DJB: Insults and Injurious Thoughts


symbol_wedge-colorValerian had once given me a protocol to use in the event and only in the event of an emergency. The protocol included a way to contact him, even in his most private chamber of his redoubt. Over the years, I suspected the technology attached to the protocol might have changed but the accessing it was the same.

An iron lockbox welded with no remaining seams covered in raised silver gilding. The silver would cause some burnt flesh to most vampires. I had chosen to keep it secret that it had no effect on me. The nature of the box was to ensure that it took quite some effort to get into.

It took me only a second to punch my hand through the box and tear into it after I’d flown back to my condo. Sophie’s reaction be damned. This was an Emergency. She was going to get herself killed. And I couldn’t let that happen, no matter what she believed.

The anger released in getting into the box calmed me enough to think about our fight. It was an old one. The book and now the old grievance, argued in the old tongue. The memories were still mostly locked away, but not the feelings, not the emotions. I hadn’t felt this on edge, this unsettled in a long while, emotions rumbling under the surface waiting to erupt. I had approached her in anger, not directed at her, but at the threat she continued to protect.

The Carpathian. When she’d spoken, I felt more than saw the need in her eyes to fix wrongs done long ago, her desperation to repair the past. I could not help her with imperfect knowledge. She did not know what to do. I had to help her see that only way out was through.

Inside the box, it was lined in black velvet with a single scrap of vellum. I fished out the ancient paper and tossed the box aside. On the paper, in simple handwriting, were a number and a location. The number was an old style phone number, from the 30’s. The location was 9 Universitat Luzern. Switzerland.

I did a quick online check and came up with a phone number. Then I used my computer to dial it. Once the line was picked up, I forced myself through the line into the room. It gave me a few seconds before I would be discovered, my form taking the time to solidify. In the meantime, while the receiver was being brought to someone’s ear to answer, I overheard the conversation.

“The child was already lost. I had to do the unthinkable to protect her.”

The voice was familiar, smoothly accented South American. But it was the voice of the reply that I well recognized. As my form materialized, my vision took shape as well. Valerian, head bowed, hand clutching something to his chest, spoke as if to himself.

“I’m still cleaning up the wrongs I did you in the past only to find troubles are drawn to you in the present."

“My Lord, we have an unexpected visitor.” Aubry didn’t bother to put the receiver completely up to his ear as by now, I had materialized right in front of him.

Valerian turned to look at me, but his mind still clung to the memories of his past. I knew the feeling and suspected more than ever that Valerian had a direct relationship with Sophie. I believed her now about her past lives. In what lifetime had the two of them met?

“Jesper. Not an unexpected surprise.” He stared at me for a moment, giving me the sense that he read me cover to cover.

“Sir, he called the Luzern line.” Aubry carefully set down the receiver of a very antique phone alongside its base. The room was his private chamber, alright, but not in Switzerland. It was his castle in Prague that the number had been forwarded to. Layered in baroque opulence, Bianchi looked like some Latino Ken doll posed uncomfortably on a red velvet chair.

Valerian spun his whole body towards me and his eyes flashed black for a moment as he commanded, “What has happened?”

I felt Vox buffet against me in a way that showed me only a glimmer of the power this Carpathian held. Sophie was right. I’d seen many things in my years but beside some sanctioned combat, I’d never seen the full fury of a Carpathian unleashed. Perhaps it was easier not to know the depths of evil my brethren were capable of. It had always been easier to turn my head away, distance myself from all those concerns.

But right now, Sophie was in the middle of it with an orphan, half mad Carpathian animal and she needed help. And somehow, I suspected that this Carpathian owed it to her.

I shrugged off the Vox and commanded in kind, “Tell me about the Vampire killing in Seville.”

Valerian stared, caught off-guard. But his face sobered and he sighed.

“I’ll fetch tea, my Lord.” Aubry left the room through a curtained doorway.

Valerian spread an arm to Bianchi, “Alejandro, you’ve heard of our scribe, Jesper Bretton.”

“Si, senor. Mucho Gusto.” He stood and bowed.

My brows drew together from the formality of it. But another word from Valerian cast some light on the situation.

“Bianchi had been keeping an eye on our Vampire Psychologist when she first surfaced from her slumber. Before she had to abandon her home in Ohio.”

“Then you already knew what she was doing, what she was up to. You didn’t need me to investigate her.” It felt like a betrayal deep down. He’d sent me to do work that had already been done. What game was he playing at?

“Alejandro, perhaps you might give us a moment? Jesper has not been brought up to speed.”

Bianchi nodded simply and withdrew, leaving me with the vampire who had me spying on the Vampire Psychologist.

“You lied to me.”

“You were never told to investigate her background. Simply to learn what you could about her current circumstances.” He moved slowly over to his seat, the black dress robes encumbering his movement, weighing him down. He sank down, weary, his hands spreading over the arm rests, gripping them. He breathed heavily and he finally let me read his face. After a moment, I could really tell what was going on.

“You’re protecting her. You sent me to see that she’s safe.”

“She has a tendency to get involved in situations…beyond her capabilities.” His finger drummed on the armrest in a building rhythm. I could see the tension in him finally, as if the day had worn him down. Aubrey, as if on perfect cue, arrived at his master’s chair, passing him a cup that Valerian drunk down rather quickly. As he handed the empty cup over to be refilled, his hands had stopped their nervous movement and he’d seemed to grip himself.

“But why?” I asked.

“Because you are the only one I can trust her with.”

It didn’t make any sense. If he valued her so highly, Xi would make a better guardian. I wasn’t half the vampire in strength or speed that he was, that any Carpathian was.

“I can see what you’re thinking and it’s true. I might’ve sent a better warrior to guard her life but I couldn’t trust anyone but you with her soul.” He sipped from the cup again, then set the cup deliberately back on the saucer. “She’s at it again, trying to save another Carpathian, isn’t she?”

“Tell me about Seville.”

He set the saucer down and settled deep into his chair. “A bottle of the Taint, disguised as wine. One of my agents was sent to retrieve it, trace its lineage. Alphonso. He reported the rumor of an abomination, one taken by the Taint. The rumored seems to be true.”

“And this abomination, it was made from your own elixir. Your own blood?”

“Yes, the sins of my past.”

I stepped toward him in the room, suddenly angry beyond anything I’d felt in a long while. “Did you know it would find her? Did you?”

“No. I had not seen that.”

“And there’s no helping this thing, no way to balance it, as she would say.”

Valerian’s eyes met mine at hearing the words. “No,” the words exploding with more force than perhaps he meant. Then, more softly, “No, I know of no cure for such a creature.” He shuddered through a sigh. “But there’s no telling her that. You must know that about her. That’s not how she learns. She’s not much on talking about things, she wants to feel them, touch them, understand how they work. And so you show her, thinking it is so wholly separate from who you are and how you feel and then she’s crawled right under your armor, under your skin to where you live and breathe. Reminding you that you still do live and breathe.”

I knew exactly what he meant. She thought she knew it all, thought there was always another way, another hope, even for those whose cause was lost. But I didn’t like hearing all this from him, as if he could teach me about my Helene. The fog was lifting on a lifetime spent in spices and sand, one spent in love and loss. I may not have begrudged another for feeling some semblance of what I did for her but there was no quarter given for one who claimed to know her better.

“You wanted the recipe for some tea, Mr. Jesper?”

As I moved to take the proffered paper from Aubry’s hands, I saw a muscle twitch in Valerian’s jaw. He saw me as a tool, sent to become a guardian, that was clear enough. He had felt certain that her charms would work on a vampire like me, a romantic like me, in ways that were predictable. He was playing the puppeteer and I vowed to cut the strings the first chance I got.

“I wouldn’t take that draught just yet,” Valerian warned. “Oh, Aubry may act as if it’s nothing but you’re not ready for that remedy. He’s just angry that you violated our laws in charming him to reveal secrets.”

When I looked in Aubry’s face, I saw the fierceness just underneath the veneer. But it was only what Aubry meant me to see. If he had wanted it, there would’ve been no warning at all. I read the recipe from the paper and handed it back to Aubry, who crumbled it up into dust, eyes seething.

“I tried to explain to him how you did it to protect our mutual friend but you see, that’s the rub. If you can’t trust your friends to behave, then who can you trust?”

I straightened and bowed, “You have my utmost apologies. If you’d like to call me out, I completely understand.”

Valerian sat upright in his chair, as if strike by lightning and full of fervor. “We’ve no time for that. You have a job to do. I expect you to do it.”

I swallowed hard and then nodded. I was no match for Valerian or his horror if it came to that. And as much as I trusted that he did want her protected, I had no idea what connection lay between Sophie and this particular Carpathian. I would have to turn over a lot more rocks to find those answers.

I started to release my hold on the connection through the phone but Valerian had some parting words for me.

“If I didn’t know you better, Jesper, if I thought you had skeletons in your closet and weren’t the closest thing to a blank slate we Vampires can be, I’d think you were utilizing Sophie’s services for yourself. And I’d perish the thought.”

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