The door wouldn't open. She tried again but it wouldn’t budge. The window was likewise locked and it was the only one other in the small apartment. The screech from the bedroom window would have woken even the dead from their sleep.
“Where are you going?”
She jumped; she thought he was asleep. “I, uh, need to get something from the store.” As she talked she reached for one of the steak knives in their block on the counter.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
“You’re not yourself right now. I’m just going to get some food.” The knife in her hand was shaking despite her steady voice.
“Put the knife down,” he took a step closer.
She flinched and thrust the knife out instinctively, stabbing him in the stomach.
She expected him to pull back in pain and hopefully give her a chance to get the door open but he simply looked down at the knife then back up at her.
“I told you that wasn’t a good idea,” he pulled out the knife and threw it aside.
She gasped as his wound simply closed up as if nothing had happened, “Oh my god.”
He looked down at the revulsion in her eyes and then her world went black.
But not before she felt pain radiating from her neck.
Six Months Earlier
The Sapphiri Mansion atmosphere was upbeat and festive. The occupants danced to the flowing music or added to the chorus of conversing voices. It was not just any party. It was the evening the next male heir to the Sapphiri Clan would be announced. Since this was a rare occasion, even in the vampiric world, fanfare was a requirement. The main ballroom displayed the sapphire blue hues of the Sapphiri House. From high ceiling hung blue crystal chandeliers that produced pure light that wasn't harmful to vampire guests. They shone brighter than usual to accommodate the witch and shapeshifter ambassadors who needed more light. Darker blue, almost black, curtains framed gilded vaulting windows that let in the full moon. The center of the room was dominated by a black glass, tiled dance floor.
A low, flowing waltz moved its way among the dancers and pulled couples to the floor. One of the dancing pairs was Lord David Sapphiri and his wife, Olivia. They were both enjoying the evening and their conversation leaned towards the nostalgic. This evening marked the night when their sons were truly no longer children anymore.
Suddenly something caught Olivia's attention and she rolled her eyes; breaking from their previous conversation.
Lord David gave her a quizzical look, “What’s so funny?”
Olivia motioned to where her oldest son, Cort, and their lifelong friend Roxanne, Head of the Amethisti Guard, stood on the other side of the ballroom.
He sighed, “You would think those two could act like adults around each other now.”
“Oh David, leave them alone. It’s not like they’re making a scene or the sorts. They’ve been like that since they were kids. I don’t think it’s going to change now.” She glanced over at them again, “Plus, I think it’s just their way of not being awkward around each other.”
Olivia rolled her eyes, “They’ll be fine, just try to enjoy the party rather than worry over every little thing. Please, for me?” If left to his own devices she knew her husband’s tendency to micro-manage would prevent him from enjoying the evening.
“Alright, but only for you,” he complied teasingly.
Across the room, the said two were both drinking from their glasses of champagne and bantering back and forth. Cort was a tall and blue-eyed with a wry smile and straight black hair. He wore a classic modern tuxedo, minus the overcoat he left on chair at his seat. Roxanne's flowing violet dress that matched the color of her wide set eyes. There were amethyst crystals inlaid in silver woven into her long brown hair giving her a heightened air of elegance. She was about to retort to Cort's jeer when his twin sauntered up.
“You guys might actually get to enjoy the party tonight if you’d quit your bickering.”
They both looked up at him.
“Well, good evening to you too, Xavier. I am enjoying myself. As a matter of fact I’m having a nice conversation with your brother here.”
“We were just talking about the time at the academy where I came up with that brilliant plan to break into the blood vault, which was foolproof,” Cort informed.
She scoffed, “Oh please, the only reason it worked is because I saved your ass.”
Xavier rolled his eyes, “You call this not bickering?”
“Yeah, yeah why don’t you go dance or something little brother,” Cort patted his twin on the back condescendingly.
A sly idea popped into Xavier’s head. He looked over at Roxanne. For a split second she looked like she dazed off but then a smirk replaced it.
“Actually brother, I came over to ask Roxanne if she would be so kind.” he extended his hand to Roxanne in invitation to the dance floor.
“Of course,” she put her glass in Cort’s empty hand and accepted Xavier’s arm, “I love this waltz.” They entered the dance floor leaving Cort standing there with a surely look and two drinks in his hands.
Xavier and Roxanne soon fell in sync with the music and other couples. Xavier started the conversation. “So, I hear your curriculum petition to incorporate firearm training into the academy is finally being put through.”
“Yes, I was down there just last month helping it get started up. But you and I both know that’s not what you wanted to talk to me about,” she laughed.
“Yeah, but I figured I’d try to work up to it a bit.”
Roxanne rolled her eyes giving him a look that said she already knew what he was going to say so stop beating around the bush.
“Well, Miss-I- know-everything, why don’t you just answer me then?”
She sighed, “What do you want me to say? That I think we can work it out? You and I both know that it’s not going to happen. I don’t– We don’t care about each other the same way.” She looked away and fixed her gaze on the reflective surface of the dance floor. While she always answered Xavier when he prodded her about her and Cort, it didn't stop him from prodding again a few years later. He meant well but it was really starting to wear her down.
“I know it’s just… Oh, I don’t know. I just hoped it would have worked out by now.”
“It is ‘worked out.’”
“Mmuhum, that’s why there is always tension between you two and why you can never be around each other without bickering, and why you always avoid this subject, and–”
She cut him off, “This is rich coming from someone who’s had a girlfriend for only a couple of years. You’re not in the position to be giving out relationship advice just yet; especially when it comes to me and your brother. Why don’t we take your own advice and enjoy the evening,” she finished with a pointed smile.
Xavier knew this smile. She closed the subject and wasn’t going to hear any more of it. At least not until he tried to bring it up again next time.
“Alright, alright," he replied good naturedly.
They continued to dance and chatter about other things.
When the song ended Xavier led Roxanne off the floor and thanked her for the dance.
“You’ve certainly gotten better, I don’t have any broken toes,” he said with a smirk.
“Hey, I haven’t injured anyone in years.”
“You never know when dictator is going to strike again.” Before she could retort he continued, “Anyways, I’m going to find Natalia for the next dance.”
A fast-paced tango was starting and Roxanne rolled her eyes. “Try to keep your hands where they belong. You’re at a formal event.”
“Yeah, I know,” he said dismissively and walked off to find his girlfriend.
Roxanne smiled and shook her head. She started for the table where they served the blood wine. The wine was mixed with just enough blood to make the appetizer a perfect snack for her growing hunger. There hadn't been much down time since she arrived early that night and she finally was coming down from her workaholic high. The table holding the blood wine was circular and the centerpiece had the different blood types printed in delicate blue script. The glasses themselves were arranged on steps descending from the centerpiece. Roxanne selected a glass from the wedge under A Positive, careful not to knock the other glasses with her long Victorian inspired sleeves.
“A Positive? I would have thought you’d try out the O Negative,” Cort’s voice materialized behind her and he reached for a glass of the same type.
“What are you following me now?”
“Can’t a guy simply get something to eat without behind harassed for ulterior motives?”
“Oh, I’m harassing you now am I? Who was here first?”
“I was on my way over here already, you just happened to be here too.”
“Whatever you say,” she replied passively.
A semi-awkward silence lapsed. Cort watched his brother and Natalia on the dance floor as they wove in and out with other couples. He stole a glance at Roxanne who was sipping on her blood wine indifferently. She looked up just as he was about to look away and caught him. For a split second he thought he saw a flash of embarrassment in her eyes, as if she had been the one caught glancing at him, but it disappeared so fast he was sure he imagined it.
“Um, so,” she brushed at one of her brown curls that had fallen out of place, “Julia did a great job with the decorations tonight. The place looks amazing.”
“Yeah, it really does . . .” he groped round from something else to add but couldn't think of anything fitting.
She drank the last of her glass with a gulp, “Well I’m going to head over to speak with Seth about loosening up a bit; it’s a party after all.”
He stopped her before she could walk off, “Wait . . .”
She pursued her lips and looked at him expectantly.
“Ok, you’re right I did have a bit of an ulterior motive. I wanted to ask you for a dance.”
“I don’t know of that’s such a good idea, Cort," her throat tightened, an involuntary response when she steeled herself from her own emotions. She had to be careful to not trigger her premonitions and unconsciously blocked emotions until she had a chance to examine them.
“It’s a party Roxanne. One dance . . . please?” he held her gaze trying to decipher the neutral mask she now threw up around him.
She hesitated another moment before taking his offered hand and accompanying him to the floor.
The band was in the middle of a medium paced song and Cort expertly lead them into the other moving couples. For a little while they just danced not saying anything to each other. After another song, Cort broke the silence.
“You know it’s funny to think that at one time you couldn’t dance to save your life.”
“Ugh, not you too.”
“What?” he asked puzzled.
“Xavier commented something similar earlier. Really, I know dancing isn’t my forte but I got it down.”
“Just took you what, a hundred years?” he laughed.
“Shut-up,” she bit back without much force. He hadn’t overestimated.
“Hey, I’m just glad my hours of practice and sore toes paid off.”
“You can’t take all the credit.”
“True but I’m the one who had to deal with you when you were really bad.”
She rolled her purple eyes. In their banter she forgot to concentrate which resulted in a hiss of pain from Cort. They accidentally messed up another couple dancing next to them. The woman, a noble from the Adamantis House judging by her diamond studded gown, glanced over with annoyance but dropped it in surprise when she saw who it was. She apologized graciously to Cort but gave Roxanne a parting look of disdain.
When the momentum of the dance moved them away Cort could barely hold back the laughter rising in his chest. Roxanne glared at him; if she had been human her face would have been bright red in embarrassment.
“It’s not funny.”
“No, not at all,” he replied evenly despite his smirk-like grin. “I guess we’re going to have to find some time to practice more,” he chuckled but then stopped when he saw she wasn’t smiling anymore. The song was ending and they swayed to a stop. While the other couples applauded the band he looked down at her through mask she had thrown up again. Her wide shoulders were tense and she shifted on her right foot uncomfortably.
“What? What did I say?”
Her thin eyebrows, slightly darker than the rest of her brown hair, knitted together. She looked up from the white button on his shirt she’d been focusing on and meet his eyes. Another song, a slow one, began but neither of them noticed.
She couldn’t help the slight waver in her voice when she finally spoke, “Cort, after tonight things are going to be different . . . you’re going to be the heir to the Sapphiri House and I’m–”
He cut her off, “I don’t see why that matters.”
“It does and you know it.”
“That doesn’t mean we can’t remain friends. I've known you since we were kids.”
“We both know ‘friends’ doesn’t exactly entail our relationship,” said curtly and then sighed, “I have my responsibilities as Head of the Amethisti Guard and after tonight you have obligations is as Lord Sapphiri. As much as I’d like to keep things the same . . .” she trailed off and didn’t have to finish for him to put two and two together.
. . . but things can never be the same. He hated the thought even as he knew she was right.
She looked away. If he didn’t know her better he’d think she might be tearing up. However he knew it took a lot more than an awkward conversation to make her cry.
Around them the melody was weaving in and out of the slow dancing couples. Thankfully they had stopped near the middle of the dance floor and the other dancers had adjusted around them. It was a slow elegant dance, one Cort recognized from an era when things were allot less complicated between them. **Victorian Era song
“I should go,” she broke him out of his retrospective trance and tried to walk away.
He tightened on her waist and held her in place, “Wait.” Then doing something he hadn’t done in many years he reached out and touched her mind telepathically; not deeply but just enough to hear what he projected and the honest sincerity behind it.
Then dance this last dance with me.
She recoiled at first, throwing up a smoke screen to evade any further access to her mind but when he remain on the outskirts just leaving the thought, infused with all the finality of the request, she relaxed slightly and agreed.
Retaking her hand he started them back into a slow swaying rhythm. She replaced her hand lightly on his slim shoulder and slowly relaxed further. Cort didn’t withdraw his mind but let it linger quietly on the surface of hers. They didn’t think or say anything, just let their minds brush feeling contact the other. Instead of blending back in with the other dancers, Cort kept them spinning in a slow swaying circle that didn't move around. Their embrace wasn’t romantic but it wasn’t exactly platonic either. It was closer to that of ex-lovers whose initial friendship had survived despite the odds.
Roxanne tried not to be aware of the glances and stares focused on them. While part of her dreaded more rumors, for his sake now more than hers, the other part was tired of caring. Despite what everyone might think, they were not and had never been lovers. However her chest tightened with guilt. True they hadn't technically been intimate. But if she wasn't so broken and hadn't done the right thing, their judging stares would have been right. She just hoped for his sake they looked down at her, not him. He didn't need any extra hindrances in taking up his new position.
When the song ended they pulled away, both physically and telepathically. Even though they only brushed the surface of each other’s minds, words now seemed a crude method of communication. Roxanne looked up and noticed, like she always did, the darker blue flecks in his already blue eyes. She took a deep breath and quirked a rueful smile. It tugged out a smile from him and he knew what she meant:
See ya around . . . thing have changed but I’ll still see ya around.
Bringing her hand to his lips, he placed a very light kiss on her pale knuckles, telling her he understood, and then walked off the dance floor. When he turned to look back she was going in the opposite direction. Despite the pit of longing in his stomach, he felt some relief. He couldn’t fix what was going to change between them after tonight but he felt like this was adequate closure. He resolved himself to enjoy the rest of the evening.
The party continued to unfold into the night and both Cort and Roxanne kept their distance from the other. Cort was busy greeting and talking with the vampiric royalty and visiting ambassadors. Roxanne made small talk with the Head of the Sapphiri Guard, Joline, and some of the other prominent military figures. She also made work of making sure her guard and protégé Seth wasn't a complete wall flower.
****Cort and Xavier talk briefly.
When it came time to begin with the main reason of the occasion, Lady Islya Sapphiri called for everyone’s attention.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, as Heads of the Sapphiri House we would like to extend our thanks for joining us on this special occasion and a special thanks to our friends from the around the Twelve Houses.” Everyone looked to the front of the room where Lady Islya and her co-head, Lord David, stood a midst the stunning blue chandeliers and black ribbon that adorned the stage.
Lord Sapphiri continued where she had left off, “As you all are well aware, we have invited you here this night to announce who we have decided who will take the place of male heir to the Sapphiri House.” He motioned for both Cort and Xavier to join him. When they did, he put a hand on each of their shoulders. “As a father, it was no easy task to choose between you two. As I’ve watched you grow up from children, to rebellious teens, into the men I know today, I’m proud to be your father; even if I still sometimes have trouble telling you apart.” The crowd collectively chuckled.
Olivia began when the room quieted down again, “I want to let you two know that I’m so proud of both of you as well,” she kissed and hugged both of them to their barley concealed embarrassment. A resounding “Momma” came from both of the twins. The crowd laughed again.
Lady Islya echoed her own praise to the boys and states how she looked forward to the day when he own daughter Julia was to work beside them as the next generation of the Sapphiri.
Lord David cleared his throat, “Well, that being said I should not keep the suspense going any longer.”
He and Lady Islya spoke together, “As Co-Heads of the Sapphiri House we have decided to name Xavier Male Heir to the Sapphiri House.”
While watching from the crowd, Roxanne all of the sudden collapsed.
He ignored Xavier and kept walking.
“Cort, wait up,” his brother called again.
Cort refused to acknowledge him.
“Don’t be like this, brother. We knew it would be decided someday.” The instant the words left Xavier’s mouth he wanted to take them back. The special telepathic link that he and his brother shared flared. Cort never controlled it well and Xavier was the last person he wanted to see right now.
Cort turned around and focused his icy stare at his twin. “What is it, Xavier? Come to gloat? Say you had no idea? Yeah well I know. Just leave me the hell alone.” He turned and continued down the hall, regaining control of the link and putting an equally icy silence between them.
Xavier didn’t move to follow him again; something in Cort’s eyes stopped him.
“Are you at least going to check on Roxanne?”
Another flicker went through their link; painful like a salt rubbed wound.
Cort paused for a moment, “She’s already in good hands. Hell, I probably caused it…” he gritted his teeth. “Just … go back to the party, brother,” he then disappeared down the hall.
Xavier grimaced. He felt their telepathic bond cut off from the distance. He knew Cort was headed for the garage. He always reverted to escaping in his car when he was angry.
For a moment Xavier just stood there. He tried to put all that had just happened into perspective. He didn’t expect, or even contemplate, that his father and Lady Islya would choose him. Cort was after all, the oldest; not to mention that when they were being taught he had not even given a second thought to anything that had to do with ruling while Cort had slaved over it. He figured why bother. “Choosing” either of them was just a formality, or so he had thought. He shook his head to clear his thoughts. If he didn’t return soon someone, namely his mother, would come looking.
When he arrived back at the ballroom, it was mostly empty. The guests had all probably retired to their rooms or the like to discuss this new turn of events. His mother spotted him and walked over. Despite the previous chaos his mother retained her dignified aura. Her eyes questioned the whereabouts of Cort.
Xavier shook his head, “He was headed for the garage. I’ve never seen him so… angry.”
“Oh, my baby,” she put a hand over her mouth.
Xavier hugged her, “It’s alright, Mama.”
She laughed shakily but hugged him back, “And I’m supposed to be the one comforting you.”
She moved to fix his messy hair.
Xavier inwardly sighed at her actions but let her put the black strands back in place. It was a habit he knew she’d never get over no matter how old he got.
“Don’t worry. I’m sure he’ll be back sooner or later.”
Xavier agreed but wasn’t entirely at ease. The look Cort had given him . . . “How’s
She didn’t reply.
Her eyebrows furrowed, “They think she went into another of her psychic fits.”
Xavier pulled back, “What?”
The last time Roxanne had had one of these fits, she had almost started to desiccate from being unable to feed while inside her coma. She was someone whose vampiric seventh sense had a really nasty side effect. It was by far the worst one he had ever seen. While most people’s seventh sense was something physical, hers was one of the few mental. Her sense allowed her to almost completely stop time while in her premonition world. She could be in one for hours while only passing a few seconds of real time. Unfortunately, sometimes she couldn’t get back out.
Xavier remembered the first time she had one back when they were at the academy.
Xavier looked pensively at his friend. She was sitting in the clinic bed being held up by big sterile white pillows. Her hands were shaking slightly around the mug of blood causing the red liquid to spill over the side slightly.
“Carful,” the healer who had just handed Roxanne the glass wrapped her hands around the young vampire’s wobbly ones. With slow motions she helped Roxanne take sips.
Xavier watched as vitality visibly drained back into Roxanne’s face. When she finished the mug, the nurse said she’d be right back with another.
Roxanne threw on a smile, “Don’t worry, I’m ok now.”
“What . . . what happened? I mean if you don’t wanna talk about it . . .”
“No, it’s fine. It’ll probably happen again someday . . . I haven’t really mastered my seventh sense yet. I guess that’s one of the reasons were at the academy anyways.”
Xavier hesitated a moment then asked, “What’s it like, being in your future world I mean?” he didn’t know what else to call the weird seventh sense she had described.
“It’s like living in your dreams for years and then waking up to find that only a day has passed.”
Xavier shuddered, coming back up from the memory. She was often out for days.
“Julia took her back to her room. You might as well go get changed. She probably won’t wake up for a while and your father wanted to speak to you in his study.”
She kissed his forehead, “I love you.”
“Love you to, Mama.”
Xavier headed for the hallway that led to his room. He passed one of the few people still in the ballroom. The man inclined his head, “Lord Xavier.”
Xavier returned the nod unconsciously but almost stopped a few paces ahead.
Then all of the sudden it hit him. He was now Heir of the Sapphiri Clan. The impact of the realization was almost overwhelming. Once he was safely down a few halls where none of the guests were likely walking around he leaned heavily against the wall. Looking up at the ornately engraved ceiling he took a few deep breaths to try and steady his thoughts.
The familiar looping swirl pattern on the ceiling he’d seen all his life was oddly comforting. He rarely stopped to notice the beautiful artwork and craftsmanship that made the Sapphiri Mansion what it was. He’d spent all his life there but for some reason life inspecting moments like these made him notice the tiniest things.
He ran both his hands through his black hair that was overdue for a trim. Normally he liked to keep it relatively short, two to three inches at most, but at the moment he could see it clearly from the corner of his eye. With everything that had been going on in the weeks before the party he'd not really noticed. He sighed and shifted his weight, not wanting to move but didn’t want to be caught just standing there aimlessly. After another moment’s contemplation he decidedly straightened and then began down the hall towards his room.
Lord David and Lady Islya spoke together, “As Co-Heads of the Sapphiri House we have decided to name Xavier as Male Heir to the Sapphiri House.”
Cort barely registered his father’s voice. The applause suddenly cut short and several people gasped. Cort took in the sight of Roxanne’s purple spilled form on the floor and was instantly was down the platform and by her side. Her face was contorted in a painful expression and she was breathing sharply.
“Roxanne! What’s wrong?!”
She didn’t respond.
Roxanne! Cort called again both mentally and physically, grabbing her shoulders trying to get a response. His heart was pounding, fear and dread shot through him like liquid fire.
“Damn it, Roxanne. Snap out of it!” he pleaded.
He felt hands pulling him back, “Brother, stop.”
Cort looked at Xavier and then back at Roxanne with a pained and frantic expression.
Julia had run up and was examining Roxanne with deft hands. “She’s not responding.” She put her fingers on Roxanne’s temples and concentrated; her eyes glowed blue from using her seventh sense; one that extremely heightened her telepathic sixth sense.
All of a sudden, Roxanne relaxed and closed her eyes.
“I rendered her unconscious. Her mind was too much in the vision.” Julia motioned for Seth, Roxanne’s escort from her Guard, to help carry her to her room.
Cort stood there stunned watching Seth as he picked up Roxanne gently and dutifully carried his commander through the parted crowd. He was waiting for all this to start making sense but it wasn’t. He felt the eyes of all the people in the room turn on him and Xavier.
His father’s announcement rang in his ears, “We have decided to name Xavier as Male Heir to the Sapphiri House.”
Cort looked at his twin and saw his own shock mirrored on Xavier’s face.
What are you looking at me for? You’re the big Heir now.
The thought flared so ice cold Cort was a little surprised by it. The longer he stood there the more his confusion turned to fire in his gut. If he didn’t leave now he knew he was going to blow up and there was no way in hell he was going to allow himself to throw a temper tantrum in front of all these people.
“If you’ll excuse me, ladies and gentlemen, I think I am going to retire for the night. Please, enjoy the reminder of the evening,” he said decidedly and then headed for the nearest exit with a definite but quick pace.
Not even before he made it part way down the hall he felt Xavier following him. He gritted his teeth and did his best to ignore his brother and his concern flowing over their telepathic link.
Just keep walking, Cort. He told himself.
“Cort, wait up,” Xavier called again.
Go away little brother. I don’t have the patience to deal with this or you right now.
Xavier was even closer now, “Don’t be like this, brother. We knew it would be decided someday.”
Cort’s control slipped and his anger and frustration flowed through the telepathic link. He turned on Xavier and shot him a cold glare. “What is it, Xavier? Come to gloat? Say you had no idea? Yeah well I know. Just leave me the hell alone.” The mini-outburst was enough for Cort to get back into control of himself and walk away without acting on his frustrations and beating his brother to a bloody pulp right then and there.
“Are you at least going to check on Roxanne?”
The comment made Cort stop. Roxanne. . . Just thinking about her now made everything seem that much worse. Their last conversation now only rubbed salt in the wound. “She’s already in good hands. Hell, I probably caused it…” He gritted his teeth, “Just … go back to the party, brother.” He continued quickly down the hall not wanting to hear anything more.
Once he got to the garage, he opened the door to his car (pick car) and slid in. What he needed to do now was not to think; at least until he was calm enough to make sense of what had happened. As soon as the garage door was open, he floored it and sped off the grounds. The tires made a screech that probably left a few marks on the asphalt of the driveway. The road that went from the remote mansion was full of twists and turns through the dense forest. However Cort didn’t slow down much for them; partially for the fact that he’d traveled them so many times but mostly because safety was the last thing on his mind. Once he made it down the five mile stretch he turned on the main road that joined the highway leading into Seattle and then opened up to the miles of freeway connecting the country.
The sun was starting to come up when Cort finally pulled off the highway. He had outrun three cops and hadn’t been under 100mph since he got on the highway. If he could have kept going he would have but he knew that as soon as that sun came up he’d have the reflexes similar to a drunk human. He wasn’t used to being out in daylight like some vampires and had little tolerance to its piercing rays.
The hotel was neither fancy nor was it run down. The sign outside claimed it was a “Best Western.” Whether that meant it was the best western themed hotel or the best chain of western hotels he didn’t know. When he got to the lobby he figured it was the latter. Humans had weird ways of naming things. He checked in mindlessly; ignoring the odd look the front desk woman gave him for checking in at this time of night. He trudged through the deserted lobby and up to the room. After finally getting the dumb key card to open the door, he collapsed on the fluffy white bed As much as he tried to just stare at the ceiling, his thoughts drifted to the night’s events and Roxanne.
. . . What she ok?
. . . Did she wake up already?
. . . Could she see him in this pitiful state now?
That last thought is what made Cort so restless. He was extremely exhausted and tense but his mind was nowhere near sleep. The present circumstances were so bizarre he was still, even after that long speed drunken drive, trying to make sense of it all. Why he was here instead of circling back the mansion he didn’t know. Well, actually he did know that if he admitted it to himself. He couldn’t bear to face his family or anyone for that matter. The way he had stormed off and the childishness of his running away was something he didn’t want to own up to just yet.
He wished he had something that he could take to force sleep. Unfortunately no one had come up with anything that worked on vampires. Chemicals were useless and plants at best did nothing to their system. More vampires had been harmed than helped when it came to herbal testing. There was nothing to do but to lie down and just attempt to relax.
After about ten minutes Cort sat up and rubbed his eyes irritated. This wasn’t working. Throwing the covers off, he stood up and paced over to the window. There was still about an hour of night till the sun came up. He scratched the side of his face absently and felt the slight stubble there. Normally it would bother him but right now his preference of keeping very clean shaven didn’t seem that important. He sighed and then closed the blackout curtains carefully; sunlight was not something he wanted to deal with anytime soon.
Looking back around the room he noticed the television. Since he couldn’t sleep he figured some mindless human cinema might help him nod off. He found the remote by the bed and got under the plush covers again. The first thing that flashed on the screen was a news anchor talking about some armed robbery. Clicking through the channels he scanned through everything from a warring cat and mouse to overly tearful Spanish dramas. He finally settled on one that featured two cops trailing some serial killer. As the show droned on Cort could feel his physical weariness start to win out and he eventually fell asleep with the TV still making bluish reflections on the wall.
Xavier tossed his tux coat over a chair and went to work on his tie. When loosened, he deposited it and his shirt with the coat. His thoughts were turbulent and a new nervousness about speaking to his father coiled in the pit of his stomach. A fear about not being able to live up to his father's expectation was something he'd never really faced before. Cort was the responsible one not him. A soft knock sounded at his door but he didn't notice. After a lengthy pause the knock came again, louder this time, followed by a voice. He jumped slightly.
“Xavier, can I come in?” Natalia called.
He sighed, “Yeah.”
She heard the reluctance in his voice, “If you wanna be alone it’s alright.”
“No, come in. I’m just… lost in thought.” He heard the door open and then close quietly behind her. The soft swish of her dress announced her approach. He didn’t move when her arms snaked around his torso and he simply let her hug him from behind. He didn’t really know what to say so he let the silence envelope them.
After a few moments, she let go and made her way into his closet. He sighed and slumped down on the edge of the bed. He still couldn’t quite come up with something to say. Luckily, she understood this and was going to work on making him think about more immediate things.
Rummaging noises sounded from the adjacent room. “It’s amazing you can find anything in here,” she commented.
He didn’t reply.
She soon returned, carrying casual jeans and a plain grey button down shirt. “Here, get dressed,” she put them in his hands.
“Do you honestly think I could do this?”
“Well I’d hoped you’d have learned how to get dressed on your own by now,” she laughed.
He almost glared at her, “I’m not joking Natalia.”
She immediately sobered and sat down next to him. “Sorry. I was just trying to lighten you up.” She paused for a moment. “Well, I know that you’re head is in the right place, you can keep your temper in check, you’ve got a good heart and good sense of justice. Knowing that, I’d say that you can do it if you set your mind to it.”
He looked at her with a raised eyebrow, “That’s all huh?”
“What else do you want me to say? I’m bad with words too.” She nudged his shoulder, “Just be you, that’s all you need to be. Lady Sapphiri and your parents know you can do it too.”
Xavier’s expression darkened with her words.
“What?”She didn’t see what made his mood suddenly change.
“Apparently they thought Cort couldn’t,” he replied in a dark tone.
Her eyes widened when she realized how that must have sounded to him. “Oh, I didn’t mean it like that. I’m sorry. It’s just that–”
“Don’t apologize. I know you didn’t. It’s just I feel like I’ve betrayed him. He was so angry and here I’ve taken what he’s worked his whole life for.”
“Hey, that’s not fair. He knew that it could have been either one of you. I think his pride is what was wounded the most. He wasn’t expecting it. And frankly, I think given the same circumstances I probably would have done the same thing.” She reached up and kissed his cheek, “So don’t worry about it.”
He caught her cheek before she could move away and stared into her sapphire eyes, “Thanks.” He leaned down and returned the kiss, pulling her closer with his other hand. She mumbled an excuse but he ignored it. Soon she was kissing him back just as fervently.
Xavier moaned lightly into the kiss. He'd admit when they first were together Natalia wasn't the greatest kisser. Now though, he didn't have any complaints. He'd never admit it aloud but the fact that he'd taught her so well stroked his ego in the most satisfying way. Hew lightly extended his mind to brush at the surface of her and she grasped the tendril in reply allowing both of them to feel the surface of each other. This was something he'd taken a little while to get used to as well. Mind linking was intimate even on a surface level but it made her comfortable so he learned to oblige. It did have its benefits though. Why use works when you could just project what you felt and wanted to your partner.
When he started tugging her zipper down, she grabbed his hand and tried to pull away.
Not now, her telepathic voice breathed between them since their mouths were otherwise occupied.
Yes now, he replied, ignoring the warning infused in her message. He didn’t feel like dealing with the other things ringing around his head. The image of her dress decorating his floor and them not leaving this room for a good ling while was much more appealing.
She caught the thought before he could hide it again and mentally blushed, pulling away more forcibly. I mean it, Xavier. Her eyes mirrored the seriousness her mind now eminated. He knew she wasn’t going to be swayed. Sighing, he rested his head on her shoulder. She pulled away from his mind; trying to distance each other more.
“Come on, you need to get going. You’re father still wants to talk to you.”
“He didn’t say when,” it came out more like a whine than he intended.
“No, but I think it's safe to assume he meant tonight. Plus, you’re brooding over it so much that I could see it even with all your… dirty thoughts spiraling around too.” She untangled herself from him and stood up, pulling her dress back into place.
“You had some pretty dirty thoughts of your own there.” He smirked, thinking of the image he caught in her mind of him making his way to that sport just below her collarbone that she loved so much.
She flushed. “Well I at least have my priorities straight.”
“So you admit it is a priority.”
“Ugh, stop trying to turn this around on me.” She grabbed his clothes that had been knocked to the ground and tossed them in his face. “Now get changed.”
His smirk grew. Just before she closed the door to the bathroom he projected into her mind. Don’t think you’re getting away so easy. I plan on continuing this when I return. He knew she was blushing by how quickly she pushed him out of her mind and closed the door.
Chuckling, he got up, put on the jeans and pulled the delicate black buttons through the loops on the shirt.. Then walking up to the bathroom door, he knocked loudly.
A wave of frazzled irritation hit him, "What?”
It took all his will to keep his voice disinterested, “I need a comb.”
“Alright, if you want me to go out looking like I’ve just made out with my girlfriend that’s fine by me.”
A comb slid out from under the door and hit his foot.
“You're seriously bi-polar medication. First you’re depressed then you’re lust-drunk, now you’re just plain obnoxious.”
“Love you too.”
“Go away.” Something hit the other side of the door producing a menacing whack. It sounded like her hair dryer. He decided that now was a good time to leave.
Making his way down the hallway and toward the library and his father’s study, Xavier felt another wave of nervousness set in. When he reached the doors to his destination, he could feel the presence of both his father and Lady Sapphiri on the other side. They were too deep into their conversation to notice him. Xavier set his shoulders, took a deep breath, pulled open the door and made his way inside.
Both his father and Lady Islya looked up from their conversation when Xavier entered.
"Ah, good you're here," Lady Islya said.
"I'm sorry I kept you waiting."
"Don't worry, I was just talking a few things over with your father," she was still wearing her graceful deep blue dress she wore to the party. The only she changed was she let her hair out of her bun and removed her heels.
Lord David motioned to the remaining chair around the coffee table, "Take a seat, son."
Xavier did so and tried not to immediately burst out the questions that had been plaguing his mind. His father's study seemed oddly unfamiliar enough though Xavier had been there countless times before. The shelves of books he'd browsed through seemed like strangers and the large ornate desk looked daunting. He resisted the urge to shift in the chair as Lady Islya continued where she'd left off before Xavier had come in.
"This may sound like a cliché I-told-you-so but as it stands, David, my prediction came true., I know it's not pleasant but I hope this finally convinces you that our decision was the proper one."
Lord David's face was extremely somber and as Xavier looked closely he say his father's face had aged. Not literally of course, he was a vampire and of course looked to be somewhere in his twenties, but the sense of again was there all the same. Xavier was sure they were referring to the decision to choose him over Cort but the question of why still burned on his mind.
"Yes, you were right on this instance Islya but I still can't say I agree completely."
"Irrelevant, the decision has been made and we must abide by it."
If Xavier didn't know any better Islya would have sounded almost heartless but he knew she was just like that when it came to matters of state. He finally succumbed to the urge to readjust himself in the chair and as nonchalantly as possible brushed at the itch on his chin.
"Anyways, we have more pressing matters to discuss such as bringing Xavier up to speed. "She looked at him, "You're probably quite shocked from all this."
"I wouldn't say shocked, I understand what happened but I don't understand why on earth you would select me ad Heir over Cort." He didn't say it but he was even more confused after seeing his own father's doubt on the selection. "I mean, he is oldest after all."
"Yes, but by law both of you are eligible to assume the position. You knew that. When it comes to twins the factor of who is oldest is a matter of chance," Islya said matter-of-factly.
Xavier had heard this many times before. It usually came tacked into a lecture about talking his political training more seriously when he was younger. "Please let's not pretend we had an equal viewing all our lives. Cort has always been the one you favored and you know I was completely fine with it. I never wanted the position like Cort did."
David hesitated. Xavier was right and by all means; he had even told him straight out that he wanted Cort to become Heir. (*** Add in more here maybe)
When neither of them answered Xavier, he frowned. "What is going on? I have a right to know why I'm here instead of Cort."
Islya looked at her co-leader but he didn't seem like he was about to launch into an explanation. She sighed, "There isn't anything were keeping that you were authorized to know. The intricate matters of state and council are not discussed with non-council members. Until tonight neither of you were the official Heir and as such these matters were not your concern as you very well know. However the reason you were chosen over your brother doesn't have as much to do with that as is does more a range of various circumstances."
Xavier suppressed his rising irritation. Lady Islya was more than three times his afe and spike in long looping phrases. At this moment though, he wanted straight answers and not roundabout sentiments.
David cut in, "It isn't that we just chose you over Cort on a whim, son. There were many factors we had to ponder over and even then we had to take it to the council because we couldn't come to a decision."
"What are you talking about?" Xavier was even more mystified now. The only time matters of the House were taken to the Vampiric Council were when the Heads of the House couldn't decided over a large issue between themselves. This meant his father and Islya hadn't chosen him at all, the collective council had chosen him over his brother. "What could have possibly been so important that Cort couldn't become Heir?"
It was clear that his father had still wanted Cort to succeed him. Xavier turned his gaze back to Islya who sat looking calm and in control as usual.
She raised an eyebrow, "Yes, that's right, I'm the one who didn't want Cort to become Heir. Or rather, said the reason he shouldn't outweighed the reasons he should. The council agreed with me." She met Xavier's gaze evenly and readjusted herself in the chair so she sat up straighter, "There are things about being a Head of a House that don't deal with how good you are with political logistics."
"And those things would be?" he asked evenly and politely as possible. He was getting tired of this hoop jumping already and wanted just one straight answer.
Lord David could tell his son's patience was wearing thin. His own had already been sapped during the party and the weeks of stress leading up to it. He didn't know if he had the strength to reiterate the details to Xavier this late but yet he didn't want him to have to hear it in the matter-of-face and unsympathetic way Islya would tell it to him.
"Son, it's a multifaceted and complex explanation and we'd be here all though the day and into the next night."
"There had to have been a core reason."
"Well in my mind there were two but standing on their own they sound quite . . ." she searched for the word, "heartless."
David interjected before Islya could say more, "The council felt that many of Cort's political views and such things would cause problems not just for the House but for vampire kind as a whole. Relations with the shapeshifters have been poor for the last few hundred years ever since the hunter incidents and now the there are new tensions with the witches."
Xavier frowned. Cort had always been somewhat of an extremist in vampire politics when it came to foreign relations. He didn't see the point in the bickering between the supernatural races but as Xavier had tried to tell his brother on his many rants that old grudges died hard. Especially when many on the council were around when they happened. "You can't expect me to believe that is the main reason. Policy difference."
"Of course not, but like I said in the balance of things it was taken into account," David replied.
"Actually, all in all Cort probably would have won out despite all the exact for one thing. You could say it was the feather that just tipped the scale," Islya sighed. "Like I said, it sounds heartless on its own but it's not something easily overlooked. As Head of a House it is one's obligation to marry and ensure that there will be an Heir to take over when the time comes. I think you can see where I'm going with this."
"That's hardly an excuse! There's no law saying that one must be married. In fact most don't find their mate for many years after they even take over as Head of the House."
Islya looked at David and then back at Xavier, "You're going to make me come out and say it then."
Damn straight, Xavier thought but only looked at Islya expectantly.
"Cort's relationship with the Head of the Amethisti Guard, Roxanne, has been decided to be problematic. Cort hasn't put himself out in society as he should in getting to know potential partners. At first it would have been problematic for him to choose Roxanne Amethisti as she is not of our clan but it has happened a few times in our history so it would have just been that. However even after her appointment as Head of the Guard and then marriage, Cort still fixated on her. A hundred years later Roxanne is now un married but unwilling to resign her position. We may be immortal but a hundred years is still a long time, Xavier."
Willing himself to remain composed Xavier gritted his teeth. So what about their relationship. Cort had been trying to move on, he really had. Xavier knew that better than anyone. How could the council say Cort could not step up to his obligation when they hardly knew him. Something tugged at the back of his mind. It was the image of Cort and Roxanne dancing at the announcement party. He didn't want to admit it but to any idle onlooker there was obviously more than friendship there. However to say that Cort was unfit to be Heir because his personal life was a little messy was taking it too far.
Cort closed his eyes and tried to relax, concentrating on the steady stream of warm water poring over him instead of the pounding headache he'd woken to. He was trying to relax but the hotel’s pool was below his room and there were a bunch of kids shouting and screaming. The bathroom’s walls lessened the noise some but not completely. They had woke him up about ten minutes ago and he'd been in the shower trying to ignore them ever since. It was too early in the afternoon for him to be awake but now that he was up there was no getting back to sleep.
His thoughts drifted to Roxanne again. A part of him wished that she would suddenly show up here. He could picture it perfectly. She’d come barging in the door scolding him for acting like such a kid and more than likely it would come in the company of physical abuse; all the while that cute little crease between her eyebrows would be there showing that deep down she was actually really worried . . .
Cort jerked his thoughts away. There was no way Roxanne would be awake already. He had seen her go into one of her vision comas before and this one was bad. Maybe if he had reacted better . . .
A knock on the front door startled Cort.
“Housekeeping,” a high feminine voice called.
He turned off the water and listened intently. Housekeeping?
Two more knocks came followed by the same call for this 'housekeeping'.
Well whatever it was, Cort didn’t want the woman to knock all day. Grabbing a towel he stepped out of the shower forgetting the remnant shampoo suds in his hair. Before he could answer the front door opened and in came a young looking Latino girl pulling a cleaning cart.
Her eyes widened when she saw him, “Oh, I’m so sorry, sir. No one answered so I thought . . . I am so sorry, please forgive me.”
Seeing the cleaning cart made the housekeeping notion vaguely click in Cort’s mind but that was irrelevant. The rush of blood to the girl’s cheeks was hard to ignore and it reminded him of the breakfast he hadn't eaten yet.
“It’s alright,” he saw the Do Not Disturb sign hanging on the back of the door. So that’s why they put that there . . . He shot her what he hoped was a reassuring smile. “I should have remembered to put out the sign.”
“No, no, it was my fault,” she started backing her cart out into the hallway. “Please, call the front desk if there is anything we can do for you.”
Cort didn't hesitate, "Wait," he said and she looked back at him like she expected a scolding. She gasped and took a step back as soon as she saw him again. He wasn't worried though, it was just a human's normal reaction to witnessing a vampire's demonic glowing eyes and deadly pointed fangs. However it wasn't so much her attention that Cort wanted by t her eye contact. A soon as his eyes locked in hers he send out an authorities mental grip. Her mind recoiled instantly but she was human and had no resistance against his mental assault. Cort felt her consciousness give way and she blinked twice numbly back at him.
Leave the cart and go sit down, he ordered her. She obediently compiled and sat down on the hotel desk chair just like he'd said. Wait there.
He walked back into the backroom to rinse out the remaining shampoo and dry off. As he toweled his hair he kept his mental grasp on the girl, whose name he found was Sierra. If he left go without properly compelling her to forget she would run screaming from the room. The sensation of holding another's mind in submission was both thrilling and difficult. One had to constantly pay attention to their mental state so as to not aggravate resistance. At the same time you had to keep a steady presence of force as to not lose them.
Cort hurried and pulled on his jeans then walked back out. She of course was still sitting there obediently. His eyes were still glowing dark ice blue from using telepathy and he could feel the familiar ache in his fangs that resulted from being so close to feeding. He was hungry from his long drive and hadn't had much more than that blood wine snack at the party. The rhythmic pounding of the girl's heart kept him hyperaware of the dry parched feeling in the back of his throat. It would turn into painful flames throughout the day if not satisfied.
He didn't waste time. Moving behind the short backed chair he hovered over her and pulled her neck to the ideal angle. She didn't resist in the slightest stared quietly at the wall. He could smell her blood type easily now, a sweet O Positive. Taking a sustaining breath of air, he bit her neck. The warm blood spilled into his mouth and he could feel her mind more clearly now. Drinking from someone strengthened a telepathic connection greatly and now not only could he feel her conscious mind but also the unconscious one that was fervently trying to break his control.
Stop, what are you doing? Get away from me you monster! She recoiled at him. Pain water over with the words, Having blood taken unwillingly was excruciating to one's psyche whether one was human, vampire, or any other supernatural creature for that matter. Humans however didn't have the telepathic strength to fight it. He mentally shoved her back and focused on the feeling of his throat cooling and thirst being quenched.
After a few moments she was too weak and her subconscious also faded out to the mental paralysis. Cort barley noticed her only being able to focus on the satisfying feeling flowing through him.
Muhuum, so good . . . warm . . . delicious . . .
She had already go ne limp after physically falling unconscious but Cort kept drinking, holding her in position instinctively.
Finally he felt satisfied and pulled away. He sighed and licked his lips for the drops that had escaped. Looking down at the now very pale girl he prober her mind. Her cognitive processes were wear and her pulse was only just there. He sighed and stood up. He couldn't just leave her here lest by some chance a vampire hunter happened by and connected a blood drained girl to the name registered to the room. He looked around for a solution. The car was still at the doorway but the door had swung closed on its own. Moving quickly he grabbed his few personal items, his wallet, shirt, an car keys, and made sure no blood had gotten anywhere. Thankfully he'd always been a pretty clean feeder so the only visible blood was a few stains on the girl's white collar and there was nothing he could do about that.
After pushing the cart back into the hall and down a few doors he carried the girl out and placed her on the floor to look as if she'd suddenly fainted or fallen while doing her rounds. Then making one last check of the room he picked up the card key and went back out to the hallway. Sierra's chest rose and fell shallowly and her heartbeat was faint. Considering for a moment, Cort debated on whether or not to just go ahead and kill her. She probably wouldn't remember anything but if she did . . . it was better to be safe than sorry. Placing his hand around her neck he applied pressure to her windpipe. She didn't struggle and it didn't' take long to choke the last bit of life out of her. Some blood from the puncture wound on her neck got on his hand which he looked off absentmindedly as he stood up.
Not wanting to be there when she was found Cort headed for the stairway. He needed to get out of here just in case questions were asked. He shied away from the windows that steamed in sunlight. Unfortunately now he couldn't wait for the sun to set before getting back on the road.
When he entered the bustling lobby he wanted to turn around and retreat back to his blacked out room. There were people going and coming through the lobby and the air was thick with the scent of cologne, hotel food, and warm bodies. Focusing on the scent of the strong over brewed coffee wafting out of breakfast room next door, he checked out as quickly as possible and then headed to where his car was parked outside.
"Oh fuck that's bright," he swore as he walked outside. He immediately put on his sunglasses. Despite them though he was still squinting against the harsh light. As quickly as he dared with human around he made his way across the parking lot to his car. He opened the door and felt a little relief when the light no longer touched his skin though the darkly tinted windows. The short walk across the lot was enough to make him have to stop and take a minute. The sun didn't care if he'd just fed; direct contact still sapped his energy like no tomorrow. How some got tolerant of it he didn't know.
Cort slipped the key into the ignition and started the car. He didn't really know where he was aside from somewhere in Northern California or where he wanted to go. The fill tank light was blinking though so gas was first priority before going much of anywhere. The road the hotel was on also had a couple of gas stations so he pulled into the one with a moan yellow sea shell on its sign. He figured getting back on the interstate and continuing south was his best bet. The thought of starting back for home was still out of the question. He'd pick up a map in the station's convenience store so he could figure out just where the hell he was actually at.
While he waited for the pump to finished gassing up, Cort absently looked around the station. There were people going in and out of the convenience store; most of them family groups probably on a road trip judging by the minivans they were piling into. There was an overhang shielding the pumps from the five o'clock sun so Cort didn't feel like he was baking inside his own skin.
Just as the pump clicked signaling that it was full a truck pulled up to the pump behind him. When the door opened a young woman speaking rapidly into her cell phone got out. The thick antenna was caught and tangled in her wild curly red hair but she didn't seem to notice. He blinked and studied her more closely. There was something about her that defiantly wasn't human. A shapeshifter maybe? She wasn't giving off a magical aura like witches usually did. Her expression was serious and she began to refuel automatically still talking on the phone.
"I don't care what Akura said, we're almost out," she paused and listened with an annoyed looked before lowering her voice so low Cot had to stain to hear, "If we don't make a raid tonight we're going to end up with another shortage and you know how well that goes."
Just then she glanced up and their eyes met. She froze for a split second and her eyes widened then they narrowed dangerously.
"I'll call you back," she said quickly and ended the call. She strode towards Cort with her hands on her hips, "Who do you think you are?"
Cort was surprised by the woman's completely blatant question. He decided to humor her. "Nice to meet you too."
"Don't give me any bull. What are you doing here? We don't take kindly to spying."
Now Cort was really confused, "I don't know what you're talking about. I'm just getting some gas before-."
She cut him off, "Cut the crap. Go back and tell Uilcil that I don't plan on taking this lightly."
"Look ma'am, I really don't know what you're talking about. I'm just getting gas before getting back on the road."
She eyed him suspiciously but couldn't deny the honest confusion on his face. "Fine, so when you're finished you won't mind if I make sure you're not sticking around?"
"Be my guest. I don't even know anyone named Uilcil."
She looked at him with disdain and then walked dismissively back to her truck.
Cort shook his head. Defiantly a shapeshifter, he thought. They were always extremely territorial, especially against vampires like himself. She was still gassing up so Cort walked quickly over to the convenience store to buy a map. By the time he'd come back out she was waiting in her truck staring at him impatiently. Getting into the Challenger he drove back into the street and towards the I5 onramp. Her truck followed him closely behind.
About ten miles down she finally exited and ceased following him. Cort seriously wished he hadn't picked that particular station for gas. She had pretty much tailgated him the entire way; her expression in his rearview mirror never changed from that annoyed, impatient stare. If his Challenger was alive he was sure that the car would have felt violated. Cort had never felt to mistrusted for no reason before.
Oh well, I’ll probably never see her again.