"Once I was promised absolution
There's only one solution for my sins
You gotta face your ghosts and know
With no illusions
That only one of you is going home again"
Jon Bon Jovi, "Santa Fe"
Meaty fists slammed into the wall, trying to break through the solid concrete. Hades threw himself against the door, but it too refused to budge. He stepped over the body lying on the floor and sat down on the bed.
Hades was scared. He'd broken a lot of rules, sure, and he'd expected to get called on it sooner or later. That he could handle. But you don't just jump somebody in an alley and throw them in a cage unless you're going to do some serious damage to them. He wondered just how much damage his misdeeds warranted.
The bed was soft and piled with pillows. It didn't jive with his idea of punishment. You can't pamper someone to death, can you? He glanced at the cooling corpse, wanting to get rid of it. `Never leave trash in the house,' his sire told him. `It's distasteful.' This from a man who wrote his victims' screams into musical notation, claiming that it would be a masterpiece for the ages. *That* vamp was one crazy motherfucker.
Almost as crazy as Hades would be if he didn't get out of this place.
"You found what?" Celchu's eyes blazed. Fonteyn didn't flinch.
"He was staked in Central Park. The note read; `L'ho dato a voi.'-- `I give to you.'"
"I didn't order that." The Prince's face was paler than usual.
"I know you didn't."
"And the fire in the Village?"
Fonteyn looked down at his notes. "It was deliberately set. The Police confirmed it. Twenty-three Brujah were trapped in the building. The ones who tried to escape died in the sunlight."
Celchu winced. That was a horrid way to die. He didn't care much for the rabble-rousing Brujah, but they were his people, in his city. No one torched them without his permission. "Naturally, the lobby is full of Brujah screaming for revenge."
"Is there any doubt who did it?"
Fonteyn shook his head. "There is no proof... but no, I have no doubt. Not after the Central Park incident."
The Prince steepled his fingers and stared at nothing. "I wondered how long I could blame the violence on him without retaliation. I suppose that if Merando is going to take the blame, he wants to cause some damage of his own. Damn."
He stood and paced around the office. "If he causes enough trouble, I'll be ousted from my own city. No one will believe that I'm strong enough to topple him. No. No, I've planned everything so carefully. I have the other Princes' complete support." His voice rose, almost panicking. "I can't run to them like a beggar and expect them to back me."
"He'll finish you before you can finish him," Fonteyn smiled wryly. "It's a good plan."
The aide stepped back as he suddenly found himself face-to-face with an angry, screaming Prince.
"It's a good plan? A GOOD PLAN!? Did I ask your opinion?" Celchu grabbed a handful of the other man's collar and hauled him toward the door. "Get out! Get out there and take care of the rabble. Tell them we're planning our revenge, tell them we're ready to move, tell them whatever you like, but get out!"
Fonteyn nodded and tried not to flinch as the Prince's hand came up. Celchu straightened the collar on his aide's suit jacket. Just like that, his anger was gone, replaced by the smiling, collected Prince that everyone but Fonteyn knew.
Slender fingers flicked dust from the jacket's lapel. "Good man," Celchu said warmly. "By the way, have my guests arrived?"
Fonteyn took a moment to step back before answering. "MacDonald flew in this morning before dawn. He should be here in an hour. The other is flying in from Russia. He'll be here by morning."
Derek woke up to the warmth of Lilian's body pressed against his. She was dressed; he suspected that she'd gone shopping while he slept, then crept back into the bed beside him.
Her head lay on his bare shoulder, her face slack with sleep. Derek gently stroked her cheek, trailing his fingers down her neck, massaging her flesh until she sighed and turned her head, offering her throat to him. Her vein throbbed under his lips as he bent his head and kissed her, sucking her skin into his mouth to leave a tiny love mark.
His fingers skillfully unfastened the top three buttons of her blouse and pushed the cloth away, baring her soft white bosom. Lilian moaned as he cupped her, lowering his mouth to the top of her breasts. Derek nipped her skin and she hissed as his lips fastened on her and began to suck.
Only a bit, just enough to wake him up-- he rarely drank his fill of her. Derek licked the wound closed and left her dozing on the bed as he dressed. Hurriedly tucking his poet's shirt into his trousers, her bent over Lilian's relaxed form and shook her gently.
Hazel eyes blinked up at him as Lilian stretched lazily and reached for him. Derek acquiesced, meeting her lips briefly. She watched him from under long lashes, still limp from the pleasure of his Kiss.
Derek ran his fingers through her short surly hair. "I have to go now. Stay in this room until you hear from me. If I haven't called by three, fly straight back to Edinburgh; there's a ticket in your handbag."
Lilian sat up and gazed at him worriedly. "You'll be careful?" Her voice was soft and uncertain.
"I'm always careful," he said, deliberately keeping his tone light.
She swung her legs off the bed and pulled him to her, gripping his hands so tightly that he almost winced.
Could he make such a promise? No. Derek knew that times were too dangerous to make blithe assurances. He stepped closer until he stood between her knees. Lilian rested her head against his chest as he stroked her hair. He tried to murmur comfort, but his voice caught and he pulled away from her and walked out the door without
"Twenty-two bottles of lum on the wall, twenty-two bottles of lum, you take one down and pass it around, twenty-one bottles of GODAMMIT GET ME OUT OF HERE!"
Hades launched himself at the door, calling on all his strength. The door didn't budge.
He fell back on the floor and frowned. He was tough enough to knock a man's head off with one blow, so no mere door would be able to withstand him. Maybe it's transparisteel. Even Kell couldn't punch through that. But who was Kell?
He drew his knees up to his chest and rested his head on them, tapping his finger against his temple. Think think think. Kell. Big guy. Blue eyes.
Hades' own eyes wandered to the man lying on the floor. Kell? Nah, too short. Almost as short as Janson. Janson? Kell hates Janson. How do I know that? I don't know Janson... I don't know anyone named Kell...
With a frantic cry, Hades leapt to his feet and resumed pounding on the walls.
"Don't worry, he can't break through the walls."
"Good." The Prince stood in the corridor, listening to the faint howls emanating from the chamber. "He'll scream himself hoarse."
"He was singing before," Fonteyn said. "I prefer the screams."
"I've heard him sing; I'm with you." Celchu checked his watch and sighed. "I hope our Scottish guest can do more with him than I can."
"If I may, sir," Fonteyn began cautiously. "What is so important about this man? He's completely mad, how can he help you?"
Celchu was silent for a while as they walked toward his office. "Wes Janson was the best shot I ever knew. I want him to immobilize Merando before the rest of us go in."
"Which he can't do if he's in Hades mode."
"Correct. However, I have found a use for our mad friend, assuming that he can be made to follow orders." The Prince paused at the door to his office.
"And that is...?" Fonteyn prompted.
"He's unnaturally strong, you say? Strong enough to pull a man's arms off?"
If he was at all shocked, the aide hid it well. "Like pulling the wings off a fly."
"Excellent. Ideally, he could toggle back and forth; Janson when he needs to concentrate, Hades when we need muscle."
"What happens if Janson realizes what `Hades' has done?" Fonteyn wanted to know.
Celchu paused, his hand on the doorknob. "You've already seen it. You brought it to me."
So, technically, one couldn't die of boredom. Derek wasn't sure if that was comfort or not. He'd been greeted at the door of Celchu Tower (funny name, that) and whisked through a loud gathering of Brujah to a large, sparsely decorated office. He spent ten minutes sitting patiently, another ten checking out the decor-- silk rug, cherry desk, brocade curtains that were clearly antique-- and was just starting on his next ten minutes of waiting.
He'd come in through the door to his left, on the north wall. He was betting that his contact would use the entrance behind the desk, on the west side. Derek stared at that door and willed it to open.
His watch ticked loudly in the silence. Derek's eyes swept over the room again, looking for some clue to his contact's identity. The desk was completely bare; not even a piece of letterhead on it. The bookcase held several old title-- Rob Roy, Wuthering Heights, Return of the Native-- the sort of great literature that the nouveau-riche set out for company to see but never actually read.
The doorknob turned and Derek settled back into his seat, watching the west door expectantly.
"Sorry to keep you waiting..." Derek stiffened as the voice of a fond memory assailed his ears. Lamplight glinted off golden-blonde hair, and Derek stood, overturning his chair.
Tycho Celchu stood in the doorway, arms folded, smiling.
"How have you been, Hobbie?"
On to Chapter Ten