Christina: Searching for Jason
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Oh now feel it comin' back again
Like a rollin' thunder chasing the wind
Lightning Crashes - Live
Before landing in Los Angeles, I took a moment to wake Lena and changed into clothing that Brenda had thoughtfully provided for me. I also fed from blood bags, making sure that Lena knew what I was doing but didn't watch.
Michael had a limousine waiting for us and it took us to a very exclusive restaurant in the hills. The waiter showed us to a table in the corner set for four. I watched Lena's eyes cover the room expectantly, then glanced around myself. I spotted a few Kindred in the crowd, but no one I knew, and none tried to catch my attention.
I kept my hands in my lap and ran my fingers along the vine design of the ring while Lena sipped at her drink. We waited. About fifteen minutes later, I spotted Michael and Antonio working their way toward us. I had to look twice to recognize Antonio - he was wearing an Armani suit similar to Michael's. Michael must be influencing him greatly, I thought.
As they sat down, I greeted them and introduced Lena. Michael asked what he could do for us.
'Lena and I need to meet with Madelyn,' I told him.
'Good luck,' said Antonio. 'You probably won't get any further than the police have in getting to her.'
'Haven't you heard?' Michael asked. When Lena and I shook our heads, he said, 'She's been accused of murder. The ghoul who does the day for her is missing, and Madelyn has gone into hiding. Only the prince and the primogen know where she is.'
'We have to see her,' I said leaning forward.
Antonio patted my hand. 'We will see what we can do. Now what is this I hear about 'MartÌn' missing?'
I looked down into my drink, the ice cubes shining like a mortal's unshed tears. 'We were traveling in Italy when some? thing captured him. We have reason to believe he is in Russia and in great danger.' I took a deep breath, trying to control my emotions. Of course Antonio did not miss my action. 'Tell me, have the Brujah been acting up here in LA?'
'Yes,' said Michael, surprised I asked. 'How did you know? Graves has been working overtime trying to get the city back under control. And there is a primogen missing.'
I glanced at Lena. 'Which one?'
'The Tremere,' growled Antonio, his face grim.
'We must see Graves,' I said, almost to myself. I turned to Michael. 'Have you heard anything more about Graves being in more than one place at the same time?'
'No,' he replied, 'only what I told Brenda.'
'What are you thinking?' asked Lena.
'The worst of Two Claws.' I whispered, quoting the message on the toilet paper roll.
She sat back, a worried look on her face. 'We must see him right away!'
Michael picked up his drink. 'I'm sorry, Lady Stockton, mortals are not allowed to see the prince.'
'But I must see Graves,' she protested.
I reached over and touched her hand. 'I'll try to arrange something. Why don't you check into our hotel? I will call you to keep you informed of what is going on.'
Lena searched my face for a moment, then glanced at Michael and agreed. We all rose and left the restaurant, getting into the limousine that was parked outside. When we reached the hotel to drop Lena off, Antonio handed me a large box from the trunk and asked me to change.
I went up to our suite with Lena and took a quick glance around, then went into the bedroom I would stay in. I undressed and opened the box, standing there for a moment, stunned. I pulled the black sequined dress out of the box and held it to the light.
The dress was very formal, with spaghetti straps leading to a fairly modest neckline. Was it the father in Antonio showing? The dress was more than floor length as I held it up to my body and I hoped there would be a pair of very high heels in the box. I checked to be sure and there they were, sequined to match the dress. I also found black lingerie designed to set a man's eyes on fire. Michael's influence again?
Quickly I began to dress and, of course, everything fit beautifully. The bodice was smug but not tight, the skirt full enough not to restrict my movements. The shoes also fit well and since they had a fashionable wedged heel I didn't feel awkward walking in them. Looking in the box one last time I found a short jacket, which I slipped on, and a sequined purse.
I slipped my cell phone and gun into the purse, along with lipstick and several hundred dollars. I applied a light coat of makeup and fluffed my hair. On my way out the door, I told Lena I would call her as soon as I knew anything.
As I rejoined the men, Antonio complemented me on my appearance. I thanked him and Michael for the dress and its accessories. On the way to the Coliseum, Antonio told me I would have to be presented to the prince as soon as we arrived.
'How have you been since Salem, Christina?' Antonio asked.
'Better,' I said, 'but now there is this thing with 'MartÌn.'' On my left hand, the weight of the ring on my hand reminded me of my obligation to find Jason.
Antonio and Michael exchanged glances, almost if they were speaking to each other, and Antonio nodded. He turned back to me. 'Is your father well?'
'I believe so,' I replied, 'I haven't spoken to him for nearly a week. He wants me to come home for Thanksgiving, but I'm not sure I'll make it. Perhaps Christmas.'
We pulled up to the doors of the Coliseum. Michael and Antonio again looked at each other, and I smiled slightly as I stepped out of the limousine. Looks like Antonio has been sharing his tricks with others, I thought to myself.
Two Kindred in tuxedos greeted us at the door. They seemed very uncomfortable in their clothing and had the look of Gangrel to them. As we entered, I could see open doors ahead of us in the lobby, with many Kindred inside. We approached those doors and I could see that the entire floor area of the Coliseum was decorated for a formal ball. Kindred were everywhere, some in suites and ties or simple dresses, but most in tuxedoes and evening gowns. Many appeared to be security. There were no humans in the room.
As soon as we entered, several Tremere caught sight of Antonio and hurried over. They were very anxious to speak with him alone on a 'Clan matter.'
'Michael has been accepted into my home as if he were my own,' Antonio stated bluntly. 'Christina is my childe. Anything you need to say you may say before them.'
After a quick glance at Michael and me, the tall dark Kindred spoke. 'As you know, sir, our Primogen has been missing for four nights. We entered his apartment earlier this evening to discover that his personal belongings are gone, along with several historical tomes.'
'The prince has called a council meeting this evening,' said the shorter blond Tremere. 'With Van Able gone, we have no one to represent us.'
'I will sit on the council for the Tremere,' Antonio replied. The two Kindred looked relieved.
Something they had said sparked my interest. 'The primogen took only his own belongings?'
'We didn't go through his apartment,' the tall one said, 'only enough to determine little was missing but what belonged to him.'
'The books he took, were they of importance?' I inquired.
'No,' the blonde replied. 'They were from the general library, not even from the reserved library that we keep our ancient texts in.'
'Interesting,' I murmured.
'We are on our way to present Christina to the prince,' Michael said. 'We shouldn't keep him waiting.'
'Of course not,' the blonde said, then nodded to Antonio. 'Thank you, sir, for your assistance to the Los Angeles Tremere.'
'I will do what I can,' Antonio replied.
As we continued across the floor, many Kindred acknowledged the men I was with, though no one approached us as we walked to the elevator. When we reached it, another Gangrel pair of guards stopped us.
Michael rose to his full height. 'We have business with the prince. He is expecting us.'
One of the guards stepped a few feet away and used a small radio to call upstairs. A moment later he returned and waved us through. We entered the elevator to find another guard waiting inside. He pushed a button marked 'Observation Deck' and the doors slid closed.
We were silent as the elevator rose, but I noticed that Michael and Antonio seemed to be having another silent conversation. To cover their behavior, I smiled warmly at the guard and was rewarded by a near leer before he looked up at the elevator display.
When the doors opened, we stepped into the T-junction of two hallways. There were two guards waiting on either side of the doors, one male, the other female, both with semi-automatic weapons. The male had his back to us, but something in his stance looked familiar to me. When he turned to motion us down the hall, I recognized him.
'The last door is where the prince awaits you.' He hesitated for a moment, looking at me, then said, 'Christina?'
'Luke,' I replied warmly, holding out my hand to him.
He took my hand and pulled me into his arms. I returned the embrace, for a moment enjoying the feel of his arms around me.
Before I'd met Jason, Luke, Estrea and I had been an inseparable trio. We would meet in Vegas at least once a week and go out gambling, or dancing, or hunting. The three of us had depended on each other and never once doubted our friendship.
At some point I had realized that Luke wanted more from me, but at the time I didn't know how to give it to him. Luke was a wonderful friend and I'd spoken to Estrea only the week before we'd gone to San Francisco about him. She'd recommended taking things one step at a time and letting nature take its course.
Then Jason had literally burst into my life and changed everything. Estrea had disappeared and Luke, after seeing me with Jason, had stopped coming to Vegas. Only now did I think about how that must have hurt him.
As I stepped back, I admired Luke's good looks. His brown eyes shone with affection and I saw that his long hair was tied back with a leather thong to fall halfway down his back.
'It is so good to see you again,' I told him honestly. 'You look good in a tux. How have you been?' A picture flashed through my mind of Luke as he'd looked at the church in San Francisco, his hair loose about his shoulders, his gun drawn.
He smiled down at me tenderly, still holding my hand. 'I've been good. Things are kind of nuts here lately, but I'M doing alright.'
>From the corner of my eye, I could see my companions waiting none to patiently for me. 'Perhaps you could fill me in a little later?'
'Yes,' he said, releasing me.
As I turned and let the others lead the way down the corridor, I could feel Luke's eyes on me as we walked away. Again I remembered our closeness in Las Vegas, but knew that now was not the time to travel down that particular memory lane; I was about to meet LA's prince.
Antonio gave our names to the guard standing outside the double doors at the end of the hall. The Gangrel opened the doors and announced us grandly.
The prince sat on a large, intricate Native American rug in the center of the room. He was dressed in elaborately beaded buckskin and was obviously Native American by birth. A woman knelt by his side wearing a similar outfit. Several other Kindred were scattered about the room dressed in formal evening attire.
Michael walked forward and addressed the prince, bowing low. Antonio followed and did likewise.
When Antonio straightened, he turned and gestured me forward. 'My prince, I would like to present my childe Christina Strong, of the Clan Tremere. She would like your permission to reside in your city for a time, and has agreed to uphold your laws and the Masquerade.'
While Antonio spoke, I grasped my skirt and gave the Prince a low curtsy. I waited for him to tell me to rise before I did so.
'You have made a fine choice, Antonio,' the Prince said in a deep gravely voice. 'She has my permission to remain in Los Angeles. Now, Christina, could you wait in the hallway while I speak to your escorts? We have business to discuss.'
'Of course, sire,' I replied and took one last look around the room. I nearly stumbled when I noticed Madelyn sitting by the wall, however I was able to regain my balance and continue out the door.
I walked down the hallway toward Luke, admiring his strong jaw and dark eyes as I did so. I also noted again that while the tuxedo he had on did his figure more justice than the jeans and tee shirt he normally wore, he didn't look comfortable in it.
'What's been up?' I asked as I stood beside him.
Luke glanced toward his companion. 'Things have been real shaky lately. The whole city is in turmoil. I suppose you heard about the murder?'
'A city councilman, murdered like that in public. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if the damned Inquisition crawled up our butts after that one.' He shook his head. 'And they should be bringing up the murderer of Madelyn's ghoul soon.'
I lowered my voice. 'Do you know anything about a Brujah that wants to be prince?'
'They all want trouble, but one that wants the crown?' He shook his head. 'Why?'
'Just trying to follow up on some information I came across,' I replied. 'How about a Countess, is there one in town?'
'I don't know of one. Why do you want to find a Countess?'
'She's lost her mineral,' I said cryptically.
I shook my head. 'Never mind, it's complicated.' I hesitated, glancing at the other guard. 'What do you know about two Talon Graves?'
'I met the other one once,' he said, glancing down the hallway. 'Saved me and Estrea both. How he got on that plane I'd like to know.'
'So there are two,' I murmured thoughtfully. ''Two Claws.''
'Yeah.' He looked at me closely. 'What are you into? You seem kinda edgy.'
'Remember 'MartÌn?'? At his blank look, I added, ?'August?'? He nodded. 'He and I were traveling together in Europe when we were separated. I believe he is being held against his will in Russia.'
'I mean to find him, and quickly, or I will not be happy,' I said firmly.
Luke shuddered deliberately. 'A 'Spooky-boo' pissed. Not something I want to see.'
'It's not somewhere I want to be,' I told him, 'But I'll find him alive or those who hold him will not be.'
I glanced back at the female standing nearby, then whispered, 'Have you seen Estrea lately?'
'Not in a while, she never came back after San Francisco.'
'Did she go back to Vegas?' I wondered aloud.
'I don't know.' He looked down the halls again, still alert to any possible trouble. 'How's things going with your father?'
I glanced away and shrugged. 'Fine, I guess. He wants me to be something I'm not and I have a hard time with that.'
He nodded. 'He wants you to be his little girl again.'
'Yes, and he has trouble dealing with the fact his 'little girl' is now a monster.'
'All fathers have to face the fact that their little girls grow up, change,' he told me not unkindly.
'But not all girls grow up to live forever and drink blood.' I chuckled softly. 'I'm sure we'll work through it, but it will take time.'
The elevator began to whine behind us and Luke took up more of a military stance, the barrel of his weapon coming up. The doors opened and a tall blond man stepped out who looked like a member of Hell's Angels. His attitude matched his attire of leather and chains. He looked around arrogantly, and I could see Luke bristle. He did not like this Brujah, whoever he was.
I noticed movement down the corridor about the same time everyone else did. Four large male Gangrel were leading a larger Kindred toward us from the right. The prisoner stood about 6' 4", with blonde hair and a body that most mortal men would die for. He had obviously been a bodybuilder before his embrace. He did not look pleased as the group stopped about twenty feet from us.
The biker Brujah looked condescendingly at the muscle bound Kindred, then glanced at me. 'Are you new in town, or just here for the barbecue?'
I looked down the hall. 'I take it that is the accused?'
He nodded. 'Should make a fine fire.'
'I thought this was America, aren't people supposed to be innocent until proven guilty?' I met the Brujah's gaze without hesitation.
'Many scumbags walk because hard evidence can't be found. I say we burn him on what we got and good riddance. Beside, we're not exactly 'people' now, are we?' He looked at me closer, then laughed harshly. 'Seen your primogen lately? Oh, I forgot, you Tremere can't keep track of your own.'
'Not my town,' I told him calmly, then gave him a cool smile. 'Besides, I hear there are a few good clan members in town quite capable of taking his place.'
'Yeah,' he agreed reluctantly, then grinned. 'There could be some changes tonight at the council meeting.' With that the biker moved toward the prince's sanctum. Luke stepped in front of him, blocking the way.
'The prince is not ready for the council members just yet, David,' Luke said, iron behind his soft spoken words. 'It shouldn't be too much longer.'
David, the Brujah, backed away stretching his muscles. 'Yeah, probably still smoking his fuckin' peace pipe,' he said contemptuously. Then he laughed. 'Yep, should be some changes tonight!'
David spun and walked toward where the bodybuilder and his guards stood. I heightened my senses, straining to overhear their conversation. I couldn't make out everything they said as most of it was in whispers, but I could tell David was trying to antagonize the young vampire. Strangely, the guards backed away and allowed David to have his fun.
'Did she taste good?' David taunted, 'Nearly as good as Madelyn? Not that you'll ever know.'
'Fuck you,' the man replied.
David laughed and said something I didn't catch. The muscle bound Kindred visibly restrained himself, then looked away.
I turned to Luke and whispered very softly, 'I think we've found the Rabble who would be prince.'
Luke immediately put a finger to his lips and gestured toward the female standing on the other side of the elevator doors. As David walked back toward us, those doors slid open.
A dark-haired Kindred seeming to be in his mid thirties stepped out dressed in a 1930'S style pinstriped suit. He flicked the cigarette he was smoking to the ground at David's feet as he approached.
'Put that out for me, boy,' the newcomer said dismissively.
'Don't tempt fate,' David growled, ignoring the cigarette smoldering at his feet.
'I wouldn't dream of it,' the other Kindred said in an accent that could only be from the south side of Chicago. 'Last time I tempted fate, look what happened.' He threw his arms wide, then pulled out a silver cigarette case and drew one out to smoke. He took a book of matches from his pocket and lit the cigarette with one, flinging the match beside the butt at David's feet.
Then he looked at Luke, snapping his fingers. 'Don't I know you, boy? Yes, I do. Luke, right?'
'That's right, Vinney,' Luke replied. 'How ya doin?'?
'Just fine,' Vinney said. 'Lookin' for new deals. I'm sick to death of this city, all the tension.'
Luke smiled. 'Maybe we should find a new city.'
'Yeah, that's it,' Vinney replied. 'Ya know, California is gonna fall off soon anyways. We should buy land in Utah, and then we'll have ocean front property. Open a few casinos, make some money, it could be like the old days!'
'Yeah, Vinney, sounds good,' Luke told him.
'Know any Ventrue that could make it happen?'
'I know one who might be able to.'
'Good, good.' Then Vinney seemed to see the prisoner for the first time and walked down the hall toward him.
I turned to see David standing close to the female guard and talking to her. She was watching him closely as he spoke. With my senses still peaked I could detect a glow of love around her. She's in love with him, I thought to myself. David's aura was harder to read, with shifting colors and patterns. I got the impression he was very vindictive.
'I didn't kill her,' I heard the bodybuilder protest, 'I was attacked and when I woke up she was dead.'
Vinney flicked the ash from his cigarette. 'Funny how there was no sign of a struggle when the prince's people arrived. Pity you didn't see who attacked you.'
'I did see him, we fought for some time,' the prisoner replied. 'I would know him if I saw him again.'
Just then, Michael and Antonio stepped out of the prince's chambers. They came down the hall toward me, looking closely at David.
'Look,' David growled, 'Its Dumb and Dumber.'
Antonio walked up to close David, sniffing the air.
'That smell,' Michael drawled to David, 'is urine on your front porch. There's a bigger dog in town.'
David merely smiled as if he knew something Michael didn't.
'I'll be sitting in on the council meeting,' Antonio said loudly. Then softer, he said to me, 'You go with Michael.'
I nodded and asked Luke if we could talk more a little later. He agreed and I pushed the elevator button. When the doors opened Michael and I stepped inside.
A Helping Hand
I'm your eyes while you're away
I'm your pain while you repay
Sad But True - Metallica
I looked around the interior of the elevator, noting the guard was the same one that had seen us up. It seemed like I noticed everything in the tiny room, as I hadn't yet relaxed my senses.
About half way down to the main floor, the elevator ground to a stop as it lost power. Michael put a hand on my shoulder and pushed me behind him and into the corner. I could feel more than hear him pull his gun as I put a hand inside my purse to switch the safety off on Jason's Glock.
Suddenly I felt a hand cover mine inside my purse and I quickly switched the safety back on. Then the hand, withered and twisted, pulled mine from the bag. I could feel another hand place something, a piece of paper maybe, in my palm, then both hands departed. I put my hand back in my purse as the lights came on again and we moved downward again.
I looked around intently. The guard was in the opposite corner from Michael and I, his gun drawn. Michael stood in front of me where he slowly holstered his weapon. No one else was in the elevator.
I looked up to the trap door. The latch, while closed, was in a slightly different position. I smiled grimly.
As Michael and I left the elevator, I told him I needed to powder my nose. He asked one of the guards for directions to the private areas. The guard gave them to us, also informing us there were rooms we could feed in if the need arose. I told Michael I would catch up to him a little later.
As I walked across the floor, I began identifying members of one clan here, another there. Tremere, Ventrue, Malkavian, Toreador, Brujah, Gangrel; every Camarilla clan seemed to be in attendance. A few I couldn't pinpoint the clan on, and I assumed most were Nosferatu using their Obfuscate abilities to appear normal. Nosferatu generally are hideously deformed.
I walked through a door and down a deserted hallway, still alert to everything around me. I found an empty room and surveyed it quickly for any scanning devices or cameras, but saw none. I opened my purse and looked inside.
I unfolded the paper while it was still in my purse and a key lay inside - an ordinary house key as far as I could tell. I moved the key and read 'Be careful, stick to the shadows.' I pulled the paper from my purse and turned it over. Across the words 'Best Tasting Popcorn' was written an address. I tucked the key back into the note and placed both between my breasts for safekeeping. Then I powdered my nose and touched up my lipstick before leaving the room.
As I started down the hall, I heard Luke call my name. I turned in his direction and we met outside the room I'd been in. He took my hand and led me back inside.
'What's going on?' he demanded, 'No bullshit.'
I pulled my hand slowly from his and warned him that it might take a few minutes to explain. When he nodded, I began twisting the ring around my finger. 'I was traveling through Italy with 'MartÌn' and we were visiting the place he was raised when he was taken prisoner by some... thing.'
'Thing? Kindred?' Luke glanced at my hands, but didn't comment on the ring.
'No, I don't think so. Mage perhaps. He was out in the sunlight. Of course, so was I-'
Luke's eyes widened.
?'but that had to do with the cloak. I was led away by some Italian guy, and then I couldn't find my way back to the monastery. And I got lost and ran into werewolves?'
'Yes, and it was hairy, if you'll pardon the pun. Then I ended up with Lena and we found out that 'MartÌn' is being held in Russia.'
'He doesn't seem the type to be held for long, babe,' Luke said thoughtfully. He almost always called me 'babe' unless he was being very serious or something was wrong.
'The last time I saw him he was spread eagle on an altar, magical bonds holding him down while he screamed in agony,' I told him, and there was agony in my voice as well. Blood tears welled in my eyes and I blinked them away ruthlessly. I didn't want to cry in front of Luke but he must have seen my tears. He put a hand on my shoulder to comfort me. After a moment, I turned and walked a few feet away to continue my story.
I told him about the toilet paper clues. He agreed that first two clues pointed towards LA and Graves. We also agreed that the Brujah it referred to was probably David.
'A childe rising up against a Sire,' Luke murmured. 'Could that be the Gangrel primogen rising up against the prince? He's very tight with the Brujah, in fact, the primogen just dismissed every Gangrel from the security team that did not support the Brujah.'
'Very interesting,' I replied.
We discussed the other clues, but could come up with nothing substantial.
'Lena and I thought if we could get to Madelyn, she may be the siren. It was her tour that Jason had been tracking. She may know what some of the clues mean.' I put a hand to my temple. 'I have to find him, Luke. He saved my life so many times, I can't let him die like this.'
Luke looked at me closely. 'If you want, I'll help you. I'd like to get away for a while anyway, this town is going down fast.'
'Luke,' I said suddenly, 'do you think David might be planning something for tonight?'
'What do you mean?'
'Well, he sounded as if changes were going to be made tonight, big changes. And they dismissed the guards that don't like the Brujah....' I glanced at my watch. 'Let's find Michael, he may be able to put a stop to it.'
We went out onto the main floor and after a few minutes, we found Michael in a group of Ventrue, Michael's clan. We joined them after Michael motioned us forward.
He introduced us around, and while Luke was talking to one of them about ocean front property in Utah, I placed a hand lightly on Michael's arm.
'May I speak with you for a moment?'
He excused us and we stepped aside. I explained everything Luke and I had discussed regarding the clues on the toilet paper, then I told him how the primogen had selectively dismissed some of the guards. Michael's head went up at that and he looked toward the Observation Deck for a long moment.
'If something goes on up there, I'll know it,' he told me. 'But there is no point in being unprepared. And Antonio is in that council meeting.'
'He is but one against many,' I implored. 'I don't want anything to happen to him.'
'I will prepare safeguards,' Michael replied, gesturing to a large Ventrue who was smoking a cigar.
'Yeah, Boss,' the big guy said as he joined us.
Michael slapped the man on the shoulder in greeting. 'I told you not to call me that in public, Bob.'
Bob was chagrined. 'Oh, yeah, sorry. What can I do ya for?'
'I need you to get some of our people together and go up to the top floor. Wait for my signal, there may be trouble tonight. And stay out of sight.'
'Sure boss, I mean Michael. No problem.' Bob clenched the cigar between his teeth and started for the exit. As he turned, I caught sight of a small listening device in his ear. I watched as others from the crowd began to follow him, some having been given no obvious signal.
'Michael.' I felt someone brush against my arm and turned to see Luke at my side. 'It's good to see you again.' The two men shook hands.
'I'M glad to see you too,' Michael replied.
'If trouble starts and you need me, just call.'
'Excuse me for a moment,' I said, stepping away and pulling out my cell phone. I dialed the hotel and asked for the suite.
Lena seemed relieved to hear my voice. 'Christina, what's going on?'
'Not a whole lot yet,' I told her. 'Big party, big Brujah with big plans, princes with cemetery names, you know, same ol? same ol?. Listen, Lena, can you describe Talon for me?'
'Yes,' she said, 'tall, blond hair, beard and mustache, a blue jeans and tee shirt kinda guy. Why?'
'No, definitely white. Why?'
'Well, the prince of LA is not your Talon,' I told her softly.
'Oh.' Lena sounded like the wind had been taken from her sails.
'We'll find him,' I promised her. 'I have a friend here who saw him a couple of months ago. Graves saved his life. And I know that he was alive just over a week ago because Jason spoke with him. We'll find Graves and we'll find Jason. I have to go, I'll keep you posted.'
I placed my telephone back in the purse and returned to where Luke and Michael were. 'Michael, do you have things covered here?' When he nodded, I turned to Luke. 'Can you leave?'
'Yeah, I've been dismissed for the evening.'
'Got a car?' I asked him.
Michael gestured to a blonde female Ventrue wearing a soft blue gown that stood nearby. He introduced her as Anna, then asked her if we could use her car.
'Of course, Michael,' she said with an expression close to worship in her eyes as she looked at him. 'Follow me,' she told Luke and I.
'Call me if you need me,' I told Michael.
As we turned and followed Anna outside, Luke put his hand in the small of my back. Moving through the crowd, I was able to break the contact without being too obvious about it. Sadly, I remembered when I'd welcomed Luke's touch, but now things were different.
Jason wasn't even in LA, but he still stood between Luke and me.
'We are happy to have Michael with us again,' Anna said as we waited for the valet to bring her car around. 'Although Belinda doesn't seem to be as pleased as the rest of us to have him back. They did share a haven for some time when he lived here last.'
'Really,' I said, interested.
'Yes. They don't now of course, and that makes all of us wonder about his status here. Are you close to him?'
I chose my words carefully. 'Well, Antonio, the Tremere who took Michael in some time ago? He is my sire.'
'So he's practically family then,' she said, smiling at me.
'Yes, he's nearly a brother to me.' I said nearly because I really didn't know Michael that well.
'Then you would know if he were still seeing that girl, Brenda, that he used to go with?'
'I don't think they are seeing each other right now,' I replied cautiously.
Anna was obviously pleased. 'Good.'
I watched her closely as I said, 'Actually, Brenda is now my sister. Antonio embraced her recently and she is studying in Massachusetts.'
'Oh,' she said her face a carefully blank mask as a Jaguar pulled up to the curb in front of us. 'Oh, here's the car. Who is going to drive?'
'I am,' I told her, 'As long as Luke can direct me.' Anna seemed relieved.
I thanked her as we got inside.
'Where are we going, babe?' Luke asked as we pulled away.
I pulled the note and key from my cleavage. 'Here.'
Look read the note and whistled softly. 'Ritzy.'
Luke directed me and after a few miles, we entered an elite neighborhood. I drove slowly and soon we found the address; a very ornate wrought iron fence with police tape across it spanned the drive. I drove down the street about a hundred yards and pulled off the road.
We walked back and as we approached the gate, flood lights and security cameras focused on us. We meandered past the drive and when we were out of sight of the cameras we started looking for a place to climb the tall fence.
We found a likely area within a few minutes. I wrapped my skirt around my waist just before Luke boosted me up. I carefully raised myself over the razor wire at the top and lowered myself to the ground. Luke failed on his first attempt to climb the fence, but made it on the second, only slightly tearing his pant leg at the top.
We walked quietly toward the house, watching for security devices or anything else that would give our presence away. As we circled the huge building, we found a large patio and pool at the rear. A massive garage stood to the right of the house with two large garage doors and a side entrance. I tried to approach the garage, but a motion detector set off floodlights. I backed quickly into the darkness beside Luke.
'We should go now,' he whispered, touching my arm, 'Just walk up to the house.'
'We're supposed to be staying in the shadows,' I whispered back.
'We look more suspicious hiding like this,' he hissed. I nodded reluctantly.
We strolled up to the back door as if we belonged there. I scanned the area by the door but could find no signs of an alarm system. Crossing my fingers I placed the key in the lock and turned it. The door swung open, and I could see a small red light flashing opposite of the door.
'Shit,' I said. 'Hurry, give me a number.'
Try the house number, I heard. It was only after I entered the house number into the keypad and the red light changed to green that I realized it hadn't been Luke's voice I had heard.
Luke shut the door behind us and very little light shone inside the house. We could see we were in a pantry area with a closed door in front of us. Beside me, I could see Luke's eyes begin to glow red as he used his improved night vision to scan the room.
We walked through the lower level of the house. Luke handed me a lighter that allowed me to do some searching, although for the most part he could still see better than I could. I made a mental note to ask Luke to show me that trick.
In the music room, Luke handed me a compact disc case that, when opened, revealed a rose encased in clear acrylic. 'Toreador clan,' he said as he pocketed the case.
We headed up the stairway only to find Police tape strung across it half way up. I struck the lighter, revealing a white outline on the stairs. From the outline, we gathered that the body had landed head down. Bloodstains were everywhere.
'Do you see anything?' I asked Luke.
'I'll take a look,' he replied.
While he searched the large hallway, I began looking closer at the stains. I gathered bits of the dried blood and 'tasted? them. After a time, I was able to come to several conclusions. The blood was from two different Kindred. There was no mortal blood in the room. The first Kindred was ninth generation and had fed recently. However, it was the other Kindred I found interesting.
The second Kindred had also fed recently. I was unable to determine the generation, but he or she had fed enough human blood to kill. In addition, I was able to sense that the prior feeding had been from wild blood, probably an animal. It also seemed that the Kindred had expended many blood points between the two feedings, perhaps pumping up for a battle, perhaps healing.
I could not determine the clan of either Kindred.
I walked over to where Luke was searching the floor. 'Do you think we should return to the Coliseum or continue searching?' I asked.
He held up something small and glinting to the lighter flame. 'Look at this.' I looked closely to see an earring, a cross with points like daggers. In the center of the cross was a skull with the cross points emanating out of it. It was the sort of earring worn by a man usually, more specifically by the male Gangrel and Brujah clan members in LA.
'Do you know who this belongs to?'
He shook his head. 'It looks familiar to me, but I can't place it. Let's keep looking for a few more minutes, then head back.'
We went through the remaining rooms. We found the Master bedroom with a connecting door to another bedroom that must have belonged to the bodybuilder given all the weightlifting equipment inside.
I began to go through his things carefully. In a varsity jacket's pockets, I found several two-and-a-half-pound weights and as I pulled them out, I noticed one of them had a dark spot. It looked as if someone had been struck with it as it had blood and hair clotted on it. There was not enough blood for me to make any kind of identification.
I looked through a duffel bag to find changes of clothing, a body-building poster and a small tool case. Also inside was a policeman's badge from Newark, New Jersey. Slowly I opened the case to reveal small metal darts, suitable for throwing. I put the case in my jacket pocket.
As we headed down the stairs to leave, my cell phone rang. It was Lena.
'Christina, where are you?' She sounded shaken.
'At Madelyn's house. Are you okay?'
'Have you found things there?' she asked urgently. 'Things you need more information about?'
I hesitated. How could she have known? 'Yes.'
'You must bring them to me,' she said strongly. 'Now.'
'All right,' I said, not understanding her urgency. 'We'll be there shortly.'
'Who was that?' Luke asked as we walked to the pantry door and I reset the alarm.
'The mortal I told you about, Lena.' I locked the door and we moved to the fence, keeping to the shadows. 'She wants us to bring her the things we found.'
Within fifteen minutes we were at the hotel. I opened the door to our suite and saw Lena standing within, waiting impatiently. She looked shaken.
'What's going on?' I asked, concerned about her behavior. 'What's wrong?'
'Have you brought them?'
'Yes. Lena, this is Luke, a very good friend of mine. Luke, this is Lena. She's a... friend.'
'Give them to me,' Lena demanded, 'One at a time. And be silent?
Luke looked at me strangely, seeming to say with his eyes, She's a friend?
Slowly I handed her the jacket. She took it gingerly and sat down, closing her eyes. After a moment, she said, 'This belongs to a young man, blonde, very muscular.'
'Yes,' I confirmed.
She held the jacket for a moment, then folded it carefully and set it aside. 'What else?'
Luke pulled the earring from his pocket and handed it to Lena. She closed her eyes again.
A moment later she jerked as if slapped. 'I see a man wearing this earring. He is choking a woman and she is fighting to push him away. She is dying.'
'Lena, what do they look like?' I asked gently.
'She looks... like Madelyn, the singer.' I glanced at Luke as she continued. 'I can't see him very well, only his ear and that he has long dark wavy hair.' She handed the earring back to Luke and shuddered.
I pulled out the bloodstained weight and gave it to her. She took it from me and closed her eyes, but opened them after only a moment.
'Violence was done with this, I can see nothing more.'
'Lena, can you get information from locations? Say a house?' Luke asked.
'We should go back to the house,' Luke said to me, 'she may be able to gather more information.'
I nodded. 'Let me make a quick phone call. I hope we can get this straightened out tonight, I need to get back to Europe.'
The phone rang several times, then clicked and rang again. A woman's voice answered.
'Michael Moorecock's phone, may I help you?'
'I need to speak to Michael right away,' I said.
'I'm sorry, he's in a meeting with the board of directors. Can I have him call you?'
I thought I recognized the voice. 'Anna?'
'Yes, who is this?'
'Christina. I need to speak to Michael, it's urgent.'
She hesitated. 'He went up to the council meeting with Robert.'
I muttered obscenities. 'Anna, I will be there very soon. I'Ll need to speak to Michael, Antonio, or Bob when I get there. Can you try to find one of them for me?'
'I'll be careful with your car.'
'If speed is needed, it is fully insured,' she assured me.
I thanked her and rang off. I looked at Lena. 'Do you have a problem with Luke taking you to the house? Things are going down and I need to get back to the Coliseum.'
'No problem,' she said, but she looked at Luke uncertainly.
As she turned to get her things, I looked pointedly at Luke and handed him the key. 'Take great care with her,' I said sternly, 'I have sworn her safety.'
He bowed slightly. 'Of course.' As I turned to the door, he reached out and grabbed my hand, asking, 'What if we find something?'
'Bring it to the Coliseum,' I said then broke contact with him, moving quickly down the corridor and out to the car.
Don't feed me sorrow
Pain is a poison I digest
Where the River Flows - Collective Soul
At the curb, I jumped into the Jaguar and drove toward the Coliseum. I drove quickly and I suppose it was inevitable that a police car began to follow, lights flashing. Cursing softly to myself, I continued on, driving even faster as I knew did not have time to stop.
I didn't see the truck pulling out ahead of me until it was too late. I swerved to avoid it and the car skidded dangerously. I lost control and the car rolled sickeningly, then landing upright against an embankment. For a time I was stunned.
Eventually I realized I was still in the car, pinned beneath the collapsed steering wheel and dash. I could barely move, and blood trickled from a cut above my eye. I rolled my head to the left and watched a tall blond police officer walk to the car.
'Just stay still, ma'am,' he said soothingly. 'We'll get you out soon.'
I looked up at him half dazed. 'Closer,' I whispered.
He leaned closer to the car, but not quite close enough.
'Closer,' I said softly. He leaned in and put his ear to my mouth. Making a great effort of willpower, I strained forward and clamped my fangs into his neck. Quickly I drank from him. As I heard another officer approach, I licked the wound, pulled back a little and looked into his eyes. 'Forget.'
'Don't move, ma'am,' he said soothingly. 'We'll get you out soon.'
While the officer tried to get me to answer questions, I used the blood I'd taken to heal myself. I was still wounded, but I could at least function again. Then I used more blood to increase my strength.
I pushed at the wreckage, trying to move it enough to escape but to no avail. The dash moved only marginally, and a second attempt had no effect at all. The ring on my finger glittered in the lights of passing cars, taunting me for my failure.
'Stay still,' the officer said, ?you are hurt badly, don't try to move.'
I rolled my head back and moaned, trying desperately to find a way out. The policeman'S blood was not enough to sustain me; I had lost and spent too much blood. I felt consciousness sliding away and fought ruthlessly to keep it. I must find a way, I thought. I must get out of the car I must get to Michael and Antonio and the Siren and I have to save Jason....
Within moments, the battle was lost. Jason....
...I opened my eyes to see that everything was bright and hazy, as if a fog covered the land. I stood on a mountainside and the landscape as far as I could see was rocky and desolate. The mountain's peak rose from the fog, allowing me to identify it as Mt. Helena, Montana.
As I looked to the right, I saw the outcropping called Eagle's Point. But that can't be right, I thought, Eagle's Point was destroyed when?
'Tina,' a voice said aloud. It was the voice that I had often heard in my dreams over the last five years.
I turned to see a tall handsome man with dark wavy hair and a beard walking toward me through the fog. As he got closer, I could see that his eyes were green.
'Who are you,' I demanded, but somehow I felt I should know.
'You must survive, 'Tina,' he told me in a soft, familiar voice.
'What are you talking about?'
'The car,' he said, waiving a hand to the left. A hole opened in the fog to reveal the wreck of the Jaguar and my unconscious body slumped behind the wheel. 'You must survive.'
'Why do you care?' I turned back to him and blinked in surprise when I realized he was standing very close to me.
He raised a hand to caress my face. 'I care.'
'Who are you,' I asked softly, unable to move away from his touch.
'Go back,' he whispered, 'save him.'
My eyes widened. 'How do you know these things?'
'I know much about you, 'Tina,' he said, smiling.
The bracelet on my wrist seemed to grow warm as the fog rose and swallowed us. Soon I could see nothing but the man before me. Dimly I realized that he had a small scar on his neck, just under his ear.
'Go back,' he whispered as the fog began to claim him.
'Wait,' I pleaded, 'at least tell me your name!'
'You know my name,' he said as he faded completely away.
And suddenly I did.
'Robert!' I screamed as the fog embraced me.
I awoke slowly in a swaying darkness. I felt strong arms around me and my face rested against a hard male chest. I smiled, for a moment thinking it was Jason holding me so tenderly. Then I remembered that Jason was missing.
I inhaled the musky aroma of the man and knew it was Luke who held me, protected me in the darkness. I pulled away from him as much as I could in the cramped quarters and noticed we seemed to be moving at a high rate of speed.
'Where am I?' I whispered.
'In the trunk of a sedan,' a voice I recognized as Lena's answered.
'Babe, do you need...?' Luke asked softly in my ear.
I felt weak and dizzy and knew I was precariously low on blood. 'Yes,' I whispered to him.
Luke pulled me back toward his body until my lips were against the skin of his neck. With some reluctance, I bit into him and as I drank I used some of his blood to complete the healing process. His blood was thick and rich, better than the human blood we Kindred normally feed on. I relished the taste of him in my mouth even as I longed for the taste of Jason's blood.
When I was finished, I licked the wound on his neck closed and rested my cheek on his chest. 'What's going on?' I asked.
Lena answered. 'We're on our way to the Coliseum.'
'How did you get me out of the car?'
Luke's chest rumbled beneath my cheek as he laughed. 'Can't you see we're paramedics?'
'As I don't have your night vision, I can't see anything. How long before we arrive?' I shifted a little to reach my left hand with my right and began to twist my ring nervously in the darkness.
'How long before we arrive?' I heard Lena ask. 'Three minutes,' she said to me.
'Who are you talking to?'
'Burkoff, a friend of Michael's.'
I had heard the name before. 'What happened at the house?'
'It was very disturbing,' Lena told me. 'I saw a man and a woman fighting, teeth extended. He told her that her usefulness was over and when she asked why, he snapped her neck. There was blood everywhere.' I could feel her shudder delicately. 'It was most disturbing.'
The car rocked to a stop and the trunk popped open. Luke reluctantly released me then climbed out quickly, helping first me then Lena out. I could see two men coming from the front of the car and Anna near the Coliseum doors. I nodded at the two men and walked toward Anna.
'Stay close to me,' I heard one of the men tell Lena. 'Are you armed? Can you handle a weapon?'
'Yes,' she replied.
'Are you all right, Christina?' Luke asked me, walking at my side and placing a hand in the small of my back.
'I'm fine,' I replied, glancing up at him and attempting to smile. Oddly, I had forgotten how handsome Luke actually was.
When we reached Anna's side, I said apologetically to her, 'I am so sorry about the car.'
'I understand,' she told me, looking at my torn and bloody dress. 'This just gives me an excuse to buy another.'
'Perhaps I could help?'
'You do seem to need some shopping done,' she said smiling. 'We could also look for a car.'
'Of course,' I said, returning her smile briefly.
'We're wasting time,' Luke said gruffly. 'Let's go.'
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