Christina: Searching for Jason Part II
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We stayed over the day in Salem, and I had a chance to talk to Brenda. She was more than happy for the opportunity to study in the chantry there. It helped that Salem was so far away from Vegas and Michael, they'd had a falling out about her embrace and he still hadn't gotten over it. I also talked a little with Micky George. He was a childe of Elvira Van Dorn, the new Salem prince, and he seemed familiar to me somehow, but I couldn't place him.
It helped my peace of mind to be back in Salem. I made time to go back to the room I'd been held in. Elvira had ordered the wall Jason had destroyed repaired and everything completely cleared from the room, including the bars of the inner cell.
I stood for a moment in the center of the room with Jason at my side and looked around. I closed my eyes, remembering the hunger and the pain. Then I let it slip away from me and was able to begin the process of dismissing the experience to the past. I didn't have nightmares for several nights, and when I did, they weren't about Salem, they were about Italy and Jason. On the flight to London from Boston, Jason changed into his new alias. His hair was very dark, nearly black, and fell just to his shoulders. He wore very blue contacts and a mustache that tickled my skin when he kissed my cheek.
We arrived in the early morning hours and went directly to our hotel. Jason had arranged for us to have a suite that contained two bedrooms. I didn't know whether to be happy that he had considered my feelings or not. The next evening we exited the hotel to find a carriage drawn by a white horse waiting for us. Jason helped me up into the seat then moved in beside me. I could distinctly smell the blood in his veins and put the mild hunger I felt aside.
Jason had asked me not to present myself to the London prince, as is the usual custom when entering another city, so I decided to forego feeding while we were there. I assumed, correctly as it turned out, that Jason didn't want anyone to know we were in London, no matter how briefly. He had offered to let me feed from him, but as I had drank my fill before we'd left Salem, I refused.
We rode through London holding hands, watching people and looking at the architecture. We stopped at a few places to take a closer look at the buildings at several tourist locations. At one such stop we found ourselves at a large museum. Upon reentering the carriage, a tall dark figure shrouded in long robes and carrying an ancient valise got in with us.
Jason introduced the stranger as Mr. Rawley. When the man kissed my hand in greeting I realized he was Kindred. While the hooded cloak he wore concealed most of his features, I was able to get glimpses of his face in the streetlights. He seemed to be average looking but completely bald and sounded like a native of England. I thought he might be Nosferatu, but couldn't be sure.
We continued our journey, saying little, and at the next stop Mr. Rawley got out of the carriage while we remained inside. I noticed he left the valise behind, and when we pulled away Jason moved it closer to himself. I dismissed the valise from my mind when Jason put his arm around me and pointed out a pair of street mimes on the next corner.
Near dawn, we returned to the hotel and I watched Jason secure the valise carefully before I excused myself. I went to my bedroom and fell asleep as the sun rose.
Upon rising the next evening we flew to Italy. Jason kept the valise close to him even when we were alone on the plane. I wondered what was inside that was so important, but I respected Jason's privacy, so I didn't ask.
After we landed, Jason rented a car and we drove nearly three hours to a small village in the hills. Jason pointed out various structures to me as we drove up the mountain. Near the top of the mountain lay the ruins of several buildings. Parts of a chapel had been rebuilt, but the rest of the grounds looked like the scattered building blocks of a child.
"This is it," Jason said, opening the door of the car for me. "This is where I was raised."
Jason explained how he'd been brought to the monastery when he was six and told he was destined to serve. He had been trained in the ways of God, weapons, and hunting - hunting supernatural creatures like Kindred and Magi. "They told me I was marked," he said, opening his shirt and pulling aside his golden cross necklace to reveal a tattoo in the same shape, "and then they marked me."
"Knights Templar?" I whispered, touching his skin. It was the first time I'd seen his bare chest and the symbol imprinted in his flesh.
"Yeah," he replied.
"Then we both carry a cross," I said, referring to the cross-shaped birthmark high on my left shoulder.
Jason smiled and took my hand. He went on to tell me of the night before he was to go on his first hunt. Two Kindred came to the monastery, one to eliminate and the other to save him. A great fight ensued, and the monastery was destroyed. Many of the people and monks living on the grounds were murdered, and Jason himself was nearly killed.
"When Graves saved me, I cursed him," Jason said softly, his eyes looking out over the ruins and seeing the past. "Can you believe it? I cursed him and demanded to know why he hadn't killed me." He sighed and took my hand to lead me into the ruins.
"He told me that I was in fact destined for something great, and that he thought I should get to know the enemy before I started destroying them. Eventually I was able to thank him, and respect him as my 'employer,' for he has great power and great wisdom."
I wondered briefly if Jason would feel the same if the blood bond that made him a ghoul didn't tie him to Graves. Instantly I was ashamed of myself, as if the resentment I felt for Graves made me somehow disloyal to the man at my side.
Jason led me down a rubble littered stairway, then through several dark corridors and into a wine cellar. He talked softly about what the monastery had been like before its destruction. He showed me several bottles of wine he had been saving that had somehow survived the devastation.
"How long ago did this happen?" I asked.
"Ten years," he said sadly.
We made our way slowly back to the chapel and into an antechamber Jason had prepared for our stay. It was nearing dawn, and as we readied ourselves for the day I heard what sounded like an electronic pager begin to vibrate. Jason removed a device from his waist and pressed one of the buttons on its surface. I watched a small screen pop up and stood to get a better look. "What is it?" I asked. As I watched, a flashing red light began to move slowly toward the center of the screen.
"Perimeter breech," he replied absently, then turned to me and put a hand on my shoulder. "Christina, I need you to do something very important for me."
"Do you think you can find the wine cellar again?" When I nodded, he said, "I need you to take the valise down there and keep it with you until I come for you."
"'Philipe,'" I said, using his alias, "you might need my help."
"It's almost dawn," he replied, "and this is more important." He glanced down at the screen where the red light was closer to the center. "Promise me you won't try to help. You can't do me any good in the sunlight anyway."
Suddenly a booming voice rang out. "Mr. Christopher, where are you?"
I looked at Jason in surprise. He hadn't used the name August Christopher since we had left New York together several months before.
"Wait," the voice continued, "isn't it Senior DePorres now?"
To my amazement, Jason actually looked nervous. He grabbed my shoulders and shook me slightly. "Promise me," he demanded.
"I promise," I whispered. I was taken aback to see him so rattled.
"One more thing," he said, pulling a ring case from his pocket. He opened the case to reveal a clear crystal about a quarter of an inch in diameter. It looked like a diamond and was larger than the gem on my hand.
"Jason...." I whispered very softly.
"I want you to keep this on you at all times," he told me. "Cut yourself and heal over it, or swallow it, just keep it hidden on yourself at all times, Christina. It will help me find you-"
Those words struck a familiar chord deep within me, but before I could remember what they reminded me of, the voice called out again, full of menace and anger.
"Maybe its Monsieur Roache now, heh? I don't care who you say you are today, come out and bring it to me!"
I took the gem and swallowed it. Immediately, the bracelet on my wrist grew hot, nearly burning my skin. "Jason," I pleaded in a low voice ignoring the pain on my wrist, "can't you hide with me?"
"No," he said. "He would find us both and you must protect what I've given you."
"Jason...." I whispered again as I looked into his eyes.
I wanted to say so much more, to tell him how I felt about him, about being with him, but he put a finger on my lips. The wedding band he wore glittered briefly in the dim light.
"Shh," he said, smiling to reassure me. "We'll talk about it later." He pulled me into his arms and kissed me quickly. "Now go!"
I ran down the darkened hallway without turning to watch him enter the chapel. I darted through the wine cellar door and closed it softly, then quietly dragged a wine rack over to block to door. I looked around for somewhere to hide the valise, but I didn't see anywhere for it to go that wasn't blatantly obvious.
The bracelet finally cooled and I spun it on my wrist, checking for damage to my skin, but there was no mark. Had the gem reacted to the bracelet in some way? Did they both have some kind of magical properties? I had no way to know and now wasn't the time to think about it.
I could hear shots fired from Jason's gun somewhere above me. Then I heard a great wind and the foundation of the church shook.
Sunrise was coming; I could feel unconsciousness pulling at my mind. I fought it desperately while twisting the ring Jason had given me and trying to figure out what was going on above the rising wind.
Suddenly the door was flung open and the wine rack spun to the side, broken. An old man stood in the doorway, dark and menacing. I pointed my Glock at him and he raised his hands.
"I can't help your friend," he told me hurriedly, his words thickly accented. "Come with me, you will be safe."
"Who are you?" I demanded. "Why are you here?"
"I am a friend," he said impatiently. "I am here to give you help. We must go!"
The gunfire had stopped just after the door had opened, and now I heard that horrible voice again. "Where is it? I must have it!"
"Come now," said the Italian urgently.
"I can't," I cried softly. "I can't, the sun is coming up! I can't be in the sunlight!"
For a moment he looked at me in contemplation, then whipped off his dark cloak and wrapped it around me as I stood holding my gun and the valise. "Give me your hand," he said, holding his toward me.
I hesitated, but something told me to trust him. I put the gun in its holster at the small of my back and gave the man my hand. Before I could pull away, he quickly made a small cut on my palm, then a similar one on his. He put our bleeding hands together and mumbled something I didn't catch in Latin, then rubbed the blood that had gathered on his hand onto the cloak.
"Our blood will protect you," he said urgently, "Come."
I realized instantly that my fatigue had left me and I followed him down a corridor that Jason had not shown me. After about a hundred feet, it led to a stairway and up into the light.
For a moment I was held by the wonder of the sun rising over the mountains, the amazement of the first sunrise I could remember. Then I heard an agonized scream. I spun toward the church and heard the booming voice demanding again to know where 'it' was. I assumed 'it' was the valise I still held.
I gasped to see Jason bound to the altar by glowing bands of blue light, his face a mask of pain. As I watched, light flew from the hands of a tall wrinkled crone-like man with long straggled hair who stood before the altar. Jason's body arched in a paroxysm of torment and his mouth opened in a soundless scream.
I took a step toward the church, tortured by Jason's pain and desperate to kill the mage who was punishing him so. The Italian grabbed my arm and spun me away from the church.
"We must go," he said softly. "We are in great danger. If he sees us, he will kill us both."
"He's killing 'Philipe,'" I said just as softly.
"He won't kill him until he finds what you hold," the Italian replied. "We must get it and you away from here now."
With a final glance at the altar, I hurried after the man. As we ran, I grew despondent. I wanted to return and help Jason, but every time I slowed the Italian grabbed my arm and pulled me along. I knew that Jason would want me to keep the valise away from the mage who held him, but I agonized over leaving him there.
Eventually we slowed to a walk. I became aware of the world dawning around me, grew almost hypnotized by it. I had no memories of daylight, and the morning woods fascinated me. Birds sang and flew among the leaves, small animals peered out from behind the trees, and flowers bloomed at our feet. I was awestruck by the light and beauty all around me. I looked at the sun until my eyes hurt, trying to memorize every detail. I longed for my camera, still in my bags at the church. I ached; I wanted to share this magical time with Jason yet I knew that his torture was the price I paid for this gift. After nearly an hour and a half, we walked into a small village on the hillside. The Italian went to the door of one of the houses and knocked. A woman who looked in her forties opened the door and spoke to him in Italian. He replied in kind, then gestured for me to enter the house before him. He conversed with the woman for several minutes, calling her Maria. When they finished, Maria motioned for me to follow her into one of the back rooms of the house.
I entered the bedroom, which was simply furnished and had no windows. A wash basin and pitcher sat on a dresser against one wall and a bed was opposite. The woman spoke again, pointing first at me then at the bed. When she started gesturing sleep, I sat on the bed with the valise in my lap. Maria seemed placated, and motioned for me to lie down. Then she left the room, closing the door behind her.
I looked around for a moment, then undid the clasp on the cloak and let it fall to the bed. Immediately exhaustion overcame me and I lay back. I clutched the valise as I fell into a sleep troubled by dreams that were more memories than nightmares.
I was at the New York prince's home looking through his library and waiting for my friends to return. I went to the door and looked through the peephole to see Jason standing on the sidewalk. Breathing a sigh of relief, I opened the door and stepped back to let him in.
"I'm glad you're here," I told him as I turned and walked toward the study.
"I found something I need to show you."
"I'd like you to do something for me first," he said quietly.
I turned. "What?"
"Die!" he growled. I watched in amazement as the person I'd agreed to trust with my life raised a hand with razor sharp claws and drew back to strike. Time seemed to slow to a stand still.
I went for my gun as I belatedly realized this 'August' was not wearing the same clothing that Jason had been wearing the last time I saw him. Then there was no more time to think as he leapt toward me and I fired at him but my shot went wild, exploding against the doorframe.
I felt his claws sink into my chest as I spun to avoid the worst of the blow. I collapsed to the floor, stunned and bleeding. Dimly I watched my blood pool on the floor around me. My vision began to blur as the creature standing above me laughed.
Using every ounce of my will, I brought the gun up and fired. Again I missed, the shot blowing a large hole through the closed door of the brownstone.
"And so I die," I whispered, as I watched the Kindred who looked so much like Jason raise his hand to strike again.
Suddenly what was left of the door burst open. Through blood tears I saw 'August,' my Jason, in the doorway, with large claws on each finger of both hands. He dove across the room and buried his hands in the imposter's chest. The beast fell to the floor in agony, dying.
At once Jason was at my side, shoving the Assamite's wrist to my mouth. When he saw that I was too weak to bite into the skin, he pulled out a knife and slit the vein, then returned the wrist to my mouth. I drank deeply, feeling my strength, in part, return.
As I sucked the cool vitae, I watched Jason slit the beast's other wrist and drink for a moment. Then he placed his hands over my wounds and whispered in Latin while I continued to drink.
Suddenly I felt much stronger although my wounds hadn't healed fully. I shuddered. Was it the Assamite's blood or Jason's healing that had done the trick? I wasn't sure. I pushed the wrist away and sat up. Because Kindred claws had inflicted my injury, it would take many nights to heal, but the damage was fully half what it had been just minutes ago.
Quickly Jason peeled the blood stained clothing from my upper body. I reached for the jacket and pulled out the book, clutching it as Jason threw everything else into the fireplace. He placed his jacket around me, then cut the area of bloodstained carpet and placed it along with Kindred's body into the fire. We watched as the flames consumed them and a foul odor filled the air.
Jason studied me closely. "Are you okay?"
"I think so," I replied though I really wasn't sure. My head was spinning and I felt both very weak and very strong. "I'm hungry," I said. I had not drunk nearly enough from the assassin to replace what I had lost.
I could feel Jason's gaze on me as I watched the fire burn and his wrist appeared before me. "Just don't take too much," he cautioned.
With the odor of blood surrounding me I gently took his hand and turned it over to reveal his wrist. I glanced at Jason's face and he nodded at me. Slowly I lowered my head and sank my fangs into his flesh. I drank only what I had to; I needed Jason to be sharp and strong. His blood tasted strange, almost human. At the time I had thought Jason was Kindred, and that he must have fed heavily before returning to the brownstone.
Carefully I withdrew my teeth from the wound, then licked it closed. I lowered my hands into my lap, still holding his gently. I studied our clasped hands for a moment. "Thank you," I said, looking up at him.
He returned my gaze, then helped me to my feet. "I know you have had a hard time trusting me, Christina," he said, "but I really am here to protect you."
I closed my eyes briefly to shut out his probing stare. "I'm sorry," I whispered. "I have a hard time trusting anyone, it's not just you." Jason had more than proven his loyalty to me; I knew he would keep me safe. "I will try to trust you."
He squeezed my hand gently....
...And the dream shifted to the monastery. Jason was on the altar, he was screaming, and I couldn't move, couldn't reach him, couldn't save him. Repeatedly the mage wrapped his blue agony around Jason's body and there was nothing I could do to stop him....
The next evening I awoke disoriented. I sat up quickly and tried to get my bearings. As I looked around, I realized I was still in the bedroom of the small cottage the Italian had brought me to that morning. Everything looked the same as it had been when I had fallen asleep.
I looked down at the valise still clutched in my arms and opened it. Inside were many electrical gadgets, the kind Jason adored. A palmtop computer with a small LCD display and a keypad were among them. Also in the case was a bone that looked very old and seemed to be sealed on either end with wax. I put the bone back and pulled out a pouch that held a Glock 22 identical to the one I carried. The pouch also contained two empty clips and four different types of shells. The only kind of shell I recognized was the phosphorous rounds. I loaded one clip with those shells and another with some that seemed to be silver. I placed the gun and the spare clip back into the valise.
I took out the remaining item, which was a planner of some sort. I opened it and found our used airline ticket stubs, and unused train tickets. The planner was organized by country. Under each country was a list of names and numbers.
The train tickets were to a small village in Austria. I turned to the section in the planner labeled Austria and found a phone number for Her Ladyship Lena Stockton.
I picked up my cell phone and dialed Antonio's number. After a few minutes, the operator informed me that there was no answer. I looked at my watch and cursed silently; it was still full daylight in Los Angeles.
I gave the operator the number listed for Lady Stockton. She told me there was no response from the European continent, and asked if I wanted to try that number in America as I had the previous call. I agreed. While I waited for the connection, a light on my phone began to blink; the battery was low. A moment later my call was answered.
"Hello?" a woman with a cultured American voice said.
"Yes, is this Lady Lena Stockton?" I asked.
She hesitated. "Yes it is."
"You don't know me, but I was traveling with someone I believe to be a friend of yours and we were separated. I found your number in his planner."
"A friend?" she asked. "Who?'
What could I tell her? I didn't know if she would recognize Jason's true name. "Well, I'm not sure what name you know him by, but right now he's 'Philipe Roache.'"
"Ah...." she murmured, and I realized she knew Jason very well.
"We were traveling in Italy and were separated. I found train tickets to a village in Austria, but I need help. I have to find Philipe quickly, he is in great danger."
"What is your number?"
I gave it to her and warned her that my battery was low.
"Meet me at the village-" she began, but my phone went dead, cutting her off in mid sentence. Slowly I lowered it from my ear and closed the case. I had no idea what village she referred to and no idea how to get there.
I returned everything to the valise. As I was placing the planner inside, a sealed envelope fell out. It had no writing on it, and seemed to hold a letter.
I hesitated to open the letter. On the one hand, I needed as much information as possible to find Jason; on the other, I didn't want to intrude on areas of Jason's life that had always been off limits to me. Even if he were dead? a voice asked in my mind. I shook the thought away and put the envelope back in the planner and then both items back in the valise. I went into the main room of the house to find that the Italian man had gone and Maria was alone. I tried to ask her where the man was but I couldn't to communicate the question to her.
Maria put a plate of food on the table and gestured for me to sit. It was some type of chicken stew, and I ate it sparingly while Maria chattered away in Italian.
When I had finished, I thanked the woman and returned to the bedroom for my things. As soon as I walked back out carrying them, Maria became upset, obviously trying to convince me to stay, her actions conveying danger in the night. I smiled but motioned that I had to go.
Maria held a hand up, then went to a box on the fireplace mantle. She came back with a silver chain and placed it around my neck. I looked down at the delicate silver crucifix now hanging between my breasts, then kissed her on the cheek. I thanked her again and walked out into the night.
Once outside, I looked around to find the direction the old man and I had entered the village from earlier that day. I climbed a small rise but everything looked so much different in the dark and I couldn't tell where we had come into the village. I spotted a bright patch in the sky and decided to head in that direction.
After walking for several hours, I stumbled into another village. It was larger than the one I had left, and there were several cars about. I located a tavern but it was closing and only a few drunken stragglers loitered about the streets. I felt hunger tug at the fringes of my mind but held back; I knew I didn't want to be intoxicated while trying to find Jason and I couldn't risk revealing what I was.
I found a car parked behind a building and stripped a wire from one of the valise's sides to jimmy the door lock. I got into the driver's seat and reached under the steering wheel to pull down the ignition wires. I was grateful that Jason had been showing me a few tricks as I stripped the necessary wires and touched them together.
After a few false starts, the engine roared to life. I immediately put it into gear and drove off in the direction I believed civilization lay. I heard some people shouting in Italian and one man leaned out a window, yelling as I drove past while a woman, perhaps his wife, tried to pull him back in.
I had been driving for over an hour without seeing any houses or other buildings when the car began to stutter and lose speed. With a final shake, it stalled and I steered it toward the side of the road. I looked down at the instrument panel and saw that the gas tank was empty. I muttered obscenities under my breath while wondering what to do next.
I reached over and opened the glove box. I found a map within and after a little while I was able to figure out my approximate location. I got out and opened the trunk. A blanket, a bottle of wine and a toolbox lay within. I rummaged in the toolbox, pulling out a roll of tape. I put the wine in the satchel and took the blanket, glancing at the horizon as I closed the trunk. The sun would be up soon.
I pushed the car into some bushes and got back inside. I wrapped myself in my jacket and the blanket and laid down on the floor in the back seat. Soon I fell into a deep slumber.
I was stiff and sore as I got out of the car the next evening. My skin was bright pink from the lack of protection against the sun. I cursed softly as I healed myself, remembering too late the Tremere ritual that would have kept the sun out of the car.
When my skin had resumed its normal color, I put on my jacket and grabbed the cloak, valise and blanket. I headed down the road, alternating between walking and jogging to cover the most ground possible in the least amount of time. I knew I didn't want to use what blood remained in my body unless I had to.
As I traveled, I was torn. Should I go back to the monastery and try to find Jason there? Or should I continue toward our original destination and deliver the valise as Jason had intended? One path risked his life, the other his honor.
Of course, I knew that he could already be dead. If I went to this village in Austria, perhaps Lady Stockton could help me find Jason.
I was several miles down the road when a motorcycle passed me and stopped twenty feet in front of me. I had been so deep in thought that I hadn't heard the engine. A large masculine looking woman sat on the motorcycle and glared at me in the moonlight.
"Can you help me?" I asked taking a step forward. "I need to get to a telephone quickly. It's very important."
"American?" the woman said in a thickly accented voice, her tall body hunched over the handlebars.
"Yes," I replied, gesturing urgently, "I'm an American and I need to get to a phone. My husband and I were travelling to Austria. We were attacked and separated and I must get to a phone."
The woman simply looked at me. After several minutes I began to think she couldn't speak English.
I tried again. "My car broke down-"
"Senior Rosa's car broke down," She stated bluntly, getting off the bike. She was very tall for a woman, over six feet.
Damn. "Senior Rosa's car ran out of gas and I need to get to a town as soon as possible, one with a phone. I believe my husband is in terrible danger."
"What is your husband's name?" she asked. She moved around the bike and began walking toward me.
"'Philipe Roache,'" I replied. "Will you help me?" Something about the woman struck me as strange and abruptly I realized that my bracelet had grown warm on my wrist.
"That is a French name," she said.
"This is not France. How did you come to be in Italy?" She moved a few steps closer to me, and I took a step back.
"We traveled from America," I said.
"There is an old American saying," she drawled, her accent making it difficult for me to make out her words, "'you can't get there from here.'"
"We flew to London first, then to Rome," I whispered, feeling very nervous about her movements toward me and wondering why it mattered how I had gotten to Italy.
I took several steps backward. "Then we rented a car and drove to the place my husband was raised."
"I thought you said he was French?" she said smiling smugly.
"I believe he was born there," I lied, "but he was raised at a church in the mountains."
The woman stopped and looked at me intently. "The monastery?"
"Yes," I said slowly, "he did call it a monastery."
"This man you were traveling with," she demanded, "what is his true name?"
I regarded the woman closely for a moment. Somehow, she seemed to know when I lied to her. "Jason Kline."
"The priest?" The woman's voice was incredulous.
"I believe he left the church some years ago," I told her. I was confused that she knew so much about of Jason.
"But he is not your husband," she stated.
"We were traveling as man and wife," I admitted. "Look, is this important? I have to get to a phone so I can find him. He was attacked and I was forced to leave him."
Suddenly I became aware that the woman was quite near me, close to three feet away. I shifted my burden and reached behind my back for my gun. Before I could pull it out of the holster, the woman lunged at me. Unable to dodge out of the way, I was pinned underneath the unbelievably strong woman, who began sniffing at my neck.
Unconsciously my canines extended and I opened my mouth to drink from her. "You are telling the truth-" The woman stopped as she pulled back slightly and saw my teeth gleaming in the moonlight.
I pushed her off of me and as I rose to my feet I said, "Look, I don't want any trouble and I don't want to hurt you, I just need to find Jason!"
The woman lunged at me again, and this time I found myself rolling in the road about 30 feet from where I'd left the ground, landing near the motorcycle. Unbelievably, I still held the valise. I stumbled to my feet and went for the motorcycle.
I heard a howling as I climbed on the bike and looked back over my shoulder. The woman was changing, becoming half woman, half wolf!
You had to piss off a Garou, I heard in my mind as I searched frantically for the ignition.
Before I could find the switch to start the bike, the werewolf was upon me. She wrenched me from the seat and threw me onto the ground. Her hands were at my throat, my death written on her face.
"Stop!" I cried, making eye contact with the wolf-woman. The Garou stopped for a moment, then loosened her grip and began to howl. Numbly I heard an answering canine cry in the distance.
Soon her friends joined us and several of them pulled me to my feet. I was dragged to the road and stripped of all possessions. They threw me into the car I had stolen, which had been refilled with gas.
Surrounded by werewolves, some human, some half-transformed, but all looking at me with contempt, I had a very uncomfortable ride back to the village I had been in so briefly the night before. When the car stopped, I was yanked out and thrown against a large rock that stood in the Village Square.
Questions began to fly; who was I, where was the priest, where was I going. There were too many questions for me to possibly answer at once.
I stood painfully and told them that Jason was a close friend and that we were traveling to a small village in Austria to meet a friend of his. I said we had stopped at the ruins of an old monastery and were attacked.
I told them of Jason's orders to stay in the wine cellar and of the old man who took me to the first village, then about trying to find a way back to the church but being unable to do so. I explained my unease about asking for help in a town where I knew no one in the middle of the night. I finished by saying that I had to find Jason and that I feared for his life.
I did not mention the package Jason had been sent to deliver, as I believed that he would not want that fact revealed. Unfortunately, they did not believe any part of my story and kept asking me repeatedly what I had done with the priest.
Finally, near dawn, they threw me into a pine box, along with the extra clip I had prepared for my gun. After they nailed the top on, I could feel and hear them drag the box on the ground for a short distance. Frantically I tried to find a way out but I was trapped. As I felt the box being lifted, the languor of morning overcame me and for a time I knew nothing.
I awoke to complete darkness and felt jerky movements, as if I was lying in the back of a moving vehicle. The box, I thought, I'm still in the box. The vehicle seemed to be moving down an uneven road at a steady rate of speed. I put out my hands and felt around myself. I found the clip they had thrown in after me, and remembered hearing the derisive tone of their words as they tossed it in. I placed the clip in my jacket pocket.
I wondered where the Garou were taking me and where the valise was. I realized that I had lost my only link to Jason and I groaned in despair. I did take the fact that I was still alive as a good sign because werewolves were known to kill Kindred on sight. Many of the villagers had indeed wanted me dead.
I levered my legs up and tried pushing against the lid but it didn't budge. I laid back and weighed my options. I realized that I could increase my strength and try to force my way out but for two things; if I failed, I would be close to frenzy from lack of blood. Even if I escaped the box, which seemed unlikely, I would probably be surrounded by werewolves who would be more than a little pissed that I'd gotten out of my box.
Faintly I heard a voice come through the wood near my head. "Vampire," it taunted. I thought was the same woman who'd captured me on the road. "Are you awake in your coffin, vampire?"
"What do you want?" I called out to her. The fingers of my right hand found the ring on my left and twisted it nervously.
"To see you dead, of course," she replied. "But we may never find the priest if we kill you, so we are taking you to someone who will help us."
"Help you what?" I cried. "I've told you all I know! I've told you the truth! You are wasting time; I need to find him! He could die!" I pounded on the lid of the box.
"Do you love him?" she asked me.
I froze. "What?"
"Do you love the priest?"
Slowly I laid my hands flat on the top of the box. "I don't know," I whispered softly.
"Maybe you had better figure it out before you find him," she said. I heard faint movements and knew she had moved away.
Did I love him? How could she ask me such a question? I felt strongly for him, yes, even attracted to him physically more than I had ever been attracted to any other man. He was great to be around, romantic and funny. He always did the unexpected.
Love him? Was I capable of love? Were any Kindred? Yes, I thought, remembering Brenda and Michael. Kindred could love. But did I love Jason? I did not really remember what love was like. I knew I felt affection for people, for Antonio most of all, also for my good friends Estrea Moreno and Luke Thomas. I cared about Papa and Brenda although I didn't know either of them well enough to feel genuine affection for them. What I felt for Jason clearly overshadowed what I felt for anyone else and if it was love, I wasn't sure I wanted it.
As I lay waiting the dawn I wouldn't see and it's numbing sleep I ran my mind back to the dream I'd had at Maria's about the second time Jason had saved my life. I smiled as I remembered how suspicious I'd been of his motives at first, that I hadn't really liked him at all. I thought about how protective he'd been toward me and how, almost despite myself, I'd begun to trust him.
As the vehicle continued to move along, I relived the dance we'd shared in San Francisco. I thought of what he had told me of his past at the monastery. It explained so much to me about who Jason really was. I touched my lips and felt again the kiss he'd given me before he'd sent me to the wine cellar. I regretted more than I could say not making him listen to how much I cared about him. I saw his face wracked with agony as he lay on the altar, the sorcerer standing over him, I heard again the horrible booming voice.
I felt tears begin to run into my hair as I stared into the blackness. My life for yours, he had told me. Now I whispered it in the darkness to him, wherever he was. "My life for yours."
"Nothing will stand in my way," I vowed quietly, "Until I see you again and we are both free."
I had known Jason for such a short time, just a few months really, yet if felt like forever. I swore not to rest until he was with me or his killers were dead.
Love? I wondered. Maybe not, but the possibility could not be denied.
The next night when I opened my eyes to see only darkness, I was aware from the start that I was still in the box. The vehicle was moving down what felt like the same bumpy road and I groaned softly; this was not the way to save Jason.
I waited through the night, the ring on my finger my only company. The woman never returned, and an opportunity for escape never came. I resolved to have patience; some time, some where I knew there would come a chance to escape. As sleep claimed me at dawn, I began to dream.
I was back at the ruins of the monastery and the sun shone high overhead. Flowers danced on the breeze, lightly kissed by bees and butterflies. Birds sang sweetly, and I could see small woodland creatures romping in the sun. Walking walked toward the ruins, I looked at the flower-covered vines and small saplings growing from cracks between the stones. As I approached the altar, the birds and other creatures began to fall silent.
I noticed that the closer I got to the altar the darker the flowers became until, at the foot of the altar, they were all deep crimson. As I looked, I saw that the color was everywhere, staining even the stones and the leaves. The altar itself was covered with the dark substance. Slowly I leaned over and began to lap at the liquid puddled there, cleaning it from the stones. Suddenly I reared back in shock; it was Jason's blood!
A lone hawk cried out in the meadow and I spun to the sound. A man stood nearby, his face in shadow. I walked toward him slowly, then stopped when he held up a hand and I realized it was Jason, his face bare of disguises.
"Christina," he said, "you must go."
"Jason," I whispered, "I came here to help you."
"You can't help me now, Christina," he said sadly. "I'm beyond any help you can offer."
"I won't accept that," I said strongly, taking a step forward. "Nothing short of final death will keep me from you, I have sworn it."
His smile was a near grimace. "I am beyond your reach," he repeated, "I release you from your vow." He began to fade away before my eyes.
"No!" I cried. I reached for him but touched nothing. "I will find you! I'll avenge this, I swear it!"
"I release you," I heard him say as if from a distance, "You can't help me now."
"No!" I screamed wildly.
Birds flew from the trees and animals scattered. Even the bees and butterflies seemed to flee in terror. The sky grew dark, large gray clouds covering the sun. The wind began to rise.
"No!" I screamed again, "I will find you!"
"You will never find him," I heard from behind me above the whipping wind. It was the same booming voice that had called for Jason on that terrible morning.
Slowly I turned to face the withered man who had tortured Jason and rage flowed through my veins. I could feel my fangs extend of their own accord. Abruptly, the wind died.
"Who are you to tell me what I will never do?" I demanded as I walked toward where the man stood several feet to the left of the altar.
His eyes widened, shock running across his features. "I am the one who took him from you," he said as he recovered himself, pleasure in the deed clear in his tone. "I am the one who will destroy him, and you."
"Then you are the one who will die," I replied coldly. "I'll find him, or I'll find you. Either way, I'll find satisfaction, I think."
He laughed roughly. "Do you think you can fight me this time?" he asked.
"Really, 'Tina. I'll win, I always win." He raised his arms and I felt his magic pull at me, trying to force me toward the altar. I read the surprise on his face when I stepped closer to him instead. Again he raised his arms, and again I fought the pull and stepped closer to him.
Then I smiled, showing my extended fangs. He took a step backward, visibly shaken.
"I will find him, or I will find you," I repeated sternly. "Either way my vow will be satisfied. Honor shall be avenged. Beware, crone, don't be fool enough to underestimate me again."
He spun and with a swirl of his cloak, he was gone.
I approached the altar again. I knelt beside it and touched the stains on the stone. So much blood; how could Jason possibly have survived? I had to find him and soon.
The dream faded and I dreamt no more that day.
(c) Cathy J McQuillin 1999
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