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“Milo.” The necromancer wiped his palms down the sides of his pants.
“Got it, boss.” The mage crossed the room in five strides and squatted down close enough that her fingertips could have brushed the dirtied edge of his boots. He kept his eyes averted. “Madeleine…”
She looked up at him, confused. “What did you just call me?”
“Madeleine,” he grunted, drawing circles on the carpet between them with one forefinger. “I called you Madeleine.”
She shook her head, the adrenaline from the fight dissipating just a little. Focusing was hard work, but she’d drank enough to keep the rest of her hunger at bay. Her confusion helped as well. She repeated her earlier comment. “I know you.”
“You do, but…” His voice held a note of sadness, and a sudden sense of fear pierced her heart.
“You’re mad at me.”
The mage flinched. “You almost killed him. My friend almost died, because of you, and you wonder why I’m mad at you?”
He had a point, of course, no arguing that, but they’d reached an impasse of sorts. That moment in every fight when all parties just stop. The air grows pregnant with unresolved tensions, lips curl in growls of disdain, hands flex talons and claws, and both sides lick their wounds. It’s a jaggedly defined fork in the proverbial road, where choices must not only be considered but made. Fight or flight. Compromise or surrender.
Madeleine was torn between waning blood lust and that itch in the back of her head that screamed that this fight with these humans, these supers, was contrary to the bigger picture. Not that the ‘bigger picture’ was anything more than a hazy thumbprint against the window of her mind’s eye, all meaningless whorls and lines that she knew added up to an entity, if only she could wipe away…well, if she could just wipe away this stupid fight.
But the vampire had never been good at apologizing, and really how do you even begin that conversation? “I didn’t mean to eat your friend” just didn’t seem like a good ice breaker. And honestly, these guys didn’t look like the ‘forgive and forget to stake’ type.
She relaxed her pose, drawing in both fangs and claws. Dawn was coming, she could feel it, and though she had fed rather recently, the ordeals that had occurred over the past twenty-four hours had taken their toll. She needed rest, earth and more blood, none of which she’d find here.
None of which she’d find at all, if she didn’t find a way to save herself from being torn apart, like the necromancer’s pet werewolf wanted so badly to do. That left her only one option.
Milo turned and looked at her. “Excuse me?”
She sighed and raised her hands up in the universal gesture to be taken away in handcuffs. “I surrender, Milo. I give up. If I had a white flag on a stick, I’d wave it right now.”
She inhaled slowly, and the scent of him that had earlier brought on a fervor carried with it memories this time. Videos played in her head, alternating with stills of the man in front of her, and that pit inside her, that regret for the chaos she had caused within these four walls tightened. Madeleine looked up at the mage. “Let me rest. Let me stay here until night falls, and I’ll leave. I’ll take my craziness with me, and you won’t have to see me ever again.”
Milo shook his head. “Uh, no.”
She raised a brow. “Excuse me?”
He shook his head again. “It’s not that easy. I mean, maybe for you. Maybe you’ve convinced yourself that you can just walk away from this. Maybe you think you’re sparing us—sparing me—further chaos by taking yourself out of the picture. Hell, I don’t have a frickin’ clue what your ulterior motives are behind this sudden surrender.
“But the simple truth of the matter is that this is no longer just your fight. I brought my family into it, because I couldn’t imagine living without you, and they aren’t going to leave because you asked them nicely to go. They know I’ll do everything in my power to help you, to end this, and they aren’t about to let me do that alone. Especially when it’s clear that we’re not out of the woods, not by a long shot.”
Madeleine tilted her head to look around the man. Though his friends, his family, all wore grim masks, arms crossed and clearly unhappy about what was transpiring, they stood as a united front. What a strange concept, such unity.
Vampires pretended unity for the sake of appearances or until their mood changed. Alliances and battle lines were drawn and redrawn so often, she understood why so many of her kind hid in secluded castles and caves all over the planet. And those they wanted to trust were bound by blood, which wasn’t trust at all but like internal surveillance. Hard to ambush someone when they could feel you out there.
It was one of the reasons Patrick sent Tamus to do his dirty work. He would know she wasn’t dead without having to see her face. He could live with the torment the Minotaur dished out, because he didn’t have to see it happen.
It was oddly detached yet intimate, and one of the reasons she had left the dark court. Distance, she had found, dulled the connection, though there was no place so far as to disconnect it completely. Not even the ancient trial of vampire fire walking, a complex and inane ritual practiced by those in desperate need of a broken bond.
She had been that desperate once upon a time and sought out fire walkers, but what she found were vampires who had not broken anything but their own minds. And in that chaos, well, it was understandable why they believed it had worked. Their former masters weren’t hearing anything, because there was nothing but gibberish to be had.
“So…” she looked up at Milo again. “Where does that leave us? Where do we go from here?”
He looked at her, weariness marking his features. His mouth moved, as if to say something, but he must’ve thought better of it, and shook his head. “For now, we recover. I don’t know about you, but the rest of us need to eat. It’s been a long ass day, and if I’m going to get my ass kicked all over creation again in the near future, I’d like to have a couple of La Juanita burritos first.
“And then we sleep. You can rest here, or go home, not that there’s much of a ‘home’ for you to go back to right now. Just let me know, before you go, so I can check in with you when I’m awake again. Sound good to you?”
Madeleine nodded, and the mage walked toward the other humans. There was a minor whispered discussion that she didn’t bother to eavesdrop into, and then the group broke into a flurry of silent action. She didn’t watch what they did, where they went. Milo’s fatigue, the physical and emotional, had rubbed off on her perhaps, and she just couldn’t be bothered to care.
Doors opened and closed. Feet shuffled passed her, sometimes cautiously, sometimes with exaggerated animosity. A mason jar of blood appeared in front of her with a pair of passing bunny slippers. She took it with quiet thanks and sipped it as she contemplated where she stood now in her undead life.
Madeleine frowned. She’d forgotten about the destruction Tamus had wreaked on her home prior to their escape. A hotel would suffice, and she even knew of a place that was friendly to supernatural creatures. But the simple fact remained that the life she had built here in Arizona was over.
Being homeless was only the tip of the ice berg. There would be curious, if not irate, neighbors in her neighborhood. How much damage had the minotaur done? Could she salvage any of it? Her netbook? Would Abby have heard about what had happened?
She fumbled through what remained of her outfit and growled. Somewhere in all the mess, between the escape and the fight, she had lost her cell phone. She looked up and saw that she was alone in the room. She could feel them outside the walls, doing whatever it was they were doing. Their energy orbited like fiery little planets.
Across the floor, she could see a telephone. She looked around for any cameras, but the little voice in her head mentioned that they were probably as tired of her and their current fate as she was. The vampire stood carefully, brushed the dirt from her clothes and stretched her wings. She finished off the blood as she crossed the room.
She had met the psychic witch before the advent of the cell phone revolution, so she knew Abby’s phone number by heart. She cradled the receiver against her ear and dialed. The phone rang twice before she heard it pick up.
“Um, hello?” Abby’s voice spoke.
“Maddie?” She spoke the two syllables with restrained caution. “Madeleine d’Court, is that you?”
The vampire allowed herself a small smile and gave a sigh of relief. “Yes, it’s me.”
“How do I know it’s really you? I know dopplegangers are real, you know, and I know for a fact that two live in Arizona.”
Madeleine repressed a chuckle at her concerned friend’s suspicious tone. “When you were giving birth to your last child, you asked me to be there, but only after I promised that I wouldn’t eat any of the hospital staff.”
“Unless…” the witch led on.
The vampire closed her eyes and covered her mouth and the emerging smile with a hand before replying, “Unless they screwed up and forgot to give you an epidural. And how many people got eaten, Abbs?”
It was the witch’s turn to laugh. “None, not a single body hit the floor. But it was a close call, wasn’t it?” She paused, and Madeleine could almost hear the gears turning in her head. “What the hell is going on, Maddie?
“Your house is gone. The ‘official’ word” she could hear the air quotes, “is that a freak tornado touched down out of the clear night sky right on top of your house.”
The smile faded. The local media had never been really good at explaining away the unique happenings in Sierra Vista. “And the unofficial word?”
“I will have some karma to pay back to the Universe, but there used to be folks who claimed to see a giant monster turning your house into a pile of kindling fit for a giant bonfire and a dark angel flying away on black feathered wings carrying away some strange man.”
Madeleine grimaced. “Used to be.”
Abby’s response was as nonchalant as her response. “Like I said, karmic payback is due. Maddie, don’t worry about it. We’re friends. You would’ve done the same for me. Your tricks are better than mine, of course, but a good Wiccan’s gotta do what a good Wiccan’s gotta do. Universal balance and all that jazz.”
The vampire sighed again. There was no point in reminding her human friend that she believed in karmic due, as well. The witch meant what she said without judgment. It was just truth. And a good witch never lies. “Abbs, I’m in trouble.”
“Oh, I get that.”
“No, seriously, Abbs, I’m in over my head.” She paused. “Can you pick me up? I promise to tell you everything, every nitty gritty detail, but I can’t do it now. I can’t do it over the phone. The line could be tapped.”
“You’re a spy now?”
Madeleine grunted. “Yes, secretly, I now work for the CIA. No, pain in my ass, I’m, well, you know what? I have no freakin’ clue where I am right now. I just know it’s where Milo works. Hell, I don’t even know what this place is called. Wait a minute, let me look and see if there’s anything interesting in this desk.”
“Wait, they left you alone in an office? Bigger question, who is ‘they’?”
The vampire ran a hand through her hair. “Abigail, I will explain everything soon, I swear it, just let me figure out where I am.” She opened drawers and found letterhead with the words ‘Primogen Construction’ emblazoned in gold across the top. At the bottom, in the same gold inking, was an address. She passed the information onto her best friend. “How soon can you get here?”
“Let me plug this into my GPS and I’ll be on my way. How are you going to get out of the building?”
Madeleine remembered what Milo had said earlier. “I don’t think they’re keeping me hostage. I just think they left me in here because they didn’t know what else to do with me. And the room’s pretty heavily warded, too, so I’m safe, they’re safe, hell, I think Tamus would have issues breaking in here without some help. As long as I tell them where I’m going…”
“They want you to tell them where you’re going? That sounds suspicious.”
She waved off the question, even though the charade was pointless over the phone. “It was part of the deal, of my surrender.”
Abby ooh’d over the line. “This story just gets better and better. All right, well, let me come white knight your vampire ass out of that magickal office of doom…”
“Oh, come on, I don’t get to play the rescuer very often! Not to you, anyway. GPS says I should be there in about ten minutes. Meet you out front.” She hung up before Madeleine could say anything else. She passed her hand over the paper and the gold lettering flickered in a way that had absolutely nothing to do with the lighting in the ‘magickal office of doom’, as Abby had put it, and the vampire dropped it onto the desk.
Something about that simple magick made her think she might have underestimated her allies. Part of her cheered. She could use strong allies. But part of her cringed. When this was all over, would they simply take her out? Or worse, was this bargain some ruse? Would they turn her over to the minotaur and his minions from the Other in exchange for their own lives?
That first part of her wanted to believe that they were honorable humans, that such a thing was beneath their ethical reach, but that second part whispered that it was unfair of her to expect such things when it was her carelessness that got them all so entangled. She folded her wings until they disappeared and walked toward the door.