Night Melody Reprised: Second Stanza
"Sabbat trash," Elisabeth murmured calmly, her voice nearly lost in Nelson's wavering screams. Tiring of the noise, she shook him violently; she *could* have broken his neck and any number of other important bones, but she was content to rattle him enough to make the screams die down into pitiful whimpers. She glanced at Meadows, who looked absolutely livid; after all, Nelson was *his* deputy, and the situation reflected poorly on the Brujah at the moment. "Assemble the Primogen. We will wring a few answers out of this creature before his final punishment is carried out."
"Wait just a *minute*!" Celeste Byron half-screeched, shooting up to her feet again. "You can't just walk in and usurp my Domain--"
"I can, and will, do just that . . . since it appears that your lack of competence is causing serious harm to this Domain." Lis turned a cold, hard stare on the Prince. "You have a Sabbat infiltrator here in your very court. Your own childe is--or rather, *was*--Sabbat. However *did* you miss that little detail?"
"I am Prince here!" Byron snarled, clenching her fists; her pretty face was becoming less pretty by the moment.
"Are you really? I never would have guessed it." Elisabeth's urbane, civilized tone and expression were a striking contrast to both Byron's growing outrage and the fact that the Toreador elder still had Nelson suspended, twitching and whimpering, a good two feet off the floor.
"Meadows!" Byron rounded on the hulking Sheriff. "Take Nelson into custody and remove this *woman* from Elysium!" She paused and stared directly at Zoey, who felt a distinct chill; the petty rage and jealous hunger on Byron's face was awful to see. Perhaps if she'd been mortal, it would have been less frightening--but she was Kindred, the city's Prince, and he could only guess what kind of power she really had . . . but it was clear that she was after *some* way to pay Elisabeth back for this humiliation. "And bring *him* to *me*."
Lis's voice dropped toward absolute zero. "Any who dares touch Zoisite de la Vega will pay for the transgression with their lives--whether they be Prince, Primogen, Camarilla, or Sabbat."
"I will not be defied in my own court!" Byron hissed at her.
"You *will* be *silent*!" Elisabeth's voice nearly shattered the polished marble facing of the walls; the sound rang throughout the Elysium, bringing with it a dead silence as every Kindred turned to look up toward the mezzanine. Elisabeth's eyes glowed with a deep emerald fire; for the first time, Zoey *saw* her fangs. The elongated canine teeth were bared in a predator challenge, sharp and gleaming, white as ivory, framed by the dark scarlet of her lips. The force of her Majesty was suddenly an aura of sheer, dominant intimidation. "Speak one more time, Celeste Byron, and the city will be seeking a new Prince before the second word falls from your mouth!"
*That* shut her up. Trembling, the Prince shuddered back a step and almost fell into her throne. The sycophants and hangers-on cringed from the dark angel with the devil's eyes; even Marshall edged away. Regret scythed through Elisabeth as she saw even Zoey shiver; still, there was a spark in his emerald eyes, a sort of awe and pride that warmed her.
She glanced at Meadows, her voice returning to a more reasonable level. "The Primogen, if you please."
Meadows--and Zoey, and everyone in the vicinity, including the petulant, stubborn, *very* cowed Prince Byron--recognized who the true authority was at the moment. The Sheriff nodded and went back down the stairs.
One by one, the members of the Primogen Council arrived, joining the group at the top of the stairs. The first one to arrive was one of the curiously "ordinary" people Zoey had seen on the main floor--the black-eyed blonde with the solid-looking wooden stave. Behind her came the woman in the olive-drab jacket and BDU pants, the red beret perched at an angle atop her light-brown hair. The identical twins in the business suits, walking in perfect step with each other, were accompanied by a burly, bearded man who wore studded leather gloves and biker gear. The final two to come up the stairs in Meadows's company, a redheaded woman in a classy dark-blue evening gown and a slender young man with short blonde hair and a poet's shirt worn over tight black leather pants, both eyed Elisabeth cautiously.
"We will adjourn to a more *private* location," the Autarkis informed them, still holding Nelson almost casually, as if she'd forgotten he was dangling at the end of her arm. She glanced coolly at the Prince. "I assume you aren't so incompetent that you're lacking a council chamber."
Byron bristled slightly, but rose from her throne, straightening her pale-blue satin gown with short, angry movements. As the blonde Prince led the way to a door set to the left of the staircase leading to the next floor, Elisabeth held Nelson out to Meadows. "Be a dear and hold this for me?"
Meadows chuckled nervously and took hold of Nelson--probably with more force than was really necessary, but his pitiful squeak of pain went unnoticed. Elisabeth held out her hand to Zoey. Come with me, angel. I will not leave you alone here.
The relief in his eyes was unmistakable as he took her hand willingly; Dieu, he felt so warm, his fingers meshing with hers so perfectly that it seemed they'd held hands like this for centuries. Letting Meadows take up the rear with the whimpering Sabbat agent, the dark angel and the fair one followed the small procession to the now-open door.
The first thing that Elisabeth did inside the council chamber was take the seat at the head of the long table. Byron flinched violently when Lis approached, and surrendered the place of honor without a word; nor did anyone speak out when Lis had Zoey sit directly beside her, in a chair taken from the corner of the room. Nobody seemed quite willing to sit in either of the two seats closest to Lis; the Primogen arranged themselves farther down the sides of the table, leaving those seats empty.
"I would appreciate knowing your names," the brunette beauty in dark red murmured. "I am, as you likely know by now, Elisabeth Maurier, Autarkis of Clan Toreador. My companion is Zoisite de la Vega, and no one has any objections to his presence here." She certainly did have a way of *telling* people what they thought, that was for sure.
"Laurel del Mar, Clan Nosferatu," the blonde with the heavy-looking stave introduced herself. Her voice was startlingly deep and gravelly.
"Louise Meridian, Clan Gangrel." That was the brunette in military gear; she shifted restlessly in her chair, as if she were unused to such close quarters. She probably was.
"Antoine Marcheau, Clan Toreador," the blond man in the poet's shirt announced, his voice distinctly effeminate; he immediately went off into one of those reveries, staring at Zoey.
Another of the ones that gives my clan the sad reputation of "art fags," Elisabeth sighed in Zoey's mind. He reminds me of Rafael de Corazon, one of the founders of the Camarilla--you simply could not trust that man alone around young, attractive males . . .
You're not making me feel any more comfortable, Lizzie, she heard Zoey respond dryly; she couldn't help but laugh softly, silently.
"Victoria Moore, Clan Ventrue," the redhead in the dark blue dress introduced herself; her eyes, nearly the same color as her dress, swept curiously over Zoey and Lis.
"Jim Thompson," said one of the twins.
"Tim Thompson," said the other at the same time.
"Clan Malkavian," they chorused, then looked at each other and shouted "Jinx!" at the same time. They even *laughed* in stereo. The other Primogen members looked resigned; they endured *this* on a far-too-regular basis.
Oh, Dieu, I don't know if I can handle this right now, Lis groaned mentally.
"Russ Raider, Brujah," grumbled the big biker, cracking his knuckles.
"And of course, dear Elisabeth, you know me quite well," Marshall said cheerfully. "Doctor Corinth Marshall, Regent and Primogen of House and Clan Tremere. And may I say that you've only gotten even more beautiful since the last time I saw you . . ."
"Yes, Cory," Lis chirped right back, a slight smile on her face. "Now do be quiet so that we can wrap this up?" She glanced around the table, the smile fading. "It's time to get down to business . . ."
Once again, Zoey was firmly relieved to have Elisabeth on his side. He sat there quietly in the council chamber, slender hands folded almost demurely on his lap, feeling very much the outsider at the moment. They were here because Elisabeth had stepped in and had demanded it, shoving aside--for the moment--the authority of the Prince.
He stared for a minute at the Kindred sitting in front of him at the head of the table, admiring the way the light shined off the dark-flame highlights of her chocolate-brown hair. Such a far cry from that point in time when she'd shown the petty little Prince her dominating power and potential for pure viciousness. The only thing that had kept Zoey from fleeing in panic then was the knowledge that it hadn't been directed at himself; he shivered slightly again as the mere memory of that sight made him flinch.
Then his emerald gaze shifted over to look at the blue-gowned Prince, the musician being careful to not make his visual inspection so obvious. Now there was future trouble in the making; he could tell from the subdued yet still furious glances the pretty blonde was subtly tossing his way that *someone* was going to pay for this outrageous humiliation. Byron's sapphire eyes were narrowed ever so slightly--and cold--whenever she thought Lis wasn't paying attention and hazarded a glance at the lithe musician. There were many ways to make a mortal's life hell without touching him, and the lovely Prince's ever-so-faint expression promised that Zoey would get to find them all out firsthand. With a sinking feeling, he wondered if he'd have to leave this city.
One by one, as the Primogen introduced themselves, the musician settled his emerald gaze on them, taking in the details of who they were. He was mildly surprised at the Nosferatu Primogen--so that's who that group was. Bzzt, there's one wrong guess--then figured that they must have their ways of upholding the Masquerade when they did come out of the sewers and mingled with the others. Though a bit startling, Zoey found that one's gravelly voice slightly fascinating.
A slight nod of his head accompanied the introduction of the Gangrel Primogen; he had guessed that one's clan correctly when she'd caught his attention on the way to see the Prince. He watched her shift restlessly for a moment, almost feeling sorry for her apparent discomfort at the surroundings. He was feeling much the same.
Zoey's own discomfort grew just a bit more as the Toreador Primogen zoned out on him, the poet's gaze becoming glazed over. Elisabeth's silent explanation only made the musician's unease worse; she seemed to indicate that he'd better not ever find himself alone with the effeminate poet. And *that* made flashes of the memory of the graveyard slip back into his mind. After dryly responding to Elisabeth's words, he leaned back in his chair with a slight shiver, unconsciously becoming more defensive in his body language as he crossed his arms over his chest.
The Ventrue Primogen certainly seemed to be of the nobility and elegance expected of her clan. Zoey smiled faintly at the redhead's curious gaze, giving her a polite nod in acknowledgement at her introduction.
He almost laughed along with the Malkavian twins himself. Despite the seriousness of the circumstances and the dangerous undertones to this meeting--after all, the Camarilla seemed to be infiltrated by their enemies, an independent had grabbed control for the moment and the Prince was *still* fuming over there--the Primogen's introduction had been a bit of comic relief. From the looks of resignation on the others, Zoey guessed that there would be a number of similar outbursts from the pair.
The emerald eyes swept swiftly over the biker--looks like what you'd expect from a typical Brujah--then settled on the Tremere. Once more Zoey found himself wondering about what history Dr. Marshall and Elisabeth had between them; the musician probably would have been appalled to know that a slightly sullen expression had drifted across his handsome face as the Tremere Primogen had indicated being formerly close to the enchanting angel of the night--not because he was fuming slightly, and Zoey was, to a small degree, but because he was being so open. He instinctively knew it wouldn't be well to let this gathering of powerful Kindred read him so easily. Though they had their various means of being able to easily do so--and he'd never foolishly believe that they couldn't just read whatever they wanted from him--he also knew that it would be better to not make it so easy on them.
With a soft sigh, he leaned back in the chair, composing himself once more. Clear green eyes peeking through the long, spun-gold lashes, he waited to see just how this council of Elders was going to handle the rats in their midsts.
Despite the obvious readiness of the Primogen Council, Elisabeth took a moment to look at Zoey, drinking in the sight of the perfect face, the angelic mane of shining golden hair, the jewel-deep green eyes, the graceful body in the well-tailored suit. She smiled at him--just for him, that smile, reassurance and something very much like adoration in her gaze--before looking back to the gathered Kindred. The first one she stared at was Marcheau, and every single person in the room could identify the meaning of her expression . . . and the way she put her hand gently on Zoey's folded hands, resting there atop his thighs.
Possessive, protective jealousy was marked clearly on her face. The glint of her eyes, the way she tilted her head, the momentary curl of her sensuous lips to reveal a split-second flash of white teeth--it all added up to a very simple, direct Mine!
Marcheau recognized that silent assertion even in his dazed trance; the effeminate primogen shivered all over and wrenched his eyes away from Zoey's face to stare at Lis. The next recipient of that unblinking gaze was Prince Byron, who shuddered and looked away instantly.
Jealous and piqued or not, Lis murmured in Zoey's mind, Celeste Byron will not dare to cross me. As foolish and shallow as she may be, she has enough sense to recognize me for what I am--a predator far more adept and dangerous than she.
I don't like the way she's looking at me, Lis, Zoey answered slowly. Maybe she won't attack you directly, but I--
You, Lis interrupted gently, belong to me. The way in which she stated that didn't seem exactly like an owner; it was . . . far more like a lover. If she does anything against you, she is challenging me. I doubt she'll dare do that, angel.
He glanced at her; the self-confidence in her eyes seemed to reassure him. He turned his hands over in his lap to cradle her hand between his palms; Dieu, the warmth of him felt so *good*.
She looked back at the Kindred gathered in the room; Nelson was dangling from Meadows's grasp like a limp rag, watching her with terrified eyes. She nodded to the Sheriff. "I assume you have sealed Elysium. If this worm has any companion maggots scurrying about, it would be most inconvenient for them to pass word on to the *other* vermin."
Meadows nodded stiffly. "Ma'am, it's standard procedure--has been for a long time. Nobody's getting into or out of this building until I give the say-so."
"That's provided your other deputies are more trustworthy than *this* one," Lis murmured. There wasn't any venom in her words . . . none at all. Another Toreador--hell, perhaps another *Kindred*, period--would have laced the sentence with catty rebuke.
"They are, ma'am. They're all my childer and are Blood Bound to me. *This* one--" he shook Nelson, rattling the Sabbat spy's teeth-- "is supposed to be Bound as well."
"The Vaulderie prevents that, Mr. Meadows, as you probably know."
"Yeah," the Sheriff growled sullenly. "Little bastard sure knows how to *act*, though."
"They generally do." Lis looked coolly around the room. "Listen to me, and listen well. I am going to tell you what transpired in Creekhill Cemetery one week ago."
Elisabeth's account mercifully glossed over the details of what had happened to Zoey; instead, she described each of the pack members, including the dark-haired woman with the rose tattoo.
"But . . . but that's Chantal!" Marcheau protested. "That's the Prince's childe! She's been missing . . . for a . . . week . . ." The Toreador primogen looked stricken, turning to Byron. The blonde Prince refused to look anyone in the face, staring instead at the floor.
"Prince Byron." Lis's voice made the Prince flinch. "Mr. Meadows indicated, and you yourself confirmed, that you had prior knowledge of Mr. de la Vega's existence. Please, do tell us all how you came to possess that knowledge."
"Chantal told me," Byron muttered, just loud enough to be heard. "She said last week that she would bring him to me."
"And instead," Lis said very quietly, "she and her Sabbat pack snatched him from my limousine and took him to the cemetery, where they abused him savagely. Did I, perchance, mention what I did to *her*?"
"I commanded her to take a message to the Bishop for me, telling him that I would not tolerate Sabbat interference with myself or my protégé, and that any such interference would result in my wrath descending upon the sect within this city. And once the message was delivered, she was to attack the Bishop with intent to kill."
"You sent her to her death," Victoria Moore whispered.
"Good fuckin' thing, too," Laurel del Mar growled. She stared at Lis with those piercing black eyes. "So, when do we kill off the rest of the bastards?"
"You've read my mind, Lady Laurel," Lis replied with a half-smile.
"Not *that* nickname," the Nosferatu primogen groaned.
"Your reputation--and that of your weapon--precede you," the Toreador chuckled softly. The mirth faded an instant later. "I must call upon the services of your clan to seek out the places where the Sabbat have hidden themselves within the city. I intend to be thorough about this."
"You've got the support of Clan Nosferatu," del Mar acknowledged. She twirled the formidable stave one-handed. "Not just for info, but for some nice guerilla warfare to drive the bastards out of their holes. One good game of Sabbat baseball, comin' up."
"Don't have to say anythin', pretty lady," the Brujah primogen grinned. "Me and mine'll be waiting to do what we do best--kick ass and take names."
"Ms. Meridian," Lis said, glancing at the Gangrel. "May I rely upon you and your clan in the assault?"
Louise Meridian smiled, exposing pointed, predatory carnassial teeth in place of the blunter incisors of a human. "Shugah," she replied, a growl of satisfaction in her Southern-honey voice, "Ah kin seh thet mah crew wouldn't miss et foah th' *world*."
"Ms. Moore, Mr. Marcheau, Meisseurs Thompson," Lis continued, glancing at the Ventrue, Toreador, and Malkavian primogens in turn. "I trust that information and backup may be had from your respective resources, particularly when it comes to preserving the Masquerade?"
Moore nodded. "You have our backing."
Marcheau's hands fluttered lightly in front of him. "Well, of *course* . . ." He might have said more, but Lis's cool gaze seemed to convince him to save the melodrama.
"You bet!" chirped the twins Thompson, then looked at each other, shouted "Jinx!" again, and went off into more laughter.
"Dr. Marshall," Elisabeth said, trying valiantly to ignore the Malkavians, who were pulling on each other's ties now, "I would appreciate any aid you can render as far as maintaining the Masquerade, as well as using your specialized skills to identify and pinpoint our targets."
"My dear Elisabeth," Marshall said placidly, also ignoring the Thompsons, "I will be more than happy to uproot this Sabbat weed and burn it to ash."
"Knowing you, Cory, you're being literal." Lis glanced at Zoey and *saw* the sullen expression that sparked in the emerald eyes.
Angel, surely you are not jealous of my familiarity with Marshall? She stroked her fingers over his palms and was rewarded with a shiver as the sensual gesture got through to him. You are the one at my side now . . .
Odd, that a single, reassuring smile from such a potentially deadly predator could put him at ease. Yet, that's exactly what Elisabeth--no, Lis. The short form seems to suit her better the more I think about it--managed to do. God, she was gorgeous, her beauty perfect and timeless, her personality strong-willed but kind to those she liked. The longer he was around her, the more Zoey realized that she was so close to his ideal. That she was also a deadly hunter by night seemed only to add to her mystique. There was something exciting about flirting with death.
He had once again dropped his hands down onto his lap as he had relaxed from his defensive posture. A smile of adoration settled upon his handsome face when Lis covered his hands with her own; the slightly cool feel--she was obviously making an attempt to be more humanlike at the moment--was just another reassurance. The chocolate-brown haired Toreador would see to it that nothing harmed him.
The way the primogen were looking at her when she had turned her attention back to them only confirmed that Lis probably had the power to do that. Zoey actually managed to keep his face impassive as Marcheau focused on Lis instead; the smirk his felt remained only a mental one.
This silent, intimate communication was something rather wonderful he decided. There was something downright sensual about having the brunette's presence there with him, hearing her intriguing voice whispering in his mind.
Jealous and piqued or not, Celeste Byron will not dare to cross me. As foolish and shallow as she may be, she has enough sense to recognize me for what I am--a predator far more adept and dangerous than she.
There were still ways the furious prince could get to her through him, though. The emerald eyes glanced over at the pale, blonde Kindred that looked so cowed at the moment; Zoey was far from convinced that Byron wouldn't try *something*. I don't like the way she's looking at me, Lis. Maybe she won't attack you directly, but I--
You belong to me. If she does anything against you, she is challenging me. I doubt she'll dare do that, angel.
The slender musician turned that wary, green gaze back to Lis's face; God, she seemed so *sure* of herself, and with the way she could take command of a situation, that self-confidence was well-placed. He shivered just a bit with pleasure at the way she had claimed possession of him. Was it possible that this centuries-old being found him that fascinating after all? The prospect was exciting and disturbing both. Zoey smiled a bit, wrapping her hand between his, the elegant fingers curling around hers.
When the Toreador Elder turned her attention back again to the other Kindred, the young mortal once again sat back and listened, watching and trying to learn what he could of this world into which he found himself thrusted. Blood Bonds, Vaulderie. . . More terms tossed casually around that he needed to ask Lis about when they had a moment. He concentrated on what *those* could be as the Autarkis's voice stated once again what had happened that night. Even though her account focused more on who were the pack members than on what they had done to them, Zoey couldn't keep the fractured images from haunting him yet again. Biting his lower lip gently, he tightened his hold on Lis's hand as he shuddered.
Pushing away the chilling memories--which became easier when a flare of pure gleeful satisfaction filled him at the apparent fate of "dear" Chantal--the blonde musician turned his cold, cold gaze to look over at the woman in the pale-blue satin gown supposedly in charge of this faction. How the hell could she have missed something like that? How could she have not had a clue that her childe had defected? And what the hell had Chantal said to her about him? That last question burned within him, that curiosity of his coming to the fore. He sort of wished he knew the motive behind the whole thing.
It was rather fascinating watching the primogen of the clans band together. Zoey couldn't help but wonder just how the Camarilla would go about trying to eradicate the Sabbat here in this city without letting the general populace of humanity have a clue that *something* sinister was going on, though he suspected he'd get to see some of it as it happened. Again the Malkavian twins made him almost smile with their antics--those two had a rather infectious sense of humor, but he could see how they would get on one's nerves over time--but the still-apparent familiarity between the Tremere and Lis again made a twinge that slashed apart his mood.
Leaning back against the chair in a faintly dejected manner, he gave Marshall another long look, taking in the man's polished, elegant appearance. Then Lis looked at him, her fascinating brownish-green eyes amused and mildly surprised.
Angel, surely you are not jealous of my familiarity with Marshall? You are the one at my side now . . .
Zoey closed his eyes, the spun-gold lashes dark against his faintly blushing cheeks; a shiver ran through him at the caress of her finger over the sensitive skin of the palm of his hand. Jealous? He had to take a moment to analyze the feeling, never having experienced it to this degree. Sí, you could call me just a bit jealous.
Who wouldn't be jealous? Lis was a dark fantasy come true, an angel of the night, a rare gem of deepest crimson. He was merely a mortal musician. True, he was blessed with uncommon good looks, and wasn't slow of wit, but there just had to be many more with beauty and talent much like his own. He opened his eyes, the emerald gaze meeting hers. I'm really nothing special, Lis. Just a mortal that's pretty and has a nice voice and a talent for music. I'm sure you've seen plenty just like me over twelve centuries of existence.
Lis refused to lie to him; there was something deep in those emerald eyes that reached down into a part of her very soul that she'd thought well and truly dead, rekindling a flame that had been dormant for a long, long time. It is true that I have seen those who are just as beautiful and talented as you--some who have even greater gifts in both areas. Zoey, it is not merely your beauty or your voice that attract me to you; if that were the case, I would be as shallow as Byron. There is something very special about you, a vitality that fascinates--and beyond that, you are a good person . . . which, believe it or not, is rather rare in these times.
"'Scuse me, ma'am," Meadows said mildly, still holding Nelson securely. "But what should we do about *this* piece of shit? He might have allies in the Elysium."
"You have a point," Lis acknowledged. She rose from her chair, touching Zoey's shoulder gently before prowling around the end of the table like a dark panther seeking prey. "Allow me a few moments, and I will ascertain a few things."
Nelson squirmed and screeched piteously, but Lis captured his chin neatly in one hand, staring into his eyes. "What other Sabbat agents are present in the Elysium? Think on it . . ."
Forced to picture his comrades by Lis's soft, irresistible command, Nelson whimpered as the Toreador reached into his very thoughts, lifting the images and names from his mind as though skimming cream from milk. There were eight of them; as she murmured the descriptions and names, a number of gasps rose from the primogen. Two Gangrel, three Brujah, a Ventrue, a Nosferatu, and another Toreador were revealed as infiltrators; the expressions of those clans' respective elders boded ill for the deep-cover agents of the Sabbat.
"Keep him under lock and key, Mr. Meadows," Lis instructed quietly as she released Nelson's face, stepping away. "Those are only the agents in the Elysium at this time--most likely this one's pack. It's possible--or rather, it's *probable*--that there are other infiltrators among the Kindred *not* present tonight."
"What about those agents out in Elysium?" Byron asked abruptly. Zoey jumped slightly in his seat; he hadn't realized that the Prince had moved quite so close to him. She wasn't more than three feet away now.
"I'm sure Mr. Meadows's deputies can collect them with little difficulty. We'll interrogate them as well--every scrap of information can be useful." Lis smirked faintly. "It's been years since I was involved in a full-scale purge. This may be entertaining . . ."
Nelson screamed suddenly, vengefully, making her whirl around to face him again. It wasn't her he was focused on, though--it was *Zoey*.
Chaos hit the young musician's mind, a dizzying, confusing whirl of madness that sent him tumbling out of the chair, screaming. The insanity overwhelmed him; there were rats, bugs, worms, snakes, crawling all over him, biting him, their furry, chitinous, slimy, scaly bodies revolting him with their touch. He could feel the hard press of wood beneath him, his screams echoing in the tight confinement--God, he was in a coffin, buried alive with those horrible *things* in there with him, and as he screamed they were crawling into his mouth and nose and ears--
"*Zoisite*!" Lis's shout of horror and fury shook the very walls.
Laurel del Mar, the one who sat closest to Zoey, launched herself out of her chair, leaving the heavy stave behind as she dove for the floor and the screaming, writhing young mortal who was clawing wildly at his face. She wasn't as strong as Lis, but her strength more than sufficed to hold him as she grabbed his wrists, holding his hands away from his face. Right behind the Nosferatu came the Gangrel, who threw herself bodily over the struggling Zoey, holding him down grimly.
Meadows's grip on Nelson slipped as the Malkavian antitribu flailed furiously; dropping to his feet, the Sabbat agent threw himself against Lis's back, sending her to the floor. He scrambled up, cackling, and ran towards the doors.
He didn't get far.
Dr. Marshall pointed one hand at him, then made a sharp lifting gesture with the other hand; Nelson squealed as his feet suddenly left the floor. Held in midair by the Tremere's power, he kicked and struggled futilely. Instead of turning to destroy him when she got to her feet, Lis bolted to the table, kneeling down to pull Zoey into her arms, holding him tightly; Laurel and Louise prudently let her do so. The Nosferatu Primogen stepped back to her seat and snatched up the heavy stave before vaulting the table.
"Hold the bastard steady, Cory!" she shouted over the awful symphony of Zoey's screams mingled with Nelson's, even as she took hold of one of the foot-long iron cylinders capping off each end of the stave. A deft twist and pull, and the cap was removed to reveal that the end of the wooden shaft had been tapered to a lethally sharp point. "We've got to immobilize the fucker at least, break his concentration!"
"Angel, angel," Lis cried softly into Zoey's hair, holding him still despite his whimpering efforts to struggle. "Hush, it's all right--it's not *real*, Zoey! Listen to me--it isn't *real*!"
Louise hissed softly in disbelief as Lis's words seemed to penetrate the madness; Zoey stared up into the Toreador's face for a moment. That moment was long enough for Laurel to drive the lance through Nelson's chest, transfixing his heart cleanly with the long point; the Malkavian antitribu's struggles ceased instantly, and he hung limp in midair.
Zoey's emerald eyes cleared somewhat as the Dementation assault ended. "Mama . . ." he half-cried, shaking all over; the attack might be over, but the effects had a tendency to linger. He stared up at her, thin red lines marring his beautiful face where he'd scratched himself.
"Hush, my angel, mon précieux amour," she soothed, hardly hearing her own words; it was the mere sound that was probably the most important.
"Lis," he whispered, putting his arm up around her neck, clinging to her tightly. She rose to her feet, lifting him with her, cradling him protectively against her; he buried his face in the wealth of flame-highlighted, dark-chocolate hair that spilled down over her shoulder.
"Meadows," she said quietly, coldly. "See to it that the other infiltrators are taken into custody. I have to take Zoisite home with me, at once. Dr. Marshall, I'm leaving you in charge for now--you know how to contact me."
"But--" Celeste Byron began.
"Be silent," Elisabeth cut her off shortly. "I am doing you a favor by attending to the business you should have taken care of long ago--removing the Sabbat from this city. Play with your pampered pretty-boys and your simpering sycophants. *I*, and the Primogen Council, will handle the matter. If you so much as raise a finger to interfere, I will tear your arm off and beat you to death with it."
She usually wasn't so crudely direct in her threats, but she had an excuse this time. She could feel Zoey's body shaking against her, and hear the sounds he was trying not to make; Dieu, her angel was crying . . .
She ignored the stares and whispers as she stalked out of the council chamber, down the stairs, and across the floor to the doors. The deputy on guard there took one look and decided that *she* definitely could leave; he almost broke his fingers yanking the door open for her. The same sort of thing happened at the end of the hallway; the parking lot was very quiet, and Lis's heels clicked loudly on the paving as she went to the Jaguar.
Not wanting to let go of Zoey, she opened the door with the same sort of power that Marshall had used to levitate Nelson; sliding into the driver's seat and tugging the door shut without touching it, she continued to hold Zoey on her lap, letting him cry into her dark hair, murmuring soft, meaningless words to calm him.
They were three-quarters of the way home before Zoey lifted his head, sniffling, and realized she wasn't even touching the wheel. He could feel it grazing his hip lightly as it turned, but her arms were wrapped around him, her hands nowhere near the wheel. That detail seemed unimportant--what *was* important was how safe, how warm and wonderfully *safe*, he felt in her arms.
"It's all right, Zoey," her exotic voice murmured softly in his ear. "It was only hallucination. The bastard used a power called Dementation to infect you with madness. It's all right now--I'm here. We'll be home soon, and I'll take you to bed . . . I won't let go of you until you want me to. I promise . . ."
Lis's unspoken words left him feeling slightly puzzled and giddy both. Special? No, he really hadn't considered himself something like that; it was always the quest to be something special that had driven him into his chosen career with such passion. A good person? Perhaps, all things considered, but he still had his own flaws. He smiled at the touch on his shoulder, feeling oddly grateful that one such as Lis would deign to show him such attention. It seemed less and less like being a choice meal one didn't want to share and more like something. . . else.
His emerald eyes followed the dark-chocolate haired Autarkis's every move as she stalked over to the Sheriff and the dangling Sabbat rat. He couldn't help it; it was just too easy to stare at her in admiration and appreciation. And it was rather entertaining and amusing both to see the ease at which she seemed to grab out the names of the other Sabbat Kindred out of the squirming Malkavian antitribu's mind. The fact that she could just as easily skim his own crossed his mind, but Zoey truly didn't feel threatened at that. He trusted her. There had been far too many opportunities already for her to cause him harm, opportunities she hadn't bothered to take. It was a good bet she wouldn't start taking them now.
A sharp-toned voice cut through Zoey's ruminations. Startled, having recognized the still-piqued tones of Prince Byron uncomfortably close by, the lithe musician turned elegantly in his seat to look for her. The blue-gowned Kindred was right there, almost within arm's reach, her face a frozen mask--expressionless, unreadable. Looking up at her, he instinctively shyed away just a bit, leaning over slightly; his slender hands lifted from his lap as his graceful body tensed.
No, she wouldn't do anything to challenge the outsider, not here, not now. But Byron's cold, sapphire eyes promised that she would find a way, somehow. That faintest flash of greed and anger Zoey saw in the prince's gaze said it all; like a child denied a promised treat, the blonde Kindred was determined to have him, if only to spite the brunette that had come crashing in and turned the prince's lovely little world upside-down.
Byron's look was only for him, given at a moment when Lis had glanced elsewhere. The golden-haired musician was rather sure that the Toreador elder had missed that silent promise.
Still gibbering and dangling from Meadow's grasp, Nelson felt an overwhelming need to get the hell out of there and warn the others. The Camarilla pricks were actually getting motivated for a city-wide purge; the bitch with the high-and-mighty attitude was determined to see it done. He might not be able to directly fight *her*--the Malkavian antitribu hadn't been able to keep his pack members' names from her--but he sure could get her attention focused elsewhere and create enough of a disturbance to scamper away. Oh, he'd seen the looks the bitch had been giving that prissy mortal, noted the way she'd staked a claim to him. She'd fall all over herself if something happened to her boy-toy.
Come on, you scuzzy juicebag. Look at me and see yourself through a shattered mirror. Fuck you, Prince Good-for-nothing; quit hogging his attention. Fine, fuck this. . . Determined to catch the kine's attention, Nelson let loose with a vicious scream full of fury.
Taken by surprise, Zoey whipped his head over to the source of the sound and stared at the scraggly, white-haired antitribu, his emerald eyes wide and his expression startled. Then the green eyes widened more in sheer horror as the world abruptly spun away.
Darkness and the scent of newly milled pine wood, new material, stale air. Where his eyes open? He couldn't tell, the darkness was so absolute. Skittering sounds, scratching, hissing. . . Dios, something's here? Squeaks, slithers, scrabbling; the feel of paws, hundreds of tiny legs, scales and slime crawling over his nude form. Oh God, get them off of me! Get me out of here! Can't shake them off! Can't swipe them away! Screaming in terror, screaming in pain. Ohgodohgodoh*god*! The agony of thousands of bites all over, the feel of flesh consumed in little mouthfuls at a time, the sensation of *things* crawling into mouth, ears, nose, internal organs. The endless, endless screaming echoing back in the sealed coffin as the air runs out and the thousands of rats and bugs and worms and snakes and God-knows-what-else scurried over him, burrowed within him, ate him alive. . .
Oooh, the boy made a *great* distraction. Flailing free of the Sheriff, Nelson leapt at the brown-haired bitch and grinned madly when the Torry cunt hit the council chamber's floor, her body making a satisfying thump. Laughing insanely in glee, the Malkavian antitribu scuttled for the doors, only to suddenly feel himself lifted up into the air by an unseen force. No! This can't be fuckin' happening! I was home-free! Thrashing and kicking around in midair, doing his best to pull free of the invisible hold, Nelson kept up his mental assault on the screaming, frenzied human. As he watched the brunette bitch throw herself at her screaming little toy, Nelson snarled in satisfied fury. Just watch me break his fragile little mind. Then the Sabbat Kindred saw the Nosferatu primogen step up with her vaunted and well-known weapon. Terror in his own eyes, Nelson started screaming and struggling again, his high, reedy voice a chilling counterpoint to the harsh, horrified sounds Zoey was making.
Screaming in the middle of suffocation. Strength fading away even as the scurrying, crawling, biting, munching things continued their feast. Heart trying to keep beating, lungs trying to still inhale and exhale as teeth and mandibles and fangs tore at them, worms burrowing their way into the innermost parts of himself. ¡Mamá, Mamá! ¿Donde estás? Oh *God*, Mommy, help! Fingers reaching up, hardly more then stripped bone, scratching desperately on the satin lining of the coffin. The darkness, the *darkness*. . . A light? Soft sounds. . . Calming, soothing. . . ¿Mamá? Are you there? Not real?
Nelson hissed, sensing the hold of his power fracturing despite all logic. The grim grin of triumph on Laurel's face was the final thing the antitribu saw before he abruptly found himself skewered like a piece of meat for a shishkebob.
The Nosferatu primogen continued to leer happily at her immobile prize. "Well, that's *one* less bastard scurrying off tonight. Thanks for the assist, Cory."
"Of course, Laurel. Happy to oblige." Marshall looked rather pleased indeed, like a cat in the cream.
Zoey stared up at the concerned-looking woman bending over him, mind blank and uncomprehending in the sudden silence left behind by the cessation of the attack. Though the overwhelming images and sensations were gone, he could *still* feel the phantom creatures eating at him. Shuddering in horror, he sobbed out for his mother yet again; she had always been there for him, easing away the fears and pains of growing up. Where was she now, when he needed her so badly?
The soft, exotic words, that rich, sultry voice that sounded so familiar brought him back at least that much. Mother was two years dead, but Lis was here. Lis, who had saved him once before. Mind still numb, he wrapped his arms around her, clinging to the night angel that was his only anchor in this dark and insane world.
He was barely aware of her lifting him up into the air, or her words to the Sheriff, Primogen and prince. In fact, he was hardly aware of anything for quite a while, not even the soft sobbing or the feel of his tears wetting his cheeks, nor even the silky wealth of hair against his face and sticking to his skin from the moisture on his masculinely beautiful face. When he finally did emerge from that odd twilight, sniffling and looking around, his face feeling sticky and oddly sore, he was mildly surprised to fin himself practically sitting on the gorgeous Kindred's lap as they were driving down the road. Or rather, as the *car* was driving itself down the road.
Ordinarily, that alone would have been enough to get his attention. However, the lingering effects of whatever madness it was that had hit him were still there--with just the slightest thought, his skin started to crawl all over again--combined with Lis's almost hypnotic voice kept his focus on just how safe and protective she could be. For someone who was still so young and just now finding out how much he missed his mother--and had taken her for granted when she was alive--Lis was a much-needed presence right at the moment.
Dementation. He shuddered, putting a name to the whatever it was that had unleashed the terror of utter madness on him. Another of those apparent abilities the Kindred had, he guessed--one he really didn't wish to endure again. And he had thought that what had happened in the cemetery was bad. Zoey's slender arms hugged the brunette a bit tighter as he laid his head back down on her shoulder. When he did speak, his voice cracked slightly from the harshness of his screaming; he could tell already that he was in for a bout of laryngitis, just like the times he'd strained his voice before by singing too long or stretching his vocal range. "Is there any way at all someone like me can counter these powers? Or am I fair game to anything one of you decide to throw at me?"
The emerald eyes closed, spun-gold lashes sticking slightly to tearstained cheeks. Despite the safety and security of being there in Lis's arms, Zoey could only see the future as something very scary and very bleak indeed.
|First Stanza||Third 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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