kismet's world of darkness title

Christina: Searching for Jason

by: Cathy McQuillin A Legacy Article from Sanguinus Curae

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The Holding

Your anchor is up; you've been swept away
And the greatest of teachers won't hesitate
To leave you there, by yourself, chained to fate
I Alone - Live

I awoke slowly and clawed my way to consciousness. I dreaded opening my eyes and seeing only darkness before me. It took me a moment to realize I was lying on my side on a cold stone floor.

I opened my eyes a slit and looked cautiously at a stone wall a few feet away. I turned my head a little and looked around to see that I was at the bottom of what looked like a dry stone well about ten feet in diameter. I braced myself on my hands and pushed upward a bit to get a better look. I had to look twice at the walls before I realized there seemed to be beams of light running vertically at two-inch intervals all around the walls.

'Hello,' a deep voice called out from above me.

I threw my head back in surprise and looked up. A man looked over the edge of the well perhaps twenty feet above me. He had dark hair and skin, and radiated health the way a professional athlete does.

A woman peeked over the edge at his side. She was pretty, with long brown hair framing her oval face. Their heads made dark areas on the wall where they interrupted the beams. The light didn't seem to hurt them, but I wasn't fooled; I would not go anywhere near the walls as long as those beams were on.

'Hello,' I replied, remaining crouched on the floor.

'Who are you?' the woman asked.

I paused, then told her my first name.

'How do you know Jason?' she demanded.

'He's a good friend of mine,' I told her. 'Who are you?'

'Lena,' she said.

I thought quickly. 'Her Ladyship Lena Stockton?'

'Yes,' she said, surprised. 'How do you know me?'

'I spoke with you briefly by phone a few nights ago,' I said, rising carefully to my feet. 'It's good to meet you.'

'When did I speak with you?'

'Tuesday night. We didn't talk for long, but I was supposed to meet you in a small village in Austria.' I smiled slightly. 'My cell phone cut out before we could talk for very long. You said you would help me find Jason.'

'Where is he?' she demanded, her hands gripping the stone edge of the well.

'I don't know,' I said gravely, 'but if you let me out, perhaps together we can find him.'

Their heads disappeared and I could hear the faint murmur of conversation. A few moments later, Lena reappeared. 'I will only let you go if you promise not to hurt any of my people.'

I could feel the hunger burning within me; it had been nearly a week since I'd fed. I knew there was no need to pretend to be other than what I was, they would have found out soon enough if the werewolves hadn't told them already. 'You wouldn't happen to have some sort of blood bank here, would you?' I asked hopefully. 'I need sustenance.'

She studied me intently. 'You will be provided with what you need,' she told me after a moment.

'If you give me what I need, I won't hurt anyone here,' I promised.

Lena gestured behind her and the beams of light went off. Quickly I scaled the wall using the many hand and footholds available. When I approached the top, the man reached down, lifted me bodily and set me on the floor. He was abnormally strong, and I backed away from him as soon as he let me go. I remembered clearly the strength of werewolves at the village. He smiled at me.

I brushed the dust from my clothing then looked at Lena, who had the valise at her feet. She held the bone in one hand and the unopened envelope in the other.

'Is that mine?' I asked and pointed to the valise. I knew it was.

'Yes,' she replied. She placed the bone back into the valise and turned the envelope over in her hands.

'Those things are Jason's,' I said as she began to open the envelope. 'I don't think he would want us to open them.'

'Our friend is in a position where he cannot make decisions right now,' said the Garou whom I later learned was named Mikael, 'maybe never.'

'I prefer not to think that way,' I said, angry that this wolf-man would.

'You have to face the possibility that he may be dead,' Mikael said not unkindly as Lena read the envelope's contents. His voice carried a light accent I didn't recognize.

'Do I?' I asked, stiff with anger.

Lena gasped and put a hand to her mouth.

'What is it?' I demanded, but she waved me away.

I moved closer and tried to see what she was looking at. All I could tell was that the papers she was holding had Jason's handwriting on them. After a moment, she handed me one of the two sheets.

I read it quickly and took note of the web address across the top and the name Sire Records. 'Do you have a computer?' I asked Lena. She seemed not to hear me.

I moved to look over her shoulder at the second page. It contained a list of dates and locations along with two song lyrics that seemed vampiric in nature. The dates began in London and ended in Detroit. The last date was only days before Jason and I had left for Europe.

Lena and began I discussing various possibilities.

'Sire Records,' I said. 'Sounds like a Kindred thing to me.'

Lena asked me where Jason and I had been during the dates listed.

I began with the first date. 'October 27th, I was in a dungeon in Salem.' When Lena looked at me strangely, I said, 'Yes, a dungeon. On Halloween, Jason was kind enough to rescue me.

'On November first, I flew back to Vegas. I believe Jason returned to San Francisco on the second. On the sixth he called me and asked me to come to 'Frisco the following night. We had dinner together and he told me about the trip to Europe.

'We left that evening, spent the day in Salem and traveled through London to Italy, where we arrived at the monastery on Sunday the ninth.'

I told her about the warning Jason had received from the small device and how shaken he'd been at hearing the horrible voice. I said that we had been in tight situations together before, but that I had never seen him scared like that. I told her about the gunshots and the rising wind, the old man and the cloak.

When I told her of Jason on the altar and the withered crone-like man standing over him, she asked me what the mage had looked like. I gave her his description and she seemed to ponder it for a moment, her face pale.

'What does Jason mean to you?' she asked almost casually, her eyes searching mine.

'Jason is a good friend,' I replied as I struggled to hide my feelings from her. 'What does he mean to you?'

She smiled slightly. 'Jason is like a brother to me,' she said as she glanced at Mikael. It was quite apparent her feelings for Mikael were quite a bit stronger than that.

I felt the hunger calling inside of me and asked her where I might feed. She glanced at Mikael and gestured me aside.

Lena studied me closely, then pulled her long hair off one side of her neck. She angled her head to give me access to her juggler vein, but she looked wary, almost afraid.

I gazed at the pulse she had revealed and fought to control myself. I closed my eyes and held a hand out to her. When I looked at her again, she seemed confused.

'Your hand, if I may,' I said softly. Slowly she placed her hand in mine. 'If you don't mind, milady, I'd rather do it this way.'

Lena glanced at Mikael and he shrugged before he stepped closer to us. Lena nodded and my canines extended as I cautiously lifted her wrist to my mouth. Tenderly I inserted my teeth into her flesh and began to drink.

Mikael moved to Lena's side, turned her head into his shoulder, and held her gently while I fed. He watched me fiercely while I took only enough blood to control my hunger. I pulled my fangs out slowly and ran my tongue lightly across the twin wounds to close them. Lena turned to me and blinked in surprise at the lack of pain.

She's been 'kissed' before, I told myself, and not kindly.

'Are you all right?' Mikael asked her. He supported her and she leaned against his strength.

'Just a little woozy,' she replied. Lena studied her wrist, then glanced at me. 'Is-is that enough for you?'

I smiled slightly, careful not to reveal my still extended fangs. 'It has been a long time since I've fed, but that will hold me over until I can reach a large city. Thank you for you generosity, Lady.' I bowed slightly and retracted the canines by sheer force of will.

'Perhaps I should take you hunting,' Mikael said. 'Would a large animal suit your needs?'

'That would be excellent,' I told him, grateful for the offer.

He seemed surprised. 'You would feed from an animal?'

'Whatever is available,' I replied. 'Whatever works best.'

Mikael swung a drooping Lena up into his arms. She seemed very frail held in his brute strength. 'You need to rest,' he told her. 'Wait here,' he said to me as he carried her through the doorway.

I picked up the valise and opened it. Everything seemed to be there, including the Glock Jason had left inside and its remaining clip. There was no sign of my weapon.

I remembered the clip the Garou had thrown into the box with me and pulled it from my pocket. I studied the bullets for a moment and decided that they must be silver. Why else would the clip have brought such a reaction from werewolves? I loaded the Glock with the silver bullets and put the phosphorous clip in my pocket. I placed the gun in the holster at the small of my back.

I reached past my cellular phone to pull out the palmtop computer and tried to figure out more of its functions. After some playing around, I found a Personal Information Manager, or PIM, function. It revealed travel information from the time that Jason had flown to Salem in Late October. I smiled as I remembered my relief when I had seen him in the dungeon hallway. I also found the canceled reservations to the Cayman Islands.

I traced our travel route to the monastery, then found further arrangements for our travel to Austria. There were even notes on the trip that he had promised to take me on when his business in Europe was finished.

My vision swam with a red haze and I blinked at the blood tears filling my eyes. I searched my mind for some way I might have saved Jason from the creature that had tormented him, but could find no avenue I hadn't taken.

Angry with myself, I dashed the red drops from my cheeks. A river of tears wouldn't help Jason now, I had to be strong and piece together what little information I had. I would use Lena, and Mikael, even Antonio and Brenda if I had to in order to find Jason. After all, I knew he would do the same for me.

I was twisting the ring Jason had given me when I heard footsteps approaching and quickly I wiped away the last traces of my tears.

As Mikael led me out of the castle, he asked if I wanted to hunt or if I would prefer he do so. I told him I thought it would be better, faster if he did the hunting. When we cleared the castle grounds Mikael swept his dark hair off his forehead and said, 'So how do you know Jason?'

'Graves instructed Jason to protect me,' I told him.

'And he did so.'

'Yes.' I stepped over a fallen log, and said, 'He saved me, many times. I owe him a life-boon that I intend to repay.'

'Is that it?' Mikael asked and turned to look down at me in the moonlight with his dark probing eyes.

'What do you mean?' In the dark I couldn't read his expression.

'Your kind isn't exactly known for its regard for humans,' he replied as he moved off again into the trees.

'And your kind is known for its contempt of Kindred,' I bit out.

After we walked a few feet, I said, 'I'm sorry. Can we not stereotype one another? Let's get to know each other before making any judgments, okay?'

Mikael glanced back at me. 'Fine.'

Several minutes later, he said, 'Are you going to answer my question?'

'What question?'

'Is gratitude and debt all you feel for Jason?' he replied as we walked deeper into the forest.

I didn't answer for a moment, then said, 'Jason is my friend. He has been there for me in every way that I needed him. I refuse to leave him to the likes of that... crone.'

Mikael stopped so quickly that I almost ran into him. He turned and looked down into my face. 'And that's it?'

I looked away, unable to meet his gaze. 'That's it.'

'Are you lying to convince me or yourself?' he chuckled.

I backed away as he began to strip off his clothing, a little shocked at his lack of modesty. I couldn't remember ever seeing a naked man before that night. I watched with wonder and not a little fear as he quickly transformed into a large gray wolf and disappeared into the forest.

About forty-five minutes later, after much soul searching and pacing on my part, I could hear a large animal returning through the trees. As it came into view, I could see it was a gigantic creature, nearly seven feet tall and very muscular. It wasn't really human or beast, but rather a mixture of both.

It had a large buck across one shoulder that it threw to the ground at my feet. It took the horns of the buck and twisted the neck to give me access. My hunger quickly overcame my fear of the beast. I knelt beside them and eyed the buck greedily.

When Mikael assured me that the village would be able to use the mean from the buck, I bend and drained him dry. I mourned for the animal and a part of me regretted that it had given its life for mine.

When the beast was dead and I was full, I sat up, backed slightly away from Mikael, and wiped the blood from my lips. My teeth retracted easily this time as I turned to avoid the sight of the wolf-man gutting the buck. When he was done, the beast that was Mikael lifted the carcass to his shoulder and started toward the village. I scooped up his clothing and followed at a slight distance.

When we reached the edge of the village, the beast put down his burden. Again I watched Mikael transform, this time back into a human. I handed Mikael his clothing and averted my eyes while he dressed. When he was done, he grabbed the buck by the horns and balanced it along his back, the hindquarters dragging on the ground.

Mikael led me to a cottage and bade me enter. He told me I would be safe within, and that I should rest. I went inside and threw the simple bolt home.

Before I succumbed to the inevitable daytime rest, I performed the simple ceremony Antonio had taught me to keep out the sunlight. I shook my head in disgust that I had forgotten about it in the car. Then I laid my head down on Mikael's cot and waited restlessly for sunrise.


Clues

What the hell
What is it you think you're gonna find?
The Struggle Within - Metallica

When I awoke the next evening, I pumped water into the sink and washed myself as best I could. The nights of hard travel and the time in the coffin had left me feeling stale and used. Then I left the cabin and made my way to the castle that dominated the hillside. The waxing moon shone brightly, lighting my way.

A servant answered the door and took my name before going off. When he returned, he led me down a corridor to a study where Lena was using a telephone. She seemed to be talking to a friend, and I looked around the book-lined study, fingering my ring while I waited for her to finish.

Then something she said caught my attention; she was asking the person to arrange a meeting with the pop star, Madelyn. I looked at Lena and noticed for the first time that she was looking at what seemed to be a roll of toilet paper with writing on it.

'Madelyn?' I asked when she hung up.

'Yes,' Lena replied. 'We checked the web site on the paper and the dates we found are for her world tour. All dates past November fifth have been canceled.'

'What do you have there?' I asked, gesturing toward the roll in her hands.

She seemed reluctant to reply, then said, 'It was a gift.'

'May I see?' After a moment's hesitation, she handed it to me.

The roll was almost empty, and each remaining square had a phrase written on it in lipstick. Some squares even had simple pictures. We figured out pretty quickly that the clues pointed to Los Angeles and Talon Graves. I had heard a rumor that he was prince of the city, but Jason had never mentioned it to me.

The clues also hinted of trouble with the Brujah clan, and finished with 'Find a Siren, Save a Goddess.' We were trying to figure out who the Goddess was when Mikael joined us.

'Christina,' he said, looking at me very intently, his voice hard, 'I would appreciate it if you would reload your weapon with slightly different ammunition.'

I returned his look for a long moment and my body stiffened in preparation for a fight I knew I couldn't possibly win. 'You must understand my unease and misgivings,' I told him. 'Your people have not been kind to me.'

'That is true,' he admitted, 'but I am the only one of my people here.' He crossed his large arms across his broad chest.

Casting a glance between Mikael and Lena, I knew that he was right, he had been more than kind to me. I rolled the toilet paper back up and handed it to Lena. She stiffened as I drew my gun, then relaxed a bit when I snapped the clip out. I put the clip in my pocket and took out the phosphorous loaded clip. I loaded the gun with a click and returned the weapon to its holster.

Mikael relaxed his stance and Lena smiled up at him.

I gestured toward the valise where it lay on the table. 'May I?'

'Of course,' Lena replied, sliding it toward me.

I pulled out the palmtop and activated the PIM. While waiting for it to load, I asked, 'May I use the phone?' She agreed.

Quickly I dialed Jason's cell phone number from memory and waited for the connection.

'Da,' a voice answered.

'Hello?' I asked, confused. I knew I'd dialed the right number.

The man mumbled something in what I took to be Russian.

'Do you speak English?' I questioned him as I heard yelling in the background.

'Dos Vedanya' he replied pleasantly a moment later, then hung up.

I held the phone away from my face, staring at it.

'What is it? Lena asked.

'I just called Jason's number,' I replied, putting the phone down. 'I got some guy speaking Russian, then he hung up on me.'

'Tell me what he said,' she urged.

I repeated the short conversation. 'Do you know Russian?'

'Yes.'

'Perhaps if you call back, you may get somewhere,' I said, watching her face.

She seemed hesitant and glanced at Mikael, who shrugged. She nodded at me slowly, then activated the speakerphone before hitting the redial button.

'Da,' the man said again when he answered.

I couldn't follow the conversation as the only Russian I'd ever heard was in the movies. I caught snatches, like 'Nikoli Petrovich' and 'Presidente,' but none of it made sense. Then the man spoke Lena's name and she looked like she'd been slapped. Mikael picked up the receiver and barked a few sentences into it before he slammed it down. He immediately picked it back up and dialed a number.

'Gregory, are your guests still there?' he asked. 'Good. Tell them to get a hold of our brothers and sisters. Yes, a family reunion. At my house. Right away. Yes. Thank you.' Slowly he replaced the receiver in its cradle.

Lena still sat in shock. Mikael went to her, gathering her into his arms.

'What have I done?' she whispered, crying softly.

'what's going on?' I demanded.

'It will be alright,' Mikael told Lena, ignoring me. 'Nothing will happen to the village. We'll protect it. But you must leave, tonight.'

'What have I done?' she said again, tears streaming down her face.

'Tell me what's going on!' I demanded. 'What happened?'

'Jason's phone is in Russia,' Mikael told me as he held Lena. 'He is going by the name of Nickoli Petrovich. The man said they have him and that they knew who Lena is. They will be coming.'

'And you sent for your family to protect the village?' I asked softly.

'Yes, but you both must leave, now,' Mikael said urgently. 'My tribe will kill you for bringing this trouble here and Lena must be taken out of danger. You will need to get some supplies,' Mikael added. 'I will make arrangements for your travel.'

Lena seemed to be pulling herself together. 'We have to go to Los Angeles,' she said, 'I have to speak to Graves.' Mikael stiffened a little, but did not release her.

'Do you have a car,' I asked, 'or motorcycles?' They looked at me like I was insane. 'Horses don't like me,' I told them softly, reminding them of my nature. Animals didn't usually like Kindred.

Mikael gave me a disgusted look. 'I'll arrange for a cart. It might be better for Lena anyway.' He kissed her temple softly.

'Maybe we should take the box, if it is still here,' I said with a suppressed shudder. 'We may be able to travel faster if I'm in cargo. I also need to make a few more phone calls.'

'You have a point about the box,' Lena said, rising and leading the way out of the room. I grabbed the valise and stuffed the computer inside of it as I followed.

'One thing about the box,' I said, 'I want it to latch from the inside, no nailing it shut this time. You can probably understand my reluctance to get back inside without being able to get out on my own.'

'Yes,' Mikael replied, 'I'll grab my tools.' With a last kiss to Lena, he left to make the necessary arrangements.

Lena opened a door and we entered a storage room full of electronic equipment. The cellular phones that sat on one shelf caught my eye.

'These are identical to mine,' I commented, reaching for spare batteries.

'Grab an extra phone and take several spare batteries,' she told me. She grabbed a few other items, then said, 'I'm going to run upstairs and grab a change of clothing. Wait for me by the front door,' she said as we were leaving the storage room, 'I'll be just a minute.'

Mikael was coming around the castle entrance in a horse pulled cart when Lena and I came outside. The bright moon illuminated him and the driver beside him, and revealed the pine box in the back. Lena and I climbed in beside it before it stopped fully, and Mikael motioned the driver on as he joined us. He opened his toolbox and began fashioning an interior latch and hinges.

As we traveled, I replaced the battery pack in my cell phone with a fresh one, then tried to call Antonio, but the time difference made it several hours before sunset on the West Coast. I decided to try the Salem prince's house and Brenda.

'Christina,' she said when she came to the phone, 'what can I do for you?'

'I really hate to impose on you, but I really need your help,' I told her. 'I need to get a message to Antonio but I'm in Eastern Europe and the time difference is making it difficult.'

'I understand,' she replied.

'Please tell him that I believe Graves is in danger and Jason-'MartÌn' has been abducted.'

''MartÌn?'' Brenda asked. 'The human that was here with you?'

'Yes, I believe he is in great danger.' Despite my efforts to calm myself, my voice shook slightly.

'I see.' The tone of her voice made me think that she probably did.

'Also, I will be coming back to the States in a day or so, and I would appreciate you making travel arrangements for us; one human, Lena Stockton, and one box. We need the fastest possible route to Los Angeles from Austria.'

'I can do that for you, no problem,' she assured me.

'Can you call me when you have the arrangements made?' I asked.

'I will, Christina,' she told me. 'Keep safe.'

'Thank you so much for your help, Brenda,' I said. 'I owe you.' Then I rang off.

'Who was that,' Lena asked.

'My sister.'

'You have a sister?'

'A sister in the sense that we share a sire,' I replied. 'She will be making our flight arrangements and calling me with the details. She will also be contacting Antonio, who will in turn warn Graves.'

'Who is Antonio?' she asked.

'My sire. Brenda's sire,' I said. 'He is a good man, he will help us.'

'He is not a man,' Mikael interjected roughly as he sat back, having installed the interior latch on the box.

'Lena, could you teach me Russian?' I inquired softly, thinking of the phone call as the cart swayed on the rough road. She agreed and began my instruction.

In the next village, Mikael took his leave of us to return to the castle and protect the village. Lena and I got on the Euro Rail and at the first stop I got into the box as morning was nearly upon us.


The following evening Brenda phoned me. After giving me our flight information to New York, she told me that Michael had sent his Leer to meet us in New York. She had arranged for have supplies brought on board for us.

'One more thing,' she told me, 'there seems to be something more going on with Graves. Michael says he hears stories about where Graves has been, and it doesn't match up with where he actually sees him.'

'Really?' I asked. What could that mean? 'Anything else?' When she demurred, I inquired how her studies were going.

'Good,' she said. 'I am learning a lot here. Micky is showing me around town and I'm getting on well. I'm glad Antonio agreed to let me train here.'

'It's a wonderful opportunity for you, as I'm sure you know,' I replied, for a moment mildly jealous of her. Salem has traditionally been a stronghold of the Tremere clan, with a very advanced Chantry.

'Look,' she added just before we rang off, 'if I can do anything for you, call me.'

'I will.'

'I hope you find 'MartÌn' soon,' she said.

The gleam of the diamond on my engagement ring caught my eye. 'So do I.'

I climbed back into the box before we left Heathrow Airport, and that day I dreamed of the night that I had rediscovered my father, the same night I had realized Jason was human. He had been there by my side, keeping me safe and convincing me not to harm Papa.

Jason touched my hand and I helped him to his feet. One of the men from the basement of the church had followed us and now he took a step closer. I pointed my gun at him and he stopped short.

'Don't,' I warned, my voice cold. Suddenly the gun wavered in my grip and I took a step back. I knew this man! I didn't know exactly who he was, but I was absolutely certain that I knew him.

'Christina,' he whispered. The man looked shaken and pale, almost as if he had seen a ghost. He was of average height, and his hair was almost completely gray. His green eyes covered every inch of me as if I were food and he a starving man. He wore the garments of a priest.

Jason steadied on his feet at my side, moving between the man and me so that I had to take a step to one side in order to keep my gun trained on the familiar stranger.

'Who are you?' I asked him.

'Christina, love,' the man replied softly, tears in his eyes. 'Don't you know me?

'He is your father,' Jason told me gently.

'No!' I cried. 'Papa would not do murder like this.'

'Yes,' Jason repeated firmly, 'This is your father, Roger Strong.'

I put my left hand on my forehead to fight the stream of memories flooding my mind; a birthday party, looking through the eyes of the small child I once was and blowing out candles, then gazing up at a younger version of this man who smiled down at me. Other images of other days, but still no name came to my mind. Then I saw myself sitting at a desk, addressing an envelope that lay before me. I saw my own hand write Father Roger Strong.

When I looked at Roger again, Jason slowly raised his hand to take the gun from me. On his finger, I saw a ring with a gold cross, a ring that spoke to me of membership in the Society of Leopold, the modern incarnation of the Inquisition. I took another step back and leveled the gun at Jason.

'You are one of them,' I accused, my voice a low growl.

'No,' he said, his brown eyes pleading for my understanding. 'I am here to protect you.'

'Then why the ring?' I demanded.

His met my scornful gaze without wavering, and his voice was low and careful as he said, 'Christina, you know I came here to save you. I don't belong with these people.'

'But you told me you used to!' I exclaimed. 'How do I know you didn't rejoin them?'

'It was a long time ago, Christina,' he replied. 'I have changed much in that time. You know I am here to help you.'

I heard a noise from behind me, but kept my eyes on Jason. Deep down I knew that whoever was behind me wasn't a threat because Jason was watching my back. Realizing how much I trusted Jason to protect me brought my chaotic thoughts up short and I slowly lowered the gun to my side.

Michael walked up from behind me and MartÌn motioned him toward the basement. I heard a quick barrage of gunfire and screaming from outside.

I looked again at my father. The emotions I felt were too overwhelming for me, and I holstered my gun and turned to walk out of the church. I paused at the top of the steps where I could see the gun battle going on between my friends and the hunters that had arrived after us. Jason and my father walked up to stand on either side of me.

'Call and end to it,' Jason said to us.

Roger looked first at Jason, then me, then to the hunters. 'Brothers and sisters,' he cried, raising his arms. 'We must cease this folly! We were misled! Put down your weapons!'

I too looked at Jason then at the others, saying, 'It is over! Let us find peace here tonight!'

Kindred and kine stopped shooting and looked up at us. I started walking down the steps toward where Estrea and Luke stood. These were my friends, and the only beings I truly trusted other than Antonio, and now Jason.

When I reached the bottom of the steps, the world began to spin around me, and Luke grabbed my arm to catch me before I fell. He eased me down on the steps and sat next to me, putting an arm around my shoulders for support.

I could smell the blood spilled on the grounds of the church and the hunger bloomed strong within me. I hadn't felt it this keenly since the night I had found myself lost and alone in Las Vegas.

I turned my head into Luke's shoulder and tears came to my eyes. I could smell the blood in the mortals all around me, especially that of Jason and Roger, who were very close.

Luke offered his wrist to me and gratefully I took it, biting gently into his flesh. I heard Estrea speaking to Jason as I drank to ease the urgency of my hunger, then licked the wound shut.

I felt a hand at my shoulder and looked up to see Estrea crouched before me, her wrist extended. I took her arm and as I sucked the blood from her wrist, I could feel my father's eyes upon me. I took enough to feel in control of myself again, then licked at her wound to close it.

'Thank you,' I told her, forcing a smile.

Estrea must have seen the horror in Papa's face because she stood and said to him, 'Sir, she is a vampire. It is her nature now to drink blood to survive, just as it is in your nature to eat the meat of animals that have died for your food.'

She smiled, gently touching Roger's arm. 'For all that she does not remember you, she is still your daughter. Speak to her, help her regain her memories of her life. I'm sure you still have much in common.'

'Thank you, my child,' Roger said to Estrea.

Jason crouched at my side and brushed his fingers against my cheek. Luke stiffened at my side as I looked up and smiled at Jason then took his hand. He helped me stand and put an arm around my waist to steady me when I would have fallen. Jason led me to where my father stood waiting for me.

I felt Papa's eyes on me but a long moment passed before I could bring myself to meet his gaze.

'Christina Joanne,' he said softly, 'Do you truly not remember me?' He reached out to put a hand on my shoulder, but I pulled away from his touch.

I searched his face. Christina Joanne Strong. Somehow that felt right, and in the lines of the hunter's face, I saw my father. Dimly I remembered that same face from my past. Things are not as they seem, a voice in my head warned, but I did remember this man.

'Papa?' I whispered hesitantly. I watched tears come to his eyes as he put his arms around me. I returned his embrace and felt my own blood tears stain his jacket. 'Papa.'

'Christina,' he said, 'I thought I had lost you forever.'

Better for you if he had, the voice said before finally quieting.

I woke as Michael's Leer was preparing to land in LA, still remembering the feel of arms around me, the taste blood lingering in my mouth.

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