Night Melody Reprised: First Stanza

Double life, a double life, a masquerade,
You know we all live a masquerade,
I know you're out there--
Leading a double life,
Friends in the daytime, strangers at night,
Leading a double life,
Can it be wrong when you know that it's right?
--Styx, "Double Life"

The sleek little car purred along the roadway, the top down as the waning light of the sun made long, brooding shadows. It was a newer Mustang convertible, with a black top and a deep green paint job and a leather interior also colored deep green. All in all, though it was certainly not the most sporty or luxurious car out there, it suited its owner rather well. He knew he looked hot in shades of green; it went so well with his large, emerald eyes and his silky golden hair. Right now, that hair was flowing like a banner in the wind of the car's travel, and his eyes were scanning the road ahead. If I remember right, it should be. . . Aha! There it is.

He smiled faintly to himself as he heard his sigh of relief at seeing the walled property appear in sight. He had been so out of it when he had last travelled this route, lingering in the horror of what had been done to him in the cemetery, that he was afraid of not finding the place again. There it was, that elegantly understated mansion. In the dying light of the sun, it seemed to have a hint of a sinister air. That was appropriate enough, since its mistress was an angel of the night that hunted. And yet, this lamb knew that he truly would be safe enough going into the den of this lioness. 

The Mustang glided to a halt before the gates even as the final curve of the sun dipped below the horizon. Beyond the stately wrought iron bars, he could see the impressive, flowery grounds. Leaning over, he pressed the button on the intercom box, then waited in slight apprehension. It had been a week since they had parted, seven days since the mid-morning sun had seen him chauffeured back to his home in that impressive Rolls-Royce. He wasn't exactly sure what sort of reception he would receive, truth be told. 

It had been something of a horrible week, actually. The afternoon practice sessions had been continually cancelled because the other guys in the band just weren't up to it. Then again, if he'd been kept awake damned near every night by nightmares too horrible to face, he'd probably wouldn't be up to practicing either. Though it seemed far from a coincidence that all the other members of Ravensblood would be having nightmares at the same time; it was too suspicious, too convenient. He wasn't sure, but he had a feeling that Elisabeth might have had something to do with it. He knew his friends very well indeed; it just didn't seem like them. 

Elisabeth Maurier. She'd been on his mind, on and off, throughout the week. It really didn't matter what he was doing or what he'd been thinking of, she intruded into his thoughts with her image, the memory of her exotic voice and heavenly playing, the scent of her. It didn't really matter that she was one of those dark legends proved to be reality; she had saved him from what probably would have been a painfully terrible fate, made the memory bearable and had seemed to appreciate him for who he truly was. She had been sensual and exotic beyond belief, attractive because of her beauty, her presence and the thrill of danger that surrounded her. He'd found that his ordinary little life was rather drab indeed as he had taken it day by day. In the end, he had decided that what he really needed was to see her again. 

And there was the matter of the blood. She had been right; even now, he could feel that reserve of strength sitting there like softly glowing coals, but they were coals slowly cooling. Knowing that he was probably only safe-- well, as safe as he ever would be, being aware of the creatures of the night-- so long as those embers remained within him, he figured that he'd better continue that. It probably wouldn't be so bad this second time around. 

"May I ask who wishes entrance to the grounds?" The voice was droll, every proper and held a note of no nonsense. It was probably the valet. 

"Zoey de la Vega. I was here a week ago, and thought perhaps Ms. Maurier would enjoy a visit. I realize it's a bit early yet but--" 

He broke off in surprise as the gates suddenly swung inward. "Mademoiselle has been expecting you." With a rather final-sounding *click*, the intercom went dead. 

Taking a breath, Zoey drove the sleek little convertible up the drive, once again gazing over the flower-covered grounds in appreciation. Yes, their beauty might be transitory and fleeting-- so was the beauty of youth-- but when they were at their peak, there was nothing more perfect than the sweet symphony of texture, color and scent. A smile just as sweet settled over his handsome face as he parked the car. 

Slipping out and shutting the door, he gave his slender form an elegant stretch. This time, he had wanted to make a bit of an impression; the slight feeling of being soiled clung to him as he recalled the shape he had been for a good part of that night. He rather hoped he could rectify that. Dressed this time in dark brown dress shoes and a modest, deep green suit that was well tailored, his silky mane of hair tied back into a neat, waist-length ponytail at the nape of his neck, he looked far more like the descendant of Spanish nobility this time around than he had leaving the club that night. Relaxing and tugging the jacket and pale green dress shirt back into place, he leaned over the door of the Mustang and pulled out the gig bag from the passenger seat. 

With a graceful turn, he faced toward the mansion and hoisted the shoulder strap of the sturdy black bag up onto a shoulder. A short stride and he was there at the front door. It wasn't that much of a surprise to him that the valet opened the door up almost immediately after he arrived; he rather expected to have Elisabeth's staff able to anticipate things. Giving the very grim and proper valet a sly grin, he cocked his head to the side and waited to be shown into the mansion. 

"Mademoiselle, Zoisite de la Vega is here." 


He came back to me . . .

Lis arose from a sea of tangled satin sheets colored the same vivid green as Zoey's eyes, putting one hand to the intercom set in the wall beside the headboard of the massive ebony bed. "Show him into the parlor, Victor. I'll be down shortly." 

She barely heard her retainer's acknowledgement as she went into the walk-in closet--this one considerably larger than the one in the bathroom, a dressing room in and of itself. Folding one arm beneath her breasts and resting her other elbow on her forearm, chin resting thoughtfully on her fingers, she scanned the fortune in clothing that awaited her. 

Velvet again, she decided. She loved the feel of that fabric; it was pure tactile seduction. She tugged a long, elegant, sleeveless gown of deep, deep red from its hanger, draping it over the back of the vanity chair. A naughty scrap of red silk panties, smoky-red thigh stockings, dark red satin heels; the velvet rustled with that unique sort of sound as she slipped into the dress. Floor-length skirt with a slit up the left side, snug-fitting bodice, dark red silk-finished embroidery framing the neckline and twining up the straps. She considered her reflection in the tri-fold mirror in the corner as she brushed out her shimmering hair. 

Finally, she chose a modest ruby necklace and matching earrings, then swept her cascading hair all to the right, slipping a ruby-and-gold comb back from her left temple to anchor the dark-chocolate mane. She swiped a trace of deep scarlet across her lips, deemed herself decent, and remembered--barely--to mute the full impact of her appearance with Mask of the Thousand Faces, dimming down her brilliance somewhat. 

Lis found herself nearly running down the hall; she hadn't realized just how much she'd truly missed the gorgeous young man. When she reached the parlor--an elegant Victorian setting in shades of rose, cream, and antique gold, opening off the left-hand side of the foyer--she just knew she must look like an overly eager teenager on her first date. She didn't really care, either. 

Dieu . . . he was every bit as beautiful as she recalled, and more. He stood in profile, gazing at the small fountain in the corner; its white marble mermaid was frozen in graceful mid-leap, the conch shell in her arms pouring a steady stream of water that glittered over the tiers of her flowing hair to fall into the scallop-shell base. As Lis stepped through the doors, he turned with an almost shy smile; the smile faded into a near-gape as he took in the vision of seductive red before him. 

"Zoey," she murmured, staring at him. He was just plain *gorgeous* in a deep green suit that looked perfectly made for his graceful, athletic body, his hair tamed back into a thick ponytail that shimmered around his shoulders. It took a lot of concentration to even be able to cross the room to him; she held out her hands, just looking at him. 

He laid his hands in hers without hesitation. Which of them drew the other near first was virtually impossible to tell, the actions were done with such perfect timing. In the evening shoes, she was just a little taller than he, but that didn't stop either of them from getting wrapped up in a kiss that started off lightly enough, but rapidly intensified, growing hungry, passionate. 

It was only Victor clearing his throat in the doorway that brought that kiss to an end before they became indecent in the parlor. Panting softly, Lis turned her head to frown at her longtime companion; the frown faded at the very serious expression on Victor's face. 

"Mademoiselle," he said quietly. "There's a gentleman here to see you. His name is Roland Meadows . . . he says that he is the Sheriff." 

"Damnation," she muttered, her body going rigid under the soft sheath of red velvet. "What does he want?" 

"To see you, I would imagine," Victor replied stolidly. "He did not vouchsafe his purpose to me." 

She looked at Zoey, gazed into emerald eyes turned several shades darker now. "Stay here," she told him quietly; she *saw* the mutiny, the rebellion in his face, and she couldn't help but chuckle softly as she touched his cheek. "For your own protection, angel." 

He was still pouting a little as she strode out of the parlor door, crossing the marble floor of the foyer. Stepping out the front door, she set her hands on her hips and stared levelly at the tall, stockily-built man who had intruded on her evening. 

Meadows had brown hair, dark eyes, and an apparent inability to blink. He looked rather like a shaved gorilla in a dark blue business suit that fit him none too well. A twisted scar that ran from the right corner of his mouth back to the hinge of his jaw pulled his lips slightly out of line, making his rocks-in-a-cement-mixer voice slur a little. 

"Evening, ma'am," he rumbled. The ape has manners, Lis thought with ill humor as she nodded crisply; when she extended a hand, he clumsily engulfed it in an oversized fist. She easily recognized the extra-macho tight grip--why must all Brujah act like bullies these days?--and smirked inwardly; she flexed her slender fingers and was rewarded by Meadows's widening eyes as a hint of her real strength made itself known. 

"To what do I owe this visit, Mr. Meadows?" she inquired lightly as she released the Sheriff's hand. He looked rather glad that she'd let him have the appendage back in one piece. 

"An incident about a week ago, ma'am," he replied, trying not to be obvious about rubbing his hand. "One hell of a bash-up in Creekhill Cemetery. Were you there?" 

She pretended to be thinking about it. "Oh, that," she finally said in a tone of complete boredom. "What of it?" 

"Well, ma'am, there're a few things I need to go over with you. Er--those were Sabbat, right?" 

Lis examined her flawless manicure. "Naturellement," she murmured, and let him figure it out himself. 

"And you, er, killed them all. Pretty much. Right?" 

"Oui." She was having far too much fun with this. 

"And you're, well . . . ma'am, you never presented yourself to the Prince . . ." 

"I am Autarkis," she cut him off coolly. "I have no intention of harming the Camarilla power structure in the city, I assure you, but I have little interest in meeting Prince . . .?" 

"Celeste Byron," Meadows said helpfully. 

"Is that who it is? Interesting," she said with a total lack of interest. 

"Prince Byron," Meadows forged on valiantly, "has a certain concern in the matter, y'see. There was a mortal there, a blond guy--" 

"What about him?" There was a little too much sharpness in her tone to be casual. 

"Well, Prince Byron's a Toreador, y'see, she likes pretty stuff, and she really wants this guy. Do you know where--hey, there he is!" 

Lis froze up internally and turned very slowly. Zoey, standing back from the doorway, but still in plain view, looked rather guilty. She shot him a look of pure aggravation as Meadows continued. 

"I'm going to have to take him with me, ma'am . . ." 

"You will not." Three words, voiced so calmly and quietly that they should *not* have stopped Meadows silent--yet they did. Lis turned again to face the Sheriff, her lovely face remote as the far side of the moon. "You will, instead, tell me the location of Elysium tonight, and *I* will speak with Prince Byron . . . *personally*." 

The parlor to where he and his bag were escorted was once again the epitome of elegance and the tasteful use of wealth. Victorian in decor, a symphony of rose, cream and gold that encompassed a curio chest filled with very intriguing knickknacks, a half-dozen cushily-padded chairs, a few tables located next to various chairs that held a number of intriguing art books upon their surfaces, framed prints done in that elegantly romantic style of Maxfield Parrish hanging above the rosewood ledge that ran around the walls two-thirds of the way up, and striped wallpaper with a floral motif. He sucked in a breath, once more in awe at the surroundings he found himself within. 

"Wait right here, Messier. Mademoiselle shall be here presently." Any stiffer and Zoey thought the valet's face would shatter. He seemed rather brittle indeed. 

"All right. I'm not going to wander off." The slender musician offered the servant a reassuring smile. 

"Please be sure that you don't." Then he was gone, leaving Zoey alone in the parlor. 

He had placed his gig bag carefully down onto the floor and had started to look around again when the sound of water caught his attention. Looking over to the source, he was delighted to see that it was a small, delicate fountain. Exquisitely sculpted in white marble, the detail of the leaping mermaid was magnificent. A gorgeous piece indeed. I'm certainly impressed.

As he gazed at it, he once again idly wondered how he would appear to the seductive, beguiling woman. He felt better this time, though--a far cry from the soiled and ragged little urchin he had become that night a week ago. At least he was presentable. For most, he knew that he was stunning indeed, but Elisabeth was something else, something powerful that was so constantly surrounded by beauty that he couldn't really be that spectacular. He felt tense, uncertain; the waiting to find out how he would be received was starting to get to him. 

A flash of red caught his attention from the corner of his eye. Turning to look, a hesitant smile settling on his face, he once more fell into the social gaffe of just *staring*. Dios. . . She was a perfect vision in deepest red, the color only accenting her pale skin, luxurious chocolate-brown hair, green-brown eyes and the red gloss of her lips. The slinky velvet dress nearly cried out to be touched; that thick mane of hair caught back with gold and rubies almost begged to be let down and caressed. A shiver of pure appreciation ran down his spine as he gazed upon the angel of the night once again. 

He heard his name; saw the lovely vision come closer, her hands held out to him. Once again, it didn't matter what she truly was. He desired this dark rose of the night like he had desired none other. She had everything that he had ever found attractive and more--and she had saved him as well. Gratitude again welled up within him even as the longing did. Why hadn't he come earlier? He was foolish to have not done so. 

Her kiss was as intoxicating as he had remembered. God, he was glad he hadn't asked for oblivion. To have held such magnificent pleasure and to have tasted of it only to be made to forget the sweetness, that would have been a true shame. He yielded to her kiss, eagerly matching her passion and becoming even hungrier for more. So it was quite the annoying disappointment for Zoey as well when the valet came and interrupted. 

Wonderful timing. Doing his best to not pout, he stood back in a casual stance and listened to the exchange between Elisabeth and her servant. Of course, the mention of the Sheriff caught his attention and curiosity both. By the time his luscious hostess had told him to stay put and disappeared out the door with her valet, he was pouting. I hate being left out of things, and I hate not knowing. . .

He had tried to be good and follow her directions; after all, she probably had more of an idea of what was going on than he did anyway. However, his inborn curiosity got the better of him. Gracefully striding to the parlor door, he leaned his slender form through the doorway and glanced around. 

There she was, at the end of the foyer, just past the threshold of the front entrance, talking to what looked like a big shadow of a man. It was hard to see what he looked like in the light of the mansion's front porch, what with that very enchanting silhouette to gaze upon. He couldn't hear what they were saying either; he frowned a bit at that, then swept his gaze over the marble-floored foyer. 

It was softly lit, the huge brass chandelier's flame-shaped electric bulbs dimmed to an almost romantic glow. A good bet she wasn't really expecting anyone else; even he had dropped in unannounced. The low lighting at least gave him shadows to be inconspicuous within. Taking a deep breath and walking as carefully as he could, Zoey slipped from the parlor to cross the foyer and inch his way closer to the front door along the wall toward which the front door was hinged. 

Halfway down the length of the wall, a wardrobe of elegant mahogany was located there, most likely the place where visitors' coats would be hung while they were attendant upon the mansion's mistress. Slipping up against the side of the wardrobe, he leaned back against the wallpapered wall and listened to the voices. 

"One hell of a bash-up in Creekhill Cemetery. Were you there?" That was the Sheriff, his voice sounding low and rough. It was quite the contrast to the exotic, sultry voice of Elisabeth. 

"Oh, that. What of it?" The gorgeous Kindred sounded rather bored with the whole thing. 

"Well, ma'am, there're a few things I need to go over with you. Er--those were Sabbat, right?" 


Sabbat? Was that what those kind of vampires were called? Zoey shuddered a moment, closing his eyes as the blunted memories washed over him yet again. He might never get completely over what was done, but at least Elisabeth had made them bearable. A small curl of resentful anger settled in his soul; the ones that had abused him had a name now, and he would be sure to remember that label. 

"And you, er, killed them all. Pretty much. Right?" 


"And you're, well . . . ma'am, you never presented yourself to the Prince . . ." 

"I am Autarkis. I have no intention of harming the Camarilla power structure in the city, I assure you, but I have little interest in meeting Prince . . .?" 

"Celeste Byron." 

"Is that who it is? Interesting." 

"Prince Byron has a certain concern in the matter, y'see. There was a mortal there, a blond guy--" 

Zoey opened his eyes in shock at the words of the gravelly-voiced stranger. Me? What in God's name would this "prince" want with me? Unable to quell his curiosity, he leaned out from behind the side of the wardrobe and flicked his emerald gaze over toward the front door. 

Bad mistake. As soon as he heard that the Prince wanted him because she--she?--liked pretty things, he was spotted. He suppressed a groan of chastisement for his stupidity at being discovered, but when Elisabeth turned around and glared at him, he truly felt like he wanted the ground to open up and swallow him whole. He hadn't meant to upset her, but he hadn't been able to keep his curiosity in check either. 

He listened silently to the remaining words, feeling a bit like he was in over his head. There was far more to the hidden music of the night, of the dance that played behind the mask of what was considered normal. Emerald eyes fastened upon his benefactor as she very plainly told the police officer that she would personally discuss this with this Prince Byron personally, he couldn't help suppress a shudder of apprehension. 

There are times it's very nice indeed to be wanted. I really don't think this is one of those times. And where the hell did this prince see me to realize that she wanted me in the first place? The realization that yes indeed there were a number of other Kindred out there lurking in the shadows and watching truly hit home then; they blended in so well, they could be anyone out there. Dios, I hope Elisabeth is someone this prince will back down from. I don't really want to be handed over like some piece of fine art. . .

Meadows retreated, backing down the stairs toward his waiting car; Elisabeth scorched holes in him with her gaze until he got the car started and fled down the driveway. Then she turned her eyes on Zoey, who flinched slightly under the intensity of her stare. She sighed softly, the rigidity fading from her stance as she stepped back into the house, touching his cheek gently with one hand. "Zoey, ne vous inquiétez pas--don't worry," she told him quietly. "I will not give you up to anyone. You have my word." 

His clear green eyes were still so troubled, scared. She slid her arms around him, holding him gently against her in an embrace that felt unwavering, rock-steady, *safe*. He slipped his arms slowly around her waist, lacing his fingers together at the small of her back; for a long moment, they stood still, dark angel and bright angel, like two children half-lost in the shadows of the foyer. 

Elisabeth hated to break the moment, but she had little choice. "Victor! Have Grant bring the Jaguar around. I'll be driving tonight." 

"Yes, Mademoiselle, I shall see to it right away." Victor nearly saluted, his manner crisp. 

"And one other thing, Victor?" 

"Yes, Mademoiselle?

"Will you drop the overly formal thing? I know you're probably having fun impressing Zoey, but you're driving me berserk." 

He sighed. "Yes, Lizzie. I'll tell Grant to get off his tuckus and get the car ready for you." 

Zoey blinked and stared after Victor as the retainer *swaggered* off rather than exiting the foyer with that upright military bearing. Lis couldn't help but giggle at Zoey's expression. "He's an actor, Zoey. He's also one of the best household marshals I've ever had. He loves to play the role to the hilt, I'll say." 

"*Lizzie*?" Zoey managed, starting to laugh. When she mock-glared at him, he laughed harder. 

The Jaguar was a gleaming silver, moonlight shimmering on its immaculate surface. The interior was done in dove-grey, the seats covered with butter-soft leather. Usually, Lis preferred to drive the sleek automobile with the top down, but she chose not to do so tonight, considering that both she and her passenger were dressed rather formally. 

As she handled the purring sports car with the deftness of long practice, she drilled Zoey briefly on the basics of Kindred society, naming off the clans, giving very abbreviated descriptions of each, outlining the structure of the Camarilla governing system . . . and telling him a little about the Sabbat. She watched him from the corner of her eye as she gave *that* short lecture; his beautiful face was bleak and cold. She sighed inwardly; she had been able to dull the edge of those dreadful memories, but he would probably carry the scars for a very long time, if not forever. 

"So as a ghoul, I'm human wallpaper, huh?" he inquired half-jokingly after her exposition. 

"In general, you will not be perceived as having the same worth as a full-blown Kindred. Make no mistake, though--many Kindred do rely heavily on ghouls and acknowledge their value." She narrowed her eyes, staring at the road ahead. "I suspect that Prince Byron will desire you only for your physical beauty. From what I know of her, she is a painter--when she bothers to actually *work* rather than bask in the sycophantic praise of her hangers-on." 

"Rrrr, fffft!" Zoey replied in the classic mimicry of a "cat-fight." 

"We are not amused," she answered in the same tones that Queen Victoria had used when delivering the same statement. The fact that Lis was trying not to smile sort of ruined the effect. 

The Elysium was being held in one of the largest art galleries in the city. As she had explained to Zoey, Clan Toreador was almost singlehandedly responsible for establishing the custom of Elysium, those places deemed strictly free of violence; many art galleries, museums, and similar locations often served as places where the Kindred could meet freely. 

Lis pulled the car around to the back of the building and parked it herself; she took Zoey's hand reassuringly--possessively--as they walked toward the rear door, which was guarded by two large men in large suits. 

"It'll be all right, angel," she murmured softly. "I will see this entire city in flames rather than surrender you . . ." 

Lizzie Borden took an ax,
And gave her father forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her mother forty-one.

For some reason, that rhyme had seemed to fit so well when Victor had dropped the "I'm so damned stiff and proper" routine. Even now, Zoey had to chuckle slightly whenever his thoughts turned back to that moment when that particular illusion had shattered. At least it had done the job of easing his fears about what could lie ahead in the immediate future. 

Elisabeth would take care of him, somehow. Her entire attitude from the moment she had heard that Prince Byron was looking for him had exuded a fierce protectiveness that he found comforting in a way. Once again he thanked God or whatever that he had been found by one of these predators that apparently still had a heart. Elisabeth truly seemed to care about him as a person instead of seeing him as dinner or a pretty little thing to add to her collection of pretty things. 

The Masquerade. It was a very sobering thought indeed to sit back and realize that there was an entire society out there coexisting behind a curtain of make-believe done so well that most humans--kine as she had told him, making him even more conscious about the fact that most Kindred saw humans as meals and nothing more--had no clue at all that this other realm existed. 

He had listened in mostly silence as the exotic beauty drove to their destination, soaking in the terms and explanations of this hidden world, doing his best to remember it all. He would need to know this in order to steer his way through was sounded like a Machiavellian system of politics indeed. With hundreds of years to practice their craft, he was sure there would be personalities there just waiting to pounce upon any little social misstep. Another very sobering thought. 

The seven Clans of the Camarilla, the two Clans of the Sabbat and the antitribu of other Clans that had joined them, and the four independent Clans--all marked in one way or another by the gifts of their Bloodline--as well as the Caitiff, the Clanless. These were the members of the Kindred. Though he smoldered again in angry resentment as she had talked about the Sabbat, he had made himself remain calm and listen. Knowledge was power; everything she had to say would give him an idea of how to blend in and not look so vulnerable among these creatures of the night. 

Elysium. Now there was a concept that actually appealed to him, of having places where Kindred could meet in relative peace. The rules for places within a city declared Elysium were simple enough: No violence was permitted within the premises and the building itself was considered neutral ground, with everyone having equal right to be there so long as they behaved themselves. The Masquerade, this code of blending into humanity and appearing "normal" to kine eyes, was to be observed at all times within the Elysium and its immediate area, and no work of art was to be destroyed upon penalty of destruction of the vandal. He had chuckled slightly when Elisabeth had told him that at times, "art" could be taken to mean an artist as well--one of the reasons why her Clan, Toreador, had been so instrumental in establishing this custom in the first place. 

Though he had kidded her about her catty remark concerning the Prince, the thought that the Camarilla leader could conceivably order him turned over to her was a dismal thought indeed. Elisabeth was most likely right, he probably would be nothing more than a living piece of art to the Toreador. If the Prince got hung up in rapture upon looking at him, he knew he'd probably be in trouble. The fact that she had sent her enforcer, the Sheriff--and he smiled slyly again at his innocence; he had thought the person at the door had been, well, the head cop of the mundane county--already seemed to be an indication of possible strife ahead. 

As Zoey stepped out of the sleek Jaguar and walked around to the driver's side of the impressive automobile to open the door for Elisabeth, his emerald gaze swept over the building. He recognized it; the Henry Art Gallery that was the home of an extensive collection of local, well-known artists as well as a prestigious place to showcase up-and-coming talent. There were painters, sculptors and other young artists just dying to get their work shown here; to have an exhibit here meant that you were at last being recognized as having true talent. He couldn't suppress the smile that curled upon his lips as he helped Elisabeth out of her sporty car. He had always loved museums and art galleries. The setting at least would be pleasurable, though he rather doubted that the meeting itself would be. 

He looked at Elisabeth one more time, her soft words having caught his attention as well as the firm grip of her hand on his. She was gorgeous, sheathed seductively in dark red, the gold and rubies only adding to her majestic effect. A rather heartwarming pride settled within him at her possessiveness and her protectiveness. This shadowy rose desired him enough to keep him, no matter what the challenge. To be deemed that worthy was something he found quite thrilling. "Lizzie," he said smiling, unable to not use that cute pet-name, "thank you again for your concern. I appreciate it, quite a bit." 

Elisabeth merely smiled in that maddeningly mysterious way, a perfect rendition of the Mona Lisa's smile, and tugged him onwards, toward the bouncer-types guarding the gallery's back door--and the meeting of Kindred and Prince inside. 

"Now you'll never stop calling me 'Lizzie,' will you?" Elisabeth murmured with an exaggerated roll of her eyes. "I'll get Victor for that one way or another . . ." 

Zoey grinned shamelessly at her. 

"Excuse me, ma'am," the large man to the left of the doors said, uncrossing his arms. "This is a private--" 

"I am here to see Celeste Byron," Lis answered coolly, staring at him; the man couldn't maintain eye contact, dropping his gaze submissively. It wasn't merely her Majesty; it was the aura of power and command that was a natural part of her. 

The second guard was looking at Zoey, who looked right back; if the young man was scared, he hid it well. Lis was proud of him for that. 

"He's with me," she informed the guard levelly. A mute nod was his only response; the door was opened, and Lis strode into the building with Zoey at her side. 

The hallway was, at the moment, free of occupants but for the lone guard who stood before the door at the far end. Lis's heels clicked softly on the polished parquet flooring as she swept regally toward that door, her very bearing indicating that she expected it to be opened for her at once. Taking in the sight of the gorgeous brunette woman and the stunning blond man at her side, the guard deduced instantly that this was *not* the time to fool around asking for identification. He yanked the door open and virtually snapped to attention as Lis breezed past him. 

The main room of the gallery, in contrast to the quiet, dimly-lit hall, was alive with color and sound. The crowd was one of the strangest assemblies imaginable; Zoey stared around, fascinated, trying to match people to the descriptions of the various clans that Lis had given him, picking out faces in the crowd. 

A half-dozen young-looking punk types in leather and chains stood in one corner, sneering and talking loudly amongst themselves. They kept throwing nasty looks at a group of five Kindred who also stood close together; that bunch wore even less casual clothing than the punks--the dirty, battered clothes of street people. They *looked* ordinary enough . . . so ordinary that an alert mind, aware of the situation, couldn't help but notice them. The most notable one among them, a blonde woman with piercing black eyes, almost casually held a five-foot, wrist-thick stave of smooth wood, its ends bearing dull iron caps. 

A wiry woman with light brown hair covered by a red military beret, wearing an olive-drab jacket and camouflage BDU pants, was talking with a pair of identical twin males, both dark-haired and wearing matched suits and gold-rimmed glasses; they looked like carbon copies of each other, and kept alternating--sometimes in mid-sentence--between which of them looked around uneasily and which spoke with the woman. She glanced briefly at Lis and Zoey as they passed her; Zoey overheard none of the actual words, but the woman's accent was pure Deep Southern. The pupils of her brown eyes flashed green-gold, animal-like, as the light reflected briefly off them. 

A man with long red-brown hair tied into a severe queue down his back stood at the foot of the staircase that Lis was heading for; dressed in a well-tailored black suit, his hands folded atop a silver-headed walking stick, he watched the brunette beauty and her companion pass. His silver tie pin resembled an odd variation on the alchemical symbol of the planet Mars--a square within the circle, the arrow leading off the top right quarter reduced to a triangle perched on the edge of the circle. 

The sweeping staircase led up to a mezzanine level; in the open space between the top of that staircase and the foot of the stairs up to the next floor, the Prince held court. An elegant chair--"throne" might have been a better word--stood facing the stairs; in that solidly constructed piece of furniture sat a young-seeming woman, her hair a silvery-sheened gold worn in Marilyn Monroe curls around her pretty face, her eyes icy blue. She wore a pale-blue satin evening gown; diamonds dripped from her fingers, ears, and throat. As might have been expected, a veritable flock of sycophants surrounded her like workers attending a queen bee. Oh, she *was* pretty, no doubt . . . but she seemed pale, washed-out, overly decorated, when compared to the dark beauty in red velvet, whose ruby-and-gold jewelry subtly complemented her overall appearance without seeming like gilding the lily. 

"Celeste Byron," Lis said in a voice that seemed perfectly normal and level--yet brought a hush down across the area. The hangers-on looked up immediately; the prince rose to her feet. "I am Elisabeth Maurier. This is Zoisite de la Vega." 

Prince Byron started to say something--but then her eyes actually fell on Zoey, and her mouth remained half-open without emitting a sound. The glazed expression was echoed by a significant number of her attendants--not only the ones that looked at Zoey, but the ones who gazed at Lis herself. 

"He's *gorgeous*," the prince said almost soundlessly, staring at Zoey. "He's the one . . ." 

"He is *mine*," Elisabeth said in a glacial voice. "You have no claim on him, nor will you attempt to make one. If you should *try*, then you and I will have a serious problem, *Prince* Byron." 

Amazing how even a near-ultimatum sounded so smooth and elegant in Lis's melodious voice . . . 

Zoey had been rather amused at Elisabeth's rejoinder. It would be a good bet that Victor was going to get an earful, if that look on the dark beauty's face had been any indication. 

The second of the twin bruisers guarding the door had decided to do some sort of an intimidation game; the blond guitarist didn't really feel like falling for that. Zoey's emerald gaze easily met the guard's, his expression cool and unreadable. Yes, he was nervous as hell, feeling a bit like a piece of prime rib being hauled into the middle of a cage of lions, but he'd be damned if he was going to let anyone see that. When the other one had given way to Elisabeth and had accepted her responsibility for his behavior as her guest, Zoey couldn't help but slyly smirk at the pair of "watchdogs" as they made their way inside. 

Although he had been impressed with the efficient way the porter had responded to the gorgeous Kindred walking next to and slightly ahead of himself, his true awe came when they had swept into the main area of the gallery. It was a virtual carnival, though in far more haughty tones of dress and demeanor; there was the same sense of glittering festivity. At least I look like I've made an effort to be here, Zoey thought, glancing down at his well-tailored, deep green suit. Thank God it wasn't black-tie. Satisfied with his own appearance, he swept his gaze critically over the milling throng. 

He had always had an eye for detail; his quick mind and his curiosity virtually demanded it, giving him quite the investigative spirit. It stood to reason that not everyone there would be of the various Kindred Clans--there would be quite a number that were "human wallpaper", like himself--but even that made him quite aware of just how many vampires there probably were. It was amazing indeed just how they've managed to lurk unseen in the shadows. 

He brought to mind the various clues and symbols Elisabeth had recited to him while they were driving here, and it almost became a game for him as he walked next to the regal woman's side to look at a person here and there to guess what Clan's Blood marked them. The young punkish ones he guessed were of the restless "rabble" known as the Brujah, the apparent social reformers of the Cainites. The oddly *ordinary*-appearing ones made him pause; in the end he could only take a wild stab that they might be Malkavian, and even then he wasn't sure. The Southern belle with the reflective eyes was most likely a Gangrel, though the stereo-talking twins were harder to place. Maybe Clan Ventrue, maybe not; again, he really couldn't decide. 

A glint of silver had caught his eye as they started up the stairs to where the "court" was situated. Catching the design of the serious-demeanored man's pin out of the corner of his eye, Zoey smiled faintly to himself. *That* symbol he knew, having been told that such a badge was used by Clan Tremere. He couldn't help but feel faintly uneasy at passing a Kindred whose Clan nickname was "warlock". 

Up the stairs they had gone, every step taking him just that much closer to the supposedly informal leader of the Camarilla here in this city and the keeper of the Masquerade and the peace. Of course, as Elisabeth had pointed out, there were other Kindred balancing that power, even if there were Princes that had conveniently forgotten how informal their position was supposed to be. Then they were there before her; Zoey's jaw tightened just a bit as he looked the Prince over. 

Vapid. That was the first thought that went through his mind. One of those beautiful people that were all looks and hardly any substance. Oh yes, Prince Byron probably was every bit as deadly as a hungry tiger, and most likely able to pull some very influential strings, but she seemed too overdone and eager to impress right at that moment. Then he got to see just what Elisabeth meant by "Toreadors tend to be distracted by those things beautiful." Judging by the Prince and the majority of those hanging around her, he and Elisabeth were rather distracting indeed. 

A strained smile was his only expression as he stared back at the Prince staring at him. He had hoped that Celeste Byron wouldn't be enraptured; no such luck there, unfortunately, and now he had to contend with this supposed leader of the Kindred for this city thinking him desirable. Again, his curiosity made him want to ask Byron where she had glimpsed him before, but he was smart enough to know that right now, it was better to let the red-clad temptress next to him speak for them both. A thrill of pride went through him again at the possessive tone in Elisabeth's silky, exotic voice. 

Unfortunately, it seemed as if Prince Byron wasn't used to being told that something she desired wasn't going to be handed to her. Probably been around her yes-men far too long. Zoey mentally flinched as that vacuous gape of the pretty Prince slowly shifted into a look of frustrated pique and cool demand. He could see it coming; Prince Byron was most likely going to try to pull rank, even though Elisabeth herself didn't consider herself under the auspices of either Prince or Bishop. Hiding his nervousness beneath a cool, disdainful exterior, Zoey half-shuttered his eyes and folded his arms over his chest, getting ready for the fireworks. This ought to be an interesting sight. . .

Twelve hundred years and more of experience in the halls of Kindred politics had taught Elisabeth any number of ways to get exactly what she wanted without ever resorting to outright violence. She eyed Celeste Byron carefully, coldly, as if the Prince were an insect under a magnifying glass. Reaching out mentally, she linked her mind to Zoey's; she heard his brief, faint gasp and saw his eyes flick suddenly sideways to her as she began to murmur softly, silently. 

Young--not a neonate, though. Perhaps an ancilla. That judgment came rather simply; there were subtle hints in Byron's physical appearance that gave it away, as well as the trace of uncertainty that edged her aura. She's been on the throne long enough to believe that she can take anything she wants. I suspect the city's Kindred humor her just to keep her out of their affairs--she most likely does have a great deal of influence and power in the mortal realm, like many princes, and that's not something any average Kindred likes having directed at them. She paused, smirking mentally. I, angel, am not an average Kindred . . .

Byron rose from her throne, that look of self-confident command on her face. "You will surrender that man to me, at once." The tone of her voice indicated she expected no opposition--another confirmation that she'd gotten what she wanted. Up to *this* point, anyway. 

It was worth noticing--and Zoey certainly noticed--that though the Prince had the same sort of aura of power and command that surrounded Lis, it seemed somehow fake on her. Even without considering that aura, Lis seemed far more suited for the throne and title than Byron did; her very posture radiated a sort of regal assurance that Byron didn't have. 

"Actually, dear girl," Lis drawled softly, "I shall do no such thing." 

"From what my Sheriff tells me," Byron shot back, "you have already violated the Tradition of Domain by residing in my city without presenting yourself to me for acknowledgment. I may be persuaded to forgive that breach--" 

"I sincerely do not care if you forgive it or not," Elisabeth cut her off; there were soft gasps from the sycophants around the throne. "I am not under your rule, *Prince*." 

"How dare you?" Byron almost screeched, her pretty face twisting in a rather unpretty way. "I am the ruler of this city--" 

"You are the *Camarilla leader* of this city," Lis corrected coldly. "I am not Camarilla, nor am I Sabbat. *Think*, girl--you know my name." Her eyes burned holes in the blonde woman. 

One of Byron's hangers-on paled suddenly, reaching out to touch the Prince's shoulder. "Prince Byron . . . she's . . . she's the Autarkis, the hunter. The Angel of Mists, the Dark Lady--" 

"I don't care *who* she is, I *want* that one!" Byron snapped, her tone very reminiscent of a petulant child denied a piece of candy. 

"Sheriff Meadows told me that you had seen him before, somehow," Lis remarked too casually. "You yourself just confirmed it. Where did you see him?" 

"My childe, Chantal, told me that she'd seen him in some nightclub. She *said* she was going to bring him to me." The Prince narrowed her eyes angrily. "But I haven't seen her for nearly a week." 

Lis glanced sharply at Zoey; he could clearly read the suspicion in her eyes. The corner of her mouth quirked in a predator smile just before she looked back to the Prince. "What does Chantal look like?" 

"Dark hair, dark eyes, about my height . . . I picked her up in Paris, she's *quite* pretty, wonderful model--" 

Lis rolled her eyes and cut off the Prince's gushy description of her childe. "How did Sheriff Meadows find out exactly what happened at the cemetery? I know that no one else was around that night." Byron waved a hand impatiently, her fingers glittering with diamonds. "One of his Malkavian deputies is well-versed in Auspex. He used Spirit's Touch to read the impressions of the area. Some pack of Sabbat must have gotten to the boy before Chantal did." The blue eyes turned back to Zoey, open desire smoldering in their depths. There was an unnerving feeling that, should Zoey wind up in the Prince's hands, his lot would be far less promising than it currently was. From the attitudes of the Prince's attendants, it was easy to guess that he'd be expected to act with the same slavish devotion. Elisabeth didn't expect that, as he already knew . . . 

"I would like to speak with this deputy," Lis said, and her voice was low and ominously quiet. 

"What for?" Byron demanded; her pretty-girl facade was certainly being eroded by her attitude. 

"Summon him," the elder instructed coldly, "or I shall tear this place apart to find him." 

"You can't break Elysium!" 

"Watch me. Summon him, now." Lis's eyes locked with Byron's, enforcing the verbal command with the power of Dominate. 

The blonde Toreador turned to one of her yes-men. "Go find Meadows and have him bring that deputy of his." The servant nodded anxiously and scurried off in search of the hulking Sheriff; the Prince sat back down in her throne with a sullen scowl on her face. 

It wasn't merely an urge to reinforce her control that had Lis turning to Zoey; the interlude afforded her a chance to look at him, revel in the sheer emotions that the sight of him sent through her. And she wanted to feel his lips on her skin again, to experience the sensation of her vitae being drawn out of her and into him. 

"Zoey," she murmured softly. 

"Yes, Lis," he answered, his voice just as quiet, his gaze just as riveted to her. 

"Kneel down," she instructed him softly; he frowned faintly at her, but she nodded very slightly. He glanced down, deemed the marble floor clean enough, and sank gracefully to one knee. He seemed to instinctively know what she was going to do. 

Not the throat--not in public. That was too intimate to be done here; the mere act of feeding him strained the Masquerade, but she didn't *care*--and she wanted to make it clear to the Prince that she didn't care. She lifted her left wrist to her mouth, opened the vein with the flick of her fangs, and extended her hand to Zoey; the gorgeous young singer curled his hands gently around her fingers and her forearm, leaning forward to close his mouth over the wound. 

Lis didn't even glance at the Prince, though a glimpse from the corner of her eye took in Byron's outraged, sulky expression. The elder Toreador was busy gazing down through half-lidded eyes as Zoey drew slow, savoring mouthfuls of dark-ruby blood; she knew that this time, it wouldn't sear him. Instead, it would feel more like swallowing strong brandy--a deep, satisfying warmth, a tingling in every nerve of his body. 

There was a mild commotion on the stairs; the Sheriff must be coming. Lis gently broke Zoey's hold, stroking his hair softly with her other hand as she licked the wound closed with a quick, catlike dart of her tongue. Taking her hand from his head, she helped him rise to his feet; still holding his hand, she half-turned to glance back to the stairs. Waiting. 

Though he had guessed over the course of the preceding week that Elisabeth must have some sort of telepathic ability, actually hearing her quiet explanations and critical thoughts sounding within his own head was still something he found startling. He wasn't able to stifle the small gasp of surprise as the eerie sensation washed over him of having her *there* in his head, his gaze immediately flicking over to look at her, but it was something half-expected, so Zoey swiftly recovered. 

His emerald gaze remained fixed on the blustering Prince as he silently listened to Elisabeth's exotic murmur within his mind; he didn't know how his stunning companion knew all this. He merely accepted that she knew what she was talking about and paid attention. After all, he was getting a crash course in Kindred politics. Like it or not, he was being drawn into this, and the only way to come out on top was to watch and learn. 

It took quite a bit of willpower to stand there and listen to the two of them debate possession of him like he was some sort of object d'art. That alone he found galling, but expected. The dark angel had warned him that he would be seen as something of lesser value. The Kindred were the superior species, the kine merely animals to be used. That he was bickered over like he was some sort of prize-blooded stallion was just the way it was, nothing more nor less. Wishing to remain in a halfway decent frame of mind, he turned his attention from the altercation with the petty Prince--who was seeming more and more like a spoiled child that only had the pretense of rulership--to the seductive brunette stubbornly asserting her claim. 

Elisabeth. Ah, now *there* was one that was made to be queen, even if her realm was only her life and possessions. Her very presence radiated nobility and power, underscored by her physical perfection and breathtaking beauty. Zoey's eyes took on a look of adoration and desire as he gazed upon his benefactress. She would be a far better Prince than this mewling, washed-out Kindred tossing out violations of Tradition. 

"I don't care *who* she is, I *want* that one!" 

Pulled out of his adoration by Prince Byron's petulant demand, Zoey made himself focus on the dispute at hand. Something in the way the blue-clad blonde said that her childe was to have brought him to her apparently rankled Elisabeth; the red-gowned Kindred tossed him a look that clearly stated "I don't believe her." 

Zoey's jaw tightened again as he glanced over Byron once more. I rather find the diamonds she wears more appealing than she is. Then his attention was caught by the Prince's description of her childe. Dark hair, dark eyes, about Byron's height? Missing for about a week? A shiver of pure horror flashed through him as he suddenly saw in his mind the dark-haired Sabbat female with the black rose tattooed on her shoulder. No, it couldn't be. . . Could it?

He was still mulling over that possible insight when the sensation of being stared at overwhelmed him again. Or rather, he was being mentally devoured by the Prince, if that look in her blue eyes could be trusted. He couldn't suppress the shiver that ran through his lithe form; the mere thought of being handed over to the vapid, pale beauty and then being expected to be one of her simpering little yes-men made his skin crawl. Elisabeth wouldn't treat him like that; that was something he *knew*. 

He couldn't help but smirk just a bit as Prince Byron gave in and summoned the Sheriff and the Malkavian deputy. The true queen around here exerting her power. Dios, I'm thankful she's on my side. Then the stunning brunette faced him and looked him over in a way that was very much the same as Byron had just a moment before. This look, however, only made him yearn to touch Elisabeth once more, to feel his hands glide over that soft velvet dress and tangle within her hair, to drown himself in those fascinating eyes, to find that exquisite pleasure with her that he had after she had saved him from the earlier horror. 

Just the way she called his name, he knew what she was going to do. An exchange of blood--it was all in the blood as far as the Kindred were concerned. "Yes, Lis," he replied, emerald gaze locked upon her, agreeing to the expediency of a public confirmation of her claim even though--from what little he understood--doing so would be a flagrant thumbing one's nose at the rules of Elysium. 

"Kneel down." 

Two small words, but they held quite the weight to them. A frown settled on Zoey's handsome face as he was forced to acknowledge his inferior position; that, coupled with his unease at becoming quite the center of attention to those watching the defiance of the Prince in her court and a frission of fear at what Elisabeth's blood would do to him this time around, put him into a rather uneasy mood. However, the red-clad brunette's subtle nod had once again asked him to trust in her. 

Kindred or not, sane or not, he did trust her. 

A swift sweep of his emerald gaze satisfied him that his dark green suit would remain looking as clean as it did right at the moment; he sank to a knee without a word, half-shuttered eyes continuing to stare at Elisabeth from underneath long, thick lashes. He swallowed slightly in nervousness and anticipation both as he watched her slice open her wrist, then offer it to him. Closing his eyes then, he took a breath as he gently grasped the sexy brunette's elegant hand and slender arm. 

As before, Zoey took a tentative lick of the deep ruby blood; this time around the sensation was little more than touching his tongue to a highly alcoholic liquor. Relaxing--he had held his lithe body tense with waiting, though not consciously--he took the time to drink deeply of the warm, powerful vitae, savoring the taste and the inherent strength within it. He could feel that tingling heat spreading through him, adding to the nest of coals within his center; the entire process had a seduction and an ecstasy all its own. I could get to liking this quite a bit, he thought as a faint purr of pleasure sounded in his throat. 

He didn't hear the commotion going on behind them; the first indication he had that the people requested had arrived was Elisabeth herself taking her arm away from him. Sighing in disappointment, Zoey opened his clear, emerald eyes and gazed up at her as she licked her own wrist; the feel of her fingers running through his silky golden hair was at least a bit of a consolation. 

He rose elegantly with Elisabeth's help, gazing at the gorgeous, dark-haired Kindred for a lingering moment. She was wonderful, beautiful, intelligent, witty, powerful--everything he had ever longed for and dreamed of in a lover. He didn't know how, but he felt a kinship with her; it was a feeling he'd had from nearly the first moment he saw her but was only just now able to put a label to it. 

It was with a bit of reluctance that Zoey turned his attention from Elisabeth to watch the two Kindred summoned approach up the elegant stairs. 

Elisabeth squeezed Zoey's hand gently, reassuringly. In truth, she hadn't asked--all right, *told* him--to kneel to satisfy her own ego and sense of control; it had been partly the need to show the other Kindred that she *was* in command . . . and partly to accommodate her own perceptions of the act as a sort of holy communion--this is my body, this is my blood--that brought with it an immortality of the flesh rather than an immortality of the spirit promised by the ritual so often practiced in the Church. 

She told him all of this silently, mentally, in the few moments that they had before the summoned Kindred appeared; his hand tightened a little in response. Any other reply he might have made was forestalled as the brutish Sheriff reached the top of the stairs, followed by a thin man with hair so fair it was nearly white. The two bowed slightly to the Prince. 

"You called for us, ma'am?" Meadows inquired deferentially. 

"Of course I did, idiot," Byron snapped. Pointing at Elisabeth, she added, "*She* wanted to talk to your deputy there, Mr. . . . ?" 

"Nelson, your Highness. Kenneth Nelson." The Malkavian's voice was reedy and faint; he kept rubbing his hands together, wiping them with a neat white handkerchief. His gaze never wavered from the Prince. 

"Well, Mr. Nelson," Lis murmured in that sultry voice of hers. "Perhaps you might tell me *exactly* what you saw when you examined the scene at Creekhill Cemetery." 

Nelson turned and looked at her. It was likely that only she and Zoey saw the way his eyes widened, nostrils flaring slightly; even without the power to scan his aura, the way Lis could, Zoey could read the sudden fear. It wasn't just the frightened awe of someone who'd caught glimpses of the Autarkis's power; there was something *else* going on. 

"Of--of course, miss," Nelson mumbled. The rate at which he wiped his hands increased noticeably as he straightened up and began to recite a rather bland version of what had happened at the cemetery, touching only on major points, starting with the arrival of the Sabbat pack at the secluded grove and the brutalization of the mortal. 

Lis felt Zoey's hand tighten almost painfully on her own, and she squeezed very lightly back in reassurance. Those memories had been blunted, but this reminder really wasn't doing much good. 

The Malkavian continued on to describe how Lis had arrived and dispatched the ghouls who had been abusing Zoey--again that tightening of his hand around Lis's--before going on to eliminate the Kindred members of the pack; he took the time to briefly describe each of those Kindred. It wasn't only the Toreador elder who noticed a glaring omission in the deputy's narrative; Zoey realized it as well . . . a confirmation of both her suspicions and his own. 

"You seem to have forgotten something, Mr. Nelson," Lis cut in sharply. "There was one *other* person there--another member of the pack--who you have *not* mentioned. A woman with dark hair and eyes, one who had a black Toreador rose tattooed on her left shoulder blade--" 

*Everyone* heard Prince Byron's sudden sharp intake of breath. 

Only Lis and Zoey saw Nelson's eyes narrow harshly, though the voice remained mild. "I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about, miss . . ." 

"*Liar*." Lis spat that word out with a soft hiss of building anger. She glanced sidelong at the Prince. "Do you recognize the description I just gave, Byron?" 

"You must have made some mistake!" the Prince snapped. "Nelson is a reliable--" 

"Dr. Marshall!" Lis said, *quite* loudly. "If you would come here for a moment, please?" 

The Prince sat there gaping at her in silence as footsteps sounded on the stairs. The man with the red-brown hair, the walking stick, and the Tremere clan sigil on his tie pin sauntered up and bowed slightly to the Prince--and bowed *more* to Elisabeth. "Something I can help with, Mademoiselle?

"Indeed." She nodded toward Nelson. "If you would be so kind as to test his blood and tell me what clan he hails from?" 

"Of course," Marshall said smoothly, turning toward the deputy. 

Nelson started back a step. "No, that's not--I'm a *Malkavian* . . ." 

"Perhaps you are, and perhaps you aren't." Lis's voice was icy calm. 

To give him credit, he *tried* to run, moving much faster than a human could have. Lis vanished from where she stood beside Zoey, her hand disappearing out of his grip; the wind of her passage whipped at the young man's golden hair even as she reappeared in front of the fleeing Kindred. Her fist closed on his collar and she hoisted him off his feet, holding him clear of the floor. "Dr. Marshall." 

Marshall strolled over, drawing a small, silver-inlaid knife from an inside pocket of his suit jacket. Nelson flailed his arms; Lis took firm hold of his left hand, gripping it so tightly that bone cracked audibly. The deputy immediately ceased moving quite so much as Marshall swiped the knife across the exposed wrist, then cupped a hand beneath the wound. 

Blood pooled in Marshall's palm; he watched with a critical eye until enough had gathered, then pulled his hand back. Byron started to make a protest of the blood now dripping to the floor, but Lis turned a burning stare on her, silencing her at once. Marshall dipped his fingers into the blood, stirring the glistening red fluid for a moment, his eyes closed; the vitae seemed to simply evaporate, leaving nothing behind but a fine reddish residue on the Tremere's skin. 

Marshall opened his eyes. Nelson writhed furiously in Elisabeth's hold. 

"Malkavian . . ." 

"You see?" Byron started to say triumphantly. She was cut *dead* by the Tremere's voice. 

" . . . antitribu.

Nelson began to scream. 

This cup is the new testament in blood, which is shed for you. Zoey mentally nodded, accepting the Toreador elder's unspoken explanation as he watched the tank-like Sheriff and his weaselly-appearing deputy reach the top of the stairs. Elisabeth too, being as old as she was, would have that intimate knowledge of the mystical nature of Holy Communion. And this celebration of unity had far more noticable effects than the Eucharist had ever had on him. The musician's elegant hand tightened around Elisabeth's slightly as a faint twinge of feeling blasphemous ran through him. 

But he couldn't deny the power. Nor could he deny the wonder that filled him at the realization that Elisabeth--this awesomely strong, ancient, intelligent and confident predator--wished to reassure him that she wanted only to impress the others. The dark angel would much rather treat him as an equal despite the inequality of what they were. Zoey felt thrilled and humble both at the thought. 

As his gaze swept over the deputy, the musician felt the fine hairs on the back of his neck start to rise. The reedy voice and the nervous rubbing brought to mind the twitchy pack member from that night in the cemetery; the way the white-haired Malkavian suddenly bristled in subtle fear make the creepy feeling only stronger. Zoey's own eyes narrowed slightly, the long lashes hiding the glimmer of rage sparking within him. 

The next few moments were a hell of their own, as Nelson's thin, wavery voice almost casually described what he had had to endure that dark night a week ago. Yes, the memories were blunted, but *this*--this recitation of events with such accuracy that made him shudder again and wonder if perhaps the deputy didn't have firsthand knowledge after all--made it all come back. 

Zoey never realized just how tightly he was gripping Elisabeth's hand, nor did she bother to point it out to him. She was content instead to be that lifeline to which he had subconsciously clung. 

Madre de Dios, I just want to shrivel up and die. . . It was mortifying having all these strangers hearing what had been done to him; he felt soiled, ashamed, vulnerable, like everyone there suddenly saw him as something weak and ruined. Zoey squeezed his eyes shut, hanging his head in a futile attempt to keep the burning shame he felt in his cheeks from being visible. 

The omission of the dark-haired, dark-eyed pack member from Nelson's narrative hit the gorgeous blonde musician like a slap in the face. What's he hiding? Dios, she just has to be the Prince's childe. When Elisabeth's exotic, sharp-toned voice cut in and gave the description, the sound of the Prince's startled gasp caught Zoey's attention. He couldn't help but concentrate on watching the deputy's reaction, anger once more the dominant emotion within himself. What the hell's going on around here? Don't tell me I was just something that bitch used to thumb her nose at her "Mommy".

The slender man continued to glare in white-hot rage at the lying deputy, only superficially taking note of the elegant, handsome Tremere that joined the scene. That is, the notice remained superficial only up until Dr. Marshall showed more respect to Elisabeth than to the stunned Prince Byron. Zoey wondered just what the story was behind how the gorgeous brunette had met and won the respect of such a one as Marshall. 

What happened next remained forever within the ponytailed blonde's memory as yet another awesome display of Kindred powers made quite the impression on his wondering mind. The speed shown by the Malkavian was fantastic, but Elisabeth's was stunningly so, and the blood ritual used by the Tremere fascinated him immensely. To have such a tool to satisfy one's curiosity would be quite the interesting ability. 

But the best moment of all, Zoey had to admit, was the look on Prince Byron's face as one of her Sheriff's supposedly "trusted" deputies was ferreted out as a Sabbat agent. It was one of those priceless expressions of horrified surprise that come only once in a lifetime. 

And Nelson's terrified screaming only added to the moment. Yet another one of those Sabbat bastards was going to get what he deserved. The grin that slowly curled across Zoey's sensuous lips was a vengefully gleeful one indeed. . . 

Song One, Third Stanza Second Stanza 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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