Chapter 1: Ash and Smoke
Evie was more than aware that she stunk even without the disgusted glances of the Kine she passed as she climbed aboard the train. She could feel the grimy coating of grease and ash covering her from head to toe, and the bone-deep aching that made her not really give a fuck what anyone around her thought right now. She just kept her hood up and her eyes fixed on the window, ignoring everything else around her.
She’d made a choice when she faced Lacroix alone. No factions, no protection. Just herself. She remembered sitting in the back of that taxi, recalling her conversation with Rosa all those weeks ago.
“Who can I trust?” she’d asked.
“The Man on the Couch, the Lone Wolf. All others, tread carefully,” was the reply.
The Lone Wolf could only be Beckett, seeing as he was the only independent vampire Evie had met in LA. He had advised she also take the path of independence, but only after the Sarcophagus situation was resolved. She wondered if his advice would have changed if he’d been there in that cab with her. If he would have just told her to flee LA and hide out someplace far away until things blew over. Somehow she couldn’t imagine that he’d endorse throwing herself at Xiao and Lacroix with not a single ally on her side.
All she knew was that anyone who wasn’t Beckett or Mercurio couldn’t be trusted. There were no factions she could depend on to repeal the Blood Hunt once Lacroix was dead. Strauss, Therese, the Anarchs… To them she was a pawn, a weapon, or a threat. Maybe all three. And she had no interest in being any of those things.
So here she was, on the first train out of LA to literally anywhere else with only a small rucksack filled with her meagre belongings and whatever money she had left. It wasn’t much but it wasn’t like she’d ever had much to begin with; just a few scraps of sentimental value, a couple of weapons, and the clothes on her back.
She supposed it could be worse. Not by much, but she’d take what she could get.
“Is this seat taken?”
Evie flinched and looked up to see none other than Beckett standing over her, brow arched over his sunglasses, and a surprisingly fond (if not a little amused) look on his face.
“Not at all,” she replied as she moved her rucksack under her seat, allowing Beckett to sit down. “What are you doing here? I thought you’d already left LA.”
He settled himself into his seat and deposited his own bag between his feet before he answered.
“I much prefer to travel by Protean form, but daybreak isn’t far off and I’d rather not wait till nightfall to leave. Much as Los Angeles has grown on me-” His voice was dripping with sarcasm as usual. “-I realise it may not be wise for me to remain in the wake of a Prince’s death. The Camarilla will certainly be investigating and I hate being questioned about such things.”
Evie nodded. It was a smart way to look at it. She hadn’t really put as much thought into leaving the city, even if it was really the only choice she had. She just wanted out.
For a long while neither Kindred said anything to the other. Beckett sat with a book in his lap - it would be a while before Evie realised it was the one she had procured for him via Knox - and she just watched the world going by outside the window.
“So, where exactly were you planning to go?”
She found herself pulled back into reality and turned to Beckett who hadn’t looked up from his book. If he hadn’t said anything more she might have just thought she’d imagined it.
“Well you’re clearly leaving the city. I trust you have a plan?”
That smug edge and the curl of his lip told her that he definitely did not think she had a plan, or else he wouldn’t be asking in the first place. She frowned.
“Why do you care?”
“Oh, I don’t. I was just making conversation. And you’ve always had so many questions for me, it feels fair I ask a few of you.”
“Yeah, and I told you back at Lacroix’s place that that’s the pin on a grenade that you don’t wanna pull,” she muttered, turning back to the window.
It earned her a cuff on the ear.
She yelped, clapped her hand over her ear and swivelled in her seat back towards Beckett who was keeping his gaze on his book but looked far too pleased with himself. She wondered if he actually was reading at all or was using it as a pretence to mess with her.
“What was that for?” she snapped, glowering at him.
“You may be Autarkis now, but that’s no excuse not to mind your elders, Young One,” he said dryly.
“Autarkis. A Kindred who does not associate themselves with a sect, and does not swear fealty to any Prince, Bishop, or otherwise,” he explained flatly. “You all but declared yourself as such when you went up against Lacroix alone.”
“So you’re Autarkis?”
She said the word slowly, getting a feel for it. It reminded her how little she really knew about the world she now lived in. She’d hit the ground running without anyone to explain any of these things to her, and every time a new word popped up she found herself feeling more lost than ever.
“I realised early in my unlife that the politicking of the factions wasn’t for me. The decision to go independent was a simple one.”
“And it didn’t bother your sire?”
He just chuckled.
“Sometimes I forget how remarkably little you know. Gangrel sires are not the most reliant. In fact, your introduction to our world was, as your generation might say, ‘dumbed down’ compared to most Gangrel fledglings.”
“What do you mean?”
He closed sighed and closed his book, as if taking the time to explain was inconvenient somehow. But it was so exaggerated that there was no way it was entirely genuine. In fact she got the sense that part of him enjoyed imparting information to someone willing to listen.
“Ordinarily a Gangrel sire will abandon their childe shortly after the Embrace. Those that survive prove themselves worthy of the time and effort required to train them. And those that perish have saved the sire the trouble of investing any time in them. In other words, even if your sire had received Sebastian’s permission to Embrace you, you would have had to work out the basics by yourself anyway.”
“Are you kidding me?!”
“Not at all. Are you still surprised that I don’t care to associate with our clan on the whole?” he asked flatly, arching a brow.
There was a pause as Evie took in that information, and then tentatively asked, “so your sire abandoned you?”
“That’s correct. As your’s would have if he had fled before the Camarilla found you.”
“Is there a reason you keep turning the topic back to me, or am I just that fascinating to you?” she deadpanned, raising a brow.
“For all you know of me, I still know almost nothing about you beyond your general cluelessness,” he pointed out. “Is it wrong that I be a little curious?”
“I don’t know anything about you except that you study Kindred lore, you think Gehenna is a load of crap, and you’re independent. That’s not exactly knowing you, Beckett.”
“It’s still more than I know about you,” he said calmly. “I only know that you were Embraced without Sebastian’s permission, and that you have as many questions as any Fledgling in your position would. Oh, and you’re independent now too.”
“Well then we each know three things about each other. And none of those things are actually about each other.”
Beckett conceded with a tilt of his head.
“That’s a fair point. And while you’ve at least proven you know how to count-”
“-we have a long journey ahead of us, don’t we? Perhaps we should get to know each other better.”
Her frown deepened.
“Why do you care?”
“I told you, I don’t,” he said flatly. “But it’s a long journey east. We might as well have something to talk about.”
She paused, still wondering what exactly was going on in that head of his. He kept insisting he didn’t actually care, yet he’d taken the time to warn her not to open the Sarcophagus and believed she deserved a chance to escape whatever the consequences were. If he didn’t care then why take the time to do so when he could have been putting distance between himself and the Sarcophagus?
But he was right about the long trip. And how often did another Kindred actually take an interest in her beyond her usefulness?
“Okay. So where are you from?”
“Twenty questions, is it? Very well. I’m from Oxford myself. And you?”
“Well then we’re both a long way from home, aren’t we,” he chuckled. “How did you come to be in LA in the first place?”
“Hey, I didn’t get to ask you another question yet,” she said, shaking her head. “That’s not how the game works. What’s your favourite place that you’ve been to?”
And so they talked, taking it in turns to fire their questions back and forth as the journey went on. Fortunately Evie had found an empty train car so no one was around to hear some of the decidedly less mortal questions.
Surprisingly the next couple of hours went by without Evie really noticing. Partly because every now and then Beckett got caught up in an answer that led onto a tangential story about his adventures over the years which ended up with her hanging on his every word as he described terrible dangers, thrilling escapes, and the many things he’d learned. He seemed pleased to have a genuinely interested audience for once. Especially when she had questions that let him explain things in further detail. And sometimes just questions about some of the more incredulous things he’d done - or what she thought was incredulous anyway.
“You were really wanted dead in London because you got into a fight over some ancient text?” she exclaimed.
“Not because I got into a fight, but because I killed those I was fighting.” He shrugged. “For all I know the Camarilla there may still want me dead. I haven’t checked back in a while. But now it’s my turn to ask a question. And it’s not one you have to answer if you don’t want to.”
He gave her an unusually serious look.
“How exactly did your Sire come to Embrace you?”
She froze, her whole body locking up and she physically felt the colour draining from her face. Only a few seconds later did she find that she was having to fight down the need to throw up.
“Beckett. Grenade,” she said in a very strained voice.
“I know. We Gangrel certainly have one of the most traumatic Embraces of all. It is an experience few survive.” She felt his hand settle on her shoulder, and despite the fact he was as dead as she was, the presence was warm and comforting. “It is intended to measure a person’s instinct to fight back and their will to live, and so is incredibly brutal. And you are very young. If you’d rather not talk about it, then that is fine. I will ask a different question.”
She shook her head and sniffed, all too aware she now had blood dripping from her eyes. One of the more shocking revelations she’d had the first time she’d cried after her Embrace. She was still getting used to it.
“I… I need to tell someone,” she said thickly as she tried to wipe the blood from her face. “I mean, you’re the only one who ever bothered to ask, so why not?”
Beckett offered her a handkerchief which she took gratefully and began to try and wipe the worst of the blood from her face. If a mortal were to walk in now and find her weeping blood, they’d have a whole new problem. Best to get it under control.
“I’d been out with my friends for my birthday. They weren’t underage like me, so they were able to sneak me into this club in Hollywood. We had been hanging out and drinking and dancing for a few hours when they went to go get some more drinks. While they were gone this. This guy came over. He started getting real creepy, so I told him to fuck off. He wouldn’t just leave me alone though and it started getting way too scary so I pulled out a knife and stabbed him in the hand. A bouncer came over, took my knife, and threw me out when I couldn’t prove I was of age.
“I didn’t want Sam and the others to know I’d fucked up, so I tried to sneak back in by breaking in the back. I was trying to pick the lock on the back door when the creepy guy suddenly grabbed me from behind and-”
She had to stop, to catch her breath and steel herself as she found herself back in that moment.
She could feel the phantom claws sinking into her sides and ripping her away from the door. She felt herself being thrown to the ground, her skin splitting open wider upon impact as wet blood began soaking into her clothes. The stranger hunched over her neck, fangs digging in deep and clawed hands pinning her to the ground as she struggled in vain to keep her neck from being torn open.
It was a blur and yet it was somehow crystal clear in her mind. The adrenaline racing through her veins as fear overtook her. Her feet kicking his chest, at his groin, at any part of him she could reach even as her strength failed her and the world began to fade away. She remembered dying in the worst way possible, helpless and afraid, an exhausted bleat for help, for her friends, for anyone to find her, dying in her throat as the darkness overcame her.
“It was the worst kind of pain I’d ever felt. I was scared. I was dying. I wanted it to stop. I tried so hard to get away from him. I wanted to scream for Sam to come help me but I ended up blacking out instead. When I came to… I was. I was lying on a bed in some shitty apartment. And he was just. Sitting there. All pleased with himself and shit, waiting for me to wake up. For a second I thought he’d. That he’d-”
She felt his hand settle on her shoulder reassuringly as a fresh sob wracked her body and more bloody tears rolled down her face. The handkerchief was gently pried from her hands as Beckett dabbed at the tears himself.
“You don’t need to finish,” he said with a surprising gentleness that was a far cry from his usual sarcasm.
“No. No, I do,” she insisted, swallowing. “He just sat there, waiting for me to wake up. He was about to say something before the Camarilla burst in, staked us both, and dragged us to the theatre for that trial. And when they executed him… It felt good . I was so scared, I had no clue what was happening or what had been done to me, but nothing was more satisfying than seeing him get what he had coming for what he did to me.”
A chilling silence settled over the train car as she said that and Beckett stared at her, for once at a loss for words. He probably regretted asking in the first place, even if she couldn’t begin to hazard a guess as to why he’d ask that question specifically.
No one wanted to hear about one of the most harrowing experiences of her life or see her falling to pieces over it. Especially not Beckett. He had more important things to be thinking about than her tragedies.
She felt pathetic, even as he cautiously, and a little awkwardly, placed an arm around her shoulders. She didn’t resist, just let herself lean into him. When was the last time someone had willingly given her comfort like this? She couldn’t remember.
“Sorry,” she croaked. “Being stupid.”
“No. You’re not.”
His voice was firm. Still no trace of his usual sarcasm or sardonic tones, just that absolute firm certainty that she was sure she’d not heard before. He didn’t withdraw. Not even when Evie drew back, wiping her eyes and nose as they dripped blood.
“Sorry,” she repeated.
“Don’t be. This is a perfectly reasonable response,” he said. “Every Gangrel has gone through what you experienced, and none are left completely unaffected by it.”
“Not even you?”
“Not even me.”
More silence. Beckett’s hand was still on her shoulder, so she cautiously leaned back into him. He didn’t say anything or reprimand her, which she took as silent permission. She’d not realised her Embrace was typical for a Gangrel, and she wondered how it had changed Beckett. What had he been like before he was changed? Was he always full of snark and cynicism, or had that come later? Like a defense mechanism.
She wanted to ask, but they were verging on daybreak and she was exhausted. Her whole body suddenly felt heavy and she was struggling to keep her eyes open.
“Get some sleep,” Beckett said gently. “We can talk some more tonight.”
She nodded sleepily and rested her head against his shoulder, let her eyes slide shut, and in an instant she was out like a light.
At that same moment a Ventrue by the name of Roy rose from the day sleep as he did every night. He stepped out of bed and dressed into a crisp, clean suit before departing from his bedchamber and made his way through the crumbling halls of the estate with such a practised ease that it seemed automatic. And in truth it was. He didn’t even need to recognise the chunks of rubble in his path, just glided around it with as little thought as blinking.
To any other Ventrue, stalking the crumbling remains of a castle long since abandoned might seem lowly, but as it so happened Roy liked it perfectly fine as it was. Prey might not be as frequent as those National Trust estates, but those that could pluck up the courage to venture within were so much more delectable than the typical tourists that would otherwise poke around his home. And there were always other means of obtaining the sustenance he required.
But as dilapidated as the castle appeared to be, there were parts of it that were more than well preserved.
The ghouls hurried to pull the heavy oak doors to the conference room open before he was even half way down the hall. He could almost smell the fear on them. They knew better than to keep him waiting.
Inside the room would be pitch black to any mortal, but to his kindred senses he could see the conference table in sharp relief. It stood down the centre of the hall with mostly empty chairs stood on either side and with a throne at his end of the room. At the opposite end was not another chair, but rather a monitor. And if one looked above the chairs, they would see even more monitors. One over each chair.
Today only three seats were currently occupied. Victoria sat to the throne’s left, whereas Delilah and Leon sat opposite one another closer to the middle of the table. The three of his childer who were present greeted him with a bow of their heads as he seated himself in his throne.
“Good evening, my children,” he greeted. “I trust we will not be expecting Lisa at this hour?”
“Not in person, Father,” Victoria said primly, hands folded on the table top. “However, the ghoul reports-”
“Names Victoria,” Roy interrupted coyly. “We must ensure the help feels appreciated… Lest they drain us dry in our sleep.”
“Of course Father, forgive me. Ahem. Rhys reports that Lisa sent a message earlier today to be received by you at your convenience. Apparently it is rather urgent.”
“I see. Then we shall attend to it with urgency. But first.” He looked over Delilah and Leon. “Do we have anything to report… closer to home?”
“Yes Father,” Leon began. “The gh- Alex and Alicia reported troublemakers at the border of the estate earlier today. They have been detained in the dungeon, to be indulged upon at your leisure.”
“I see. Thank you Leon. Perhaps, as there are few enough, we might even dine as a family tonight,” he said with a not insincere warmth as he looked over his childer, though it was practiced and not at all instinctual. “Now. Regarding Lisa’s message.”
Delilah simply nodded and the monitor at the end of the table flickered to life and a pretty, dark haired woman appeared on the screen. Her appearance, however, was frazzled, and she had the look of someone who had been working a long, intensive shift that proved very unforgiving.
“Father, brothers, and sisters who may or may not be in attendance,” she began. “I regret to report that the situation here in Los Angeles has spiralled out of control. Yesterday night the girl was declared a traitor and the Prince called for a Blood Hunt. Kindred from all over the region were eager for the chance to spill her blood and all but poured into the city. Tonight, however, she has-”
Lisa took a deep breath as if all but choking back tears. It was rare to see her so emotional.
“The Prince is dead. The tower and sarcophagus destroyed in an explosion,” she said thickly. “The girl is gone. I do not know where. She does not appear to be among the Anarchs, but according to the Anarch Leader, Nines Rodriguez, she did survive and then departed. As of now I have no idea where she is. I will continue my search, and hope you are able to provide me with your guidance as soon as you are able. Please Father… Forgive me.”
The message ended and Lisa’s face was replaced by darkness once again.
Roy raised a brow and laced his hands together, resting his elbows on the table.
The three childer exchanged an uncomfortable glance, and Victoria looked the most uncomfortable as she was seated closest to him. For a long while Roy said nothing, merely contemplated.
“Send word to Lisa that there is nothing to forgive. The girl has always wild and unpredictable. If anything I should have anticipated she would cause such trouble, as she has always been prone,” he said in a measured voice. “However, inform Lisa that she is not to continue her pursuit. If anything she will only get herself killed. Her instructions are to seek out any allies that the girl may have had in the city. Someone she trusts or cares for. Someone easily turned and poisoned, whose betrayal will hurt her, but can be disposed of quickly if necessary. Knowing her, there’s undoubtedly plenty of disgusting little creatures who will suit that end.”
Delilah nodded and reached under the table. She produced a sheet of parchment and an inkwell pen and immediately began to write.
“Leon, I’m sending you to Egypt,” he added.
The youngest childe perked up.
“What is my task, Father?”
“Make contact with the Assamites in Cairo and see if they are amenable to a potential future contract… Just in case. As for you Delilah, you will see to your usual duties for now. Is that agreeable?”
“Then I believe this evening’s meeting is adjourned. Unless there is anything else anyone wishes to report?”
There was a pause before Delilah raised her hand. Roy nodded.
“According to my intelligence, Father, the girl has had contact with Beckett.”
Roy raised a brow.
“The scholar? Interesting. He has a habit of turning up in the strangest of places,” he remarked. “Keep your ear to that, my dear, and let me know if anything comes of it.”
“Very good. Now.” He raised to his feet, looking around at his children with that sam cultivated ease. “I believe it is time for breakfast.”
And with that he led the three from the room.
When Evie came to it was nighttime again. The first thing she registered was a weight pressing over on her. It was strangely warm and comfortable and she brought her knees up to her chest, curling up beneath whatever it was.
She knew she should really get up already, but the sooner she opened her eyes, the sooner she’d have to deal with Lacroix’s latest chores. And she really didn’t want to have to deal with him right now. She just wanted to stay curled up here under this blanket - presuming that’s what this comfortable pressure was coming from - and forget the innumerable responsibilities that would surely be thrust upon her the second she rose from her bed.
It took a few minutes, but she started to wonder what that rocking motion was. Was it an earthquake? ...No, it didn’t feel like one. And this didn’t feel like her bed either.
She rolled onto her side and her face pressed against cold glass.
With a flinch she bolted upright, throwing off the blanket and eyes snapping open as her mind raced at a mile a minute. Was it the Sabbat? Had they found her? Kidnapped her? Then she slowed down. The Sabbat didn’t make a habit of giving blankets to their prisoners… And she didn’t think they transported them without guards on a public train.
Gathering herself, Evie slowed her breathing - not that she needed to breathe at all, considering that she was dead - and took in her surroundings. She was alone in an empty train car with all the blinds drawn over the windows. She looked down at the blanket only to realise it wasn’t a blanket at all. It was a long, brown trench coat that she was very familiar with by now.
Right. Beckett. He’d been leaving LA. Just like she had been.
It was all coming back to her now. Lacroix had died in the explosion at the top of Venture Tower, the LA Sabbat was in chaos in the wake of Andrei’s death, and what remained of the Kuei-Jin were floundering without Ming Xiao to guide them. And now she was running away before anyone had a chance to stop her.
She groaned, pressing her face into her hands and running them back through her hair. They came away black. She was still absolutely filthy from the destruction of the Venture Tower. She really needed a shower at some point. At the very least she could clean up a little in the bathroom.
A quick glance around revealed that Beckett was definitely absent. Perhaps he’d gone to feed on sleeping Kine somewhere else while she slept.
She got up out of her seat and headed for the toilet at the end of the car. It was vacant, as expected, and she slipped inside, turning the lock to ‘occupied.’ The first thing she did was run some water to wash off her hands before splashing some in her face.
The greasy ash was reluctant to come away at first and it felt like she was making little progress even though the sink was quickly turning black. Her hair didn’t fare much better. It was scraggly and oily and thick with soot, and she knew she’d need a real shower to sort that mess out.
She peeled off her jacket and hoodie and, with a wad of wet tissue paper, started wiping away the dried blood from around her now-healed wounds. After a few minutes she felt something approaching presentable. She still needed a good shower to feel completely clean, but it was an improvement.
As she started to clean up her mess of black soot stains and wet, grotty tissues, someone knocked on the door and she jumped.
“Are you in there?” Beckett called gruffly through the door, and she sighed in relief.
“Yeah, just cleaning up. I’ll be done in a minute.”
He didn’t say anything else, just walked away and Evie finished throwing away the wet tissues and scrubbing the soot from the sink before stepping back out into the car.
Beckett was sitting in his seat, his coat folded over his lap. As she approached he held out a water bottle to her. Except it wasn’t filled with water. He gave her the bottle of blood before she edged past him back into her seat.
“At least you don’t look like you’ve been dragged backwards through a bonfire anymore,” he remarked. “I was starting to wonder if that was some new fashion trend you were trying out.”
Evie just rolled her eyes and lifted the bottle to her lips. When the blood hit her tongue, the Beast inside gave a guttural roar of pleasure, and within seconds she had chugged the whole thing down. She hadn’t realised how hungry she had been, how the Beast had been clawing at the back of her throat, aching for sustenance, especially after her episode of bloody tears the night before. Everything else had been such a mess of thoughts and brain static that she’d barely even noticed it there.
But for now it was sated once more and it settled contentedly inside, purring quite happily.
“Hungry, were we?” Beckett commented with a raised brow and a curled lip. “Maybe it was a good thing I decided to bring you some breakfast. I’d hate if you’d guzzled a passenger the way you did that bottle.”
She flushed a little, but simply handed the empty bottle back with a murmured thank you before lowering the blinds from the window. Outside the world was black as night, the sky overhead glittering with stars. They were easy to miss in LA with all the city lights drowning them out. It was true of most places, and it wasn’t long before she found herself enthralled by them.
Beckett, who had his book out again, gave her a fondly amused glance, then rolled his eyes and got on with his reading.
“You still haven’t told me what you plan to do next,” he pointed out about an hour later when stargazing had gotten boring and Evie was obviously feeling restless.
She looked around at him and then stared down at her hands in her lap feeling embarrassed. Mostly because there was no way he didn't know that there was no plan.
All she'd been thinking about for the last hour was what to do next and no good ideas came to mind. Staying in the US seemed like a bad idea. She had no idea how other members of the Camarilla would react to Lacroix’s death, so leaving felt like the safer option. But then where after that? Back home to the UK where no one wanted her? And how was she supposed to secure a haven anyway? She was underage and while a couple hundred dollars felt like a lot, in the grand scheme of things it really wasn’t. It was unlikely that anyone would rent a place out to her, and even if they did she wouldn't be able to afford it.
In other words, she still had no plan at all.
“Yeah… The only real plan I’ve got right now is to get as far away from LA as possible… I was kinda hoping the train journey would help me figure out step two but… no dice,” she admitted.
“I see. Well then how about I make you an offer. Why not come with me?”
She had expected sarcasm. Even if she hadn't hallucinated Beckett’s firm but kind reassurances the previous night, and hadn't imagined that he'd given her his coat as a blanket, he was still Beckett. Making snide remarks about everyone and putting them in their place with a sharp jab of cynical wit was apparently half of his personality. At least that's what she had thought before. He certainly didn’t strike her as the type to take companions. Or at least he hadn’t until he told her about Lucita, Anatole, and Okulos.
“With you?” she repeated.
“I have a lot of work to do, and sometimes things get a little tedious. I could use an assistant, and you’ve got a long way to go before you’re ready to make it in this world as an Autarkis,” he explained idly. “I think it could be a mutually beneficial arrangement. You assist me with my research, and I will serve as your adoptive sire. Does that sound agreeable to you?”
“What would being your assistant entail?” she asked slowly.
“You'd accompany me on my travels, help me to organise my research, maybe run the occasional errand, that sort of thing. And in return I'll provide any guidance and training you might require, a haven, and maybe even pocket money if you behave yourself.”
There was that familiar sarcasm, and she couldn't resist snorting. That was more like the Beckett she knew.
But she couldn't help turning the idea over in her head. It wasn't a bad offer. In fact it was probably the best one she was going to get. He was offering to take her on, to teach her what she needed to know, even though he really didn't need to.
And she could trust him not to use her like Lacroix did. Like Ming Xiao had tried to. Like Nines or Strauss or Therese would have, given the opportunity.
Beckett had no political angle, just the drive to learn the truth about the origins in the Kindred. It was an admirable goal. And helping him achieve it certainly beat blowing up warehouses and robbing museums for a power-hungry Ventrue.
So she extended a hand.
“When do I start?”
Beckett smirked, took her hand, and shook it firmly.
“As soon as we reach the haven. It should be waiting for us at the Phoenix Airport.”
Evies grin dropped into a confused frown.
“Waiting for us?”
Beckett just smirked.
“You'll see when we get there. Speaking of which.”
He reached into his coat pocket, pulled out a cell-phone and flipped it open. He typed something into it, though Evie wasn’t able to get a proper look before he snapped it shut and tucked it back into his pocket.
“Just need to make sure Cesare is actually doing his job for once,” he grumbled disdainfully.
“My ghoul.” He all but spat the word, looking rather disgusted. “Personally I don’t care for them. If anything I pity them. To be a ghoul is to be enslaved to the one who creates them.”
“ Enslaved ?” Evie balked.
“Yes. After that first taste of blood, the ghoul becomes… addicted, for lack of a better word. It creates a blood bond between vampire and ghoul that is reflective of master and slave. A ghoul will do anything their master requires of them, no matter how degrading, because it is their means of securing more.”
Something icy dropped right into the pit of her stomach. Knox and Mercurio certainly hadn’t mentioned that little detail when talking about their respective deals with Tung and the Camarilla. If they had…
Heather had always seemed overly clingy, but Evie just thought that she was being overly grateful for what happened at the Clinic. In the time that they’d lived together Heather had always been like a big sister, trying her hardest to provide Evie with whatever she needed, even when she wasn’t asked to do so.
Sure it had seemed odd that she was so ready to drop out of school - which they had argued about for over an hour before Heather agreed to continue her studies - but some people were just like that. Evie had seen it before. They were so eager to please they would put their whole life on hold for someone else if they thought it was to be asked of them. She just figured Heather was one of those people.
But to think that her blood had done that to her… That one act of compassion had driven her to behave in that way… The very idea made her sick .
Perhaps it was best never to mention it to Beckett.
“So why keep Cesare around if you don’t like ghouls?” she asked, trying to steer her mind away from Heather before he could get suspicious.
“Because I am regretfully in need of him. You’ll understand when we reach the airport,” he said simply, indicating he’d say nothing more on the matter.
Then his phone buzzed and he pulled it out to check.
“Hm. And he just managed to earn his keep.” He put it away again. “We should be arriving at the station soon enough. Cesare will be waiting for us there. So, if there’s anything else you want to ask, you should do so now.”
She contemplated for a moment. They’d spoken at length the previous night about themselves and their experiences. He clearly had far more than she did, but for all their talking there was one experience she had spoken of that he hadn’t. Or at least he hadn’t in any substantial capacity.
“Last night, when I told you about when I was Embraced, you said no Gangrel is unaffected by it. Not even you,” she said slowly. “Can I ask about…?”
He sighed and, for the first time since they’d met, he took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. She supposed it shouldn’t be a surprise. If her Embrace had been typical then it wasn’t any fonder a memory for him either. But he’d asked about her’s, so it was fair that she ask the same.
“It was a very long time ago,” he said, suddenly sounding exhausted. “Just a little over three hundred years, though I forget the precise number. I was working at Oxford University as a lecturer at the time, though I spent more time researching than I did teaching. One night I’d stayed in late, working through some unusual texts that the university had acquired. I nearly fell asleep at my desk when a cleaner insisted I head home for the night.”
He laughed hollowly.
“If not for that bit of advice, I might not be here right now.”
“You were attacked on your way home?”
He nodded, smiling grimly.
“Yes. I had decided to take the scenic route, close to the woods. Clearing my head, so to speak, so I'd be able to take another crack at those texts the next day. That’s when I got the sense that someone was watching me. Just past the trees. When I couldn’t see anything, I thought it was just the exhaustion from having worked so late. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was someone there. Watching and waiting.
“Finally I tried to confront my stalker, demanded they show themselves. There was a moment of silence and the next thing I knew, I was on the ground being ripped apart. Teeth and claws were tearing into me, and no matter how hard I fought back, my attacker was not dissuaded. They were relentless. I knew I wouldn’t survive. In that moment, all I could do was pray for some kind of miracle. And the next thing I knew I was in a house I didn’t recognise with no memory of how I got there, covered in blood that wasn’t mine, and standing over the bodies of the innocents I had slaughtered. Not quite the typical idea of a miracle I’m sure...”
He trailed off and Evie was left without any idea of what to say. As if there was anything she could say in the face of that without them sounding like needless platitudes. So rather than fumble for words she tentatively wrapped her arm around his and rested her head against his shoulder. He huffed but didn’t try to shift her off or push her away. For a while they were silent, sitting there together as the world went by outside.
“Is that normal? For your sire to just leave you to… kill like that?” she asked quietly.
“It’s part of the test, and a reason that most Gangrel Fledglings don’t survive their first night. Those that can’t gain control quickly enough continue their frenzy until they’re put down by police or hunters… Or by the rising sun.”
He glanced down at her.
“It is supposed to determine how quickly one can grasp the nature of their situation and adapt quickly enough to survive on instinct.”
“It’s still awful,” she muttered. “I’d never want to do that to anyone.”
Beckett chuckled and clapped his hand over her’s affectionately as he met her gaze. She found herself startled for a second; it was the first time she’d ever seen his eyes properly without the sunglasses. They were a vivid scarlet that almost seemed to glow, with cat-like slits for pupils.
“Promise me one thing, Young One,” he said. “ Never stop thinking that way.”
She looked up at him frowning slightly, wondering if he was making fun of her. But he was just smiling fondly back at her, his hand still clasped over her’s.
“I’ve seen some of the most docile, respected colleagues become emotionless killers within a few decades,” he explained. “It’s tempting to give in. To resist struggling. It’s easy to remember you’re a walking corpse. Try to forget. Compassion and empathy have their place in this world, so try to hold onto them.”
She still felt a bit bemused, but just shrugged and rested her head against his shoulder again.
Maybe sticking Beckett really was for the best. There were far worse Kindred out there. And far worse sires.
“I see. Yes, of course. Right away. Yes… Yes, I understand. Yes, thank you. Good evening, Founder.”
Therese set the phone down back into its receiver, and if she was in anyway inclined to behave like a schoolgirl as Jeanette so often was, she might just squeal for joy. A Prince. Her! And barely a night had passed since that ruckus downtown.
Of course the Camarilla had made a hasty decision. They needed to install a Prince before the Anarchs got any ideas about retaking their city, but even so they had chosen her!
Prince Therese Voerman. Were she so inclined, she would feel giddy.
“Ooh, someone’s actually enjoying themselves,” Jeanette cooed.
Therese immediately stopped dead and let her face fall back into its neutral position.
“Being a Prince is not something someone enjoys , Jeanette,” she said coolly. “It is a weighty responsibility, one that is not to be treated as-”
She was cut off by Jeanette all but draping herself across her shoulders.
“Oh come now, Therese,” she purred. “You’re loving this, and you should! It’s what you’ve always wanted, what you’ve worked so hard for... and it means I get to have even more fun.”
“Of course that’s your concern,” Therese huffed, removing Jeanette from her person.
She might be dead but she could still feel her skin crawl at the contact, even if it was her own sister initiating said contact.
“Just remember, Jeanette, this is an opportunity to do real things. Not your chance to continue playing as some kind of bargain bin… what’s-her-name,” she waved dismissively, retreating back around - no, returning to - her desk and sitting herself in her seat.
She’d be lying if she said it didn’t suddenly feel like a throne.
“Harley Quinn? Come on Therese, if you’re going to compare me to comic book characters you need to at least remember their names,” Jeanette teased, seating herself on the edge of the desk. “Besides, the things I do are real things. Stuffy old Hardestadt chose you because you know how to put up with me. If you can do that, then obviously you can take the reigns of a city that’s bound to be going up in flames for the next few nights.”
Therese sniffed and tried to ignore how her back straightened a little at that. Much as she was loathe to admit it, Jeanette had a point. Lacroix’s death had undoubtedly thrown the city into chaos, and chaos was an advantage the Anarchs could make use of. And chaos was Jeanette’s game. So if Therese could handle Jeanette even in the wake of… the incident, she could easily tame Los Angeles.
“Oh, and don’t forget our scrummy little friend!” Jeanette chirped. When Therese raised a quizzical brow, she added, “you know, Duckling! Sebastian tried so hard to pin everything on her. No sense in letting him do it in death, right?”
“Ah yes, the Blood Hunt. Thank you for reminding me Jeanette, I’ll see to it that it’s repealed at once. Though I doubt we’ll have time to find Evie and inform her…”
“You might not, with half the city on fire, but maybe when you’re not looking-”
“Absolutely not.” Therese rose to her feet. “If anyone can pull a few strings and keep the Anarchs from burning my club to the ground to preserve the Free State, it’s you. I need you here, Jeanette.”
Jeanette blinked, staring up at Therese with those big mismatching eyes.
“Aw, Therese!” Again she threw her arms around Therese, and Therese had to do her best to suppress a shudder. “You know, it’s a shame we have to play as enemies to everyone else. I do miss when we could just be best friends.”
Therese hesitated, then rested a hand on top of Jeanette’s head.
“I know, sister,” she sighed. “But such is the way of things. Besides, once this mess is straightened out, this city will be in our pocket. We might well be the best hope it has.”
“Aw look at you, being all optimistic. I knew you had something loving left in that cold rotten heart of your’s.”
Therese promptly pushed Jeanette away.
“And now you’ve ruined it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a Blood Hunt to call off.”
Chapter 2: New Beginnings
The train pulled into the station a couple of hours before daybreak, which put them on a tight schedule for getting to the airport before the sun came up. Evie followed at Beckett’s heels as they made their way off the platform into the station proper. There weren’t many humans about, but they were still present in a few other late night passengers and the station employees. None of them really paid the pair any mind though. Not until they got outside and a man in a plain black flight suit waved them over.
“Signore Beckett,” he greeted. “So very good to see you whole and well.”
“Cesare.” He stopped and turned to Evie. “This is my new assistant, the one I told you about. She will be accompanying us for the foreseeable future.”
Cesare turned to her with raised eyebrows, giving her a cursory glance over that made her feel more than a little self-conscious about the fact her clothes were still completely filthy and her hair was a ragged mess. But he said nothing about either of those things and extended a hand.
“Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss Byrne.”
“Evie will do, thanks,” she replied, shaking his hand.
“So this is the young lady you had me fly to Phoenix for, Signore? I could have picked the both of you up at LAX no trouble,” he pointed out, looking back at Beckett.
“What do you mean, you could have picked us up in LA?” she asked.
“It’s where I dropped Signore Beckett off, and where I was to await his return. Then all of a sudden he informs me I was to fly to Phoenix to pick him up along with his new companion,” Cesare explained, either oblivious to Beckett’s growing displeasure or simply not caring. “It’s hardly anything new for Signore, but even so-”
“Need I remind you both that we have two hours at the most before sunrise,” Beckett cut over irritably.
“Ah, of course. My apologies Signore.”
Cesare led them across the carpark where a rented car was waiting for them. Cesare got in the driver’s seat and Beckett got in the back. So Evie joined him, still feeling a little bemused, and they started the journey to the airport.
“I did worry for you, Signore,” Cesare remarked. “When you called, the situation sounded as if it must have been quite dire. And then there was the explosion-”
“Well as you can see, Cesare, I’m fine ,” Beckett impressed irritably. “Now if you could perhaps focus on driving the car.”
“Of course, Signore.”
They lapsed into silence, at which point Evie turned to Beckett and raised a brow.
“So Cesare was waiting for you in LA, and you just happened to decide you needed to catch the same train to Phoenix as me because…?”
“The situation in Los Angeles was a delicate if not downright dangerous one. I figured it was best to put some distance between myself and the city to ensure I wasn’t being pursued by the Camarilla before getting Cesare involved,” he replied coolly. “The last thing I needed was for anyone to believe I could have been in any way involved in Sebastian’s death.”
“Really? Because you gave me your warning and ran off the night before shit went down with Lacroix, yet you and I still ended up on the same train on the same night because of what, random chance?”
“Never underestimate the power of random chance, Young One.”
“Or maybe you’re putting too much thought into this.”
She leaned back at the nook between the seat and the door, looking from Cesare to Beckett. The former was keeping his eyes on the road, but was undoubtedly listening in even if he didn’t intend to interject, whereas the latter was making a point of staring out the window and watching the city go by, evidently done with talking for one night.
There was no way she was putting too much thought into this. No matter what he said or what excuses he made for himself, Beckett had purposefully sought her out on that train last night. At the time she’d been too caught up in her own mess to think about it seriously, but the more she thought about it the less sense his story made. He gave her his warning and apparently departed the city, and it wasn’t until the following night that Xiao and Lacroix were killed. He could have put a decent amount of distance between himself and LA in that time, enough that the Camarilla wouldn’t have suspected a thing when - as E had charitably put it - the jack came out of the box.
So why wait until she was leaving? Wouldn’t involving himself with her, taking her on as his adoptive childe, just implicate him in Lacroix’s death? The very thing he claimed he was avoiding?
Perhaps he was just too proud to admit to caring, but did he really think that his story would hold together once she actually stopped to think about it?
It annoyed her for reasons she couldn’t quite explain and she could feel the Beast growling at the bars of its cage in response to the irritation. She pushed down the feeling. No need to go getting all riled up just because he was being a dick about it.
Besides, it wasn’t like he was the only one available for conversation.
“So how did you meet Beckett, Cesare?” she asked, quickly becoming aware that Beckett was now glowering at her from the corner of his eye.
“Ah, it was several decades ago now, Miss Byrne,” he replied fondly. “We met in Venice, I believe, when Signore Beckett was in need of a person of my particular skills. I was out of work and a slave to the bottle, so to speak. Signore Beckett changed my life in ways I could scarcely describe.”
Beckett’s glower deepened as Cesare continued to wax lyrical about him, and though it had seemed funny for a second, Evie recalled what he had said about ghouls.
‘ To be a ghoul is to be enslaved to the one who creates them. After that first taste of blood, the ghoul becomes… addicted, for lack of a better word. It creates a blood bond between vampire and ghoul that is reflective of master and slave. ’
And in an instant it became very unfunny to hear Cesare heaping praise upon praise upon an obviously unhappy Beckett, mostly because he was undoubtedly experiencing the same disgust she felt growing in the pit of her stomach and she felt guilty for prompting this clearly uncomfortable situation in the first place.
It was swiftly accompanied by a fresh wave of guilt for what she had done to Heather. How she had, however unwittingly and well-meant, bound the young woman to her as a slave when all she’d been trying to do was save her life.
‘ At least now you’ll think twice before you go giving random mortals your blood ,’ a snide voice sneered in the back of her mind.
Evie shut that voice up immediately. She hadn’t known better and she’d meant well. At least she now had someone who could explain things to her so she could make better decisions going forwards. And with any luck Heather hadn’t been on the blood long enough to form a serious addiction and would be able to move on with her life now Evie was out of it.
That hope would have to be enough.
By the time they arrived at the airport the first lights of dawn were beginning to colour the horizon and as they crossed to the runway at the furthest end of the airfield a sudden wave of lethargy washed over Evie. If it wasn’t for Beckett pressing a hand to the small of her back, urging her forwards, she might have ended up curled up in the middle of the airfield waiting for the sun to rise. That would have been bad.
In fact she was so exhausted that she didn’t register that waiting for them was a private jet parked on the tarmac.
Later, when she was awake and fully conscious, she would wonder where the hell Beckett had gotten the funds to afford such a thing but the threat of the rising sun had slowed her mind to a sluggish pace and left her desperate for sleep rather than answers. Beckett had to half guide her up the steps and through the door as Cesare settled himself in the cockpit.
The second they were aboard she dropped down onto the nearest seat and promptly passed out.
Earlier that night, Lisa had received her new orders. She had felt perplexed. After all, what was the point of finding a new pawn in LA when the girl was no longer there? But she decided against questioning Roy’s orders. Knowing him, he had plans and now wasn’t the time to be trying to figure them out.
So she got on with the task.
Namely the task of finding someone that meant something to the girl. Someone they could use and turn against her, but could be disposed of at a moment’s notice. Easier said than done.
She started by compiling the names of all the people the girl had ever interacted with in LA.
The Anarchs were the first to be struck from the list. According to the local gossip she and Nines Rodriguez had parted on less than amicable terms. Lisa had heard everything from the girl walking away in silence to an outright brawl. Nines himself had been... ‘unavailable’ for comment. In other words, he had stonewalled everyone who asked for the story.
Even Damsel refused to say much, and she was reputed for having a loud opinion on everything.
The next from the list were the Voerman sisters.
Therese was now the Prince of a city verging in the midst of political unrest, and would likely be more interested in securing her position. Not to mention the girl was practically the reason Therese had obtained the throne as quickly as she had.
And even if Jeanette wasn’t nearly as fond of the girl as she was, she was too much of a wild card.
Tung? The girl didn’t like him all that much. The Nosferatu? Not a chance they could be played. Nor could Strauss for that matter. In fact, many of the Kindred in the city would probably be useless to her purpose. Even Velvet Velour wasn’t a particularly strong candidate, and she was also known to be fond of the girl. She might be soft compared to most Kindred, but she had her wits about her.
No… She’d have to look to the ghouls for this one.
She paused for thought then immediately struck Mercurio from the list. He was under investigation on suspicion of helping the girl. That implied a degree of loyalty that was enough to override his loyalty to the Camarilla, even if it only went as far as providing weapons.
Vandal Cleaver purportedly held a grudge after some sort of incident with a thinblood, which might have made him perfect… if the girl didn’t hate him as much as he hated her. Not to mention he belonged to Therese.
Another cross on the list and Lisa was starting to feel vaguely desperate. At this rate her only option would be-!
She groaned when she realised that it was the only name left unchecked. She’d really hoped she wouldn’t have to stoop as low as this. It wasn’t like he would be that useful anyway. He belonged to Tung. But the girl was known to speak with him… Maybe he knew something that had eluded her own sources so far.
It really wasn’t ideal, but what choice did she have? She couldn’t fail now, not after losing track of the girl in the first place.
Lisa climbed into the first available cab and instructed the driver to take her to Santa Monica. He did exactly that and stopped outside of the Asylum. She repaid him with a kiss to the neck, and feeling nicely sated, she entered the club.
Knox Harrington was sitting at a table, alone and distanced from the other patrons, on the upper floor of the club when Lisa approached him. His eyes lit up as she swaggered over and slid into the chair opposite him.
“Hey girl, what’s up?” he asked in his famously perky voice.
If it wasn’t for that calculated look in his eye, she might have thought him nothing more than an idiot. Good thing her sources kept her well informed. She drew on the blood and left her presence wash over him.
“I was hoping you might be able to help me,” she purred as his pupils dilated as her power took hold. “I was hoping to find someone… A friend of a friend…”
“Yeah… W-who were you hoping to find?” he stammered as his face turned red.
She slipped a hand over his caressing his warm skin gently.
“I was hoping you’d tell me,” she continued. “You know Evie?”
“Well I need to find a friend of her’s… Someone… gentle. Vulnerable. Malleable. Someone she’d hate to lose...”
She pressed her presence a little harder against his will. He’d been on guard, but no mortal could really be prepared for the full power of the Presence Discipline. She commanded, he obeyed.
“Oh sure… Well. I uh, I think I know someone like that.”
He was utterly enthralled. In fact Lisa was sure she could have stabbed him and he’d not only have thanked her but begged her to do it again. She flipped his hand so the palm lay open facing the ceiling, and she ran her other hand over it so she was clasping his hand between her own.
Without hesitating he laid his free hand on top.
“Could you tell me?”
She exerted the blood a little more and the Beast growled. She hushed it gently. A little more, and then she could feed from the sorry fool.
“Sure. Her name is Heather. She and Evie were roommates,” he explained, a little eagerly. “Heather moved in after the warehouse went up. She’s still living there, I think.”
“And they were roommates,” Lisa breathed in delight, eyelids drooping seductively. “Oh yes, please tell me more darling.”
“Well Heather. She’s like me, a ghoul you know? Except I don’t think she’s been fed in a while,” he explained. “She came to me, asking if I had seen Evie for the last couple of nights. I hadn’t, but I promised I’d ask my master to look into it, find out what happened, and let her know… But yeah, she really didn’t look good.”
“I see… Thank you so very much, darling, you’ve been such a help.” Her lip curled and she leaned over the table. “I think you’ve earned your reward. Now you just need to… Forget .”
She left the Asylum fully sated and feeling very pleased with herself as she relayed her find to Delilah. She knew where the girl’s haven had been. It wouldn’t be hard to find this underfed ghoul.
Heather had never experienced a withdrawal before. She had never even looked at a drug in her life, let alone taken any, but there was nothing else this could be.
The mirror was not kind in its assessment of her. Her skin was white, but not like porcelain. It was rather more like wax, and stretched so tight over her bones that she looked emaciated. It was like no matter what she ate, it was never enough for her body and she kept shrinking in on herself. Her hair was dry and dull and hung limply from her head no matter how many combinations of treatments she tried. Her lips were dried and cracked, and bled frequently now. And her eyes… They didn’t seem to catch the light anymore, leaving them lifeless, almost dead looking. They were sunken and the sockets were bruised so dark it looked like she’d been punched.
Her friends noticed the change. They pestered her regularly, urging her to see the nurse at the campus clinic, all while begging her to let them know if she needed anything.
Well Heather needed something alright. But she couldn’t think for the life of her what it was.
Sick of what the mirror insisted on showing her, Heather flicked the light switch and stepped out of the bathroom. She had to catch the doorframe to steady herself as another dizzy spell washed over her.
For a long few minutes she stood there waiting for it to pass.
These spells were lasting longer, she realised when she finally found the strength to walk upright again. And with them came that insatiable craving, that longing for Evie to be there again.
Not that that was the only way she felt about Evie these days. Sometimes she hoped Evie never came back. Those mood swings in particular left her feeling awful after they abated, but part of her felt vindicated. Justified.
Heather had loved Evie, treated her like a little sister. She cooked, she cleaned, she gave her money , and then one night Evie left the apartment and never came home. No text, no note, no warning. She was just gone. And yet when Heather went to the police to report the disappearance, they just looked at her like she was the crazy one and told her that Evie Byrne had died two months prior in some kind of attack behind a club in Hollywood. Her body had never been found, but from the evidence found at the crime scene, there was no doubt she couldn’t have possibly survived the blood loss let alone anything else that had been done to her.
So Heather went to Evie’s friend, Knox, and he just shrugged his shoulders and said he’d have a word with his ‘master’ and get back to her when he had something. Then he said something about ‘us ghouls have to stick together’, like he was making an inside joke that she was supposed to get.
She wasn’t sure she liked Knox, or the fact Evie spoke with him. He seemed friendly enough but she knew that anyone could play the part convincingly enough. And something about him just seemed… off.
Carefully, Heather picked her way across the apartment, careful not to trip on the strewn clothes or empty pizza boxes, and dropped down onto the bed in the corner.
Her body was burning with need and her throat was dry as a desert. Something that no amount of water had fixed. Her stomach growled but even if she put food in it, it would persist. She wanted something - needed something - but didn’t know what.
She wasn’t sure how much time passed between her collapse onto the bed and the rap on the door, but whether it was an hour or a second it left her struggling to sit up.
“Coming,” she called in a weak rasp.
With legs like lead, she hobbled over to the door and cracked it open.
“Miss Heather Poe?”
“Oh… uh. Yes. That’s me,” Heather coughed. Her throat hurt so badly that talking was painful.
A youngish woman stood in the doorway. She was dark haired and very pretty, and dressed in a long black coat complete with dress pants and a turtle neck. She certainly wasn’t someone that Heather had ever seen but there was something… Very alluring about her.
“Miss Poe, I am Lisa Corner. I work with the Student Welfare team at Griffith College,” she explained. “It had been brought to my attention that your health has been deteriorating rather rapidly recently, and it is becoming a concern for many of the students and staff.”
“I-I’m fine,” Heather insisted, though she didn’t open the door any further. “Just not been well these last few days…”
“I can imagine.” A judgeful eye swept her up and down through the crack in the door. “May I come in?”
Reluctantly, Heather opened the door wider, letting Corner into the room. She felt rightfully embarrassed at the state of the place, but Corner made no comment, simply stepped over the threshold and turning to Heather once she stood in the middle of the room.
“Now, Miss Poe. I was informed that until recently, you had been living with a roommate,” she began.
“Yes,” Heather stuttered, trying her best to focus on Corner and not pass out. “We met at the clinic after my accident. I think… I think she saved my life.”
Corner raised a brow.
“I see. So she blooded you, did she?”
Heather stopped dead, staring at Corner, sure she had misheard her. She had been so unwell lately, it was the only explanation. But Corner began to pace, and Heather felt increasingly like she was suddenly locked in a room with a puma.
“She hasn’t fed you since, has she? You’ve clearly been without for a very long time,” she remarked, casting another judgemental eye over Heather.
“I-I don’t know what you mean-”
“How very typical. I shouldn’t have expected any less,” Corner sighed, lacing her hands together in front of her. “How very selfish. This won’t do.”
“Um, Miss Corner… I-I have to ask you to leave-”
“You haven’t even been told , let alone fed. How very selfish,” Corner continued, and Heather found herself unable to even open her mouth, let alone speak . Something in the air had changed. A subtle pressure bearing down on her that made her stay quiet as Corner pulled out a phone. She tapped out something on the keypad and turned to the petrified Heather.
And then she smiled… It was a very lovely smile.
Suddenly Heather found her fear ebbing away even as Corner approached and reached out to tuck her hair behind her ear. It was… a very gently touch. Her hand lingered a moment before cupping Heather’s chin, bringing her eyes to Corner’s dark brown ones. And they were so very lovely...
“You’ve been dealt a very unfair hand in this, haven’t you my dear?”
The phone in her hand buzzed, but she barely glanced at it before tucking it back into her pocket. Then she pulled back her sleeve, lifted it to her mouth, and bit down.
Heather felt her stomach lurch, but not like she was about to be sick. Rather the nausea that came over her was a starved one as that coppery smell flooded her nostrils and overcame her senses. She would have been embarrassed that she was salivating if she had the presence of mind to notice.
Corner held out her weeping wrist and smiled at Heather.
“Feed, darling. You must be starving.”
Heather stared and the subtle pressure nudged her forwards.
It brought to mind a memory as she took Corner’s arm in trembling hands and lowered her mouth to the wound.
At first it was like waking up in a nightmare. The flash of lights and crunch of metal as it sunk into her abdomen. The pain was unbearable, like her insides had been sheared into pieces, and her head… She had barely been thinking at all, let alone thinking straight.
Then… the girl appeared at her bedside, and the nightmare became a dream. The girl - Evie - held out her arm and willed her to live, and Heather… ...kissed her wrist…
She strained, bringing the memory to the forefront of her mind, or as close as she could manage.
She hadn’t kissed Evie’s wrist. She had drank from it . Just like she was doing now. Could remember that sweet something passing her lips and lapping over her tongue and trickling down her throat. And then the pain was gone as if it had never been there. It was replaced by an indescribable feeling of euphoria, like the best drug in the world at the time. And more than that… She saw Evie so very clearly even though the rest of the world was a haze of receding pain and ecstasy. So sharp that she seemed more real than anything else, like the rest of the world was a mere backdrop for her existence… Her wild, beautiful existence.
And then Evie smiled. A cruel smile of guile and glinting fangs. As if all had gone according to plan.
When Evie came to it was not in the chair she had originally fallen asleep in, but on a sofa with a blanket laid over her. She sat up and rubbed her eyes, trying to remember where she was.
She remembered arriving at the airport with Beckett and Cesare only for exhaustion to cloud the rest. Her stomach - or perhaps the Beast - growled and she glanced down, looking for her rucksack. She still had a couple of blood bags left in it, if she recalled correctly. The bag was tucked securely between the sofa and the neighbouring seat, and attached to it was a note from Cesare informing her that the plane had a shower she could use.
She didn’t even bother to finish her thoughts on feeding or even take in the rest of the cabin, just leapt to her feet and made a beeline for the bathroom.
True enough there was a shower along with a folded towel and a couple of bottles of shampoo and conditioner, a bar of soap, and a clean change of new clothes piled neatly on the floor waiting for her. She stuck her head out the door and yelled, “thanks Cesare!” down the plane before retreating back inside and locking the door.
A second later the intercom buzzed and he replied, “you’re welcome, Miss Byrne. Signore Beckett requested I make some purchases before I came to meet you both at the station.”
“Thanks Beckett!” she added promptly, already peeling off her tattered, blood-encrusted clothes and turning on the water.
She heard a chuckle from the room next to the bathroom which explained where he had slept the day away. But she didn’t pay it much mind, just ducked past the curtain, turned the tap and, for a moment, just enjoyed the sensation of the water washing over her and taking not just the grease and grime, but also the stress and tension her body held, with it. The initial cold didn’t bother her, but the heat that came as the water warmed up was more than welcome. She thought back on the last few nights, trying to remember the last time she’d been able to get a decent shower in between the schemes and the fights and the general craziness that had been the last couple of months of her unlife.
The space of time between then and now was embarrassingly longer than she would have liked.
Still there was no time like the present, and seeing as she was quite certain that the plane didn’t have an unlimited water supply she knew she needed to make the most of it. So she scrubbed until the water stopped running black and grey, with the occasional dribble of dark red from long-dried-out blood. Whether it was her own or someone else’s she didn’t know, but she was glad to see it wash away down the drain. Better there than in her hair.
Her hair, once matted with filth and grime, now hung in a tangled sheet that she brushed through with her fingers and conditioner, occasionally tugging out stubborn knots that refused to break apart, until she was able to get her hands through her hair with little resistance.
When she was done, she very reluctantly shut off the water and climbed out to begin the process of drying and dressing. Unlike when she was mortal the transition from warm shower to cold air wasn’t horribly unpleasant, but even so the warm was still preferable.
Cesare hadn’t gone for extravagance when picking out some replacement clothes; just a pair of jeans, black tank top, a solid pair of leather boots, and a khaki green bomber jacket.
And as far as Evie cared it suited her just fine. She’d learned young that comfort always won out over extravagance. Boots and trainers were fair better for running than heels would ever be. And seeing as she was going to be assisting Beckett in the future she got the feeling that mindset would serve her well in the coming nights.
Stepping back out into the main cabin, Evie took her first proper look around the plane.
For one there were no windows and the walls of the cabin looked reinforced. There weren’t any traditional seats, but there was the sofa she’d originally woken up on and a few chairs along with a fridge made the space feel more homey. A desk was bolted to the floor on one side and sitting at it was Beckett.
He had swapped his brown shirt for a white one, with the sleeves rolled up just above his elbows, and a pair of well-worn jeans. He’d also deposited his sunglasses on the desk, seeing as he had no reason to wear them with no mortals around to catch sight of his unnaturally glowing eyes.
He didn’t seem to notice Evie standing there at first, as he was pouring over a book with a hand curled in his hair, and Evie couldn’t help but stare.
It was the first time she’d seen him without his gloves, and it quickly became evident why he wore them in the first place. After all, when trying to pass for human it wasn’t recommended to walk around with hands covered in excessive amounts of coarse hair, or fingers that were tipped with thick claws rather than nails.
Frankly she’d never seen anything like it in another Kindred, not even the Sheriff, and he had turned into a giant bat.
“Weren’t you ever taught that staring is rude?”
Evie flinched when she realised that Beckett had caught her and then flushed. She doubted Beckett appreciated being ogled in any capacity, regardless of intent.
But he didn’t seem angry or upset. In fact he was smirking with that fond look in his eyes. He also seemed to have caught onto why she had been staring in the first place as he removed his clawed hand from the side of his head and held it up for her to see.
“Take it as a warning as to what happens when you frenzy,” he chuckled. “We Gangrel tend to keep a piece of the Beast with us even after coming back to ourselves.”
“Is that… why your eyes are…?”
She gestured vaguely to the vicinity of her own eyes and Beckett nodded.
“We call them Beast Marks. As I said, they come about following a frenzy. A consequence of us being closer to the Beast than most Kindred. They’re not always permanent, but some stick better than others. It’s something you’ll need to keep in mind when it comes to keeping yourself and the Beast in check, or else you’ll be needing to take similar precautions to maintain the Masquerade.”
She nodded, and when he turned back to his book she remained where she was, uncertain exactly what she was supposed to be doing with herself. Beckett still hadn’t informed her of any plans he had, or where he planned to travel next, if he had any plans at all. It didn’t seem all that likely. He’d cut off his studies of the sarcophagus early in order to flee LA. And now with it having been destroyed in the explosion, surely he didn’t plan to continue that avenue of study?
Her Beast growled again, a little louder this time, demanding sustenance like a dog that knew it was time for food and wanted it now. So she returned to the sofa, plopped herself down and pulled her rucksack into her lap.
It took a bit of rummaging around to find them, but sure enough, near the bottom and carefully folded up in her hoodie were a pair of sealed blood bags. They seemed to have stayed fresh enough in their hiding place and didn’t show any signs of the blood congealing, so she got to work on the first one.
When she was done with the second, Beckett closed his book and swivelled his chair to face her. His hands were folded in his lap and he cocked a brow.
“So. I seem to recall at Venture Tower that you said you were still struggling with the Protean Discipline,” he said.
A statement rather than a question.
“Yeah. I mean, I can make the claws happen-” She demonstrated, sending just enough blood to the tips of her fingers to sprout the long, razor-sharp talons, before sheathing them again. “-but I still haven’t been able to do that thing you do. You know, like when we first met?”
He nodded, looking mildly amused.
“Hm. And do you remember what I told you about the Discipline?”
She bit her lip as she cast her mind back to that particular night. In fairness, they'd spoken about a lot of things besides the Protean Discipline, and some of those things had been a bit higher up her list of priorities at the time.
“Something about... my body reflecting the natural world,” she said slowly. “And… the Beast?”
He nodded again.
“Good to know that you at least try to retain information. The Protean Discipline can be somewhat risky if you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s about peeling back the layers of your own humanity and bringing the Beast closer to the surface, allowing it to influence your physical shape. However an inexperienced user runs the risk of the Beast influencing their mind as well, turning them into little more than… well. Beasts.”
He folded one leg over his knee and leaned back in his seat, looking the most relaxed she’d ever seen him.
“No doubt you’ve seen such poor displays of control among the Sabbat.”
She nodded. She’d seen plenty of Sabbat make use of the Protean Discipline and clearly not have an ounce of self control. And those who did made a show of their inhuman appearance, with impossibly long talons and shark-like teeth.
“In your case, however.” She was drawn out of her thoughts and back to Beckett, who was scratching his chin thoughtfully. “I think your problem may be that you exercise too much control.”
She frowned and cocked her head to one side.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s a matter of trust between yourself and the Beast. It’s fine to be wary of it, to respect how dangerous it is. It’s probably what’s kept you alive this long without a sire to watch over you. However that means you approach your Beast as if it is a wild animal, ready to lash out at any second. You don’t trust yourself to keep it under control, so you keep it locked away as tightly as you can.
“If you truly wish to master the Protean Discipline, you must trust that you can keep it under control, even as you bring it to the surface. You must believe that no matter how much of the leash you give the Beast, you are able to pull it back to your side no matter what. And you cannot fear it breaking loose. You must have the faith that you have the power to prevent such a thing in the first place.”
“You make it sound simple,” she muttered.
But Beckett just shrugged.
“I’ve had over three hundred years to establish such a trust with my Beast. You’ve barely had two months and no sire to instruct you. My suggestion is to take things slowly, and take the time to know your Beast as you would any creature. Learn to trust it, while knowing how and when to discipline it. If you ever have questions, I am here.”
Then he chuckled and added, “you are, after all, my responsibility for the next fifteen years or so.”
“Fifteen years ?!” she exclaimed, staring at him in disbelief.
“Yes, which means you’ll have to get used to putting up with me,” he replied, rising to his feet with an annoyingly smug grin. “Now come on. Seeing as we were discussing the Protean Discipline we might as well do some work on it.”
Hardestadt wasn’t overly fond of calling so many representatives of the Camarilla together because it suggested there was a wide reaching problem. One Fledgling should not have warranted such a gathering. But there were murmurs and concerns, and rumours abound, and it made many of the Princes uneasy. After all, if a single Fledgling could storm the fortress of a Prince and slay them, how safe were they really?
It was a ridiculous notion, of course. Lacroix might have shown a great deal of cunning and guile in securing the Princedom of LA, but it was well known by now that his own ambition had seen him undone.
It was the fall of many young Ventrue. Believing that mere Domination alone could secure their every desire, and that with every problem outmaneuvered they were above taking their time. They underestimated their enemies, believed their position perfectly secured… and then were shocked when they ended up being cut off at the knees by a mob of angry malcontents.
And now Lacroix’s fumbling had landed Hardestadt here, dealing with the worried wittering of Princes scared to face the wrath of a child , for heaven’s sake.
Regardless, it was time to calm the masses and reassure them that one child was not about to upset the balance of the Camarilla.
He stepped into the meeting room and immediately commanded the attention of every soul within. Or whatever passed for such a thing in Kindred. Queen Anne of London, Leslie Taylor from Melbourne, Arjan Voorhies from the Netherlands, even Karaikal from Bombay; many Princes from all over the globe had gathered in the room before him.
The most noticeable absence was that of Therese Voerman, the new Prince of LA, though that was to be expected. With the Anarchs latching onto Lacroix’s death, the political situation was becoming increasingly unstable. It was only fitting the new Prince remain to reign in her domain.
Instead she had sent an agent - her childe - in her stead. A fact that had no doubt been on the lips of every Kindred now watching Hardestadt in silence.
“Thank you, my friends, for attending this meeting on such short notice,” he began, glancing around at them all. “Tonight I hope to allay your fears regarding the considerable elephant in the room.”
Silence. Just as he liked it.
“As I’m sure you are aware, five nights ago there was a serious incident in Los Angeles that caused a fluctuation of the power balance. I can confirm that Prince Sebastian Lacroix was destroyed in an explosion atop his building, the Venture Tower.
“In the nights since, a new Prince has been installed. One who has had direct dealings with the party supposedly responsible for the incident. Prince Voerman has personally assured me that this… Kindred-”
Best not to publicly acknowledge that a Fledgling could be so capable.
“-has always been a rational, and well-intended individual, and is more likely the victim of the political games played by Prince Lacroix and the local Anarch powerbase, as opposed to any actual designs laid out by the Kindred in question.”
More silence, though there were glances amongst the Princes gathered together as if silently trading thoughts.
“As some of you may be aware, this same Kindred was the one who’s life was spared given to the outburst of Nines Rodriguez, a rising star within the so-called ‘Anarch Free-State’. Prince Voerman has promised that once the worst of the turmoil has passed, she and Regent Strauss intend to launch a full investigation into Mr Rodriguez’s involvement in the events that took place five nights ago.”
He paused and Queen Anne shifted in her seat. He inclined his head ever so slightly granting her permission to speak.
“Beg your pardon, Founder, but there has been a great deal of talk regarding Prince Lacroix’s involvement in these events. In fact, I have even heard rumours that he made deals with the Cathayan leader,” she said, not caring to hide the disgust in her voice.
There were murmurs of assent amongst the group. Confirmation that they had also heard the rumours. Hardestadt just blinked slowly.
“And I assure you, Queen Anne, that these apparent alliances are also to be subjected to further investigation once the situation has stabilised and the Kindred and Kine of LA are placated once more.”
More murmurs and some certainly seemed displeased. Hardestadt exerted his will, if only ever so slightly, allowing his presence to roll over the room. The other Kindred fell silent and kept their eyes fixed solely on him.
“I can assure you that we are doing our utmost to support LA’s new Prince in this turbulent time, and to get to the heart of this problem. However, I feel like we can all agree that a single Fledgling cannot demand all of our attention when other, more dangerous enemies, are pushing at our borders and preying on our momentary weakness.
“Prince Voerman has made the decision to repeal the Blood Hunt on the Fledgling known as Evie Byrne, and assures me that she has the utmost confidence that the child was used. Provided she remains true to her status of Autarkis, I doubt she will prove any kind of threat to us.”
He let his words hang in the air before adding, “is there anything anyone would wish to add before we adjourn this meeting?”
Hardestadt looked over the room, nodded curtly, and strode back out of the door with his hands folded behind his back. Honestly, what a ridiculous notion. To believe that a mere child could cause such a panic in so many elders to necessitate such a brief and pointless meeting.
The Prince of Leicester seemed to be the only one who had kept his head for the entirety of the duration. He had even seemed amused by the tittering and worrying of the others.
“What is becoming of the Elders lately?” he tutted, not to himself, but to his sire as if the elder was strolling along beside him in perfect.
He received naught but silence. As it should be.
“Keep an eye on your footing. You’re too static, it makes you easier to knock over.”
“I know that, it’s just hard to move around a lot in a plane.”
“Signore Beckett, if I could so kindly remind you that it is not advisable to conduct combat training at 35,000 feet,” Cesare buzzed over the intercom.
“It’s hardly combat training, Cesare,” Beckett retorted. “We’re just going over a few basic-”
He got cut off when the younger Gangrel slipped into his space, delivered a quick jab to his ribs, and then ducked out under his arm towards the rear end of the cabin.
“How’s that for static?” Evie laughed when Beckett laid his eyes on her.
“Feel grateful that Cesare would start an emergency landing if I retaliated to that,” he grumbled, but there was that amused glimmer in his eye that meant he wasn’t actually annoyed.
Combat wasn’t something Evie thought they’d be covering. She thought herself pretty capable, and had proven exactly that more than enough times over the last few weeks. But as it turned out there was a lot that could be learned from a vampire with three centuries under his belt. At least, there was when Cesare wasn’t nagging them to stop over the intercom. Whether or not Beckett decided to comply depended entirely on his mood and Evie’s progress. If he felt she was close to getting a grip on what he was teaching, he’d press on regardless.
But it appeared that today he was conceding defeat as he seated himself at his desk.
“Seeing as even the slightest kind of actual training is upsetting our pilot, then I might as well give you something to do so that you don’t annoy him further.”
“Me? Annoying Cesare?” Evie pointed out as she dropped onto the sofa, pushing her hair back out of her face with a grin. “I’m a perfect angel and have never done a wrong thing in my life.”
“Of course not. After all, we both know it was the engine goblin that slipped hot sauce into his meal last night.”
He eyed her knowingly, but she just blinked and cocked her head in the perfect picture of innocence. She then folded her legs onto the sofa as he sat himself down in his chair, pulling out his journal.
Or rather, it was his most recent journal. There was no doubt in her mind that there was no way a single journal could contain the contents of over three hundred years worth of experience, so it had to be the latest of many.
It was fit to bursting and she didn’t doubt that there were decades worth of stories packed into it. She’d read only bits and pieces so far. Transcriptions of interviews, accounts written by Beckett or his companions, newspaper clippings, and all sorts, and it was far more interesting than any old history book she’d ever encountered during her schooling.
He also had her doing some work on it for him, as far as the events of LA went. Namely writing up her own accounts of events. He also allowed her to make annotations and comments on things he’d added himself, though she was hardly any kind of exception. Whenever she’d had time to so much as skim through the pages she had found plenty of comments left by various companions of Beckett’s, varying from adding context to the motivations of particular people or remarking on Beckett’s own commentary. Sometimes to a rather comedic effect.
Her ear gave a vague phantom-throb, as if to remind her of the time Beckett gave her a quick cuff for teasing him about the time that Jan Pieterzoon leaving him staked naked for the sun in Amsterdam.
“You can do some transcriptions for me tonight,” he said, passing her the journal and then turning to root around in the desk. “You’ve seen enough of them to know how to format them.”
He pulled out a laptop and a number of tape recorders, each of them labelled with a number, and then passed those to her as well. She raised a brow at him, then picked up one of the recorders.
“Are these from LA?”
“They are, so you’ll have some insight into a number of them.” He gave her a wry grin. “Some more than others.”
He was looking far too smug as he said that, so she picked up one of the recorders and clicked in the play button.
‘For the purpose of the recording, a Sabbat warehouse on the far side of the trainyard just went up in flames shortly after quite a powerful explosion . The saboteur, a young female kindred from what I can tell, is currently crossing the trainyard. It may even be the same one that Damsel told me about. I think a chat is in order.’
Evie gaped at him. His smug grin just seemed to spread a little more as he stared back. He cocked a single eyebrow, as if he was daring her to comment. She nearly did, but the recording continued before she had a chance.
‘The warehouse. Your handiwork, I presume?'
‘Wait... You’re like me, aren’t you? You’re the same clan as me! Can you teach me how to do that?’
She could feel her cheeks burning with embarrassment at the eagerness in her voice. It was understandable. She’d never met another Gangrel before, aside from the bastard she called a sire, but it was like listening to a little kid and so it was embarrassing. Funny how long ago it felt. Like a whole other life… Or unlife.
‘It will come with experience. Mastery of the Protean Discipline does not, as your generation might say, come in pill form.’
‘The Protean Discipline?’
‘Yes. I’m sure you’re aware of the various powers now available to you. The ones that draw directly upon the blood we refer to as Disciplines. As a Gangrel, you’ve undoubtedly used it. Though probably not in nearly so dramatic a fashion.’
‘Okay... So who are you and why have you been following me?’
‘I see that my reputation, for once, does not proceed me. My name is Beckett. I haven’t been following you per say. We’ve just coincidentally been in the same places at the same time… For different reasons. So sorry if I unnerved you.’
‘I wasn’t unnerved.’
‘Of course not. Tell me. Have you by chance seen or felt anything strange since your Embrace? ’
‘I saw a wolf turn into a man. Does that count? ’
‘That may be strange from a mortal standard, but you’ll come to learn that for Kindred, such occurrences are as normal as night and day.’
There was a pause and Evie remembered that this was when she’d reflected on the events of the previous week of her new unlife.
‘Well… I saw a ghost at a local hotel, and the Baron of Santa Monica has a split personality...’
‘She’s undoubtedly Malkavian. Or should I say they are undoubtedly Malkavian. As for the ghost, again, that’s quite ordinary. I generally pay wraiths no mind. All but a few are willing to give up their secrets.’
‘I also met some Kindred on the beach who didn’t seem like Kindred. I even rescued one from the local blood bank. She said they were something called thinbloods.’
‘Ah, yes. I believe I know the group you’re referring to.’
‘You saw me talking to them.’
‘True. Thinbloods are a fascination of mine. They are considered a weaker, more human-like kindred. Hence the name ‘thinblood.’ But they are sired same as any of us. I’ve heard a large concentration of them live in this city. They’re one of the reasons I’m in Los Angeles.’
‘Well aside from that, I’ve not really noticed anything odd. Except for all the vampires. That was a new one on me this week.’
Recording-Beckett chuckled again.
‘I can imagine it was. Most of my contacts have reported sensing something unusual in the night air. Like a sense of dread, or pressure. But I’m not a native to these parts, so I can’t tell if it’s irregular. And since you’re still fresh, perhaps you’re not attuned to it.’
‘Yeah well, I’m not exactly from around here either...’
‘Yes, the accent gave you away. At any rate, it was a pleasure making your acquaintance, Miss…? ’
‘Well, pleasure to meet you Evie, but there are rumblings for me to discredit. We shall, I’m certain, meet again. Or never again. Good night, Young One. And be careful. You’re very likely being hunted by the Sabbat.’
‘Night Beckett… and thanks for the warning.’
The recording clicked to a stop and Evie looked around at Beckett with a glare.
“You didn’t tell me that you were recording all that,” she said accusingly.
“I would have if you had thought to ask,” he countered smugly. Then caught the cushion she tossed at his head. “Now there’s no need for that.”
She stuck her tongue out at him. Then something in the recording finally came to her attention, once she got over the fact that he’d likely recorded almost every conversation they’d had.
“Hang on. You know Damsel?”
It wasn’t something she would have guessed. Neither Damsel nor Beckett had mentioned one another, and she wouldn’t have thought that Damsel would think much of someone who was willing to cooperate with the ‘Cammies’ unless it was as a covert means to give the Anarchs more ground in the fight against them.
“We met a few years ago, the last time I was in Los Angeles. She’s certainly one of my more… colourful contacts.”
Evie snorted at the choice of words.
“Yeah, she’s a bitch. But in a good way. At least you always know where you stand with her.”
“True. Of all the Kindred I’ve ever met, she’s the least likely to stab you in the back.”
“That’s because she’d sooner stab you in the front.”
“How do you think I met her?”
There was a pause before both Kindred burst into laughter. Beckett was definitely the more restrained of the two, shaking his head as he leaned back in his chair as Evie practically doubled over and folded her arms over her stomach.
“I can imagine that,” she giggled once she straightened up. “You just walk up and she yells ‘screw you, Cammie fucker!’ before shanking you in the ribs.”
“Are you quite sure you weren’t there when I met her?” he said wryly.
Evie didn’t get a chance to answer before Cesare buzzed over the intercom again.
“Signore, we’ll be arriving at Cairo International Airport in two hours.”
“Very good Cesare. You’ve sent word to the Prince?”
“Good. Let me know if anything comes up.”
Evie considered making an inappropriate joke but decided against it and instead opened the laptop and got to work transcripting the contents of the recorders before Beckett could even jokingly tell her off for dragging her heels.
It was a little disconcerting to hear her own voice played back to her, and more than a little uncomfortable to hear the likes of Lacroix again, but she quickly found her rhythm and a companionable silence settled between herself and Beckett as they worked. Once the first few transcriptions were done and printed out, she took to them with a pen. Less for actual intellectual purposes and more to leave comments on the conversations themselves; either to add context to the scenario or just for the sake of commenting.
And how the tiny chibi Lacroix screaming about wanting his sarcophagus while harnessed to the Sheriff’s chest came to be doodled at the bottom of one of the transcriptions was a mystery never to be solved. Or at least that was what Evie told Beckett when he pointed it out at a later date, and that was the story she was sticking to.
By the time they reached Cairo, they’d gotten a fair amount of work done between them and the journal looked thicker than before. Evie wondered how much Beckett could possibly fit in it before he had to start a new one.
“However much is possible,” he replied vaguely when she voiced the question.
Heather fidgeted, unable to keep her eyes flicking from her lap to Lisa and then back to her lap again.
She felt better than she had in weeks, maybe months. She no longer felt half-starved and the dizzy spells had stopped plaguing her, and she was starting to look healthy again; her hair was shiny and she’d started to fill out again so she didn’t look so emaciated anymore. But the revelation behind the cause still had her reeling.
The thought that Evie was a vampire was so… unthinkable. True, she slept all day and disappeared into the city at night, but that wasn’t so abnormal for a teenager, right? It was a complaint that a lot of adults had about teens. And true, Heather never actually saw her eat anything she cooked but- but she wouldn’t have just lied and thrown it in the trash when she wasn’t looking. She wouldn’t do anything like that.
Lisa believed otherwise.
Even now the older woman - it was so hard to think of her as a vampire - sat opposite her in the limousine with one leg folded over the other and her hands in her lap as she smiled at Heather sympathetically.
“I know this is all a lot to take in,” she had said before they left LA. “But I’ll try to answer your questions, and my sire can answer any that I can’t.”
It seemed hard to believe. Who else but Evie could explain what Evie had done? Maybe she hadn’t known, Heather reasoned. Maybe she really had been trying to save her life and didn’t realise the effect her blood would have. Why enslave her only to starve and lie to her? It made no sense.
No. Lisa had to be wrong. Her memories had to be wrong. This man - this Roy - couldn’t possibly understand Evie. She wouldn’t do something like this, not on purpose.
“We’re nearly there,” Lisa said gently, drawing Heather’s attention back from her lap. “You don’t need to worry. Roy is a most excellent host to his guests, and you will be well looked after during your stay with us.”
That didn’t make Heather feel any better.
“What if Roy doesn’t like me?” she asked meekly.
Lisa leaned forwards and clasped her hands in her own, meeting her gaze with those lovely dark brown eyes. Heather felt herself blush.
“He will. You have nothing to fear, my dear. Roy is just hopeful you might provide some insight into Evie’s activities before she left LA,” she explained calmly. “He wants to find her, just as you do, I'm sure.”
Heather wasn’t so sure about that. If there was even a shred of truth to what Lisa was saying, it meant that Evie wasn’t just the sweet girl Heather had been led to believe she was. It meant that everything they shared, that sisterly-bond they built during those nights-in where they watched bad horror movies and discussed Heather’s latest designs, was a lie. It was all a lie created by a vampire masquerading as a girl in order to manipulate her.
The thought was sickening, and that was why Heather just couldn’t believe it.
The limousine turned a corner and pulled up to a wrought iron gate that was rusted and covered in ivy. For a moment Heather wondered if the driver had taken a wrong turn, but he just leaned out of the window and pushed his hand into the ivy that covered the stone wall next to the gate. A second later the gate swung open with ease and he drove on through.
They began the long drive up to the decrepit looking castle and the nerves in Heather’s stomach began to jumble up. Three of the four towers seemed to have crumbled in on themselves and there was no visible signs of habitation or maintenance. The lawns were wild and overgrown, having not been attended to in decades… Or longer.
Speaking of bad horror movies, she was starting to feel like she was very much in one… And she might not be the Final Girl in this flick.
The limousine came to a stop outside the huge oak doors at the front of the apparently-abandoned estate. The driver got out, the gravel crunching under his loafers as he opened the door.
“Thank you, Dimitri,” Lisa said as she climbed out.
She then held a hand out to Heather, who took it tentatively. Lisa drew her closer, linking their arms tightly together, and then offered another reassuring smile as the limousine pulled away and disappeared around the side of the estate.
“Don’t worry. Roy is going to love you,” she said, leading Heather up the steps.
Heather just bit her lip as Lisa lifted the door’s heavy iron knocker, and knocked three times.
Getting two dead people through an airport proved… interesting, to say the least. Personally, Evie was more than a little grateful when Cesare pried the coffin open and made a mental note to never stick rude post-it notes on his headset ever again. She’d never really liked enclosed spaces but being nailed into a box was just downright claustrophobic.
“How do you sleep like that?” she exclaimed incredulously, as she stared at Beckett who - definitely for the sake of being dramatic and making fun of her - sat upright with his hands folded over his chest like something straight out of a vampire movie.
“It’s very easy when you’re not conscious for most of it,” he replied as he climbed out and straightened his jacket. “Now come on. We have to present ourselves to the Prince. Preferably before the sun comes up.”
She swallowed just thinking about it. After all, she was still technically on the run from the Camarilla so long as the LA Blood Hunt continued, and they’d had no word on that front in particular. The idea of walking up to a Prince - even one only vaguely aligned with the Camarilla at best - seemed about as sensible as walking straight into a burning building.
Yet Beckett had insisted.
“Better you announce yourself than have Mukhtar Bey learn that you’ve been hiding from him in his own domain,” he explained. “Hiding implies you’ve done something wrong.”
She would have liked to point out that killing a Prince - however indirectly - was wrong as far as the Camarilla cared, but forced herself to remember that Beckett had been at this for far longer than she had. If he believed that presenting herself to this Prince was the right decision, she had to trust that he was right.
It didn’t mean that her stomach would stop churning though.
Cesare retrieved the rented car and brought it around to Evie and Beckett as they waited on the pavement. They then set out.
“The Prince makes his residence in the Manial Palace,” Beckett explained as Cesare drove them into the city. “We’re expected, so when we arrive you just need to stay quiet and only speak when spoken to. If he says anything about LA, you let me handle it. Understood?”
Evie nodded wordlessly. She was perfectly happy to let Beckett do the talking if it meant reducing the chances of having to re-enact her first night as one of the Kindred. And keeping her mouth shut also reduced the chances of her vomiting blood onto any rugs or carpets.
The rest of the drive went by in silence, and it was only when they came to a stop outside of the palace itself did Beckett lean out of the window to inform a guard at the gate that they were expected. The man - no, vampire - at the gate took a moment to verify and then let them through.
The palace gardens were beyond all description. Rows upon rows of lush greenery stretched far and wide across the estate, with the palace’s buildings standing over them all. Cesare waited with the car, waving Evie and Beckett goodbye as they made their way into the gardens. As they made their way through the rows of greenery, Beckett pointed out the predominant Turco-Islamic architecture and the vast variety of plants that had been brought in from all over the world, with many having been selected by the palace architect and original head gardener.
It was almost like listening to a teacher during a school trip, and while it didn’t completely set Evie’s nerves at ease, it did help a little. She suspected that was the point.
They didn’t head into any of the buildings as she had expected, however. Instead Beckett led the way deeper into the gardens. Here the rows between plant beds became narrower, and the plants formed a canopy that made the space feel more enclosed than before. They were still very well tended so that no stray roots or tendrils lay in the path ready to trip unsuspecting guests, but it gave a vaguely claustrophobic feeling. Almost like being back in the coffin but not nearly as bad. At least she could move around here. Even with her sharpened vision, the darkness made it hard to pick out specific shapes and every now and then she wasn’t certain if she’d seen something moving in the undergrowth or if she was just imagining things.
If she wasn’t feeling so nervous, she would love the chance to explore properly. Instead she was filled with dread, like the darkness around her was compounding itself around her and pressing in on all sides.
Fortunately it didn’t last forever. As they approached what had to be the heart of the garden, glowing lights emerged from the darkness and one by one, they peeled away the darkness.
In the middle of the clearing there was a small building with a veranda extending from it. In the center of the veranda there was a throne, and sitting in it was a man who could only be Mukhtar Bey himself.
He had brown skin and a strong, if not muscular, frame. He had long black hair slicked out of his face and a long beard that was expertly trimmed to a fine point midway down his chest. He wore a black suit with a white shirt that he wore open just below the collar bone, and he sat with one leg folded over the other and his chin rested on his fingers with his index resting against his nose.
If he was curious, he didn’t show it. If anything he looked mildly bored.
“Beckett,” he drawled when the pair came to a halt just before his throne. “It’s been some time since you graced Cairo with your presence.”
Beckett inclined his head, which was a very odd sight to Evie.
“I’ve been busy lately,” he replied before settling his hand on her shoulder. “My childe and I are here to do some research and look into some rumours I’ve heard floating about lately. With your blessing, of course.”
“Your childe, hm?” Bey’s gaze fell upon Evie. “I didn’t realise you had a childe, Beckett.”
There was a pause before he jerked his head at Evie.
“Tell me your name, Fledgling,” he ordered.
“Evie, sir. Evie Byrne.”
“Yes, I know who you are.” He looked back to Beckett. “I wasn’t aware that you adopted Prince Killers, Beckett.”
Beckett didn’t visibly flinch as far as Evie could tell, and he sounded as calm as ever when he spoke.
“She’s only a Prince Killer if she actually killed the Prince herself, Mukhtar."
Another pause. And then Mukhtar inclined his head.
“Indeed. Which is why I was asked by the Inner Circle to inform you that the new Prince of Los Angeles, Therese Voerman, has called off the Blood Hunt on your childe’s head,” he replied smoothly. “Provided your childe stays out of trouble, she has nothing to fear and is as welcome as you to operate within my domain.”
Evie blinked once, then twice, as if to make sure she had heard that correctly. Not only was Bey choosing to not lop her head off, but Therese - the Prince - had called off the Blood Hunt?
So… the Camarilla wasn’t going to try and kill her? After everything that happened, everything she had done to bring down Lacroix… And they were just letting her go? It took the relief a moment or two to sink in.
“Understand, however, that this leniency is not due to generosity,” Bey said, interrupting her train of thought. He was looking at her again. “It’s come to light that Anarch influences were responsible for engineering the situation regarding this… Ankaran Sarcophagus. Some parties, including Smiling Jack, have already claimed responsibility for their part in the scheme.”
Evie felt the bottom of her stomach drop out, and the rest of the world seemed to go with it.
Jack? Jack had been involved in that mess? But- But he had been the one to help her escape. Who taught her, however quickly, about what she was and how to survive. If it hadn’t been for him, she wouldn’t have survived Santa Monica. If he was involved…
She really couldn’t trust anyone else, could she?
She jumped and realised she had not only spaced out, but that the colour from her face had drained away. Beckett was looking at her with mild concern and Bey had arched a brow.
“Sorry,” she murmured.
“Don’t be, Young One,” Bey said wearily. “Your lack of control is your sire’s responsibility. The day it becomes mine will be the day you lose your head.”
She just nodded, wanting to be literally anywhere else right now. Standing here, doing nothing… Her mind was already wandering back to Jack and it took a conscious effort not to let it.
“Good evening to your both. I hope your time in Cairo proves… enlightening.”
Beckett inclined his head once more and nodded to Evie before turning and leading her back into the garden. He didn’t say a word until the were out of the Prince’s earshot.
“Are you alright?”
“...I fucking hate this,” she muttered after a brief silence.
“Did you actually hear what Mukhtar said after he mentioned Jack?”
“No. I was too busy realising that Jack was a using fuckwad like everyone else in that fucking city,” she spat, finally looking up at Beckett. “He was the first person to actually tell me what the hell I am, the first one to actually teach me how to survive, and it turns out he was using me like everyone else!”
It was only when Beckett hushed her did she realise that she’d been shouting as the red hot anger built in her chest. The Beast was growling and pacing agitatedly and it took more effort than she’d like to admit to push it down.
Frenzying now was not going to change anything.
“I don’t think he was using you specifically,” Beckett said with that surprising gentleness. “You’d know that if you’d listened to what Bey said.”
“I doubt it.”
He placed a hand on her shoulder.
“Jack claimed that he swapped Messarach’s body with the explosives that detonated when Sebastian opened the Ankaran Sarcophagus,” he explained. “He also staged the events of the Elizabeth Dane to make it appear as though a sleeping ancient massacred the crew-”
“Right because Jack massacring a whole crew of innocent people makes me feel so much better about this,” she growled.
“-He also confessed to helping you escape LA and that he advised you to seek the protection of one of the factions,” he continued. “In fact, he may have even expressed some regret that you were Sebastian’s chosen pawn.”
“That doesn’t change anything.”
Because he lied to me, she thought. He saved me, but he still lied to me. He’s the reason Lacroix sent me to the Dane, hell he probably stole the key and gave it to Ming. He didn’t actually warn me about the sarcophagus even though he knew better than anyone about what was inside. He’s the reason that everything that happened to me with that damned sarcophagus happened, and he never said a word. He might not have used me like Lacroix or Ming, and he might have regretted that I got involved, but he sure as hell didn’t try to protect me.
But she didn’t say any of that because she was sure it would come out sounding childish and selfish. Instead she just turned away and said nothing.
Beckett heaved a sigh and shook his head.
“Well we’re burning moonlight, and there are things to do,” he said, turning to continue through the garden. “Come on. Cesare will be waiting for us.”
It took Evie a moment to follow, trailing a little ways behind him as she wondered when this sarcophagus nonsense was going to be well and truly behind her.
New chapter time :D
Writer's block has decided to be a dick, so apologies that this chapter's a bit shorter than the last two, but I'm going to try and keep a relatively decent update schedule because honestly Evie and Beckett are in possession of my whole brain these days XD
Lemme know if you liked it, and thank you for reading ^^
Chapter 4: First Blood
If there was one thing Evie was grateful for, it was that Egypt was cold at night. Even in life she’d not been a fan of the blazing heat of summer. Now she could sleep through it without a problem and count on it to be reasonably cooler when she woke up. One of the few graces of being among the living dead, she supposed.
The rover came to a stop and she looked around at Beckett who was double checking the gps. He nodded.
“We’re on foot from here,” he said, climbing out.
Evie followed suit, grabbing her bag up off of the floor and closing the car door behind her.
Beckett, meanwhile, was shouldering a backpack that looked like it could easily crush a man’s spine if it wasn’t carried correctly, yet he made it look easy. Yet another perk to being clinically dead.
He took the lead, turning off of the road and heading straight into the desert with Evie trailing along at his side, eyes fixed on the vast expanse unfurling before them. They crossed the desert sands mostly in silence with the occasional pause as Beckett glanced around, as if to get his bearings.
Evie wondered exactly what it was that he could see that told him where they were and where they needed to be going. Maybe he just had the kind of experience that could only be gained over centuries of exploration, but all she could see was identical stretches of desert in all directions on they were far enough from the rover that it had fallen out of sight behind one of the innumerable dunes.
“So what’s so special about these ruins, exactly?” she asked after she got bored of counting the grains of sand that had hitched a ride on her boots.
“Nothing at all,” Beckett said bluntly. “The ruins themselves are quite ordinary. Standard fare. It’s what’s inside that intrigues me.”
“And what is inside?”
He just smirked.
“You’ll just have to guess, won’t you?”
Evie sighed. He enjoyed dangling the mystery of their purpose over her head, so she fell silent again, thinking about it as they trudged on.
Since presenting themselves to the Prince and receiving his blessing to operate within the city they’d met with several different Kindred. Beckett asked them all sorts of questions about some group called ‘the Setites’, as well as the Book of Nod and if anyone knew about any Kindred artefacts that might currently be in circulation. The questions led them to a Tremere who had dealings with the Setites and then pointed them to the ruins they were headed to.
“You think that the Setites are using the ruins to house artefacts or something?” she blurted out after a few minutes of deliberation.
“It’s certainly possible. I can’t think of why else they would bother with the place,” he said. “As far as I can tell, it has nothing to do with the Kindred. Which makes it the perfect place to hide the sort of thing someone might want to keep from me.”
“Because you’re only interested in Kindred history?”
“Precisely.” He smirked. “They believed I would never even dream to search in a place like this.”
“But why don’t they want you to find it?” she asked, frowning.
“Because there are many who want to keep the truth from me,” he said bluntly, an edge of irritation colouring his voice that was not directed at her. “Whether it’s to protect their precious political ideals or to maintain their supposed relevance in the modern nights. I’ve not let them stop me before, and I don’t intend to start now.”
“...So it’s political bullshit?”
“Yes Evie,” he laughed. “It’s political bullshit.”
They pressed on across the barren landscape for hours, the moon and the stars in the sky overhead being their only other companions.
“So, you never actually explained to me who the Setites are,” Evie pointed out as they crested another dune. “Are they another Sect, like the Camarilla?”
Beckett paused before answering, scoping out the desert that lay before them and then began to pick his way down the slope with a practised ease.
“No, not exactly. They’re a clan who believe that they are descended from the Egyptian God, Set, hence the name ‘Setites’,” he explained.
He held out a hand and Evie took it, letting him keep her steady as she found her own footing down.
“But Set wasn’t actually a god, you see. He was Kindred, and he is largely considered the clan’s progenitor. It’s Antediluvian. The Setites believe that when Gehenna arrives, Set will awaken to rule or consume the world, and they believe they pave the way to his return,” he continued. “They are masters of corruption, and use various tools to break people away from outside influences and into the service of Set.”
“So they’re a clan and a cult?”
“Effectively. Not all Setites join the clan via the Embrace, after all. Outcasts from other clans have been welcomed among their ranks, after all, and are taught their ways as any Setite childe would be.” He snorted. “If there’s one thing the Setites have gotten right, it’s that divisions between bloodlines have very little meaning at all.”
There was a pause before Evie asked, “how likely is it that we’ll run into Setites in the ruins?”
“That,” he said, “is an excellent question. We’ll just have to find out, and hope that, if there are any all the way out here, they may only have left a guard or two in the event I found their trail.”
It was another hour before they saw the first signs of the ruins. And by saw, Evie nearly fell into them.
The first bits of debris disrupted the otherwise deserted wasteland, chunks of ancient stone that indicated that something used to stand there a long time ago. Ruined pillars began to crop up, with two rows running in parallel to one another, and up ahead was a low stone wall surrounding some kind of opening.
“That’s likely to be our entrance,” Beckett murmured. “No signs of any Setites yet, but keep your guard up. Just in case.”
Evie nodded, talons unsheathing themselves just in case. They began to cross towards the entrance, eyes scanning the horizon for any sign of an ambush and-
She didn’t stop to think twice when her instincts screamed at her, just flung herself forwards a split second before the ground gave out beneath her feet. Sand and stone fell away down into the gaping pit that opened up beneath her, and she would have too if her clawed hand hadn’t sunk her talons into the earth. But it wasn’t stable and it crumbled between her claws.
She clawed at the unstable slope with both hands, trying and failing to get a footing. She didn’t dare look down into the pit below, just focused on trying to find a way to get herself back up even as she slid down another good couple of feet. Maybe it was just her imagination, a phantom feeling from her time as a human, but she could have sworn she felt her heart hammering in her chest so hard that it threatened to bruise her ribs.
“Evie, grab on!”
She looked up and saw Beckett leaning over the edge of the pit, hand outstretched. He was still about two or three feet out of reach. She’d have to make a run and jump up the slope to reach him.
Drawing a deep breath, she hunched down, focused her blood into her legs, and pushed up as if bursting into a sprint. Three steps up and the earth began to give way under her feet, and she threw out her hand, reaching for Beckett.
To her vast relief he caught her wrist and pulled. Her feet found the slope again and she was able to half-climb up the side until she was safely back on solid ground. For a moment they sat at the edge of the pit, minds racing to catch up to their bodies before Evie laughed.
“Well, we’re off to a great start,” she said brightly. “Not even here two minutes and this place already wants me dead.”
Beckett shook his head, smirking.
“Leave it to a bit of unstable ground to do the job better than Sebastian or the Sabbat,” he remarked, getting to his feet. “Still, seeing as you’re not hurt, how about we get inside before the ground tries to swallow you up again?”
“Sounds like a plan,” she said, doing the same and dusting herself off.
The entrance itself was contained by three low stone walls with one side open. The opening, however, was filled with sand. And a lot of it. Only the very top step at its mouth indicated that there had once been stairs leading down into the earth, with the rest having been buried under the sand and dust.
“This is recent. Someone intentionally buried the entrance,” Beckett murmured, glancing at his watch. “Meaning that pit may have been a trap for anyone who came to poke around.”
“Did the Setites house the artefacts here, or were they just trying to get rid of them?” Evie wondered.
“If it’s the latter, I’ll beat them into torpor,” he growled. “We only have a couple more hours before sunrise. If we spend time digging, we won’t be able to explore this place properly until tomorrow night. By which time the Setites might be aware that we’re on the trail.”
Evie raised a brow.
“So plan b is to jump down that thing?” she asked, jerking her head towards the gaping pit that was now ahead of them.
He smirked at her, cocking a brow.
“Scared?” he teased.
She responded with a deadpan look.
“I nearly fell down it.”
“You’ll get used to it, sooner or later.”
“And say we do jump down there and find what we’re looking for? How do we get back out?”
“Dig back through the entrance. Obviously.”
He walked back around the entrance towards the edge of the pit, and peered down into the darkness. Evie, however, hung back. Maybe it was because of her fall but she didn’t like the idea of trying to climb down that way. Beckett, however, seemed quite intent on it considering he had removed his gloves and sprouted his own talons.
“Come on,” he called as he lowered himself over the side. “Best not to burn moonlight.”
She groaned inwardly but followed regardless. Beckett had already worked his way a few feet down the pit wall by the time she reached the pit’s mouth, his talons anchoring him to the loose earth. Reluctantly, Evie lowered herself over the side, digging her claws into the earth and slowly followed him downward.
Half the time she expected the slope to give way again and to fall down into the dark, but perhaps because she was actually expecting it to happen this time the pit decided it wasn’t going to fall away like last time just to mess with her. Even so she stayed tense and ready to jump further back up if need be.
A quick glance over at Beckett made it look as though he wasn’t nearly as concerned as she was. Not that he had any reason to be. He could turn into a bat for god’s sake. He didn’t really need to climb like this, and if he fell he didn’t need to worry about splatting on the ground somewhere below.
The pit went further than she imagined which made Evie relieved that she hadn’t actually fallen down the first time.
After several long minutes into the descent, the sky became a pinprick above them, almost indistinguishable from the mouth of the pit. And then a thought occurred.
“How do we even know if this thing opens into the ruins?” she called over to Beckett.
“If it doesn’t, then we’ll have to dig and if we don’t get through by day break, I’ll meld with the earth and you can bury yourself in the dirt.”
“...And you’ve survived for over three hundred years how ?!”
Beckett just laughed and continued downwards.
Fortunately she needn’t have worried. The pit did in fact open, and directly below them was the roof of a small-ish building. It was quite a fall, one that could easily kill or cause permanent damage to a human, but to a couple of vampires - especially ones equipped with Fortitude - the worst they could expect was a sprain if they didn’t stick the landing.
Beckett dropped first and Evie followed. They hit the roof with a stony crunch and Evie, still tense thanks to the anticipation caused by her earlier fall, darted to the side before it gave in. Beckett threw an arm out and caught the edge of the now-gaping hole in the roof, only for the masonry to crumble between his fingers and he fell through.
Evie edged her way over and peered down the new hole in the roof. Beckett lay sprawled on the ground below in a mess of broken stone and splintered wood, but otherwise he seemed unhurt.
She opened her mouth but Beckett just raised a hand and pointed at her (or vaguely in her direction).
“Not. One. Word,” he grunted.
So she just giggled and turned to view her surroundings. As Beckett had warned her before, it wasn’t anything particularly impressive. A small, ruined settlement but not much else. There were buildings and dirt roads that were still firmly compacted from use, and they all seemed to be built around and out from something though. From here it was hard to tell what that something was, but it didn’t look like this place housed anything particularly remarkable. It was just… ordinary.
No wonder the Setites chose this place to hide the artefacts. Not even the most studious of Kine would want to bother investing time in this place when there were other more intriguing sites to be explored. There wasn’t a whisper of a breeze, and the whole place was so dark that she had to focus her blood to her eyes, tapping into the Protean discipline, to be able to see anything clearly.
But as she moved closer to the edge of the building, ready to take a look around in search of these artefacts Beckett wanted she became strangely aware of how quiet it was. And not just in the lack of a breeze, but also the fact that she couldn’t hear her feet moving against the stone, or Beckett picking himself up off of the ground below. It was like she’d suddenly gone deaf, or all the noise in the world had just… ceased.
Confused, she glanced around.
Even her own voice sounded strangely muffled to her, like someone had clamped a pillow over her ears.
Then she heard it… The tiny gasp of breath escaping lungs. The sound itself was so small, yet so very powerful that she hardly noticed the beads of blood sweat dripping from her brow as her chest tightened just thinking about it.
Sam… Oh god, Sam .
Suddenly she was there, trailing behind Sam along that street in Hollywood towards the alley with the payphones, and feeling utterly helpless as her pleas fell on deaf ears. That rising desperation and fear, not knowing what would happen if she didn’t do something .
She hadn’t thought, just reacted. One moment Sam was dialling Jenny’s number, the next she was on the ground, her blood leaking out from the knife wound in her back.
She’d been protecting the Masquerade, Evie had told herself. She wouldn’t have done it if she had an alternative.
But there had been alternatives, hadn’t there? She could have knocked Sam out and let her come to, believing she had dreamt up the encounter in the first place. She could have just done a better job at convincing Sam that she was mistaken in the first place. Hell, she could have - should have - been more vigilant and spotted Sam first and hid out in Isaac’s office until she was gone!
She should have done so many things differently. None of them had to end in Sam’s death. The first person she had killed when it wasn’t in self-defense and it was the first person who had genuinely tried to take care of her.
She was a monster. A monster who had taken Sam’s life so easily, and ultimately without any hesitation.
Beckett would be better off abandoning her, she realised. He should just leave her in this ruin to wait for the sun to come up and shine down the pit and burn her away. After her mother, then her father, Sam, and Lacroix, Evie was proving that a trend existed when it came to her guardians; she always ended up killing them, and each death was more intentional than the last.
It was only a matter of time before she turned on Beckett as well. Everyone would be better off if she just left and died before she had the chance to hurt him too-!
Suddenly the world seemed to turn back on and her senses were immediately under assault.
Someone grabbed her by the ankle and dragged her backwards and down before she could react. And just in time, as the assassin’s blade sliced at the spot that had been occupied by her neck only half a second later. It was only when her back was pressed against his chest that she realised that it was Beckett who had grabbed her. He had a gun out and fired it through the doorway and then up at the hole in the ceiling as he dragged her down behind a table that had been knocked onto its side in a makeshift barricade where he let her go.
She then became aware of the fact that she was crying and that she was covered from head-to-toe in a fine film of blood that clung to her skin like drying sweat. Beckett shifted so he was kneeling in front of her with a clawed hand gripping her shoulder.
He was looking worse for wear. His shoulder was still in the process of healing shut from whatever wound he’d received, and there were droplets of blood rolling down the side of his face like sweat. He was also paler than usual and his expression was very intense. Whatever was happening, he’d clearly been fighting to get her to safety while avoiding getting himself killed in the process.
He peered over the top of their one defense between them and whoever their attackers were, and then turned back to her with a very serious look on his face. He then pressed the gun into her hands.
“You,” he whispered firmly, “stay right. Here. Only use it if you have to.”
She couldn’t help but nod stiffly as he disappeared back into the fray. She felt so awful that she could barely even register her usual disgust with the weapon in her hands, let alone try to help Beckett fight their attackers.
So instead of trying to deliberately disobey him, she tried to figure out exactly what had just happened to her. One minute she’d been standing on the roof, the next… The next was that strange silence, right before she found herself in the grips of the memory of that night in Hollywood. Sam running up to her, hugging her tightly, then the payphones and the knife…
God, it was like she was there in the moment, reliving it as it happened. And then there had been those verges of other memories. Stabbing Lacroix in the throat, the precise second she’d squeezed the pistol’s trigger... She couldn’t remember if she had meant to or if it had just been an accident, only that it had happened.
It was like some of the darkest moments of her life had all been converging together to come to that horrible conclusion: that things would be better if she was dead.
She rolled onto her right side and fired, just as her instincts told her to. The would-be-assassin was stunned long enough for Evie to unsheath her claws, ready to fight.
They were definitely Kindred. Whatever happened up on that roof had to have been the result of some kind of Discipline (one she was definitely going to ask Beckett about later) but it was one she’d never encountered the likes of before. Much like the Kindred in front of her.
They were dark skinned, but not in the way that description was typically applied. Rather, it looked like their skin had been dusted over with a fine coating of charcoal. And while the gun-shot wound had definitely momentarily stunned them, it hadn’t deterred them.
They leapt forwards, a long sharp blade flashing in their hand and aimed directly for her throat. Evie ducked and fired again. The Kindred was ready this time and stepped out of the bullet’s path before they pivoted with one foot and kicked the gun out of her hands with the other. Then they brought the blade down again. It cut a shallow line into her neck as opposed to slitting her throat as she pushed herself up onto her knees and the Beast howled at the potent sting. She rolled, dodging the blade again as it came back up, this time aiming for the nape of her neck, and then slashed upwards with her claws.
She caught the Kindred’s elbow, tearing through the thick leather of their jacket and digging her claws into the joint, forcibly tearing the cartilage as her claws pushed the bones apart. The Kindred didn’t scream. Rather, they pivoted, bringing their free elbow around and slamming it into the side of Evie’s head. She bit down a yelp. If they wouldn’t show signs of pain then neither would she. Instead she clung on even as she stumbled backwards, digging her claws in deeper to keep the bones of the Kindred’s elbow from pulling back together, causing the arm to bend in a nigh on unnatural way. The blade fell from their hand and hit the ground with a metallic clatter.
Evie, still held half-upright, groped blindly behind her, grabbed the blade and rammed it upwards into the Kindred’s back.
This time they let out an unearthly shriek of agony as the blade severed their spinal cord as it lanced through their chest. In an instant they crumbled into ash, and Evie hit the ground as the anchor keeping her somewhat upright disintegrated between her claws. She didn’t let go of the blade’s handle, however.
She blinked as if to clear her head, feeling winded even though it shouldn’t have been possible. For a few moments she just lay there, staring up at the hole in the ceiling into the darkness beyond that.
The brief moment of silence was shattered by a scream that was deeper and more masculine than her attacker's, and she scrambled to her feet. Once she was properly oriented - her head was still throbbing where she’d been hit - she sprinted towards the doorway.
To her relief, it was Beckett standing over a pile of ashes with bloody claws, blood beading on his brow, and with a few injuries to his torso, but otherwise still in one piece. He looked around at her and there was a momentary flicker of relief on his face before he marched back into her direction, hurrying her back through the doorway.
“Are you alright?” he demanded. “Are you hurt-?”
His eyes fell on the pile of ash that had been the Kindred she had fought, and he then looked back to her.
“I feel like I should be asking you that,” she panted, gesturing to his bloodied torso.
“All things considered, I could be much worse off right now,” he said gruffly as he grabbed the wreckage of the door from the ground. “As could you.”
“I figured. Who were they? The Setites?”
He shook his head as he - almost comically - tucked the door under his arm.
“I’ll explain tomorrow night. We only have a couple of hours before dawn and I want to be sure that we won't be attacked again. That and we have to be sure that we’ll have a place to sleep when the sun comes up,” he said sharply. When she opened her mouth to protest, he cut her off with, “I promise. I’ll explain. But right now we need to be certain that we’ll be safe for the time being.”
He led her further into what she now realised was the ruins of a home. Where she and the Kindred had fought must have been a shared living space - the ancient combination of a kitchen, living room, and dining room. Not that she had the mind to really notice.
Her mind was racing with a thousand and one questions, and the Beast inside was dissatisfied with the lack of answers and lack of blood. It prowled the bars of its cage, and while it was tempting to quash it down altogether, she let it prowl in its irritation. She would have her answers, she assured it, when they were safe. And Beckett had brought blood for them, so they wouldn’t go hungry either.
The Beast didn’t like that much and it snarled harshly. But still she maintained the calming thoughts as Beckett had suggested during their lessons. Keeping it under control without lashing out at it.
As Beckett motioned for her to move into what appeared to be the house’s cellar, the Beast finally settled. It wasn’t happy, but it did as she wished. If she wasn’t exhausted and feeling like her legs might give out at any moment she would have rejoiced and immediately informed Beckett of the development. As it was, she was feeling that familiar lethargy creeping up on her even as Beckett secured the door over the entrance to the cellar, ensuring that no sunlight would creep over them during the daylight hours, no matter how slim that chance was.
She let herself slide down the opposite wall into a sitting position, laying the blood-soaked blade on the ground beside her. Beckett dropped his backpack on the ground, which he must have recovered when she wasn’t paying attention, and pulled out a satchel. And from that pulled out a thermos. When he opened it, Evie felt the Beast rouse again at the coppery aroma that came from it, pawing at its cage with a disgruntled growl.
Beckett took the first swig, then held it out to her.
“Try not to drink it all,” he said. “We’ll need more before we get back to the hotel.”
She did as she was told and stayed as mindful as possible as she slugged back a couple of mouthfuls of blood, then passed it back to Beckett. He didn’t look particularly pleased, though she got the sense that it wasn’t directed at her. She opened her mouth to ask, but he shook his head.
“Tomorrow,” he said. “I'm going to make sure we’re alone and that we don't have any more visitors to worry about. You get some sleep.”
She watched him disappeared back up the stairs, shouldering the door out of the way and then dropping it back over the cellar entrance, leaving her alone in the darkness.
She huddled up into a ball, exhausted but unable to sleep until he returned nearly an hour later, looking as weary as she felt. He blinked when he realised she was still awake, but offered her a gentle smile as he dropped into the spot beside her, wrapped an arm around her shoulders, and rested his head on top of hers.
And just like that, her eyes slid closed and she was gone.
Beckett was absent when Evie came to the next evening. He was always awake before she was and the lethargy that came with the coming of the dawn always seemed to seize her faster than it did him. Another thing added to the list of questions she’d need to ask him sooner or later.
But first she took a minute to gather herself.
Frankly, she felt disgusting. The blood-sweat from the previous night had dried against her skin and cracked as she sat up properly. It stuck to her clothes and her head was vaguely throbbing where the Kindred had hit her the night before. The blade still lay on the ground at her side, the Kindred’s blood having dried to it, leaving it sticky and unusable. If she intended to hang onto the weapon, she’d need to clean it.
A loud creaking shattered the silence of the cellar and Evie bolted to her feet, grabbing the blade. A useless weapon was better than none.
Fortunately she didn’t need to try and use it, as it was none other than Beckett who appeared at the entrance to the cellar, having moved the splintering door out of the way. He raised a brow at the sight of her, but then smiled and motioned for her to join him. She slipped the blade into the belt loop of her jeans and then did exactly that.
The ruins were silent, but there was the faint howl of wind coming from the pit above and the sound of their footsteps across the dirt which was more comforting to Evie than it would have been before. Beckett led her out of the house they’d taken refuge in and through the rest of the small settlement that was, as he’d said, ordinary in every way. In fact she was half-surprised that the place was even abandoned. The stone buildings and their wooden thatch work looked so well preserved that she half expected to see lights in the windows and figures moving in doorways, and to hear chatter and laughter floating out into the street.
But all was still and silent, preserved and buried in time, and it took a while for either vampire to speak.
“Beckett… Who were those Kindred that attacked us?” Evie finally asked.
He heaved a sigh, as if he had been dreading that particular question.
“Those… were Assamites. Some of the most effective and feared assassins our world has to offer.”
“Assassins…?” She felt her heart drop.
The Prince had said that Therese had repealed the Blood Hunt and that the Camarilla had decided to leave her be, provided she stayed out of trouble. Was there someone out there who disagreed with the decision and had decided to take matters into their own hands?
Or worse, she thought as her heart dropped a little further, could the Sabbat have hired them as revenge for the shared demise of Victoria and Hazel? Would the Sabbat employ assassins? She really didn’t know. One thing was certain: someone out there wanted her dead, and since she’d not drawn attention to herself since becoming involved with Beckett, there was only one reason why someone would want her dead.
“They were looking for me, weren’t they?” she said quietly. It wasn’t exactly a question she posed to Beckett, but more herself. “Because of what I did in LA.”
There was a pause, and it was clear that the thought had crossed Beckett’s mind too.
“I don’t know. It’s a possibility.”
If he thought that not being blunt about it would reassure her then he was dead wrong. If anything she felt worse.
It didn’t help that whatever she had experienced the night before - with the memories of Sam’s death and the conclusion she had come to as it converged with other memories - was still gnawing away at her.
“The best way to know when an Assamite is coming for you is a complete and utter silence,” Beckett said abruptly, snapping Evie out of her reverie. Maybe for that exact purpose. “You noticed it, didn’t you? When you were on the roof.”
She nodded stiffly.
“Yeah. Yeah, it was like someone put the world on mute,” she said slowly. “And even when I called out to you, it sounded all muffled in my head. And then...”
She trailed off.
Beckett had always been surprisingly patient with her, especially when it came to the more delicate matters. Whatever she’d thought of him back in LA, he was proving he knew how to navigate the difficult minefield that was an emotional teenager and he was never particularly harsh when it came to such things. But that conclusion she’d come to, and the pattern that led her to it felt too personal. Private. She didn’t really want to tell him. Not yet anyway.
They’d stopped in a narrow alley with Beckett looking down at her, vaguely puzzled. She realised she had gotten lost in her own thoughts and hadn't been listening to anything he might have said.
He raised a brow.
“You were going to say something about what happened. I take it that you were thinking about what happened when you were under the Quietus Discipline’s influence?”
Right. She’d guessed that a Discipline had been in play when she suddenly went deaf and her mind wandered into those dark memories. She’d meant to ask.
“The Quietus Discipline. The Assamites are infamous for their use of it,” he explained. “In its most basic form, it causes the utter silence you experienced. But in its more powerful forms, it can be far more insidious.
“I would guess that our would-be-assassins were using the Blood Sweat power on you. It causes a target to not only sweat their own blood, but also to dwell on terrible things they have done. The target becomes weak, helpless, and unaware of anything happening around them. The perfect target for an assassin.”
He gave her a sympathetic smile.
“The fact you broke free is quite an achievement.”
“Only because of you,” she murmured. “You snapped me out of it. If you hadn’t…”
“If I could have snapped you out of it then I would have been able to do it a lot sooner,” he pressed, squeezing her shoulder before continuing onward and she trailed a little behind him. “You don’t give yourself enough credit, Evie. You did well.”
They came to a stop at the edge of a plaza, at the heart of which was a spring. There must have been some underwater source feeding it from elsewhere, as it was filled with crystal clear water. The surface was as smooth as glass, and had it been below the pit it would surely reflect the night sky perfectly. Reeds and water plants grew at the spring’s edges, including beautiful flowers that Evie recognised as some kind of lotus.
In the near perfect darkness of the ruins the pure white petals almost seemed to give off an ethereal glow, and the centre of the flower was a bright yellow. They flourished in abundance despite the fact that no sunlight would have been able to reach them for longer than she could even hope to guess. They were soft to the touch even under undead fingers and she found herself utterly enthralled by them.
“They’re gorgeous,” she breathed, not knowing when the smile had spread over her face.
Beckett appeared at her side with that fond smile on his face again.
“They’re Egyptian lotuses,” he said, crouching down. “In Ancient Egypt they were believed to provide strength and power, and even today it’s the country’s national flower.”
For a while neither vampire said anything to the other, just appreciated a moment of peace in the wake of the previous night’s chaos. Then Evie received a face full of water.
She spluttered, stumbling backwards onto her feet. The water dripped from her face, mingling with the remnants of the blood-sweat and she glared at Beckett who had the audacity to even try and look innocent like his hand wasn’t dripping wet.
“Had an accident, did we?” he said airily, unable to keep himself from grinning.
There was a pause before Evie hissed, “you are so dead.”
Beckett raised a brow, but whatever he expected her to do, it wasn’t for her to full body rush him and tackle him head first into the spring. They fell backwards with a splash and Evie wasted no time in pushing off of him further into the water before he had a chance to retaliate. She surfaced near the centre of the spring whereas Beckett was apparently still getting his bearings, pushing his long brown hair out of his face.
So she ducked back under the water, though not before he caught a glimpse of her. Before she had a chance to launch another surprise attack, she found herself being grabbed at the scruff of her neck - or rather the back of her jacket - and plucked out of the water.
“Am I now?” Beckett growled, though he sounded more amused than genuinely annoyed with her.
“Sure are,” she gasped through a mouthful of water as she splashed more water up in his face.
A move that earned her being bodily tossed back into the water across the spring. If she had needed to breathe, the force of the impact might have winded her and forced her to surface. Indeed, the very human instinct nearly did seize her, but she pushed it down and instead she focused her blood to her eyes, enabling her to see through the gloom. She could vaguely make out Beckett’s legs on the far side of the spring, meaning he wasn’t committing to diving in after her just yet. Rather he seemed to be waiting for her to try and ambush him.
‘Let him,’ she decided. ‘We’ll see who can out-wait who.’
For a long time neither Gangrel moved, each undoubtedly watching the other, both anticipating that the other would make the first move.
Beckett would be the one to win that bet, seeing as he had three centuries worth of patience whereas Evie was seventeen and had almost none in comparison.
That being said, she had been the one to take down Ming Xiao in open combat, so she wasn’t reckless enough to charge him head on. Instead she picked her way slowly, carefully across the bottom of the spring, keeping in mind that he could definitely see her by now and knew she was looking to leap out at him.
So she began to zig-zag, left then right then left again as she got closer and closer. Then Beckett dove for her, missing by a scant inch. She grabbed his arm and threw herself up and around until she was clinging to his back, arms locked around his neck and legs around his waist.
“Got you!” she yelled through a lungful of water and laughter.
“No,” Beckett shot back. “Got you!”
He threw himself backwards into the water with Evie taking the brunt of the impact. Not that it hurt, but it was enough to loosen her grip on him.
Then they were both above the water again, laughing so hard Evie wouldn’t be shocked if some of the droplets on her face were blood tears again. She pushed her hair back out of her eyes as she grinned uncontrollably at Beckett.
“And that, Young One,” he said once he caught his breath, “is why you don’t mess with your elders.”
“You started it,” she retorted.
“And finished it.”
She splashed at him defiantly, sticking her tongue out. He just ruffled her hair and they made their way back to the bank.
“So,” she said, sitting with her feet still in the water. “What was the point of that?”
“Hm?” Beckett glanced around at her, pausing as he rung out his hair.
“That. What was the point? Or am I supposed to believe you really just decided it’d be fun to play a game at a time like this?”
“Did I? Last I checked, you ’re the one who tackled me,” he pointed out.
“Maybe. But you threw me. If you didn’t want to play, you could have just told me off,” she retorted. “So what was the point?”
There was a pause, and she almost expected sarcasm again. But she was learning that there were times when he did know better than to just whip out another witty retort.
“You looked positively miserable,” he said, sitting down beside her. “And seeing how we’ll be trapped down here for at least a couple of nights, the last thing I needed was to be trapped here with an angsty teenager.”
“Seriously?” she deadpanned, arching a brow.
He chuckled and for a while longer they sat in silence with only the gentle breeze for company. Then Beckett continued.
“Don’t worry. We’ll speak with Mukhtar when we get back, maybe find out who’s responsible for sending the Assamites,” he said.
“And what if he sent them?”
“How do you know?”
“Because if he wanted you dead, he’d have had you killed the moment he laid eyes on you,” he explained. “Mukhtar Bey isn’t a man known for his political scheming. He’s very upfront on such things, and once he makes a decision he stands by it unless given reason not to.
“So either someone has convinced him that you are a threat that needs eliminating in the short time since we arrived, or, more likely, someone else is employing the Assamites. And then we’ll deal with it. Okay?”
Evie hesitated a moment, and then asked, “could it be the Sabbat?”
He blinked then chuckled.
“No. No, the Sabbat prefer to handle these things ‘in house’ so to speak,” he assured.
Well that was something. And it did make her feel a bit better than before.
It must have showed on her face because Beckett gave a satisfied nod, rose to his feet, and offered his hands. She took them and let him pull her up, and he led the way back through the village.
Even though they were soaking wet, Evie felt significantly better than she had before. The dried blood-sweat had washed away, and what Beckett had said - that they would deal with whoever sent the assassins - had lifted her mood somewhat.
Going to see the Prince would undoubtedly be terrifying, especially if it turned out that Beckett was wrong and he really did want her dead, but for now she tried not to think about it. It was a problem for later.
Right now, they did need to focus on getting back to their land rover and back to civilisation.
Chapter 5: Protean
“Are you telling me that four of your assassins have failed to kill them? There’s only two of them for god’s sake!”
“Not at all. I’m telling you that the four we have sent have failed to return,” was the cool, clipped reply.
“That might as well be the same thing,” Leon snapped.
“Perhaps,” Tergyrius drawled. “They were Neonates, after all, and youth does make for reckless abandon…”
Leon ignored the implied insult, but only barely as he grit his teeth and paced the room, the phone still pressed to his ear.
“I hope you don’t expect payment until you can provide confirmation that those fleabags are dead,” he spat.
“I hope your master doesn’t usually allow you to commit business in his stead. You are hardly holding all the cards after all, Neonate. What would the Camarilla say if they learned your master was going behind their back in such a fashion to rid the night of one girl?”
“Are you threatening me?”
“Not at all, Neonate.” It was a shock that Leon’s teeth didn’t crack under the strain as he grit them ever tighter. “Consider it a warning. Tell your master he is to send his payment, and then we will discuss further attempts. With him.”
And before he could say another word, the line went dead and left only the dial tone buzzing in Leon’s ear.
He snarled and resisted the urge to throw his phone against the nearest wall.
You might be a Brujah, Leon, but that does not give you free reign to act like a petulant child, Victoria would remind him.
So he took a deep breath, held, and breathed out. Cool, calm, and collected, just like Roy had taught him. His passion and anger were pointless if they didn’t drive him forwards, and smashing a phone over some smug elder was not driving him forwards. So deep breath in and then out, over and over until the Beast finally settled. Not quite content, but settled.
Feeling considerably calmer, Leon left the room in search of Victoria, in order to inform her of the update. Chances were she would be in her office, monitoring the Anarch Situation.
It seemed that Rodriguez was really capitalising on Lacroix’s death. And on that half-rotted werewolf head. Both were becoming something of a symbol to the Anarchs. That no matter how powerful their foes - whether through strength of influence or strength of arms - they could be overcome. It wouldn’t be easy, and it wouldn’t be pretty, but it could be done. Within a week of Lacroix’s death, sprays of the Brujah clan mark and severed wolf heads were popping up all over LA’s walls in bright, bold red paint, and it had the local Kine completely baffled. Officials were speculating if the symbols were related to the so-called ‘terrorist attack’ on the tower and were now investigating the link between them.
For all the Anarchs talk of living free without exposing themselves to humans, they were still a bunch of chest pounders who didn’t know how to keep it down. It was disgraceful. To think he was associated with them, even if only by way of clan.
Even as he knocked on the office door and entered, the idea made him feel a little ill.
Victoria’s office was second in grandness only to Roy’s. A large square room, it was panelled with dark wood and had a plush rug lining the floor. A crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling, and a bookcase lined the leftmost wall. In the centre of the wall, the bookcase framed a monitor that was currently switched off, and opposite it at the desk was Victoria herself.
She was tapping away at her computer and didn’t even look up as Leon entered. Instead she held up a single finger, and that meant, ‘I’m busy, wait a minute.’ So he strolled the length of the office to the windows.
The heavy velvet curtains were drawn back to provide a view of the gardens on the rear end of the estate. While the front was intentionally left as a gnarled, overgrown mess, the hidden gardens were manicured to perfection. Even now there were ghouls working to water the flowers, prune the hedgerows, and clear the pathways.
Lisa and the ghoul, Heather, were visible as they took a stroll through the gardens together arm in arm. Leon scoffed at the sight of them, which caused Victoria to raise a brow.
“I’d advise you to keep that attitude in check around our guest, Leon,” she said curtly. “We need her.”
“I’m aware. Doesn’t mean I need to like it,” he said dismissively as he turned from the windows.
“Of course not. You don’t like much of anything. I take it that the Assamites are demanding payment?”
“Yeah. They’ve lost four assassins and can’t even prove they’ve killed the fleabags,” he snorted, shaking his head as he moved back towards her desk.
Finally she looked up from her computer and removed her hands from the keyboard, resting them on the desktop with her fingers laced together.
“Need I remind you that one of those ‘fleabags’ is not only a very famous Noddist and historian, but also an incredibly powerful Kindred who is not to be taken lightly?” she said in that irritating tone; light but a touch condescending.
“I’m aware of Beckett’s reputation,” he shot back, feeling the Beast welling up inside. “Which is why Terygrius was instructed to send the best he had available. Instead they sent a pack of Neonates to try and kill him and the girl!”
Victoria just looked at him deadpan.
“And you believe you could do better?” She then sighed and shook her head. “What exactly did Terygrius say ?”
Leon relayed what had been said and Victoria pursed her lips.
“I’ll have a word with Roy and see what he thinks we should do next. Until then, I suggest you take a walk or… Whatever it is you do to calm yourself down. Short of breaking things, of course.”
Leon took that as his dismissal and left, rolling his eyes. At the very least the fleabags weren’t going anywhere any time soon. That, at least, was in their favour.
While Protean claws were definitely better for digging than regular human hands, Evie definitely didn’t find herself making much progress through the dirt and sand that stood between them and the surface. The huge white wolf to her left, however, was having a much easier time of it, with its upper half being half hidden through the tunnel it had successfully started work on.
Not that the progress would last, if the last five nights had been proof of anything. They would make a decent enough headway and then the weight of the blockage above would cause it to give out and then they’d spend another night clearing it out of the way while wondering how much longer they’d have to dig until they saw the night sky above.
Sometimes she wondered if there were Assamites above them, pushing more sand on top of the entrance to keep them from getting out. It wouldn’t surprise her.
“Ow!” she yelped.
The wolf had given her a nip on the hand. She must have lost concentration again.
“I get it, I get it,” she huffed. “Not all of us have shovels for paws you know.”
Beckett glowered at her before sticking his head back up the hole and resumed digging, kicking out large volumes of sand and dirt behind him. And she did the same, pushing as much sand back out of the passage with her clawed hands as she could manage.
After another hour of this she straightened up, sweating profusely, and stretched her back. She was sore and aching and she just really wanted to lie down.
“This fucking sucks,” she groaned.
Beckett - still in wolf form - backed out of his hole and gave her a look that said ‘do I need to nip you again?’
“Well it’s easy for you, you have paws. You’re made for digging. These-” she held up her clawed hands. “-are not!”
She dragged a hand through her hair and huffed, feeling really quite fed up.
They’d had to ration what blood they had in the thermos between them, and it had left both vampires more than a little cranky. They were certainly much more short tempered with each other than usual. The Beast was not happy with such long intervals between such small feeds, and it was making itself known. It was becoming difficult to keep it placated.
At times Evie was sure she could feel a rather targeted frustration being sent her way. Beckett, after all, could turn into a bat and easily fly out. He had proven so several times in order to seek out any animals in the vicinity of the surface ruins to try and expand their blood supply. But aside from a few small rodents he didn’t find much, and it did little to curb their hunger.
If she could do the same - or if she just wasn’t there - it wouldn’t be an issue in the first place. He could easily get out. But that meant leaving her behind, and that wasn’t an option now he had publicly acknowledged her as his childe. Adopted or not.
She flinched when a hand patted her on the shoulder and she looked up to see that Beckett was Beckett once more and not the wolf. He was holding out the thermos of blood.
“If you’re going to complain about being useless, then you might as well try to make yourself more useful,” he huffed. “Now is as good a time as any to become better skilled at the Protean Discipline.”
She stared at him, then at the thermos. The Beast whined longingly, but she hesitated.
“Can we really spare it when we can’t even guarantee that it’ll work? Or if I could even turn into anything useful?”
“No,” he said tersely. “But on the off chance it does, maybe there’ll be less whining.”
She glowered back at him but took the thermos regardless. A mouthful of blood curbed the worst of the hunger, but Beckett gave her a small nod. Permission to drink a little more. Considering what she was about to attempt, it made sense that he wouldn’t risk her frenzying. Especially when he was the only other source of blood they had.
“Remember what we’ve talked about,” he said firmly as he started to pace as he did when he began to explain something. She wondered if it was a hangover from his lecturing days. “When using the Discipline in this way, your body reflects your understanding of the natural world. You can’t just think of an animal. You need to expand your mind. Your understanding.
“When you use your claws, you do so with the knowledge they will do harm. Expand from that. Your hands and feet must become tools not just for running and digging, but pursuing prey or fleeing a greater predator, or for creating shelter or rooting out a burrow. Your nose is not just for smelling, but picking out scents left behind by others. Friends, foes, prey. Your eyes must see tracks and movement, to help you hunt. Or to hide.
“You and the Beast must have a mutual understanding of survival and the world around you. Don’t resist the change. Embrace it. But remember who you are.”
She closed her eyes, focusing, letting the blood flow through her arms and her legs, to her eyes and everywhere else through her body. The Beast purred in interest, nudging at the bars of its cage which began to bend and open, allowing it to push through bit by bit. Its jaws gaped open, its tongue lolled out and-!
She opened her eyes and she was the same as ever. Still on two legs with human hands. And considering that Beckett merely looked disappointed rather than looking at her with an ironic kind of amusement, she guessed there had been no other changes either.
“I can’t do it!” she shouted, stomping her foot in frustration. “Every fucking time!”
“It’s a difficult power to master,” Beckett sighed. “Especially when you keep doubting your ability to remain in control.”
She glared at him.
“And what’s that supposed to mean?”
“It was obvious from your face,” he said bluntly. “The fear you felt. You were scared to let the Beast surface, and you were unwilling to surrender any control to it. So long as that is the case, you will never master the Protean Discipline.”
He turned back to the mouth of the tunnel.
“Go calm yourself down, and come back when you’re ready to do some more digging,” he instructed tersely. “You can try again tomorrow when you can spare the blood.”
And like it was nothing, he shifted back into his wolf form and resumed digging.
Evie growled low in her throat, spun on her heel, and stalked away.
She knew it wasn’t his fault that he was right, or that they were both frustrated. They were both hungry and fed up with being trapped, and every time the breeze dropped and the ruins fell silent it was impossible to stop that split second of fear that the Assamites had returned. It made for a tense atmosphere that left them both with frayed nerves.
The entrance was about ten minutes from the settlement that they had made their home base for the duration of their imprisonment. Fifteen if she dragged her feet.
Beckett had been correct that it was nothing special. Just a lost forgotten village that didn’t have a name anymore. And certainly not one the Setites had been using to house artefacts to keep them hidden from the likes of Beckett. Every night that went by, they became more and more certain that the trail had been nothing more than a ruse by the Assamites to lure them to such a remote location in the first place.
It could be a worse place to be trapped, she supposed. Sure it could do with having more animals to feed on and not being sealed off from the surface by a seemingly endless wall of sand, but at the very least they had a decent place to sleep during the day and a clean water supply. The latter wasn’t much use for a vampire in the traditional sense, but they could wash off after a long night of digging, and a bit of cool water helped to curb the bad tempers of the two vampires.
Evie reached the spring at the heart of the village and knelt beside the water, splashing some into her face. The blood-sweat she’d worked up came away and she peeled off her jacket to give her body a quick once over.
But as she dipped her hand into the water - intending to splash some down her back - she realised it hadn’t made a sound. The breeze, which was still blowing, had gone mute, and it was like all the noise in the world had ceased.
This time she was ready.
Evie reached into her jacket pocket and grabbed the gun and the blade that she’d been carrying and tensed, eyes scanning the shadows, though she didn’t see any sign of movement or even a whisper of another Kindred.
Beckett had told her a bit more about the kinds of Disciplines the Assamites used, and Obfuscate was among them.
She backed into the water, just far enough that her feet were firmly touching the bottom but any assassins would need to follow after her. Obfuscate allowed them to become invisible. It didn’t make them permeable. The movement in the water would reveal them easily enough. And if they didn’t want to risk drawing Beckett into the fray, they wouldn’t risk using loud weapons like a shotgun.
The minutes dragged by as Evie stood there. If it wasn’t for the fact that every time she shifted she didn’t hear the sloshing of water around her legs, she’d be wondering if she was stupid. But the Assamites weren’t trying anything yet. They weren’t running the risk of exposing themselves openly, but weren’t backing off. She could try and launch the first attack and pray she successfully exposed one of them, but the chances that that would succeed were slim to none.
The Beast growled lowly, not liking being unable to see where the enemy was.
The thought struck her oddly as she reflected on what Beckett had said earlier.
Your nose is not just for smelling, but picking out scents left behind by others. Friends, foes, prey.
Of course! She was so fixated on seeing or hearing the Assamites, she hadn’t considered her other senses.
So she focused her blood towards her nose, heightening her sense of smell and she caught it. An aroma she couldn’t really place. An oil or incense of some kind that she instinctively recognised, as it made the Beast recoil, but couldn’t remember where she had encountered it. Maybe during her fight with the Assamite? She’d been more focused on not getting killed than picking out scents, so it was possible.
It was coming from the space between the two buildings directly ahead of her, from the doorway to the left, and from the roof to her right. Meaning there was at least three of them.
She let herself seem to relax, allowed her shoulders to drop as she made her way back towards the bank. Let them think she believed she was somehow mistaken even if the water made no sound as she moved through it. Let them think they had the upper hand.
One step onto the bank, then two steps, bending forwards as if to pick up her jacket and…!
She broke left, fired the gun and dove forward with the blade. The bullet impact revealed the startled Assamite as they were thrown onto their back. Their eyes went wide with shock and then fear as Evie thrust the blade into their neck and brought it down hard to the side, effectively decapitating them.
She didn’t wait for them to crumble into ash before she leapt back to her feet, dodging further into the house as the other Assamites broke from their perches. One let out a furious roar at the sight of their fallen comrade but Evie didn’t stop to look back, just ran into a back room where she knew there was a window she could crawl out of.
Tonight wasn’t the first time that Beckett had sent her away to calm down, and tonight the time she’d taken to explore was paying off.
She dropped onto the dirt street below the window and dodged into the shadows of the neighbouring house, crawling through another window and moving as carefully as she could through the next building. From the first house she could hear the remaining Assamites arguing furiously amongst themselves in Arabic, though it was a little muffled by the distance.
They’d dropped the pretence of silence then.
Briefly she weighed her options. She could take a chance and hope the Assamites wouldn’t believe she’d risk staying so close to where they first caught her, and wouldn’t bother searching the house. Or she could try and stealth through the village to get back to Beckett.
She decided on the latter. It was risky, but it was better than letting herself get cornered after having only just given them the slip.
She had a precious advantage, and knew she couldn’t waste time.
She moved through the house, climbed out of the first unshuttered window she could find and moved from cover to cover, huddling behind low stone walls, climbing through more windows and silently sneaking her way through buildings. She stopped dead in one when she heard a pair of feet landing heavily on the roof above, accompanied by frustrated murmuring, and she glanced around, looking for a hiding place.
There wasn’t much in the room except for a bookcase and a desk.
Hiding under the desk would be a stupid plan, of course, but the bookcase… If done right it would slow the Assamite down, but it would definitely reveal her location. But the footsteps were moving across the roof - definitely not caring for silence - and so she did as her instincts told her to and edged her way behind the bookcase, trying not to make too much noise as she nudged it across the floor just enough that she could conceal herself.
From where she was hiding she didn’t see the dark figure drop from the roof into the doorway. They stepped over the threshold, giving the room a cursory scan before moving further into the space, eyes narrowed and weapon at the ready.
Evie focused her blood into her arms and when the Assamite drew close enough, she shoved.
The bookcase came down with a crash and the Assamite yelled as they hit the ground, pinned down. Evie jumped over it - there was a pained grunt when her foot hit the bookcase as she pushed off - and ran for the door. The Assamite behind her was shouting in Arabic again, and she knew she had precious seconds before their partner arrived.
She didn’t dare make a run for Beckett yet. He and the entrance were still too far away. They’d catch her before he knew to look for her.
So she darted into an alleyway adjacent to the building and disappeared into the shadows once more. In the distance she could hear the Assamites spitting what were likely curses and a heavy crash that was likely the bookcase hitting the floor again.
There was still too little space between her and them. She had to get back to Beckett.
For another ten minutes, Evie picked her way through buildings and alleys, horribly aware of the now-definitely-angry Assamites drawing in closer and closer. Sooner or later she’d have to either take them on or make a break for Beckett to even up the odds. Both seemed equally risky.
The advantage she’d had against her enemies in LA was that they underestimated her. They looked at her and saw a child, a pawn; someone who got by on pure luck and with the resources provided by others. Maybe they’d been right in the beginning, but it hadn’t saved them when she finally had enough.
These assassins knew better and weren’t banking solely on her not knowing what they were capable of. They, unlike many in LA, were prepared.
Finally the time to make a choice arrived. From her current hiding spot there were no more hiding places, just a straight shot to Beckett. And it was a sprint she’d never be able to outrun an Assamite on. Not as a human anyway.
“You and the Beast must have a mutual understanding of survival and the world around you. Don’t resist the change. Embrace it. But remember who you are.”
She nodded, less to Beckett’s voice in her head but more to herself as she drew a deep breath and closed her eyes. She didn’t focus on the blood and the way it moved through her body this time, but rather on how she planned to evade the Assamites. She needed to run, and run fast. She needed to evade a predator that was hunting her until she could reach her ally who would aid her in the fight. And she needed a form that would help her to do just that.
The Beast pressed at the bars of its cage which began to wane against it, allowing it to slip through with its tongue lolling out of its jaws and its eyes gleaming.
But this time she didn’t shove it down or call it back to heel. She let it slip the cage… And as she did, she felt herself change.
When the Assamites spotted Evie making a break from the shadows of a nearby building, they didn’t see a human girl, but a jet black wolf. Not yet an adult, the cub had long legs and a skinny body that it hadn’t grown into. But it was fast, and it was making a beeline for its older and very dangerous ally, and that was their concern.
The Assamites pursued Evie as she scurried as fast as her legs could carry her, which was faster than she could have ran as a human but not quite as fast as she had hoped. She’d seen the way Beckett loped in his wolf form. He could move at over forty miles per hour when he really wanted to. She supposed it was only fitting that her own Protean form matched her adolescence, but it was less than helpful at the moment. She could only hope she got to Beckett before they got to her.
Her ears pricked up at the sound of a gun cocking, and she instinctively swerved as the bullet exploded against the dirt with a crack that was magnified to her much-more-sensitive ears. However, having never been a wolf before, she struggled to coordinate four legs instead of her usual two and had to spend a split second scrambling to get all four paws on the ground and running again. It gave the Assamites time to drastically close the distance between her and them.
Then she heard it. The pounding of huge paws running at top speed, coming towards her.
They were bearing down on her. Or they had been until the now-gigantic white wolf bounded forwards and planted itself firmly over her.
Beckett’s hackles were raised and he bared his long fangs at them in a snarl, growling deep in his throat as he crouched low over Evie, shielding her from their view and their weapons.
The Assamites paused, calculating how to go about the fight now that Beckett was involved. They prowled in separate directions, one on each flank. They were almost like a pair of wolves themselves as they sized the pair up for any exploitable weaknesses they could make use of. Evie rose to her paws and nudged at Beckett’s underside, moving her muzzle in the direction of the Assamite on their left.
His amber eyes flickered down at her and a dip in his growl indicated he understood.
A split second later he launched himself at the vampire to their right while Evie broke left. As one Assamite went down screaming as the white wolf barrelled them over and latched onto their throat, Evie transformed back into her human form brandishing the blade.
The Assamite parried the blow but hadn’t noticed the gun before it was pressed against their ribs. Evie squeezed the trigger and with a deafening crack, they flew backwards into the dirt, crumbling into ash as their chest had all but exploded.
She turned around just in time to see the white wolf stand upright on its hind legs and transform back into Beckett.
He looked around at Evie and cracked a smile.
“Well. Maybe that walk was all you needed after all,” he remarked, extending an arm towards her.
Relief flooded her and she ran over, throwing her arms around Beckett’s middle. She felt the rumble in his chest as he chuckled and hugged her back, squeezing tightly with as much affection as he could muster.
Then he eased away and placed both hands on her shoulders as he looked her up and down, checking for injuries.
“Are you hurt?”
“Nope, they didn’t even get the chance to try,” she said, chest practically swelling with pride as she grinned up at him.
He just grinned wryly, clapped her shoulder, and steered her back in the direction of the buried entrance.
“Good. Then you can make those new paws useful and get back to work.”
Chapter 6: Lotus
The small black wolf cub wriggled out from beneath his chest, small paws scrabbling at the last few layers of sand between them and the surface. The much larger white wolf pushed the sand back with his own, much larger, paws so that the tunnel better accommodated his size.
Beckett might not have needed to breathe for over three hundred years now - save for talking - but those first whispers of fresh air promising freedom were gulped down eagerly nonetheless, and he wasn’t the only one eager to see the surface again.
As he nudged the wolf cub upwards with his snout, he received a solid thwack in the face by her wagging tail and he huffed in irritation. Evie just yapped over her shoulder in response and returned her focus to moving upward.
Then there was the first break as sand tumbled back into his face and he sneezed, shaking his head. Easier said than done in such tight quarters. Evie was scrabbling for purchase against the sand above, trying to drag herself up out of the tunnel. Beckett - after receiving a paw in his eye - gave her another nudge with his snout, helping her clamber up, before hauling himself out after her.
The first thing he did when he was finally free and standing on all four paws was to shake himself off, kicking up a cloud of dust in all directions as the sand billowed from his fur. Then he took in his surroundings.
The surface ruins hadn’t changed a bit since he’d last been to the surface to hunt. Still the same crumbling pillars and stone debris, and the gaping pit they’d climbed down in the first place. The only new addition was the wolf cub who was currently bouncing around in excitement and yippingly happily before bounding back over to Beckett. She lay her muzzle flat against the ground between her paws with her tail up in the air, then bounced forwards and back, yapping at him between pauses. As if she thought she could egg him into playing at a time like this.
Beckett just rolled his eyes, gave her a quick nip on the ear before he locked his jaws around her middle, picked her up, and carried her away. At first she gave an indignant yelp and tried to wriggle her way free before eventually giving up with a huff. Beckett just gave a satisfied ‘hmph’ before he took off at a full sprint into the desert.
First things first, they needed to see if the land rover was where they’d left it. After a week, it was doubtful; the Assamites had probably done away with it, and if not them, some mortal authority may have come by, searched the vicinity for any signs of the owner, and when they found none, they would have towed it away.
But if, by the slimmest chance, it was still there, then they could be safely back in the safety of their hotel room before sunrise. If it wasn’t, they’d need a new plan.
Following the road was one option, but not the most ideal. While Beckett was certain he could cover most of that distance in his current form, they would need to return to their human shapes when closer to the city to avoid drawing mortal attention. After all, a pair of wolves of their breed were hardly a common sight in Egypt and could cause a panic if sighted in the city.
Or at least he would. Evie would more likely be considered ‘cute’ rather than dangerous, and be treated as an adorable little runaway rather than a potential threat to the safety of the public.
The irony was hardly lost on him.
The second option that occurred to him would be to call Cesare and tell him to come pick them up. And to bring some blood while he was at it. It would undoubtedly be faster and would negate the need to hunt once they got back to Cairo, but the chances of the ghoul being able to pick them up and get them back to the hotel before sunrise was slim to none. They’d still need to hunker down for the day. And there was always the risk that he was being watched. If the Assamites saw him abruptly departing Cairo, they would surely realise that their assassins had failed.
Beckett decided it was a bridge to cross when they got to it. For now he just focused on running across the sands, keeping his mental map in mind and kicking up clouds of dust as he went.
As predicted, the rover was gone, leaving only an empty road stretching out in both directions.
With a low growl of frustration, Beckett lowered Evie to the ground. The second her paws were on the ground she promptly shook herself and looked at him sulkily, clearly unimpressed with being carried in such a fashion. He gave her a gentle nip on the ear before resting on his haunches to deliberate on their next step.
Walking back really didn’t appeal to him right now. Cesare was their best best for securing blood and getting back to the hotel quickly, but he still had his concerns. Much as he loathed to admit it, the fact that Cesare was his ghoul wasn’t exactly a secret in Cairo. If the Assamites were indeed watching him-
The Beast whined longingly, craving the sweet, warm coppery taste of blood, and not the thin sour kind offered by rats. It wanted something more substantial than that and it wanted it now.
Beckett huffed. He supposed that was that then. He didn’t fancy getting back to Cairo and promptly frenzying at the sight of the first human he came across. So he rose to his paws and then onto his hind legs as he transformed back into his human form, reached into his pocket, and pulled out his phone.
The reception was almost non-existent but it was still considerably better than he would have gotten with a standard cellphone. And barely a second later a flood of messages poured in, clearly having been delayed by the lack of signal they’d had underground. All of them were from Cesare, and each was more frantic than the last. Beckett heaved a sigh, dialled the number, and lifted the phone to his ear.
The dial tone barely had a chance to play before the ghoul answered.
“Signore Beckett!” he exclaimed. “I was so very worried about you when you did not respond to my messages. Is all well for you and Miss Byrne? Do you need me to-?”
“We’re fine, Cesare,” Beckett grunted irritably. “Just ran into a few complications at the ruins.”
“Ah, I am so pleased to hear you are unhurt, Signore. If anything had happened to-”
“Cesare, the rover’s gone,” he interrupted curtly. “I need you to come pick us up as soon as you’re able.”
“Gone? Signore, might I ask what happened?”
He sighed before giving him a quick summary of events, with Cesare listening intently on the other end. Evie meanwhile was pawing at something in the sand and started yapping and bouncing around it. A quick glance revealed that she had found, and was now playing with, a terrified rat.
“Don’t play with your food,” Beckett hissed before turning his attention back to Cesare. “Anyway, so we need you to come and get us. And bring a few blood bags. The thermos is empty and all we’ve had to feed on is rats.”
“Of course Signore. You will be waiting at the location from your notes?”
“At the roadside, yes.”
“Very well, I will be there as soon as possible, Signore.”
And with that he hung up before Cesare could say another word and turned back to Evie who had finally decided to sate her hunger rather than continue playing. He raised a brow at her and it was only when she had finished and caught him staring did she finally shift back into her human form.
She had the decency to look a little sheepish.
“Remember what we talked about,” he said warningly.
“I know, I know… Don’t get lost in it,” she huffed, shrugging. “It was just nice to… not worry. You know?”
He sighed and shook his head.
“I know. So long as you remember.”
There was a pause as neither of them really knew what to say.
“So… Cesare’s coming to get us?”
“And he’s bringing blood, so at least we won’t need to worry about being half-starved when we next go hunting.”
Evie breathed a sigh of relief.
“Good. It’s worse when you’re hungry, trying to make sure you don’t take too much…” She scratched the back of her neck and looked out over her shoulder, as if she was trying to look at anything other than Beckett. “That’s the last thing I need to be worrying about right now.”
He hummed in agreement and followed her gaze.
It would be hours before Cesare arrived and standing around doing nothing didn’t really appeal to him. He could do it if need be, but having something to do would be preferable. And that was when the idea formed in his head; curbing the worst of the hunger and providing a much needed distraction for them both.
He patted Evie on the shoulder and beckoned her to follow.
“We have some time to do a little hunting before Cesare gets here. Let’s see which wolf catches the most rats.”
His flaccid dead heart warmed at the beam on her face.
It didn’t last long though because as it so happened, Evie was a dirty cheater.
More than once she darted out from between his front paws to grab the rat he had found before darting back underneath him, forcing him to focus on rearranging his paws only for her to run off again with the now-dead rat clenched between her sharp little teeth, all while looking far too pleased with herself as she bounded across the sand.
She at least had the good graces to share the spoils every now and then. And not just because he kept knocking her over with his snout to make her drop the stolen rat she was carrying.
On the rare occasion he sat down to feed, he found himself being pestered by Evie who chewed on his ears and pulled on his tail to try and force him to continue playing. It earned her a decent nip, just to remind her to keep herself in check. She’d sulk and then get right back on to stealing his prey out from under him.
By the time they returned to the roadside with a couple of hours until dawn, the thirst was slackened enough that it wasn’t at the forefront of their attention. One burden always replaced another, however.
“So… What is the plan, exactly?” Evie asked as they sat by the road, watching for any sign of Cesare.
Not that it really mattered if he showed up that very second, considering they definitely wouldn’t reach Cairo, let alone their hotel, before daybreak.
“We’ll need to go to the Prince,” Beckett said firmly. “Try and get to the bottom of this. If a Camarilla Elder is defying Hardestadt, then Mukhtar might be willing to help expose them.”
“Might be?” she repeated, sounding thoroughly unconvinced.
“Since the attack didn’t happen within his domain, he may reason this isn’t his problem to resolve. But Mukhtar is a fair man. If there’s a chance the Assamites might attack you again, he may provide us with some assistance.”
“And if he doesn’t?” she snapped, turning to him and part of him physically hurt to see the utter despair in her eyes. That knowledge that the events of LA were going to be haunting her nights for years to come, no matter how far out of her control they had been.
He clasped a hand over her shoulder.
“Then we’ll figure out something else. This wouldn’t be the first time I’ve ended up on the Camarilla’s bad side. Probably won’t be the last either.”
Evie didn’t say anything at first, just stared at him. She looked… perplexed. He wasn’t certain what he’d said to warrant confusion, but-
“You’d really risk fighting the Camarilla over this? Even when you don’t have to?” she asked incredulously, interrupting the thought before he could finish it. “Wouldn’t that just make… everything harder for you?”
Ah. That was it. He just chuckled and glanced over at her.
“If I wasn’t willing to pick a fight with the Camarilla over this, I wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of finding you on that train, would I?”
He got only silence in return but the way she’d turned her head away and brought her knees up to her chest said enough. So he simply reached over and ruffled her hair, as he’d grown quite fond of doing, before focusing on the empty stretch of road ahead of them.
A half hour later there was still no sign of Cesare and dawn was an hour and a half away. Evie’s eyes kept drooping and she was clearly fighting to stay awake, so Beckett decided it was time to prepare to shelter for the coming day. He rose to his feet and shifted into his wolf form and began digging.
“What are you doing?” Evie yawned, then got to her feet and moved around to his side so that she wouldn’t risk receiving a faceful of sand and dirt.
Beckett just focused on digging until he had carved a decently deep burrow into the earth. He then turned to Evie and jerked his head from her to the burrow. She got the idea quickly enough.
She shifted into her wolf form and crawled inside, curling up into a ball at the bottom with her tail laid over her nose. Any lesser eyes would have only seen a pair of bright yellow eyes staring back out of the hole.
Beckett then pushed the sand and dirt back into place, effectively burying her from the sun’s rays, before he shifted back into his human form and laid his backpack over the top of the burrow. A little added security, and a clear sign to Cesare. He didn’t like the idea of leaving his possessions in the open where anyone could find them, but no one else had come this way, so with any luck Cesare would be the only one to discover the pack.
Once he was satisfied that there was nothing else to do but wait for the day to pass, he melded with the earth and slept.
“You look wonderful, darling,” Lisa cooed, pressing her hands together in delight as she inspected Heather.
Heather found it very hard to disagree, even if the nasty little voice in the back of her head said otherwise. She wore a long, backless evening dress made from a beautiful, deep-green velvet. Her hair hung in gentle red curls and it was the first time that she could see herself clearly without her glasses.
It had taken time to get used to drinking blood, let alone the blood of a vampire, but now she wondered why she’d been so hesitant in the first place. It was, simply put, wonderful. She felt stronger, reacted faster, and just so much more alive… Just like that night in the clinic.
Her stomach turned a little even at the brief flash of memory before she pushed it down.
The last few weeks had been spent settling in. Lisa showed her around the castle and its gardens, took the time to teach her about the new world she’d found herself in, and even took her to the nearest town to expand upon her wardrobe during her stay. Honestly she just might be the most wonderful person Heather had ever met, and she shared her blood so willingly.
Again Heather pushed down the thought before it really fully formed, yet her stomach still twisted into a guilty knot.
Her feelings on Evie had been confused as of late and resentment came to her more easily, even though she didn’t want to resent Evie. She was sure the girl had her reasons for keeping so many secrets… And yet…
She jumped and wobbled on her heels. Lisa caught her arm and steadied her, then gave her a sympathetic smile.
“Getting lost in your thoughts again, dear?”
“...A little…” She shook her head. “I’m still struggling to make sense of everything.”
Lisa let her hands slide down Heather’s upper arms and squeezed gently, and Heather could almost feel the gentle soothingness of her presence washing over her.
“I know it’s difficult to understand the motivations of someone you never truly knew, which is why Roy plans to tell you everything over dinner tonight,” she said reassuringly. “He wants you to understand exactly what Evie has done to him, and to you. After that… well, you’ll have to draw your own conclusions.”
Heather nodded stiffly.
She’d not seen much of Roy. He had greeted her warmly upon her arrival, but was otherwise very busy with some sort of business. If she had to guess he was trying to find Evie. Why he was so keen to, she still didn’t understand, but it sounded like she had caused him some personal affront.
Maybe tonight that mystery would finally be solved.
Somewhere in the distance a bell tolled and Lisa glanced at her watch before smiling at Heather.
“Speaking of which, we ought to get going.” She looped their arms together and steered Heather towards the door. “It’s time you learned the real story.”
Ordinarily bagged blood was some of the absolute worst to drink, being only a step above rats. It was cold and slightly too thick in a way that was reminiscent of curdled milk, and it was generally unpleasant. But after a week of rationed mouthfuls supplemented by rat, it was better than nothing.
Evie sat in the back seat, staring out of the window as she sucked on her blood pack like it was a capri sun, and Beckett discarded his own empty pack before giving Cesare a more detailed rundown of events, as well as the plan moving forward.
Then, and only then, did he pull out his cellphone.
“Beckett. I was wondering if I’d ever hear from you again. I’ve heard a few interesting rumours these last few nights,” Mukhtar drawled.
“I’m sure you have. I’m on route to Cairo, and I need a word as soon as possible. Tonight if possible.”
“That will depend entirely on how long it takes you to arrive. If you’re not back at least two hours before sunrise, it will wait until tomorrow.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Mukhtar audibly sniffed on the other end of the line and there was a faint scratching noise, like a nail on fabric.
“A word of advice Beckett. Be watchful when you return. The Assamites are sure to be watching for any sign of you… and your childe, I presume?”
“They failed to destroy her, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“It is. I see she lives up to her reputation of being surprisingly difficult to kill… for a fledgling, anyway,” he remarked, as casually as one might do when commenting on the weather. “I hear that even Lacroix’s pet… the Nagloper? Yes, I hear that he failed to bring her down. Either the Assamites are losing their touch or they underestimated the need for their best.”
“They’re as deadly as ever, I’m afraid,” Beckett replied. “But none of them could have been much older than a century. Give or take a few decades.”
“You’d think they’d know better, considering what happened in LA. Still I am pleased to hear that you both survived. I’ll have it be known that you and your childe will be under my protection once you reach the city. It should deter further attempts for the time being.”
“Thank you sir. We’ll see you soon.”
“Until then. Good evening, Beckett.”
Mukhtar hung up first, leaving Beckett to thumb his phone idly as he turned some thoughts over in his head.
He’d suspected that the Prince wasn’t involved with the incident, but nothing was impossible for a Kindred. Still he found his nagging concerns eased, if only a little. Now if only the rest of his worries were so easily alayed.
Truth be told, much as he kept telling Evie they’d sort this mess out, he really didn’t know how to go about doing that. If a Camarilla Elder wanted Evie dead then what was there to be done? Killing them would just make more problems and bring more enemies their way, but ignoring them just invited future attempts. And on the off chance that it was a member of the Inner Circle, their reach would be long. There would be few places that would be totally safe and they’d have to stay there a long time before the ire of their enemy hopefully subsided. And that idea didn’t appeal to him, even if he did have an eternity on his side.
He didn’t hold it against Evie. He had known that something like this was a possibility when he took her on, but sending bloody Assamites after a fledgling ? Someone was holding a serious grudge over Lacroix’s death - and it could only be because of Lacroix because the Assamites would never take a contract from the Kuei Jin - but what he didn’t understand was why go through this much trouble and risk defying Hardestadt himself.
If there was one thing Beckett wouldn’t abide by, it was a mystery that refused to be solved. He’d get to the bottom of this, one way or another.
“So what did the Prince say?”
He found himself drawn out of his thoughts by Evie addressing him from the backseat.
“He’s agreed to meet with us tonight, provided we’re there two hours before sunrise. Any later than that, and we’ll meet him tomorrow night,” he said. He then glanced over at Cesare. “Can you make it in that time?”
“Provided that the traffic isn’t poor, Signore.”
He pulled a face.
“Traffic in Cairo is always poor, Cesare.”
“So do you think the Prince will help us?” Evie asked before Cesare could reply.
“I don’t think he’s involved,” said Beckett. “He warned me that the Assamites will be watching for us-”
Her eyes darkened a little.
“-but he’s extending us his protection while we’re in Cairo. So trying anything means pissing him off. They won’t want to take that kind of risk.”
“So… we’re safe as long as we’re in the city?” she asked tentatively.
“We should be, yes.”
Some of the tension in her body gave way and she relaxed as if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. The rest of the car ride was spent in a companionable silence as the radio hummed, and for that Beckett was grateful.
He was less grateful for the travesty that was Cairo’s traffic and so he texted Mukhtar to inform him that they wouldn’t be able to make it to the palace within the allotted time and would be back to speak with him the next night. He didn’t receive a reply but Evie pointed out over his shoulder that the message had been received and read, so Mukhtar had indeed seen it.
While Beckett was certainly better caught up with technology than most vampires of his age, he still found himself being shown up by the younger, more-technologically-inclined youth who knew their way around such devices blindfolded.
By the time they finally reached their hotel, dawn was barely less than an hour away. Once the two vampires had gathered their bags, Cesare departed to return to the airport to keep an eye on the plane, and they made their way to their room.
The second they were through the door, Evie dropped her bag on the floor and lay face down on the nearest bed.
“Don’t care if it’s the right one,” she muttered, voice muffled by the duvet. “Tired.”
“At least take your boots off first,” he scolded playfully, giving her heel a gentle whack as he passed. “You’ll get the damn thing full of sand otherwise.”
She groaned in disgust and pushed herself up into a sitting position to do exactly that.
Beckett drew the blackout curtains securely over the windows, making sure that not even the slightest crack of sunlight could escape into the room. He hadn’t gone through this whole ordeal to get immolated when he was sleeping.
“Ugh, I hate sand,” Evie grunted as she pulled off her jacket. She then rose to her feet, grabbing her bag off the floor. “Fuck this, I’m taking a shower.”
He rolled his eyes as she disappeared into the bathroom and the water started running.
“You realise that being dead means the corpse smell never really goes away, right?” he called teasingly as he sorted through his bags, searching for his journal.
“Fuck you,” she called back, and he chuckled to himself.
He pulled out the journal - it was certainly getting very full - and rummaged around for a pen. He might as well take some time to commit events to paper while it was still fresh in his mind, so he began to write.
About twenty minutes later Evie re-emerged from the bathroom, in clean clothes and (presumably) free of sand.
“Have I mentioned that I hate sand?”
“Several times. I lost count somewhere after the thirtieth time,” he replied, which earned him a smack on the shoulder. He grinned and then looked over at her. “What is it that you don’t like? That it’s coarse, rough, and irritating and it gets everywhere?”
“Well obvi-” She stopped dead and stared at him with a look of pure disgust for nearly a whole minute before saying, with as much contempt as possible, “you are such a fucking nerd.”
“Yes I am. And you’re stuck with me for the next decade and a half.”
“You know what, I’ve changed my mind, I will happily let the Camarilla chop my head off if it means escaping you and your dumb movie references,” she groaned as she shook her head. “I’m going to bed. Night. Or day, or whatever.”
She crawled under her duvet so that her back was to him, pulled it up over her head, and within minutes fell completely and utterly still within her cocoon of sheets.
Beckett himself could feel the tugging lethargy of dawn not long after and knowing that he too would be passing out whether he liked it or not, he decided to finish up a brief summary of events in his journal and record it properly at a later date. Once that was done, he followed his childe’s example and crawled into bed, letting the day sleep wash over him.
The following evening brought them to Manial Palace, and a ghoul brought them to the residential building as opposed to the facsimile throne in the gardens. Mukhtar was waiting in a large drawing room, with a pitcher of blood sat on the coffee table and three empty glasses.
He looked vaguely annoyed, though it lessened once he laid eyes on Beckett entered the room with Evie trailing behind. She didn’t immediately make eye contact with the Prince as her stomach was in knots but she knew it wouldn’t go unnoticed. So, as they sat down on the sofa opposite Mukhtar, she forced herself to look at him.
“Welcome back, my friends,” he said smoothly. “I am glad to see you whole and well, all things considered.”
“Thank you for agreeing to meet with us, and for offering your protection,” Beckett replied.
“I trust the Assamites have not given you trouble?”
“Good. And if they are wise, things will stay that way. What I wonder is what it is you think I can do, Beckett.” He poured blood into each glass, and took the nearest one for himself. “These attacks did not happen in my domain. While I can protect you in Cairo, once you leave, there is no way to guarantee your safety or the safety of your childe.”
“But you could help us in other ways,” Beckett pointed out.
Mukhtar raised a brow as he took a sip from his glass.
Evie took a glass and sipped, hoping the blood would ease her nerves a little.
“Considering that this is the first city Evie has been to since LA, I can only imagine the attack was the work of a Kindred who disagreed with the Camarilla’s decision to clear the charges against Evie and repeal the Blood Hunt,” Beckett explained. “So if there was a means to know which Kindred might hold such a sentiment…”
“There could be a means of exposing and dealing with them,” Mukhtar concluded. “So… you have a plan. And dare I ask why you’ve approached me about it?”
“Because as Prince, you have every right to be concerned about a Kindred responsible for the Final Death of another Prince. The Camarilla would be understanding of you wanting to be certain of whether or not this Kindred may become a potential threat to you.”
Evie’s stomach turned and Mukhtar raised a brow.
“What exactly are you suggesting, Beckett?”
“A hearing. Staged, of course, but only we need to know that. You could claim you didn’t know of Evie’s reputation or her history when you welcomed her into your domain, and decide to call for a meeting to clear up the matter once and for all. Invite the Prince, the Primogen Council, the Barons, hear what each of them has to say. And if anyone in particular still shows any animosity towards Evie, they’re worth investigating.”
Evie rose from her seat before he even finished speaking, her chest tightening as she walked around the back of the sofa towards the drawing room door. She only vaguely heard Beckett calling her back as she disappeared into the hallway. She barely just heard the door to the drawing room opening again in the distance as she was already on the ground floor and heading out the front door, back into the gardens.
She followed her feet for a long time, not really paying any attention to where she was or where she was going. Just walked as blood thundered in her ears and her thoughts drowned out the rest of the world.
A staged hearing? Really? That was Beckett’s big plan?
Invite the Prince, Primogen, and Barons… Like fuck she’d want to face any of them, not now, probably not ever. Users and liars and pretenders… Who was to say they wouldn’t all just rail against her now she had proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she wasn’t on any of their sides? Therese had called off the Blood Hunt, but she might have done that so she could get everyone focused on keeping LA from falling into chaos rather than pursuing a runaway fledgling. Given the opportunity, she could still urge Mukhtar to execute Evie, and not because of what she had done to Lacroix. But because of what she knew .
Beckett was the only person Evie had even told about Therese and Jeanette’s… situation, and neither sister knew about that. They’d been quite clear she wasn’t to tell anyone, but he had asked about unusual occurrences, and without the slightest clue what a Malkavian was how was she to know that it was perfectly ordinary to encounter Kindred like that? No one had ever told her anything. Was it really her fault she didn’t know anything about the different clans?
Even so, if Therese decided that Evie’s awareness of her situation was a problem, Beckett’s plan could give her an opportunity to try and resolve it without endangering her position.
And if enough of the LA Kindred did speak against her, then what? Would Mukhtar honour his agreement of protection and clear her of suspicion, or would he become suspicious of her and decided it wasn’t worth the risk to let her live? Or would he believe in Evie’s innocence but choose to save face and execute her anyway?
Somehow it was worse because she’d not heard a whisper of this plan before now, only Beckett’s vague promises that they’d sort this mess out.
If this was him following up on said promises, she didn’t like it. At all.
Her eyes were burning with tears, and finally she realised she was without the slightest clue as to where she was. Even with heightened senses, she couldn’t hear or see any nearby ghouls. Either there weren’t any around tending this particular part of the garden right now, or the vegetation was keeping them out of sight.
Or they were trying their best not to be heard or spotted, and if that was the case they were doing it very well.
At the very least she didn’t see any sign of Beckett, which meant he either hadn’t followed her, or he hadn’t caught up to her yet.
She didn’t know which was worse.
Still, she was feeling antsy and standing still wasn’t helping, so she continued to wander aimlessly through the gardens, not really knowing or caring where she was going, provided she was alone.
As she did so, her thoughts wandered back to Heather.
How was she doing, Evie wondered. She’d left in such a hurry that she hadn’t really had time to really give Heather much thought…
Had she given up hope of Evie returning, or was she frantically trying to find out what had happened to her? A knot of guilt formed itself in her stomach as she thought about it.
Rosa had said she could only trust Beckett and Mercurio, but Heather had only ever been loyal to a fault, completely willing to do whatever Evie needed of her at any given moment. Maybe it had been her blood that had done that. Maybe she had been enslaved by it. But every other ghoul she’d met maintained some sort of personality, so… maybe Heather had always been that way. Maybe Evie just became the focus of her altruism, and she would have done those things even without the enthralling powers of her vitae.
Or maybe Evie was just trying to make herself feel better.
In time she came to a walled pond. Egyptian lotuses blossomed across the surface, not unlike those they’d found in the ruins, alongside various other water flowers. A fountain bubbled faintly in the centre of the pond and upon when she took a closer look, Evie realised there were fish swimming just below the surface.
She sat on the low wall that rimmed the pond and dipped her fingertips into the cool water. Some of the fish swam closer to investigate and their cool scales brushed against her palm.
It was funny. Beckett had told her that animals usually had a natural aversion to vampires and that the Animalism discipline was what made it possible to reach out to them and bypass that aversion, but Evie had never really been aware of herself doing that. Regardless of her nature, animals didn’t seem too bothered by her presence. Some even seemed to like her to a degree. When she told him so, he then explained that some Gangrel were more in tune with creatures than other Kindred, so it was possible that her particular bloodline allowed her to overcome an animal’s natural aversion without having to consciously exert her will over them.
Whatever the case, she was glad she didn’t have to force animals to like her. She’d always enjoyed their company when she was alive, so to lose that would have made this whole being dead thing a hundred times worse. And that was on top of everything she was dealing with.
She sat there with her hand in the water, lost in thought.
She knew Beckett was only trying to help, and that he knew far better about navigating Kindred society than she did. She knew that he wouldn’t have suggested this course of action if he thought there was a better one, but that didn’t make her feel any better about it.
And it certainly didn’t make her feel any less upset with him.
“With your temper, it’s a wonder no one’s mistaken you for a Brujah yet.”
She was determined not to look at Beckett as he approached and instead just focused on the fish as they bumped up against her hand. She felt fishy-lips slapping against her palm and over her fingers in search of food.
It shouldn’t have been a surprise that her pointed effort to ignore him earned her a gentle cuff on the ear as he sat down on the wall in front of her.
“Do you want to tell me if there’s something specific about the plan that upsets you? Or is it just the whole thing?”
She said nothing. Instead it felt like something hot was welling up inside her chest, forcing her to tense up and turn her head away so she was definitely not looking at Beckett. She had to forcibly control her breathing - an instinctual reaction - to try and force down the need to cry and her jaw clenched, trying to bite down the swelling feeling in her chest.
And without realising it, she braced herself for him finally losing his temper. She unconsciously prepared for him lashing out and shouting at her for being such a spoilt brat and not affording him the proper respect after all he had done for her. For gruff hands grabbing her upper arms, dragging her around and forcing her to look him in the eye as he shouted at her and demanded she ‘bare her throat in submission,’ so to speak.
But he didn’t do any of those things. Instead a hand settled on her shoulder and squeezed gently.
“If I thought there was a better way to do this, I would have done it. But we need to know who’s targeting you and if there’s a way to stop it,” he said gently. “And I can’t help you to prepare for this if you don’t tell me what’s wrong.”
Her chest tightened further and she shook her head, biting on her lower lip to keep it from trembling.
After several long minutes of silence, she turned to Beckett.
He didn’t seem angry. He was just waiting patiently for her to speak and his hand remained gently on her shoulder, not gripping too tightly so that she could pull away if she really wanted to.
She opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out and so she just shook her head. She couldn’t bring herself to say it. It felt so pathetic, admitting she was scared that she would have to face the LA Kindred again, least of all the likes of Therese, Strauss, and Nines.
Nines had saved her life twice , damn it, she shouldn’t have to fear him at all, and yet-!
Beckett just tugged her closer and she leant into him, wrapping her arms around his middle as he folded his around her shoulders. The absolute lack of a heartbeat in his chest was still perturbing but she was getting used to it. With one hand he rubbed a circle into the small of her back which was more comforting than she was willing to admit, though she doubted she needed to, as she became practically boneless in Beckett’s arms, melting into him as the surge of emotion finally drew a shuddering breath from her.
She fought the tears - she was not going to cry again - but it was hard and she only just barely succeeded, but she managed. Or she did until the other hand curled into her hair, massaging her scalp, something no one had done in years. Not even Sam or Heather. And that was what broke her.
If there was one thing she still struggled to wrap her head around it was that Beckett, perhaps the snarkiest man and vampire she had ever met, was not only tolerant of her emotional outbursts, but even did his best to help her through them without being overbearing.
Most Kindred rolled their eyes or ordered her to stop her ‘ridiculousness’ immediately, and those who didn’t usually had no idea how to handle an emotional teenager and left her to sort herself out.
Beckett let her lean into him, and he would hold her. He didn’t speak during these moments. There wasn’t really anything he could say. He just helped her to ride it out and made sure she was still in one piece when she came out the other side.
And when she finally pulled back and wiped her eyes, he just reached over into the pond, plucked out a single Egyptian lotus, and fixed the stem into her hair, securing it safely above her ear.
“Do you remember what I told you about these flowers?”
She thought back but shook her head. Too much had happened for her to really recall.
“The Ancient Egyptians believed they provided strength and power,” he explained. “You already have both in significant measure, but a little extra wouldn’t hurt.”
In spite of herself, Evie smiled and hugged Beckett again.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
He chuckled and returned the gesture.
“You’re welcome, Young One.”
Chapter 7: The Hearing
Velvet didn’t traditionally do much travelling. Ordinarily she was too preoccupied with the club and keeping an eye open for any trouble on her end of town to get away from Hollywood much, much less the country. But Isaac had been very insistent that he could trust no one else, especially not now that Ash had disappeared.
For a moment her concern overtook her. Oh she did hope he was okay, wherever he had ended up. If anything had happened to him-
She shook the thought from her mind. Right now she had to focus up and fulfill the task that Isaac had given her. It was, he insisted, very important. And once she had learned the precise nature of her mission, she couldn’t help but agree. She could let her worry for Ash occupy her mind later.
Her typical work outfit had been dispensed of in favour of a long red summer dress with a long flowing skirt and a plunging neckline, and red heels. She wore her dark red hair down with gentle curls framing her face, and on top of that she wore a wide-brimmed sun hat. Not exactly necessary considering the time of night, but it completed the look and that was more her concern than the functionality.
She gathered up her skirt before making her way down the gangway plank onto the dock and glanced around.
Waiting at the edge of the road was a sleek black car with an Arab man - no, vampire - leaning against it. He straightened up as she approached, her suitcase rolling behind her. She offered him a smile, though he didn’t return it.
“You are Baron Isaac’s representative?” he asked smartly.
“I am. And you must be one of the Prince’s men. Pleasure to meet you.”
He nodded, then promptly opened the car door for her before taking her suitcase and stowing it in the trunk. Velvet gathered her skirt once more as she climbed in, ensuring it didn’t get trapped in the door, and the other vampire closed it behind her before he climbed into the driver’s seat.
They pulled away and began the drive into the city.
“I imagine you’ve been informed of tonight’s proceedings?” asked the driver.
“Of course. I’m just not sure I understand why the Prince thinks it’s necessary to give that poor girl more trouble to worry about,” she replied, cocking her head a little to one side. “From what I hear, the Blood Hunt was called off and the Camarilla decided not to press the issue.”
“All will be explained when we arrive, Miss Velour.”
Velvet pursed her lips and watched him for a moment, decided it wasn’t worth pressing for answers she would get regardless, and then turned to the window to watch the city go by.
Truth be told, no one she had spoken to seemed to understand why Mukhtar Bey had called for this hearing. Not even Claudia, well clued in as she was, could really make a guess as to why the Prince of Cairo was even concerning himself over events in a city half the world away that had little to nothing to do with him. The Camarilla certainly didn’t think much of it, though Hardestadt hadn’t stepped in to overrule.
‘Mukhtar does as Mukhtar will,’ she thought to herself. ‘Not even the Inner Circle will try to convince him to do otherwise. Not if they can afford to look the other way.’
The drive went by in silence and Velvet marvelled at the sights that they passed by. The city’s architecture, its lights, the colours and decor, they were all beautiful and dazzling. She couldn’t help but beam like a child seeing the first snowfall of the year, and it ought not to have been so surprising that she was already entertaining ideas of staying in Cairo a few nights longer than planned so she could enjoy the city and pick out a few pieces to add to her room.
Maybe she could even gather some new inspiration for her dances at the club. That could prove to be very exciting.
By the time they reached the Manial Palace, Velvet wished she didn’t have a meeting to attend so she could spend her time taking joy in the city.
‘Maybe I need to travel more after all,’ she thought to herself as her driver opened the door for her. She gave him a grateful curtsy as a ghoul took her suitcase for her - she thanked them too, obviously - and allowed the driver to lead her through the palace gardens.
They arrived at a sort of outdoor throne room seated beneath a veranda. Several Kindred she recognised from LA were milling around - such as Claudia Dell and Peter Grouch - and ghouls were arranging chairs undoubtedly brought from the residential building. Five were arranged on either side of the throne, and in the centre of the room were two more, which puzzled Velvet a little - one must have been for Evie, but she couldn’t hazard a guess who the other was for - but she didn’t get a chance to really question it.
In the throne sat Mukhtar Bey with one leg folded over the other and his hands folded in his lap, as he scanned the crowd. When he caught sight of Velvet he beckoned her over.
“Welcome, Miss Velour, and thank you for attending on such short notice,” he greeted as she approached. “I am aware that this meeting has caused some disturbance.”
Velvet offered a curtsy.
“Indeed it has, sir. I’m just glad I can assist in anyway I can. Isaac and Nines both send their regards, and their regrets for being unable to attend tonight, but circumstances have left them unable to leave Los Angeles for the time being.”
“I am aware that the timing is inconvenient. But if I indeed have a Prince Killer in my city, I’d see the matter settled so that I know I will not have to watch my back… One way or another.”
Velvet’s smile strained at that and she didn’t realise that her eyes flashed at the suggestion. Mukhtar cocked his head ever so slightly, however.
“Well I’m happy to help put your mind at ease, Prince Bey,” she said lightly. “Evie has always been a valued-”
He held up a hand and she fell silent.
“Please Miss Velour, save it for the hearing. That is where your words will matter most.”
“Of course, sir. I apologise if I caused any offence. Do we know when we will be starting?”
“Soon. Beckett has informed me that he and the Fledgling are on their way and will be arriving soon.”
“Beckett? You mean the historian?”
It was the first she’d heard of his involvement. Beckett was famous for being apolitical, never lending his direct support to any individual sect or showing favour for one over the other. She didn’t even know that Evie knew him. But then he had been in LA, and they’d both been caught up in that sarcophagus nonsense. Of course they must have known each other. But that didn’t explain why he was here now, and it certainly wasn’t grounds for him to insert himself into this... was it?
“Yes. He is Miss Byrne’s adoptive sire and will be a part of the hearing. Does this displease you somehow?”
“Oh not at all,” she said, shaking her head. “I just- I’ve never heard of Beckett siring or taking on a childe. I never would have thought him the type.”
Mukhtar snorted, and nodded knowingly.
“Neither would I. That man’s mind works in strange ways. But I do understand that he is very protective of Miss Byrne. Enough to demand this meeting in place of a simple execution.”
Relief wasn’t a rare feeling for Velvet in recent nights. Between the mess with David and his Kindred Collaborator, and the Hunters prowling Hollywood’s clubs in search of prey, turning the hunters into the hunted. She’d felt it arrive like a waterfall, crashing over her body and racing through her, so intense and so thorough that nothing else existed but that overwhelming sense of relief that the blood on her hands had been minimised, and that none of it had been innocent. This relief was more gentle and its warmth seeped through her as if spreading from a gentle flame.
If Evie had someone like Beckett to speak on her behalf, she might just be alright. So long as Velvet did her job right too.
“I’m so glad to hear that,” she said sweetly. “The poor thing’s been through enough.”
“So I’ve been told. Now.” He glanced over Velvet’s shoulder and then turned his attention to the space as a whole. “If everyone could please take their seats. We will be getting underway very soon.”
Velvet was directed into the seat on Mukhtar’s right with a Nosferatu she didn’t recognise to her right, and then beside him was a Tremere man she knew as Peter Grouch, one of Maximillian’s apprentices. Emma and Claudia both took seats to Mukhtar’s right, and the ghouls quickly vanished into the gardens out of sight.
And then they waited.
Nervous didn’t quite describe Evie’s disposition as they made their way through Cairo and the palace gardens. Her fangs were visible as she worried at her lower lip so bad it was a miracle she hadn’t drawn blood yet, and her eyes were darting at every corner. On one city block a car backfired, and it spooked her badly enough that she all but jumped out of her skin and clung to Beckett’s arm like a frightened child.
Sometimes it was easy to forget that that was exactly what she was.
Halfway through the gardens he had to stop and place a hand on her shoulder, forcing her to stop as well. She was almost trembling.
“Just remember that this isn’t about actually punishing you,” he said.
“And what if everyone who showed up wants me to be punished?” she snapped. “What then?”
“I highly doubt that will be the case.”
“But what if it is ?”
He took her other shoulder and forced her to look at him. A drop of blood rolled from her lower lip as one of her fangs finally punctured it. He gave his thumb a lick and dragged it over the wound, sealing it shut again.
“You show up bleeding, and it’ll leave a bad impression,” he teased. When she just glowered back, he continued, “listen, most of the Kindred who sent representatives have no reason to speak against you. The Prince repealed the Blood Hunt, so she obviously doesn’t hold anything against you. And the Anarchs-”
“Might hate me for not joining them,” she agonised. “I flipped off Nines when I left! And-”
“That’s not reason enough for them to want the Camarilla to punish you. Your actions still gave them an opening-”
“Just like they planned,” she spat venomously.
“-which means they have nothing to hold against you. In fact, I seem to recall you helped them to deal with a Plaguebearer, if rumour is to be believed.”
She shrugged and looked away.
“The only person who might have anything bad to say is the Tremere Primogen, considering that the Camarilla’s position was crippled by Lacroix’s death. That’s one person, and that won’t be enough to rouse any suspicion when Mukhtar pardons you,” he said reassuringly. “You have nothing to worry about. Remember, the point of this is to figure out if any of the LA Kindred might be responsible for the Assamites targeting you. Not to decide if you need punishing. And I’ll be there the whole time, okay?”
Evie nodded stiffly, and Beckett clapped her shoulder.
“Good. Now come on. They’ll be waiting for us.”
As they turned to carry on, Evie trailed a little behind. When she spoke it was so quiet that even Beckett’s acute sense of hearing barely picked it up, but he heard it.
He grinned at her over his shoulder.
“You can thank me if this works.”
They walked for a few more minutes and as before the greenery seemed to thicken, muffling any ambient noise until they reached the facsimile throne.
Mukhtar occupied his throne, as always, and five Kindred sat either side of him. Three to his right, Beckett’s left, and two to his left, Beckett’s right.
Beckett didn’t recognise any of them, but Evie certainly seemed to recognise two in particular as her eyes flew from a Nosferatu man in a black t-shirt and jeans with his arms folded over his chest, and a Toreador woman in a red summer dress. She blinked at the sight of the pair, and the Toreador in particular gave her a little wave. The Nosferatu jerked his head.
Evie waved back, albeit a little hesitantly.
The other three were all of different varieties too. The man on the far left was dressed in a heavy fur-coat which was completely at odds with Egypt’s climate, and the left side of his face was decorated with piercings. He wore his black hair cropped short and he looked like he wanted to be literally anywhere else right now.
The women on the right were also dressed in dramatically different ways. The one seated beside Mukhtar wore a pressed pin-stripe suit and her platinum blonde hair in a beehive style. The other wouldn’t have looked out of place at a rock concert, her black hair worn in an undercut and piercings riddling her face and ears; she wore slashed jeans and knee-high combat boots over fishnets, and she wore a ragged crop top that left little to the imagination.
Mukhtar, on the other hand, was dressed much the same way as he had been during their first meeting in a black suit and open white shirt and hair slicked back out of his face.
“Welcome Kindred. It has been some time since you last presented yourselves to me,” he began, eyes brushing over Evie in particular. “If I had known I was welcoming a Prince Killer into my city, I might have reconsidered extending my blessing to operate within my domain, Beckett.”
He felt Evie tensing beside him and opening her mouth to protest, but he gave her a light nudge in the ribs and she immediately closed her mouth. Mukhtar raised a brow, but didn’t comment. Nor did the Kindred sitting either side of him, though the two women on the right exchanged a sidelong glance.
“That’s why I requested this meeting, Prince Bey. So that we might clear the air and settle this matter once and for all.”
“Yes, as you explained when you all but demanded this meeting when your childe’s identity became known to me,” he drawled. “But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. As you can see, the Camarilla and Anarch leaders have each sent representatives to speak on their behalf.
“Here we have Peter Grouch, childe and representative of Maximillian Strauss, Primogen of Clan Tremere and primary advisor to Prince Voerman.”
The pierced man in the fur-coat jerked his head.
“On behalf of the Nosferatu Primogen, Gary Golden, is his childe known as Barabus.”
The Nosferatu didn’t react. He just slumped in his seat, looking like he’d rather be literally anywhere else.
“Representing Barons Isaac Abrams is Velvet Velour.”
The Toreador woman beamed at Evie and inclined her head towards Beckett, flashing him a dazzling smile.
“And to my left we have Emma Ellwood, childe to Prince Therese Voerman, and Claudia Dell, childe to Jeanette Voerman who was rather insistent that her opinion be expressed in tonight’s proceedings.”
While Manse barely inclined her head, Dell lifted a hand in a wave and threw a dirty grin their way.
Mukhtar didn’t sound particularly pleased about that last one, but Jeanette Voerman - while not a Baron - was a notable figure within the Anarch Movement, and was the sister and childe of the Prince. It probably would have caused more problems to refuse her requests.
“Now, if you’ll both take your seats.”
Mukhtar waved a hand to the two chairs sat in the centre of the room, and they did as they were told. Evie’s hands were curled in her lap and her whole body was rigid. Beckett would be more concerned if she was wholly relaxed. After all, they needed the LA Kindred to believe that her life really was in the balance.
“I believe we’ll begin with each Representative giving voice to the opinions of their masters,” he began. “Then Miss Byrne will provide her account of the events that followed her Embrace of the twentieth of October, 2004. The representatives may ask questions, and then I will render my judgement.”
Undoubtedly he was aware of the recorder currently sitting in Beckett’s pocket, listening to every word that came out of his mouth. It was something of an open secret that he recorded almost every important conversation he had.
“Mr Grouch, if you would start us off?”
Grouch heaved a sigh and sat up a little straighter in his seat as his fixed his eyes on Evie.
“First of all, the Regent wishes for me to make the depths of his disappointment in this Fledgling clear,” he began, his tone just above a growl. “He considers her actions reprehensible, and finds it regretful that she did not trust him and the Camarilla to provide the appropriate protection following the calling of an illegitimate Blood Hunt. However…”
He sighed and shook his head.
“He is understanding that Miss Byrne was placed in a difficult position and was under a considerable amount of pressure, and is willing to forgive her for her mistakes… Provided she does not make them again.”
Beckett heard a sharp intake of breath beside him and out of the corner of his eye could see the surprise on Evie’s face as her shoulders dropped a little. Not quite relaxed, but less tense than before. While Grouch obviously disagreed with his master’s actions, it didn’t matter. Strauss was forgiving her, and that was what would matter to the Prince.
And ruled Strauss out as a potential suspect. Of all the Kindred being represented tonight, he had the most reason to call for Evie’s Final Death. The fact he wasn’t was significant.
Mukhtar nodded and then turned his attention to Barabus, who seemed to tense as everyone else’s eyes followed.
“I’ll say this,” he growled. “I think this whole thing is pointless, and so does the Boss. This kid saved my ass in Chinatown and cleaned up one hell of a Masquerade Breach, which potentially saved all our asses. Gary vouches for her, and so do I.”
“If you don’t mind my asking, Mr Barabas, what is the Masquerade Breach you are referring to?”
“A bunch of humans were in the employ of the Kuei-Jin. They were running tests of all sorts, trying to find the best way to kill Kindred. The Kid killed the man in charge, broke me out, and helped me wipe out all the data they had on us.”
“I see. Quite a serious breach indeed.”
Next was Velvet who smiled gently at Evie.
“First I would like to say how glad I am to see you in one piece, Evie. You had a lot of people back home worried when you disappeared,” she said.
Evie shifted uncomfortably in her seat which couldn’t have gone unnoticed, though Velvet didn’t seem to mind.
“Second, Isaac, Nines, and the rest of the Anarchs have asked me to extend to you their best wishes. They hope you are well, and that this mess gets straightened out as quickly as possible. Nines in particular wishes me to tell you that ‘you did good’ and he hopes that, should you choose to return to LA in the future, you will stop by the Last Round for old times’ sake.
“Evie has done more for LA’s Kindred Community in the short time she was a part of it than most do in many lifetimes. She killed vampire hunters without attracting undue attention, destroyed a gargoyle that had taken residence in Hollywood’s Chinese Theatre-”
Was it just Beckett, or did Grouch look vaguely uncomfortable for a split second there?
“-successfully ousted the Tzimisce responsible for the disappearance of the Nosferatu, and put an end to the threat of the Plaguebearer Cult that threatened the Masquerade. She showed tact and discretion when dealing with many of the troubles that we faced, and had the courage to face all kinds of terrible dangers while standing alone. And for these reasons, Isaac believes that she should be cleared of all charges.”
“Thank you, Miss Velour,” Mukhtar said, bowing his head once again. “Miss Ellwood, if you please?”
The woman in the pin-stripe suit turned her gaze to Evie and the temperature in the garden seemed to drop suddenly. Ellwood’s gaze was cold and piercing, and while her face looked as if it ought to be expressionless, there was something else lingering just below the surface.
Beckett felt his Beast growling and while he gently urged it to calm, he made a note of the feeling. This Kindred was to be watched.
“To begin, Prince Voerman wishes it to be made very clear that she views these proceedings as an utter waste of valuable time,” she said coldly. “She believed the matter resolved upon the repeal of the Blood Hunt, and the Camarilla’s subsequent decision to let the matter lay. However.”
There was something very chilling about that ‘however’.
“She does wish to know if she was somehow mistaken in allowing this Fledgling to live. She has proven very eager to please, after all, and very easy to manipulate. The fact that someone as weak-willed as Sebastian Lacroix could dominate her so easily is evidence enough. Is there, perhaps, reason to believe Prince Voerman’s goodwill has been squandered and, has in fact, necessitated this meeting?”
“Quiet, Miss Byrne,” Mukhtar said sharply. “Thank you for your input, Miss Ellwood. It is something to consider. Miss Dell?”
The final Kindred grinned at Evie in a way that was nigh on flirtatious and it made the Beast in Beckett’s chest growl protectively. Again, he pushed it down.
“Well Duckling. Where do we begin? Jeanette tells me that you’ve always done such wonderful work, and that the best kind of fun seems to follow you. Slashing paintings seems so… trivial, compared to blowing up a Prince,” she said wryly, and yes her tone was definitely very flirty which struck Beckett as very inappropriate.
Like sire like childe, or so the saying went.
“But I didn’t-”
“And your friend, what was her name? Sarah? Sally? Something with an S. Anyway, Jeanette heard about it from Bertram. A quick knife in a friend’s back, all to protect the Masquerade. Delicious.”
“I was only-”
“In fact, I hear you’re good with knives. I’d love it if you could give me some pointers some time. Your work on those paintings was divine . I just hope that you never have to-”
“Miss Dell!” Mukhtar snapped, bringing his fist down on the arm of his throne. “Will you stop dithering and get to the point! Does Jeanette Voerman speak in favour of or against the Fledgling before you?”
“Hm? Oh, right. Yes, Jeanette vouches for Duckling here. It’d be a shame for her to end up with her head being chopped off before she got around to some real fun.”
‘Malkavian. She has to be Malkavian,’ Beckett thought to himself, trying to ignore the mounting headache building at his temples. ‘Why else would someone advocating Evie’s unlife talk about such-?’
He froze, and a quick glance at Mukhtar - who caught his eye meaningfully - indicated the same thought had struck him.
There wasn’t time to process it however, as Mukhtar continued speaking.
“Now that we have that out of the way… Miss Byrne.”
Beckett realised that Evie had gone rigid in her seat and all the colour had drained from her face. She was gripping the sides of her chair so tightly that her knuckles had gone chalk white. He placed a hand on her shoulder, not really caring what the representatives thought.
She flinched before turning to him with a pleading look on her face. He squeezed gently and gave an encouraging nod. Slowly, she nodded back and turned to face Mukhtar.
“Miss Byrne. Would you please give us your account on the events of LA?”
“The whole story, or just a summary of the important bits?” she asked, her voice audibly stiff.
“The whole story, if you would.”
She nodded stiffly, then swallowed hard.
“Well. It all started when Lacroix sent me to destroy a Sabbat warehouse in Santa Monica…”
The next hour proved to be brutal on Evie, and Beckett was finding it difficult to keep his temper and his Beast in check as Ellwood once again opened her mouth to ask yet another question.
“So what you’re saying, Miss Byrne, is that Ming Xiao warned you that once you became expendable to Prince Lacroix he would betray you… and yet you confronted him about this supposed alliance anyway?”
“Yes,” Evie said through gritted teeth, obviously doing her best to maintain her composure even as it slipped.
“But why?” she asked incredulously. “That strikes me as both very careless and-”
“I don’t see what this has to do with my childe’s innocence, Ellwood,” Beckett growled. “Yes she chose to confront Lacroix about his alliance with the Cathayans. No it was not the most well thought out move. Can we please move on?”
“I agree. Miss Ellwood, if you cannot keep your questions relevant to the purpose of tonight’s hearing, I will be forced to have you removed from it,” Mukhtar said curtly, clearly as fed up as Beckett was.
Ellwood looked immeasurably displeased, but pursed her lips and remained silent.
She was definitely up to something, Beckett decided as Evie resumed her story. He didn’t know Therese personally, so it was hard to say whether or not Ellwood was following orders, but she was clearly needling Evie to try and make her say something she couldn’t take back. And she wasn’t the only one.
Claudia Dell had been almost as bad, prodding and poking at the gorier, more unpleasant points in the story, parts that were clearly quite distressing, and trying to elicit some kind of response.
It was like the pair were trying to wear Evie down, and despite Beckett’s best attempts to curb them, it was working. She looked absolutely exhausted and like she was fighting back the urge to cry. He didn’t really blame her. The whole time she’d been talking it was obvious how tough LA had been on her from the schemes and the lies, to the political machinations and outright manipulations of the elder Kindred she encountered.
And she’d clearly not been given any time at all to process any of it. Was it any wonder that even the slightest prodding of the wounds brought her to tears?
“So after Baron Nines was carried away, you were then attacked by another werewolf, correct?”
Evie nodded. There were a few surprised looks between the representatives.
“And how, might I ask, did you escape?” Grouch asked, eying her suspiciously.
“Um… Well, I…”
She suddenly found her fingernails to be apparently fascinating as she stared hard at her lap rather than at the Tremere. When she mumbled her reply, Beckett was certain he must have misheard her. There was no way she had said that .
“Speak up Fledgling. And look at me when I’m talking to you,” Grouch snapped. “How did you escape?”
“...I killed it.”
A hush fell over the garden, and for a split second the fear that the Assamites had returned briefly struck Beckett. But then another second passed and he realised that no, he really had heard that and processing the idea of that superseded all other brain functions, including audio processing.
Evie was staring at her lap again as Mukhtar, Grouch, and the rest of the representatives all stared at her with open mouths. It was a long time before any of them mustered the will to speak.
“You had better start being honest, Fledgling,” Grouch snarled as he leant forward, almost leaving his seat but not quite.
“I wasn’t trying to kill it, it was- well it wasn’t an accident, but I didn’t know what I was doing !” Evie protested.
“A gargoyle is one thing, but a werewolf ?! No Fledgling is being honest if they claim something like that!” Grouch spat. “Hell, the Regent had given you a ward to protect you from the gargoyle! You had no such protection from one of those creatures!”
“Well, yes, I-”
“Why would your Regent give this Fledgling a ward against gargoyles, Peter?” Velvet asked, cocking her head slightly to one side.
“Because she approached the Regent with questions about gargoyles, seemingly after Baron Isaac tasked her with killing the one in his precious Chinese Theatre,” Grouch retorted hotly. “There is nothing odd about my sire showing more care for this Fledgling’s safety than any Anarch would.”
“I don’t think VV is asking why your sire gave Duckling a ward, Petey,” said Dell, looking positively delighted with the turn of events. “I think she’s getting at the fact that he just happened to have one handy.”
“There is nothing out of the ordinary about it,” he snarled. “The Tremere have always used gargoyles, it makes sense we would utilise protections in the event one went rogue-”
“Like the one in the Chinese Theatre?”
Grouch’s face drained of colour - a sign of a Kindred sending the blood in it to other parts of the body - and twisted into a beastial snarl. He rose from his seat, eyes fixed on Dell and he made as if to lunge at her while she only cocked a brow mockingly. She didn’t even flinch or show the slightest sign of worry even as he raised his wrist to his mouth, clearly about to bite down and unleash his blood magic on her.
“ENOUGH!” Mukhtar roared, shooting to his feet.
All at once his presence washed over the garden with the force of a tidal wave, bearing down on every Kindred and Ghoul within its reach. Even Beckett felt an icy fear grasp him. He had to fight the overwhelming urge to bolt, and he wasn’t the only one whose Beast was urging him to flee.
Beside him, Evie had shrunk back into her seat with her eyes as wide as saucers, and Grouch’s pallor went from one of fury to one of pure terror. Velvet and Ellwood both shrunk away from him, and even Barabas and Dell seemed shaken.
Then it receded, and the thunderous rage in Mukhtar’s face faded somewhat as he sunk back into his seat. Then, in a very even voice, he said to Evie, “so you killed the werewolf and escaped the park. What happened next?”
Evie was still trembling as she pushed herself back up in her seat. Beckett didn’t doubt that Lacroix could never have mustered such a terrifying presence. It was one cultivated by experience, age, and the knowledge of his complete and utter control over the room.
Mukhtar might not be a Ventrue, but his mastery of the Dominate surpassed many and rivalled the rest.
“W-well… I got to the cable car,” she continued in a very small voice. “And Jack was waiting for me with his car…”
Even as the story continued, Mukhtar’s effect on the space lingered. Which was good, as far as Beckett was concerned, as it meant that Ellwood and Dell couldn’t continue their needling without the fear of drawing the Prince’s wrath. Grouch was still very pale and Velvet certainly seemed on edge. If the fear still clung to Barabas he was doing a very good job of not letting it show.
By the time Evie was done, Mukhtar was the only one posing any questions.
“So after stabbing Prince Lacroix, you then gave him the very thing you sought to keep from him? Why?”
“I guess… I just wanted all my ties to that thing gone. And…” She hesitated. “...I’d been told not to open it. I guess I thought that if something bad happened when it opened, better him than me.”
“Who told you not to open it?”
“A thinblood called Rosa. She had… visions,” Evie explained warily. “She… she was right about a lot of things, and I guess I trusted that she was right about that too.”
“A thinblood with visions?” Manse scoffed, speaking up for the first time in not long enough. “You realise that she was probably mad, yes?”
“If her sire was Malkavian, then yes. Quite mad,” Beckett concurred. “That doesn’t make her wrong however. Especially considering that she was right to tell Evie not to open it. I offered the same advice.”
Eyes turned to him, including Mukhtar’s. The Prince raised a brow.
“Is that so, Beckett? A Malkavian thinblood receiving visions is one way of predicting the danger. How did you know?”
“Instinct,” Beckett said idly, shrugging. “I’m sure all of you were aware of the unusual sensation in the air during the events of LA, the strange feeling of dread no one could put their finger on. My instincts told me the sarcophagus would prove dangerous if opened. And I’ve learned to trust my instincts.”
Some of the representatives, such as Ellwood and Grouch, seemed unconvinced, but Mukhtar nodded his head.
“Very well. I will take your word for it. I do have one more question for you, Miss Byrne.”
She lifted her head, daring to meet his gaze.
“I’m still not sure I understand why you did not turn to a sect for protection,” he explained. “Both the Camarilla and the Anarchs have had many good things to say about you, and their leaders have all offered you their support. Yet you chose to stand alone. Can you explain your decision?”
There was another very long pause, during which Evie lowered her gaze back into her lap where her hands were curled into fists.
“Because I couldn’t trust them.” She took a deep breath. “From the moment I was Embraced, everyone I met wanted something . They wanted to use me as their pawn or their weapon…”
Beckett definitely saw guilt on Velvet’s face this time, a flash of momentary hurt and a hand curling over her heart as she bowed her head in shame.
“That thinblood, Rosa, told me I could only trust two people,” she continued. “One of them was the Lone Wolf, and... she was right.”
She turned her head so she was looking at Beckett as she spoke.
“Beckett was the only person who never wanted anything from me. He never treated me like some stupid little kid or a thing to be used. He just… treated me like a person.”
She sniffed and swiped at her eyes and Beckett felt his chest tighten a little.
“And let me guess. He recommended going Autarkis,” Barabas said, raising a brow at Beckett.
Evie lifted her head to look at the Nosferatu and grinned in spite of herself.
“Well, he recommended seeing the sarcophagus nonsense through first. But that was before the werewolf and the Blood Hunt,” she explained wryly, then shrugged. “I won’t lie and say I really thought it through.”
Beckett rolled his eyes but offered her a wry smile nonetheless. Why was he not surprised that she’d latched onto his advice and based a very important decision on that and her emotions?
What did surprise him were these thinblood prophecies she kept mentioning, and the fact she’d based so many choices around what this Rosa had told her. Not opening the sarcophagus, trusting him…
He wondered briefly if that was the only reason she’d trusted him, but then reminded himself that she had elaborated further that it was his behaviour towards her that had affirmed her decision to do so. Funny that. Most people found his behaviour so annoying that they threatened to kill him. And many then attempted to follow up on it.
And then he wondered what else Rosa had told her. Maybe he’d have her write up these prophecies, if only to keep a record of them. Malkavians were heralded as oracles and seers, but for a thinblood to have enough connection to whatever gave them that insight was unheard of.
“Thank you, Miss Byrne, for your account. You have given me much to think about. As have each of our representatives. This evening has certainly proved enlightening.”
Beckett was yanked out of his reverie by Mukhtar who sat back in his seat, fingertips pressed together in front of his face. Everyone watched him closely and for several minutes there was silence, save for the gentle evening breeze.
“I have made my decision. Evie Byrne, childe of Beckett, I declare you not guilty. So long as you remain in my city, you and your sire are to be under my protection, and you are welcome to operate in my domain as you see fit… Within reason, of course.”
His eyes twinkled and for the first time he actually smiled at Evie, who seemed to deflate into her seat.
It was no surprise. The plan had always been for Mukhtar to pardon her, but the intensity of which Manse and Dell had badgered her, and the brawl that had nearly broken out between the latter and Grouch - if it could be called that - made it easy to forget that nothing had really been on the line for her.
Still, Mukhtar was right. Tonight had been enlightening.
After all, they now had a potential lead.
Beckett had his ghoul come to collect himself and Evie after the hearing was over, as the bloody tears that welled in her eyes and refused to stop were not fit to be seen in public. By Kindred or Kine.
Velvet felt a pang of guilt for the umpteenth time that night as she was sure she was at least partially responsible for some of those tears. Again she was reminded that she was as guilty as the rest of the LA Kindred for using Evie to some degree. It hadn’t been her intention to send the poor thing after Chastity - a child had no business hunting down a hunter - but she had mentioned the threat and Evie had latched onto it, ever so determined to be of help. And Velvet, knowing how dangerous Chastity was likely to be, allowed it. It had been too much to ask, as she had feared it would be… and she let her go anyway.
She still felt unclean just thinking about it.
She had wanted to speak with Evie once the hearing was over, to have a more personal conversation where she could properly apologise for what she had done in LA. For Chastity, and the mess with David, but Evie had all but buried herself into Beckett’s side, and the older Kindred politely requested she be left alone before they departed.
Velvet acquiesced and suggested maybe they could meet another night, as she really was relieved to see Evie whole and well. He answered vaguely before taking her away, and Velvet knew it was likely the last time she would be seeing Evie in Cairo.
Disappointing, but not wholly unexpected. Evie probably didn’t want those old memories being dredged up again. Especially after Emma, Claudia, and Peter’s displays throughout the evening.
Really, it had been so uncalled for. Accusing Evie of lying and needling every little thing she said. Why if Velvet didn’t know any better, she’d say that Emma and Claudia had been trying to get a rise out of Evie!
She stopped dead and a ghoul gardener nearly spilled their watering can over her dress. Was she of a mind, she would have apologised before they even had a chance and insist they had done no real harm. Instead she stood stock still as they stumbled past her and nervously continued on, clearly terrified.
She turned the idea over in her mind, letting it flourish in her mind. Then she abruptly turned on her heel and swept back through the garden to the facsimile throne.
She had to speak with Mukhtar before she even considered reporting to Isaac. She had to be sure she wasn’t overthinking this. Because if she wasn’t…
Evie was still very much in danger.
Chapter 8: Trust and Fangs
Evie frowned and paused her scribbling - which had mostly devolved into doodling at this point - and peered closer at the page. Yes, she had indeed just read the same page three times over and hadn’t taken in a word, let alone added any coherent notes on the subject to her doodle-filled notebook.
She pulled the book closer towards her and tried to focus as she read the page this time.
She was studying another of Beckett’s journals, this one dating back about a century ago. It was proving hard going because back in those nights, he apparently had a habit of getting drugged and drawn into strange ramblings that she struggled to parse. It was even harder to imagine that Beckett really had been the speaker in these passages.
Again she reached the bottom of the page and couldn’t recall a word of what she had just read.
She slumped back in her chair, folded her arms over her face, and groaned.
“Quiet,” Beckett chided from the nearby shelves. “We’re in a library, remember?”
She stuck up a middle finger, well aware of the fact that he couldn’t see her from where he was, and looked vaguely back at the book.
It was the night following the hearing and Mukhtar had declared her cleared of all charges. Earlier that evening, Beckett had gone back to the Manial Palace to discuss the matter with the Prince and exchange thoughts on how things had played out and what everything meant. He had offered to bring Evie, but she had elected to go on ahead to the library on her own and get a head start on some studying.
He had only arrived less than ten minutes ago and rather than immediately filling her in, he got to work browsing bookshelves.
She didn’t mind. If anything she wanted to delay the inevitable. Delay knowing who it was who wanted her dead, or at least delay hearing Beckett and the Prince’s suspicions and conclusions.
It wasn’t like she hadn’t come to any on her own.
Ellwood and Dell had said that Therese and Jeanette were on her side, then proceeded to nitpick every little detail they could like they were trying to make her look so bad that Mukhtar might just execute her anyway. It made for one hell of a conflicting picture and she couldn’t help but wonder if that had been the Voermans’ intentions. They couldn’t publicly speak against her without giving away their secret, but they could still have their agents pick her apart in front of the Prince and bank on him making the call to have her head taken off.
And failing that, they could always send more Assamites once they had confirmation that she and Beckett had left Cairo.
She started doodling again, trying to push the thought from her mind. She really didn’t want to imagine that they would do that… Even if Jeanette had sent armed thugs to kill her and Therese had pointed a gun at her.
The doodle rapidly transformed into a sketch of the Voerman sisters, ironically enough. The journal lay forgotten on the table as Evie found herself trying to capture that glint in Therese’s eyes, the one that usually appeared when she had her eyes fixed on something she wanted, and the ways Jeanette’s eyes glimmered with mischief. It was funny how, despite the fact they literally shared a face, they were so distinct from one another.
She was so focused on drawing that she didn’t notice Beckett emerge from the aisle with a few tomes tucked under his arm. If she had, she’d have seen the curious quirk of his brow before he strolled around the table to peer over her shoulder.
He at least had the courtesy to wait until she had lifted her pen from the page before saying, “if you paid half this much attention to your studies, you’d breeze through that journal.”
She jumped and then glared at him, though he just smirked back. He then circled around to her other side and placed the tomes he’d collected on the table. Then he sat down and paused, as if weighing options.
Evie braced herself as she stared very pointedly at her drawing rather than at him. He wanted to talk about the hearing and his own meeting with Mukhtar. A thought he picked up on immediately, as he set a hand on her shoulder as he turned to face her, his arm resting on the table.
“The sooner we deal with this problem, the sooner we can put it behind us and move on,” he said.
She nodded, but it didn’t stop her stomach from churning. Slowly, she looked around at him.
“So… do you think Therese and Jeanette want…?”
She trailed off, not really wanting to finish that thought. But to her surprise, Beckett shook his head.
“No, I’m quite certain they don’t,” he said.
“How do you know?”
Beckett smiled grimly.
“Mukhtar might be a very forthright Prince, but that doesn’t make him incapable of going behind one’s back,” he said heavily. “He took a chance and had a chat with Therese when he arranged the meeting, and-”
“He did what ?!”
“He told Therese the plan,” he said, tightening his grip on her shoulder ever so slightly, just to keep her from pulling away so she was better inclined to sit and listen. “I’ll explain…”
So he told her what Mukhtar had told him. About his collaboration with Therese, that she knew all along it was a sham of a hearing, and that Ellwood and Dell weren’t supposed to have asked any questions, just remind everyone of the Blood Hunt’s repeal and offer Therese and Jeanette’s support. Nothing more.
“So… wait, Therese and Jeanette don’t want me dead, but it means Ellwood and Dell are just working for someone who does?” she concluded.
She had to fight the swelling anger that the knowledge of Mukhtar’s double-crossing had caused. He was trying to help, she reminded herself. That’s why he had done it. And it was a good call because Therese was trying to help too.
‘ Or maybe that’s what they want you to think ,’ a nasty little voice sneered in the back of her mind.
She shook her head to dispel it and stared at Beckett in disbelief.
“But… none of the others wanted me dead. Well, except Grouch-”
“Except he won’t be willing to go against Strauss’ decision,” Beckett sighed, shaking his head. “From what I understand, Grouch is a clan first, sect second sort of Kindred, much like his sire. He’ll respect Strauss’ wishes that you be left alone, so we can safely rule him out.”
“So then who does want me dead?” she exclaimed, staring at him pleadingly, as though begging him to come up with an answer.
But he stared at the floor, hesitating to answer.
“I don’t know,” he confessed. “But we’re going to find out-”
“That’s what this hearing was supposed to be about!” she shouted, forcing his hand off of her shoulder as she felt the Beast rising in her chest. “Are you saying that this whole thing was pointless?!”
“Not quite,” he corrected, keeping his voice firm and even, all while giving her a look over the top of his shades that told her to get a grip and to do it now. “We know someone is targeting you. That someone is using the childer of a Prince and her childe to get at you. And any moment now, Mukhtar will be contacting Therese to determine what the next step is. She’ll probably want Ellwood and Dell detained and interrogated until they reveal who they’re working for.”
There was a pause as Evie took that in and - as Beckett had silently suggested - got her Beast back under control, trying to restore that feeling of relative calm. It was easier said than done as it wasn’t only anger but also prickling fear that had the Beast so riled up. A paranoia that even now, Mukhtar and Therese were conspiring to be rid of her instead of helping her.
‘Beckett trusts that they’re helping,’ she reminded herself. ‘I have to trust that he knows what he’s doing.’
The Beast growled nervously, but finally settled. Not completely relaxed, but quiet for now.
“So… it wasn’t a complete waste,” she said as evenly as she could manage after she was sure she had reigned herself in. “We just need to get a name out of them?”
“But until we get one, there’s no point sitting around worrying. Which is why-” he reached over and tapped the journal. “-you should get back to work.”
He then winked as he turned back to his own books.
“Don’t think this mess excuses you from earning your keep, Young One.”
“Sure, as if I could even begin to make sense of you and your drugged up ramblings,” she snorted, but a grin did spread across her face as she turned back to the table as well. “And you’re sure you want this thing circulated?”
“Of course. After all, if you read it and take what’s in there on board, you might not make my mistakes,” he said wryly. “That’s the point of these journals. Recording everything I experience so that others may learn from said experiences.”
“You mean like the time where you heavily imply you got fucked by Dracula himself?” she asked with feigned innocence and a sparkle of mischief in her eyes.
“The value of seduction as a tool to get what you need,” he said lightly, shrugging. “However that’s a lesson you’ll have to figure out on your own if you want to. I certainly won’t be teaching you that .”
“Or the time Jan Pieterzoon staked you naked for the sun?”
“A warning that even a Yes Man and toady can be a very dangerous enemy.”
“Well what about-”
He gave her a pointed look that read as amused, but also told her to stop right now.
“Keep it up, Young One, and you’ll be writing your own journal to teach Fledglings why you don’t pester your Elders about their lower moments,” he said warningly.
They turned back to their respective books and for a few moments there was silence… Or at least there was until Evie turned back to Beckett again and said, “did Prospero really tell you and Sascha Vykos to hate fuck on a desk?”
That earned her a playful smack around the head.
Therese paced the office floor, worrying her thumbnail between her teeth. Mukhtar was supposed to have called by now. His ghoul’s message had said as much, so what was taking so long?
This mess with Evie was supposed to have been cleaned up already, so it really was very annoying that someone insisted it continue. She had a few guesses as to who might be the responsible party, but she couldn’t act without proof. Not when things were so precarious. Needless to say, the moment she had said proof, there would be no corner in LA where this Kindred could hide from her.
Mukhtar Bey was a very straightforward Prince, that she could respect, but that didn’t make him incapable of taking action on his own accord. Another thing she could respect.
After Beckett and Evie had left Manial Palace, Mukhtar had called Therese and informed him of the trial and its nature, not to warn her, but to work with her. As Prince of Cairo, his reach was limited to his city. Therese was far better suited to handle a traitor in LA than he was.
Therese would never admit to any particular fondness for Evie; she had been a very valuable asset during her time in Santa Monica, the Gallery incident aside, and had always been very good about keeping her and Jeanette’s secret, but admitting fondness meant admitting weakness. Jeanette might not see it the same way - she treated Evie like a younger sister - but Therese simply couldn’t allow anyone to believe she cared .
That being said, whoever was targeting Evie was proving elusive, and that she didn’t like. As far as Mukhtar or anyone else needed to know, Therese was doing this to ensure that this threat didn’t turn its gaze to her.
She had already received and read through Emma and Claudia’s reports regarding Evie having been cleared of charges and offered the Prince’s protection - and a near brawl between Claudia and Strauss’ representative over a gargoyle or a werewolf or some such nonsense - but right now she was waiting on Mukhtar to give his own perspective on events.
With any luck, he would have more insight into any potential traitors than Emma and Claudia had.
“You’re going to wear a rut in the floor, Therese,” Jeanette teased.
She was sprawled out on the bed with unconscious human woman laid out beside her. A smear of blood on her lips and the two ragged puncture marks in the young woman’s neck told the tale… As did the fact that neither of the pair were dressed and the young woman’s skin was slick with sweat.
Therese knew where she would be sleeping come morning, and it was not going to be between those infernal satin sheets. What she wouldn’t give to take a match to them-!
She caught herself. No. Part of their deal was no more threats regarding the bed sheets. No more fire, or fabric scissors, or shredders.
So instead of delivering a threat as she would have in the past, she turned away from her sister and resumed her pacing, careful to keep the divider between her and the sight of the naked pair behind it.
“Getting yourself all worked up into a fit won’t do you any good,” Jeanette continued, shifting to sit on the edge of the bed with a hand ghosting over the woman’s abdomen as she moved away. “You should relax. Have a drink.”
“No thank you,” Therese replied with a small shudder.
She never drank directly from her prey. The idea made her skin crawl.
“Ugh, Therese… You need to learn to loosen up a little,” Jeanette sighed, shaking her head. Her strawberry blonde hair - loose of its pigtails for one - fluttered over her shoulders as she rose to her feet, reaching for a silk robe that lay on the floor.
She tugged it over her shoulders and trotted over to her sister.
“You have eternity to get what you want, you know. No harm in slowing down a little to smell the roses,” she giggled, draping her arm over Therese’s shoulder and resting her chin on the other. “You’re dead but you’ll give yourself wrinkles if you don’t relax.”
“I do not need to relax, Jeanette,” she said tersely. “I am perfectly fi-”
The phone rang, forcing Therese into an abrupt halt. She made to cross to the desk, to answer the phone, but Jeanette somehow reached it first.
“Helloooo,” she replied saucily, grinning at Therese. “Oh, Prince Bey! How nice to hear from you! Therese is a bit busy at the moment, but I would be more than happy to-”
Therese was there in a fraction of a heartbeat and started a silent-but-fierce fight for the phone. It took a few moments before she successfully wrested the handset away from Jeanette but she managed, straightened up, and smoothed out her skirt before replying.
“My apologies for my sister, Prince Bey. I was attending to a matter when you called. I take it this is about the ‘hearing’?”
Mukhtar gave the affirmative and launched into his summary of events. Namely the notable behaviour of each of the representatives and Therese’s expression soured.
“So. Emma and Claudia disobeyed orders, did they?” she said curtly. “They were to remind all in attendance of the repeal of the Blood Hunt and extend my protection to Evie, nothing more.”
“And yet they needled her to the verge of tears, no doubt with the intent of making her say something she couldn’t take back, believing that I would be convinced she was a threat to my person,” Mukhtar replied drolely. “And if it is not on your and your sister’s orders-”
“It most certainly was not,” she replied in a very dangerous tone.
“I was not seriously suggesting it. Regardless, they have clearly disobeyed orders. Why do you think that is?”
Therese pursed her lips.
“I can’t speak for Jeanette and Claudia, but Emma has always been a most obedient childe and knows that there are consequences for disobeying me, even if it is well intended,” she replied coolly. “For her to do so would either indicate a very sudden change of character-”
“Or she is no longer acting on your orders.”
“Annoyingly, that is very possible.”
Therese grit her teeth as Jeanette began patting her shoulder. She tried to wave her off, but her sister kept insisting to the point she was almost violently shaking her.
“A moment.” She placed the phone to her shoulder and hissed, “ what ?!”
“What’s this about Emma disobeying orders?” Jeanette whispered, eyes alight with excitement.
Therese glowered at her and quickly relayed what Mukhtar had told her. The excitement in Jeanette’s eyes fettered out and she frowned.
“That doesn’t sound like Claudia. She likes to push when it’s something you care about, but not if it’s over something I care about,” she said, pouting.
Therese rolled her eyes and turned back to the phone.
“I just spoke with Jeanette. Apparently she doesn’t believe Claudia would disobey orders either,” she sighed. “Something is very wrong here.”
“Shall I detain these childer at the Palace for now?”
“...Yes. I can’t possibly keep an eye on them both, not with the way things are. If they’re working for someone else, I need to know. Interrogate them. Monitor their communications, do whatever is necessary to find out what they know. Any evidence will not only point to their collaborator but will give me grounds to have them executed.”
“As you wish, Prince Voerman. I will keep both Miss Ellwood and Miss Dell detained and monitored in the meantime. Now if-”
He came to an abrupt halt and asked Therese to wait. She heard the phone get set down on a desk and footsteps clicking away. There were worried voices in the distance and then silence except for the phone static.
“ Shh .”
The silence lasted longer than it should have and Therese had to resist the urge to start pacing again, but after several long minutes Mukhtar picked the phone up again. There were still urgent voices and the sounds of hurried activity going on in the background. There was a brief pause and the drawing of air through teeth, as if he were about to tell her something unpleasant.
“My apologies, Prince Voerman, but it appears that detaining the childer will be impossible for the foreseeable future,” he said heavily, with a hint of reluctance. “They’ve already fled.”
Velvet stepped out of the cab and waved the driver goodbye as she made her way down the street. Her red sundress had been replaced with a heavier, velvet evening gown in deep rich scarlet, and a black fur shawl drawn over her shoulders. She wore her hair up in a braided bun and she clutched a purse at her side.
Anyone might have thought she was headed for some formal event at a classy club, not to the library that was definitely supposed to be closed at this time of night.
She hurried up the steps, heels clicking loudly on the stone as she made for the entrance. Not that it really mattered because, as promised, there was no one around to see. No guards peering through windows, and no alarms went off as she eased open the front door, letting herself inside. If not for the upkeep of the place, it would be easy enough to assume it was abandoned.
It definitely wasn’t.
Beckett was waiting for her just inside the doors. His expression was a mix of anger and worry, and she was certain there was a little dread in his features too. She could make it out well enough, even if his eyes were shielded from view by those shades he always wore.
“Thank you for coming, Miss Velour,” he said with a note of urgency. “They’re really gone?”
She nodded regretfully.
“Not for a lack of us trying to stop them,” she explained. “But they were well-prepared. They trapped the room and had a boat ready to take them up the Nile. They’re gone.”
She glanced around and leaned in a little closer.
“Someone arranged for this. They knew the Princes would have them detained and had an escape route prepared for them,” she whispered conspiratorially.
“The question is who ?” Beckett hissed. “Who wants Evie dead this badly?”
Velvet shook her head.
“If I knew that, I would tell you. Everyone back in LA is far more concerned with the fact that a war could break out any day now, and all of them blame Sebastian. Even Maximillian thinks pursuing Evie is a waste of time, and he’s the one with the most reason to be angry with her.”
Beckett scowled and turned his head as if to check a doorway. He then chewed at his lip.
“So we might not even be dealing with an LA Kindred at all?” he asked, once he’d processed whatever ideas he had in mind.
“I fear that may be the case,” she sighed, shaking her head though it was more in exasperation than anything. “But what I can’t think of is why . Have the two of you been anywhere else before Cairo?”
“No, this was our first stop after LA.”
It was Velvet’s turn to worry her lower lip between her teeth.
That wasn’t really what she had hoped to hear. Mostly because it meant that their best hope of figuring out who was responsible for this mess had already escaped up river. Mukhtar had men pursuing Emma and Claudia’s boat, but they had gotten a serious head start and who knew what other tricks they could employ. It was very likely they wouldn’t be seeing them again for a considerable number of nights.
But if it wasn’t any of the LA Kindred, and Beckett really hadn’t taken Evie anywhere between here and there, then what was going on? Could someone from Evie’s mortal life have discovered her continued existence? But who would be so persistent in the destruction of a literal child?
A Kindred, she reminded herself. It was in the nature of many to care little one way or another, so long as they got what they wanted.
“Have you considered staying in Cairo?” she then asked, giving Beckett an almost pleading look. “At least until this is over. Mukhtar may be the one person who can protect you both from the Assamites and-”
“I know,” he sighed. “But that’s never been my way. And I think moving on would be best for Evie.”
He shook his head.
“Maybe it’s because everything that happened in LA is finally getting to her, but I feel like I can’t say a word without her either bursting into tears,” he explained grimly. “I know teenagers are emotional, but you say one wrong word and it’s like pulling the pin on a grenade.”
“Well what did you expect?! That she would just be okay when all was said and done?!” Velvet cried in exasperation as she threw her hands into the air, just barely keeping her voice hushed.
“She was murdered and immediately put on trial. She saw her sire get beheaded, and then was packed off to Santa Monica to destroy public property, and then the minute that was done, Sebastian put her to work searching for that sarcophagus everyone was losing their minds over!
“She didn’t get a single break to stop and take everything in when she was in LA. She was constantly being ordered this way and that by every other Kindred she met. Now she has a chance to sit and think, and it’s too much . Of course she’s going to cry at the drop of a hat! She didn’t get the chance to do that in LA!
“She needs you, Beckett! You might be the only person who can help her through this because you might be the only person she’ll let-!”
“Because she won’t trust anyone else, I know,” he cut over exhaustedly, as if he’d told himself the same thing night after night. Then he paused, and asked, “when you first met Evie, did she seem suspicious of you or anyone else that you know of?”
Velvet blinked then frowned as she cast her mind back to the night Evie first wandered into Vesuvius.
The skinny, awkward, and very out-of-place teen hovering in the doorway to the club’s main floor, clearly doing her best not to look or stare at the dancers. Velvet took her upstairs where things were quieter so they could talk.
Things were less awkward in Velvet’s private room, where Evie didn’t have to stare at the floor to avoid seeing something she didn’t want to see. Velvet remembered very clearly the moment where Evie felt a little more comfortable in the setting and finally relaxed. Her eyes had sparkled that night, still so full of life and youthful vigor, and an unrelenting altruism that was rare enough among the living, much less the unliving.
It helped Velvet to understand how Isaac felt when he looked at her, when he said how she was so much more alive than other Kindred. If not for the pointed fangs and unnaturally pale skin, Velvet could have easily mistaken Evie for another of the Kine. It was hard not to be a little envious of her.
Then she remembered Beckett had asked a question and she shook her head.
“Not at all. She came to Vesuvius one night because Isaac asked her to check in with me.” She smiled knowingly. “But she was always very kind, and very sweet. She was so willing to help, always asking me if there was anything that needed doing. Most Kindred would ask because they wanted something, but not her. No. She just wanted to help…”
And then Velvet saw her at the hearing. Her eyes were dimmer than before, less hopeful and filled with fear. And if that hadn’t been heartbreaking enough, she saw the way she had clung to Beckett like a child desperately holding onto their parent, dulled eyes filled with bloody tears as the stress of being needled and prodded about the horrors she’d endured finally overwhelmed her.
This life was determined to diminish the fire that was Evie’s humanity, and it killed Velvet to think there was nothing she could do about it.
So she wasn’t going to do nothing.
“I have a few friends in LA who are familiar with Emma and Claudia. I’ll speak with them when I get back, see what they know,” she said firmly. “If I’m lucky, I might find something that tells me who they’re working for.”
Beckett’s eyebrows shot upwards and then furrowed, his brow creasing with a small measure of suspicion.
“I’m not averse to your help, Miss Velour-”
“Please, call me Velvet.”
He hesitated for a second.
“Very well, Velvet. But for curiosity's sake, why do you want to help so badly?”
Because I failed Evie , she thought. I should never have let her chase Chastity. I should never have let Isaac send her to King’s Way at all, let alone by herself. I should have done more to try and protect her, but all I did was use her, knowing she deserved better.
“Because I’m fond of Evie,” she said, keeping her darker thoughts to herself. “And because I want her to learn how to enjoy the life she has now as best she can. She shouldn’t have to spend every moment of it being miserable or scared.”
Beckett looked at her appraisingly for a moment and then seemed to accept her argument. He nodded and glanced over his shoulder.
“I suppose I should go and drop the bombshell now,” he sighed.
Velvet stared at him in disbelief in disbelief, her mouth hanging open. He had the grace to look somewhat sheepish about it.
“She doesn’t know?!” she finally mustered, incredulously.
“Of course not. I was hoping to come up with a way to tell her that won’t end up with her ripping my arms off,” he groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose. “She’s scared, Velvet, and she’s getting more paranoid with each passing night. And I still don’t understand why she’s so set on believing everyone is against her!”
“You can’t think of one reason?” she said, raising a brow as she cocked her head to one side, a hand on her hip.
“This goes beyond just buying into some thinblood spewing prophecies,” he retorted. “It’s like her worst fears are coming to life these nights. If it weren’t for the fact that she’d been told she could, I doubt she’d trust me anymore than anyone else. She’d definitely have some doubts about my intentions. If she doesn’t already.”
She bit her lip as she nearly said that that wasn’t true, because to be perfectly honest, he was probably right.
The girl she had seen at the Palace wasn’t the same one who walked into Vesuvius and agreed to go up against a hunter. A lot of things had changed and broken and whether the assassination attempt had caused any of it or had simply put things into motion was irrelevant. It had simply happened.
“If it’s alright, I’d like to see her,” she said. “As it so happens, I have a gift.”
Beckett eyed her for a moment, then nodded. Velvet followed him as he led the way back into one of the library’s reading rooms where Evie was waiting.
To be honest, Velvet was quite certain that her presence might not make things easier. If Evie was growing to be more paranoid, it might just make things worse. But she had to try.
What else could she do?
“THEY WHAT ?!”
“You throw that table and I’ll show you trouble, Young One,” Beckett warned.
Evie was storming up and down the length of the room furiously, just a hair’s breadth away from a fear frenzy. A couple of chairs were lying on the floor, having already been kicked over and it seemed it was taking all of her self-restraint not to do the same to the tables and bookshelves, or rip out her own hair. Her eyes were wide with fear, and the colour had drained from her face, which in Kindred meant that the blood had been sent to other parts of the body to prepare it for fight or flight.
She was terrified and a scared vampire was often, like most beasts, the most dangerous kind.
Beside him Velvet watched the display with a mix of fear and sadness, and she seemed torn between wanting to say something and saying nothing at all. Beckett couldn’t blame her. Right now, handling Evie was like handling a live grenade that could go off at any second.
“You… You’ve got to be kidding me!” she exclaimed breathlessly, coming to a sudden halt and shaking her head. “Our only lead and Mukhtar just happens to lose it!”
“Evie, that’s enough,” Beckett growled.
She rounded on him and he could see the fury in her eyes burning as brightly as the fear.
“No, don’t you tell me it’s not his fault! First he tells Therese about the plan, then her and Jeanette’s childer escape before they can tell us who they work for? There’s no way that’s an accident. He had to let them go. He’s helping them, he’s in on it! I knew we couldn’t trust him-!”
Velvet flinched at the shout, but her reaction wasn’t nearly as bad as Evie’s. She practically jumped out of her skin and back-pedalled into a bookshelf hard enough that it wobbled, trying to put as much distance as possible between herself and Beckett. Her eyes went wide and she seemed to shrink downwards, like she was trying to make herself look smaller.
Immediately he regretted raising his voice and he drew a deep breath, reigning in his temper before speaking again.
“It’s going to be okay,” he said evenly. “If you won’t trust Mukhtar, then trust me. He’s trying to help you, and he’s doing what he can to ensure Ellwood and Dell are caught. And while I don’t know Therese very well, I’m going to assume that she won’t take kindly to a traitor slipping between her fingers. Am I right?”
Evie paused, but then nodded ever so slightly.
“There you go then.” He gave her a small smile. “We’re going to fix this. Okay?”
She nodded again and some of the tension in her body ebbed away. He debated with himself for a moment on account of Velvet’s presence, but she’d seen Evie at her most fragile twice now so it probably wouldn’t do any further harm. So he extended an arm.
Evie hesitated at first, torn between her desire to flee and her desire for comfort, before she finally made a decision and flew across the space, pressing herself into his front. She was trembling badly and he made a mental note to never raise his voice at her again.
“I’m sorry I shouted,” he murmured.
She made a little affirmative noise and he rubbed her back before she pulled away. And finally she turned to Velvet.
“Why are you here?”
She winced immediately after she said it, clearly having realised how accusing she had sounded. Velvet had the grace to pay it no mind and just smiled.
“I have something for you,” she said kindly as she opened her purse. “A gift from Skelter that he wanted me to pass along. He said that you probably need it more than he does.”
If she noticed the way Evie tensed up again, she didn’t say anything and continued to root through her purse until, finally, she pulled out a box. It was the kind that jewellry often came in, but it was long and rectangular rather than square like the sort that might contain a ring or a pair of earrings.
She held it out to Evie who took it so delicately that one might think it could explode at any moment.
Evie looked from Velvet to Beckett as she hesitated to open it. He just gave a nod of his head and, slowly, she cracked it open.
Inside was a necklace made from a braided leather cord as opposed to a chain, and attached to it was a long pointed fang that Beckett recognised almost immediately.
Evie just frowned as she held it in her hand, rubbing her thumb along the fang’s curve.
“It’s a Tarulfang. Very rare and very hard to come by considering that Tarul are by no means easy to kill, even for a vampire,” he explained. “But that’s not what makes them so valuable.”
Evie looked up at him quizzically.
“What does?” she asked, though the effect was already evident in her body language. The last of the tension had seeped away and she looked considerably calmer than she had for the last couple of nights.
“They can sooth the Beast in a vampire, making them less prone to frenzy. You can feel it, can’t you?”
She paused for a second, taking a moment to reflect and she looked surprised when she looked back up at him. He just smiled back and then nodded towards Velvet who was smiling at the whole exchange. Evie nodded and turned to her.
“Thank you,” she said in a small voice. Her wariness of the older vampire seemed to have diminished a little, and Velvet seemed overjoyed at the fact.
“It’s no problem, sweetheart. Now come here and we’ll see how it looks on you.”
She gestured for the necklace and Evie gave it to her, then turned around at her beckoning. Velvet fastened it gently then turned her around once more and adjusted the fang tenderly, making sure it hung just right before stepping back with a beam on her face.
“Perfect,” she said happily, clapping her hands together and turning to Beckett. “Don’t you think so?”
His lip curled as Evie turned to him with the first genuine grin she’d worn in nights that hadn’t been prefaced or accompanied by tears.
“You’ve had worse looks,” he teased which earned him the traditional playful shove.
Velvet giggled and shook her head.
“Now there’s no need to be mean,” she said, placing a hand on both Gangrels’ shoulders, drawing their attention. “I’m heading back to LA tonight. I’ll chat with some people, see if anyone’s noticed anything strange about Claudia and Emma lately. In the meantime, you two stay out of trouble, okay?”
“No promises,” Evie laughed. “I don’t think Beckett knows how to do that.”
Velvet gave her a look that said ‘don’t’ then turned to Beckett.
“Just…” She hesitated a moment and rested a hand on the crook of his arm and fixed him with an imploring gaze. “Keep her safe.”
“I will.” Then he smiled wryly at Evie. “Provided she lets me.”
Roy pursed his lips at Victoria and Delilah, each on their respective screens and having just relayed their latest report. He reached for the nearby wine glass of blood and lifted it to his lips and took a long sip.
“So,” he said, setting it down again. “Evelyn did not break as we had hoped?”
“No Father,” Victoria said coolly. “However, I can confirm that she was in a very distressed state by the end. She was all but clinging to Beckett like a snivelling child.”
“A petty victory at best,” Delilah sniffed. “However, she didn’t seem particularly happy to see even familiar faces, such as Velour and the Nosferatu. Most would have shown some sign of relief. The girl did not.”
“I see.” Roy leaned forwards, elbows resting on the table top, fingers laced together. “The seeds of mistrust have already been sown then?”
“It would appear so, and by a thinblood, no less. The exception here, of course, is Beckett.” Victoria frowned. “The Noddist is proving very protective of the girl, more so than we anticipated. Not to mention the Prince’s interference. The Assamites refuse to act so long as he is protecting them.”
“Mukhtar Bey will not be a problem once they depart Cairo. And if I know Beckett, it won’t be long before he decides to leave. He’s never content to stay in one place for too long, even if it means braving danger,” Roy mused. Then his lip curled in amusement. “He might sit upon a high horse, but he is no different from any other Gangrel at the end of the day, no matter what he might believe.”
He paused to think, turning ideas over in his head before glancing towards the pair of Toreadors - his adoptive childe and new grandchilde - who sat to his right.
“I believe it is time to put you to the test, my dear,” he said, addressing the latter before turning back to his eldest. “Victoria, I want you to keep tabs on Beckett and Evelyn for the time being. If I’m right, I have an idea of where they will be within the next month or so. That will be the perfect time to pounce and give them reason to return to LA.”
Delilah blinked in surprise.
“You mean you intend for us to-?”
“Yes, my dear. And that-” he turned to his new grandchilde “-will be your moment to prove yourself, dear.”
Lisa turned her head to face her childe, smiling adoringly. Heather smiled back at her, and then Roy as she inclined her head.
“I’m grateful to be given the chance, sir.”
He smiled warmly back at her, though it didn’t quite meet his eyes. Not that Heather would realise.
“Please childe, call me Roy. Or even Grandfather, if you like,” he chuckled. “But here in this haven, there is precious little need for such formalities. Here, Heather, we are a family.”
“Then I am happy to be a part of your family, Roy,” she said, a little shyly, but still smiling.
Roy maintained his smile even as he leaned back into his seat.
It was very nearly that time of year again, and while there was every chance that he was misjudging Evelyn, he was reasonably certain that with her newfound freedom of movement, she would all but beg Beckett to take her there. It had been four years, after all. She would want to go, given the chance. And if Beckett was the kind of sire that he seemed to have become, he would give her that chance.
And that was where all the pieces would begin to fall into place. The irony was delicious.
Chapter 9: Ghosts of the Past
The next night, a private Gulfstream departed Cairo for Heathrow Airport.
Beckett would be lying if he said that he wasn’t relieved to be leaving Egypt behind. The country had proven more trouble than it was worth and hopefully, a little time on home soil could give them both a chance to clear their heads and decide what to focus their studies on next. And maybe put some distance between them and their mysterious adversary. Not that they he could be certain that they were based in Cairo, but their agents would need time to locate them again before springing their next trap. The likelihood of them being able to trace the plane to him was slim, though not impossible which was why Cesare had been instructed to closely monitor any communications he could pick up on with his equipment.
Just in case.
Currently he was sitting at his desk, working through some translations and fragments on the Book of Nod that he had obtained in his travels prior to LA and hadn’t really given much thought to since. Between his pursuit of the Ankaran Sarcophagus and this mess with the Assamites, he had almost forgotten about them.
Evie meanwhile was lying on the floor, drawing. She had taken to doodling as she studied his journals, preferring that over writing notes, and it was seemingly becoming a habit. He was happy to let her get on with it. It seemed to help her focus less on their situation and provided better illustrations than his own rough sketches did. Every now and then she’d ask for further details or context and he would pause from his own work to provide.
He had to admit, it was nice to have a companion again, even if this one asked as many questions as a three year old did and had few reservations about teasing him. If anything, it was refreshing to spend time with someone who wasn’t so thoroughly jaded that they stopped asking questions.
Too many Kindred accepted things as they were and didn’t stop to ask why they were. Maybe when they were still young and coming to grips with unlife like Evie was, but eventually they just stopped.
It was his hope that his influence would allow Evie to keep questioning why, if nothing else.
And speaking of asking why, there was a nagging thought in the back of his mind that had been bothering him ever since the hearing. He’d hesitated to ask his questions, given that Evie’s emotional state had been so unpredictable in recent nights and he wasn’t looking to make things worse.
But since receiving the Tarulfang and leaving Cairo she certainly seemed to be getting back to her old self, or at least had a better handle on her emotions than she’d had recently.
Now was better than never, so he paused from his work and turned to Evie.
“There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask,” he began, folding one leg over the other and resting his hands in his lap. “You said in the hearing that this thinblood, Rosa, told you that you could only trust two people in LA.”
Evie paused from her drawing and shifted into a proper sitting position.
“Yet Velvet tells me that you didn’t seem to be overly suspicious of her when you met.”
She shrugged but didn’t say anything. Instead she stared into her lap as she fiddled with the Tarulfang hanging around her neck.
“I’m just trying to understand your view of things. Ever since the Assamites came after us, your trust in others seems to have evaporated. Barring me, apparently,” he pointed out. “Is it because I’ve done something to prove worthy of your trust, or because Rosa told you that I could be trusted?”
Evie didn’t look up or answer right away. For a while it seemed that she wasn’t going to before she opened her mouth.
“Like I said at the hearing. You’re the only person who didn’t want something from me,” she muttered. “You didn’t lie to me or manipulate me. If you needed something, you just asked straight up, no false pretenses. And you’ve been good to me. That’s why I trust you.”
“I see. Thank you.” There was a lengthy pause, before he continued, “so I take it that this will be your first time back to the UK in…?”
“Four years,” she replied, finally looking up. “It… feels a lot longer.”
He raised a brow.
“Four years? Then you would have been-”
“Fourteen when I ran away. Yeah. I spent the first year running, not really knowing where to go. I got some help here and there, got picked up by some drifters who were headed west and offered to take me along. We made it to LA and one of the guys in the group passed me along to his sister, Samantha. She took me in, helped me out.”
She smiled sadly as she looked away.
“She was always really good to me.”
There was a very somber note in her voice as she said that, a slight waver that was impossible for him to miss. Guilt and longing, blurred into one. He guessed that this Samantha was the friend that Claudia had mentioned.
The one Evie had supposedly killed to preserve the Masquerade.
It was one of the more unpleasant (but unfortunately necessary) aspects of their society. Either the people you knew in life moved on and never learned the truth, or they did learn and had to be silenced to preserve the fragile facade that protected the existence of the Kindred from public knowledge. Beckett had been fortunate in that regard. Everyone he had known and loved had been well-convinced of his death and were now dead themselves. He had no one who could pose such a risk to the Masquerade.
Evie’s situation was a little more complicated, which made his next question a necessary one.
“When we get to London, I need to know if there’s any chance of us running into any familiar faces,” he said. “If there is-”
“No. No, there won’t be,” she said heavily, cutting him off. “I’ve not got any family left, and I didn’t really have many friends. None who’d recognise me, let alone care if they did. We should be fine.”
He raised a brow. Well. That was convenient.
“What do you mean, ‘no family left?’” he asked.
“I mean I have no family,” she repeated, shrugging. “My mum died when I was born, my dad and brother were killed in an... accident. It’s a long story. But yeah. No family.”
There was a pregnant pause before she spoke again.
“What about you?”
“I mean… you had family once, right? I know they’re probably all gone, but…”
Trying to divert his attention without completely changing the topic. Fair enough. It wasn’t like anyone else had asked. True, he wouldn’t trust most Kindred with such personal information, but even the ones he did trust had never asked either. It really showed just how young Evie was that she did so with no ulterior motive in mind. She still had that something that made her very human compared to most Kindred. Perhaps even compared to most humans.
Where was the harm?
“I was the second youngest of six. Would have been eight, but my mother suffered two miscarriages. One before me and one after my younger brother. I was glad to have him.” He smirked. “He was my only ally against the tyranny of our four older sisters.”
“Ouch,” she giggled. “So you and your brother got along?”
“Like best friends.” He leaned back in his seat, reflecting fondly. “We’d go on our own adventures just to get out of the house, digging in the muck and searching the woods for secrets. Loved every minute of it.”
He then looked back at her.
“What about your brother? Did you get along before he passed?”
“Like best friends,” she echoed. “He was older than me by a couple of years, so he loved teasing me. But he always said he was the only one who was allowed to do that. He stuck up for me, and hung out with me, even if people made fun of him for it. And then he’d make up for that by tying my hair to my bedpost when I was sleeping... I miss him.”
He nodded understandingly.
“That’s one of the upsides of being on the move and focusing on research. It helps you to move past the hurt and get on with your life.”
“Do you not miss your brother? Or even your sisters? At all?”
“Sometimes. But I’m at peace with their deaths, and mine.” He shrugged. “No point in dredging up old hurts that I can’t do anything about.”
There was another long pause as Evie contemplated that, looking back down at her drawings and running a finger over the page. She was worrying at her lower lip, weighing up the decision to ask another question. Beckett didn’t say anything, just let her decide on her own accord.
“In a couple of weeks… could we go to Northampton?” she asked quietly. “There’s… something I need to do.”
“Is this time sensitive?”
“Kinda. Thirty-first of January, ideally.”
“I’ll make sure we have time for it. For now, why don’t we get back to work?”
She nodded and laid herself back on the floor, picking up her pencil. He spotted a small smile on her face before he turned back to his desk to resume his translations. Then, barely a second later, Evie looked up and said, “I forgot.”
He looked back around at her and frowned.
“What did you forget?”
“It was my birthday last week,” she said. “With everything that happened, I didn’t even think about it.”
He smirked at her.
“Well then we’ll consider this diversion a late birthday present,” he teased.
It was snowing heavily by the time they reached Northampton, and Evie found herself gazing blankly out of the window as Cesare drove to the address she’d given him.
It had been four years since she’d left, yet it didn’t seem to have changed very much. There were less people out on the streets than usual, more due to the snow than the hour, but there were still groups of teens and young adults hanging around on street corners and in shop doorways, usually sharing a lighter for their cigarettes and yelling at the tops of their lungs. No doubt they were drunk.
Beside her Beckett was looking out the window with a mild interest. No doubt he’d pieced together part of the reason she’d wanted to come back here… Or felt obligated to. And no doubt he was wondering if she would share the full story with him.
If there was one person left in the whole world she would consider sharing it with, it was him. And what he’d said about making peace with the deaths of his family… Maybe coming back one last time would help her do the same.
Finally they arrived at the house and she felt her stomach do a nervous flip just seeing it again.
The ‘for-sale’ sign was still up and there were no cars on the drive. Seemed that no one had moved into the property even after all this time. She briefly wondered why before being brought back to reality by Beckett patting her arm.
“This is the place,” she said before he could even ask. She opened the car door, climbed out, and made her way around onto the pavement to look up at the house she had grown up in.
Someone had been maintaining the front garden, keeping the grass cut and the hedges trimmed. Flowers still grew in the planters beneath the living room windows; some hellebore, aconite, and the witch hazel that her mother had apparently loved. A strange flower to favour, but to each their own.
The driveway leading to the garage door was covered in a layer of snow and ice, but the slabbed pathway leading to the front door had been recently cleared. She wondered if maybe the council had decided to keep the property presentable for the sake of keeping up appearances.
If they had, the locks might have been changed since she’d last been here and she’d have to pick her way in. If not, her old key might still work.
She heard Beckett murmur something to Cesare before he joined her to look at the house.
“Do you want to go in?” he murmured, breath rising in the bitingly cold air.
“No, not really,” she replied. “But… I have to.”
She had to put this behind her somehow, and maybe going back and finding a way to lay her memories of that night to rest would help somehow. So she began the walk up to the front door with Beckett trailing behind.
For a few seconds, Evie fumbled in her pocket for her key. Amazingly, it still fit and the door opened with a click, leaving her standing in the darkened threshold. The house beyond was pitchblack and cold. If she’d had any doubts before, she didn’t have them now. No one had lived here since she had run away.
For a few seconds she hovered there, then drew in a deep breath and stepped through the doorway.
It felt like the temperature actually dropped a few degrees but it wasn’t the cold that made Evie flinch. It was the fact that everything looked almost exactly as it had all those years ago. Like when she would wake up for school and come down the stairs. The same mirror hung on the wall opposite the stairs, and a side table sat beneath it, complete with landline and a very old pile of letters that looked like bills, all dated four years prior.
In the corner, coats were still hung on their hooks, and shoes were arranged neatly on a rack on the floor below them. Some were Evie’s but were definitely too small for her now. Paintings and photos were arranged on the walls, and the strangest part was that none of them seemed to have accumulated any dust.
Someone had been keeping the place clean, dry, and inhabitable, but hadn’t bothered to get rid of the previous inhabitants’ belongings? That was weird. And Beckett seemed to sense it too.
“Evie…” he murmured warningly.
“Through here,” she said, leading the way into the living room as she disregarded caution. “This is where it happened.”
Disturbingly enough, it also looked the way it had the last time she’d been here, sans the broken glass and blood. The mirror above the mantelpiece had been replaced with an identical version, or perhaps it was the original but had been repaired for some reason. Her stomach was churning and the Beast whined, urging her to run far away from this place. But she pushed it down. She needed to be here.
“It all started because I was late getting home one night,” she began. “I’d been at a friend’s house and had lost track of the time. My dad was furious with me, said he’d had enough of me thinking I could do whatever I pleased without his say so. He grabbed me, hit me. The usual, really.”
Had she not been staring at the spot that she’d occupied when these events had unfolded, she might have noticed the shock and revulsion on Beckett’s face, and she might have realised how nonchalant she sounded. As it was, she didn’t notice either of those things. Even now she could feel the phantom pains of her face stinging where her father had struck her and the vise-like grip on her upper arm, squeezing so tightly that it felt like her whole arm might pop off.
“I’d learned not to fight it by that point. Fighting just got me hurt. It was better to just take it and hope that it would be over quickly. But I guess my brother was fed up of not being able to do anything about it. Jacob, he- I saw him run out of the room, then the next thing I know, he’s hit dad around the head with a golf club.
“So dad turned on Jacob, started screaming at him for being an ungrateful little shit, for daring to step out of line, for attacking him in his own home… He-” She faltered and her arms came up, wrapping around herself. “He ripped the club out of Jacob’s hands, threw it and just started beating him. Threw him right into the mirror above the mantelpiece and just kept hitting him. Jacob was screaming, trying to push dad away, but nothing worked . I’d seen dad lose his temper before, but this was different. It was like he had just… gone mad.”
That was putting it lightly. If anything her father seemed to have gone feral. Even now Evie could remember the sound of Jacob’s ribs breaking under the force of the assault as the scene unfolded before her.
“I couldn’t just stand by and do nothing, and I knew that dad kept a gun in his drawers. He… He didn’t really give much of a shit about the laws or what would happen if people found out, he kept one anyway. He’d threatened us with it before when he was angry. So I thought maybe…”
“You could use it to make him stop,” Beckett murmured, finishing the sentence as she tailed off.
“Leave him alone,” she demanded, even though she was shaking from head to toe with the gun pointing at her father’s back.
Slowly he looked around at her and it took all her willpower to keep herself from throwing up. He was covered in blood. Jacob’s blood. His formerly-white dress shirt was now splattered with red, and it was smeared over his face and teeth.
And he grinned.
It was a terrifying grin. Predatory. Monstrous. He rose slowly to his feet, apparently unconcerned about the gun now pointed roughly at the centre of his chest. He stepped closer and Evie stumbled a step back, panic flooding her. Jacob lay motionless on the floor, his blood pooling beneath his broken body with bits of glass glittering in his hair and skin, and his head was leaking .
This wasn’t a normal snap of her father’s temper. If she didn’t do something and fast, he was going to attack her and she was going to die. That simple fact reverberated through every inch of her being, and drove some primal instinct to act.
As her father took one step closer, she didn’t think. Her finger acted of its own accord and squeezed the trigger.
“I shot him,” she confessed. “I didn’t mean to. I didn’t want to. But I was just so scared that I-!”
Beckett placed a hand on her shoulder and turned her around, forcing her to look away from the place where she had taken her own father’s life, and drew her into a tight hug. She pressed herself into him, took comfort in the powerful arms wrapped protectively around her as the awful memory suddenly became as vivid as the night that it happened. The smell of blood and gun-powder, the sight of the steaming hole in her father’s forehead and the blood pooling beneath him as he stared glassy eyed at the ceiling, her beloved older brother lying dead on the floor, bleeding from too many places with his head cracked open on the hearth.
It was too much.
She turned on her heel.
“I want to see him before we go,” she said thickly, choking down tears. She wasn’t going to cry, she refused. “Apparently they buried him with mum, so I think I know where to find him.”
Beckett hesitated a moment, then nodded and followed her out of the house.
Once they were gone, a figure watching from the upper landing peered over the bannister and snorted.
“So very predictable,” Victoria sneered, before turning to call over her shoulder. “Tell them that the girl and the Noddist are on their way.”
The graveyard was deathly quiet by the time they arrived. The snow seemed to swallow up the sounds of the night, save for the crunching of their boots. Evie held onto Beckett’s forearm as they walked, leaving Cesare at the entrance.
The trees on either side of the path bowed inwards, forming a sort of tunnel of greenery that led towards a small chapel standing at the forefront of the graveyard. Here, Evie paused to think back on the days that Jacob had brought her here to visit their mother, trying to recall the route they had taken.
It was a vague recollection at best, but to be honest she was in no real hurry. Much as she wanted to visit Jacob, part of her worried that his death would suddenly seem much more real once she saw his grave for herself. A meander through the tombs and headstones gave her time to steel herself against the inevitable.
She didn’t mention this to Beckett, however, and simply took the lead as they wandered into the graveyard proper.
The gentle glow of the streetlights faded into the distance the deeper they went, leaving them in almost perfect darkness. Vampiric senses made it easy to see clearly, however, in the sea of white, grey, black, and navy blue. They gouged deep tracks in the snow, and Evie was glad that her boots were made of a sturdy, solid leather. Wet socks were a nightmare, even as a vampire.
After a while, however, it became apparent that Evie’s vague recollection had reached the end of its usefulness.
“It was around here somewhere,” she murmured. “Maybe we should split up?”
Beckett nodded in agreement. They took different rows of headstones and began to prowl up and down, keeping an eye out for Jacob’s name. Personally, Evie almost hoped that Beckett found him first. It’d give her a chance to really prepare herself before seeing it for herself.
She didn’t recognise any of the names on the headstones she found, though some epithets rang a bell, meaning she’d read them before during one of her previous visits, and that meant they were looking in the right place. She wasn’t sure if she was pleased about that fact, or if it filled her with dread. Still they were close to their goal for the night, and that was what mattered. The sooner this was done, the sooner she could put it behind her once and for all.
Eventually her feet carried her away from Beckett, leaving him a shadowy figure in the distance. And that was precisely the moment that the world chose to fall completely and utterly silent.
Immediately, Evie tensed and reached for the knife in her coat pocket, though she didn’t pull it out.
‘Why now? Of all the times they had to show up?!’ she cursed inwardly as she scanned the area around herself, trying to act as casual as possible, like she was still trying to find the correct grave.
Predictably, all she saw was the long shadows of graves and bare trees, all twisted into disturbing shapes mistakable for a number of any number of creatures.
She glanced back over her shoulder. Beckett didn’t seem to have noticed anything amiss yet and while she couldn’t see the Assamites, she might be able to reach him before they could attack. Her Protean form was small enough and fast enough to cross the distance before they could stop her.
And as if they had read her mind, they appeared.
In an instant the Assamites unveiled themselves, emerging from the shadows. There were no less than five of them, and two of them were so dark they were jet black. Evie’s stomach dropped at the sight of them. The older an Assamite grew, the darker their skin became and that meant these two had to be centuries old.
One of the elders stood between her and Beckett, the other between her and the end of the row of headstones. Their younger companions lurked on either side of the path, one perching themselves on a headstone like they were about to watch a very amusing show, blocking an easy exit between the graves on either side of the path, leaving her effectively surrounded. And the Assamites knew it.
They were all smirking, confident now that they prey was cornered and cut off from help.
She couldn’t tell if Beckett had noticed the sudden silence or the appearance of the Assamites, but she had to try and alert him to the danger somehow.
She adjusted her footing, keeping a tight grip on her knife as she whipped it out. The Assamites tensed, preparing themselves for an attack, but instead of lunging at any of them, she stabbed the blade through her hand.
In an instant the coppery aroma of vitae filled the air and Evie was certain she saw Beckett’s head jerk in her direction. She then ripped the knife out and threw it at the Assamite who had perched themselves on the headstone and dove into the gap between the two that were standing between her and Beckett, not even pausing to hear the first cursing in Farsi.
As the pair dove to grab her, the younger of the two Kindred screamed as their head was taken clean off by Beckett’s claws, causing them to collapse into a pile of ashes. The other succeeded in seizing Evie by her upper arm, however, and lunged for her neck with their blade. Her feet slid on the icy ground, causing her to lose her balance and the knife to go sailing through the spot her throat had been seconds ago. The Assamite maintained their footing and threw her down onto a tomb with so much force that the stone cracked beneath her.
Evie was certain she felt her ribs crack upon impact and she gasped in pain, as if winded. Her eyes then widened as the Assamite pinned her with their knees, placed the tip of their blade to the side of her throat.
Pain exploded in her palms and fingers as she threw her hands between her throat and the blade as the Assamite made to decapitate her. Vitae spurted from her hands as the blade dug into her flesh, and she pushed back desperately, trying to force the assassin away.
They just grinned, as if enjoying her struggle, and then pressed harder. Evie writhed and managed to work her leg up, getting her knee folded against her chest, planted her foot against their chest, and kicked as hard as she could.
The Assamite grunted and was pushed back at first, but then forced themselves forward even as Evie did her damndest to force them away.
Somewhere she could hear yelling and screaming and prayed that it was the Assamites who were screaming as they were felled and not the other way around. As if to reassure her, there was a loud, echoing howl and guttural growling, promptly followed by an agonised scream as a gigantic white wolf ripped out an Assamite’s throat.
That’s when it occurred to Evie, like she’d somehow forgotten the very obvious solution to this predicament.
In an instant she was gone and there was a metallic ringing as the blade struck the cracked and bloodied tombstone. The Assamite stared in disbelief and only regained themselves just as the black wolf cub slipped out between their legs and ran for Beckett on bleeding paws.
They cursed in Arabic and scrambled to their feet just as Beckett grabbed Evie up in his jaws and bounded off into the darkness.
Evie focused her blood into healing the deep gouges in her hands and the cracks in her rib cage. It took more effort than she would have liked, and it made her painfully aware of how close she had come to losing her fingers and, in turn, her head. Nearby, Beckett was barricading the chapel doors to the best of his ability.
The Assamites would know where to find them. Even if Evie hadn’t been bleeding, the snow made it impossible to cover their tracks and while he could in theory turn into a bat and make a false trail leading elsewhere, it meant leaving Evie alone while being tracked by three other Kindred.
“They knew we’d be coming here,” she murmured, shaking her head. “ How did they know?”
Beckett didn’t answer, just focused on shoring up their defenses. Sunrise was still hours away and that meant that battle with the Assamites was all but assured.
“I must be cursed or something,” she continued with a hollow laugh. “How else would this shit follow me everywhere I go?”
“I doubt you’re cursed. Believe me, there are ways of knowing,” Beckett said as he approached, reaching into his coat pocket. He pulled out a pistol and held it out to her.
She looked at the weapon disdainfully but took it anyway. She’d lost her knife. There was no sense in having no weapon on her person.
“So then why is it always me ?” she asked. “Why does this keep happening?”
“I don’t know. But maybe we can get to the bottom of it tonight.” He then paused and sat beside her, talons already unsheathed and ready.
“You think? How?”
“When we were at the house, I felt like something was off. Like no one was living in the house, yet it still looked like someone should have been. I think a more thorough search is needed if we’re going to find anything.”
“I noticed it too,” she agreed. “It looked like nothing had changed since I ran away. Except someone cleaned up the mess.”
“So someone is maintaining the house as it was but isn’t living there. Evie… I need to ask you something.”
She swallowed and felt her heart sink a little.
“Do you think there’s a possibility that your father might have worked for a Kindred at all? One who may have been… inconvenienced by his demise?”
This time her heart plummeted.
The very notion was disturbing. The idea that a Kindred could have been involved in her life, even at the periphery… It made her feel ill. She shook her head. She wasn’t sure she could handle the idea of that. Yet it made some degree of sense. She killed a useful mortal and then disappeared. Then she reappeared in LA’s Kindred community. If this Kindred was angry at her for what happened that night, then tracing her movements wouldn’t have been impossible once she became known.
And that made her very grateful for the unnatural silence that fell. She’d rather face Assamites than think about the possibility that the Kindred had had a longer sway over her life than she’d realised.
Beside her Beckett was concentrating, and then slowly seemed to deflate and the colour of his body, his hair, even his clothing drained away as he transformed into a rolling cloud of mist that crawled up the wall into the rafters. Evie tucked the gun into her pocket and shifted into her Protean form, crawling under a pew to wait for their pursuers to appear.
And appear they did, though from where was impossible to tell. From where Evie could see the leader - jet black and sporting a torn jacket where Beckett’s claws had ripped through the leather - grinned smugly at the barricaded doors to the chapel and shook their head in amusement.
They shouted something in Arabic to their remaining companions, and the pair moved to opposite sides of the room.
The younger Assamites prowled the pews in search of their quarry while the Elder simply strolled along the aisle towards the altar, always watching from the corner of their eye. None of them had noticed the bank of mist in the rafters and had yet to discover the wolf cub either. It was only when one Assamite bent over to check under the pew did she pounce, sinking needle-like little teeth into their throat before transforming, and her needle-like teeth became long fangs.
Behind her the two other Assamites were about to lunge when the mist came down on them like a curtain, taking them by surprise. When it dissipated, Beckett had his claws in the younger Kindred’s throat and promptly tore it out. They crumbled into ash before they could even scream, and he made to attack the Elder before he realised what they were now staring at.
Evie didn’t notice any of these things. The Assamite between her fangs gone limp in her arms and a steady stream of vitae was lapping over her tongue . It wasn’t warm but the tang of copper and the overwhelming rush of euphoria more than made up for the chill. It tasted so good that she barely realised what was happening or where she was until the Assamite Elder wrenched her away and threw her clear across the room where she crashed into the far wall and hit the floor, her head throbbing.
In an instant Evie rolled onto her front and spat out a mouthful of vitae onto the flagstones, trembling with horror at the realisation of what she had almost done.
The Elder was speaking quickly and quietly in Arabic, trying to rouse the younger Assamite. They were a very pale grey and looked ill, even for a Kindred, but they hadn’t slipped into torpor. Evie hadn’t been able to hold on that long, and strangely enough she found herself relieved that that was the case, even if they had been trying to kill her.
But she didn’t get a chance to speak or do anything, as Beckett seized her under the arm, dragged her up, threw the Elder a pointed look and practically dragged Evie out of the chapel’s backdoor. And to Evie’s shock, the Elder let them go.
Out in the cold, Beckett tried steering her towards the entrance where Cesare would be waiting - providing the Assamites hadn’t gotten to him first - but she pulled back.
“Not now,” he growled, trying to lead her again, but still she pulled.
“I still haven’t seen Jacob!” she snapped.
“It’ll have to wait, we need to go. Now.”
“Evie, listen. If there’s even a chance that whoever sent the Assamites is at the house, then we need to go now . We can come back another night. Your brother’s grave isn’t going anywhere,” he said sternly. “We need to go.”
She hesitated again, debating if it was worth disobeying and running off alone. But he was right. The house was their best bet for finding her pursuer… Whoever that may be.
So she reluctantly followed with a silent promise to Jacob that she would come back to see him when this was over.
The car ride back to the house was mostly silent, after Beckett had firmly silenced a frantic Cesare who had promptly began to make a fuss at the sight of blood on their persons. Mostly on Beckett’s person.
Ordinarily Evie didn’t mind silence because it gave her time to think to herself. Right now, however, it was stifling. Beckett had seen what she had done back in the chapel and had not once commented on it. Maybe he was saving the lecture for later, once the immediate problem was taken care of. She fully expected to get an earful once they were done and Cesare was preoccupied with some other task.
She wasn’t looking forward to it.
When they finally arrived, Beckett ordered Cesare to circle the block as a precaution. No sense in leaving him - their only means of a swift escape - as a sitting duck.
As he pulled away into the darkness, Beckett turned to Evie with a grave look on his face.
“I know it was an accident, and that you weren’t planning on it,” he said sternly. “Just don’t let it happen again.”
She nodded, still feeling a little queasy as they turned to the house. At least he’d kept it short.
Both Gangrel prepared their claws as they headed up the garden path. There was still no sign of anyone inside, but those two Assamites had survived their encounter in the chapel. No doubt that if there had been anyone using the house, they were either ready to spring an attack, or had already fled.
“Unlock the door, but don’t open it,” Beckett ordered as they neared the front door.
Evie just nodded and did as she was told. The lock clicked and he waved for her to move clear of the door. She did so and stood to one side as he kicked the door in. And she was glad because there was a brilliant flash of light just milliseconds before he dove out of the way. A bolt of arcane energy arced barely centimeters over his head and struck the grass behind them. The layer of snow was all that kept it from abruptly erupting into flame.
Beckett snarled and led the way inside.
“Alright, get out here now!” he yelled at the top of his lungs. “I’ve killed more people in the last few weeks than I’ve had to in years , and you know what? I’m sick of it! I’m not going to let you people do this to us anymore! So come out here now and tell me who you work for, and maybe I don’t have to start putting my imagination to good use!”
His demand was met with silence… And then a slow clap.
There were footsteps from the landing above, muffled slightly by the carpet, as two Kindred women appeared at the top of the steps. And they both looked far too pleased with themselves.
“Did you hear that, Victoria?” the woman on the left laughed. “The Gangrel has an imagination?”
“It certainly seems to believe it does,” the woman on the right - Victoria - replied smugly. “And here I thought all those fleabags did was run the wilds like the beasts they are.”
“Who are you? What do you want?” Evie demanded. “Are you the ones working with Ellwood and Dell?”
The women exchanged a glance and then laughed.
“Oh, you poor sweet thing, if only you knew,” Victoria cooed, her lip curling as her features began to distort and shimmer. The other woman’s did too, and moments later the pair were replaced by Emma Ellwood and Claudia Dell.
Evie’s jaw went slack as she stared at the pair in disbelief, but Beckett merely shook his head.
“I see that you ladies are quite skilled with the use of Obfuscate,” he mused. “Tell me. How long have you been impersonating Miss Ellwood and Miss Dell?”
“Ever since they departed LA,” the other woman replied coolly. Then she added, “Delilah, by the way. Delilah Cruise.”
“And Victoria Manse. At your service.”
The words were said mockingly.
Their visages dropped once again, and the pair eyed Beckett and Evie with cool disdain, and a little venomous amusement. Like they were very much entertained by everything they had done and the effect they’d had.
“Why do you want me dead?” Evie snapped.
But the pair shook their heads.
“That’s not for us to tell, girl,” Delilah sneered. “You’ll find out, soon enough. Provided you and your… mentor… don’t get too hot under the collar…”
She snapped her fingers and the front door slammed shut before promptly bursting into flames. Suddenly the walls and floors surrounding the pair were alight with circles and pentagrams that had been painted in blood, and the temperature began to rise. The flames spread over the walls, slowly at first, but faster and faster the further they went. It took everything Evie had in her not to bolt, even as the Beast inside howled and screamed and threw itself at its bars, desperate for escape in the wake of the flames.
Victoria and Delilah simply smirked, apparently untroubled by the blaze, before the former reached into her pocket.
“I trust your friend, the Nosferatu, will know what to make of that,” she called as she threw a small object to Beckett. “Provided you make it out alive.”
Without another word, the two vanished from sight, no doubt already having their escape route prepared. Evie had half a mind to follow when there was a crack and wooden beams fell from the ceiling and effectively blocked the stairs.
“What do we do now?” she shouted over the crackling of the flames as they spread faster and faster over the walls and door.
Smoke began to flood the entrance hall. Her mixed instincts that were torn between telling her she should be choking and that she no longer had any need to breathe diverted her attention from the fact that the spread of the flames seemed deliberate. As if they were trying to funnel the pair towards the kitchen where they could escape through the backdoor.
Beckett, however, did. He shoved whatever it was that Victoria had tossed to him into his pocket and led the way down the hall. No sooner than he did the flames began to follow at a pace, practically chasing them into the kitchen. The heat smothered the air and still Evie’s mixed instincts were screaming at her, making it difficult to focus. The panicked howling of the Beast wasn’t helping, even if it was urging her to escape. It’s aims were blind and without direction, and it was only by handing onto Beckett’s arm did she keep moving forwards.
It was like being back in Grout’s manor all over again, and it had been dumb luck that led her to that window, plus no small measure of blind panic that forced her to jump. And that fire had been indiscriminate about what and where it burned.
“Evie, please tell me you know another way out,” Beckett growled.
She jolted out of her thoughts and looked around at him. They were in the kitchen and, to his dismay, the fire had spread over the backdoor.
She turned and ran for the door on the right hand side of the room. It was locked, as it had always been. She had no idea what was on the other side. There was a window, she knew that, but her father had always kept a blind drawn over it and had forbidden her and Jacob from entering under any circumstances. It seemed today was the day that she finally broke that rule.
With all the strength she could muster, she ripped out the handle and the lock gave way, causing the door to fly open.
Had she the time to search the room as she had wanted to when she was young, she would have noticed the mini-fridge under the desk, and if she had searched it she would have found bags of blood neatly arranged inside.
But she didn’t notice and she didn’t care. Instead she scrambled up onto the desk and ripped down the blind with Beckett following. The smoke was flooding the room and the stench of flames was close behind.
The double-glazed window exploded outwards under the force of Gangrel fists and claws and the pair barrelled into the garden and clambered over the nearest fence, dropping onto the neighbouring lawn as the house behind them swiftly went up in flames. There was no sign of Victoria or Delilah, just orange flames and a column of smoke billowing into the night sky.
Hours later, police and firefighters alike would be unable to determine the cause or source of the blaze that had consumed the building. And while neighbours would swear they had heard indistinct shouting, no proof of arson ever was found.
The fire would remain a mystery, and the smoking shell was all that would attest to it.
Cesare picked them up a block away from the burning house and sped away just moments before panicked mortals began to emerge from their homes, wrapped in pyjamas and dressing gowns, and began to stare in horror at the blaze. With any luck, no one would make a connection between the fire and the car.
Evie, however, was sincerely doubting that since luck didn’t seem to be on her side at all these nights. She sunk into her seat, once again freshly acquainted with the stench of smoke and flame as it clung to her and her clothes and a thin layer of blood sweat was beginning to dry against her skin. She hadn’t even realised she’d been sweating.
Beside her, Beckett had reached into his pocket and pulled out the object Victoria had thrown to him, which he eyed suspiciously. It was a USB stick.
“What do you think’s on it?” she asked.
He paused, as if he didn’t know how to answer, and she frowned.
“You… do know what a USB stick is, don’t you?” she asked slowly.
“I try to keep up with technology, but frankly it gets ahead of me sometimes,” he confessed gruffly. He looked vaguely uncomfortable with being caught not knowing something, and clearly was not in the mood to be teased right now.
Fortunately for him, she wasn’t in the mood to do any teasing anyway.
“It holds computer files, like documents and things,” she explained, then reached over, rotating a portion of the plastic covering to reveal the port. “You put this in the port on the computer and you can access files and add new ones to it.”
“Ah, I see.”
He remained silent for a long few moments as he turned the USB over in his fingers, as if committing that to memory, before he tucked it back into his pocket and let his head lean back into the headrest. Evie didn’t blame him for feeling exhausted. She’d hoped for more of a break before their enemy struck again.
At least this time their lackeys had bothered to reveal themselves. Victoria Manse and Delilah Cruise.
She rested her head against the window, watching as the snowfall outside transformed into a flurry.
Just a few years ago she’d have spent the next morning listening to the radio, all while dressing into her school uniform as slowly as she could manage without being told off for it, desperately praying that her school’s name would be on the list of closures. When it was, she and Jacob would go to the park together and spend the whole day running around, throwing snowballs, building snowmen, and doing whatever they could to make their fun last as long as possible before they were forced to return home, shivering and planning on how to make as little mess as possible on their way in so they could get straight to drinking hot chocolate and not have to mop up after themselves.
Her chest tightened painfully just thinking about it. When this was over, she would come back and see him. Properly. No assassins, no fires, no near cases of accidental-diablerie. Just quietly reflecting on the time they had spent together. And no doubt wishing he could actually be there.
She didn’t want everything to go back to how it had been, not with their father, but having Jacob back… That, she thought, might be worth killing for.
“For the record-”
She looked around at Beckett who hadn’t lifted his head from the headrest but was looking at her sideways - or at least she thought he was from the tilt of his head. The sunglasses made it hard to tell.
“-I’m taking the first shower when we get back,” he said as his lip curled into a grin.
She grinned back, albeit a little weakly.
“Not if I beat you to it.”
“You’re assuming you’re faster than me.”
“You’re assuming I don’t have a plan.”
“You don’t have a plan.”
“No, you don’t have a plan.”
At this point, Cesare cleared his throat, interrupting them before they could make a game out of their teasing.
“Excuse me Signore, but I believe you should know. The authorities have been alerted to the fire and are on their way,” he explained over his shoulder.
“I see. Just make sure we steer clear of any, and we should be fine,” Beckett instructed, looking mildly irritated. Not necessarily about the interruption, but rather because it was Cesare who was doing the interrupting.
“Provided Victoria and Delilah didn’t tip them off,” Evie muttered darkly. “They knew we’d be at the cemetery and the house. What are the odds they know the car’s license plate?”
“Good point.” Beckett paused to scratch his chin and deliberate. “Cesare. Find a place to drop us off away from any main roads and dispose of the car. Then secure a new one and pick us up.”
“A new car, Signore? But surely-”
“A rental will do, Cesare. They can’t plan for every continuity,” he interrupted gruffly. “Just find a place to drop us someplace out of the way.”
“Of course Signore. Miss Byrne… Do you have any suggestions?”
Evie blinked and frowned. Truth be told, Northampton didn’t have a whole lot of places that Beckett was hoping for, not that she could think of. But there were places they could be relatively discrete, even out in the open.
“There’s nowhere that’s really ‘out of the way’ around here, but there’s a park on Victoria Promenade. I doubt there’d be anyone but a few drunks out there, and it’s big enough that when you get far enough you can’t be seen from the road.” She shrugged. “It’s called-”
She paused for a second as she recalled the park’s name and snorted as she tried to stifle a laugh. Beckett sighed and reached up to rub his eyes behind his sunglasses.
“If it’s something rude, just say it.”
But she shook her head and said, “I just remembered. It’s called ‘Becket’s Park’.”
She couldn’t see it herself, but he rolled his eyes behind his shades.
“Just drop us there, Cesare.”
“Very well Signore. How would you like this vehicle disposed of?”
“Burn it, crash it, leave it on someone else’s driveway, I don’t care. Just make sure that it can’t be traced back to us in any way,” he said brusquely. “Then secure another vehicle and get us back to the hotel. I’ll contact Okulos in the meantime.”
Cesare gave his confirmation and drove into town proper along Victoria Promenade before coming to a halt at the edge of Becket’s Park. It was a vast field of green with gravel pathways that connected the various facilities such as the tennis courts, a playground, and the bridge leading to the marina on the other side of the river, and they were lined with trees and shrubbery, as were the banks of the River Nene on the far side of the park. Benches were scattered about, all of them seemingly vacant, and at the park’s entrance was some sort of abstract art installation.
As Evie had said, it wasn’t out of the way - it was across the road from the rear end of the Royal Derngate Theatre in fact - but there really was no one around but a handful of very drunk teenagers who were occupying a playground some distance away, shouting and singing at the top of their lungs. Provided Evie and Beckett steered clear of them, they probably wouldn’t be noticed.
Once Cesare drove away, they picked a path leading to the opposite side of the park from the teens and followed it down towards the river. It was once they were far enough away from the road and the teenagers were a mere shadow in the distance that Beckett pulled out his phone and dialled a number.
After a long few seconds, whoever he was calling answered.
“Okulos? It’s me. I need a favour.” He paused. “I’ve got this USB stick and- Yes I know what one is-” he glanced sideways at Evie with a wry grin “-anyway I recently… received one. No, I’ve not seen the contents yet. I haven’t gotten back to my computer yet. But depending on its contents, I might need your help with it… ...I’m in the UK at the moment… No. Northampton actually. I had some business to attend to…
“...Yes, you heard correctly. She’s here right now. Why? ...Okulos, if you want to speak to her, just say so and spare me the bullshit... Fine.”
He held out the phone and Evie took it, frowning a little. Beckett was still grinning however, so she held it to her ear.
“And hello to you too. You must be Beckett’s new childe,” Okulos said wryly, and she could practically hear him smirking at Beckett’s expense. “Evie, right? I’ve heard quite a bit about you.”
“And I don’t know anything about you,” she replied.
“That’s because I don’t care to be known,” he chuckled. “Okulos. I’m an old friend of your new sire. Tell me… were you the one who told him what a USB stick is, or did he really figure that out by himself? And for the record, I know he didn’t figure it out. He’s better with the tech than most Kindred our age, but he’s still crap compared to you Fledglings.”
“How long have you known Beckett?” she asked, sidestepping the question. Though by now she’d learned enough about Kindred to know that that in itself was an answer. Saying nothing often said more than words.
“Longer than you might think. You know, we were both Embraced in the same place at about the same time,” he said conversationally. “Less than a decade apart, in fact, though we only met when I kept swooping in to pluck Beckett’s archaeological finds out from under his nose.”
“And now you’re friends?”
“As much as any two Kindred can be. In fact, he was the one who suggested we work together rather than against each other. Now I dig up information while he does all the hard work outside. Works for me.” He chuckled, though a little humorlessly. “Kaymakli has made field work less appealing these nights.”
“Ask Beckett. I try not to think about that damn place,” he growled. “But anyway. Dredging up bad memories isn’t why I wanted to talk to you.”
“So why did you want to talk to me?”
“Well you’re Beckett’s childe. Or you are now. I figure that means we might as well get acquainted, seeing as we’re going to be working together from now on,” he replied. “Or at least, we are so long as you’re in our line of work. And trust me, so long as you’re with Beckett, you will be.”
“I know. Part of the deal is that I’m his ‘assistant’ now. Not that we’ve had a load of time for work lately.”
“I know. This mess with some Kindred who wants you dead.” He audibly scoffed. “You must have pissed someone off big time to garner this much attention.”
“Tell me about it. We just got attacked again tonight.”
“You did? The Assamites again? And before you ask, yes, your old man told me about Cairo. Now tell me what happened.”
Evie quickly gave Okulos a bullet point account of the events of the last few hours, from their visit to her childhood home, to the attack at the cemetery, and then the fire that Victoria and Delilah had started after giving them the USB. Beckett remained silent for the duration of the conversation, just kept a sharp eye out for anyone who might catch sight of them.
“I see. Victoria Manse and Delilah Cruise… I don’t know those names, but maybe I can do a bit of digging. Hell, for all we know, everything you’ll need to know is on that USB and they’ve encrypted the files so that only a skilled hacker - such as myself - could access them.”
“But why ?”
“Why else? To toy with you before they end you. This is a game, Evie, and they’re stringing things out because they enjoy it. This is how things are. Kindred have all the time in the world, and so they make a game out of pretty much everything, whether its revenge or just messing with some Neonates on a leash. The only reason you’re not dead already is because they love the show.”
“So I’m supposed to be surprised to learn that Kindred are arseholes? What a shock.”
“Ah, I like you already. And I think I get why Beckett likes you too,” he said, still chuckling. “You two look after yourselves, okay? Let me know what you find on that USB. I’ll do some digging into Victoria Manse and Delilah Cruise in the meantime.”
“No problem. Pass me back to your old man now. I need to run this all by him real quick.”
She did as he said and Beckett took the phone. So she took over watch duty in his stead, keeping an eye on the shadows for any sign of someone watching or following them. For now, they seemed to be alone.
By the time he hung up the phone, they'd reached the river bank.
They exchanged a brief glance, Beckett shrugged, and they picked their way down to the water to try and wash away some of the grime.
“Evie,” Beckett began after several minutes of silence. “You do realise that we have to go back?”
She frowned, wiping the water from her face.
He shifted into a sitting position.
“To LA. If Therese and Jeanette’s childer have met Final Death, they need to know. And, with any luck, they might know something about Manse and Cruise.”
Her heart sank at the proposition. Back to LA? After everything that had happened? She had imagined it would be years before she even had to consider going back, let alone a month and a half.
“You’ve got to be kidding me…” she breathed, shaking her head.
“I wish I was,” he sighed. “But this is the best lead we have. If we can find out who they work for-”
“I know, I know, we find out who wants me dead… I just- I don’t know if I can go back. Besides, Okulos said he’d look into Manse and Cruise,” she pointed out. “Can’t we just… I dunno, text Therese or something and go literally anywhere else ?”
Beckett fixed her with a stern glare.
“Like what? We leave her a voicemail, like, ‘hey Therese, just letting you know that Ellwood and Dell have been dead since they left LA and were replaced to try and get to us, but don’t worry we’re looking into their impersonators.’ How well do you think Therese would appreciate us doing that instead of coming to her directly?”
Evie didn't reply, and that was answer enough. It didn’t soothe the hot swell of anger in her chest, however.
“I wouldn’t suggest it if I didn’t think it was important,” he impressed. “Besides, you can’t avoid LA forever. Sooner or later, you’ll find yourself needing to go back, and there’s hardly a Blood Hunt waiting for you there.
“Therese offered you her protection, and the Anarchs aren’t holding your decision against you. Chances are, you’re safer in LA than you are anywhere-”
“It’s not about being safe!” she shouted, rounding on him. “LA was the first place in my entire life where I felt safe! Where I learned who I was without my dad! It’s where I learned I didn’t have to spend every day of my life measuring every step, every little thing I did out of fear! I learned how not to be scared of fucking up every little thing!
“And then some arsehole Embraced me, and that was all taken away! I had to go back to measuring every step or there’d be consequences! Had to relearn how to bite my tongue, bow my head and do as I was told if I wanted to not die again ! I murdered the person who taught me how to live in the first place! Can’t you understand why I really can’t stomach the idea of going back ?!”
It was oddly satisfying to see how taken aback Beckett was, and that he had the good grace to look a little guilty. But it was also a little sickening, the way the Beast seemed to revel in his discomfort, so she turned away and stared pointedly into the water.
At least she didn’t look as bad as she had after the Venture Tower went up, she thought jokingly.
After a long few minutes of silence, she opened her mouth to speak. As Beckett did.
“It’s just that-”
They stopped dead and stared at one another, before Beckett gestured for her to speak first. She nodded and swallowed on the lump forming in her throat.
“I just… I know you’re right,” she said thickly. “It’s just not going to be easy, is all…”
“I know, Young One. I don’t expect it to be. But I’ll be with you. I promise.”
He opened his arm and she shifted to sit closer and leaned into his side, taking comfort in his presence. Even if the stink of smoke was clinging to his clothes.
“You stink,” she prodded playfully. “Maybe you do need the first shower.”
“I’m glad you agree, because I intend to take it,” he retorted.
Then his phone buzzed.
“Cesare,” he said, after reading the message. “He’s got a new car and is on his way.”
She nodded. They both got to their feet and turned, beginning the walk back up towards the road where Cesare would pick them up.
Therese had a cab waiting for them at LAX that would bring them to the Asylum, and Evie blinked when she caught sight of the one sitting in the driver’s seat. The Cabbie, however, seemed less surprised to see her and simply nodded in greeting as they approached.
“A pleasure to see you again, Miss Evie,” he said. “I am glad to see that you still walk the night.”
Beckett stopped and frowned, glancing between the pair.
“You know him?”
“He’s the one who got me out of Santa Monica during the Blood Hunt,” she explained as she made to climb into the backseat of the cab. “He’s one of us.”
The Cabbie simply chuckled as they seated themselves in the back, and began the drive towards Santa Monica.
For a long while there was silence in the car and Evie felt herself fighting the urge to vomit. It pressed up against her lungs and she felt her chest tightening as the city drew closer and closer, with its sea of glittering lights and skyscrapers stretching towards the sky. In the distance she could make out the Venture Building, a little shorter than before, though she could just about make out signs of reconstruction around the top even at this distance.
“There has been much upheaval in the city as of late,” the Cabbie remarked. “Many pieces on the board have shifted in the time you have been gone.”
“What can you tell us about the situation here in LA?” Beckett asked.
“I know only from whispers amongst the Kindred who I have taken to their destinations. The Anarchs have pushed the Camarilla back a considerable amount, and the Primogen Council are unhappy with this fact. Baron Rodriguez has made the destruction of Prince Lacroix a rallying point for many Anarchs and even some Autarkis,” he explained. “Prince Voerman, however, has quelled the worst of the violence for the moment. Even now her sister, Miss Jeanette, is acting as an Emissary between her and the Barons to try and establish a fragile peace. It has surprised many with how effective their efforts have proven, given their tumultuous relationship.”
He then glanced into the rearview mirror, and even through his shades Evie realised that he was giving her a knowing look… Like he knew that there was more to Therese and Jeanette than was widely known. And he knew that she knew too.
“So there’s a decent chance that we won’t get molotov’d in the street? Wonderful,” Beckett snorted.
“It is true that the level of street violence increased considerably in the weeks following your departure from LA, Mr Beckett. However things are quiet for now. I do hope they remain that way. Driving is difficult when people are shooting at each other through your windows.”
“I can imagine.”
Evie found that listening to them talk wasn’t actually helping her with the rising urge to vomit. If anything it made matters worse. And as the city lights drew closer and closer, the buildings beginning to loom up and out of the darkness, she could feel the vitae burning in the back of her throat as her stomach lurched, and she knew there would be no holding it down.
“Pull over,” she gagged, trying to push down the rising surge before it could end up all over her shoes.
The Cabbie complied, completely unphased as Evie all but threw the car door opened and stumbled out onto the roadside, retching up no small amount of blood into the dirt and staining it a dark bloody red. Her eyes burned with tears as her stomach seized and contracted, forcing up another stomachful of blood and leaving a mess that could easily resemble a murder scene that was short a couple of bodies.
She didn’t know when Beckett had climbed out of the cab, but he was knelt down beside her and rubbing her back and trying to hold her hair out of her face as she brought up more blood.
The Beast howled and snarled at the loss of its precious vitae, demanding more in its place but Evie was struggling to simply regain control of her body as she dry-heaved painfully, her whole body trembling from head to toe. Somewhere behind the cab a pair of headlights from a passing car slowed to a stop and a pair of mortals climbed out.
“Hey, is everything okay?” one of them called.
“It is fine,” the Cabbie called. “This man asked me to bring him and his daughter to the hospital. As you can see, she is unwell.”
“Do you need us to call an ambulance? That’s- Fuck!”
The mortals, having already seen the blood, quickly realised how much of it there way.
“Dude, she needs an ambulance,” the first mortal - a young man from the sounds of it - insisted. “We can call one-”
“That will be unnecessary,” the Cabbie replied coolly. “Though you can be of assistance. She has, after all, lost a lot of blood.”
The Cabbie stepped out of his car and led the pair of mortals over. Evie could smell the blood in their veins and the Beast howled longingly, aching for it - no, demanding it from them - and she could barely find the strength to fight. But if she didn’t fight, she would surely drain them dry to regain what she had lost and that. She couldn’t do that. She refused to do that!
“It is alright,” the Cabbie said calmly, holding his hands at his sides. “You will not harm them. I will not permit it. But you must feed and replenish what you have lost before we enter the city proper. There is much to do, and you will need your strength.”
“With all due respect-”
“You have my word, Mr Beckett. No harm will come to your childe, nor these mortals,” the Cabbie pressed, still cool and impassive, yet so utterly certain.
It was… comforting. In a very strange way.
Slowly, Evie and Beckett rose from the ground to face the mortals. It was a young man and his girlfriend by the looks of it. Any traces of concern or panic had been wiped from their faces and they looked… placid. Unphased. Like they had no real awareness anymore. They could only be under the influence of a Discipline.
The Cabbie gestured from Evie to the mortals.
“Feed. You will take only what you need, and they will be unharmed. I will call for someone to collect them so that they are safe when you are done.”
Something about the way he said it was so absolute that she could only believe it, and without any hesitation she moved towards the young man and latched her fangs into his neck, and began to drink deeply… Yet despite how hungry she felt, there was no overwhelming urge for her to drain him. The Beast was calm and silent. It didn’t even revel at the taste of copper lapping over her tongue or the thick blood settling in her belly. It was so placid, it might not even exist.
She then moved on to the young woman, who offered herself as the man did, and again Evie felt no desire to drain her for every drop. Just enough to sate herself, not enough to cause any harm.
And as promised, the Cabbie parked their car at the side of the road to hide the blood splatters, bundled the couple inside, and called for an ambulance as Evie and Beckett waited in the backseat of the cab. Once the ambulance arrived and took to treating the young couple for the symptoms of anaemia, the Cabbie resumed his place in the driver’s seat and they were back on their way to Santa Monica.
The Asylum looked much the same as ever. Same gothic-style windows, same peeling posters plastered all over the walls, same goths, emos, and wannabes hanging outside the main doors, either having a smoke or having been thrown out for one reason or another.
Evie didn’t immediately climb out of the cab when it came to a stop outside of the club, just stared up at the sign.
Somewhere inside, Therese was waiting for them, and while Evie now knew that she wasn’t trying to kill her and had offered her protection, it was still nerve-wracking to think about facing her again.
Still there was no sense in delaying the inevitable, and while she still felt queasy, this time she found it considerably easier to keep herself from spitting up blood as she and Beckett headed inside.
It took a second to adjust to the flashing strobe lights and pounding music that flooded the air and assaulted her heightened senses. It had been a while since she had last visited a nightclub and it seemed that whatever adaptations her senses may have developed had been somewhat diminished. It was tempting to clap her hands over her ears, but instead she focused on leading the way to the bar where Cal was working.
His brow rose at the sight of the pair as they emerged from the crowd, his small beady eyes fixing on Evie in particular.
“Well damn kid, haven’t seen you in a while. And with your old man, I hope.” He glanced at Beckett derisively. “You always let your kid run around in nightclubs, pal?”
“She can look after herself,” Beckett replied coolly.
“Whatever you say. Not my business. Speaking of business though, Therese said you’d be showing up tonight, kid, and told me to send you to her asap. Go on up.”
She nodded at him and then glanced up at Beckett. He nodded encouragingly and gestured for her to lead the way, so she headed for the lift leading up to Therese’s office. The moment the doors slid shut the pounding music was muffled and the strobing lights were cut off, replaced by the dim bulbs in the lift’s ceiling.
It rattled upwards, as it always did, and Evie willed it to slow its ascent just a little so as to delay the inevitable.
It came to a halt regardless and the doors slid open, revealing the small room that preceded Therese’s office. It was bare as always, save for the painting on the wall and the end table below it. A copy of the LA Times was sat on top of it with a picture of the Venture Tower, its upper floors surrounded by scaffolding. According to the headline, the tower was still under reconstruction and that the Lacroix Foundation would be dedicating the building to Sebastian Lacroix, who had been killed in the so-called terrorist attack that had occured that night.
She glowered at the mention of his name. As far as she was concerned, he deserved to be forgotten completely and utterly, not memorialised.
Beckett, meanwhile, had opened the door and was beckoning for Evie to follow.
She did so reluctantly and followed him into the office.
It hadn’t changed much since Evie had last visited. Same red walls, tall statues, and the wall-length painting of the Voerman sisters with their father. There was also the heart-shaped bed in the corner opposite the vanity, which was adorned with even more post-it notes stuck around the frame, and from here Evie could make out names underlined in red, Therese’s among them. Jeanette was clearly still hard at work convincing everyone that she was still trying to undermine everything Therese did.
And speaking of Therese, she was seated at her desk and looked up as they entered.
“Please, come in,” she greeted as she rose from her seat. “I apologise I wasn’t able to provide you with a proper escort to the club, but I trust the driver I sent sufficed?”
She had traded out her plain brown blazer and skirt for a sleek black tailored suit, but she had kept her glasses, updo, and stiff refusal to wear eyeshadow firmly in place. Her smile was crisp and professional as always, and she looked rather relaxed despite the numerous burdens that were undoubtedly weighing on her shoulders.
“He handled himself extremely well, given the circumstances,” Beckett replied vaguely. “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Prince Voerman. I am Beckett. And no doubt, you are familiar with my childe.”
He clasped a hand over Evie’s shoulder while that sense of protectiveness seemed to emanate from him.
“Very much so,” she said, inclining her head. She clapped her hands together in front of her and turned to Evie. “It’s very good to see you, after all that’s transpired. I have no doubt that Jeanette will be thrilled to see you once she gets back. She asked me to extend her… fondest regards, once she heard you would be returning.”
“I’m sure… Oh, uh. Congratulations on becoming the new Prince,” Evie said a little hastily.
“Thank you.” Therese’s smiled seemed to warm, and from a little more than fondness. “Lacroix’s demise meant the Camarilla needed to elect a new Prince, one who would be able to fix his mistakes and prevent the city from falling into chaos. And I’ve no doubt that you can see that they chose well.”
“We had heard that you have succeeded in de-escalating the violence since Sebastian’s Final Death,” Beckett remarked. “Quite the achievement. Though it isn’t why we’re here.”
“Of course. If this is regarding the whereabouts of Emma Ellwood and Claudia Dell, I’m very sorry to say that they haven’t been found yet. But when they are…”
She trailed off menacingly as she gazed into the distance, as if imagining what she was going to do to them once she got her hands on them, but Evie shook her head.
“Ellwood and Dell are dead, Therese. They were killed before they even got to Cairo.”
Therese’s gaze snapped back to Evie and it took more than a little effort to keep from flinching under the intensity of her piercing eyes.
“What do you mean ‘killed’?” she demanded before giving a little jerk of her head and reasserting her cool professionalism. “I believe a full explanation is required.”
They sat themselves down at Therese’s urging and Beckett explained. He had clearly put some thought into avoiding the particular details of their story; namely Jacob, her father, and their reasons for being in Northampton. So far as Therese knew, they had been there for some research purposes and were supposed to have met with a contact in the cemetery, and it was their home that Manse and Cruise had burned down rather than Evie’s childhood home.
If she sensed that Beckett wasn’t being entirely honest, Therese didn’t bring it up. Instead she looked displeased. And a little worried.
“Well, while it pleases me to know that Emma didn’t betray me, that doesn’t bring us any closer to stopping these Kindred… Manse and Cruise…”
She said the names slowly, as if she was trying to recall them or sear them into her mind.
“So you don’t know them?” Evie asked, at least making an effort to keep the desperate edge out of her voice.
Therese contemplated for a moment and then shook her head.
“I know only that Victoria Manse is a rather prominent Kindred in Leicester, and where she is found, Delilah Cruise is rarely far. But why they’re targeting you… That eludes me. And I don’t like that.” She propped her elbows on the desk and rested her chin on top of her hands. “I’ll speak with my contacts and see what I can learn. And believe me, I intend to learn as much as I can. No one slights me and lives to tell.”
The cold menace in her voice and the flashing of her eyes more than lived up to that promise. But then it softened. Only by a fraction so small it was microscopic, but Evie was pretty good at noticing even the slightest changes in expressions. It was a skill she’d learned to cultivate young.
“In the meantime, you are both welcome in my domain and I offer to you my personal protection. Any who may harm or hinder you will be dealt with, this I swear.” She paused and then added, “if you have need of information or weapons, speak with my agent, Mercurio. I imagine you will know where to find him, Evie.”
She nodded, perking up immediately at his mention. Mercurio was the only person she had fully trusted during the Blood Hunt, and he had more than lived up to that trust when he provided weapons, information on the Venture Tower, and, after she returned from Chinatown badly wounded and nearly starving, had let her feed from his wrist before securing some blood bags for her.
The fact that he was alive and serving as Therese’s agent meant that he had either avoided suspicion or the Camarilla had decided to let it be and focus on more pressing concerns.
Either way, she was itching to go see him, so it was a little disheartening that Beckett wanted to head Downtown.
“I need to catch up with Damsel, get a feel for the situation here in LA from eyes that aren’t focused solely on the big picture,” he explained. “Besides, would it really hurt for you to reconnect with the Anarchs?”
“It might,” she muttered, thumbing the Tarulfang hanging around her neck.
Truth be told, she still found herself worrying that they might be angry at her for taking off after Lacroix’s death, even if Velvet had said otherwise at the hearing. She’d kickstarted their chance to take LA back from the Camarilla and then ran off. It didn’t help that she’d flipped off Nines right as she left, when he’d (inadvertently) asked for her help.
We could really use someone like you .
Even now, his wording prickled at her temper and made her feel a bit sick, and that made her want to go see Mercurio over the Anarchs even more. And she even said so to Beckett.
“Look, the apartments are Elysium. And they’re basically right behind the Asylum. And Santa Monica is way safer than Downtown,” she pointed out. “Besides, I can’t be around you all the time. It’d drive both of us mad. I promise, I won’t do anything stupid or run off anywhere, and if anything happens, I’ll go straight to Therese. I promise .”
Beckett held up his hands in surrender.
“Alright, alright,” he sighed, shaking his head. “But I’m ordering you now, as your sire: you stay in Santa Monica, you don’t go looking for trouble, and if you think for even a second that you might be in trouble, you go straight to Therese and call me. Got it?”
She nodded, her face the absolute picture of seriousness, and he walked her to the apartments before setting off for Downtown.
“Well look who it is,” Mercurio said with a grin when he realised who was standing at his door. He opened his arms and Evie surged forwards, throwing her arms around him. He laughed, hugging her back and ruffling her hair affectionately. “It’s good to see you too, ya little nuisance.
“Therese said you might stop by,” he said as he eased her away. “C’mon in, tell me what you need.”
She followed him into the apartment and they sat themselves down on the couch.
“Got all the bloodstains out, then?” she joked, picking a little at the fabric.
“Sure. Believe it or not, I know a few things about cleaning,” he chuckled. “So kiddo, I’ll admit. I’m surprised to see you back so soon.”
She shook her head.
“No offense, but I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have to be,” she sighed. “I take it you’ve heard about all the crap that happened in Cairo?”
“Yeah I heard. Assamites. Dunno who you pissed off kid, I’d tell you if I could guess. The Camarilla decided to overlook that mess with Lacroix after all. Said that he was a fuck up who betrayed everyone and that you were being used by the Anarchs.” He shook his head. “It’s fucking crazy.”
“No kidding.” She leaned back against the couch and thumbed the Tarulfang. “We ran into some Kindred in the UK. Victoria Manse and Delilah Cruise. They tried to kill me and Beckett, and claimed they killed and replaced Ellwood and Dell. And what’s more… My dad…”
She hesitated. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust Mercurio, she did. He was the only other person in this city who had proved he could be trusted. It was just… The idea of her father being a ghoul for her whole life was disturbing.
But Mercurio has risked everything when he helped her during the Blood Hunt. He deserved to know the truth.
So she explained everything. Her father’s abuse, her brother’s murder, how she had shot him, and Beckett’s theory that he might have been in the employ of a powerful Kindred who wanted revenge for the loss of their asset. And if anyone could find out who that Kindred was, it was Mercurio.
“I don’t know a ghoul by that name, but I’ll look into it,” he promised. “Got some contacts out that way who could confirm things real quick. And speaking of contacts… Your pal Knox was here a while back.”
“Knox was here?” she asked in surprise.
It had been a long time since she’d last seen him. Not since she’d persuaded him to retrieving that book from the Kuei Jin, the one Beckett had asked for.
“Yeah. Turns out your pal, Heather, she was looking for you, so she went to Knox. He said he’d look into it and get back to her,” he explained.
“So he came to you to ask?”
“No, he came to me when she disappeared,” he said gravely. “Said he went by the apartment a few nights later and she wasn’t there, and she’s not been back since. No signs of a struggle, no note. Ain’t even been back to school from what anyone can tell. Just poof. Gone. If I’d’ve known how to contact you, I’d have let you know.”
Evie’s heart took a swan dive.
Heather was gone? Vanished? Immediately her mind leapt to the worst conclusions. That some Kindred or the Kuei-Jin had found out about her and enacted their revenge against Evie on her instead. A more rational part reasoned that maybe she’d simply left to try and find Evie, but it was drowned out by the logic that not even former-bounty-hunter Knox had been able to track her down.
So she leapt to her feet.
“I need to head back to my old haven,” she insisted. “Maybe Knox missed something.”
“Don’t,” she snapped. “I need to look for myself. Thanks for telling me Mercurio, I’ll see you around.”
And before he could even try to stop her, she was out the door and sprinting for the front doors. Out in the street it had begun to rain again, in true Santa Monica fashion, and she raced for the alley between the apartments and the pawnshop, where she knew she would find the door leading up to the apartments where she and Heather had lived together.
She didn’t care about the strange looks she received from passersby, just skidded around the corner, practically leaping over the homeless man who was huddled up on the floor, and wrenched the door open.
Up the flight of stairs, to the very top of the building, and there she was. A brass 508 was nailed to the door, and suddenly she found herself paralysed. The rush of adrenaline from learning about Heather’s disappearance was beginning to fade in favour of a gnawing anxiety.
What if Heather was still there and Knox had screwed up or lied? What if Mercurio was tricking her, trying to help in some roundabout way to reunite ghoul and domitor?
Both were so very unlikely, and yet she feared barging in to find Heather who would start yelling at her for disappearing, for running away without a word, for being so ungrateful for everything she had done for her in the time that they’d lived together. It was so very out-of-character for Heather, but surely not impossible. Not with the way Evie had left.
Eventually, her need to know for certain that Heather was safe overrode her anxiety and Evie placed her hand on the knob and pushed the door open.
It was like nothing had changed. Like she was coming home from a long night’s work, racing all over the city on behalf of some Kindred with an hour of seniority over her. The only real difference was the coating of dust on everything, the fact that the Deb of Night was already chatting with her audience as she entered, and Heather’s absence.
It was as Mercurio had said. There was no sign of her. No blood or broken furniture that might indicate a struggle. Even the laptop seemed untouched, plugged into the wall with a notification for a new email.
Evie made her way over and typed in her old password. The laptop accepted it and in the background, Deb welcomed a new caller onto the show.
Then it struck Evie like a bolt of lightning. Why would the radio be playing in an abandoned apartment?
“So caller, what’s keeping you up tonight? ” Deb asked as Evie slowly straightened up and reached into her pocket, as if to pull out her phone.
“Well I’ve got this girl on my mind, Deb, ” a voice purred, one Evie didn’t recognise. It was definitely a woman’s though.
“Oh I see. What’s this lucky lady’s name, caller, and what’s got her running through your mind? ”
“Well... Her name is... Evie. ”
No sooner than the woman on the radio said the name, Evie's instincts screamed:
She obeyed as a bolt of fire whizzed over her head and struck the wall behind her. The wallpaper instantly caught, and the flames began to work their way over the wall. But Evie wasn’t paying attention to that. Her eyes were fixed solely on the lone figure of Delilah Cruise standing before her, a long thin blade in one hand, and the other one open with a long, bloody cut down the palm.
She was smiling cruelly.
“Hello Evelyn. Fancy meeting you here,” she mocked before lunging.
Evie seized the laptop before rolling forwards, ducking out of the path of the blade. She unsheathed her talons and the Beast stirred, though not before she slashed at the back of Delilah’s knees.
Delilah cursed and pulled away, but Evie hadn’t cut deeply enough to immobilise her. She spun the blade in her hand as she raised her bleeding palm. She was muttering under her breath and a split second later, Evie realised she was casting a spell. So she did the first thing that came to mind.
The laptop hit Delilah square in the face and she cried out, firmly interrupting her casting. The device itself almost seemed to explode as plastic keys flew across across the room. The screen cracked, as did the casing when it hit the floor, and Delilah was bleeding.
With a snarl, she lunged again with the blade and it nicked Evie’s right arm. The cut was so shallow that she should have been able to shrug it off like it was nothing, and yet she screamed like Delilah had taken the whole thing off. The Beast roused and woke, and in the brief few seconds of the encounter, the fire had spread over the wall and smoke covered the ceiling. Immediately it began to howl, urging for Evie to escape by any means necessary.
She thrust down the urge. She’d run once she ensured that Delilah couldn’t do the same.
Somehow Delilah seemed unphased by the flames and had the audacity to look smug as she flipped the blade in her hand, as if to prove her easy mastery of the weapon.
So Evie took advantage of that, and mid-flip, she lunged for Delilah’s wrist and sunk her talons into her wrist.
It was Delilah’s turn to scream as sharp, protean claws crushed the bones in her wrist, forcing her to drop the poisoned blade. With her freehand, Evie slashed at the back of Delilah’s knees, neatly slicing through her hamstrings. She’d have to thank Beckett for the inspiration for that move when she saw him later.
When. Not if. Because Delilah was going to burn alone in this fire, and Evie was going to escape, and that was final.
She released Delilah and leapt to her feet, then made for the door before realising it was covered in flames, barring her only exit. At her feet, Delilah started laughing.
“Did you really think I was going to make it that easy this time?” she wheezed, rolling onto her side to sneer at Evie. “You’ll die in this fire, girl, and you’ll have only yourself to blame!”
Evie glared at her and seized her by the front of her shirt.
“Why do you want me dead?!” she demanded. “I’ve done nothing to you, or Victoria!”
“It’s not us you wronged, you little monster,” Delilah hissed. “But don’t worry, you’ll find out soon enough. I’m sure Therese will have no trouble finding all the answers. And it won’t save you. Or your mongrel Noddist friend!”
The Beast forgot its terror briefly to snarl and urged Evie to slam her fist into Delilah’s head. And she complied.
“Don’t you dare call him that!” she yelled as the heat of the flames pressed down on her and Delilah’s vitae began to leak over her hand from the dent in the side of her skull.
But Delilah just laughed.
“Oh, do you care about him? It’s a shame that he’ll get tired of you eventually. All you do is hold him back after all,” she taunted.
“There’s a reason no one loves you, you pathetic little brat,” Delilah cackled. “Look at you. You were a horrible little monster even before you were Embraced. Always taking everything you were ever given for granted. Why, look at your father. And your brother -”
“Shut up, shut up, SHUT UP !”
Delilah’s head caved in under the force of Evie’s blows, and she began to break down into ash, still sneering, still mocking. The very image of it was etched into Evie’s mind, and later Evie would wonder if it was intentional. It didn’t matter. Delilah was dead and Evie was surrounded by fire. She could hear screaming from downstairs and the thunder of footsteps as the building’s other occupants fled for their lives.
If only she could do the same…
Then she registered the wetness on her hand and she looked down.
The tiny wound that Delilah had inflicted had somehow opened into a considerable gash, and the edges of it were tinged black as blood trickled down her arm. But more than that, she was sweating, and more profusely than she ought to be. It was like… It was like her very blood was on fire.
She clocked the sigil drawn into the floor a second too late as the pain exploded and she screamed. The Beast was screaming too, urging her for the only viable exit left available to her.
The windows exploded outward, and Evie hit the tarmac hard, bleeding, sore, and barely aware of her surroundings. If it hadn’t been for the chaos caused by the fire, someone surely would have noticed her.
As it was, the confusion had people too distracted and she managed to upright herself quickly enough to hobble for an alley before anyone could spot her.
Once she was out of sight, she leant up against the wall of the alley and a dry, cracked sob escaped her throat as she clutched her wounded arm. The wound still stung horribly and wept openly. Any blood she tried to use to heal it just bled away.
“Damn it,” she sobbed, tightening her grip over the wound.
She righted herself and continued her agonised hobble towards the Asylum. What she wouldn’t give for a blood bag right now. Maybe Therese would have some spare. Or maybe she could go scare Vandal into giving her some first. In her current state, she wasn’t in the mood for him yanking her chain over Lilly.
But she had promised Beckett that if she got into trouble, she would go straight to Therese. She had to keep her promise.
So to the Asylum she went. No one seemed to notice or even care that she was bleeding and covered in ash. She was practically invisible in the crowd and if she’d had more of a mind, she might have questioned it. Instead she just punched the elevator button and shuffled herself inside.
She just had to stand long enough to reach the office. Then she could rest.
Except she never got the chance.
When she pushed open the office door, Therese was waiting for her. And she was pointing a revolver squarely at the space between Evie’s eyes.
Thank you all for your support on this project of mine, I'm really glad people are enjoying it ^^
Chapter 11: Anarchy and Delusion
The Last Round was brimming with activity between the young Kindred who had clearly been feeding on the high and inebriated kine present in the bar, and the pounding music thumping away in the background. Beckett made his way through the crowd and nodded curtly at the fellow Gangrel standing on guard at the stairs leading to the dive’s upper level.
“Well look who it is,” Skelter snorted. “Where’s the kid? Thought she’d be with you.”
“She wanted to visit a friend in Santa Monica. I take it Damsel’s here?”
Skelter jerked his head.
“Upstairs, as always. Kid like the gift?”
“Wears it all the time. I’d be interested to hear how you came to have a Tarulfang in the first place.”
He just got waved off, and so he headed up the stairs.
Damsel was sitting at her usual table and Beckett had barely reached the top of the steps before she snarled, leant so far over the railing beside her that her feet left the ground and her beret nearly fell off, and yelled, “KEEP IT THE FUCK DOWN YOU LITTLE SHITS, I’M GETTING A FUCKING MIGRAINE!”
“GO FUCK YOURSELF MOM!” a chorus of voices shouted back and she rolled her eyes as she righted herself up.
“That’s what I get for being Den Mother around here, huh?” she snorted as she turned to Beckett with a grin. “Good to see you, B. Didn’t think you’d be walking back through the door so fast though. ‘Specially with that Sarcophagus crap.”
“I wasn’t planning on it, but as it so happens I had a question that needs answering.”
He moved over to Damsel’s table and settled himself down, setting his satchel on the chair beside him. Damsel sat herself opposite, looking a little curious as she did so. It seemed that she had clocked Evie’s absence.
“So where’s Cammie? When I heard you’d pretty much adopted her, I figured she’d be following you about. Or is she still playing ‘little miss independent?’”
She air-quoted with her fingers at that last bit, and Beckett frowned.
“She’s visiting a friend in Santa Monica,” he said coolly. “But she is the reason I’m here.”
He nodded, then stared Damsel down sternly.
“What were you thinking, talking her into spying on Lacroix for the Anarchs?”
Whatever Damsel had expected, it clearly hadn’t been that. And she clearly didn’t care for the accusatory tone that Beckett had used as she visibly bristled and scowled at him.
“I didn’t talk her into it, she practically volunteered-”
“Because she wanted to help, not because she understood what was being asked of her. She’s a child , Damsel. You had no right to-”
“Better that she was actually doing something unlike the rest of the Fledglings who piss about in here,” she snarled. “Besides she had options, Beckett. She didn’t have to go and keep cozy with Lacroix if she really didn’t want to.”
Beckett could feel the Beast rear up at the bars of its cage, hissing and snarling protectively, urging him to lunge across the table at her.
“Really? Because from the way Evie tells it, you egged her on. Told her that you didn’t need another Fledgling pissing about and not getting things done,” he countered, keeping a careful handle on the Beast lest he lose control. “If she’d told you where you could stick your ‘suggestion’, how welcome would you have made her feel? Would she have wanted to stick around, or would she have found more welcome back at the Ivory Tower?”
Damsel slammed a hand down on the table with her trademark snarl on her face, her grey eyes burning with fury, and it was clear her own restraint was failing her.
“If she couldn’t take that, then she deserves to be given a fucking cape!”
“SHUT UP, BOTH OF YOU!”
Both Beckett and Damsel jumped out of their skin and looked around to see none other than Nines Rodriguez himself sitting a few tables over. He’d been lounging in his seat, feet on the table with a cigarette pinched between his teeth. Now he had risen and was making his way over with a thunderous look on his face.
“Nines, what the-”
“I said shut it, Damsel. You know Beckett’s right, and that shit you’re spouting isn’t fair,” he growled. “Now get over it and admit that we fucked that kid over just like Lacroix did. You two bitching at each other is doing my head in.”
Beckett raised a brow at Nines.
“It sounds like you have an opinion in all of this, Mr Rodriguez,” he remarked.
Nines scoffed and sat himself down.
“Yeah I got some opinions. And drop that ‘Mister’ crap, it ain’t needed here. Nines’ll do.”
“Good. Now let’s be real. The kid didn’t wanna come here cuz she thinks we’ll be mad at her. Well next time you see her, tell her we’re not. I get it. She was sick of all the political crap and wanted out.” He shook his head and stared off into the distance. “I don’t blame her for being pissed with me. I tried dragging her back into it.”
“She told me as much.”
“Course she did.” Nines paused and heaved a sigh. “Y’know, I told her to square things up with Lacroix and not give him the time of night when she’d done what he wanted. Did she at least tell you why she stuck with him long enough for Damsel to come up with her harebrained scheme?”
“Hold the fuck up, Nines-!”
“She didn’t want to,” Beckett cut over, earning a vicious glare from Damsel. “Sebastian wanted to send her to the Elizabeth Dane, but she told him that the warehouse job was the deal and she was done taking his orders. So he Dominated her into going. Then, when he sent her to see Grout, she refused again. And so he Dominated her again. Then when she refused to go to the museum, he decided that she wasn’t useful anymore and sent her away. That, I believe, is when you ‘suggested’ she get close to him for the Anarchs, Damsel.”
Damsel’s glare fell in an instant and her mouth hung open for a few seconds. Nines’ eyes went wide, and then as expected, both Brujah snarled in absolute fury.
“WHAT A FUCKING PIECE OF SHIT, DOMINATING A FUCKING KID INTO DOING HIS DIRTY WORK!” Damsel roared as she leapt to her feet and slammed her hands down on the table. “IF HE WASN’T ASH ALREADY, I’D PULL OUT HIS INTESTINES, TAKE HIM TO A PARK, AND USE HIS POMPOUS ASS AS A MEAT TOBOGGAN! THAT FUCKING CAPE BITCH! PIECE OF- OF A... WHORE’S ASSWIPE!”
She quickly stopped speaking in complete sentences and defaulted to screaming whatever insults she could think up. It was, however, the indentations her fingertips left in the tabletop that surprised Beckett far more than the obscenities that started flying from her mouth. Those were common. She wasn’t prone to actually causing physical damage she didn’t intend to cause.
After nearly a full minute of Damsel verbally abusing the deceased Prince, someone downstairs yelled, “SHUT THE FUCK UP!”
“YOU SHUT THE FUCK UP!” Damsel yelled back over the railing.
“EVERYONE SHUT THE FUCK UP!” Nines finally roared, and almost immediately every soul in the building fell absolutely silent, even Damsel, leaving on the music booming over the speakers.
When he finally spoke again, it was quiet but the anger was so very palpable.
“Why the fuck am I even surprised that he Dominated her into doing shit for him?” he growled. “Kid never showed any interest in helping out Lacroix when she was here. Why the fuck didn’t I see it sooner?”
“You’ve been busy as shit Nines,” Damsel said hoarsely. “The rest of us shoulda called it. Its what Ventrue do when they don’t get their way. ‘Don’t wanna follow my orders? Okay, I’ll just force you to.’ What a-”
She dissolved into mumbling more obscenities under her breath, lips always twitching with the urge to snarl. It became obvious that she wasn’t particularly inclined for further conversation, so Beckett turned back to Nines.
“So. I’ve heard the violence has de-escalated recently, or at least that’s what the new Prince tells me,” he said evenly. “What’s the Anarch perspective of things-?”
Nines never got to answer as Jeanette Voerman trotted over. Or at least, Beckett presumed she could only be Jeanette. Aside from the drastic difference of taste in clothes, makeup, and hairstyles, she was Therese’s spitting image. Which meant…
The bottom of his stomach dropped out.
It meant that, effectively, Therese was also here Downtown rather than in Santa Monica where she could help Evie if something happened.
He forced himself to remain calm and not say anything about it, however. Evie had been quite clear that the sisters didn’t want anyone to know about their being split personalities, and that they had been very clear that they would kill to keep their secret. There was no sense in making an enemy of them now.
“Hey Jennie,” Nines greeted. “How’s things with the Queen bitch?”
“Oh, you’d love to hear all about that, wouldn’t you?” she giggled as she perched herself on the edge of the table. “Sorry, but I’m not here for a tactics meeting. I’m here-” she turned to Beckett and pointed at him “-to talk to you!”
“I see. I don’t believe we’ve met, Miss Voerman,” he said. “Evie’s told me quite a bit about you.”
“She has? Ooh, only good things I hope,” she said happily, twiddling one of her pigtails with her finger. “I’ve missed Duckling so much. It’s a shame I wasn’t at the club when you two stopped by. I’d have loved to get a chance to show her some fun on the dance floor.
“But anyway. Duckling is why I’m here! Therese actually wanted me to talk to you! It’s about our… little problem.”
Nines frowned and glanced between Beckett and Jeanette.
“Problem? Is this about that Assamite nonsense?”
Beckett hesitated. He trusted Damsel, and Nines had seemed very genuine in how Evie had been treated, by the Anarchs as well as the Camarilla. If they knew about the trouble they’d been having with this mystery adversary, maybe they would provide some assistance. Maybe.
So he explained, keeping Evie’s more private details to himself, but otherwise gave them about as thorough an explanation as he had given Therese.
“So someone really wants the Kid dead.” Nines shook his head. “Fuck, this is messed up.”
“Yes, well. We finally have a name for you!” Jeanette said, a little too happily. She clapped her hands together. “You see, Victoria Manse is the childe and 'regent' to the Prince of Leicester, and Delilah Cruise is his adopted childe- well, she’s one of them. And she’s one of the few Tremere to never be bonded to the Pyramid! So I asked Bertram to do a little digging, and it turns out that the Prince of Leicester and his most trusted childer have all been very busy lately. Not even Victoria’s had the time to rule the city in his stead! Another of his childer’s had the job instead, Luciana I think-”
“And? The name, Jeanette?” Beckett asked, a little irritably.
“Ugh, don’t you have any sense of drama?” Jeanette pouted. “Ugh, fine. His name is Roy Byrne. He’s been the Prince of Leicester City in the UK for the last couple of centuries, but he tends to leave a lot of the work to his childer rather than do it himself. In fact-”
Beckett had tuned her out after she said the name.
Roy Byrne. Byrne.
His heart dropped even lower than his stomach. There was no way- What were the odds? Was it even possible?
“Hey, where are you going? I wasn’t done yet!”
Jeanette’s calls fell on death ears as Beckett vaulted over the railing and hit the ground running, forcing his way through the throng of fledglings and neonates who scrambled to be out of his path. He was stopped short at the door when a Kindred burst inside, yelling at the top of their lungs.
“The Prince of LA has called a new Blood Hunt!” they announced. “A boon for whoever brings the fledgling, Evie Byrne, to her Final Death!”
Police scanners would be going crazy all night about the great white wolf bounding through Downtown LA with blood staining its forepaws, but they would never actually find it, as Beckett was now entering the Asylum in Santa Monica at a soldier’s march.
He’d seen the fire above the Pawnshop and knew immediately that Evie had to have been involved. Mostly because he had found a trail of her vitae, tainted by poison, leading from outside the pawnshop to the Asylum. Meaning she had at least kept her promise to go to Therese if anything had happened. How that led to Therese calling for another fucking Blood Hunt, he had no idea, but he was going to get to the bottom of it.
He punched the elevator button so hard that the plastic casing cracked and he couldn’t help but pace the tiny box as it rose upwards to Therese’s office. Much to his horror, he could smell blood and gunpowder before the elevator doors even opened.
Therese was standing before the wall-length portrait when he entered, with her arms folded over her chest. In one hand she held a revolver, and her suit had been ruffled and bloodied, but otherwise she seemed unhurt. But after the trick that Manse and Cruise had pulled, Beckett wasn’t prepared to accept that all was as it seemed. So he focused.
And true enough, the mask of Therese faltered and failed before him and he saw right through it.
The imposter turned slowly towards him. Beneath her disguise was a young woman with shoulder length red hair and bright green eyes that were framed with spectacles. She wore a flattering velvet dress with matching heels, and evening gloves that reached her upper arm. She then raised the gun and pointed it at him.
“Mr Beckett,” she greeted. “I regret that it’s come to this, but you’ve forced my hand.”
“Who are you?” he snarled. “Where’s Evie?”
‘Therese’ blinked and frowned.
“What are you talking about, Mr Beckett? I’m Prince Therese Voerman. We met earlier this-”
“Drop the shit right now, Fledgling . I know you’re not Therese, I can see that,” he spat. “Now tell me who you are and where Evie is. Right. Now.”
‘Therese’ still seemed a little perturbed, but quickly recomposed herself, finally dropping the mask so that Beckett didn’t have to focus to see the real her. The Fledgling gave him a rather scathing look that bordered on downright hatred, and he couldn’t help but wonder what he and Evie had done to
“She’s gone. Not dead. Roy doesn’t want that just yet,” the Fledgling said mockingly. “But he’ll be so pleased to know that the plan went off without a hitch.
“I’m Heather, by the way. Heather Poe. I doubt Evie mentioned me.”
“She didn’t,” he growled. “Should she have?”
Heather laughed shrilly.
“Of course she should have. She made me after all. I’m not surprised she didn’t tell you the story though. Evie never likes telling anyone anything.”
Beckett wasn’t sure what to think. For a moment he wondered if she was Malkavian, perhaps a childe of Therese or Jeanette who had been bought out by Roy and positioned to spout utter rubbish in order to distract him. But what she’d said, about Evie making her…
He straightened up a little.
“Seeing as how I’m in the dark, why don’t you tell me your version of events, Heather? You’re clearly dying to.”
Heather regarded him curiously for a moment, then shrugged.
“Why not? There’s no harm. Besides, I wonder what you’ll think of your precious little childe once you learn about what she did to me.”
She lowered the gun and began to pace, and Beckett could tell she had been longing for such an opportunity to rant. He’d let her, for now. If she worked for Roy, she might know something that would confirm his theory.
“It all started back in October. I had been in a car-crash and was brought to the Santa Monica Clinic for emergency treatment, but it took forever for a doctor to actually come to treat me. And that wasn’t until after Evie had showed up. I was lying on the table, dying, when she showed up. She played pretend back then, but now I can see how much of an act it was. The surprise on her face, the compassion, all of it. Fake. She just wanted a plaything. So she fed me her blood and made me.
“And when I came looking for her? Oh, she tried to act all innocent. ‘Oh I only wanted to save you’ she said. ‘I didn’t want anything else from you.’ Yet she still let me stay. Played pretend at being some innocent kid who just needed someone to look out for her. She still took from me, but never gave anything in return. She knew I needed the blood, but she never gave it, never told me that I needed it. Maybe she wanted to see what would happen. Maybe she thought it would be funny to see what it did to me.”
The anger in her voice only grew as she went on, her face twisted into a snarl, and her grip on the revolver tightened.
“Not that it matters. Her little game got cut short when Lacroix betrayed her, and so she ran away. She left me alone and confused, not knowing what I was. What she was. What she had done to me. And then they found me. Lisa, Roy, and the others. They took me in, fed me, taught me, made me more. And gave me the opportunity to finally repay Evie for everything she took from me !”
Beckett blinked as Heather finished on a shout, and a furious one at that. It was hard to tell how much of what she had said was true and how much had been lies that Roy and his childer had fed her to twist her perception of Evie. After all, none of this fit the Evie he knew.
Accidentally turning someone into a ghoul to save them from gruesome, life-threatening injuries? That sounded like Evie. Doing it for the sake of having a plaything to amuse oneself with? Not even a little.
He’d have to have a talk with her about keeping this from him, however.
“So exactly how is Roy planning to take everything from Evie, exactly? Why does he care about some Fledgling he’s never even met?” he asked, cocking his head to one side.
“Never met? You don’t even know, do you? He’s Evie’s father . When she killed her mother, Roy was robbed of the love of his life and yet he loved Evie anyway. Raised her, gave her everything she could ever want, and how did she repay him? By-”
“By shooting him out of fear after he finished murdering her brother, I presume,” Beckett replied coolly, even as the Beast growled and paced its cage, urging him to rip her apart.
“What do you-?”
“Perhaps I know more than you realise, Fledgling. Probably more than you know.” He shook his head and began to pace. “And it’s very clear to me that you’re nothing more than a pawn that Roy is using against Evie. And once he has no further use for you, he’ll just get rid of you.”
“W-wha-? How dare you!” she spluttered. She swiftly raised the gun again. “Roy would never-!”
“No doubt you were recruited specifically because of your ties to Evie,” he said, continuing to pace as if lecturing a class. “You were someone close to her, someone easy to manipulate. And now…”
He removed his sunglasses, letting her take in his glowing red eyes, letting her realise she was dealing with a vampire much older and much more experienced than she was.
“Now they expect me to kill you so that when Evie finds out, she’ll be devastated and stop trusting me. She doesn’t trust the Anarchs, she certainly won’t trust Therese anymore now that you’ve attacked her when she came running here injured-”
“You’re right, she won’t! And she ran away again, so now-!”
“-the only person that Roy might know about, the last person she might consider truly trusting, is me. So have me kill you, and Evie loses the last bit of safety she has,” he concluded, watching Heather carefully. “You see? It all fits together nicely. If she finds out that I killed the girl she tried to save, she won’t trust me anymore. She has nothing and no one left. I’ll admit, I’ll be very surprised if Roy isn’t a Toreador. It’s an artful way to destroy someone; taking them apart piece by piece before finally killing them for good. Inspired.
“So you see, Heather. You weren’t supposed to survive after chasing Evie off. You were ordered to wait here, reveal yourself to me, and then die. So. Consider yourself the luckiest Kindred in all of LA. Because I’m done playing Roy’s games.”
Heather stared at him, arms locked as she kept the gun pointed at him. He could see her trembling, and the conflict in her eyes as she took in what he had said. And he could see the precise moment that she rejected it.
He felt her presence wash over him, felt her trying so hard to overwhelm him with her very being, and it was so poorly trained that he shrugged it off as easily as breathing.
“Don’t waste your time trying to exert your will over me Fledgling. I’m older than you in more sense than one,” he snorted.
Heather’s scowl deepened, and he could see the aura of fear and desperation radiating off of her.
“Then I guess I’ll just have to shoot you instead-!”
She was cut short by Beckett seemingly flitting across the room at inhuman speeds and knocking the gun out of her hands before pinning her against the back wall of the office by the throat. Her eyes were wide with fear and he could see the aura emanating from her. Confusion, hatred, fear, despair… He could see the poison that Roy had fed this childe, and he felt sorry for her.
“It’s over, Heather. You’ve been lied to. And it’s time for you to accept that.”
At that moment the office door flew open so hard that it was nearly flung off of its hinges as Nines, Damsel, Skelter, and Jeanette all barged into the room. The former three had guns drawn, while Jeanette just trotted in behind.
All eyes fell on Beckett holding Heather against the wall and the discarded revolver lying on the ground.
“It’s alright,” he said conversationally, as if remarking on the weather. “This Fledgling just thought that impersonating a Prince and calling a Blood Hunt was a good idea.”
“Yes Jeanette, she works for Roy. Where would you like her kept until Therese gets back?”
“We have a little space in the basement that should be perfect,” she said in a surprisingly stern tone. “I’ll keep her locked up nice and tight for Therese. Of course, she’ll need to be the one to call off the Blood Hunt. I would but I don’t have the ‘proper authority’.”
“Alright. In the meantime, I need to find out where Evie went,” he said, turning to the Anarchs, still holding Heather tightly by the upper arm. “Can you all get the word out about this? Make sure everyone knows the Blood Hunt is a sham that was called by this imposter.”
Nines and the others nodded.
“It’s the least we can do,” he said. “Just… let us know when you’ve got her. So we know she’s safe. Whatever we’ve done… we care about her, okay?”
Beckett hesitated, then nodded. He then handed Heather to Jeanette and departed the Asylum. He had to find Evie before she got too far.
Getting into the Asylum undetected was easy. What Lisa thought would have been tricky was finding out where the Voermans had locked Heather up, but as it so happened they were busy arguing, as always.
“I can’t believe you let an imposter in here! Duckling could have been killed!”
“I didn’t let anyone in, Jeanette. You’re the one who insisted on running off to find Beckett at the Last Round. I said he would return soon enough and we could tell him then, but no . You ran off, and I had no choice but to ensure you didn’t do anything that might threaten the fragile peace we’ve worked so hard to establish! We have a phone , for Pete’s sake-!”
“We didn’t have Beckett’s number, because you didn’t ask for it like I said you should! I didn’t just say it because I was trying to get him into bed-!”
“Oh please Jeanette, I know you were trying to do exactly that.”
“Well I wouldn’t say no, but it was also important to be able to contact him is what I’m saying! And now Duckling’s missing, and she could be hurt!”
“Don’t act as if I am unconcerned, Jeanette. I extended my protection to Evie. For her to be attacked by an imposter pretending to be me , in my- our club. It can’t be allowed.”
“So when are you going to get around to interrogating her, dear sister? She can’t sit in the basement all night and day.”
“Soon. We have most of the details, but first I need to be absolutely certain that the word is out that I never called for any Blood Hunt.”
Lisa didn’t need to hear anymore. The basement. She knew how to get down there. The Asylum had always extended its subterranean levels as an emergency haven to Kindred in need of a place to shelter for the day. Provided they could pay. She had used it herself when she last stayed in Santa Monica. Now that knowledge would pay off.
The Asylum’s basement was hardly luxurious. It was grey concrete walls and floors with simple fluorescent lights fixed into the ceiling. Not exactly glamorous, but that wasn’t the point. Regardless Lisa hated the place. The last time she stayed here, she’d felt more like a prisoner than a guest.
‘Seems the new Prince doesn’t think its worth splashing a little for her guests,’ she thought derisively.
Not that it really mattered because the Kindred she was looking for at that very moment was a prisoner.
Heather sat defeatedly on the floor with chains around her wrists that were mounted to the wall. She wasn’t pinned there, she could still stand up and move around, she just couldn’t run away. That would make things much easier.
“Heather,” she hissed, and waited for the fledgling to look up before creeping out of the shadows towards her.
“Lisa!” she cried in relief. “You came!”
“Of course I did, darling,” Lisa said reassuringly, reaching into her coat pocket. “There’s still much to be done, and you have a role to play in it.”
“Oh Lisa, you have no idea what he’s like! Beckett, he- he tried to tell me that you and Roy and everyone were lying to me, and that I was, I was just a pawn to all of you!” she sobbed.
“Shh, darling. It’s alright,” Lisa hushed, pulling out the clawed weapon. “You played your part beautifully. And now it’s time for your finale.”
Heather opened her mouth, clearly confused, but then she stopped and looked down at the long claws now buried in her abdomen. Her gaze lingered there a moment, and then turned upwards to Lisa who smiled at her sympathetically.
“I’m so sorry, darling,” she whispered, a red bloody tear dripping down her cheek. “I wish it didn’t have to be this way.”
“Lisa, what-? Please, no-!”
“Hush darling. I promise, this will be worth it,” she whispered, leaning in closer and dragging the claws roughly downwards, tearing Heather’s dress. “It’s her fault this had to happen. In another time… another life… I would give you everything you desire most.”
Lisa hushed her, then pressed a gentle kiss to Heather’s lips.
“Go easy darling. We’ll make them pay. And it will be beautiful.”
By the time she was done with the awful task, all that remained were blood splatters, ashes, and deep gouges in the concrete where the claws had ripped through Heather. Not quite Protean exactly, but they’d be convincing enough to fuel the rumours.
She straightened up, wiped her tears from her eyes, pulled out her phone and began to photograph the scene, treating it almost like some kind of photoshoot. When she was done, they were uploaded to Schrecknet with the caption:
All hail Beckett, saviour of the Prince of LA!
Hardestadt didn’t like having to deal with issues he’d already resolved, much less when those issues became bigger and more confusing. The Assamites were one thing, it wasn’t his business if someone wanted a fledgling dead. But to impersonate a Prince and call for a Blood Hunt - a Blood Hunt that lasted barely an hour before the real Prince rescinded it - made an impression.
Combine that with the so-called peace that Therese had made with the Anarchs instead of simply stamping them out… The harm it could do to the Camarilla’s image was unthinkable.
So here he was, sitting in a mostly empty boardroom, save for Prince Roy’s presence, after yet another meeting concluded, and he rested his chin on the backs of his hands.
“For one Fledgling to cause the Camarilla this much trouble,” he muttered to himself. “Maybe I should reconsider having her executed.”
“Consider carefully, Founder,” Roy said serenely, tossing a cricket ball from one hand to the other. “Executing the fledgling could simply validate the belief that she is in fact some kind of threat. However, there are ways she could be handled discreetly… Which I would be more than happy to do so, on your word.”
Hardestadt paused and observed Roy for a long while.
Of all of those who had attended the meeting, Roy had been the most untroubled by the revelation of a fledgling posing as Prince Voerman with the use of Obfuscate, and seemed unsurprised by the rumours that Beckett, the Autarkis Noddist, had savagely murdered said fledgling in a fit of rage upon learning that she had attacked his childe. In fact… Roy had been untroubled by any of the incoming news regarding this fledgling, Evie, since the very beginning.
At the time, he had simply assumed that Roy was just sensible and wasn’t losing his head over the girl. But now...
Hardestadt rose from his seat and crossed to the bay windows looking out over the city below them. For a while the silence was filled only by the thud of the cricket ball passing from one hand to the other.
“Prince Roy. Are you the one targeting this fledgling?” he asked evenly, even as he allowed his presence to seep out over the room.
Roy didn’t even resist.
“Of course. I have a score to settle,” he replied smoothly. “Don’t worry. I don’t plan to do anything as grand as have a childe pose as a Prince again. That was just to frighten the girl into fleeing. Make her desperate. Make her reckless. With your permission, I can have her tidied up without any more fuss.”
Hardestadt paused. By all rights he ought to be furious with Roy, but the schemer in him couldn’t help but applaud him even a little. He’d puppeteered all of this under Hardestadt’s nose without him or anyone else realising it. Quite clever really.
“A word of warning, Roy,” he said slowly. “If any more schemes such as this are brought to my attention, I will have you executed.”
Roy simply looked at him expectantly.
“Otherwise, this is your problem to resolve.”
And Roy smiled.
“Of course, Founder. I appreciate your faith in my capabilities. And your discretion.”
Hardestadt didn’t bother to reply, just turned on heel and departed the room.
He needed a good strong drink, he decided. A mortal topped up on a stiff beverage sounded absolutely wonderful right about now.
Two months ago, Beckett had been following a trail of blood leading through LA and beyond in search of a missing fledgling. Now he walked the streets of Santa Fe with his phone held to his ear as Okulos tapped away on his keyboard in the background.
“I just don’t get it,” Okulos growled on the other end of the phone. “According to what I’ve found, Roy has been around for a good few centuries. How could he possibly be her father?”
Beckett didn’t reply at first. He was too busy being caught up in his own thoughts, and besides, that tone meant that Okulos wasn’t expecting him to answer. He was just thinking out loud.
“My Camarilla contacts tell me that he’s been the Prince of Leicester longer than either of us have been alive, and that in the last couple of centuries he’s taken to leaving the running of the city to his childer,” he continued. “But I find it hard to believe that he’s been using that time to figure out how to make knocking boots mean anything, let alone making it work .”
Again Beckett didn’t say anything as he turned a corner and narrowly avoided a collision with a pedestrian. He’d been in Santa Fe a few nights now, and a local Kindred had informed him that they hadn’t seen Evie, but another Kindred had. One looted bank vault later, he now had a meeting arranged to try and learn more about where she had gone. Then it was back to playing catch up.
“Are you even listening to me?” Okulos barked irritably.
“About you trying to figure out how Roy managed to get it up and working? Barely,” he replied dryly. “You’re really telling me that the USB had nothing on it.”
Okulos scoffed and Beckett could practically hear him rolling his eyes.
“Just a whole lot of legal documents, like certificates of marriage, Evie’s birth certificate, essentially everything that proves he’s Evie’s father,” he grumbled. “It’s like the whole point of this thing was to rub your nose in it.”
“Somehow that wouldn’t surprise me.”
He hadn’t heard a peep from Roy’s agents or the Assamites since his confrontation with Heather, and while a few months ago it would have been a welcome change of pace, it was now an uncomfortable reminder that Evie was their target and he was, at most, just collateral damage. And that was why he needed to find her, ideally before they did. Even Roy couldn’t possibly predict where she’d run to in these circumstances…
Or at least Beckett really hoped that he couldn’t. In those first few hours, her only conceivable plan would have been to get as far away from LA as she could possibly get. Now, two months later, Beckett was struggling to figure out where she would go next. He was guessing that by now, her phone was lost, broken, or out of charge as she still wasn’t answering his calls and messages, and hadn’t attempted to contact him.
With any luck, she’d not heard any of the rumours coming out of California and the Schrecknet. If she had, there might well be another reason he’d not heard from her in the last couple of months.
The second night of his pursuit had barely begun when Okulos called and informed him that someone had posted photos of Heather after she’d apparently been brutally slain, and however had posted them claimed that he, Beckett, was her killer. The shots had gone viral and were quickly reposted over and over so quickly that the original post became impossible to locate.
Okulos speculated that it had probably been deleted and the account disabled to prevent anyone from tracing the poster, and the one who had most likely murdered Heather.
Personally Beckett didn’t feel guilty about her Final Death. He hadn’t known her, and many Fledglings didn’t last their first decade thanks to their bad decisions or the indifference of their sires. It was nothing new, just an unfortunate truth of their existence that he’d accepted a long time ago. What concerned him more was Evie’s reaction to the news.
He didn’t believe that she had ghouled Heather intentionally. Considering her feelings on the Embrace, it was very out of character. But from what Heather had told him, it seemed more likely that Evie had indeed stumbled upon her accidentally and fed her in order to save her.
But at some point she had learned the truth of what her actions had caused, and she had decided to deliberately keep it from him. He’d need to scold her for that. If he had known about Heather, well… He wouldn’t have been thrilled to bring her along, but at the very least she wouldn’t have been a weakness for Roy to exploit.
Too little too late, now he had to deal with the fallout. And it began with this meeting.
“You know what,” Okulos said with an air of resignation and finality, “I bet he’s a Cleaver, and all this shit is forged. He just married the kid’s mother when she was too young to know any better.”
“The Camarilla wouldn’t be happy if they learned one of their Princes was one slip away from a Masquerade Breach,” Beckett pointed out.
“Yeah, I know. But what other explanation is there?”
“Well… There is one.”
He had previously toyed with the idea during those nights spent tracking with only the most scant bits of information, and it wasn’t impossible. But it was also highly unlikely.
Okulos didn’t reply, just waited expectantly for him to explain so that he could tear a load of holes in his theory as he so enjoyed doing so.
“You said that Roy has a lot of childer, both sired and adopted by him. What if one of them diablerised him and took his place? Like Hardestadt did to his sire,” he explained.
He heard Okulos suck air between his teeth and could picture him shaking his head.
“I doubt it somehow. Roy Byrne has always been fanatical about ‘family values’, and by all accounts, his childer are the same. They think of him as their father in every sense of the word.” He then scoffed in disgust and added, “some even theorise that there’s blood bonding involved. For a childe of his to diablerise and replace him-”
“They’d have to have overcome the blood bond, and the others would still recognise what they’d done,” he sighed, shaking his head. “It was just a thought.”
“Yeah, I know. All of this is fucked up,” Okulos replied. “You said you’re meeting a Kindred tonight?”
Beckett hummed in the affirmative. If he could have seen Okulos, he would have seen the knowing grin that the Nosferatu wore when he was one step ahead and he would have guessed that Okulos already knew exactly who he was meeting.
“On my way to meet them now. With any luck, they’ll have a new lead for me.”
“Hopefully it’s a good one. I’ll keep an eye open on my end, let you know if anything comes up. Good luck Beckett.”
He hung up the phone and continued on his way, eventually arriving at the designated meeting place. A children’s play park that was currently deserted and in a poor state of disrepair. A rusted slide, broken swings, and litter discarded all over the place, it was clear that it hadn’t been in use for some time. And that suited Beckett’s purpose perfectly.
So he waited, leaning against the fence that had been dented and warped in what had undoubtedly been a car accident. He checked his phone and, as usual, found it devoid of messages.
He didn’t know why he dialled Evie’s number when he knew he wouldn’t get an answer. Maybe because a small part of him hoped that she would actually pick up this time.
No such luck. It went straight through to voicemail. Again.
He stuffed the phone back into his pocket and looked up and down the road for any sign of his informant. The street, however, remained silent and deserted save for Beckett himself. So there he stayed, stiff and unmoving, and considering how he would punish the first Kindred he’d spoken to if it turned out that they had lied to him about this contact.
As if on cue, he heard it. The roaring of an engine that ripped through the night air, even at a distance, and it was accompanied by a loud screech. He looked up just in time to see a huge harpy eagle swooping down towards him, and he threw out an arm just in time for the bird to perch on instead of his head.
Kyra chirped and shuffled along his arm, nibbling at his ear affectionately as he gave her a scratch under the chin.
“Well now I know who my contact is,” he chuckled, glancing up to see the headlights of an enormous motorbike roaring towards him from down the road.
It screeched to a halt and its very tall, very muscular rider, dismounted.
Beckett straightened up from the fence as Tereza pulled off her helmet and shook out her long blonde hair, still wild and held back in its Viking-style braids. She was at least half a foot taller than he was, and she had Norse runes tattooed up her right arm. She wore biker leathers and a pair of shades that he knew shielded her inhuman yellow eyes, much like his own did, and her hair had numerous feathers fluttering amongst her braids.
It was clear that in life she had been a great beauty, but in death some supernatural essence seemed imbued into her very flesh, amplifying it to the point that it shocked many when they learned that she was, in fact, a Gangrel rather than a Toreador. Some members of the Clan of the Rose certainly envied the fact that some wandering, dirt-ridden loner had gotten to her before they did.
She faced him and smiled serenely before setting her helmet down on the seat of her bike and making her way over.
“Beckett,” she greeted in her accented English, holding her arms open as she approached. “It is so very good to see you again.”
“And you as well, Tereza. You’re as radiant as ever.”
“You are very kind to say so.”
She leaned down and they exchanged a brief peck on the cheek and a fleeting embrace before parting.
“So. You have a childe now?” she said, cocking a brow mischievously.
“Adopted childe, yes. And I was informed that you’d seen her.”
Tereza simply smiled before moving to lean against the fence beside him, her hands folded in her lap, and he could detect the faint smell of motor oil and sandalwood wafting off of her.
“More than saw her. I met her while she was in the company of a fellow Gangrel. Jesse, I believe was his name,” she explained.
Beckett blinked then frowned. The name was familiar to him, if only vaguely. Then it came to him. An ex-Sabbat turned Camarilla spy who helped Evie rid LA of the Sabbat in order to settle his debts with Lacroix. That was… not overly reassuring.
“It was a good thing that Okulos contacted me and provided details of the girl, Kære, or I would not have recognised her,” she continued. “She was uncooperative, as Okulos had said, but was more willing to listen once she learned that I was associated with you.”
She smiled knowingly.
“Jesse is now taking her to a Gather in the Carson National Forest. They will be waiting for us there.”
“A Gather?” Beckett couldn’t quite keep the disdain out of his voice.
He’d attended very few Gathers, and it wasn’t an accident. The purpose was for members of the Gangrel Clan to meet and exchange information with one another, to bring them up-to-date on internal matters. They were also preceded by the Rites; contests of strength and boasting that established the hierarchy of the Gather, and they could take nights to complete. Even if two Gangrel had previously met, they had to participate regardless, as it was believed that every meeting was unique and they were no longer the same individuals they were the last time they met.
In other words, the whole affair was tedious and time consuming, and not helpful to his goals, hence why he rarely attended. But he didn’t blame Tereza for pointing Evie in that direction. It was a place she would be safe even when staying in one place, and he doubted that even Roy could predict them attending a Gather. Most Kindred outside of the clan didn’t tend to know they even existed.
And going from that curl of her lip, Tereza had known exactly what she was doing. Okulos had definitely done more than give her a ‘few’ details. He wondered how much else he’d told her without mentioning it to him.
He sighed and shook his head.
“You know I hate these things.”
“I know, Kære. Which is why I sent them there,” she said with a roguish wink as she pushed off from the fence back towards her bike. “Come. We should get moving. The sooner we get there, the sooner your Little Cub will feel much better I think.”
He rolled his eyes and made to follow, shifting into the form of the white wolf. Tereza arched a brow at him.
“You still do not trust my driving?” she questioned with an air of mock offence. “I am hurt. I will have you know that I have not crashed once since you last rode behind me.”
He simply jerked his head and she laughed before putting her helmet on and revving the engine. The bike roared off into the night with the white wolf bounding alongside and an eagle soaring overhead.
Evie hadn’t been sure what to expect before they arrived at the site of the Gather, but it was something vaguely like this. A number of tents had been erected in a camp set up along the shoreline of a vast lake. The ground was frozen solid, and there were patches of snow here and there, with a pine forest at their backs, stretching upwards as the ground sloped up into a mountain.
Numerous Gangrel wandered the camp, many of them wearing very little and what they did wear was so worn and had been repaired so many times that there were more patches and original garment. Some had inhuman eyes and claw-like hands like Beckett, but others definitely seemed more… animalistic.
At the water’s edge a pair of them were wrestling in the shallows, and even from here she could see the one closest to her was gleaming with alligator-like scales, and during the brief second she caught sight of her face, her teeth seemed too large for her jaws and her nose just a little too flat.
As another walked by, Evie spied a long cat’s tail uncurling from over the top of their jeans and began to swish back and forth as they walked. Others chewed at themselves, or licked their hands before running them through their hair, and one had the poor luck of others yelling ‘squirrel’ at any given moment which seemed to compel him to search for the imagined creature, much like a dog would.
Beckett had taught her a bit about being Gangrel, about the risks of frenzying too often, but she had imagined most were like him; careful not to frenzy so many times that they became less and less human. But the majority of those in attendance seemed not only proud of their features, but boasted about the number of frenzies they had endured for them to stick. Almost like it was some kind of trial by fire.
Frankly it made her uncomfortable, and if it hadn’t been Okulos’ reassurance that Tereza would find Beckett and bring him to the Gather, she would have left by now.
She reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone. She couldn’t honestly say why she still had the damn thing when it didn’t even work anymore. It had been essentially crushed when she had hit the tarmac after jumping from the Pawnshop apartment window, and blood had leaked into the mechanisms, clogging them up and rendering the device beyond repair. So why even keep it?
The vain hope that maybe, by some miracle, one day she’d pull it out and find it in working order so she could call Beckett and he could come get her. It was pathetic, really.
There was a roar of admiration from some onlookers as the Alligator Gangrel grabbed her opponent and sunk those big teeth into the junction between his neck and shoulder, tearing through dead flesh and muscle and dragging him back into the water. The opposition thrashed, but she began to roll, preventing his escape. The water was stained crimson and the display went on for several minutes before it came to an abrupt halt. The opposition must have signalled his surrender, as the Alligator Gangrel released him and marched proudly back to shore, her face and front glistening with blood as her opponent hobbled in her wake. He was no missing a chunk out of his shoulder, and his arm was twisted unnaturally in its socket, yet he was grinning in delight as he and the victor exchanged pleasantries.
Evie had to look away and stare off into the distance or she might throw up at the sight of his mangled body.
It was at that moment that Jesse appeared from the gloom and paused at the edge of the lamplight - there were firepits here and there around the camp, but the general consensus was that too many fires around so many Kindred was an accident waiting to happen - where he glanced over to watch the Alligator and her opponent move off into the camp.
“It’ll only get worse,” he remarked, sitting himself down with a blood bag in each hand. “Only rule in a fight at a Gather is no killing each other. Short of that, anything’s allowed.”
“Great, sounds like fun,” Evie grumbled, taking the blood bag he offered. “Remind me why we decided this was a good idea?”
“You tell me, Little Miss Paranoid,” he snorted. “You’re the one who looks over her shoulder every two seconds.”
“Considering what I’ve been through lately, I’d say it’s justified,” she retorted.
He shrugged and they sat in silence as they fed on the blood bags, watching the other Gangrel around the camp. Briefly, Evie could have sworn she caught sight of a horribly familiar face prowling the tents; brown skin, shoulder-length dreadlocks and bright golden eyes with a malicious glint to them. Then she got a better look and realised that it wasn’t him , but another Gangrel who was in the middle of animatedly telling a story to a handful of fledglings, and she felt a small bit of relief unfurl in her chest.
‘He’s dead for sure,’ she reminded herself. ‘He got his head cut off in a room full of Kindred.’
And as terrified as she had been at the time, in the nights that followed it had been a relief . The quick spurt of vitae followed swiftly by the separated head and corpse swiftly crumbling to ash were a reminder that she was safe from him. That he could never harm her ever again.
If only she could receive such a comfort in the face of the enemies she faced in recent nights.
“So… How well do you know Beckett, exactly?” Jesse asked, seemingly out of the blue.
Evie paused, brows twitching as if to frown but not quite going the whole way before she answered.
“I’ve been travelling with him since I left LA,” she explained with a shrug. “He offered to take me with him. Be my sire.”
“But how well do you know him?”
This time she did frown and she gave Jesse a blunt look.
“Look Jesse, ask what you actually want to ask or don’t ask anything at all,” she said firmly. “I’m done with people who fish for answers.”
For a while Jesse said nothing and Evie took that as him having nothing further to say on the matter, so she turned her attention back to the group of fledglings being told a story. Funny that they were all varying degrees of older than she was, yet were still as new to this life as she was, and so were treated much the same as she was. Like children who needed a firm hand when they got too rowdy. The Kindred telling the story was grinning from ear to ear and moved with an almost childish animation as he really got into it. She didn’t really understand what the story was about, but he was clearly having a blast recalling it.
“Do you remember what I told you?” Jesse finally asked after several minutes. “Back at Hazel’s church?”
She turned to him and frowned at him quizzically.
“End of the day, only person you can trust is yourself. Yet you put an awful lot of trust in Beckett.”
Her frown transformed into a scowl and she bristled at the suggested accusation lobbied not at her, but at Beckett.
“That’s because he’s earned my trust. Unlike the rest of you.”
“Yeah, and I’m not saying don’t trust him at all, I’m just saying…” He leaned forwards to rest an elbow on his knee and his chin in his hand, staring off vaguely into the distance. “Don’t go believing he could never do anything wrong. Otherwise you’re just setting yourself up for the fall.”
“I don’t believe that,” Evie snapped, leaping to her feet. “Beckett’s the only person I’ve been able to count on this entire time.”
“Doesn’t mean he can’t fuck up,” he pointed out bluntly. “Sooner or later he’ll do something you don’t like, whether he means to or not, and then what’ll you do?”
He shrugged idly.
“I said what I said. Now you only have yourself to blame when he disappoints you,” he said dryly.
Evie opened her mouth to argue further but was interrupted by an eagle screech as a large grey and white eagle swooped overhead. Evie stared at the bird as it looped back around, coming in close, and then she recognised it.
It was Kyra, the eagle that had accompanied Tereza. Which meant-!
A dry, cracked sob escaped her at the sight of Beckett walking out of the gloom towards the camp, looking about as well as he had when she’d last seen him in Santa Monica, which was better than how she felt. She didn’t pay Tereza any mind, even as she walked at Beckett’s side, and instead made a beeline straight for him.
Beckett laughed as he caught her mid-jump and her limbs wrapped around him tightly with her face pressed into his shoulder. She could feel it reverberating in his chest and that in itself was a comfort because it was confirmation that this was real , and he was here , and that meant she was safe now. It helped that he hugged her back firmly, a physical reassurance that he was here and he was going to protect her however he could. And that was what mattered.
Finally, she allowed herself to drop back to the floor, and Beckett’s hands moved from her back over her shoulders as he gazed down at her with a fond grin.
“Well, you still have all your limbs intact. That’s something,” he chuckled.
Evie just buried her face into his front, breathing in deep. A vague musk clung to him, reminiscent to that of animal fur, which was largely masked by an earthy aroma and a hint of sandalwood. One hand rested between her shoulder blades and the other on the top of her head, and she was completely unaware of the snorts and sideways glances she was receiving from the other Gangrel in the camp. Beckett, on the other hand, just ignored them.
“The cub is happy to be back amongst her pack, I see,” Tereza chuckled, clapping a hand over Beckett’s shoulder before making her way into the camp proper. “We can talk more another time.”
She walked away, leaving the pair to themselves and Evie took a few moments to pull away.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “I- I was at my old haven when Delilah attacked me, and then when I went to Therese like I said I would she pulled a gun on me, so I ran and then other Kindred started attacking me out of nowhere so I just ran and I didn’t know what to and my phone was broken and-”
“Shh, it’s alright,” he hushed, stealing a quick glance back in the direction of the camp. “I can imagine the last few weeks have been rough, but this isn’t the place. We should speak elsewhere.”
He steered her away to walk along the lakeside out of earshot of any onlookers. Evie kept close to his side and he kept an arm around her shoulders as they walked. And only once they were a decent distance from the camp did he speak.
“It wasn’t Therese who attacked you,” he explained. “It was another agent, like Manse and Cruise. She used Obfuscate to disguise herself as Therese while she and her sister was passing on some information to me.”
Evie came to an abrupt halt, staring at him in disbelief.
“She- You’re kidding me.”
She ran a hand through her hair, shaking her head, not because she didn’t believe him but because she couldn’t believe that the idea hadn’t occurred to her in the first place. She knew that Manse and Cruise could disguise themselves in such a fashion, why hadn’t she just assumed that the Therese who attacked her wasn’t Therese at all?
Because she didn’t know who she could trust anymore. She had too many enemies, some with blades and some with smiles, Rosa had said. Only the Lone Wolf and the Man on the Couch could be trusted.
And was she really wrong to mistrust Therese? If she had chosen to stay in LA and side with the Anarchs, helped to chase the Camarilla out of the city and robbed her of the chance to become Prince, would Therese still extend such offers of protection? Would she still be so willing to help Evie if it was asked of her?
Probably not. If Evie had aligned with the Anarchs, then sooner or later, she would have become a threat to Therese’s power, and then Therese would do whatever it took to remove her from play, whether by doing what she’d done to Tung or via outright elimination.
At the end of the day, Therese was another power player. It just made sense not to trust her, whether she was involved or not.
Beckett didn’t remark on Evie’s silence, letting the perfect opportunity for a sly remark slip by in favour of continuing to walk along beside her.
“There is something I need to tell you, Evie,” he continued after several minutes. “The information Jeanette was passing to me… It was the name of the one who’s trying to kill you. I need to know if you’re… familiar with this person.”
He sounded truly hesitant for once; the last time he’d sounded like that had been when he first approached her about not opening the sarcophagus. A mixture of uncertainty and concern that set her on edge.
“Who is it?” she asked, dread already rising in her stomach, pressing at the walls of her chest. She was half-certain that her body was preparing to be sick again, like when she’d first arrived in LA.
“...His name is Roy. Roy Byrne.”
Her reaction shouldn’t have shocked Beckett. He’d expected it, thought he’d be prepared for it, but he still found himself caught off guard by the scream that erupted from her as she crumbled to the ground in a heap of tears where she trembled from head to toe, the picture of absolute despair and pure terror packed together into the form of a skinny teenage girl.
Even as he held her against his chest, trying to offer some form of comfort, the screams just wouldn’t stop tearing themselves from her throat as she sobbed uncontrollably, shaking her head and just barely choking between sobs, “it’s not, it can’t be!” over and over again, barely coherent, but the general sentiment was easy enough to understand.
It also confirmed his suspicions, much as he had hoped otherwise simply for her sake.
Now, as he knelt at the lake shore with the sobbing fledgling in his arms, he wondered about the things Evie had endured at Roy’s hands to elicit such a volatile reaction from her. He knew that he’d hit her, that he punished her for the smallest missteps and it helped Beckett to understand some of the ticks in her behaviour. Her fear when he raised his voice at her, the way she shrunk down when she felt threatened, the ways she picked up on even little emotional and social cues; all skills she had developed to survive this Kindred who was supposed to have been her father.
His temper flared just thinking about it and the Beast snarled, demanding blood be split for the blood owed. He lashed the Beast firmly into submission. They’d consider their course of action in due time. First he just needed to get Evie through the horrifying revelation she was experiencing.
Though, if he was being honest with himself, comforting others wasn’t a skill he’d exactly cultivated over the centuries, least of all a teenage girl whose entire world was coming apart at the seams. Even his mortal life didn’t offer much in the way of experience, save for what little he remembered of his mother. Whenever he or his siblings came to her in tears because they had skinned their knees, or were being picked on, or had troubles of any magnitude, she would make tea, hold them close, and talk them through their emotional troubles.
Tea wasn’t an option, obviously, and he wasn’t very good at talking to people about their problems the way his mother had - not without blundering along logically and making things worse - so he held Evie close and hoped it would be enough.
It wouldn’t be, not for such a cataclysmic revelation, but he could hope.
By the time Evie finally cried herself out, another fight had started on the opposite shore and the shouting, splashing and roaring that echoed across the water mostly drowned out her sniffles.
“I’m sorry, Evie,” he murmured.
She just shook her head, pressing her face into his chest. What she said was so muffled, he didn’t understand a word of it, but he guessed it was along similar lines to what she’d been saying before. He didn’t blame her for not wanting to believe it.
“Why this?” she cried, pulling away abruptly and staring up at him pleadingly. “After all this time, why did it have to be him ?!”
“I don’t know,” he said truthfully.
She shook her head and pressed the heels of her palms into her eyes, as if trying to stem the bloody tears.
For a while neither of them spoke until she finally whispered, “...will it ever get any easier?”
He hesitated a moment, and then asked, “do you want the truth or the lie?”
“...Lie to me. Please.”
“Then yes. It does get easier. Remarkably so,” he said, clasping a hand over her shoulder. “We find Roy, kill him, and the world will go on, and things will only get better. I promise.”
A moment of silence passed between them, filled only with the distance sounds of the fight, before Evie finally lifted her head with a watery smile and said, “you liar.”
He smirked back at her.
“You asked for the lie,” he pointed out.
Evie just laughed and leaned back into him, arms hanging loosely around his middle. The hand on her shoulder moved to rest against her back, cradling her somewhat, as the his other hand found her’s and wrapped over her fingers with a surprising gentleness.
“We’ll fix this,” he promised.
Evie shook her head, still smiling slightly.
“We can’t. You said he’s a Prince. The Camarilla will care more about him being happy than me being safe,” she pointed out. “We kill him, and I’m a Prince Killer for real, and you know the Ivory Tower won’t like that.
“There’s no fixing this.”
Whatever he had expected from Evie, it wasn’t this. This calm acceptance that this was the way things were. That if Roy, a Camarilla Prince, wanted her dead then there really was nothing to be done that didn’t invoke the wrath of the Inner Circle. He’d expected anger and rage, a determination to put a stop to Roy’s games...
He’d expected an Anarch, and if it had been someone else suffering at Roy’s hands, he’d have estimated Evie’s response perfectly. But Evie wasn’t an Anarch, and it wasn’t someone else suffering. She was, and she was used to Roy’s abuses.
Some part of her had defaulted back to the terrified little girl who stood to take a beating in the hopes it would be over faster if she didn’t resist. And it killed him to see.
What he expected least of all was for her to pull away, rise to her feet, and begin to walk away. He stared after her, taken aback as her direction led into the treeline, not towards the camp.
“Where are you going?”
“Away. It’s better if I’m not around you anymore, Beckett,” she said. There was no emptiness in her voice, it was calmly stated and she was still wearing that small, weary smile. “There’s no point in you getting mixed up in my messes anymore, not if they can’t be fixed. You’d be getting hurt for no reason.”
She made it about five paces before Beckett was blocking her path, scowling, and she stared up at him in confusion.
“You expect me to just stand by and let you wait to die?” he snapped.
“I’m going to die anyway, whether he kills me or the Camarilla does,” she retorted. “There’s no point in-”
“Don’t give me that excuse!” he cut over firmly, doing his best not to raise his voice even as the rising Beast demanded it. “If anyone else were in your position, you’d be fighting tooth and nail to help them. You think I wouldn’t want to do the same for you?”
“It’s not that, it’s just not worth it!” she argued. “ I’m not worth it! It’s not the same thing-”
“Evie, you risked your life to make sure your friend and Doctor Johansen both escaped the Society of Leopold alive,” he persisted. “Most Kindred would have left them to die. I certainly didn’t think saving a suicidal toreador was worth it.”
Her frown deepened into a scowl and she stepped forwards into his space, a move most sires wouldn’t tolerate of their childer.
“Ash never asked for any of this! Isaac forced it on him, saved him when he didn’t want saving! Ash asked me to save him, something he didn’t want from anyone!” she shouted. “How could I just-?”
“And you never asked for any of this either!”
He winced internally as his voice raised ever so slightly louder than he’d intended, but while Evie did flinch she didn’t react nearly as badly as she had in the library back in Cairo. She stared at him, mouth hanging open a little, as if she didn’t know how to counter that.
It was the opening he needed, however, so he reigned himself in and met her gaze.
“You’re so willing to help anyone who asks, Young One, yet when you need help, you don’t ask for it or expect it. You don’t even see yourself as someone worth helping.”
He stepped forwards, clasping his hands over her shoulders firmly.
“You have something that so many of us lack, Evie. Something I don’t want to see you lose before you have to. The part of you that makes you so alive compared to the rest of us, the part that still cares about everyone else, yet you never save any of it for yourself.
“You are worth helping, Evie. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t have tracked you down on that train, and I certainly wouldn’t have offered to take you with me. So let me try to help you now. Let me try to make things better.”
He wasn’t a fan of cliches and so he wasn’t a fan of these silences between them. It was also partly because he could never really tell how Evie would react to what he’d said.
This time, the facade of calm acceptance crumbled and while she didn’t outright sob, she was biting back tears as she buried her face into his chest. He chuckled, hugging her back.
“You know, I haven’t had this many hugs in centuries,” he remarked dryly in a barely veiled attempt to ease the tension a little.
“Couldn’t tell,” she mumbled. “You’re good at them.”
“Good to hear.”
He wondered, briefly, if this was the moment to inform her about Heather but decided against it. One huge revelation was enough for one night. She needed time to process the fact that her father had been Kindred all along, and now actively sought her death. But he couldn’t not say anything. If someone else mentioned it first, she would sense he was hiding things from her, and it would make things harder for them going forwards?
So slowly, he eased her away.
“There’s a lot we still have to talk about,” he said slowly. “Including why you never told me about Heather.”
Immediately the colour drained from Evie’s face and her eyes went wide in horror. She opened her mouth to speak but Beckett raised a hand, so no words came out.
“But not tonight. You’ve got enough on your mind as it is. And no, I’m not angry with you. I just need to understand.” He then turned and beckoned for her to follow. “Take some time to think about it, and we’ll talk about it tomorrow. For now we should get back. No doubt the others will be expecting us to take part in the damn Rites.”
Behind him Evie hesitated, but she trailed along at his side. He could see a glint of gratitude in her eyes as she slipped her hand into his, like a child holding their father’s hand to keep him close.
Funnily enough, he found himself not minding the comparison very much at all.
Thank you everyone so much for your support on this project, especially to KitKat for her feedback and donation ^^
I now have a ko-fi account, so if anyone would like to help out an unemployed nerd please check it out and maybe buy me a coffee xx ^^