it was because of his drugs and his friends, but it turned out he was a human slave for a vampire named Claudius. Anyway, he got murdered. After a month with no answers, Jorick called and offered to explain, if I met with him.”
“How did he know what happened?” Xandria asked.
“He and Oren were fighting Claudius,” Loren said.
Katelina nodded. “Patrick was Claudius’ slave but he spied for Oren and Jorick. Anyway, when Jorick and I had our meeting, Claudius’ vampires attacked. Some of them escaped. Since they’d seen me, they thought I was involved in the war, so I couldn’t go home. Eventually I figured out Jorick was a vampire, and one thing led to another.”
Micah scoffed. “That is the crappiest ‘how we met’ story I’ve ever fucking heard. Patrick was working with Jorick, so the minute he’s dead, Jorick swoops in?”
“It was a month later,” Loren argued.
Katelina cleared her throat uncomfortably. “He was actually sort of after me before, I guess.” She wasn’t sure she’d made peace with this part of the story yet. “Patrick asked him to ‘keep an eye’ on me for a few months. I forget how long he said it was. He rented the apartment across the street and—”
“And stalked you?” Micah asked. “Jesus. You women got a twisted idea of romance.”
Xandria straightened up. “It’s kinda sexy. This hot vampire hero watching you from afar, secretly protecting you from the evils of the night, asking nothing in return…Damn. Where can I sign up?”
“You’re serious? It’s fucking sick. Help me out, pipsqueak.”
Loren shrugged. “I dunno. It sounds like a romance novel to me.”
Micah choked. “It’s only sexy because you think he’s hot. If he wasn’t mister goth-metal-moody-cliché-on-fucking-legs you’d be pissed.”
Katelina shrugged. “I was pissed. I’m still kind of pissed. But…I don’t know. I guess it’s hard to stay mad at him.”
“Because you think he’s hot. Jesus! You women are worse than men. I don’t care how hot the bitch is. If she’s been stalking me for months, ain’t no way she’s getting more than a one-time fuck.”
Loren chortled. “You’d still sleep with her?”
“If she’s hot. Ain’t gonna turn that away, even if she is psycho.”
Xandria dragged the conversation back. “Ignoring them, how did you fall in love with Jorick? I mean, when did you wake up, or look into his eyes, and think, ‘Oh my god, I love this man’?”
“I don’t know.” Katelina tried to remember their first days together. “I think before we stormed Kateesha’s stronghold. He offered to let me stay behind in the motel, but I was afraid if I wasn’t there he’d get killed. I guess that’s when I realized his wellbeing was more important than my own fears.”
“Fuck, you were linked then,” Micah said. “Maybe he made you care.”
“Linked?” Xandria asked.
“It’s some ancient vampire shit where they give the human a bunch of blood and it links them. I dunno. Word was he could control her.”
“He could not!” Katelina snapped. “It didn’t work like that. He could hear my thoughts, and I could feel his emotions when they were strong. And he could talk to me in my head, but he wasn’t secretly controlling me, or making me do things.”
Loren motioned her to calm. “Chill, chill.” He glanced to Micah. “It’s a touchy subject. Leave it.”
Micah lit a cigarette and blew a stream of smoke at his young friend. “I’m just sayin’, he’s a whisperer. Who knows if what you feel around him is real or planted there. That’s why I hate those fucking mind readers and all their mumbo jumbo.”
“Whisperers’ suggestions go away once they’re out of range,” Katelina jerked the cigarette from his fingers and took a puff. “Unless you want to keep them.”
He ripped it back with a dark look. “Maybe you wanted to be in love? You women enjoy it. But, who am I to cast doubt on a deceitful dog of The Guild who stalked you for months?”
Xandria shifted in the chair, so her legs draped over the arm. “What did he do to you, Micah?”
“I hate his type. Old fucking vampires who think they’re hot shit because they’re five hundred years old. So what? That doesn’t make them better than me.”
“He is more powerful,” Loren said hesitantly.
“So that gives him the right to mess with people’s heads and try to run the fucking show?”
“That has nothing to do with age,” Loren said. “He’s just bossy.”
Before anyone could reply, a knock sounded on the door. Loren answered it, and Jorick walked in, a sheaf of papers in his hand. Katelina moved to him and wrapped her arms around him in relief. Thank God Eileifr hadn’t thrown him in prison.
She felt a momentary buzz in her head, more prickle than anything painful, and knew Jorick was reading her memories. As if to prove it, he shot Micah a dirty look. “Come, little one. I got a new key card from the desk, and papers for you and your human, though I don’t think we’ll be here long enough to fill them out.”
Hope surged in Katelina. This was what she’d been waiting for. “They let you go?”
Jorick glanced past her, to the other occupants. “We’ll discuss it later. For now let’s get some rest.”
Katelina followed him to the door and Micah called, “What the fuck? You ain’t gonna tell us what they said?”
Jorick paused on the threshold, his tone icy. “It’s none of your business.”
Micah called after them, “Told ya. He’s no better than the rest of the ancient fuckers.”
Katelina and Xandria followed Jorick through the halls. They took an elevator to the second floor, where they walked through part of the entertainment area. A spa, a movie theatre, and other amusements were crammed together like a shopping mall.
Jorick’s card got them through the locked door into the Executioner’s block. Inside, the hallway wound around in a rectangle. Katelina couldn’t remember which apartment number was theirs, but Jorick went to door three without hesitation.
The rooms inside smelled musty, and a fine layer of dust covered the coffee table. Since it was The Guild’s idea to send Jorick away, the least they could do was have someone clean!
Katelina moved to the doorways. The small bedroom was empty. The bathroom hamper had a towel hanging out of it, and a roll of toilet paper was balanced on the sink counter. The bed in the master bedroom was still unmade and the closet doors open. It was as if someone hit a pause button.
“This is where you live?” Xandria asked.
“No,” Jorick answered. “We were forced to stay here, but Eileifr said we’ll be free to go soon.”
Katelina narrowed her eyes. “How soon?”
“There are reports to file.”
Katelina looked to the paperwork Jorick held. Not reports, but the identification applications. “You haven’t written any reports.”
“I gave a pair of guards a rundown and they’re writing it up. When they’re finished, I’ll give it a once over and sign it.”
Katelina’s hands moved to her hips. “You’re serious? Those reports are the only thing between us and freedom, and you’re letting someone else handle them?”
He grinned. “It will be fine, little one. In all the years I worked for The Guild I never wrote anything. Reports are for underlings to worry about.”
“And the important guys just run around and kill people?” Xandria asked. When Jorick shot her a dirty look, she held up her hands. “I didn’t mean it was a bad thing. I’m only asking. I’ve never been with vampires who had an official job.”
Xandria stepped closer. Her scent made Katelina’s stomach rumble. Jorick smirked and caught her hand. “I’m hungry too. Shall we visit the restaurant?”
The restaurant was on the sixth floor in the “human” section. With an open front like a mall eatery, it encouraged visitors to drop in and sit at one of the tables. It was a shambles the last time Katelina saw it, but now it was restored, with light green walls and a shiny black bar that ran for a section of one wall. The tables and chairs were painted with the same dark gloss. Vases of orange flowers, on emerald table clothes, gave bright pops of color.
A waitress approached their table. In other visits, Katelina thought her flirty demeanor, low cut blouse, and thick knotted scars were disgusting. Now she was busy trying to ignore the warm, roast-beef-sandwich smell of her blood.
As Jorick ordered and earned a flirty wink, Katelina bit her lip and tried to quash the desire to drain the woman dry. She was grateful to see her sashay away.
When she’d regained her composure she turned to her boyfriend. “So Eileifr said we could leave soon? That means he’s not going to arrest you for the kidnapping?”
Jorick leaned back in his chair. “I told him to talk to Joseff, assuming they can find him.”
Joseff. A vampire with long black hair and scars. He’d been the one to rip Thomas apart and bury him. Not that anyone had stopped him.
“I told them where Thomas was buried. Eileifr already ordered an Executioner and a couple of greater guards to head to Kentucky and dig him up. What they’ll do with him is anyone’s guess. In the old days they’d have put him out of his misery, but now…” He shrugged.
She imagined Thomas’s withered, dirty body dragged up from the hole, his arms, legs, and lower jaw missing. His eyes would be sunk in his head and his voice would be a dry rattle. He’d be desperate for blood, but have no way to attack them, no way to quench the burning thirst.
The thoughts made her clutch her napkin.
“You aren’t in trouble?” she asked. “Beldren said—”
Jorick made a derisive noise. “Beldren rarely knows what he’s talking about, any more than that redheaded idiot. Eileifr could put me on trial and drag things out, but I think he wants rid of us as soon as possible.”
“Why?” she asked.
Verchiel’s voice chimed in from Jorick’s elbow. “Our friend is something of a legend, so in the field others have a habit of following him rather than their orders. For instance, when Eileifr sent Jamie to bring us home, he followed Jorick instead. He encourages insubordination among the ranks, and Eileifr wants rid of the disruptive element as soon as possible.”
Xandria gave a yelp of surprise at Verchiel’s sudden appearance and the vampire grinned.
“You enjoy that effect,” Jorick muttered. “But it isn’t magic. You’re only moving fast, wind walker.”
“Can you do it?” he asked and took a chair.
“He doesn’t need to,” Katelina said. “He can practically kill people just by looking at them.”
Memories of the battle with Malick flashed through her mind. Jorick roared and threw a nearly visible ball of power at Malick. A guard leapt in the way and fell from the roof. He landed in a heap, hands on his ears, a trail of blood leaking from one nostril.
“It was a fit of rage,” Jorick barked. “It isn’t like I’ve been practicing in secret.”
“You’re Malick’s fledgling,” Verchiel commented. “You don’t need to practice.”
The waitress brought their order. Katelina barely had the glass of blood to her lips before she downed it in a long, satisfying gulp.
“Don’t bother to taste it,” Verchiel teased.
Jorick growled. “No one invited you to join us.”
The redhead batted his eyes. “I know you forgot, but I was sure you really wanted me.”
“None of us want you.”
Verchiel arched an eyebrow. “I don’t know about that.”
Jorick slammed his fist on the table, hard enough to make Xandria’s plate jump. His growl turned deep and menacing. “Very soon we’ll be free of you forever. Now be gone!”
“Wow, that wasn’t very nice.” Verchiel made a show of standing up and pushing in his chair. “I can tell when I’m not wanted.” The pout slipped from his face and he winked. “I doubt you’ve seen the last of me.”
Then he disappeared.
There was no furniture in Xandria’s room. Given what was supposed to be a short visit, Jorick didn’t want to buy any. Katelina tried to convince him they might as well — there wasn’t any furniture in the spare room in Maine, either — but he said they’d worry about that when they got home. For the sake of peace, she left it at an air mattress and some bedding.
“It’s not a big deal.” Xandria pointed to a smoke shop. “Though I‘m out of cigarettes and those matter.”
“Smoking is bad for you,” Jorick replied crisply.
“So is not buying cigarettes for smokers,” Katelina said. She’d quit, but she still craved them occasionally. Now that she was a vampire, maybe she could start again.
Jorick gave her a look that said, “No,” then ducked inside. He returned with four cartons. “I hope that will be enough.”
Xandria’s eyes lit up. “Oh, yeah. That should last a month. Thanks.”
They headed back to their apartment. Katelina checked the time and resisted calling her mother. She wasn’t likely to get an answer at four a.m. She changed the bedding and snuggled into the crisp sheets, hoping this might be her last night in The Guild. After all, how long could it take to do paperwork?
She slipped into dreams of the past. She stood outside Patrick’s door, a grocery bag clutched in her arms. They had a date. He’d been acting weirder than usual, and she thought cooking him dinner would cheer him up. Except he wouldn’t answer the door.
She tugged the key out of her purse and slotted it into the lock. The door swung open on the dark apartment. She stepped in and flipped on the light.
In retrospect, she knew now that most of his stuff was gone — whether sold or stolen she didn’t know — but at the time her eyes went to one thing: Patrick’s torn and mutilated body. The congealed blood clotted the carpet and his spine gleamed through his ruined throat.
Her knees gave out, and the contents of her stomach joined the mess on the floor. She needed to call someone. Call the police, call…
Patrick’s apartment disappeared, replaced with a dark cavernous room. Crates and containers groaned, held in place by thick rope. The floor pitched first one way then the other.
It’s a ship.
“Yes, it is,” a voice said in her head.
She turned to see someone seated on a low chest. His long black hair fell in his face. Slender pale hands were folded in his lap. Though he was dressed in a pair of rough pants and a button up shirt, the last time she’d seen him he’d worn long golden robes.
He looked up and the creaking cargo disappeared. There was nothing but his eyes. Like a pair of exploding stars, they took all of her attention. She forced herself to look away. The effect faded but left an aftertaste that made her feel shaky.
“You’re hunting Lilith,” she murmured.
At the name she felt black hatred roll from Samael, and no wonder. Lilith was his unfaithful wife who’d drained him dry and left him entombed for more than two thousand years. Katelina accidentally resurrected him. He drank from her, then healed the wound by giving her blood. Maybe because of his age, that exchange created a connection she still didn’t understand.
When she’d last seen Samael, he’d taken Lilith’s location from the mind of one of the Kugsankal, and disappeared, seeking restitution.
“Her very blood will not pay for the sins she has committed. Two thousand years suffering would not be enough. There is no recompense, only revenge such as the world has never known.”
“When you find her, you’ll fight her and wipe out everyone in your path?”
“If it is necessary.”
She wanted to tell him why that was wrong; why he should be careful and spare innocent bystanders. Before she could, he added, “You are in your homeland. Do not fear. Such is not my destination. Sleep now. We will meet again.”
As the feeling of peace faded, she wasn’t sure their meeting would be such a good thing.
Katelina woke the next evening. Jorick lay next to her, lost to dreams. Vampires woke at different times and, though Jorick was usually up before the others, he was still asleep. He once suggested it might be because of Samael’s blood that she woke before him, and that maybe she could endure more sunlight than usual. He refused to test the theory, and so did she. Being burned alive seemed a bad way to go.
She dismissed the thought and slipped into the master bathroom. There was no toilet, but she didn’t need it—a significant bonus of vampirism.
A quick look in the mirror showed blonde hair that fell around her shoulders in soft waves, and brightly faceted blue eyes. She turned this way and that, admiring the smooth, marble look of her skin. Most new fledglings still looked human, but she didn’t. Was that because of Samael, too?
She adjusted the cross around her neck. The charm had belonged to Jorick’s wife Velnya, a vampiress who’d been burned as a witch in the 1800s. Though it aggravated Jorick, she felt wrong throwing the pendent away, like erasing Velnya from history.
Katelina changed out of her pajamas before Jorick stuck his head in. “Your human is hungry.”
“Xandria has a name, and she isn’t ‘my’ human.”
“That isn’t what the Höher Rat ruled. For better or worse, you’re saddled with her until you can dupe someone into marking her.”
“You act like she’s a cursed object.”
“Isn’t she?” When Katelina only stared he explained, “Ask her if she enjoyed her days with the vampire hunters.”
Katelina didn’t need to ask how he knew Xandria’s past. As a mind reader, everyone was an open book to him. But vampire hunters?
Before she could formulate a reply Jorick said, “You look beautiful as you are. Come, let’s have breakfast.”
“After I call my mother.”
“Why? She’s the same as the last time you talked to her.”
Katelina hoped he was right.
Xandria was perched on the couch. She earned a half wave as Katelina grabbed the land line phone. She punched in her mother’s number, then waited anxiously while the rings peeled off. Just when she started to panic, her mother’s voice sounded. “Hello?”
“Mom! You’re okay?”
“Kately? Of course I am. Why wouldn’t I be?”
Katelina tried to calm herself. Because vampires might have tried to silence you. “Um, you know.”
“No, I don’t. How are you? Do you want Sarah’s number? She’s staying at Brad’s place. Get some paper and I’ll give it to you.”
So Brad and Sarah were back together. “No. That’s okay. I’ll see her when we get there. We’re in Iowa now. Jorick has to finish up a job, then we’ll head out. It should only be a couple of days, so don’t worry.”
“I’m not worried. Katelina, what’s gotten into you? You don’t call for weeks and now you’re desperate to come home. I know you want to see Sarah, but you should call her.”
Katelina made an uncomfortable noise in her throat. “I’ll see her when we get there.” It was time to quit beating around the bush. “Has she said anything weird?”
There was a heartbeat of silence, then, “Describe weird.”
“You know, anything…crazy.” Like, I was nearly tortured to death by vampires.
Her mother made a noise of understanding. “Brad was worried about that too, especially after the bizarre reason she gave for being gone.”
Katelina’s heart froze. “What, uh, what did she say?”
“She thought something terrible happened to you because your apartment was a mess, so she went looking for you, then realized she didn’t want to come back. I don’t know. It’s just as strange as you running off with that man. I think there’s something you aren’t telling us.” A heavy silence followed and she pressed. “Is there?”
Yeah Mom, vampires. “No. Of course not.”
“The why don’t you want to talk to her? The two of you were like sisters growing up. We even let her live here for a while after she left her parents.”
“I know, Mom. I was there.”
“I’m only saying you both disappear within a couple days of one another, supposedly don’t see each other for six months, but you don’t want to talk to her? And you expect us to believe you weren’t together the whole time?”
“I never said I didn’t want to talk to her, just that I didn’t want to call her at Brad’s. Geeze!”
Her mother sighed. “Fine. I need to go. Brad’s taking me out to dinner.”
Katelina choked. “You’re still going out with Brad? But Sarah’s back. She’s staying with him!”
Her mother’s voice turned cold. “I didn’t say she was with him, just that she was at his place. Did you think I was only filler until she reappeared? It might surprise you, but Brad and I enjoy one another.”
“I don’t want to hear how you enjoy—ugh.”
“If you’re talking about sex, I’m not dead, Katelina. I’m only forty-four.”
“Oh my god. I have to go.”
After a better goodbye, Katelina peeled the phone away and dropped it into the cradle.
Jorick leaned against the couch, his arms crossed. “How is she?”
“She’s still dating Brad. Sarah’s boyfriend!”
“If your mom’s dating him, isn’t he Sarah’s ex-boyfriend?” Xandria asked.
“I don’t know, because Sarah is living with him!” Katelina looked to Jorick. “Do you think he’s playing them?”
“How should I know? If I were him, I wouldn’t date either one. Now, let’s have breakfast.”
They met Oren in the upper corridors, a sour expression on his face. “I assume they’re finished with us, since we have to pay if we want to stay.”
“Sounds like it,” Jorick agreed. “You seem disappointed.”
“Why would I be? We’re checking out today.”
Katelina wished they could say the same. If it wasn’t for Jorick’s stupid report…
“Where will you go?” Jorick asked.
Oren’s frown deepened. “I’d thought to use Micah’s den until we found a new one, but he and Loren are staying here.”
Katelina jolted in surprise. “Why?”
Oren shrugged and went on, “We’ll find a suitable place until something more permanent can be procured. I assume you’ll be here?”
“Only for a day or two,” Jorick replied.
Oren nodded. “I’ll call with the new location.”
They stood in uncomfortable silence. Finally Jorick said, “Safe travels. If you’ll excuse us? Breakfast.”
Oren gave a stiff nod, and they parted ways. Katelina waited until they reached the restaurant to say, “That’s it? After everything we’ve been through you just tell him ‘safe travels’?”
“Did you expect a speech?” Jorick smiled. “I could compose a poem of farewell, if that would suit you better? I thought you’d be happy to see the last of them.”
Katelina glared at the tabletop. “I didn’t say I wasn’t happy. I just think you owe him a thank you.”
Jorick rubbed his chin, eyes twinkling. “I never thought you’d say I owed Oren anything.”
He had a point. After all the times Oren had been an ass, how could she feel the slightest twinge of melancholy?
After breakfast they got their IDs. Like a driver’s license, they had photos taken and cards made up. Xandria moaned about her bad hair, but Katelina secretly enjoyed her own photo. It was the best looking ID she’d ever had.
When they headed back to their apartment, they discovered Micah waiting in front of the door to the Executioner block. “About damn time.”
“What do you want?” Jorick asked. “You and Loren are free to leave.”
“Think we’re gonna stick around a bit.” Micah popped an unlit cigarette into his mouth. “Seeing as how we’re all here, I figure it’s time for Lunch’s training session. The information desk said there’s a public gym. So go get changed, unless you wanna fight in that get up.”
Katelina looked to Jorick to object. Instead, he shrugged. “You might as well. There’s nothing to do until we feed your human again.” Jorick swiped the keycard and pushed the door open. He paused and met Micah’s eyes. His tone turned heavy with an edge of threat. “This lasts until we’re ready to leave, then it’s done.”
Jorick was already through the door when Micah muttered, “We’ll see.”
Katelina’s training session was the same as usual. Micah showed her fighting moves and made her spar with him. When he insisted she quit trying to punch him and lift weights, her first reaction was hell no, but to her amazement she lifted them easily. Since Micah had been the one to turn her, she’d inherited his titan ability, giving her strength she wasn’t used to.
He crossed his arms and nodded approvingly as she hefted yet another ridiculous load of weights. “Good. You’re stronger than I thought.”
“Barely.” She dropped the bar back on the catches. “You’re killing me.”
“Not killing you, saving you. You should fucking appreciate it. You’ll be ready for anything. If some bitch wants to start trouble, you gotta show them who’s boss. That means you gotta know what you can do and what you can’t.”
“I can’t keep this up.”
“Yeah you can. Quit being a whiny bitch. Again.”
With a frustrated grunt, she hefted the bar and imagined slamming it into Micah’s bald head in a spray of blood and brains.
No, not brains. Sawdust. That’s all he’s got up there.
When he finally called it a day, he patted her roughly on the back. “You’re getting better, kid. You’re not gonna beat me yet, but you can almost hold your own.”
She rubbed her sore shoulder. “I held my own in the battle with Malick’s goons.”
He laughed. “You ain’t gotta lie to me, babe, I was there.” She glared and he relented. “You did better than usual, but you got lots of room for improvement.” He nodded toward Xandria, perched on a piece of exercise equipment, flipping through a magazine. “If you’re planning to keep her, you better start her training. We just lost our helpless human. We don’t need another one.”
Katelina lowered her voice. “I don’t know what we’re doing. Jorick wants rid of her, but she’s been with vampires and The Laws say she can’t join the general population.”
“Give her to someone else. And don’t look at me,” he added hastily. “Last thing I need is some helpless human chick. Though Loren has an eye for her.”
Katelina’s eyebrows shot up and Micah gave a rough chuckle. “You ain’t noticed? I thought women were sensitive to that shit. Mainly I think he’s got an eye for anything with a pair of t—”
She kicked him in the leg hard enough to knock him back a step. “Watch your mouth.” Then she turned to Xandria. “Are you ready?”
After a shower and a change, they went back to the restaurant for an uneventful meal. It was on their way back when they ran into Beldren.
Jorick nodded to the Executioner’s long black coat. “On assignment?”
“What else? I volunteered to help Zuri with the retrieval, but I suppose Eileifr saw he could assign me something more annoying.”
“Retrieval?” Katelina asked.
Beldren gave her a long look down his nose, as if trying to decide whether she was worth answering. “Thomas.”
Katelina stiffened, and Beldren turned back to Jorick. “I imagine you’re looking forward to the trial. It’s a pity I’ll miss it.”
“What trial?” she demanded.
Jorick gave Beldren a hard look and caught Katelina’s hand. “We’ll discuss it later.”
The blond Executioner laughed. “You didn’t tell her? How did you plan to get away with it? You’re good Jorick, but not that good.” Beldren forced his chuckles down to a snicker. “I’d best go. Don’t want to keep feuding covens waiting. Have a good evening.”
The Executioner barely disappeared before Katelina ripped her hand from Jorick’s. “I thought you said you weren’t in trouble?”
He gave an aggravated sigh. “It isn’t my trial. It’s Joseff’s. And I didn’t tell you because I knew you’d act like this.”
Her hands went to her hips. “Like what?”
“Like this. Angry, accusing, suspicious. Everything will be fine. Zuri has gone to get Thomas, a message was sent to Anya, and your redheaded clown is bringing Joseff in. If all goes to plan they should be back tonight or tomorrow. The trial will follow the next day. Then we’ll leave.”
“Assuming your reports are written.”
“They will be. Speaking of that, I should check on their progress. Would you like to come with me, or go back to the apartment?”
“Can you avoid getting arrested or drafted by yourself?”
He gave her a wink. “I’ll certainly try.”
Two days later they were still at The Guild with no trial, no Joseff, and no dismissal. Rather than drag the human Xandria in front of vampires, Katelina stuck to the apartment watching TV. A special on the Heartless Killer, a Canadian child murderer who mutilated his victims, caught her attention. But, after half an hour, the crime scene photos were too disturbing, and Katelina flipped the show off.
“There’s never anything on,” Xandria said. “That’s why I make up stories in my head. It’s like writing a book just for me.”
Katelina didn’t know what to say, so she changed the subject to one she’d wondered about. “How did you meet Sanjay?”
If Xandria was surprised by the shift in topics, she hid it. “I was with a group of vampire hunters in Zimbabwe. When they went after Sanjay, he killed everyone else and I talked him into keeping me as a slave. I don’t think he cared one way or the other, but he admitted later I was useful.”
So Jorick was right. “Vampire hunters are a thing?”
“I guess. Muzi’s parents were killed by vamps when he was younger, so he devoted his life to trying to kill them. It was kind of a sad story, and I didn’t have anything else to do. Pacha’s new coven threw me out, so I was kind of mad at vampires, anyway.”
“She was a friend of mine—or I thought she was. We ran away when I was sixteen and had a great year roaming all over. Then she joined that new coven, and they didn’t want non-food humans around.”
“You didn’t want to be turned?”
“I was all for it at the time, but Pacha didn’t want the responsibility. I was ‘fun’ but not ‘forever fun’, or something like that.”
Ouch. “I’m sorry.”
Xandria brandished a cigarette. “Hey, not your fault. I heard they got wiped out later, so I guess it’s karma. I just don’t know if it’s good karma that saved me, or bad karma that killed her.” She blew a puff of smoke. “I used to have a bunch of her paintings in a locker at a train station but they got stolen. She was good. You might not like her stuff, but it had real emotion. Like the painting in Loren’s room.”
There was a noise at the door, and Jorick came in with a new book. He brushed a kiss across Katelina’s lips, then dropped onto the couch next to her. “Oren called today.”
“He finally found a place?” Katelina asked with mixed interest.
“I guess.” Jorick cracked the book open and breathed in the smell of the pages. “Nothing like new literature.”
“Hopefully it’s better than that TV show.” Xandria finished her cigarette in a long drag and stabbed it out in the ashtray, ignoring Jorick’s glare.
A knock sounded on the door. No one moved, and Xandria finally opened it to reveal Verchiel.
“Hello!” The redhead slipped into the room. “Did you miss me?”
“No.” Jorick made a show of lifting his book in front of his face.
Katelina tried to remember where Verchiel had been. That was right. Joseff. “Did you find him?”
“Of course.” Verchiel flopped into a chair. “He resisted arrest, but he came along after I persuaded him.” He brandished his fists menacingly.
Katelina conjured an image of Joseff, his dark eyes aflame with hatred. “Where is he?”
“In a cell, of course,” Jorick muttered from behind his book.
“Right across from that green eyed whisperer, Gadriel.” Katelina looked blank and Verchiel prompted, “You remember. The last time we were here, before we left for Munich. He tried to kidnap you from the shopping center. He got sentenced to six months after we left.”
A memory rose to the surface. A pair of emerald green eyes pulled her into a crystal prison. She’d come to and found herself being led by an unknown vampire. The remembered terror prickled at her and she brushed it away. “Yeah.”
“Anyway, I imagine Joseff’s trial will be tomorrow.” Verchiel looked to Jorick. “How’s your report coming?”
Jorick turned a page noisily. “It’s finished and turned in.”
Katelina looked surprised. “When?”
“Today.” Jorick peered over the top of the book. “How long did you think it would take them to write? We were only gone three months.”
Verchiel chuckled. “I bet you left out a lot. But, I haven’t started mine yet, so who am I to judge?” He yawned loudly. “I suppose I should head back to the ol’ apartment, order a drink, hit the hay.” He stood, looking from one to the other, as if waiting for someone to object. “Okay then. Have a good night.”
He hung in the door and a black blur zoomed past him into the room. Katelina leapt to her feet, but was knocked back down as what felt like a thousand knives sliced her skin.
What in the hell?