Wednesday, December 18, 2013

PERSEPHONE ALCMEDI BOOK 7 CHAPTER 7

Book 7: UNTITLED
CHAPTER SEVEN
TUESDAY / NOVEMBER 28
WASHINGTON D.C.


“You were a warrior?”

Giovanni Guistini heard the note of interest in this redhead’s tone and saw the unconscious flex of her fingers.

Her name was Jessica, and she was gorgeous. Cosmetics were wasted on her already-angelic face. Her curly hair was long and thick and partially pinned up. A trendy faux suede short skirt and nearly-sheer white blouse accentuated her curves in an upper-class chic style. The matching stiletto pumps perfected the look.

But he couldn’t have cared less about her attire. His attention was fixed on the spark in her eyes that screamed, ‘I’m a naughty-girl.’

He liked naughty girls.

“Indeed I was.” His voice was little more than gravel in a blender. He was lucky to speak at all, evidenced by the scars that swathed his neck. He wore the knotted ribbons of flesh like a badge, clothing himself always in V-necks so no one would miss seeing what had been done to him.

Jessica had tried to keep her focus politely on his face and failed. Two minutes after he walked into the meeting room, dropped a file onto the table between them and sat, she gave up that futile task and simply stared, scrutinizing the grooves and pits of his skin.

Most importantly to him, her expression hadn’t fallen into one of disgust as she studied him.

He had reviewed her file. Her former years as a lobbyist intern had brought her—unwillingly, so the file claimed—to this bloody version of existence. An ambitious but unwise vampire named Luis had turned her, used her, and challenged the wrong elder. Luis was dead within days. She, having been Made without any of the required preparations, was delivered here to the Excelsior’s D.C. headquarters by the elder for assessment.

The Excelsior’s personal advisors had the task of determining if she would be able to transition to this existence, or if it was best that she be discreetly destroyed. Being the only advisor available, the assignment had fallen solely to Giovanni.

He checked the file notes again.

She was an essentially an infant—only a few months among the living dead—and utterly unprepared for it. Such telltale habits as the flex of her fingers indicating her excitement and desire to touch him needed to vanish. Bloodlust was a bitch to control, and therefore Offerlings weren’t Made until they had mastered themselves mentally and physically, severed ties with their mortal family, and accepted their haven as their only family. She, however, had gotten teary eyed as she babbled about the upcoming holidays; her mother, as was typical, had soundly rejected her.

Wiping her tears, Jessica had asked him to talk about himself for a moment while she regained her composure. After a glance at the two-way mirror, he shrugged, tossed the file back to the table and told her a short war-story.

She had forgotten her sadness instantly when he mentioned his battle expertise and rank. Talking about himself, he realized, had been a bad idea. This evaluation game was clearly going both ways and her method gathered more useful information for her than his straightforward approach did for him.

“How old are you?”

He looked up from her chest. “Honey, that isn’t polite.”

“Neither is staring at my tits, honey.”

He arched a brow. She looked much too classy to use a word like tits. “Some appetites don’t diminish with the loss of the day.”

She arched a brow back. Her lips crooked up on one end and she leaned forward, exposing more of her tempting cleavage to him. “Some grow stronger.”

It seemed she understood, somehow, that this interview meant her survival was on the line. It also seemed she had reasoned that fucking him would buy her some favor. Giovanni wasn’t above taking the merits of her talent into consideration. “Tell me honey. Which ones grew stronger for you?”

Jessica stood and came around the table. Straddling his legs caused her skirt to rise. The lace tops of her thigh high hosiery caught his attention, but she brought his focus up, whispering, “Guess,” as she unfastened the top buttons of her blouse. Sliding onto his lap, she unhooked the clasp on the front of her bra.

Giovanni’s breathing sped up.

“You believe Luis Made me because I know how lobbyists think and how they make deals. But he didn’t.” She gripped his forearms and wiggled her hips as if riding him. The movement caused the elastic on her bra to pull the cup fabric slowly to either side. Her hard nipples poked against the nearly sheer white fabric of her blouse. “That was just an extra perk.” She lifted Giovanni’s hands to make him touch her. “I know what I’m really good at.”

He felt himself swelling, hardening as he squeezed her, gently, thumbs rubbing over the erect nipples. Despite the fabric being in the way, his mouth opened and he bowed his head to take her between his teeth. Jessica exhaled a heavy sigh and ground herself against him.

Her hands found his belt. “Bite. Bite hard. Make me bleed.”

He did.

She sucked air through her teeth as his belt slipped free. She loosed his zipper and reached in to fondle him. “Give me this,” she whispered, squeezing.

“Take it,” he said hurriedly, hating to take his lips off her. He’d broken her skin and the sweet drops of blood were smeared into the cloth where he had sucked. He rose slightly from his seat, enough for her to push his trousers down and free him from the cloth, then she was upon him. She was tight and she smelled so good. Giovanni switched to the right breast, biting again as she requested.

Jessica gave a little squeal and pushed against his chest. “Sit up.” She lifted one leg toward his shoulder—he shifted his arm to the outside—then she repeated the move on the other side. The stubble on his cheeks scoured her smooth calves, tearing the fine hosiery. His hands ran up her legs then down and under as she leaned back and placed her palms on his thighs. With her legs straight up, using his shoulders as leverage, she fucked him as he’d never been fucked before.

He watched her body, watched her shoulders roll as she moved up and down, watched her abdominals clench as her hips rose, watched her arch her back and push down on him again, watched her tits shake as she found her rhythm. It was part acrobatics. Part exotic dance.

He was enthralled.

Her arms shook with this exertion. Her legs trembled, too. His fingers were drawn to her breasts again, and he ripped the blouse open to see her pink nipples, dancing mesmerizingly before him, smeared with blood.

He had to touch them, pinch them. When he did, she cried out and began clenching around him.
Swiftly, Giovanni reached behind her, lifted her, and slammed her backside onto the table, pinning her with his body. He bit her and suckled her, thrusting furiously. “On my word, you either live,” he growled into her ear, “or,” he gasped as he began filling her, then finished “you die.”

When he stopped moving, her fingers slid under his jaw and forced his head up roughly. “I’ll do anything you want, warrior.”

He jerked her hands off him and straightened his spine so he could glower hatefully down at her. “Really, honey? I’ve never heard that line before.” He disengaged himself; she grabbed at his arms to keep him close.

“Did you hear that word ‘anything’, warrior? I meant it. I’ll do anyone you tell me to, any way you want me to.”

“Sluts are a dime a dozen, honey.” He pushed her backward onto the tabletop, then turned away to refasten his trousers.

“How many sluts know exactly which politicians sympathize with vampires? Which ones trade political favors for kinky favors?”

Giovanni spun toward her slowly.

She rose up on her elbows, keeping her legs bent and her knees open so he wouldn’t miss seeing her sex. “How many sluts do you know that can connect you with the politicians who can be bought? How many sluts do you know that can name the politicians who want to become one of us—and will make deals to that end? How many sluts do you know, honey, that can make you more powerful?”

“You were an intern. Not upper echelon.”

She sighed and let her head fall back. The pose made his breath catch in his chest. “Nobody ever asked me who my daddy is.” She lifted her head and fixed him with a serious look. “I mean my real daddy.”

Face smeared with her blood, he stepped between her legs again, leaned forward, took her by the hair, and brought her lips close to his. “Will you kill when I tell you to kill?”

Jessica wiped her face against his until she was wearing the same red mask. “Don’t doubt me.”
She moved in for a kiss.

Giovanni’s grip on her hair kept her a fraction away. She slipped her tongue against his lips. With a yank he thrust her downward again, then walked to the door, opened it and nodded to the guards. “I think she’s ready for another round, boys.” He gave her one last look before leaving the room.

Jessica grinned and blew him a kiss.

Near the end of the hall he heard a voice inside the Advisory Room where he and Mero typically held meetings with the Excelsior. He paused at the open door.

“…how many are dead?” It was the Excelsior’s voice. “No, you idiot, how many wærewolves are dead?” Pause. “Did we get the Domn Lup?”

Giovanni’s eyes widened. We? 

Since Giovanni had returned from his excursion to Cleveland, the Excelsior had barely given him notice. He knew that due to his actions in Ohio he’d lost favor with Deric, but, had he not heard this himself, he would not have believed the Excelsior made a strike without consulting him.

The Excelsior hit a button on his smart phone and threw it across the room. When he noticed Giovanni leaning in the doorway, he said, “Get in here. Shut the door.”

“I wanted to inquire about Mero. I haven’t seen him lately.”

“He is recuperating.”

“Recuperating?” What else is Deric keeping from me?

“While in Cleveland with the shabbubitum he was brutalized by the Domn Lup.” His eyes scoured Giovanni. “You heard what I said?”

He nodded. “A little. You’ve retaliated?”

“Of course.”

Would you have retaliated so severely if I were the one who had been ‘brutalized’? He did not think it would be so. Mero had long held more favor with the Excelsior. But then he wasn’t scarred. Neither was he violently aggressive. I am the devil on Deric’s shoulder while Mero is the angel.

Maintaining a blank expression to hide his true thoughts, Giovanni nodded, but offered no opinion. It hadn’t been requested. He ached to ask about the strike, but unless the Excelsior offered to discuss it, he dared not ask anything. “How long will Mero need?”

“Another night, maybe two.”

Must be pretty bad. Poor, poor bastard. 

“He lost one of the shabbubitu to Menessos—the one named Talto. Ailo was slain. Liyliy is still missing.”

He failed you and still you risked war to defend his honor. I know damn well you wouldn’t have done the same for me. So why would you for him?

Though he knew more about Liyliy’s disappearance than he would admit to the Excelsior, Giovanni acted surprised. He needed to find the missing shabbubitu. She was a powerful ally, ruthless and violent. Combining Jessica’s sweet sexual coercion with Liyliy’s savage hostility…he could trap and manipulate his way into real power.

He assessed Deric again. He’d long thought the Excelsior was little more than a corporate stiff, playing the politician’s paper games—signing bills and debating for rights—when he should just reveal the monster underneath and make them all cower at his feet.

What’s changed?

After a silent moment passed, Giovanni asked, “What can I do to best serve you, Excelsior?”

Deric considered. “I want to send another team to Cleveland. Let’s talk strategy.”

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

PERSEPHONE ALCMEDI BOOK 7 CHAPTER 6

Book 7: UNTITLED
CHAPTER SIX
TUESDAY / NOVEMBER 28
Cleveland, OH
  

Persephone sat in the back seat of an Audi--one of the haven's fleet of cars. She was behind Zenzele who was driving. Beside her, Menessos was on the edge of his seat, more in the middle than on his side, gripping the shoulders of the front seats and generally being a terrible back-seat driver. “You should have turned there!”

“This is faster.”

“There are more lights to contend with this way!”

“There are more cars to contend with that way.”

She had to give Zenzele credit, he maintained a calm tone while he was questioned by his former master and driving very fast. Also, his route selection had given Menessos something else to be dissatisfied about; he had been contending that she should have remained at the haven and as that argument went nowhere it had evolved into him insisting that she stay in the car when they arrived at the wærewolves’ den. She was glad Zenzele had his attention.

“You can maneuver around cars.”

“There are fewer to have to maneuver around this way.”

“But the lights—”

“I do not intend to obey the traffic lights.”

That shut Menessos up. He sat back and crossed his arms like a spoiled child not getting his way. Hearing Zenzele’s statement, however, Persephone nonchalantly slid the seatbelt around her waist. When the mechanism clicked into place, Bjorn, who sat in the front passenger seat, gave her a sidelong glance. Even from that angle his derisive expression was obvious.

“Immortality must be grand,” she muttered.

The tires squealed as Zenzele weaved around vehicles. Seph caught her breath and, trying to cover it, twisted to see out the back window. The lights of another car made the same move, and behind it, a van followed. The next car held Goliath and four others. The van held nine. All were vampires. No Beholders were brought. No mortal muscle. Just fang.

That—and Menessos’s frantically urgent behavior—worried her more than the lack of safety in their travel plans. She touched Menessos’s arm. “How do you know the den is being attacked?” She’d asked the question three times already. No one else had questioned him, but his statement had set off a flurry of activity that impeded getting answers. He could not ignore her now, though.

“He told me.”

“He called you?”

“In a manner of speaking.”

She gave him a look.

“He used the pieces we shared.”

A ha. She understood he meant the soul-sharing. “Who is attacking them?”

“Does it matter?”

Whenever he answered her inquiry with a question, she’d learned, he was hiding something. “Doesn’t it?”

“He did not say.”

If he sent a message via the soul, there would be much more than words conveyed. “He didn’t have to.”

He met her gaze, but his eyes revealed nothing. “Just stay in the car.”

There was little that Menessos feared, but this attacker had summoned his dread. She squeezed his arm.

He took her hand into his. “Our trio is in danger. I will not let it fail.”

Ever one to measure and guard his words before they found utterance, those two sentences told her a lot. He was trying to reassure her, but mentioning failure meant he was acknowledging there was a possibility that it could.

And that was why she had no intention of waiting in the car.

“Holy shit.” Zenzele pointed directly ahead.

They were closing in on the den. A limousine sped from the parking garage below the building. Another limo trailed it, and a third. Then a fourth.

Persephone jerked free of Menessos’s hand, unfastened her seatbelt, and scooted forward. Her mouth dropped open as she recognized the vehicles as the four she had seen earlier, when she arrived in the city.

“Do I pursue them?” Zenzele asked.

“No!” Menessos answered.

“What if they have taken hostages?”

Persephone’s stomach did a flip at the word.

“They haven’t.”

“How do you know?” Zenzele demanded.

“I know. Just get to the den.”

The tires squealed again as the Audi braked to make the tight turn into the den parking garage. The rear fishtailed, then straightened as the sedan accelerated forward, and screeched to a halt near the elevator.

Seph had her door open before the vehicle had completely stopped.

“Persephone, no!”

Menessos’s cry was too late. She hit the stairwell at a run and had barely made it to the first turn before she heard them charging after her. After the second turn, as she started past the first floor, she heard the howling above.

Not joyous howling, but cries of pain and sadness.

No.

Her rapid footfalls carried her swiftly, but when she saw the thick smears of blood in the stairwell she faltered.

Menessos caught her, strength pulling her upright before she could take a nose-dive across the landing. He shoved her into the unbloodied corner of the second floor alcove and let Zenzele and Bjorn pass. “Go back to the car!” He fixed her with as stern a stare as she’d ever seen, then followed them up.

Brows low, panting, she pushed off the wall and followed Menessos.

The other vampires were in the stairwell below. She heard Goliath giving orders. She knew the fourth floor was the first of the kenneling levels. She was trailing them, but their footfalls stopped suddenly and a guttural growl filtered down the stairwell.

Making the turn midway of the third floor and approaching the landing of the fourth, she nearly ran into Menessos. He was stopped behind a wall of muscle as the two vampires blocked the way. But she knew why they had stopped. She recognized that low-pitch growl. Johnny’s human voice was unmistakable to her ears, and so was his wolf voice…and this wolf had attacked her the last time they met. She’d never forget the sound of his snarl.

Regardless, she shoved Menessos aside. He didn’t react, but she felt a slight arc in energy as she touched him. That told her he was trying to contact Johnny via the soul pieces. She didn’t intend to wait and hope. She clawed at the vampires before her and squeezed between them. “Let me through!”

Pushing free of their bodies, she darted up two steps to stop short, nose-to-nose with the black wolf that had tried to kill her.

His yellow eyes were slits glowing through black lids. His ears lay flat. His muzzle was all curled lips and gleaming fangs and dripping saliva.

“Johnny…”

The guttural growl abated. The yellow eyes opened wider and the attack posture relaxed. Then, he lunged forward. His teeth clamped the sleeve of her coat as he pulled her upward. He dragged her into the fourth floor room.

She saw hundreds of wæres. Some stood. Some lay still—too still. Some writhed in agony. Blood smeared and speckled the walls. The doors to the kennels behind them stood open.

Johnny pulled her along the wall, but she couldn’t rip her eyes from the horrific scene.

Seeing her, many of the wolves reacted; heads lowered and lips curled. Other wolves trotted to the forefront, blocking these growlers. She recognized Erik and Celia, Theo, Kirk and Gregor…others who had gone through the forced-change spell. They came to the head of the room and kept the others back as Johnny led her—

Seph finally scanned the direction he was taking her.

Beau!

When she’d thought about the den being attacked, she’d thought only of the wolves. She hadn’t remembered that he was their kenneling watchman.

The old man lay, bloodied, below the keypad that controlled the kennel doors. He set them free. He gave them the chance to act as a pack to protect themselves.

A scarlet wolf, once white but now soaked in blood, lay beside Beau. It rose as she was brought near. It stood over Beau and emitted a guttural warning.

Johnny released her to bark at the white wolf.

It snarled at him too.

He snarled back, hackles rising.

The white wolf relented. It stepped aside so as to not be straddling the man, but it kept close to him. She walked around Johnny to crouch beside Beau. The white wolf gave a low growl.

“I’m trying to help him.” Her voice cracked as she saw him up close. She didn’t know what to do, or where to start. His nose was broken. Blood dripped from his nostrils like a faulty faucet. His eyes were bruised and swollen. His lip was split in three places. His arm—her stomach flipped again seeing the bend in it where no bend should ever be. The other shoulder must have been out of socket it was so low.

“Oh Beau,” she whispered as she moved closer and tried to assess him. Tears welled in her eyes until she couldn’t see. She blinked them away but more followed.

A fresh round of growls filled the room.

Her vision was too blurry to discern why, but Johnny’s barks and growls silenced the others and a heartbeat later Menessos came to his knees beside her. She wanted to shout, Call 9-1-1. But no emergency crew would come to the wærewolf den.

“Do something,” she begged.

Gently, he felt the old man over, frowning. “He has many broken bones. Arm, ribs, jaw. I can sense the blood moving through him. He is bleeding internally.”

“Help him!”

He touched her hand. “I can’t.”

“I’ll call the ley—”

“He’s been Bindspoken, Persephone. Magic can’t touch him even to aid him. Moreover, any magic attempted here would affect the wærewolves.”

“Where’s Doc Lincoln?”

“On his way, but…Persephone.” He smoothed her hair back. “Keep him comfortable.”

Her throat tightened. A sob wrenched its way painfully out. She covered her mouth with her hand and let the ache come, knowing it would not be denied.

She slipped her hand into Beau’s. “Beauregard…” She wiped her free hand across his head. He’d given her an amulet. One precious to him. It had saved her life. Saved it so I could sit here beside him like this.

There was some small blessing in his lack of consciousness.

Menessos got up and left, giving his attention to the wærewolves. She heard Goliath’s voice across the room. He and the others were doing what they could for the wolves. But she couldn’t take her eyes off of Beau.

His breathing was so shallow, labored, raspy.

How could anyone beat an old man like this?

The white wolf licked her fingers, where she held Beau’s hand.

Blinking away tears she looked at this wolf. He came around to this side of the old man and stood at her shoulder. He laid down, pushing his head under Beau’s and hers. He gave a great, sad whimper.

Keeping one hand on Beau, and ignoring the fact that this wolf’s coat was slick blood, she bent down to embrace him. Dear goddess. This must be Beau’s son, William.









Wednesday, December 4, 2013

PERSEPHONE ALCMEDI BOOK 7 CHAPTER 5

Book 7: UNTITLED
CHAPTER FIVE
TUESDAY / NOVEMBER 28 
Cleveland, OH


Mid-air, the vampire’s fist rammed against Johnny’s wolf-form breastbone, knocking him back enough that his jaws closed on empty air. 

The vampire followed through with a round-house kick that caught Johnny on the nose before his paws had touched down.

His nails scraped the floor, gouging the wooden planks not only to stop his rearward slide, but to give him a grip to rocket forward. He lunged again, and again the vampire eluded his teeth.

When he’d fought Mero, he was half-man, half-wolf. He’d stood on two legs, taller than his enemy. He’d had long arms and clawed hands. He’d had many ways to hurt his opponent and he knew how to fight…as a man. 

Now, the full moon ruled his form and he had only his mouth. 

A scream erupted nearby. Beau. He twisted his neck to see. Beau lay on the floor. A vamp was bloodying Beau’s face with his fist.  

The old man could not take such violence. Looking to the white wolf, he saw William was engaging another vamp, with even less success than himself.

He started forward, wanting to help Beau—a vamp landed on Johnny’s back. Nails burrowed under fur and pierced skin. Bending leftward to face this foe, he snapped at the vamp’s left arm just as it was yanked away while the nails on the right side tore into him deeper. He bent to the right to snap at that arm, and the vamp released him and sank its nails on his left again.

Directly ahead, Beau tried to defend himself. The vampire snapped the old man’s arm. Beau screamed again, voice hoarse and weaker.

Putting aside the pain, he moved toward Beau, dragging the vamp with him. But the vamp entwined his legs with Johnny’s rear legs, forcing them backward until his entire rear half was lying on the floor. His spine could not take the angle. He flopped down. Still, Johnny’s front paws strained for purchase trying to worm his way to help Beau.

But he couldn’t even help himself.

Let me.


The words came, but they were not voiced. They weren’t even words, not inasmuch as language is words. It was more primal. It was his beast, begging.


The beast coveted this moment. There was desperation in the beast’s need to sate its ravenous hunger in this moment. And, with a surge of aggression that matched the hostility of these invaders, the beast demanded ownership of this moment

Johnny let the wolf ascend. 

It was like dark syrup closed over his head. His lungs did not want for air, but his man-mind sank, down and down and down. 

He’d asked others what they sensed while changed; they claimed to be unaware, sleeping dreamlessly.

This is the darkness where the mind waits while the beast is in charge. But I am conscious of it.

It was quiet. It was a sanctuary. It was peaceful.


This was the dark corner of his soul.

And it was sore.

Like phantom pains from a missing limb, he felt two aches like thorns lodged in an already open wound—but this wound was metaphysical. Here, somewhere, was that place where two chunks of his soul had been ripped away and replaced with pieces of Menessos and Persephone. 

The first piece had the texture of chainmail and sunlight, but gave way to leather and lace. 

Persephone.

He jerked away from it.

She shouldn’t come here. It was too dangerous.

He plunged onward, to the next.

It had the roughness of uneven pages, like an old, old book, but he couldn’t open the pages. 

He didn’t exactly know how to access these soul pieces—We never discussed that. Why didn’t we discuss that? 

Shoving his hand into it, carelessly shredding pages, viscous cords slid around his hand and between his fingers, like veins with briars. Closing his hand into a fist, he squeezed and projected the word: Help! 

It occurred to him that he was asking a vampire for aid…against vampires. For an instant, he wondered if Menessos knew, if he’d been a part of it. 

Then he squeezed his fist tighter and projected: My den is being attacked…by vampires! With that, he extracted his hand and his gaze lifted. The darkness went on and on. It reminded him of lyrics to a song he wrote:

How deep my soul…to ache like this?How wide this ocean, my abyss?How far to travel with such a load?How high the climb, on forsaken roads?

There was nothing to cling to, nothing to climb. He had to rise. He could not wait for the dawn to realign him. 

Clawing at the obscurity, struggling to climb, he knew he wasn’t ascending at all. Anxiety taunted him. His strength availed nothing. His muscles—

I am not physical in this place

Consciousness only, the body he perceived himself to have was only that: a perception. That representation of the man-form attached to this mind had gravitated inward, here, to his soul.

Willing this body to shift and become wolf brought all the ache of a true change of form. He closed his eyes to this murkiness and stretched and pulled this form through all the process of a transformation—to be half-man, half-wolf. 

When his eyes opened, gravity pulled him in the other direction.

Consciousness came in bits. One sense at a time. Sightless, in darkness still, he felt his paws standing squarely on the cold bare floor, felt the change in leverage as he pulled on something. His ears vibrated, surrounded by the cacophony created by hundreds of growling, snarling wolves and the sodden rending of flesh. His whole muzzle was slick; he could smell fur and death and blood. Hot fluid dripped from his mouth, his tongue knew only the taste of blood and raw meat. 

Whatever he was pulling on came free. He backpedaled to maintain balance. Overwhelming satisfaction swelled within him and he relished the complete joy—until his vision focused from darkness to dark blurs and into sharp images. Wolves swarmed ahead of him—dozens of them. Their bodies blocked him for a moment, but they each took tooth-holds and yanked. 

The wolves before him were feasting on a body…and it was the head of a vampire that dangled from his jaws.

Elation ebbed as he stared at the carnage around him. The white wolf was luminous red, bathed in blood. Everywhere, he saw teeth. His pack was savagery incarnate. 

This was why they kenneled. This was the terrible truth that haunted their cursed existence. This was what wærewolves did: they slaughtered.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

PERSEPHONE ALCMEDI BOOK 7 CHAPTER 4

Book 7: UNTITLED
CHAPTER FOUR
TUESDAY / NOVEMBER 28 
Cleveland, OH


“What will you do now, witch?”

Goliath’s grip was a vise; Persephone’s arm was going numb. 

It seemed true that Menessos had released him from the Maker’s bond between them.Without it, she could not tap into the soul-pieces shared between her, Menessos, and Johnny to coerce Goliath to release her. She had the option to strike him with the power of a ley line—but such action would cost her. 

Not only in a physical sense, either. Sure, she would be ousted as court witch, banned from the haven, and relived of the protective perks that came with membership. She could live without those. But this was where Beverley had to live for now. She wasn’t going to lose her access to Beverley. 

“What would you have me do, Haven Master?” As the words crossed her lips, there was a mostly unintentional note of sarcasm in her tone as she said his title. Hearing it, she knew that mocking cadence was going to bite her in the ass.

He reached slowly to her face, caressed her cheek, and whispered, “Bleed for me.”

With the last word, Goliath struck. A flick of his wrist he sliced her—a small wound—with a sharp nail. She spun away, neck stinging, but Goliath yanked her into an intimate embrace. 

Recognizing that he was doing everything she would loathe him for, she considered that he might be trying to force a specifically–bad-for-her-situation in order to gain her resignation as court witch.
His lips touched her ear. He breathed deep and mmmm-ed. “Your lavender-scented shampoo lingers…but your blood, Lustrata, is more fragrant.” When he spoke, the vibration of his voice incited an erotic sensation that pulsed downward through her body. 

This close, she couldn’t avoid smelling his scent, like gun oil with a hint of that sickly-sweet odor of rot. He was a dangerous, cocky vampire who had no fondness for her and even less appreciation for the attention his Maker had showered upon her.Their minimal interactions had done little to foster goodwill between them, let alone trust.

So why do I want him to taste me?

It wasn’t all about the need to resolve this situation, either. Wondering at the root of this odd yearning, she mentally replayed the last few moments. His confidence. His quiet authority. The untamed threat of his unpredictability.

All were qualities she found desirable.

Menessos had them. Johnny had them. Hades had them—well, his authority wasn’t so quiet. Each of these men were all uniquely themselves, but carried these common threads. Even her old college boyfriend, Michael LaCroix had those traits. For it, she had been, or was, attracted to them.

She stood in Goliath’s arms, scarcely breathing, anticipating the tip of his tongue seizing the red offering he had drawn forth.

“Take it,” she whispered.

The heavy drop crawled down her neck like a dawdling insect. Heartbeats later, it remained unclaimed.

Frustrated, she repeated, “Take it!”

“Are you my witch?”

He won’t make me resign. I won’t give up my right to this haven. “I am.”

“And what am I to you?” His whisper trembled with all the restraint of a predator at war with his savage instinct. “Tell me.”

Those two words resonated inside her head. Gooseflesh rose on her arms. “My Haven Master…and an ally I hope to keep.”

“Ally? You would use me to service your own goals!” He shifted, hands gripping her arms tight.

A pained squeal escaped her lips. One arm was already bruised from this abuse; the ache provoked anger. She knew he was working toward this goal, so she let it through just a little. Bitter words tumbled from her mouth. “Can you claim you wouldn’t use me? At its core, my position is one meant to service your every whim, Haven Master, yet you act as if my having an expectation of reciprocation is insulting.” 

“It is!”

“Whatever typical behavior is for a court witch, it won’t be typical of me.” 

“That is precisely the problem. You feel that my authority doesn’t apply because you’re the Lustrata! You say you will honor the requirements of membership for my court in one breath, yet you demand your autonomy in the next. I don’t believe you can be loyal to two masters and every second you remain in that role, I take the chance that my haven bears the brunt of being the second choice in my witch’s order of allegiance.”

She smiled a nasty little smile at him. Finally. The true issue. “But it’s nice being the one Haven Master in the world with the Lustrata on your roster, isn’t it?”

He shook his head and his grip tightened even more. “Your recusant actions are insupportable.”

The fingers of Seph’s right hand were deadened, the left were getting close to the same. Holding his gaze steadily she said, “I’m not a Beholder. I’m breakable and you’re hurting me.”

He glowered for a long moment then his grip loosened.Though his hands vanished from her arms, he did not retreat.

She paused, opening and closing her hands until some sensation returned. “The duality of my role is, for you, an issue of diplomatic skill. Like I pointed out earlier, if you don’t give me commands that interfere with the greater scope of what I must do, I won’t make you look bad.”


Goliath sneered, showing fang. “I already understand your position. You do not yet understand mine.”

“Yes I do. Look, I’m sure you’re ready to be a haven master and the seriousness and…possessiveness…which you’re showing is a testament to your leadership drive, but you’re no Menessos.” Seeing his expression grow colder, she added,“That’s not an insult, so don’t take it as one. He’s been honing his finesse for centuries.”

“This isn’t about finesse,” he said through clenched teeth.“It’s about command. Allowing your openly insubordinate actions to go unpunished undermines the respect other haven members have for my authority. If you disobey without repercussions, why would they think they’re any different?”

She crossed her arms. “They aren’t the Lustrata.”

He crossed his. “Are you my court witch or are you the Lustrata?”

Firmly, she said, “Both.”

“Prove it.” It was his turn to flash a nasty little smile. “As my court witch, you must accept that in the capacity as my witch, I have the authority to dole out discipline as I see fit.”

Feeling the trap, Seph arched a brow. “What discipline?”

“I will not be responsible for your safety.”

“Huh?”

“I’ve called Zhan Hong and Mountain back to the haven. Let the witches or the wolves guard you, if they will. Let them tend your menagerie. Or, better still, do it yourself, Lustrata. I see no reason why She Who Walks Between Worlds can’t shovel the dung of her own pets.”


It didn’t seem like a big deal at first. As the seconds ticked by, though, this hurt, but not for herself. “Mountain grew up on a farm. He felt displaced in the world, and he felt displaced in this haven. His tending the animals had less to do with what was convenient for me and more to do with what was actively good for him.”

“I know this. But his services carry a different perception. Just now, it seems that, diplomatically, it must look like you are being punished. Is that enough finesse for you?”

She wouldn’t lose access to Beverley. She wouldn’t lose the right to seek sanctuary within these walls. And Goliath retained the Lustrata as his witch, a fact that would bear weight with any older vampires that might think to challenge him for his rule.

Seph nodded.

Goliath looked down his long nose at her with slitted eyes. “I hope you never have to decide which of your two masters’ distress calls to answer first, Lustrata.”

Her chip lifted. “I hope you’re never in distress, Haven Master.”

There came a knock at the door. He immediately rounded the desk to take his seat. “Come.”

Silhouette entered. “Master.” She acknowledged Seph. “Erus Veneficus.”

As she approached, Seph said to Goliath, “If we’re done, I’d like to see Beverley.”

He did not respond, but was all eyes for Sil. “What news?”

“I spent two hours at the radio station recording fifteen- and thirty-second ads for the grand opening. The exterior spotlights will be delivered tomorrow for installation. And, I managed to secure Lycanthropia to play.I offered him a handsome figure, but the Domn Lup seems to think you owe him a favor on top of that, though I told him such negotiations were between you and he.”

“Well done.”

Seph waited, impatient but thinking, Do not tap your foot. As court witch, she could take her leave only when dismissed.

“Also, Risqué has asked to see you.”

When Sil told Goliath that, he faced Seph. “Let’s all go see her.”

***

Persephone was relieved that she was not led to the infirmary. She’d heard that Risqué sustained a deep stab wound, along with several cuts and bruises, while defending Beverley from the shabbubitu, Ailo.

The half-demon’s quarters were not far from the haven office, but back a few turns in the twisting hall. Sil walked at the lead, and knocked politely before opening the door. The aroma of burning coal was strong and entering was like walking into a summer heat wave. 

Sil gestured Goliath inside. After giving Seph a scathing expression, she stepped in behind him and, in the room, blocked Seph by standing at Goliath’s right hand. It was the place where the court witch was expected to be.Assuming this was part of her punishment as well, Seph took her place at his left.

The decadently dark décor was no surprise. The walls were copper tiles, broken by two rows of heavily lacquered black shelves. The top shelf held uniform lines of small black candles. The lower shelf held geodes, dragons, and snake figurines placed amid a variety of studded leather collars, chains and whips.  

Red-hot coals flickered in eight iron cauldrons that sat in each corner of the octagonal room. The ventilation system reminded Seph of a giant spider, eight black legs rising, bending to join a large spherical unit centered on the ceiling. More of the black candles graced the copper chandelier laced with strings of hematite and rubies in round beads and larger teardrops that hung from that sphere and directly over the circular bed positioned in the middle of the room.

Risqué laid under layers of thick covers, the uppermost a deep purple color. She sat up stiffly and sucked air through her teeth as she attained a sitting position. True to her usual custom, she was barely clothed—if at all. The blankets dropped low to reveal her red-tipped breasts and the taped bandage on her lower front-left ribs.

Because Risqué always sported a healthy tan, Seph was stunned to see her so ashen. Her pouty lips were colorless and her blonde ringlets were nearly straight, and it looked as if someone had snuck in with scissors and chopped off a handful at chin level on the left. Menessos and Beverley both had enchanted necklaces made with strands of Risqué’s hair, but taking hair for such a purpose wouldn’t usually be done in a manner that compromised her style. However, it was her eyes that were most startling. Normally red, they now had a too-wide ring of black around the outside of her irises.

“You look like Hell,” Goliath said cheerily.

“No I don’t,” Risqué countered, but her usual feisty tone was absent from the words. “If I did, it would be a good thing. The bitch poisoned me.”

“I was told she stabbed you.”

“She did.”

“There was poison on the blade?”

“I had hoped to discuss this with you privately.”

Silent for a long moment, Goliath turned to Sil. “Will you excuse us?”

Seph leaned forward, saw Sil’s eyes widen a fraction in irritation before she turned on her heel and left. Looking to Goliath’s face, she waited to be dismissed as well. 

The door opened, shut. Sil’s high heels clicked down the hallway. Goliath remained silent.
Risqué glanced at Seph. “Perhaps I should have used the word ‘alone’ instead of ‘privately’.”

“My Erus Veneficus is well versed in herbology, therefore I believe she may be able to offer something of value in this situation. She will stay.”

“If herbs could cure me, I’d have asked the doctor for them.”

“What may I offer you that the doctor could not?”

“I need brimstone.”

“Hydrogen sulfide or sulfur dioxide?”

“Gases? Neither. I need pure sulfur. The odorless crumbly yellow kind.”

“That shouldn’t be too difficult to obtain. There are scientific suppliers in the area. I’ll have Sil find some immediately. How much do you need?”

“A lot.” Risqué considered. “A pound. Or two.”

“Done. Delivered tonight?”

“That would be fantastic,” she said mirthlessly. “But there’s more.” She licked her lips. “I need to heat it to eight-hundred-thirty-one-point-two degrees. Fahrenheit. And it’ll take a while. It doesn’t conduct heat well.”

“You’ll need a Bunsen burner, a beaker or something that can handle the heat, tongs…anything else?” 

“I’ll have to take it in doses, so I need someone to handle it for me, too. I’m not exactly up to playing science lab for the next twenty-four hours.” 

“Done. Anyone you’d like to request?”

Persephone got the feeling he was giving Risqué facial cues to indicate she should ask for Seph’s assistance.

“The doctor is the only one who’s had enough chemistry to have my trust.”

“Fine. Why that temperature?”

“That’s when it’ll turn black and viscous. That’s when it’ll be ready.”

“Ready for what?”

“To be put into my wound.”


“Into?” 

“Sulfur is normal in both the environment and the body cells of demons, as plentiful as hydrogen atoms are for humans. I’m burning through my own natural supply to maintain temperature, fight the poison, and stay alive. I need more.”

“I wasn’t questioning your need, Risqué, only the temperature.”

Persephone had known that Risqué was a half-demon. The red eyes gave that away, though most people thought she wore contacts for effect. But that last detail revealed a most disturbing fact. 

She’s a Daughter of Hell. That meant her mother was a witch, her father a Phlegethonian demon—one from the flaming fluid of the Underworld. Regardless of the debatable nature of it as a ‘lake of fire’ or a ‘river of flames’ depending on the religious point of view, it was a sinister place. That river was the only thing that flowed in and out of Tartarus, the region of trapped Titans, as far from the Land of Hades as the Land of Hades was from the mortal realms of Earth. 

Risqué has deep connections to Hades. 

Seph wanted to anywhere but here right now…and she wanted to rush Beverley far, far away.
But she could not leave Goliath’s side without being dismissed. And it was unlikely that he would go against Menessos’s wish and allow Beverley to be moved. 

Tuning out the pair before her as they discussed the finer points of where to cook the sulfur, Seph began making plans. Then she heard Risqué say, “I am well protected.”

It jolted Seph’s focus back to their conversation. Her chin snapped up and she locked eyes on the half-demon who blinked and met that look with a crooked half-smile. 

Before she could react, however, the door thrust open and Menessos raced the room. Seph rarely saw him in a hurry, let alone breathless from running. 

“I’ve been looking everywhere for you,” he said, focused on Persephone. His gaze shifted to Goliath. “Haven Master, I beg your indulgence. We must go.”

“We who? And where?”

“You, me, Persephone…and every vampire you can spare.” He panted. “The wærewolves den is under attack.”





I hope you all have a blessed holiday with the people you love most near with you, enjoying good food, hugs, and laughter.