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February 12, 2010

Artwork by Brian Byers

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As her vision swam and Jimmy barked at her to get to her feet, she prayed that death would find her.

The thud on the wall from the hallway startled them both, and for a moment Jimmy's rage had a new target.

She'd never heard the name Galen Vollenti, and by the looks of it neither had Jimmy, but the fact that he had gotten past Mort was more than enough to grab Jimmy's attention and she was happy to leave when he had ordered her out.

She pressed the skin on her forehead together to stem the bleeding on her brow - Jimmy hated it when she bled, but other than that she'd done nothing to tend to her wounds. Her body ached, but that was nothing new, she gotten used to the constant pain of never fully healing before the next beating. The vision in her left eye was slowly returning and the swelling had reached its peak and was beginning to recede, but her left arm was still bent at an unnatural angle. The bone pressed hard against the inside of her skin, creating a white mound on the top of her arm. She hoped that if Jimmy saw her this way, he might decide to leave her be for at least a day or two.

She was curled in her corner by the balcony when she heard a scream followed seconds later by a cracking thud, and then silence. A few moments later the door to the bedroom swung open.

She wasn't ready. She wasn't sure how much more she could take. She'd have begged if she'd thought it would have helped, but she knew it would only make things worse. She turned herself further into the corner, hiding her face and her tears with her right hand. She wasn't ready.

"Are you all right?" Came a voice that wasn't Jimmy's.

Was this Galen Vollenti?

"Is he dead?" she asked.

"Yes."

She nodded.

"Look at me," the voice commanded. "What is your name?"

She hesitated.

"Look at me." The voice said softly yet still commanding, as he crouched down by her side.

She glanced but she didn't fully trust what she was seeing through her left eye, and so she turned to get a better look with her right. She gasped at the realization of what she was seeing, as bold green reflective eyes stared back at her. Unconsciously she reached her hand out to touch his face. He took it in his, inhaling her deeply then bit into the soft flesh of her palm. She gasped at the pain, but it was little more than a pinprick followed by a sense of warmth as his venom pulsed through her, filling her with a sense of euphoria as it took away her pain.

"Will you kill me now?" she asked.

He licked the wounds from his bite on her hand, healing them almost instantly. "Why would I do that?" he asked then licked his finger and ran it across the wound on her brow.

She shook her head.

"Give me your arm," he said. "It'll hurt far worse to have to re-break it than to set it right before it heals."

She shuddered as she reluctantly offered her fractured arm to him.

He eyed it carefully, palpitating gently with his thumb and forefinger before he took hold of her elbow and wrist and gave a yank. Then he pressed and palpitated some more, carefully realigning the bones. It hurt, but not nearly as much as she had thought it would.

"My name is Galen," he said. "Galen Voll. Do you know who I am?"

Voll? Not Vollenti?

She shook her head.

"What about Argus?"

She shuddered.

"I'll take that as a yes," he said. "If you won't tell me your name, will you at least tell me who is responsible for you?"

She shook her head. "I don't... I don't know how to answer that."

Galen sighed, impatient. "Who taught you about Argus?"

"My teacher was Jonas Dimon," she pulled back the corner of the carpet and retrieved a silver locket, embossed with a lily.

Galen eyed it, and then her. "If you carry this, then why are you here? Jonas would never condone this kind of treatment."

"He doesn't know. Jonas left many years ago."

"Why would you ever allow yourself to be kept by humans?"

"I had nowhere else to go... I had no choice."

Galen eyed her, sizing her up, doubtfully. His gaze penetrated and overwhelmed her and she had to look away.

"Why do you fear me?" he asked.

She met his eyes but she didn't answer. She knew how dangerous her answer could be to her well-being.

Galen sighed. "I was sent here as Jonas's successor. If you did not fear him, then you have nothing to fear from me."

"You are one of the Elite," she said. It was almost a question.

"I am." Galen answered.

She nodded, considering her options. He had helped her, helped heal her even. It didn't mean he wasn't a threat, but she knew she could keep her secrets. "My name is Meline."

"Have you a last name?" he asked

"I've had many," she sighed. "Too many."

"Fair enough, Meline." He stood and held his hand out to her. "If you come with me, I promise I will look after you."

"Am I to be kept by vampires now?"

"Vampires?" Galen scowled. "You've spent too much time among mortals. I wish only to keep you in my good company. Stay here if you like, or come with me and want for nothing, as you were intended. The choice is yours."

As she was intended? She met his eyes again. They were soft and green, his features were strong and broad, his hair pale blond, as blond as hers, though hers had been bleached to become that way. She raised her hand, he bent down and grasped her hand in his and pulled her to her feet.

"How is your strength?" he asked.

"I've been worse," she said.

"Go clean up, gather your things, and we're gone." He instructed. "Yes?" he waited.

"Yes." She replied.

He smiled. It was a beautiful thing to see. He turned and hurried out of the room. She washed the blood from her face, changed her dress and slipped on a pair of shoes. She found a suitable chain for her locket from amidst the jewelry Jimmy insisted she wear when they were out. As she reached to fasten it around her neck, strong hands met hers.

"Allow me," Galen said. He fastened the chain around her neck. "Are you almost ready?"

Meline grabbed her clutch purse. "I'm ready," she said.

He offered her his arm and they walked out of the apartment together, past Jimmy Walker, who was slowly burning next to the well-scorched coffee table.

"Will people think I killed him?" Meline asked as the elevator doors closed.

"No." Galen said. "It will look like an accident. Like he slipped and broke his neck."

"On a patch of ice," she said softly, again it was almost a question.

Galen shifted his weight. "Corner of the rug," he said, quizzically.

"And Mort? What happened to him?" she avoided his eyes.

"Suicide."

The elevator doors opened on the ground floor to an unusually empty lobby. Outside a crowd had gathered at the end of the block. Galen quickly steered them in the opposite direction and hailed a taxi. "St. Athena's Cathedral," he instructed the driver handing him a wad of crisp bills.

St. Athena's was a front for the Ceruleans. She had heard the name mentioned. And from what she could gather thought they had something to do with human trafficking. In reality, it was a vampire - immortal - safe house. She was going to have to try and remember not to use that word around her new friends. It was perhaps a naive notion to feel safe in the newest circumstance she found herself in, but against her better judgment, she did.

Galen left her in a small sitting room while he talked briefly with the home's caretaker. He carried a small black vial when he returned.

"Drink this," he instructed as he uncorked the top and handed it to her. "You'll feel better in no time."

The vial was warm and the sweet smell of human blood caught strong in her senses. She'd never consumed blood before. "Didn't need to." Jonas had always told them.

Galen took the seat next to her, and eyed her quizzically, questioningly. She met his eyes and wondered if he could sense her lies.

She noticed a familiar blue sapphire ring on his hand. "Hmmm" she smiled musing on a pleasant memory from childhood. Of sitting on Jonas's lap and spinning the ring around on his finger. She reached for Galen's hand and pulled it closer to her, running her thumb over the peacock feather etchings.

"Most don't smile at the sight of this ring, let alone take a closer look or dare to touch it." Galen said.

Meline kissed the ring on his finger and let go of his hand. "I'm not most," she said as she contemplated the blood, then tossed it back in one gulp.

"No, you're not." The corner of Galen's mouth curled into a smile.

The blood in the vial overwhelmed her senses. Her mind spun as sharp fangs descended in her mouth, and her vision expanded so far so quickly it made her dizzy and she had to shut her eyes. She could smell everything - Galen's rich and hearty musk, fabric, dust, cleansers, wood, chicken, flour and eggs were but the first few she could identify. She could hear everything - Galen's breath, his faint heartbeat, footsteps, she shuffle of fabric and the sounds of food being prepared. She could feel everything - the makeup on her face, the seams in her clothes, the texture of the chair, the paper label on the via. She twisted the vial in her fingertips to read its label:

CONCENTRATE.

It was good advice. She held her breath and thought of Anna. She missed her terribly and wished she hadn't been so cruel the last time they had seen each other.

She had hated Anna for so long for killing Tommy Wright. But as her shame had never found a way to tell Anna they had been married, and the fact that he had been having sex with a fourteen year old girl at the time - after he'd promised he was done with all of that, she had since come to accept that his death had been for the best. She'd been stupid to marry him in the first place. Believing it would somehow improve her station and her circumstances. She was the fool that Anna had said she was and she hoped that Anna could one day forgive her.

"Are you alright?" Galen's voice bounced softly off every surface in the room creating an echo in her ears.

She switched her concentration to him, as a swell of lust, heat and desire coursed through her.

"S'pose I should have mentioned it was concentrated." His tone held a smile. "You looked like you could use a little something extra."

She met his eyes. Taking him in with all her senses. "Did you?" she curled her lips into a sly smile.

"You're young still, but I imagine the effects will wear off within a few hours."

"Thanks," she said wryly.

"You'll thank me in a few hours, when you're feeling new again."

She took hold of his hand again and said what she wished she could say to her sister. "I know what you did for me. Thank you."

"Of course," he said.

 

Chapter 7 - The Caged Bird

(c) copyright 2010-2016 Lauren T. Hart