A Dark Night's Melody: Third Stanza

It's a place where you will learn,
To face your fears, retrace the years,
And ride the whims of your mind.
Commanding in another world,
Suddenly, you hear and see,
This magic new dimension.
I . . . will be watching over you,
I . . . I'm gonna help you see it through,
I . . . will protect you in the night,
I . . . am smiling next to you,
In silent lucidity.
--Queensryche, "Silent Lucidity"

The Cadillac might need body work, but the Rolls-Royce was still in perfect condition. Sitting next to her on the back seat, Zoey looked stunned; sometimes the car had that effect on people. Lis smiled a little. 

The gates of the driveway swung open silently, triggered by the radio gadget on the dashboard; the sleek car glided up the slight hill and halted in front of the house. It was big, but not too ostentatious in Lis's opinion; three floors, an elegant, classical architecture. And flowers--flowers everywhere, crowding the wide beds that stretched along the front of the house, overflowing from the window boxes, twining up trellises, even a mass of flowering vines creeping up the fieldstone. 

She led Zoey up the front steps, nodding to the unassuming-looking dark-haired man who opened the door. "Victor. Everything is ready?" 

"As always, my lady." 

Perfect manners on that man. Dieu, she was happy to have him around. 

Through the foyer and into the ballroom--the white marble walls contrasting beautifully with the deep, deep green-and-black marble of the floor--then up the grand staircase to the second floor, then down the hall to the left; she opened a door . . . 

There were no windows--this suite was in the center of the house, after all. Tiffany lamps provided soft, multihued light to the gorgeous room; the massive bed, its frame carved from ebony, looked like it could hold an entire football team. The Persian carpet underfoot probably had a price tag somewhere in five digits. 

Lis was rich. Very, very, very rich, and she liked to spend money as much as she liked to make it. 

The bathroom was huge, with mirrors lining the back wall; the bathtub was sunk into a marble pedestal to the right of the door, and was currently full of steaming hot water that smelled faintly sweet, like cherry blossoms. Jets below the surface swirled the water in slow, lazy spirals. A hand-held showerhead on a long hose rested in a clip fastened to the wall. Draped over a warming rack were a pair of large, soft-looking towels and a set of men's pajamas made of dark green silk. 

Zoey found himself being undressed by other hands for the second time that night, but this was far different from the way his attackers had stripped him. They had handled him like he was a piece of meat; Elisabeth handled him as though he were an infinitely precious and delicate creature. He was a little shy and self-conscious, being naked in her presence; she gave him a looking-over, but there was nothing in her stare that made him feel ashamed or scared, as he had been in the cemetery. Instead, her gaze was so obviously admiring of his graceful, slender form that he actually felt a little more at ease. 

She took his hand and guided him up the three steps, then down into the tub; she climbed up to kneel down on the edge as he found the underwater bench and sank onto it gratefully, closing his eyes. The warm water was soothing, soaking the chill out of his body; the gently pulsing jets massaged his sore muscles. He jumped a little at the soft touch on his face and opened his eyes. 

Elisabeth smiled as the young man blinked up at her. She dabbed gently at his cheek again with the washcloth. "It's all right . . . let me clean you up. Just relax." 

There was uncertainty in his eyes, but she didn't falter, stroking the cloth over his beautiful face to clean away the dirt, blood, and semen that streaked his fair skin. He did relax, slowly, as she continued to wash him, attending to the blood crusted on his neck, then moving down to his shoulders and what she could reach of his chest. 

"Put your leg up here," she urged gently, and he complied. He couldn't help but giggle softly as she scrubbed his toes, then sighed as she tidied his calf and washed the grass and dirt from his knee. The process was repeated on his other leg. 

"Stand up," she murmured; drowsily, he did so. The drowsiness faded instantly the moment he felt her fingers touch the curve of his buttock; he damn near slipped and fell, lunging away from her almost instinctively with a whimper of sudden fear. 

"Zoisite . . ." Her melodic voice was filled with shame and anger at herself for the mistake. "Please, forgive me. I'm sorry, angel--I did not mean to frighten you. I won't hurt you. It's all right . . ." 

She had to murmur for a few minutes more to get him to calm down again. Dieu, how stupid she'd been, touching him without warning. When she had him back within reach, she took his hand and laid it over her own wrist. "If you want me to stop, tug on my hand. I promise that I will stop immediately and I will not touch you again until you wish me to." 

He still looked scared, but he nodded a little, his slender fingers curling around her wrist. She let him hold onto that hand while, with the other, she began cleaning off the crusted blood and semen that the water hadn't washed off yet. He had an incredible ass, smooth and firm and compact, but she made herself use economical motions to get the task finished quickly rather than lingering as she usually would have. 

"There," Lis said softly, straightening a little. "Done, angel. Sit down, please . . ." 

He forgot to let go of her hand for a few moments, but when she smiled at him, he blushed slightly and released her at once. She handed him the washcloth. "You can attend to the rest yourself." Oh, she'd love a chance to handle his privates, but there was no point in pushing her luck. 

The Toreador started the tub draining; when it was down to his waist level, she reached over and switched on the showerhead, taking it from its clip on the wall and playing the water through his tangled, dirty hair. She touched him gently under the chin to get him to tilt his head back so that nothing would run into his eyes, then poured a bit of shampoo into her hands and started in on washing his hair. She was a master of the art, it seemed; she didn't just scrub the golden mass, she worked her fingers down to his scalp and gave him a massage at the same time, finding pressure points and caressing gently to help him relax a little. 

When he was clean enough to satisfy her--perhaps, to him, it was odd to be waited on as if he were a child or an invalid, but he seemed to be enjoying the attention and she certainly liked to give the attention--she helped him up out of the tub and wrapped his hair in one of the warm towels, giving him the task of drying the silky mass while she attended to the rest of him. He tightened up again when she moved to dry his buttocks, but at least he didn't scream and run. 

Elisabeth actually dressed him, pulling the dark green silk on over his dry, clean skin as though he couldn't do it himself. Still, there was something rather nice about being treated so gently . . . 

She took the towel from him and continued rubbing his hair with it. "You should eat. What would you like? My kitchen can provide virtually anything you can think of . . ."

His mental reverie was finally broken by the pausing of the car at the estate's gateway. Paying attention to the world beyond his horrified mind, he blinked in surprise. Where she had taken him was a far cry from where those others had. It was the sort of place that the masses all drooled and dreamed about--himself included. He'd always wanted a place like this when he made it big. He sucked in a breath of pure appreciation, then continued to gaze around as the Rolls drove up the circular driveway. Flowers. There were flowers everywhere. Looking ethereal and mystical in the starlight, the sight of them actually cheered him up. He had always loved flowers, despite their transitory beauty. The smile that flickered across his face showed a hint of his own beauty within it. 

He remained dazed at the opulent display around him as he was led up the stairs and inside the mansion. The place was like Heaven, or a fairy tale come true. Everywhere was beauty, and everything appealed to his critical eye. It was nearly enough to stun him as much as everything else he'd witnessed that night. All he could do was gawk like a tourist--or so it felt. In reality, he'd looked around almost casually, his appreciation glowing within his emerald eyes. There wasn't a hint of unease until he noticed that her bedroom had no windows. How unusual . . .

Even that thought went by the wayside when he was led into the cherry-blossom-scented bathroom. The tub looked so damned inviting that he almost forgot his manners and ran to it. Then a hand on his shoulder made him shudder, and he turned his startled gaze to his rescuer. 

Her hands were so gentle compared to those others. That alone was enough to allow him to stand there and let her do as she wished. Closing his eyes, he let his mind wander to a memory . . . 

Mom stood there and gently got me out of my clothes in the bathroom, clucking to herself about how nasty people could be at times. I'd been cornered by the local toughs, beaten badly for being too pretty, called all sorts of names. Pansy-ass, faggot, gay-boy . . . Not true, but they didn't care. They only saw that I was pretty. Mama somehow managed to make everything better, with her soft talking and the gentle feel of her washcloth on me, wiping away the blood, easing the developing bruises. "I know it was bad what they did, but you are better than this. Don't let it get to you, Zoisito love. What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger . . ."

He was vaguely aware of her washing him off, touching him, looking at him. But the replay of the memory of his mother steadied his mind, let him warily put up with it and begin to actually relax. Under Lis's careful ministrations, she could once again see that fine work of natural beauty that he was, and her previous inspections had shown her that he was indeed a well-built specimen. Then came that one touch that was just a bit too reminiscent of what he'd been through. The whole thing came back in a flash, of the violation to his body, and he whimpered in sudden, overpowering fear, almost falling in the tub as he tried to flee. 

Nowhere to run, however. Almost cowering as the scene played out before his mind's eye again, it took God knew however many minutes for the dark beauty's voice to break through the terror and pull him back to reality. Gathering together his will and dignity, he curled his hand around her wrist. At least this time he was ready for her washing, and he managed to not have a flashback. In fact, under normal circumstances, he'd probably rather enjoy this sort of attention. That thought made him smile just a bit. And he was still musing on that as he sat, then wondered why she was still just looking at him. 

You still have her hand, nitwit . . . Flushing prettily in embarrassment, the blush making his cheeks a bit rosy, he dropped his gaze and let her hand go. "Sorry." It was a mumbled apology, but a heartfelt one. The blush became just a bit darker as he was handed the washcloth, but he cleaned up the remaining area on himself without a word. 

Getting his hair washed, however, was heavenly. She seemed to know just the perfect way to do that in a very relaxing manner. No matter that he'd seen those hands make a number of people into bloody pulps and have flames dancing along the fingers, they were wonderfully gentle rubbing his scalp and shampooing his golden locks. God, I could spend eternity like this . . .

All too soon, it was over with, his hair getting wrapped in a big, fluffy towel as he was urged to stand again. Starting to vigorously rub the towel against his now-clean mane, he felt Elisabeth gently rubbing and patting dry the rest of him. He tensed as the towel dried off his backside, bracing for another flashback, but thankfully another one didn't come. In fact, he was so relieved that he just stood there, eyes closed, and let the gorgeous woman fuss over him more, dressing him in the soft pajamas and drying his hair some more. 

He considered her question for a few moments. When she finally allowed his golden head to pop out from under the towel, he gave her a slight smile. "Well, I really feel like having a nice, big, juicy steak. That and one hell of a stiff drink. Do that, and I'll be forever grateful, my angel of mercy."

Lis chuckled at the sight of him, the blond hair a damp halo around his face. "As you wish." She flicked a seeking tendril into his mind, gleaning exactly how he liked his steak done, whatever side dishes he would like best, what he wanted to drink. For appearance's sake, she stepped over to the intercom set discreetly into the wall and spoke in easy, fluent French; she didn't really need to open the channel, though, for she reached downstairs with her mind and spoke directly to Claude. He was used to that, after all. 

"Let me clean up a little myself, angel, and we'll go downstairs." She waved him over to a bench that stood against the wall beside the door, then kicked off her shoes, reached up, and tugged the straps of her dress off her shoulders. The black velvet peeled easily off her body, leaving her wearing nothing but a bit of black silk for underwear and the thigh-high nylons. 

She thought his eyes were going to melt. 

She wasn't deliberately doing a striptease--if she were, his eyes would be sizzling in their sockets--but she had little shyness where her body was concerned. It was a beautiful body; why should she be ashamed of it, or afraid to show it off? Soft, pale skin was taut as a silk trampoline over smoothly muscled limbs and torso; she was perfectly proportioned, an artist's dream. Her rich hair fell in rippling waves around her, giving her the look of a dark Aphrodite. 

Lis tossed that cascade of dark-chocolate hair as she stepped into the shower stall; it was rather large, with jets spaced around three walls and a foot-wide showerhead in the ceiling that gave a wonderful effect, like rainfall. The glass doors were only partly frosted, in a pattern of lilies; Zoisite had a view of her from the waist up, framed by those silvery lilies, as the steaming water played over her and turned her hair nearly black. 

Normally, she'd spend quite a bit of time in the shower; the feel of hot water on her cool skin was wonderful, but she was mindful of the gaping mortal sitting out there in her bathroom. She kept it short and economical, rather than taking the time to pamper herself. Shutting off the water finally, she wrung most of the water from her hair, then stepped out to wrap a towel around the thick, wet mass before using another one of those large, fluffy bath sheets to dry herself. 

Stepping into the small, open-fronted walk-in closet, she selected white silk panties and a sleek, rose-colored nightgown trimmed with pale lace. A satin robe of a deeper rose followed; as an afterthought, she snagged a dark-green velvet robe and went to Zoey, draping it around him. Green was a wonderful color on him, even the dark shades, she noted with pleasure. Taking his hand, she tugged him gently up. 

"Come on--let's go downstairs." 

He still seemed rather stunned by the gloriously naked vision he'd just seen, but he followed her without falling over his own two feet. Down the hallway and down the grand staircase, through the ballroom, and into the dining room, which had a table that could probably seat a football team or two. At the head of the table, her own seat and the one at the right-hand side had been provided with place settings. Good old Claude . . . he'd thought to make something for her as well. Most Kindred not only did not need or want to eat real food, they were physically unable to do so--their bodies rejected it violently. Lis, and a number of others, were capable of eating, and Lis enjoyed it very much. Mortal food had such interesting variety, after all, even if she got no nourishment from it.

"I don't know if I'm really dressed for dinner," Zoisite murmured, a half-smile on his face. Lis chuckled; Victor, standing ramrod straight, held her chair as she sat, then stepped over to seat Zoisite as well. The young man blinked at the retainer, but nodded his thanks. Victor bowed slightly and went off toward the doors into the kitchen. 

"Angel, this is my house and my rules. We're both dressed in a perfectly acceptable fashion." She smiled at him as Victor breezed back with two small salads. 

Wanting to get his mind off the horrible events of the evening, she did the most logical thing--she asked him about his music. That seemed to be the perfect topic, because he was clearly very involved in his art and quite willing to discuss it with an interested listener--which she was. 

Dinner arrived; in true French fashion, she went silent to enjoy the food. Her small steak was cooked rare, the way she liked it best; from the look on Zoisite's face, he might never have had a cut of meat that was so damn good, and the side dishes also apparently met with his approval. She felt rather pleased by that, and made a note to give Claude a bit of a bonus with his next paycheck. 

She watched him eat for a while. Even that simple act was fascinating on him . . .

Steak: medium-rare, leaning toward the rare side. Sides: baked potato with lots of butter and chives, along with rice pilaf. Alcohol: seemed as if his idea of a "stiff drink" was Japanese plum wine. That was rather quaint, considering the multitude of hard liquors and drinks there were out there. He must not be that much of a drinker to begin with. In a flash of a moment, she knew just that much more about him. 

He started in on drying his hair again as she walked over to the intercom and spoke into it. Maybe, just maybe, he'd actually survive. The thought cheered him up some, but just being clean had done wonders for his self-esteem. Emerging out from under the towel once again, he casually tossed it onto the counter around the sink, then hunted around for a brush or something as she indicated to him that he should sit on a bench near the door. Absently nodding in answer, he found a brush and snatched it with nimble fingers; he was already starting to tug through his water-slicked mane when she began to strip right there in front of him. Needless to say, the brush remained immobile in his tangled locks for quite a while. 

Mother always told me it was rude to stare. Dios mio, I just can't help myself . . . Perfection. Sheer and utter perfection. She had that sort of beauty that made you want to fall to your knees and worship; it was truly something to behold. He felt a twinge of envy--he always did have a bit of jealousy whenever he gazed upon someone as beautiful, or moreso, than himself--but quickly suppressed it as it gave way to something else altogether. Desire. He wanted her. She was beautiful, glamorous, intelligent . . . and she had saved him. There was also a shiver of fear at remembering what he'd seen her do, but already that was becoming hazy in his mind. The attraction was something far more immediate and concrete. 

Once she had slipped inside the shower, he was able to come back slightly to reality. Emerald eyes still fixed upon the vision of her loveliness--and all sorts of heated thoughts about wishing he were in there with her "helping" her with her shower made him feel as steamy as the bathroom was getting--he went back to brushing out his long hair. Although all the tangles were out of it--the golden hair darkened to light brown by the water, but already drying here and there in fluffy wisps of bright golden silk that floated around his angelic face--he continued to brush away at the waist-length mane as she stepped out of the shower and dried herself off. 

He did manage to tear his gaze away from his enchanting hostess long enough to set the brush back down, doing so while she pulled on panties and a nightgown. However, the very textures of her clothing and the robe she put on appeared to be just begging to be touched as well. He swallowed hard, suppressing the thrill of arousal that shivered down his spine as she wrapped the luxurious velvet robe around his shoulders and tugged on his hand to follow her again. 

Stunned silence. Seemed to be a bad habit he was picking up, but what else could you do when you're lead around by a virtual angel on Earth through a mansion that just screamed luxury, good taste and--above all--beauty? Just appreciate it all in awed rapture. For once, he was truly thankful for his elegant grace; otherwise he would have been doomed to look like a klutz as well as an urchin all in one night. That would have been far too embarrassing. 

Upon entering the dining room, he wasn't that surprised to see that the table was set, waiting for them. If nothing else, she sure seemed to have efficient help. Just another thing to be slightly envious about, he silently kidded to himself. "I don't know if I'm really dressed for dinner." A half-smile on his face, his melodic tenor was a soft murmur as he walked over to what had to be intended to be his place. He started to drop elegantly into the seat, but gave way to the stiff-looking valet. Nodding his thanks but feeling a bit out of place among all the trappings of high finance, he decided then to concentrate instead on his late dinner. 

He blushed slightly at her reminder that this was her place and her rules. When the valet reappeared with the salads, he was actually glad it gave him an excuse to focus in the food instead of her. He wasn't normally at such a loss for words or social grace, but tonight had been far from usual. Glimpses of both Heaven and Hell, if he'd felt like waxing philosophic. He was picking away at his salad, shuddering faintly as flashes of what he'd been through began to intrude on his thoughts again, when Elisabeth's exotic voice sounded. 

"So tell me . . . is the guitar the only instrument you play? And did you ever take lessons in singing? You have the voice as well as the looks of an angel." 

He blushed more, shyly dipping his head; even then, a smirk of satisfaction crossed his face. "Thank you. You are too kind with your words." He had collected his thoughts then, grateful for the new focus. As he ate his salad--which was quite delicious--he gave her a small summary of his musical career, from learning classical flamenco guitar at a young age and singing along with the radio, to learning other instruments--mandolin, electric guitar, the piano, electronic keyboards--and being in the church choir, to his typical teenaged dream to make it big as a rock star and finding good talents in high school with much the same dream. However, he had fallen silent when dinner had been set on the table, and had remained silent as he ate. After all, he was supposed to enjoy the food; talking would come later. 

And enjoy the food he did. The chef she had was wonderful, getting everything perfect, just the way he liked it. Odd, that we seem to be having some of my absolute favorites . . . However, his twinge of--misgiving? Suspicion?--whatever quickly faded away as he focused on eating. God, this is delicious. She's so damned lucky, isn't she?

Even eating, he had that natural grace and refinement that seemed to cling to him. It was easy to see him as one of those archetypical "beautiful people" who always looked so good no matter what they were doing. He ate in silence, almost daintily and certainly very politely; it was rather obvious that his upbringing had been as refined as his appearance. 

When he had finished, he slid the plate slightly forward after setting his silverwear upon it. Leaning back against the back of his chair, he turned emerald eyes to her. Feeling much better with life in general, finally truly relaxed again, he tossed his benefactor a mildly rakish grin as he ran slender fingers through his golden hair, waiting for her to finish her dinner as well.

Despite her eerie absorption in just watching him eat, Elisabeth managed to nibble her way through the rare steak. Usually, she preferred to linger over every bite, to savor the taste and texture . . . but tonight, she might as well have been eating cardboard for all the regard she gave the food. She was busy imagining how Zoisite's blood might taste, how the smooth skin of his neck might feel against her lips. How he would moan with the bite--oh, she planned to be gentle with him, no fear about that. He had already experienced how a vampire could rape a victim; she intended to show him seduction. And, Dieu, she hoped that he would not be like so many rape victims, frightened and sickened by anything that came close to the act that had violated them. 

She completely forgot to give some camouflage to the silent summons she sent to Victor; usually she would clap her hands, snap her fingers, ring the small silver bell that rested just beyond her plate. She was so wrapped up in her thoughts, though, that she failed to do any of those little details this time. Victor responded as always; a few seconds after the summons went out--just long enough to be noticed; he could not have been standing at the door peeking, waiting for them to finish--the retainer entered the room, as quiet and efficient as ever as he removed the dinner plates. 

"You chose dinner, angel," Lis murmured, not quite noticing the somewhat suspicious glint in Zoisite's eyes. "Allow me to select dessert. Victor? Tell Claude that we'll have a bit of tiramisu." Actually, she'd already informed Claude of what they'd be having for dessert; still, it seemed a bit more "normal" to make sure Zoisite heard it. 

"Consider it done, Mademoiselle," Victor responded; she frowned slightly at his back as he exited into the kitchen. Victor was an excellent right-hand man, but there were times when he did have a tendency to launch into the overdone manners when company was around. 

The sweet Italian cake was as good as ever; still, even though she did pay a little more attention to the dessert than she'd given her dinner, she was still far more interested in Zoisite. Every single movement he made was aesthetically appealing, graceful and controlled. 

A notion came to her suddenly; even as she took the last bite of her dessert, she smiled at him. "If you're not too tired . . . I would like to show you something." 

He considered that for a moment, then nodded his acquiescence--warily. She silently cursed the Sabbat pack all over again for frightening him so much; he had not had that skittishness before their assault. Rising from her chair, she waited for him to finish, then took his hand gently. Out into the ballroom, then a turn to the right, through the double doors into the music room. 

The crystalline chandelier shed soft light over the large room, making the polished golden-oak panelling glow. A grand piano claimed a place of prominence in the far right-hand corner, to one side of the large fireplace; on the other side of the hearth, a stately harp stood before a delicate chair. Bookcases lined the right wall, full of not only sheet music, but historical books as well. In the center of the left wall, a glass-fronted cabinet held a number of well-cared-for instruments; most prominent among them was the beautiful violin that rested in an open velvet-padded case. Flanking the cabinet were a few stands that held guitars, both electrical and acoustic, all clearly in excellent condition--and just as clearly quite pricey. She knew where to spend her money. 

"Sit," she instructed him in a tone that brooked no complaint, pointing imperiously to the loveseat that rested in the near right-hand corner, a few chairs arranged to either side of it. As he settled onto the needlepointed cushions, she stepped to the glass cabinet and opened it; picking up the violin's bow from the case and a cake of rosin from the bottom shelf, she prepared the bow with a few expert strokes, then slowly, carefully--reverently--lifted the violin. Crossing the room to him, she bent to show him the instrument, a brief glance telling him not to touch. "Stradivarius crafted this especially for my hands. I remember how he said that if I could play so well on any ordinary violin, one made specially for me should make the sounds all the sweeter." 

His eyes widened as he glanced from the violin--which indeed bore the master craftsman's distinctive styling--to her face; there was a disbelief in his gaze, yet also . . . something that hinted that he might believe her. He had seen what she had done to the Sabbat pack, and he had seen Jacob's healing of his wounds; in a way, despite all logic, he was starting to realize that she was something else, not just a beautiful, wealthy human woman. 

She stepped back, lifting the violin, tucking it beneath her chin in a gesture so familiar it was done without really requiring thought. Her fingers moved slowly along the neck for a moment as she laid the bow across the strings; she closed her eyes, let the quiet of the room settle in her mind for a moment. 

Then she began to play. 

Dieu, it was pure magic. Many people had a dislike for the way that a violin sounded without accompaniment; even the most picky listener, though, could be entranced by the thrilling notes that spilled from beneath the bow as Elisabeth played. Her body swayed and twisted a little, her face caught in a sort of rapture as she created the music; this was only one of the arts she had mastered over twelve centuries, but one of her favorites by far. Visual art had been her first love; many of her sculptures were scattered through the house, and an equal number of paintings adorned the walls. Yet she couldn't deny the sensual beauty of music, the way that sound could affect one's emotions. 

The first part of her creation was seductive, enticing, romantic; the second was dark and sorrowful, jagged notes of pain and anger. Then a lightening of the mood, an expression of gentle joy . . . 

Zoisite slowly realized what she was doing. She was playing the evening--creating through music what the events had caused her to feel. Seductive romance for the time at the club and in her car, anger for the terrible things that had happened when that bunch of motorcycle crazies had snatched him, relief and happiness that he was safe now, with her. 

Are you beginning to understand?

He heard that not with his ears . . . but within his mind. Her eyes were half-open now, even as the music slipped into a passionate rhythm that made him think almost unavoidably of desire, making love to her in a tangle of satin sheets and their own silken hair. 

I am not human, Zoisite. Once I was, but I am no longer. I have not been human for over twelve hundred years. She never looked away from him, her eyes half-lidded, dark with an unveiled desire of her own as she continued to play that siren song. Do not fear me, angel. I will not harm you. I will love you like none other, for I have died a thousand tiny deaths and every time I died I thought of you . . .

Though his slightly sly smile never really faltered, he just couldn't shake the feeling that his gorgeous benefactor was looking at him hungrily as she had finished up her modest dinner. Again, he shoved aside his vague feeling of unease; after all, he had been stared at by many women with various hungers in their eyes. After a while, you rather get used to it. Even if you had been the prey of some rather vicious predators earlier in the evening. 

He was jarred out of his slightly bemused state by the abrupt appearance of the valet. No way could he have been that ready . . . The emerald eyes fastened on the overly formal man, giving him a long looking over. How on Earth did he manage to know the exact moment his employer was done? Again that odd feeling of creepiness washed over the blonde singer, and he was reminded of the rather eerie things he'd seen her do. 

Something's going on around here . . . But what? I just haven't a clue. Once more he was rather relieved for the distraction of eating. As his mind tried to figure out if he happened to go from the frying pan of the brutal bikers to the fire of this too-perfect, too-charming woman--what did she want from him anyway? The usual things women, and some men, desired from him? Somehow, he didn't think it would be just that--he absently ate the tiramisu, absorbed in his thoughts. As always, when focused elsewhere, he seemed unguarded, vulnerable, someone maybe a bit too pretty, too sensual, to be on this Earth. The longer I'm here, the more surreal this is all becoming.

His dessert was only half finished when he heard her question. Gazing at her a long moment, he wondered just how genuine that smile really was. "Come into my parlor," said the spider to the fly. And yet . . . If there was one thing he hated, that was not knowing something. His mother had always warned him that he would be one of the cats around done in by his curiosity, and he'd come close to being harmed by snooping around. "I would like to show you something." That soft, exotically spoken phrase was quite the intriguing challenge. In the end, he just couldn't say no; he nodded his agreement, the emerald eyes still giving her a cautious looking-over. 

A shiver ran through him as he turned his attention back to his dessert, one of uneasy anticipation as he was so very aware of her waiting for him to finish, watching silently. He could feel the hairs on the nape of his neck start to stand in sheer reaction to her waiting, but he forced himself to remain calm and unflustered. He finished the sweet cake far too soon, he idly thought, as he elegantly stood, his hand in hers. 

Once again, he found himself being led into a place that seemed as if it were a fairy tale come true. The music room was everything he could ever have imagined for what a perfect music room should be. For someone as passionately inspired to music as himself, just that room alone seemed as if a bit of Heaven had been captured on Earth. Again, he found himself envying this mysterious beauty for what she had. It took quite a bit of his self control to not just dash about drooling like a kid in a candy store; he merely settled for ardently and longingly gazing about, a soft sigh sounding from him. 

His blissful reverie of envy was broken by her imperious command. Not wishing to look like a completely idiotic gawker, he blushed just faintly as did as he was told, taking a seat on the loveseat indicated. That piece of furniture turned out to be as plushly comfortable as it had looked from a slight distance. He sank down into it, running a slender hand along the needlepointed design of the cushions as he watched her take up the violin. 

To his critical eye, he could see that the violin was old, crafted with the skills of centuries past. Enraptured at something that exquisite, his hand had started to come up to caress it when he was warned away by the look in her eyes. At the soft sounds of her words, however, he felt the blood drain out of his face. But that couldn't be . . . Could it? He flicked his gaze from the instrument to the woman holding it. He didn't want to believe it, but with all that he'd seen so far, he knew, in his heart of hearts, that it most likely was true. No normal woman could have done what he swore he'd witnessed her do, and there was the matter of her three-eyed friend. He lightly bit his lower lip in apprehension as she stepped back and started to play, wondering if, perhaps, she had rescued him only to use him in whatever way herself. 

Then she began to play, and he caught his breath. 

It was exquisite, beautiful, rapturous, sensual. It caught his attention and held it, enchanting him with the melody and the richness. Emotions tugged at him, coming to life through the perfection of her playing, emotions that seemed all too familiar. With a sudden rush, a sense of deja vu overwhelmed him, making his head spin. Why was it so familiar? Because . . . Because it's tonight, history turned into a song.

He leaned heavily against the back of the loveseat, mind reeling at the realization of what it was inspiring her music and those not-spoken words that he knew she had somehow whispered to him through no mortal manner. But even as his mind fought to try to make it all make sense, his emotions and his body continued on with the erotic promises of the violin's song. Staring back at her, the long-lashed eyes looking stunned despite the smoldering embers of desire, he truly looked caught between passion and fear. He wanted her, responding to her on so many levels--base instinct, lust, adoration of something desirable and beautiful, gratitude, longing to be a part of the fairy tale world she seemed to live within--but the fear of the unknown, the fear of what she actually was, and apprehension that he was getting into far worse trouble than what he'd already been in all combined to make him hesitant and skittish. 

And to her silently spoken words, she heard an answer: If you've not been human for twelve centuries, then what in God's name are you now?

You know what I am, angel, Lis answered him silently, her gaze fixed on his face. I am as those others were. There are names for us, mythology that spans the globe. We call ourselves Cainites or Kindred, most commonly--but the universal name for us is "vampire."

Oh, Dieu . . . the fear that surged into his face, draining the color from his cheeks. He shook his head silently, as though he refused to believe. 

You know I'm not lying, she told him. You saw what happened in the cemetery. I am an elder of my kind, more powerful than many.

"What . . . how . . ." he whispered, staring at her. He swallowed hard. "Where did you . . . come from?" 

Myself? France--though it was not called that when I was born. A faint smile. The Kindred? That is a tale unto itself.

"Tell me," he said, his voice scarcely audible. 

She never stopped playing that passionate music as she murmured the most common opening to the "short" version of the Kindred's origins. 

"In the beginning there was only Caine,
Caine who sacrificed his brother out of love.
Caine who was cursed forever with immortality,
Caine who was cursed with the lust for blood.
It is Caine from whom we all come,
Our sire's sire . . ." 

Lis drew the music to a soft, shimmering close, lowering the violin and its bow. She looked at Zoey calmly for a moment, then turned to put the instrument back in its case in the cabinet; no sooner had she nestled the precious Stradivarius into its velvet than she heard the sounds behind her. 
The wind of her movement caught Zoey's hair after Lis seemed to simply appear between him and the door; he collided with her, but she didn't move from the spot at all. Her arm slipped around him to steady him; he tried to jerk away from her, but he might as well have been trying to pull himself from the grasp of a granite statue. 

"Let me go--" It was a breathless sob, a whimper. 

"Don't . . ." She whispered it against his golden hair. "Don't fight me, angel. I swore that I would not harm you. I will not be as those others were." 

He struggled weakly against her for a moment; then the fight simply seemed to drain out of him as he slumped against her. 

"Trust me," she whispered. Trust me . . .

Vampire? For just a fraction of a moment, he wanted to shove that whole concept aside. Everyone knew there were no such things as vampires, not in this day and age of science and technology. I am as those others were. Just like that, the whole eerie reason of why they had bothered to drain him of blood made sense. Just like that, he was gripped in absolute terror; it wasn't because he could believe she was a vampire--though that was horrifying enough--but the fact that she had admitted to him that she was just like those others brought back the fresh memories with an agonizing clarity. He shook his head, partly in denial, partly in an attempt to shove away the nightmarish memories. Oh God . . . I'm going to die after all, aren't I?

He actually managed to stammer a few words out, that quick mind of his trying to understand this revelation even as the rest of him wanted to flee. How could there be such things, after we've all been told that they didn't exist? And still that passionate music spoke to him in much the same way that she herself was, on levels far deeper than normal human communication. In a perverse sort of way, there was a part of him that wanted to know this aspect of a world he'd never dreamed truly existed. 

Her chanting of what sounded like ancient legend, handed down over time through verbal means, was just as seductively appealing as the rest of her, the syllables exotic in her soft, musical murmur. Just more sweetener with which to attract the prey, he swiftly realized. He forced himself to face her calmly as she stopped her music and gazed at him. The fact that Lucifer had been considered the most beautiful of the angels of Heaven crossed his mind, and he actually slyly smiled as he realized that his first assessment of her being an angel of the night was far more true than he'd ever suspected. 

He never really expected to get too far, but that stubborn pride, that overwhelming fear and that basic instinct to remain alive all combined to make him bolt at the first opportunity he could. She had damned near literally flown in the graveyard. His mind had known he was no match for her speed even as his body had turned and run while she had her back to him, putting the precious instrument away. 

She was far too solid an obstacle for her looks, that part of him in the back of his mind not frantic with terror groused to itself. No one that delicate-appearing should feel like an oak tree when you run into them. Nor should they be able to grip you with the sensation of an iron band. Rather shatters the illusion of elegance . . . 

He wasn't going to get away. That was terrifyingly obvious. Like the others, she would be able to take whatever she wanted, and there wasn't a damned thing he could do about it. 

In the end, it was all he could do to close his eyes in defeat. Trust me, she says. . . He really wanted to, despite everything that he knew, everything that had happened to shatter the normalcy of his world. She wanted his blood--that was her nature--but did she want his life as well? That was something he couldn't answer, and he was scared to learn that answer first-hand. And yet, the passionate melody of her playing still rang in his mind's thoughts, promising ecstasy. She had played the night's events truthfully; perhaps there was truth as well in the way she had played the end of the piece. As he softly whimpered, well and truly caught in her trap, it was the only hope he had.

"Hush," Lis whispered, her free hand coming up to touch Zoey's cheek; he'd *seen* those hands tearing through the monsters that had snatched him. How could they feel so gentle? . . . 

"Dieu . . . you need not fear me, angel." That slender hand moved gently along the curve of his jaw, up into his golden hair just beneath his ear. Her eyes were dark, intense . . . *hungry*. Yet it wasn't the sort of hunger that frightened him; it was far more something that made a tight knot of heat, of answering desire, form in his gut. 

She lifted him easily in her arms, cradling him like a child. He couldn't help but slip his arm around her shoulders; she pressed her cheek softly against his hair as she carried him, her strides long and implacable, into the ballroom, up the stairs. 

Lis tumbled him softly onto her bed, his slender body almost swallowed up by the sheer size of the mattress. Her hands moved slowly over him, the velvet robe and silk pajamas seeming to vanish under her fingers; her own robe and gown slipped off easily as she glided up to arch over him like a panther. Her dark hair cascaded down, mingling with the bright strands of his own shining mane. 

She played his body just as she'd played the violin--with consummate skill and the sense of intent, devoted worship. Every place the Sabbat had hurt him, she sought to give him pleasure instead; her long fingers massaged his arm and shoulders, moved down to stroke over his ribs as her mouth came down to meet his own, her tongue slipping past his lips to dance a slow, erotic rhythm. 

He reached up to sink his fingers into the opulent silk of her hair; she drew her mouth from his in order to catch his hands gently, pressing kisses to the inside of each wrist, then let him go, moving back to kiss him again. He shuddered under her, burying his fingers in the dark-chocolate strands with their highlights of flame. 

With every touch, she slipped into his mind; as she stroked and soothed his body, she worked to ease the pain, fear, and humiliation of what he had suffered. It seemed to be working . . . with every moment his tension grew less, his arousal increasing. Braced with her knees on either side of his hips, she slid her hands down his sides, beneath his buttocks. He tensed, whimpering, starting to pull away; she wouldn't let go, *making* him accept the gentle caress--so unlike what had been done to him. And at the same time, she smoothed away the scars that the violation had left within his mind. She did not rob him completely of those memories; rather, she took away the immediacy of them, clouding them gently until they seemed very far away. 

He looked up at her with dazed emerald eyes, and she realized that he *knew* what she was doing, that she was there within his mind, mending the damage to his very soul just as Jacob had healed the wounds of his body. He reached up, put his hands on her shoulders, pushed gently--he knew he couldn't move her if she didn't choose to move, but she yielded, letting him roll the two of them over. And now *he* was in control; every line of her body, the very gleam of her eyes, told him of her submission to him . . .

He softly sighed at her gentle touch on his cheek, thankful at least that whatever violence was going to come, it wasn't happening right away. Forcing himself to calm down, to again try to get himself under control, his long eyelashes fluttered as he opened his eyes again to gaze at her. Gazing into her deep, dark eyes as her fingers glided along the soft skin of his face and tangled into the soft silk of his hair, he was slightly surprised to find a desire there that aroused instead of frightened. He'd seen many such looks before tossed his way, and many were the times when he'd taken those people up on their needs, finding his own fulfilled by giving in to their hunger. Along with his re-emerging passion, responding as it was to her enchanting beauty and sensuous presence, he found himself actually believing that despite what she had planned-- whatever that would prove to be-- he actually could trust her to make it something pleasurable. 

They say then when the rabbit is snared in the eagle's talons, it knows no pain but only euphoria. Nature's way of at least easing the life of the victim as it is used to feed another. . . He didn't even whimper or flinch when she picked him up like a young child. Falling gradually under the spell of passionate arousal she wove, he didn't struggle, didn't fight back. Instead, he simply let all thought drift away and merely responded to her as a man would to any perfect, sensual woman. Like this, she appeared so *normal*, it was easy to just pretend that she was nothing more than what she seemed. He relaxed against her, wrapping his arms around her shoulders and leaning against her as she carried him through her house. 

The bed was every bit as comfortable and inviting as he had expected from just looking at it, the satin sheets slick and smooth underneath him. Under her guidance, he sank deeper and deeper into the haze of fiery pleasure, letting himself only *feel* what was happening and reacting to only those sensations. He was only vaguely aware of his clothes being removed, only made a slight mental note when her own clothes were shed. In that moment of experiencing merely sensations, he was far more aware of the feel of silken fabric giving way to the wonderful texture of silken skin, of the feel of her hands roaming over his body and the way her own cool body felt to his fingertips. 

Oh God, she certainly knew what she was doing, possessing the skill of the finest caliber. He couldn't help but play the tune she so skillfully wrought with her touch, her caresses, her kisses. As before, when she was beginning her playing in the limo, he bowed before her talent and skill; in this encounter, he clearly understood who had the upper hand. But she was so good at what she was doing, he found himself holding his breath at times, waiting to see just how far she could take him on this maddeningly intense ride. He revelled in her touch, delighted in her kisses, felt himself becoming ever more aroused as her hands explored over his slender form and her tongue danced with his. His own hands roved over her, finally tangling his nimble fingers within that glossy mane of raven-dark hair. And though she was cool to the touch, he found the feeling not unpleasant against his own warm, flushed skin. 

Then came the caressing touch on the firm cheeks of his ass, and with that suddenly came the sharp, splintered memories of the graveyard. Just like that, his mood shattered, the horror of what he endured ripping at him. He whimpered as once again his instinct was to get away, but she wouldn't let him go, wouldn't stop the touching that brought with it the terrifyingly sharp images. Unable to get away, he was forced to compare the feeling of her hands on him with those of those *others*; to his relief, never once was her caress even close to the grasping, shameful way he'd been used in the cemetery. 

Then the memories themselves seemed to lose their edge, to feel more and more like ones that had happened months or even years ago, to take on a fuzziness that made them appear somehow better than the reality had been. He opened his eyes again in wonder as he made the connection; somehow, someway, his gorgeous host was using her unearthly abilities to dull the pain of the attack, to heal his scarred mind in a way similar to what her three-eyed friend had done for his body. Awed that something supposedly as evil as she was supposed to be-- and vampires were always evil in the movies, on TV, in the folklore of the ages-- was compassionate enough to care whether his wounded soul was eased of its injury, he gazed up at her. 

She was gorgeous, sensual, sexy beyond belief-- a walking, talking fantasy with that attractive appeal only something dark and dangerous truly had. Once again, she had rescued him, and though there was a little cynical voice in his mind that warned him that she was only doing so so that he would be worthy of whatever selfish plans she had in mind, he couldn't stop himself from being overcome with gratitude and adoration. His ardor returned as well, coming back with a vengeance; he faintly moaned as he suddenly wanted to show her how grateful he was to have her for a benefactor. 

A soft sigh of relief escaped from between his sensuous lips when she acquiesced to his silent request to let him take control and allow him to physically express his thanks. Though perhaps not as refined in his skills as she was-- after all, he had existed for a mere twenty-three years as opposed to her centuries-- he certainly had talent for such expression. His hands roamed over her, exploring her, his touch enticing. He kissed her passionately, reverently-- on the mouth, on her neck-- worshipping her with mouth and tongue on her breasts and between her silken thighs. As he did so, his long golden hair slid sensuously along her skin, adding yet another sensation to the symphony. He took his time, his own fiery passions blazing within him ever hotter with every chord of pleasure he played upon the instrument of her body. 

By the time he physically joined with her, beginning the intense, intimate, graceful dance, he was once again so far gone within the flames that nothing save the moment existed for him. He strained against her, beautiful in his elegant, impassioned movements, overwhelmed by the feel of her underneath him and the sensation of her tight sheath around his throbbing shaft. There was no past, no future, no memories, no thoughts, no vampires; there was only the two of them and the dance they shared, the sparkling brilliance of the music they made together. 

When he finally reached that shining moment of crystalline ecstasy, his melodic tenor giving voice to his exquisite release, he couldn't help but think that he'd never felt anything so *gratifying*, so *fulfilling* before...

Dieu, Dieu . . . it had been a long time since her last lover, yet Elisabeth knew it wasn't mere pent-up desire that made this experience so intense. Zoey was *good*, filled with the passion and fire of youth; he knew how to use his graceful body, how to push her higher and higher along the spiral to that moment when it all came apart in a dazzling burst of sensation. 

She whispered his name when he breached her gates; the flash of pain was over almost before it began. She had been Embraced a virgin--no matter how many times that gossamer veil was torn, it always healed during her daylight sleep. It was the nature of the Kindred body to return to the form it had held upon Embrace--only a few things could change that. She had mastery of one method, but she'd never bothered to use it for such a purpose. 

Arching elegantly beneath him, choosing the perfect rhythm to match his, Lis let herself drown in the purely *human* act, the mechanics of ordinary reproduction brought to an entirely different level, one where passion and desire, not simple instinct, took command. 

She knew the moment when he began to climax, his body shuddering above her as his beautiful voice sang out his pleasure. Reaching up, tightening her fingers in the soft hair at the nape of his neck, she pulled him gently down, her lips trailing a scorching path along his throat. 

Trust me, angel . . .

The pain was only there for a moment as her fangs slipped into his flesh like twin needles. He cried out softly . . . and then he cried out again, a dazed, ecstatic moan, as she fed. That sensation combined with his sexual release was almost *too* good, too intense. 

He tasted so sweet, so clean and pure; no drugs tainted him, no bitter taste of cigarettes, only the trace of alcohol from the plum wine he'd had with dinner. She held him gently, rocking her hips against him to prolong his climax even as she drank. 

When she'd tasted all she could risk--for Jacob had not been able to completely replace the blood the Sabbat had drained--she drew back, licking the wound gently; the punctures sealed over as if they'd never been inflicted. Zoey relaxed atop her, between her thighs, in her arms, and she held him close against her unbeating heart.

He was so caught up in the fiery passion of the moment that he never really was aware of her tugging him down to her even as he strained against her, caught up in the overwhelming release. He bent gracefully down, even instinctively tilting his head just so, giving her a better angle at the smooth column of his neck. 

The sharp stab of pain did catch his attention through the ecstatic haze, and his moan of pleasure became instead a quiet cry of protest. But when the euphoria swept him away, it was all he could do to just stay conscious and enjoy the unearthly pleasure. Sensual beyond belief, exquisite in its intensity, laced with the thrilling rush that he'd always imagined euphoric drugs as having, this was something as different to what had happened in the cemetery as night is to day. Though he could no longer remember it well, he did recall that taking of his life's essence as brutal and degrading. This that was happening now was something else entirely, something almost a celebration or a communion. 

Caught has he had been in the throes of sexual release, his orgasm seemed to go on forever, his young, taut body quivering against the sensuous, brunette Kindred as she drank what she dared of his sweet, fresh blood. Then eternity ended; the awesomely exquisite sensations drifted away, leaving him in quiet lucidity. 

Satisfied beyond belief, feeling drowsy and lightheaded, he truly had no choice but to collapse against Elisabeth. Panting, his gracefully muscled body sheened with sweat, his glistening mane of wavy golden hair spread out over his back and along their shoulders, he shivered slightly. Her skin felt far cooler now against his flushed form, and the chest beneath him was silent and unmoving. If he'd managed to forget what she truly was, the knowledge came back to his mind with a vengeance. So did her words, "Trust me." Oddly enough, he actually did trust her, despite all logic. 

He didn't move from where he'd collapsed. He was just too drained to do so. But his curiosity stepped in once again. True, he was probably being stupidly foolish, but he just had to know. 

His soft, melodic tenor was laced with his lassitude, betraying that he was enjoying one hell of an afterglow. "So, Elisabeth, now what?" What else do you have in store for me now that I know some of your secrets. . .

Elisabeth chuckled softly. "What now, angel?" She nuzzled the top of his head gently. "Was that not enough for the moment? Dieu, young humans these days seem to have so much energy . . . ah well, surely I can keep up with you." She lifted herself slowly against him until he moaned almost piteously. 

"I didn't mean *that*," he protested weakly. 

"Do you mean that *you* cannot keep up with *me*?" Again she arched beneath him; the moan was less piteous and more pleasurable this time, but he shook his head a little against her breast anyway. 

"Mercy," he murmured plaintively. 

"Oh, very well," she said with mock impatience. "I shall wait for you to recover." One arm still holding him against her, she reached up to run her fingers slowly through his hair, and was rewarded with a soft purr. Her voice grew serious, soft. "What happens now all depends on you, Zoey." Was that the first time she'd actually called him by the nickname? "I have broken the first Tradition, the one law that *all* of the Kindred obey to some degree. 'Thou shalt not reveal thy true nature to those not of the Blood. Doing so shall renounce thy claims of Blood.' I am Autarkis--I walk a road beyond the rule of Camarilla Prince or Sabbat Archbishop--but as I said, the Masquerade is paramount. It is what protects us all from the fire, the stake, the searing light of the sun." She stopped for a moment, still stroking his hair. 

"If I let you go," Lis said quietly, "you will be considered a danger to the Cainite race, a mortal who knows too much. There are those who would kill you outright rather than see you walk free." She felt him grow tense in her arms; she caressed his back gently, even as she ran her fingers slowly through his hair. "There are options, though, that circumvent such a judgment." 

"Tell me," he whispered against her breast; his emerald-green eyes peeked up at her beneath his long lashes. "You have already experienced one of those options--when I worked to fade the memories of what happened to you earlier tonight. I can *completely* erase your memory of all I have told you, make you think that nothing out of the ordinary happened tonight. You will remember nothing except that you left the club, went home with a woman, and enjoyed a fine evening indeed." 

"All right, that's *one* option. What . . . are the others?" 

"Another is death," she said very quietly. "But to kill you would be a crime, Zoey. To remove the gift of your talent and your beauty from this world would be a knife in my very soul." She felt him shiver; almost without thinking, she urged blood to her skin again, warming her against him. 

"How do you *do* that?" he whispered, one hand moving slowly to touch her shoulder, feeling the warmth. 

"I can manipulate the blood within me. Here . . ." She pressed the side of his head gently, guiding him to put his ear against her left breast. A moment of concentration; he could *hear* her heart as it began to beat, slowly, softly. And she breathed as well--not just to power her voice, but the regular rhythm of any mortal. 

"Some manipulation . . ." 

"It is a useful skill," she replied, chuckling. 

"So my options are forgetfulness or death?" Zoey asked, sounding subdued. 

"Those are only two of the four most common options. I can also make you a ghoul--as my driver, butler, and chef are, among others. No, it is nothing like the ghouls of legend . . . no corpse-eating, mindless creatures. You would merely drink of my vitae; as long as you feed from me regularly, you will not age and will enjoy certain beneficial side effects--heightened strength, toughness, and speed, for example. Ghouls are considered *partly* 'of the Blood', and thus do not constitute a breach of the Masquerade." 

"Death, forgetfulness, or be a ghoul. That's three . . . what's the fourth?" He felt so tense against her. 

She was silent for a long moment. "I can Embrace you." 

"What does that mean?" He was even more tense now; she was rather pleased that he was alert enough to pick up the emphasis she'd placed on the word. 

"I can make you Kindred as well, angel. As my childe, you would certainly be 'of the Blood', and enjoy all the wonders and benefits that the Kindred possess . . . but there are strings attached. Sunlight is death to us; you would never see another sunrise without dire risk. Fire, too, is deadly. Those who know of my power might try to hunt you, for your blood would be only slightly less potent than my own, and there are Kindred who practice a cannibalism called 'diablerie', drinking the very souls of their victims along with the blood to gain their power." 

She touched his cheek gently, whispering. "I would protect you, angel, to the full extent of my power. I will protect you even if you do not choose the Embrace. Even if you choose to become only my ghoul, not my childe, I will keep you safe. For nothing more than the pleasure of gazing at you, I would give you whatever you ask for; for the gift of your voice, I would fulfill any dream. For your touch . . ." She took his hand gently from her shoulder, kissing his fingertips. "Anything, Zoey. The only price I cannot pay is to let you go as you are, unchanged, remembering all you have seen and heard. That would ultimately cost you your life." 

I will take you beyond heaven and hell, for a price. All things for a price . . .

Four choices, four doorways through which the path of his existence would now go. He closed his long-lashed eyes again, blocking out the sight of the fascinatingly beautiful woman even as her exotically whispered words and the feel of her now-warm lips and body-- yes, that was quite amazing, that ability, but even he could see how useful it could be-- pressed against him made him so very much aware of her presence. 

Two paths were already discarded out of hand. He wanted to continue to live; he was still young, and though his sense of immortality had been badly shaken, self-preservation ran strong within his soul. Therefore, the second option wasn't a viable one. 

He didn't want to forget her. No matter how horrible or pleasurable the night, there was a certain thrill to it as well. It was certainly something far different then his usual days. Something within him balked at the idea of oblivion of any sort; granted, his memories of the cemetery were comfortably numbed now, but the rest of the evening were clear and in focus. Perhaps she knew what he was thinking-- after all, she had demonstrated all sorts of unearthly abilities-- but he murmured it out loud anyway. "I wouldn't wish to forget one such as you." 

The emerald green eyes fluttered open as he gazed upon her once more. "That only leaves the other two, less common, choices open: Vampire or ghoul." He was scared again, afraid of the unknown, afraid of whatever changes within him either path would oppose upon him. He certainly was no fool; he *would* change, somehow. 

She had hesitated at naming the fourth option. Of the two that remained, he instinctively knew that it would be the more radical change. Why the hesitation? Is it so horrible what she is, despite the power, that she doesn't want to inflict it upon anyone else? Does she see within me someone that would grab at power, no matter the cost, and thus didn't wish me to know? Or am I just not good enough for her in that manner? That last thought made him wince, his feelings wounded for some reason. However, before his quick mind could run down the path of begging her to Embrace him as proof that he was good enough to be her "child" not just some servant, his sense of self-preservation kicked in again. To ask for that in haste truly would be the end of his life as he knew it. He was smarter than that. 

The confusion and fear in his expression faded away. He knew what path he was going to tread. Even if you choose to become only my ghoul, not my childe. . . She had made it sound like something slightly inferior. Again that twinge of hurt feelings, but he shoved them away. I'm not ready to give up being human, to give up sunlight and mortality. I don't really want to change, but if I must, then this would be the least amount of change that would allow me to still know her, to still see her, despite what she really is.

He tossed her a wickedly charming grin, one that truly brought out the sly charm of his appearance. "Let's see what's behind Door Number Three, Monty. Ghouldom to a gorgeously dark angel? Cool." He laughed, a bemused chuckle that was just like his speaking voice-- soft and melodic. 

"All right, then. What do I have to do to become this?" His charming grin faded slightly into a half-smile as he stared at her, gathering up his courage to face this change that was going to come.

Tangled in the rich, royal-blue satin sheets, still holding Zoey against her, Elisabeth watched his wonderfully expressive face; she hardly needed to reach into his mind, to read his aura. He was so *open*. 

She saw the rejection of death in the way his mouth tightened, the almost invisible shake of his head. She felt an odd, sudden surge of fierce pride; *this* one would not go so tamely down that path. Before she eased those dreadful memories of what had happened in the graveyard, she had feared that he--like far too many others who had had their innocence shattered, their very soul violated--would want to end his own life. No . . . this one is stronger than that. Bien . . .

"I wouldn't wish to forget one such as you," he murmured softly; she sighed a little, stroking his hair gently. Dieu, such simple words, yet they warmed her to the depths of her soul. When he opened his eyes, she met his gaze quietly, waiting; once again, she could virtually read what he was thinking without even trying, just by watching his expression. 

He would not choose the Embrace . . . not yet. She couldn't deny that a shudder of relief went through her; she had always feared to create a childe. She had made only two childer in over twelve hundred years; her first offspring was dead, driven beyond the edge of despair by what she had become. Some minds, some souls, simply could not survive centuries without straining, breaking; toward the end, Elena had been unable to do much more than curl in the corner of her dark chamber, weeping endless tears of blood. Elisabeth's fatal mistake in the creation of that one had been her stubborn belief that Elena's gentle soul had a core of steel. 

She had been wrong, so terribly wrong. An innocent had paid the price. 

Despite her resolve to never again pass on the blood of Caine, to never again take a mortal into her heart and give the gift and curse of immortality in darkness, there had been Markus. The outrageously flamboyant, ever-laughing, ever-seductive half-Gypsy troubadour had simply refused to leave her alone, courting her relentlessly, until her walls began to come down. Until he consumed her in passions she hadn't felt for years; she had given him the blood, yet withheld the final act. And on a night when they'd run laughing through the Black Forest with a thunderstorm raging all around them, when he'd caught her in a playful tackle, when they'd rolled on the leaf-strewn floor like children and made love with the intensity and passion of the gods, she had given him the Embrace. 

Markus had adjusted as Elena had not, staying as her companion for many years, yet the formation of the Camarilla--and the Anarch Revolt that attended it--swept them apart. That had been nearly five hundred years ago. She had not seen him since; no Kindred could repeat his name to her, could tell her where he had gone. If he were dead, she had already done her grieving. 

Zoey's soft laughter and playful words pulled her attention back to the here-and-now. His grin could charm the devil; still, his green eyes were edged with apprehension. "All right, then. What do I have to do to become this?" he asked her softly. 

She sat up, leaning back against the pillows; both Kindred and mortal let out soft, sad little sighs as the change in position separated the intimate joining of their bodies. She still held him in her arms, though he'd slipped a bit lower; she gazed down at him solemnly. She truly did look like an angel of the night at that moment, with her rich dark hair flowing down around her shoulders, the white-lace-trimmed blue satin pillows framing her. 

"I assume you have seen Mr. Francis Ford Coppola's version of Mr. Bram Stoker's *in*famous novel, 'Dracula'," she murmured, a touch of irony in her tone. That faded with her next words. "All you must do is drink from me." 

She reached up to the side of her graceful white neck; she didn't truly cut herself with her nail, but the short, slanting stroke her fingertip made along the pale flesh opened the skin nevertheless as she used the gesture to focus the flesh-shaping powers of Vicissitude. 

Her blood was dark, the light catching sparks of deep ruby in the slow trickle as it began to thread down the column of her throat. She lay back, turning her head to offer herself; her hand tightened gently in his hair. 

"Drink," she whispered, closing her eyes, waiting for the pleasure to crash through her. Her blood was very potent, rich with all the power of the Fifth Generation; she knew that the first swallow would burn him like fire, but she was ready to keep that gentle hold on him, refusing to release him. It would only sear him for that one moment--the next swallow would damp the flame, diluting it until it merely heated his body from the inside out. 

It will hurt for a moment, angel. But do not be afraid . . .

How could she look so lovely? The question remained in his mind as he carefully watched her, looking so innocent and *normal*, as she had sat up a bit. Still held against her by the embrace of an arm, he shook his head slightly at her question. No, he hadn't seen that particular movie; his soft hair stirred, then settled as his emerald gaze became locked upon the movement of her hand. 

He stared at that rivulet of dark ruby, swallowing down his rising sense of fear. He would have to drink that, make it a part of himself, if he was going to live to see another day. Steeling himself, well aware of her hold on his silken hair, he sat up a bit himself. Then he leaned forward and ran his tongue along her skin, licking up the trickle of her dark blood. 

Oh *God*, it burned. He whimpered at the sensation, tongue feeling like it was on fire. He shivered and tried to pull away, every instinct within him telling him to flee this. Elisabeth was unrelenting, however; her gentle strength couldn't be denied as she pressed his mouth against the opening on her neck. Mouth filling with the fluid that seemed as if it were liquid flame, he couldn't help but swallow. He whimpered again, trying to jerk away, as the stuff seared down his throat. 

The fiery blood continued to pour into him. Yet again he was forced to swallow in sheer reflex-- once, twice, a third time. With each swallow, the burning sensation faded into a not unpleasant warmth that seemed to fill every nook and cranny of his body. Softly sighing, his slender body relaxed against the beautiful brunette. He didn't feel that changed after all, at least in that moment. 

Not knowing how much he would have to drink from her, he continued to do so until her tugging gently on his hair gave him the signal. Releasing her neck, he slowly sat up, eyes fluttering open to remain focused on the bloody smear against the fair skin. Sighing again, still mentally taking stock of himself after having survived the ordeal, he let his gaze wander over to the Kindred. 

"Funny. I still feel pretty much the same. Just. . . warm all over inside." He smiled just slightly, tilting his head just a bit in that gesture she was quickly coming to learn was his characteristic gesture of inquiry or curiosity. "Is there anything else I need to know about this. . . state I'm in?"

Elisabeth sighed softly, languorously as she reached up and licked her fingertip, then wiped the finger down the length of the small incision, smoothing it shut again. She lifted her hand to her lips, then paused, gazing at Zoey; instead of licking away the trace of blood herself, she touched his lips with her finger, pressing gently. 

He half-closed his eyes, opening his mouth a little to let her slip that finger past his lips. He suckled lightly, erotically, on her fingertip as she shivered in pleasure, her other hand stroking his silky golden hair once more. 

"To answer your question . . . you should know a few things." She rested her head back on the pillows. "You will not age, so long as I sustain you with my blood--you will appear as you are now, no matter how many years you live. But if you cannot drink Kindred blood regularly, you will begin to age physically once more--and believe me, your body will revert very quickly to your true age. I have seen ghouls who lived far beyond their normal lifespans wither unto death within only a short amount of time without the vitae." 

Zoey released her finger gently. "In that case, I'd better keep up on my booster shots, huh?" He grinned, that sweet, charming grin that she was quickly coming to adore. 

"I'll be certain to keep you updated, angel." She smiled back at him, then frowned slightly, thinking. "You will soon notice a significant increase in your strength. The powers of the Kindred, called Disciplines, pass through the blood; as a ghoul, you will be able to access strictly the 'physical' powers, unless you happen to be very special indeed. Some rare ghouls, by some trick of the blood, *can* wield the other Disciplines, so long as their regnant allows them to learn such powers. The 'physical' Disciplines are called Celerity, Potence, and Fortitude; Celerity refers to the supernatural speed you saw me use earlier tonight. Potence is supernatural strength, which you also saw me use; that is what will cause the increase in your physical prowess, though only to a small degree compared to some--myself included. Fortitude is a power that enhances one's resistance to damage of all kinds." She touched his chin gently, smiling again. "I will see to it that you learn Fortitude--it can save your life." 

"Do I need some power to save me, when *you're* around?" Again that roguish grin, the twinkle in the green eyes; she chuckled softly. 

"If I am *not* around, angel, you may need it very much." She kissed his forehead; he sighed and tilted his head up to let her kiss his lips instead. When the soft kiss ended, she stroked his cheek gently; her eyelids felt so *heavy*. "The sun is rising." 

"How can you tell? There are no windows . . ." 

"Kindred sleep very heavily during the day. No matter where one is or what one is doing, the rising of the sun inevitably pushes a Kindred down into slumber, unless one makes a conscious effort to remain alert." Her voice was growing fainter as she lay back, getting comfortable. "Don't be concerned, Zoey, but I must warn you . . . the daylight sleep looks very much like death. Unless some emergency comes up, I will not rise again until sunset." Her arm around him tightened very gently; then she let that arm slip away, down to her side under the covers. It wouldn't do to hold him trapped against her all day in a rigid grasp. 

"I'm duly warned." He kissed her lips again; he felt so warm and wonderful, his flesh against hers as he lay atop her. 

She smiled, then closed her eyes, letting his kiss, his warmth, be the last things she felt before the break of dawn pushed her away into the night behind her eyelids.

Second Stanza Chapter Two The Silverlands

This page formatted and © by Dianna Silver

"The Silverlands", "The Obsidian Tower", "A Character's Chronicle: Zoey's Story", "Argent Stag, Silver Rose", "The Rose Garden" and the "Rose Realm" all © 1997 - by Dianna Silver. Some material also © 1998 - by Krissy Ryan.

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