December 10, 2010


Artwork by Cesar Martinez


It was four AM when his voice in her head woke her.

Didn't he ever sleep?

"It's time," was all he said.

"It's time," she said aloud to no one.

She tossed her bed covers aside and reached for her jeans lying on the floor. She slipped on a simple T-shirt, warm socks and her knee-high boots. She pulled her long brown hair back into a braid and retrieved a toaster from underneath her bed. "It's time," she smiled. "For toast."

She set the toaster on her bed and retrieved two slices of blood soaked bread from the small freezer section of her miniature fridge in her tiny kitchen. She double-checked the lever to make sure it was permanently fixed in the down position and loaded her two slices of blood soaked bread. She smiled as she covered the toaster with her blankets, her pillows and every bit of clothing she wasn't wearing. As she piled her laundry onto her bed she came across a shirt she liked better than the one she was wearing and traded it out.

Shirt changed and toaster sufficiently covered, she slipped into her battle gear, and covered it all with a long leather jacket. Then she plugged her makeshift bomb into a lamp timer, set it and plugged it into the wall.

She eyed her tiny apartment for the last time and with a wave of her middle finger, she bid it the most adoring adieu she could muster before she climbed out the window.

The compound was labyrinthine, winding and twisting itself toward the center of town, it would take her no more than ten minutes to reach Estes's domicile via a traditional route, but her need to be patient over time had made her impatient in almost every other respect.

She loosed her senses and scaled the outside of the wall to the roof and ran along the parapet; leaping from rooftop to rooftop she reached Estes's building in less than thirty seconds. As she ran she pulled a nylon rope from a spool on her belt, tied a quick loop in the end and secured it over a ballpoint pen. At the edge of the building she secured the pen in the corner under the inside lip of the parapet and leapt off the edge. Not the best grappling hook in the world, but effective enough to slow her four story descent to Estes's balcony on the second floor. With a little slack the pen came loose. She kept her hand around the rope as the spindle on her belt pulled the rope and pen back to her. She returned the pen to her pocket and let herself into Estes's oddly over-sized apartment.

Too much space for ones furniture was just one of the many perks of being a lieutenant in the uncertain social order of outcast immortals. She'd done her part during her short time with them to provide for her fellow rogues, but it was Estes's years of ass kissing while concurrently repressing and suppressing others had granted him the right to thousands of square feet, Persian rugs, silk sheets, fine damask, walls covered in artwork and a ready supply of meats, cheeses and pastries that had been left unwanted to waste on his breakfast table.

"Good morning Estes," she called in her most pleasant tone, as she helped herself to a piece of pastry.

"For fuck's sake!" Estes yelled from an adjacent room. 

A few moments later he joined her in the spacious living room. He eyed her, thoroughly annoyed. His auburn hair was in desperate need of a wash; it's sheen comparable to the shine in his eyes. "What?" he demanded.

"It's time for me to leave," she said.

Estes crossed the room to take the pastry away from her and set it on the table. "What is it now Liz? Could it be that another one of your daughters has taken ill?" He chuckled.

Elizabeth retrieved the confiscated pastry and took a large bite. "No, but now that you mention it, my oldest was married recently," she said as she chewed.

"Really?" Estes rolled his eyes, disbelieving. "I've never understood the motivations of mortals. At her age, why would she even bother?"

"I would hope it's because she's in love," Elizabeth answered.

"My question was rhetorical Liz," Estes replied. "I couldn't care less about the 'what' and 'why' of mortal behavior. Mortals are inane creatures with the mistaken notion that they alone have been given dominion over the earth. That's really all I need to know. All any of us need to know." He turned and eyed her for a long moment. "Permission denied."

"I wasn't asking for permission," Elizabeth said. She clapped the pastry crumbs from her hands, slid her jacket back and fingered the handles of her swords.

Estes laughed gruffly. "I'm in no mood to spar with you today Elizabeth." He turned and ran his fingers through his greasy hair.

Elizabeth smiled. He was looking for a weapon she knew.

She drew her blades, titillated by the scrape of metal on metal. "He woke me every day for sixteen years with that sound. I hated it after two days. Loved it after the first time I bested him. He was going easy on me of course."

"What are you talking about?" Estes grumbled.

"The man who trained me," she smiled.

"I trained you," Estes spat.

Elizabeth chuckled. "The man who trained me stood six foot five with shoulders just as broad, and skin the color of bistre."

Estes walked away unimpressed. "We all know too well the alleged description of Argus, Elizabeth. You're not fooling anyone and you're not going anywhere."

Elizabeth lunged toward him. Estes leapt and rolled out of the way. Elizabeth cart wheeled over the table and blocked his escape route. Estes grabbed a chair and shielded himself with it.

"I have my orders Estes and I've finally been offered my freedom so try being a little less repugnant than your usual self and play along. I promise you, it's the only way you make it out of this alive."

"Orders?" Estes glared. "No one is free under the rule of Argus, Elizabeth. Or have you forgotten that we saved you from his wrath. Is this how you repay our protection? By becoming a traitor!" he spat.

"Protection? My time here has been a prison sentence," Elizabeth said. "I was sent here by Argus, as a punishment for the crimes I committed against his word. For the past sixty years you have been his unknowing warden. I must say you have done your job very well."

"You lie," Estes said, trying to appear calm, fear causing the corner of his mouth to twitch ever so slightly.

Elizabeth sighed. "Recent events have caused my king to have a change of heart about engaging in combat with rogues - sorry - the united front of free immortals." She rolled her eyes.  "He requests  an appointment, Estes. You get to name the time and place."

Estes threw the chair at her as he turned and ran.

She blocked it with her arms and gave chase. Her eyes caught sight of the time on a wall clock as she ran. "Fuck," she cursed. "Estes, I really don't have time for this."

As she ran through the door at the end of the hallway Estes lunged toward her with his own blades in hand. Elizabeth brought her blades up, as she dropped to the ground, she blocked his blades with hers, and kicked him over top of her. They both quickly regained their footing and Estes continued his assault. Elizabeth blocked his next two swings then pirouetted out of the way, swinging her arms wide as if to catch her balance, she twisted her body and swung her blade downward, slicing off Estes's left hand at the wrist. She continued her spin, bringing her other blade in and elbowed him in the jaw. As he stumbled off balance she pushed him against a wall. She brought her blades up, crossed, and stabbed them into the wall on either side of his neck, pinning him. She ducked out of the way of his clumsy attempt at a swing with his right hand and retrieved his other blade from his severed hand on the floor.

With his attached hand Estes held his sword pointed directly at her in an awkward attempt at defense while he batted at the blades pinning his neck with his bleeding stump.

Elizabeth retrieved a heart shaped locket from beneath her shirt and opened it. Inside was a mirror. She broke the mirror with her thumb, and removed a silver ring in the shape of a peacock feather wrapped in a circle and tipped with a blue stone. She slid the ring onto the middle finger of her right hand and held it up for Estes to see. "I have the power to bring this war to your doorstep, Estes. But my king, had hopes for something a little more civil and away from mortal observation." She returned the locket to its place beneath her shirt and retrieved a lighter from her jacket pocket. "The choice is yours," she said as she held the lighter aloft.

Estes looked horror struck as he dropped his sword and clutched his hand around the stump of his arm to stem the bleeding. "Release me," he growled.

"You're not the highest rung on the ladder Estes. If you're of no use to me, then I see no reason to let you continue living." Elizabeth said. "Will you give me what I've asked for or do I need to ask someone else? Patrice perhaps. Or Lucas. Maybe even Danay. No, not Danay. She hates me even more than you do.

"That map. On the wall," Estes directed with his arms, "Pull it down and bring it to me."

Elizabeth retrieved the framed antique map from the wall, and kicked it free as she held the frame in her hands.

"Three weeks from today," Estes said as he pressed a bloody finger onto a spot on the map.

"You could have just told me," Elizabeth sighed as she rolled up the map and concealed it in her jacket. She pulled her blades from the wall, wiped them on the back of an armchair and returned them to their sheaths while Estes lunged for his hand, desperate to reattach it.

"See you on the battlefield," she said as she started from the room.

"Liz wait," he called after her as he struggled to attach his dying hand to his wrist. "Why did he change his mind?" he stammered. "They'll want to know."

Elizabeth hesitated then smiled. "My oldest daughter is a fighter. Always has been."

Estes dropped his hand as the gravity of what she was saying sunk in. "Impossible," Estes mumbled.

"Good-bye Estes," she said then turned and ran from his apartment.

She had barely made it to the roof of Estes's building when a fiery burst of orange exploded from the window of her former apartment, several buildings away. Elizabeth kept her head down, put her hands in her pockets and started east.

It took her two days of walking to reach her rendezvous with Kale. "You look like hell," he said to her as he stepped out of a forest green 2007 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited.

"I think that's the nicest thing you've ever said to me," she smiled up at him.

He opened her door and handed her a small vial.

She smiled at the vial marked 'CONCENTRATE' in her hand. "Just what I needed," she said as she climbed into the Jeep, popped open the top of the vial and took a sip.

Kale took her to a safe house to let her get cleaned up, treated her to the best meal she'd eaten in decades then took her shopping in preparation for their trip while she filled him in on everything she'd managed to learn. They had never really trusted her, so it wasn't very much.

That night as she lay in a bed fit for royalty, her thoughts strayed to her past. It had been this way when she first began her new life under the tutelage of Kale and had become common again in recent months. Could Anna and Meline find it in their hearts to forgive her? Did Jonas still think of her? Was he still her husband? Had he ever really been? And what of Dain? Did he know what had become of her? Could he ever forgive her? Or love her? It seemed too much to even hope for and Argus would not speak of him, except to say that he was no longer under his dominion, and would never expound upon exactly what that meant.

She was nervous to meet her daughters once again. More than simply being grown women they were women who had made themselves who they had become despite her poor example and abandonment. They were women who had lived and experienced entire lifetimes without her. They had more than proven they didn't need her to be a part of their lives, but would they let her be? Would they want her to be?

"Are you sure you can't come with me?" she asked when Kale dropped her off at the airport.

"You're nervous." he said, as if perplexed by this.

"It's the great unknown," she shrugged.

He set her bags on the curb and lifted her into a big great hug. "If you believe that my presence can give you strength then know that because a part of you sees, moves, wonders and acts as I taught you to, I am always with you."

"Thank you," she kissed him on the cheek. "For everything."

"It was my pleasure," Kale said in return.

A woman with black slacks, a starched white shirt and aviator glasses, her long brown hair pulled back into a messy bun, waited for Elizabeth at the gate to the tarmac holding a sign that read: Belatisse.

"It's a pleasure to meet you," the woman smiled, "My name is Wendy Parker. May I take your bags?"

"May I see your credentials?" Elizabeth asked.

Wendy produced an iridescent metal card decorated with the word AZURE engraved on one end and decorated with five patterned stripes. Elite patterns, She recognized those belonging to Argus and Jonas, but not the others. "You must come from a long line of familiars to have such high affiliations," Elizabeth said as she handed the card back to Wendy.

Wendy shrugged. "Seventh on my mother's side, second on my father's." She picked up the suitcase Elizabeth had set down and started out the door and onto the tarmac. "It was dumb luck that my father became a familiar and it was his associations that gave me the opportunity to serve those I do. My partner Taylor, our pilot, is a first gen. She's thirty-two and less than two years in, but you'd never know it. We made metal the same day. So ultimately... It must be serendipity." She smiled broadly.

Wendy's smile was not as much about her comment as was about its subject, who Elizabeth assumed was the woman dressed identically to Wendy but with short hair stepping quickly off the plane to greet them.

Elizabeth lost her step as a tall man with broad shoulders and dark hair, wearing in a navy suit stepped off behind her. It was Dain. The man who had been in her thoughts so often, she was convinced he had always been a part of her life. Her pace quickened as she hurried toward him, stopping breathlessly in front of him, thought not from exertion. "It is you," she breathed. She brought her hand up to touch him, but stopped, letting it hover in the air for a moment.

"Elizabeth Belatisse," he said slowly, almost as if it were a question.

She told her head to nod, but wasn't sure if she did. "I..." she stammered, her eyes becoming moist.

"Love you," he finished.

"Yes," she said, feeling the nod of her head then.

He brought his hand to her cheek, pulled her into his arms and kissed her.


Chapter 50 - A Sleeper Wakes

Vampiric Toast

Artwork by Kyle Dean



Artwork by Matt Morriss


(c) copyright 2010-2016 Lauren T. Hart