Jorick shoved a weapon into Katelina’s hand. “Stay back!” he shouted and flung her away from the impending fight. Surprised, she skidded and crashed into the bookcases. An invisible shower of books fell around her. She crouched and shielded her head against the avalanche.
After the last book landed with a thud, she stayed on all fours. Her ears strained in the darkness and her imagination filled in the visuals. She’d seen enough vampire battles to know what one looked like.
Something crashed loudly and she jumped. She squeezed the weapon tightly, ready to defend herself, but something was wrong. It wasn’t as heavy, or as metal, as it should be. She felt around it experimentally to discover that it wasn’t a weapon at all. It was Jorick’s flashlight. “A flashlight? How’s that going to help?” Then she figured it out.
She fumbled for the switch and the beam of light snapped to life. She swept it through the room to see Hectia on top of the desk, her coat at her feet. Her hands were wadded into fists, and her red lips were pulled back from her sharp teeth.
Jorick put out minimal effort as he grappled with the newbie vampire. However, the young one had flung aside his parka and his face was screwed up in intense concentration. The red headed vampire stood back, the long club balanced casually in his hands as he watched the proceedings.
One of the large bookcases lay broken on the floor, books scattered around it like a pool of blood from a fallen monster. Jorick hopped up on it. He caught his opponent’s arm and twisted it effortlessly. The loud snapping noise was drowned out by the vampire’s scream.
“Verchiel!” Hectia cried. “Help Drew!”
Verchiel, the redheaded vampire took a cautious step forward, but made no move to join the battle, even when Hectia snarled and shouted, “I said help him!”
Though he only had one good arm, Drew charged Jorick again. With an expression that bordered on amusement, Jorick lightly stepped out of the way, and then spun so fast that Katelina missed the motion. When he reappeared, he was holding the vampire by the throat and smirking. “Is this really necessary, Hectia?” He nodded towards the redhead. “Your friend doesn’t seem interested in joining.”
“Damn it, Verchiel! He can’t do it on his own.”
“I see that,” Verchiel agreed. “But, as he just asked, is this necessary? If someone else has a claim on this den, then it’s theirs. It’s too big to heat anyway.”
“I deserve this! It’s mine!” Hectia stamped her foot like a child. “You promised to help me!”
Verchiel sighed heavily. “Fine, Hectia. I did at that.” He turned his attention towards Jorick, and brandished his weapon. “You’d better put him down. He’s too young for you to mess with.”
Jorick snorted contemptuously. “Yes he is, but even a young one can stab you when your back is turned.” Drew struggled as Jorick pried the fireplace poker out of his good hand and held it up. “I’ll kill him, Hectia. This is your last chance.”
Not to be beaten, Hectia leapt off of the desk and grabbed the club from Verchiel. She charged at Jorick, swinging it above her head. Jorick rolled his eyes and dodged her. As he did, Drew twisted loose. With a savage cry, he lunged for a piece of broken bookcase.
He never made it.
Jorick rammed the poker through his back with a sickening, crunching sound. Drew’s body jerked stiff, his eyes wide and eerie in the harsh beam of the flashlight. Then, he slumped forward. Dark blood gurgled out of his mouth and ran down his chin.
Drew’s body was barely on the floor before Hectia threw herself at Jorick, screaming obscenities and beating him about the head. Verchiel grumbled and half tackled her. He wrenched his weapon from her hands and cast her aside. “You’re going to get hurt,” he snapped irritably and dodged Jorick’s swinging fist. He jumped back from the raven-haired vampire and twisted the club in his hands. With a loud click and a swish, it broke in two and became a hard, lacquered scabbard and a short sword that made Katelina think of a ninja movie.
Hectia picked herself up from the floor and glanced at Katelina and her trembling flashlight. Jorick followed her gaze and snarled, but Hectia quipped, “I don’t fight with children. However, my honor demands your blood.”
Verchiel slowly drew closer to Jorick. Both men were crouched and ready to spring; Jorick with his fireplace poker and Verchiel with his odd sword. “You know, Hectia,” the redhead said conversationally. “I really don’t see a point to this. So he helped kill Claudius? Look at it this way, if Claudius was still alive you wouldn’t have this house to fight over, and you’d have never gotten to know me.”
“He killed Drew!” She pointed to the body slumped only a few feet away. “Isn’t that reason enough?”
“I only killed him because he attacked me,” Jorick reminded her. “I gave you both several chances.”
Verchiel agreed, “He did. He offered to let him go if you’d just call him off.”
Hectia cried in wordless frustration. She grabbed a large book and flung it at Jorick. It missed, so she grabbed another one. “Damn you! I deserve this!”
“That’s not up to me.” Jorick looked past them and met Katelina’s eyes, conveying a reassurance that made her think he had a trick up his sleeve. Undoubtedly he’d kill the two quickly. “If you talk to Oren I’m sure he’ll be more than happy to release you from the bond to his coven and then you can go where you will instead of hiding.”
Hectia raised the book. “So you’re looking for me?”
Jorick’s muscles remained tense, but his face relaxed. “Not you in particular, though I suspected someone was lurking around.”
Hectia looked ready to shout, but instead she dropped the book to the floor. Her eyes wandered to the slumped, bleeding body of Drew. “He was only three weeks old,” she said hollowly. “Three weeks.”
“You should have known better,” Jorick admonished. “A newborn is weak.”
Her tone turned bitter and she glared at her supposed ally. “I thought he’d have help!”
Verchiel was slowly relaxing as well; his sword gradually lowering an inch at a time. “I promised to help you, Hectia, not him. Besides, he whined all the time. It’s not much of a loss.”
“Maybe to you!” She spun her attention back to Jorick. “Fine, I’ll speak to Oren, but I swear -”
Jorick interrupted her. “Yes, yes, you’ll get revenge. I’m sure you will. In the meantime, I have other things to do.”
Verchiel relaxed. He slid the sword back into the scabbard and twisted it until it clicked. “More vampires to flush out?” he asked with odd cheerfulness.
“I hope not.” Jorick dropped down off the broken bookcase and walked to where Katelina was still crouched in the corner. He stopped before her and offered her his hand. She blinked at him questioningly. How could it be over when both Hectia and Verchiel were still standing? Jorick motioned to her encouragingly, as though it was an answer, and she let him tug her to her feet. He wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her to him. “It’s fine,” he murmured softly.
She nodded against him, but found no words. Jorick took it as an agreement and turned his attention to the other two. “Get the body wrapped up and we’ll dispose of it. Then I’ll take you to call Oren.”
“Call him?” Hectia asked.
“Yes.” When no one moved, Jorick added impatiently, “Now would be nice.”
Verchiel snickered, and twisted his sword-club apart. Katelina flinched and clutched Jorick. The redhead laughed at her reaction and walked to the windows where he neatly severed the heavy drapes. One-handed, he tossed the heap of cloth to Hectia. “Wrap him up.” Then he snapped the sword back together and stashed it in his coat.
Hectia caught the drapes and held them, a look of distaste on her face. “Why don’t you?” Her gaze swung to Jorick. “Or you. You killed him.”
“You made him,” Jorick answered indifferently and Verchiel smirked in appreciation. Hectia grumbled and surrendered herself to the grim task while Katelina stared incredulously. Their cavalier attitude bothered her. It was one thing to be calm after killing someone who was a threat, but Drew was supposed to have been a friend of Hectia’s. Were vampires so cold and unfeeling? If she was dead would Jorick be amused?
“Hardly.” Jorick squeezed her tightly and started to say something more, when he was interrupted by Verchiel.
“He was no friend of Hectia. She turned him because she planned to make her own coven. She didn’t even know him until she happened upon him three weeks ago.”
Used to Jorick, it took Katelina a moment to realize the implication behind Verchiel’s words - he was answering her thoughts! Her eyes went wide and she stared at him in horror. Jorick, on the other hand, surveyed him with cold interest.
“Yes.” Verchiel responded, though she wasn’t sure to whom. “I can, but it comes and goes.” He flashed Jorick a fanged smile. “I’m sure it isn’t nearly as developed as your abilities, of course.”
Finished with her task, Hectia stood and wiped her hands on the drapes. “I’m not carrying him.” She snatched up her coat from the desk and slid into it. “Verchiel can do that.”
“I appreciate your faith in me.” Effortlessly, the redhead heaved up the body and balanced it over one shoulder. “All right, and where shall we have our happy bonfire?”
“The back garden should be sufficient.” Jorick’s tone was casual, but his eyes were guarded now that he’d discovered Verchiel’s ability.
The redhead nodded and walked towards the door. Without stopping, he threw back over his shoulder, “You have little to fear, it’s already fading. It only works under stress.”
The other three followed him at a distance. They walked quietly through the house and into the elaborately decorated ballroom where Katelina’s attention was again drawn to the painted murals. A shiver danced down her spine when she caught Lilith’s too realistically painted eyes. It was as if the vampiress was somehow staring into her soul. Jorick gave her hand a reassuring squeeze, though he kept his attention on the other two.
The French doors at the end of the room opened onto a stone veranda. Though Verchiel had been there only a moment ago, the drapery wrapped bundle lay alone on the ground in front of the veranda, and a set of footprints disappeared across the yard. Jorick made a noise of irritation but Verchiel reappeared, almost magically, looking chipper and toting a plastic container of something that smelled of petroleum. “Did you miss me?”
When no one answered he laughed softly to himself and circled the dead body. He whistled as he splashed the flammable liquid liberally around the corpse. The drapes turned mottled with big, wet patches and the snow turned amber. Finished, he tossed the empty container into the yard and looked up at them. Something on his face made Katelina glance at her companions, and she realized they were clustered together just outside the door, like little kids in a haunted house.
Verchiel produced a silver lighter. “Shall I do the honors? Or should his mother do it?”
“Just get on with it!” Hectia backed the tiniest bit towards the door.
Verchiel knelt and flicked the lighter to life. He touched it to the fluid. The drapes caught with a loud whoosh, and suddenly Verchiel was on the stone platform with them. When the initial ball of fire subsided, he moved to the edge of the veranda and stood, hands behind his back, peering down at the snapping orange flames.
Katelina buried her face in Jorick’s arm as memories of other bonfires assailed her. Though she closed her eyes, she could still hear the crackle of the flame and smell the thick, heavy stench of cloth and hair burning. She imagined that it left behind a coating of black soot as it crept into her nostrils and filled her throat. The idea made her choke.
Jorick broke the silence, “It should be fine untended. Get your possessions so we can go.”
Verchiel patted his coat. “I have all of mine. I travel light.”
“I will fetch mine, but I do so under duress.” Hectia glared at her supposed ally and then swept back into the house.
Verchiel watched her go. “A change will do her good.”
When the fire burned out, Jorick and Verchiel buried the remains in the garden, though Katelina suspected that Jorick had been more of an overseer. Thinking on the house’s previous owner, Katelina wondered if there were other vampires, or people, buried out there. The thought was not comforting.
Hectia reappeared with two suitcases of belongings, and the four of them piled into the silver car. Katelina tried to communicate to Jorick the thousand reasons this was a bad idea, but since it seemed the other two didn’t have a vehicle, there wasn’t much choice. “Or that’s what he wants me to think. He could have just killed them.”
“A bit bloodthirsty, are we?” Jorick interrupted with a curious smirk.
Katelina scowled. “It would have been more convenient.”
“Speaking of convenient, it would have been more convenient had you left us alone,” Hectia snapped bitterly from the backseat.
Verchiel snickered. “And miss all this fun? Surely you’re joking.”
Silence fell. The only sounds for the rest of the trip were the tires on the pavement, the swish of the wipers and the puttering engine. Jorick took them into the nearest town, and Katelina instantly recognized it; she was home. Though, whether they’d survive to do anything about it was another matter.
Jorick stopped the car across the street from her old apartment and twisted around to eye their guests. He studied Verchiel. “What coven do you belong to?”
“My own. And before you ask, I was released from my blood debt some time ago.”
Jorick didn’t look pleased. “In that case, we’re all going.”
“Why?” Hectia asked coldly. “Verchiel and I -”
Jorick cut her off. “Because you’re going to talk to Oren, assuming we can get him, and I’m not leaving him -” he jerked his thumb towards the redhead ,“- where I can’t watch him.”
Verchiel mock pouted. “I’m hurt. You know my intentions as well as I do.”
“No,” Jorick interrupted coldly. “I don’t.”
Verchiel’s eyes lit up. “Oh! I see! So you can’t hear my thoughts? That must be pretty irritating.” He beamed delightedly.
“Let’s go.” Before they could argue, Jorick swung the door open and climbed out. Katelina followed suit. The cold night stole her breath away and snowflakes landed in her lashes and dropped silently onto her face. The streetlights shone pinkish, and the flakes danced and whirled in their light, like the ballerina cutouts in the nearby studio windows.
She looked across the street, her eyes drawn to her old apartment. Her attention skipped quickly to the shop below, then to the surrounding buildings. Nothing had changed. Everything was the same as when she’d left. She didn’t know why she’d expected it to be different, as if she thought her absence would have created a noticeable hole in the world she’d once inhabited.
Jorick caught her hand and she looked up quickly, her melancholic reverie broken. “I have a few things to take care of and then we can go look.” His tone became a warning. “Unless you want your mother to know we were here, we’d best leave things as we find them.”
She couldn’t argue with the logic, so she followed him to the ballet studio. Next to the locked entrance was a weathered wooden door. Jorick tugged it open and waited for Hectia and Verchiel to catch up. “After you.”
Hectia sniffed disdainfully, then swept ahead of them, Verchiel at her heels. Jorick and Katelina followed them at a safe distance, and again she wondered why he hadn’t just killed them.
In answer to her unspoken thought, Jorick asked irritably, “You really think I just kill everyone who’s an inconvenience?”
She didn’t bother to answer.
At the top of the stairs was a small hallway bordered by three numbered doors. Jorick stopped before number three and fished his keys from his pocket. It took him only a moment to find the right one and unlock the door.
“Home sweet home?” Verchiel asked as Jorick motioned him inside.
“Not anymore. The rent’s paid up through January, then the landlord will have to find a new tenant.” He watched warily as the redhead and Hectia entered. Once they were inside, he and Katelina followed.
They were in a large kitchen/living room combo with stained blue carpet. There was no furniture, nor books; only an old wall phone stretched across the floor. Two doors sat in the right wall, both open to dark, empty rooms, and three heavily curtained windows were situated on the left.
Katelina drifted to the windows. It was the same scene she’d seen in his dream. She remembered the conversation; Patrick and Oren arguing over whether she’d be safe or not. It was freakish to think that he’d stood there - that they’d all stood there - while she sat across the street, unaware of Jorick as he kept his secret post as guardian.
Verchiel’s voice interrupted her thoughts, “This is homey.”
Everyone ignored him. Jorick crouched down and busied himself with the telephone. The room was so quiet that they could hear the phone ringing. Then, someone answered and Jorick stated, “I want to speak to Oren.” He paused as the other person replied and then he rolled his eyes. “Perhaps another time, Torina. I need Oren at the moment.”
Hectia stood in front of Jorick, her hands clasped together and her face pinched. Verchiel, on the other hand, restlessly wandered into the bedroom, then the bathroom. Jorick snapped at him, “Get out of there and stay where I can see you.”
“What do you think I’m going to do?” Verchiel asked, retreating. “Steal your clothes?”
Jorick started to answer, but he was interrupted by a tinny voice saying hello over the telephone. He motioned Verchiel to silence. “Oren?” Identity confirmed, he explained the situation as succinctly as possible. When he’d finished he said, “All right,” and handed the phone to Hectia. “He wants to talk to you.”
She accepted it, frowning. As the conversation started, Jorick took the opportunity to cross to Katelina. He laid his hands on her hips and leaned his chin on her shoulder, his mouth close to her ear. When he didn’t offer her an explanation, she asked, “Well?”
“He found it all very interesting.” His voice was barely louder than his breath. “He doesn’t particularly want Hectia, but he doesn’t want her in Kale’s coven either. He’s going to release her, so long as she promises to go north and stay there for a while.”
“What about him?” She jerked her thumb towards Verchiel, who was leaning over Hectia like a vulture.
“He’s never heard of him and neither has Torina. Since he wasn’t in Claudius’ coven, he doesn’t owe allegiance to Oren.”
Katelina stopped short of pointing out that no one owed Oren allegiance. If Jorick wanted them to think Oren was in control, it was fine with her, so long as she didn't have to get involved.
The deal made, Hectia offered the phone back to Jorick. He had a rushed and cautious conversation before he hung up. “I’m going to retrieve my belongings,” he announced. “And then Katelina and I have some things to do. I’ve brought you this far, Hectia. I’m sure the two of you can get bus tickets on your own.”
“Oh, I’m not going.” Verchiel examined his hands as though they were of immense interest.
Hectia gasped audibly. “You have to! You promised!”
“I promised to help you, and I did. I didn’t sign on for life, you know.” He smiled mischievously. “I feel I’ve played my part in your story and now it’s time to move to the next chapter.”
She gaped at him. “You can’t expect me to go alone!”
Jorick cut into their argument. “This isn’t my problem. The two of you can deal with it elsewhere.” He stared hard at Hectia. “You made a deal, remember to keep it.” His gaze swung to Verchiel who only grinned back. “And I don’t want to run into you again.”
“Now, now, you can’t dictate where I go,” Verchiel admonished lightly. “I’m not involved in any of this.”
Jorick drew a deep, irritated breath. “I don’t care where you go, just get out of here.”
“As you command.” He bowed low to Jorick and then caught Hectia’s arm. “Come dear. I’ll help you find the bus station.” She protested, but no one paid her any mind. Verchiel paused at the threshold to glance back at Katelina and Jorick. “Until we meet again.” Then he disappeared.
The door had barely shut when Jorick released a pent up breath he’d been holding. “I don’t like him. Good riddance.” With that, he ducked into the bedroom to gather his stuff.
“I didn't like either of them,” Katelina called after him. She stared through the window to the street below and watched Verchiel fetch Hectia’s suitcases from the back seat of the car. He handed them both to the unhappy vampiress then, as if he sensed Katelina’s presence, he glanced up and offered a cheery wave before he took Hectia’s arm and led her down the sidewalk, no doubt to the tune of a tirade.
Katelina dropped the curtain and made her way to the bedroom. A cardboard box sat against the wall, overflowing with black clothes and tatty paperback books.
“So that’s where the books are. I should have known you sat over here and read.”
“Sometimes. The rest of the time I was perched like a vulture outside your window.” He smiled as he repeated the words she’d used not long ago. The quote made her frown, but he gave it no further comment and stuffed the last armload haphazardly into the box. “That should do it.”
He toted the box out of the empty apartment and, after they locked up, they clunked down the stairs. He dropped the box off at the car, then they crossed the street and stopped in front of Katelina’s old apartment. When she reached for the door, he caught her hand and shook his head. “I know a faster way.” Before she could ask what it was, he swept her up in one arm and leapt lightly onto the built up planter in front of the store. From there he jumped to the metal awning over the shop’s door and then he propelled them both to the wide ledge outside her apartment windows.
Katelina stared dizzily down at the ground and her stomach lurched. How had they gotten up there so quickly? Was he like a paranormal kangaroo?
Jorick obviously wasn’t listening to her thoughts for a change because his only comment was, “Hold on a second.” He juggled her as he opened the window, then helped her slide inside.
She gracelessly untangled herself from the venetian blind and stepped away from the window so Jorick could follow. Her eyes moved around what should have been her bedroom and a sick feeling swept over her. She’d wanted something to change. Well it had - the place was empty.
“My stuff,” she choked out, overcome at how thoroughly she had been erased. “All my stuff.”
Jorick dropped into the room and quickly assessed the situation. He moved to her and wrapped an arm around her waist. “Your mother probably has it.”
She stared at the blank walls and they stared back, the nail holes like tiny black eyes. She drew a shuddering breath, and then moved on to examine the other rooms. They were the same. Everything was gone, every scrap, every sign that she’d ever lived there.
Tears stung her eyes but she let Jorick scoop her up and take her back down the way they’d come. Whenever she’d thought about her abandoned apartment she’d pictured a crime scene: police line stretched across the door and her belongings scattered and broken. She’d never expected that she’d just been erased.
She was silent on the drive back to Dunwick, lost in her own thoughts. Jorick let her wallow in her grief until they reached the motel; then, he held the door open for her and teased lightly. “Smile precious, maybe tomorrow will be half as fun as tonight was.”
With a heavy sigh she met his gaze. “God, I hope not. I don’t think I can take any more ‘fun’.”