September 24, 2010

Artwork by Lauren T. Hart

It had been years since Argus had ordered him to do anything. The last time had been in nineteen twenty-four when, after asking him to consider his request for months, Argus finally ordered him to return to see Elizabeth. He'd even gone so far as to drive him there. What a catastrophe that had been. He was sure it had been to prove a point, but Argus never said a word.

Perhaps the order was because his line was involved, if so the concern was unnecessary. He knew almost nothing about Eden but after what his trusted second, Gaines, had told him about her mother and the conversation he'd had with Iona on her last day, he had come to the conclusion that his last line had truly died with Iona. He had asked Gaines to continue to keep an eye on Jennifer and Eden and any future generations if there were any but this was done more out of obligation on his part rather than duty.

It wasn't that he had been waiting for her to signal. He had been watching the house for most of the day. That she had signaled at all had simply given him a reason to act on his orders.

The drive was short from his lookout. He straightened his jacket as he stepped out of the limo, strolled casually up the front steps and rang the doorbell.

A young man with pale blond hair answered the door. Behind him stood two women, both of them young and wide-eyed. One of them, he assumed must have been Eden. That he didn't know which one gave him a moment of regret, but then, the moment passed.

"Good Evening," he said. "My name is Dain DelaCrosse. I'm looking for Eden Finley. I have it on good authority that she is here."

The girl with long dark hair, pulled back in a ponytail, nudged the girl next to her.

"I," the other girl stammered. "I'm Eden."

Dain eyed the three of them as they stared at him. Clearly, Eden had not understood the importance of secrecy and had told her friends. He sighed, disappointed. No wonder he had been ordered. His descendant had been careless, and because of it, he would probably have to end her life and she would officially be the last. "Aren't you going to invite me in?" he said after a moment.

The blond smirked in the direction of the two women. "Come on in," he said as he stepped backwards towards them.

Dain stepped inside and shut the door behind him then strolled purposefully into the center of the room. "This is a dangerous game you three are playing," he said.

"I know," the brunette said as she took a solid step away from Eden and brought two Berretta Px4 Storms to the ready. One pointed directly at him, the other at Eden.

"What? What are you doing?" Eden gasped.

"Shut up, Eden," the brunette ordered.

It was then that he noticed the locket around her neck adorned with Jonas's new symbol. He'd heard the stories of the two young immortal girls who had stolen his heart enough to cause him to change his symbol and take them under his protection. As he sized her up, amused by her ill-conceived attempt at a threat, he wondered what Jonas saw in her.

"You're making a mistake," he said.

"Par for the course," the brunette smirked. "I really wasn't sure you'd answer her call, nor so quickly."

"You exist under the protection of Jonas Dimon," he said as he shrugged out of his jacket and tossed it over the arm of a nearby chair, twisting enough to let her see that he had two blades strapped to his back.

"Yes," she responded. "My name is Anna."

"And him?" He motioned toward the blond.

"Ashe, lives under my protection," she turned, revealing a blade strapped to her thigh. His blade. The one he had left in Virginia.

He scoffed at the irony. "Well, you're in my jurisdiction now. What is it you want, Anna, who exists under the protection of Jonas Dimon?"

"I need to deliver a message," she said.

"What a fortunate happenstance then that I have been sent to retrieve you," he said. "So, will you come quietly or are we about to have some trouble?" he raised a brow.

"Sent by who?" Ashe asked.

"It doesn't matter," Anna said, dismissive. "If you promise to hear me out, I'll go with you."

"You'll all go," Dain countered.

He saw real fear in her then. Her jaw tensed as she fought with her emotions. "Agreed," she nodded then spun her guns, surrendering them to him.

It was disconcerting how quickly she had resigned herself to him. What wasn't she telling him? "Keep them," he said. "He'll enjoy the challenge."

Anna sent Eden to retrieve the Line of Linage box and journals then she removed her locket and went to put it around Ashe's neck.

"No," Ashe said firmly.

"Do as I say," she pleaded.

The unspoken communication they shared was not lost on Dain. Eventually Ashe relented and let her secure it around his neck. "Don't ever take it off," she said.

Reluctantly, Ashe nodded and Dain realized: He was an immortal. An unclaimed immortal - who lived under the protection of... no one.

That she was offering Jonas's protection to him in her stead was noble, but didn't necessarily guarantee that Jonas would extend his protection to Ashe, particularly in trade for Anna. "Jonas taught you well," Dain said as they made their way to the limo. "Not that any of it will matter in the end," he added.

"I'm sure he would be honored to hear you say that," she said. "Not that it matters," she added.

"What is it you wanted to tell me?" he responded, only mildly uninterested.

"Your Daughter, Danay," Anna said. "She lives."

He laughed at first, but her expression didn't falter. He glanced at Eden, who looked both enraptured, as well as confused. "Where did you hear that name?" he said.

"She told it to me herself," she said.

"You lie," he said.

"Life is to short for lies," she said. "Believe me or don't, it makes no difference to me. I'll have done my part. She is with Adelaide, who turned her after her husband beat her nearly to death."

"No." It was impossible. Adelaide was dead. Danay was dead. Thalia and Claudia had tended to her personally before her burial.

"Adelaide recovered from her injuries after you buried her, and dug her way out of her tomb. It was such an effective way to hide her true nature that she taught the technique to Danay. They've been inseparable ever since, much to Danay's dismay. Adelaide runs her, controls her and lies to her. She told her you had died during the holocaust, but Danay did not believe her. She is in many ways a prisoner to Adelaide. She asked me to find you, to tell you that she lives and warn you, and to warn Argus, that war was coming. She sits in high position with the enemy, but she is on your side. I could see the pride in her eyes when I told her you were an Elite," Anna said.

Not that he believed her, but he had to know. "Why?" he asked. "Why would you do this for her? And for me?"

"Family," she said. There was more behind her simple answer, but he could tell she was not about to discuss it. She shrugged. "And, I was looking for you anyway," she said.

"Why?" he eyed her.

She took a deep breath. "November fifth, Nineteen Fifty-Eight in Cambridge, England," Anna said. "A mortal named August Ambrose was executed in a style similar to the deaths of Frank and Lyle Dearing. Later, this symbol, she pointed to his ring, the feather with the blue stone was found on his headstone. I was hoping, as one who bears this symbol and has knowledge of the technique, you might be able to shed some light on the incident."

"Nothing I say would be more than mere conjecture. But I can offer you this: Despite our reputation, the Elite do not kill without reason. Even if you put aside the fact that you run with rogues, and exist only under the protection of an Elite... You fell in love with a mortal," he said, frustrated that he was still upset at losing her, near ninety years later. "I'm afraid your heartache was inevitable."

Eden sniffed loudly, causing them both to turn toward her. Tears streamed down her bright red cheeks. "I can't do this," she cried. "I can't do things like this. It's too much," she said.

"You can do this Eden," Anna said. "You must. Gods do not take advice from mortals, nor will they allow it to appear as such. Know your place, and keep it. Lives depend on it."

Ashe pulled her close and wiped her tears, "I still have that shoulder," he said softly, causing her tears to erupt into full-fledged sobs as she turned in her seat, curled into his arms and cried helplessly on his shoulder.

She was still crying as they neared their destination a few minutes later and so he instructed the driver to buy them some time as he moved to the seat next to Eden. He took her hand in his, and pressed her palm gently against his lips. She smelled of Peaches and Vanilla. It was a simple, effective bite, hidden in a kiss.

As he caught her blood on his tongue he found his regret once again. He had not expected there to have been so much pain in her life. Cast aside. Unwanted, Interminably heartbroken, and full of fear. Yet in spite of this, she had remained ever hopeful. "It was a mistake to abandon you, as I did," he said. "I promise you, it will not happen again."

Eden nodded, her composure regained through the calming nature of his venom in her blood.

"Club Azure?" Anna sighed as they pulled to a stop in front of the nightclub, housed on the bottom two floors of a Cerulean owned high rise.

He understood her lament. He'd never been fond of the nightclub scene himself. But the flash and gore of the Vampire lore and stereotypes he'd helped to perpetuate had become so ridiculous it was borderline offensive.

"Club Azure?" Eden bit her lip and eyed her outfit, looking worried then started wiping the smeared make up from her face. "I've heard they're real exclusive."

Anna shook her head. "That's because it's a fucking vampire bar," her tone scolded as did her eyes. She crossed quickly to Eden, wiped the makeup from her cheeks and tousled her hair into place. "It'll be alright," she reassured her. "Just ignore what you see and stay close to Ashe. I want you to keep hold of his hand and don't let go no matter what. Do you understand?"

Eden nodded.

"You forget who you're with." Dain said, amused.

He would have sworn a chill ran through her, as Anna closed her eyes and shook her head. "No," she said. "I know exactly who you are."

Eden hung her head then looked to Ashe for comfort. His look offered understanding, but not reassurance.

He knew as well as anyone that the Elite were known as harbingers of death and couldn't help but feel like a monster. "She'll be fine," he said, hoping to reassure.

"Fine." Anna scoffed. "She shouldn't even be here. Most of what she knows comes from the works of fiction and the fairytales told by the Line. And now she's all hopped up on happy sap. I just..." She shook her head. "I don't want her thinking that the nonsense she sees in there is a desirable lifestyle. It's not. It's a lie."

Her concern was puzzling to him. Her manner was more than just protective it was almost motherly. "Why do you care?" Dain asked.

"Why don't you?" she countered.

He was beginning to see what Jonas saw in her. Behind her prickly demeanor, she had heart. "Stay close and avoid eye contact," he instructed. "We're headed for a door at the back, far left, corner."

It was almost exclusively a mortal crowd. Though most had done their best to imitate the look made popular in works of fiction. Blood flowed easily in darkened corners as did sex and illegal narcotics. Lights flashed, music pounded. He couldn't move through the crowd fast enough and part of him was glad that Anna felt the same. She took the lead. Carrying herself, with both grace and purpose as she hustled her way through the crowd. Seeing that she was armed to the teeth, most were quick to clear out of her way, and the few that weren't backed off as soon as they caught sight of Dain. Eden and Ashe walked between them, Eden did her best to keep her eyes on Anna. Her hands gripped white knuckle tight, one around the box and journals, the other around Ashe's hand.

"Finn," Dain nodded to the armed doorman who stood behind a blue velvet rope, guarding an unmarked door at the back of the club.

"Sir," Finn held the rope aside for them.

The room was lit with neon giving the appearance to outsiders that this was merely an exclusive part of the club, but they were merely for show. At the far end of the room, behind an industrial sized door, was an elevator.

She was not the first person he had escorted to see Argus - to what would almost certainly be her demise and he had thought that he had seen every reaction there was. Even surrender, compliance and complete resignation, though he couldn't remember a time he'd seen them all at once. It made him uncomfortable and he couldn't escape the idea that it was somehow all a part of her plan.

He heard Anna's breath catch as the door slid shut and a small trembling hand slipped into his. His first thought was of Eden, but both her hands clung tight to Ashe.

It was Anna's hand looking for strength or mercy or compassion in his. He looked to her, but her eyes closed, her head down, emotion in her throat and in her breathing.

She was beautiful really, so strong, and somehow so fragile. She reminded him of Elizabeth. Hell, they even looked alike. Something about her lips, her hair...

And then the doors opened again.

She immediately let go of his hand, and found her strength again as though it had never been lost.

She ignored his gaze as they stepped off the Elevator into the mirror-lined foyer. Here she hung back and followed his lead, even as she stood next to him with Eden and Ashe directly behind them.

Whether by instinct or training, her choices were impeccable. In another circumstance he would have been honored to stand next to her in negotiations or battle. In this circumstance, he remembered his orders and kept his guard up, ready to defend himself or his king against the enigma at his side.


Chapter 39 - Ordered

(c) copyright 2010-2016 Lauren T. Hart