Catching an Empty Jar of Marmalade

The text told Aubrey all he needed to know to keep his dim sense of hope alight. Emmerick had made contact and the hunter was now engaged. He stuffed his cellphone into his inside vest pocket knowing how much his master hated all manner of electronics. With the other hand carrying a tray of pine needle tea, he pushed open the door to Valerian’s chamber only to lean hard against the door and put a protective arm around the tray to avoid the intemperate figure in shiny black leather and silver chains blocking him on her way out.

“Galscythe, please, the histrionics do not suit you.”

The taunting words caused the imposing figure to pause at the threshold and flick her mane of midnight hair crowned with a helmet of curved bullhorns to toss an enraged look back towards what Aubrey couldn’t see.

To her unspoken response which only Valerian would’ve been able to sense, he replied, “I never lied to you. You just choose to ignore the truth.”

Aubrey saw her black kohl rimmed eyes widen and her head flick to the very expansive velvet mahogany chair just beside the fireplace. With a single silent exhale, the chair shot to the rear of the room and exploded into shards. She rocked forward as if she would follow her blast but then pivoted on her toe and crashed through the door, leaving Aubrey to juggle his ceramic wares until the air in the room settled.

As he sighed and fully entered the room, letting the door click close behind him, he was surprised that Valerian stood tied to the bedpost stark naked except for the steel chains that held him there and a barely contained smirk on his face. A cat o’ nine tails lay on the stone floor, likely where Galscythe had dropped it from some offence.

In the hundreds of years that Aubrey had served Lord Valerian, this wasn’t the most surprising scene he’d ever interrupted so he proceeded to set the tray on the side table which had served the now destroyed antique chair and turned back to the bed, producing a lockpick from somewhere within his vest pocket.

Just as he was stepping forward to free his master, Valerian flicked his wrists as easily as he blinked and the steel manacles popped open. Aubrey hadn’t been completely surprised that Valerian was returning to full strength as his body healed from carrying the burden of one hundred and twenty-three silver disks as his negotiated peace with Emmerick, the man that Aubrey had now embroiled himself with. But the speed and vigor with which Valerian’s powers returned as well as the, a-hum, appetite required to maintain the healing process was astounding.

“Perhaps not the smartest idea to burn through all of your alliances in these uncertain times.” Just yesterday, Xi had yet again been seen storming out from the council room after inquiring after efforts to locate Bellecroix.

Valerian dismissed the advice with a hand as he bent to retrieve the whip. As he straightened, he tossed the whip like a baby rattle, “Bah, Galyscythe knows her place. But some things needed closure before company arrives.”

“And what company might that be?” Aubrey asked.

Valerian shot an astounded look at his faithful servant. “Darcie, of course.” He gave a single laugh to punctuate the absurdity of Aubrey’s question then strode over to the tray and poured himself a tall goblet of liquid from the carafe. The smell of spruce filled the room.

“You mean Sophie.” The comment was half question.

Aubrey watched with a new sense of unease as Valerian drank the goblet down seemingly in one gulp and then, after considering a refill, lifted the carafe itself to his mouth and drank the whole thing down greedily without spilling a drop.

The effect was immediate as tremors moved all over his body, percolating under his pale skin, leaving him to grip the table for a moment, arcing his back and bending his head back as his fangs fully extended, his blue eyes lit up like neon. He let out a low roar until the effect subsided, leaving him somewhat diminished in appearance and bearing.

Panting for a few moments, he lifted his gaze up to Aubrey, a much calmer and contemplative mood settling upon him. “Is there any more?”

Aubrey nodded, stirring himself to retrieve the tray. He began to head for the door without further comment but was halted by Valerian’s words.

“If you could find a way to produce more, a lot more,” his voice trailed off, suddenly contrite.

Aubrey turned back to him but said nothing, recognizing this Valerian as the one that would never mistake the woman that he had lost all those years ago with this new woman they had conspired to protect and gently introduce to her lifetimes of selves as she had wished.

“I must look my best, be my best when she arrives.”

He then busied himself with dressing for dinner without asking for any assistance.

“Is there some plan to bring her here that I can assist with?”

Valerian shrugged, a stillness overtaking him. “The scribe will bring her.”

Aubrey felt fortunate that Valerian had his head bent, seeing to his pants so as not to see the shock on his own face. With all of the plans in motion, some of which he had carefully concealed from his lord, Aubrey had certainty in only one thing: Jesper would never bring his precious Sophie to this den of monsters. Whether this regenerated Valerian, who seemed to be teetering between euphoria and melancholy, was able to reconcile the last three years of meticulous planning to find her and save her with his sudden desire to bring her into the very heart of danger, Aubrey couldn’t tell.

“Forgive me, my lord, but is that the wisest path, all things considered?”

For over a hundred years, Valerian had been the balance point of many different worlds, many different factions, equilibrium maintained through his own pain and toil. He had rebuilt his line and ensured they had a safe and effective home and hunting grounds. He’d toured the world to address blood toxins and diseases of all types to lessen the impact on their food source. He negotiated with Southern and Eastern horrors, establishing cardinal rules that effectively led to their Conclave, the first global government any immortals had ever had. And he’d sought to recover the ill-conceived efforts to expand vampire ranks by recapturing the Taint. Well, most of it. He held together an empire through intelligence, tact, and above all, patience.

His answer to why a simple human woman who continued to repeat her past would be a prize worth risking all that struck more fear into Aubrey than anything he’d seen yet.

“I need her, Aubrey.”

“My lord,” Aubrey stated his understanding but in his own mind, he wondered at his master’s sudden frailty and what it might mean for his own longevity if all things fell apart all over again. He’d come to finally accept that Sophie Quinn nee Darcie Sherbourne would always be an instrument of influence on his lord, had even learned to find the benefits in old recipes of her tinctures and skillfully manipulated his lord with a mere whisper of her memory. But this Valerian, he realized finally, was failing. The penance gone, the threat to her lessened, at least in his mind, had sucked him dry of purpose except his one last folly.

Aubrey whispered a silent pray.

You had better hold onto her with both hands this time, Scribe. Or I’m afraid none of us will survive this lord’s fall.  

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