Friendship Arietta

Temptation falls in your path,
No hesitation, why you ask,
You have another waiting at home,
And yes, she matters to you . . .
. . . You didn't mean to meet her you cry,
Oh, but the sun goes down every night,
She came to you when you were alone,
Oh and yes, she matters to you,
Kind of woman that'll haunt you,
Oh, kind of woman that'll haunt you,
She matters to you
--Stevie Nicks, "Kind of Woman" 

"Zoey?" The voice was weak, cracking slightly with the effort. One of the first things the man lying in the bed realized was that he was very thirsty. Swallowing slightly, he pushed that from his mind as he looked at the man heíd tried to address. For the first time in probably two days, the azure eyes were clear and bright, not fogged over with fear and drugs.

The slender musician fitfully dozing didnít stir in the chair next to the bed in the guestroom. Still clad in the T-shirt and jeans heíd donned after taking a shower -- complete with vigorously scrubbing his hair -- his booted feet were stretched out in front of himself and under the bed, his ass was right at the edge of the seat of the chair and his head was supported precariously by the top edge of the padded piece of furniture's high back. The musician in question had spent what had remained of the night keeping watch over his best friend. Somewhere in the early morning hours, sleep had finally overtaken Zoey.

Keeping his bright blue eyes focused on his friend, Alex pulled himself up into a sitting position. For the first time in a long while, he actually was able to think clearly. A slight frown settled on his boyish, lightly freckled face; it was obvious that his guitarist friend had crashed out in complete exhaustion. Though the truly startling thing about Zoey still was the fact that he had dyed his hair red.

Looking around, the bassist could tell that wherever it was he happened to be, it was a ritzy place. The bed was comfortable and the linens soft and fine, the brass frame polished to a perfect shine. The room was spacious, the decor reminding him of something classic, almost Victorian, in taste and motif. Soothing blues, greens and shades of cream were the palette, making the bedroom one conducive to relaxation. A window overlooked the grounds of a well-tended lawn and flower garden, the heavier curtains pulled to either side of the glass panes and what seemed to be the morning sun streaming in through the diaphanous, cream-colored inner curtains.

His mind wandering over the events of the last couple days, Alex tried to make sense of what he thought had happened. All he was sure about was that a couple of biker-looking dudes had come busting into his room and overpowered him. After that, everything was a confused, dream-like whirl of darkness, fear, sex and snakes -- and the continued question of "whereís the ring?". Though when heíd heard that voice singing, it just seemed too real for it to not have been his friend.

That he was here, with Zoey asleep in a chair not more than a couple of feet away, seemed to prove that something had happened.

Stiff and sore, Alex softly groaned while leaning over and giving his friend a couple of hard taps with an open hand on one of the other manís denim-clad knees. "Zoey! Wake up!"

"Huh?" The red-crowned head raised up as the rest of the guitaristís body jerked in reaction to being suddenly prodded into consciousness. Scooting back, Zoey groaned and shifted position slightly, trying to work out all the kinks that made themselves painfully known.

Pulling back, the younger musician frowned as a sudden darkness at the corner of an eye caught his attention. Focusing his gaze to the skin of the inside of his left arm, the Alexís expression shifted to a puzzled scowl as he saw the bruising that was there. Flicking his bright azure gaze back to his friend, he asked, "Zoey, where the hell am I?"

It took the older man a moment to realize what had roused him from his slumber. Mind focusing on the fact that the Ravensblood bassist was awake and talking, the guitarist opened his eyes and gave the other man a relieved smile. "Alex! Iím glad to see that youíre all right."

"Where am I?"

"Youíre at my girlfriendís house," Zoey responded.

Alex paused, blinking in surprise. "Girlfriend?"

Zoey nodded. "Elisabeth Maurier. The stately brunette I chased after following our last gig. Remember her?"

"Sheís your girlfriend now?" That piece of news was a bit startling. Though thereíd been plenty of opportunities taken, Alex didnít think his friend would ever find someone captivating enough for a repeat performance, let alone being able to claim Zoisite de la Vega as a boyfriend.

"Yes," the guitarist answered, feeling a bit uncomfortable that his personal life was the current topic of discussion, "she is. And sheís got influence in this city, so you should be safe. Alex, what do you remember about what happened?"

"Not much at all," the bassist replied, shaking his head slightly. "A couple of toughs beat the shit out of me and after that . . . " He shrugged helplessly. Frowning, he once again turned his gaze to stare at the other musician. "Mom? Dad? Are they all right?"

"Theyíre fine, last I saw. Worried to death about you."

"Do they know Iím here?"

A thoughtful frown, then a slight shake of his head; Zoey sighed. "I donít think so. Iím under the impression that Lis wanted to be sure things were settled down before anyone was told your current whereabouts. As it is, letting your parents know right now may only endanger them."

"Endanger . . . ? What the hellís going on? And just why do you have red hair now?" Alex stared at his friend, utter confusion easily read on his youthful, handsome face.

"Iím not sure, Alex," Zoey began, quick mind looking for a way to give the redheaded bassist some idea of how serious everything truly was without giving away secrets that were best kept unknown, "but whatever it is, it has to do with that ring you got. As for my hair . . . I was looking for some word on where you had been taken and was trying to disguise myself."

"Oh." The younger man thought for a moment then shook his head. "Next time, donít sing, Zoey. Even down where I was -- wherever that was -- I could tell that was you. Was I imagining it, or was I being strangled by a snake?"

"Probably your imagination," the guitarist lied, his mind cringing at the memory of that serpent winding itself around Alexís head and cutting off his screams.

"Why do you say itís the ring Uncle Bill gave me?"

"After you disappeared, someone tried grabbing Rick and Tony." Raising a hand in a gesture to stay calm, Zoey cut in before Alex could ask another question. "Theyíre all right. Theyíre holed up in a hotel and probably having the time of their lives even as we speak.

"Anyway, whoever it was must have thought that you gave the ring to one of them when they didnít find it on you."

The bassist nodded, running a hand through his long locks of dark-fire hair. "I remember being asked a few times about where the ring was, but I donít recall what I said in reply." Pressing his hands to his head, Alex sighed, blue eyes closing. "Itís all like some strange, twisted nightmare. Everythingís dark and fuzzy."

"Donít worry about it," Zoey gently encouraged, leaning over and giving his best friend a pat on the shoulder. "Just forget about it and let Lis handle things. Sheís got clout and resources that we just donít have."

"Sounds like you have a lot of faith in someone youíve essentially just met," Alex replied, frowning slightly.

"I do." The older man nodded in acknowledgment. Standing up and stretching, softly groaning in sheer physical bliss at getting a few more kinks out of his body, Zoey looked back down at his friend when he was done. "Stay here for a moment. Let me go down and talk to Claude and see what heís got for breakfast. Iíll tell him youíre up and about, and try to get him to take a look at you."

"Um . . . Why would Claude want to look at me?" Alex asked, feeling hopelessly lost.

"Because heís got medical training along with being a fantastic chef. And heíll insist on making sure youíre a-okay." Catching the expression on the bassistís face, Zoey chuckled. "Donít worry. I think youíll like Lisís staff. Now stay put."

"Iím not going anywhere," the redhead responded, his light baritone -- a voice that always harmonized gorgeously with Zoeyís own clear tenor, hence Alex was one of the usual backup singers in the band -- tinged with a faintly sullen tone. Where did Zoey think heíd go anyway, being stuck in a strange house with no signs of clothing at all? The bassist wasnít one for blithely wandering about in the nude.

"Good. Iíll be right back." Tossing his friend a charming and encouraging smile, Zoey strode out of the guestroom, taking a moment to pause and close the door behind him.

Emerald eyes scanning over the hallway, his gaze settled upon the heavy door that led to Lisís own bedroom. She would be there now, sleeping the sleep of the undead. That she had let him keep Alex company through the night was yet another thing for which he was grateful. Knowing her, she probably had various tasks that needed to be done during the hours the sun was hidden from sight anyway. Smiling wistfully, Zoey continued on toward the kitchen on the mansionís ground floor.

First heíd talk to Lisís ghouls about Alex and what would happen now. Then heíd go take a shower -- being sure to wash his hair -- and change his clothes. Granted, heíd changed into something as soon as he had eaten dinner and had a shower last night, but there continued a sense of being unclean that clung to him, and he had slept most of the night in those clothes. He shuddered, imagining he could still feel on his skin the sticky spatters of blood from the ghoul rent apart by the snake-man thing.

The wonderful aroma of yet another sumptuous feast hung in the air as Zoey neared the kitchen. Heíd certainly give Claude credit for his culinary talents; though outwardly it had seemed so far as if the guitarist didnít appreciate the cookís fine skills, that had been due to circumstance. To be honest, there hadnít been a meal yet that Zoey hadnít liked.

"Morning, everyone," he called out as he stepped through the open archway, his boots making clear footfalls on the linoleum floor. Pausing near the doorway, Zoey looked around, his emerald gaze glancing over the room.

"Good morning," Claude said cheerfully in response, expertly tossing another pancake on top of the already towering stack waiting on a plate next to the stove. Though the table was laid out with a typically sumptuous breakfast, Victor and Grant were nowhere in sight.

"Where are the others?" Zoey inquired.

"Out back in the arsenal, making sure that everything is ready. How is your friend?"

"Heís awake. Um, what arsenal? . . ."

"The one out back. Will you be bringing a tray up to your friend?"

"I was wondering if youíd come up and check him over to see if he can get up and about. Hey . . . when you say arsenal . . . uh, what exactly do you mean?"

The slender Frenchman carried over the platter of pancakes and settled it into a clear spot on the table. "I mean enough military-grade contraband weapons to arm a small country. Lis has many contacts, in places high and low. Does your friend like pancakes?"

Zoey stood there blinking, dumbfounded. "Uh . . . yeah, he does. What the hell do you mean, contraband weapons? Like, rocket launchers and that sort of stuff?"

Claude paused and looked at him closely. "How much sleep did you get last night? Youíre acting oddly."

Still blinking in astonishment, his mind not quite processing the information, he ran a hand through his slightly less red hair, a gesture of nervousness. "Donít know. Six hours, I think . . . Youíre not shitting me, are you? A real honest-to-God arsenal?"

"Honest to God, Allah, Buddha, and the Bank of America, yes." Claude reached over and touched Zoeyís forehead. "No fever . . . I think you need to eat something."

"Exactly what kind of arsenal are we talking about here?"

"Persistent, arenít you? An arsenal. Automatic rifles, handguns, shotguns, grenades, claymore mines . . . well, quite a few things, up through anti-tank weaponry."

"Oh, shit."

"Approximately." The elder ghoul calmly opened a cabinet and pulled out a wooden tray with brass handles at the ends, then started loading up a plate. Zoey was silent for a moment as the information sank in.

"Anti-tank? She expects a tank attack?" he finally said in a slightly stunned voice, trying to picture it all in his head.

"Not necessarily an actual tank attack per se, but that artillery tends to be very effective in . . . shall we say, demolition work. Nothing says loving like collapsing a two-story building on top of your enemies. Do you think your friend might like some orange juice this morning?"

"Hell of a Ďlove tapí," Zoey slowly responded, that bringing to mind a memory of a televised implosion of a condemned building. For some odd reason, he wondered if "collapsing a two-story building" would look something like that; it seemed to be the only thought that stayed in his still-stunned mind. "Yeah . . . heís a big fan of orange juice."

"Excellent." Claude finished off the tray and picked it up. "Letís go see your friend, then." He led the way back up the stairs and into the spare room, a trip that Zoey hardly noticed as he filed the information away that not only did Lis have a torture chamber out back, she also had more armament then probably a National Guard armory. His only clear thought as the two of them entered the bedroom temporarily given to Alex was that he sure hoped she didnít have such stuff lying casually about.

"Good morning, young sir," the slender Frenchman boomed in a rather melodramatic tone. "My name is Claude, and Iíll be your physician this morning. Arm, please." Pulling open a drawer, he whipped out a blood-pressure cuff, stethoscope, and thermometer.

The animated chefís tone brought the still redheaded guitaristís thoughts back to the here and now. Taking up a casual stance, Zoey crossed his arms over his chest as he watched the older man begin his examination.

The medical poking and prodding didnít take long; Claude was a model of efficiency, especially since the still-confused bassist was cooperative. However, Alex did keep staring over at his best friend, the look in his azure eyes asking, "Why me?", and it was all Zoey could do to not chuckle at the other musician's obvious discomfort at having someone fussing over him in such a clinical manner. Once done, the chef announced that Alex was going to survive, but he wasnít to leave the room -- and preferably, not to leave the bed -- until heíd finished his breakfast.

On his way out, the older ghoul paused next to Zoey. "Donít let him wander the house alone," Claude warned quietly. "Keep him on this floor or the ground floor. If he starts asking dangerous questions, divert him. The phoneís over on the table in the corner . . . if you want to call his parents and let them know heís all right, go ahead. But no police, not yet. Lis wants to be careful." He left the room, shutting the door behind him.

The guitarist nodded as he listened to the other ghoulís soft words, then walked over to the chair still parked next to Alexís bedside as the door closed behind him with a soft click of the latch. Groaning softly -- the morningís revelation still leaving him feeling a bit stunned and his body still complaining about sleeping in that very same chair -- Zoey plopped back down in the seat.

Alex picked up the glass of orange juice -- the entire spread looked absolutely wonderful, especially with how famished he felt; looking back on those shadowy memories between getting jumped in his own room and waking up here, he couldnít remember really eating anything that could be called food -- and took a couple of sips of it before glancing at his friend. In Zoeyís absence, he had gotten out of bed and had gotten a drink of water, but having an actual breakfast was enough to make things seem better than before. I must be really hungry. My stomach feels strange, the redhead mentally commented, taking a couple more swallows of the juice.

"How are you feeling? I know Claude said youíre okay, but . . ." Zoey softly asked.

"Better," Alex replied, setting the glass down and starting in on the pancakes, the aroma of maple syrup and butter quite enticing. "Iím actually starting to feel human again."

That struck a note with Zoey, sending a shiver down his spine as he recalled the holding pen, the quarters of Mistress Vanity and the gothic Isis and her pet snake-demon. "Glad to hear it."

The conversation died down to nothing while the Ravensblood bassist concentrated on eating and the guitarist became content merely to watch his friend. That he was able to be here, sitting in a chair and enjoying Alexís company instead of looking over his friendís dead body in a morgue somewhere -- or worse, seeing Alex alive and enslaved by those things -- was a miracle, one made possible by the generosity of his dark angel. That thought made Zoey smile, a warm glow of joy filling him.

Coming out of his slight daydream, emerald eyes focused again on the other man, Zoey raised an eyebrow in curiosity as he realized that Alex had slowed down on eating. In fact, the younger man was poking around the remaining food with his fork, a faintly puzzled expression on his face. "Something wrong?"

"Iím not sure . . ." Alex responded, a frown turning down the corners of his mouth. "My stomach still feels strange. Thought I was just hungry, but I donít think thatís the case."

"What do you mean, Ďstrangeí?" Suddenly intensely curious, the guitarist also started to feel a bit lightheaded. He didnít like the sound of that.

"It almost feels like Iíve swallowed molten lead . . ." Alex finally answered, after thinking over the sensation for a couple of seconds.

Zoey could feel the blood drain from his face. He suddenly knew what that meant, and his emerald gaze swept over his best friend, looking for any obvious changes -- even though he knew there wouldnít be any. Alex was a ghoul at the moment, just as Zoey himself was. More than likely it was Lisís blood he was feeling; to Zoey, that hot bed of coals within him from the Toreador blood felt much the same. Dios, so now what do I say? he thought, leaning back against the wooden solidity of the chair, his expression turning thoughtful. Technically, he could explain everything to Alex, since his friend was "partially of the Blood", but in doing so, he would condemn his friend to always remain a ghoul . . . and to be eventually Blood Bonded to Lis, or some other Kindred, since it only took three times. If he didnít say much at all, Alex could go free as just another human once the vampire blood wore off.

And what about Lis? he thought, eyes partially closing. What would she want? Did he have an obligation to her to make it so that she would have to keep Alex? Or would she rather he stay quiet and let her decide on her own? That made him frown slightly, the guitarist not liking the idea of yet another person "in the family" as it were, even if that person was the one man in the world he considered almost a brother. Still, there could be no better protection from the creatures of the night, and with some of those creatures aware of Alexís existence and his tie to that ring, having him being kept by Lis may be the young manís best chance for continued survival.

"Zoey? Why are you looking at me like that?" Alex sat up, not really liking the thoughtful, calculating stare his best friend was giving him. Something about that look put the bassist on edge.

"Hmm? Oh, sorry. Just debating something with myself." No, no, jealousy isnít going to get you anywhere, Zoisite, he berated himself. Mentally taking a step back, he tried to approach the situation objectively. Alex was ghouled. That was more than likely a fact. So would Lis want to keep him? The bassist certainly had merit. Handsome and truly a musical talent as well, Alex could play more than just an electric bass. Zoey knew from past experience that his friend was skilled at the harp -- the two of them had been a bardic duo before at Renaissance fairs and the like -- and Alexís singing voice was just about as good as Zoeyís own. If Lis was looking for artistic merit to encourage, she could do far worse than the bassist. And again, considering the influence vampires had, Alex would probably be better off being the property of someone such as Lis. Despite her advanced age, she seemed still, well, human.

"Debating what?" Alex insisted, setting the fork down. Bright blue eyes stayed focused on the other man; a stray thought went through his mind, again a comment on how odd it was seeing Zoey with dark red hair.

The guitarist leaned forward, fixing his friend with a stern look. "Alex, listen to me and listen well, okay? Thereís a lot more going on than what it seems, but I canít tell you much at the moment. One thing that I can tell you is that youíll get used to that molten lead feeling."

Startled, Alex gave his friend a confused stare. "How do you know that?"

"Because Iíve had the same thing happen to me."

"What same thing?" the bassist asked, getting more confused. "Zoey, what the hell are you talking about?"


Alex just stared, not sure if he truly heard the hushed word his friend pronounced. "Vampires?" he repeated, slowly shaking his head.

", vampires. Theyíre real, Alex, and they're out there, stalking the night. They also think the world's their property, to do with as they see fit, and we humans are just food to be herded around like cattle."

"No way," the bassist protested, shaking his head again. This was the start of the twenty-first century. Everyone knew, in this day and age, that vampires were just horror stories. There were no such things.

It had to be that way, otherwise the twisted, shadowy dreams would actually be memories . . .

Zoey nodded slightly, understanding the disbelief he could see in his best friendís bright azure eyes. Standing up, he walked over to the fireplace along the right-hand wall, admiring the gorgeous blue-veined white marble that lined the fireplace and made up the mantle. An elegant brass and glass screen covered the front of the soot-darkened opening, and to one side stood a brass-handled, wrought iron set of utensils that consisted of an ash scoop, an ash brush and a poker. Reaching out, he picked up the poker, holding the cool yellow-hued metal in his right hand. Turning around, he glanced over at his friend.

"Zoey, what are you doing?" Alex asked, thoroughly puzzled by what seemed to be some odd behavior on the part of his friend.

"A demonstration. Hopefully itíll work. Iím still new at this," the emerald-eyed ghoul responded, raising the poker to lie parallel to the floor, wrapping his left hand around the wrought-iron shaft just above where the stylized fork curved and diverged into its two prongs. Noting that Alex was opening his mouth to ask another question, Zoey swiftly interrupted him with one of his own. "Think Iím strong enough to bend this?"

"Have you gone nuts? No, of course you canít bend that," the bassist replied, starting to become concerned with his friendís mental state. He knew better than that; pokers were made to bear up to levering burning hunks of wood around, built to take both heat and pressure, so there should be no way it would bend to the strength of any normal person.

"Are you so sure?" Closing his green eyes, the formerly blond guitarist reached down into himself, seeking to touch the power of those warmly glowing coals as he started to press the two ends of the metal toward one another. Somewhere in there, the Toreador vitae waited; he knew it was only a matter of figuring out how to spark those coals into the burst of fiery strength heíd accidentally triggered at the cop shop.

Alex continued to stare at the other musician, disbelief on his lightly freckled face. "Zoey . . ."

When it happened, it took the ghoul by surprise. Just as he thought he wouldnít be able to tap into it yet again, just as heíd not been able to do so as he was being dragged down to Vanityís lair, the warmth suddenly burst into a liquid heat that permeated throughout his entire awareness. Where he had been straining against the wrought iron shaft, a light sweat breaking out on his brow and his muscles aching at the attempt, there was abruptly no resistance at all. The poker swiftly bent into an elongated loop, stylized fork and brass handle touching one another, the metal yielding as if it were as soft as butter.

"Holy shit . . ." the bassist gasped, azure eyes growing wide at the sight of his friend suddenly making the poker virtually into a pretzel. "How the hell . . . ?"

The older musician opened his eyes, glancing back over to his friend. Letting go of the bent utensil with his left hand, still grasping it in his right, he gave Alex a wry smile. "Thatís because I have some of her strength in me," he replied, still feeling that hot potency infusing him. He needed to be careful, least he accidentally break something now that the fire was awakened. "Thatís what happens when you drink the blood of a vampire."

"Drink the blood?" the redhead echoed. Flashes of the shadowy dreams came back to him, of the darkly alluring woman who claimed him as his mistress ripping open her arm with a sharp, ivory-colored fang and the taste of hot, coppery blood in his mouth. Shuddering slightly, Alex shook his head, not wanting to acknowledge the images as memories.

"Thatís why you feel what you feel, Alex," Zoey continued, frowning at seeing his friendís obvious distress. "Their blood carries some of their power with it. And with that blood in you, they can claim ownership of you; youíre that vampireís property. But itís more than that . . ."

"What . . . what do you mean?" the other musician stuttered.

"It makes you admire them," the guitarist replied. "Vanity was a vampire, Alex, but from a different clan than the one Lis is from. Thatís why my hairís red; the ones that were holding you are partial to redheads, and I wanted to catch their attention. How many times did Vanity make you drink from her?"

"I donít know," he answered, closing his bright blue eyes. "I donít remember . . . Twice? Once when I first saw her, then again right after they dragged you out . . ." A sudden expression of horror settled on Alexís face; he opened his eyes and stared at Zoey, frightened. "I was being strangled by a snake! It wasnít a dream, was it? And Lis . . ."

"I thought you were out of it when she came crashing in . . ."

"Iíd started coming back around when it felt like the world was falling to pieces . . ." Alex slowly said, trying to pick out what happened in the blurred images. "All I really remember is seeing what had to be Lis standing there in the room like some avenging angel, ordering you to get me out of there. I was too weak to do anything anyway, and I wanted out, so . . ." He helplessly shrugged. "It just seemed easier that way."

"Lis is a vampire. Iím not sure what she was doing, but I think itís something that her powers allow her to do," Zoey responded. "But because sheís one of them, sheís got the ability to keep you safe from any others. And because sheís one of them, any others will be reluctant to take away from her what they see is her property. However, thereís a catch to being her property . . ."

"Whatís that?"

"Drinking her blood. Itís the only tie vampires care about, near as I can tell. And as I said, drinking a vampireís blood makes you like them, a fondness that becomes stronger with each drink. There are some perks, though." Zoey glanced at his left hand, then absently wiped the black streaks of soot onto his indigo jeans. Setting the bent poker down on the floor before the fireplace -- he made a mental note to apologize to Lis for rendering the thing useless -- the guitarist turned back around and crossed the distance between the bed and the wall. "As long as you drink vampiric blood, you wonít age. You become stronger, faster and able to survive potentially lethal damage, or so Lis claims. Iíve only experienced the strength myself, but I have no reason to doubt her words. You also get to be Ďin the knowí about vampires and their society. Thatís why I can tell you what Iím telling you right now. Because youíre a ghoul, just as I am."

"A what?" Alex asked, mind trying to make sense of it all.

"A ghoul. A human that drinks vampiric blood. A . . . servant, if you will, who is allowed to know about vampires because they have a blood tie to a vampire. Otherwise, youíd either be killed as a threat to their existence or youíd have your mind wiped clean of any knowledge of them."

"And youíre one of her servants, Zoey?"

"Well . . . yes and no," he answered, blushing slightly. "When I said she was my girlfriend, I was being accurate . . ."

His friendís admission made Alex shudder, images from his time in Vanityís company coming back to haunt him. One thing about Zoeyís words: they made what happened to him actually make sense. That helped the world seem less crazy and arbitrary a place. No longer did he have to fight to convince himself that it didnít happen, it was all just a dream; he could actually get to dealing with his experiences. "You actually . . . ?"

"Sheís still enough like a human that yes, we do. My impression is that she does it because she knows how much I enjoy it, so itís like a gift to me. Iím sure Vanity had other reasons for what she did with you."

"I was just a toy," Alex frowned, folding his arms over his bare chest. "What she really wanted was the ring. I didnít tell her what happened to it until after she made me suck on a wound she made on her arm. Near as I can tell, she sweet-talked the information out of me after that."

"Lis has the ring now, and no, you wonít be able to get it back, at least not right away. Thereís still too many others interested in it -- namely an entire clan of vampires. Itís much safer in her hands," Zoey said, circling around the end of the bed and plopping back down onto the chair.

"You said Rick and Tony are living it up at a hotel?"

Zoey nodded, then brushed aside a stray lock of his dyed hair. "Yeah. Your parents came home to a mess and called the cops as well as Frank. Frank told me you went missing and the cops took the guys to the station to get statements. Lis and I went out to your house and checked things out, then we got word that the police station was under attack." Catching his friendís look of shock, he swiftly continued, "They were more vampires, ones looking for Rick and Tony -- probably for the ring -- and Lis managed to take care of them, bringing one home to get some answers from. While she was doing that, I helped the guys get out of there. Lis then arranged for them to be at a hotel on her tab, and thatís where they are right now, far as I know."

"Do they know anything about vampires and the like?"

"No, they donít. Theyíre not ghouls, so they canít be told," the guitarist responded. "They canít know anything about this."

"Must have been hard on you," Alex muttered.

"Iím not finding it easy to tell you this as it is, Alex. Once you know, you either have to remain a ghoul, or youíll be killed or forced to forget it all. If you tell anyone, Lis will be held responsible for what you reveal, since youíre her property in the eyes of other vampires."

"Would she kill me?"

Zoey nodded again without any hesitation at all. "If she had to, yes, but I know sheíd rather not. She knows how important you are to me."

"I suppose thatís something," the bassist sighed, looking downright grumpy.

"If anything, I think sheíd ask you to stay and be a part of her household, just like myself, Claude, Victor and Grant."

"Stay? As in live here?"

"Well, yes . . . Iíve moved in, as of the day before yesterday," Zoey answered.

"Hell of a liking youíve taken to her then. Must be some potent stuff," Alex replied.

That made the guitarist frown, but he kept his peace. No sense in trying to explain to Alex just yet that he truly loved Lis despite what she was and the Blood Bond between them. "Anyway," Zoey said, diverting the subject away from his personal life, "Iím planning on going to the hotel and checking on the guys. Youíd be better off just staying in bed and catching up on your rest. Vanity had you and I both doped up with something the whole time she had us."

"What was that stuff anyway?"

"I donít know. Lis wouldnít tell me. Thatís why I asked Claude to check you out, though. I wanted to make sure that whatever we were given didnít have any lasting effects."

Alex nodded, looking thoughtful for a moment. Sighing, he pushed the tray with what remained of his breakfast on it away from himself. "I canít eat anymore, thought it was really good. And I really should let Mom and Dad know Iím all right."

"Thereís a phone over there, on the table to your left. Give them a call, but remember what I said. You canít tell them about anything to do with vampires."

"They wouldnít believe me if I did, Zoey. If I didnít remember half the things I recall Mistress Vanity doing to me, I wouldnít believe it myself," Alex admitted, leaning over and looking at the spot indicated. "But Iíll keep that in mind . . ." Spying the phone, a rather ultra-modern looking one that seemed slightly out of place in the Victorian decor of the bedroom, the bassist snagged the handset and lodged it against his ear by squeezing it between his head and shoulder. Catching a dial tone, he started punching out his parentsí phone number with the tip of his index finger.

"Alex, one last thing. No cops. Whatever you do, tell your parents to not let the cops know youíre all right," the guitarist sternly said.

"Got it," the younger ghoul muttered, hearing the phone ringing over the line.

Rising to his booted feet once more, Zoey leaned over and picked up the wooden tray by its brass handles. Lifting it up off the bed so that Alex could get into a more comfortable position as he talked, the guitarist stood there and listened in on his friendís side of the conversation.

"Hi, Ma, itís Alex . . . Yeah, Iím fine . . . I really am, honest. Iím at a safe house, Ma . . . Some gangbangers. They thought I was someone else. No, I donít know who . . . No, donít let them know . . . Thatís what I said, Ma. Ma? Ma? Oh, hi, Dad . . . Iím at a safe house, but one of the conditions is to not let the cops know until they tell me to let them know. Yes, Iím all right, just like I told Ma. No, I canít say where the place is; thatís one of the conditions too . . . No, I donít know when Iíll be back home . . . As soon as Iím allowed, I promise. They want to make sure the trouble blows over before anyone knows Iím all right . . . Thanks, Dad. Hi again, Ma . . . Sorry I canít say more right now . . . Iíll be home as soon as Iím allowed and itís safe for me, you, and Dad . . . No, donít tell anyone youíve heard from me. That could mess things up . . . No, Iím not in trouble with the law, but the guys that grabbed me are and are desperate. Itís just safer not saying anything right now . . . Thanks, Ma. I knew I could count on you . . . Love you too. Tell Dad I love him, okay? . . . Yeah, Iíll call tomorrow. Promise. Bye now. Iím going to get some rest . . . Yes, Ma, Iím okay. Just tired . . . Bye." Softly sighing, the redhead leaned over again and replaced the handset of the phone onto the cradle.

Heíd bullshitted them nicely, Zoey decided. A smile curling up the corners of his mouth, he congratulated his friend. "Thank you, Alex. You handled that rather well."

"They were just glad to hear from me," the bassist replied, shrugging slightly. "And I donít want them getting hurt either." His azure eyes focusing again on his friend, he gave Zoey a look of curiosity. "So what are you going to do?"

"Well, Iím going to go downstairs and eat breakfast, then Iím going to take a shower and change my clothes. After that, Iím going to ask Grant if heíll drive me over to the club so that I can pick up my car. Iíd like to go see how Rick and Tony are doing."

"Grant is . . . ?"

"Lisís chauffeur, and another ghoul like you and me. So are Claude -- heís the cook, as Iíve said -- and Victor, the one that sees to it that Lisís householdís in good order. Theyíre also her friends as well," Zoey answered.

"Theyíre ghouls too?"

The guitarist nodded in affirmation. "And theyíre really nice folks. If you stay on, youíll be treated as one of the family."

"If I stay on?" Alex asked, a perplexed expression on his handsome, lightly freckled face.

"She wonít make you stay if you donít want to. If you decide to leave, sheíll make you forget all of this. Lis may be a vampire, but sheís somehow managed to still have a heart despite that," Zoey softly replied, his smile getting a bit wider, a slightly dreamy expression lighting up his emerald eyes.

The sappy look on his friendís face made Alex choke back a laugh. Never before had he seen the somewhat vain Zoisite de la Vega look so taken with anyone save perhaps himself. "All right, then. Since Lis is a vampire, whatís she doing right now?"

"Sleeping," was the immediately reply. Gesturing toward the daylight streaming through the bedroom window, a warm illumination that made the room seem even more of a cozy haven, giving the surrounding shades of blue a glowing tone, Zoey continued, "Sunlightís deadly to them, and they are forced into a state of inactivity when the sun comes up. Itís a deeper sleep from what you and I experience, but itís pretty much the same thing. Sheíll wake up again at nightfall; Iím betting youíll get to meet her then."

"Does she sleep in a coffin?" Alex asked. The bassist frowned, trying to recall what he knew of such creatures from folklore and horror movies.

The formerly blond musician laughed at that, a sound as melodic as his normal speaking voice. "No, silly. She sleeps in a bed, just like you or I. Sheís in her room right now."

"So how much of the legends are true?"

"Some," Zoey admitted, "and there are parts that are not true as well, but since itís folklore, thatís not a huge surprise."

"I see." The bassist fell silent for a moment, thinking things over, his graceful hands resting on his lap over the smooth sheets and thick blankets. After a pause, he glanced up again at his best friend. "So what now for me?"

"Well . . . First you recover. Thatís the most important thing," the leader of the band responded, shifting his stance slightly. Continuing to hold the tray in his hands, Zoey gave the younger man a smile. "Then you need to decide if you want to stay on as one of Lisís ghouls or not. I suppose we can figure out what happens after that later. Regardless, youíre definitely going to be staying here for a short while anyway. Against the vampires that are aware of you, youíll need someone like Lis to have you under her protection. She wonít willingly send you out into a dangerous situation, near as I can tell."

Alex nodded slightly, comparing how he was being treated right now to the so-called hospitality of the other vampire of which he was aware. This was certainly far better than what he remembered experiencing. "All right. I suppose that if Mistress Vanity still considers me her property, Iíd better stick close to Lis."

"Eh, I wouldnít worry about Vanity. I think she got on the short end of a clan squabble. But if she is still around, Lisíll make sure she canít get you again."

The redheaded bassist nodded again, closing his eyes and folding his hands together, keeping them resting against his cloth-covered thighs. "Guess I have a lot to think about. However, Iím starting to get really tired again."

"Thatís all right, Alex. Tell you what? Why donít you lie down and try to get some more sleep? After I get done with breakfast and take my shower, Iíll wheel in the TV from my room and set it up for you. That way, when you wake up, youíll have something to do," Zoey suggested, a look of concern crossing his face. His friend was obviously tired; it showed on his countenance and the way his shoulders drooped slightly.

Alex stifled a yawn, a hand coming up to cover his mouth. "Sounds like a plan . . ."

"Okay," the guitarist agreed, starting to head out toward the exit. Reaching the sturdy wooden door, Zoey turned and glanced back at the other man. "One more thing, Alex."

"Whatís that?"

"Promise me youíll stay in here until someone asks you to leave the room, okay?"


"I mean it, Alex. Youíre my friend, and right now, Iím sort of responsible for your behavior."

"Donít worry," the bassist insisted, his words giving way to another massive yawn. Sliding down in the very comfortable bed, his dark-fire hair spreading out over the pillow, the younger ghoul continued muttering as he settled into the fluffy embrace of the bedclothes, "Iím not going to leave the room. Too tired. Just make sure I have the TV."

Letting go of the brass handles and balancing the tray on the palm of a single hand, the guitarist reached out and tugged open the door. It swung open silently, the hinges moving smoothly. "Will do," Zoey replied, stepping through the doorway. "Sleep well, Alex." Getting no reply, he gave his friend one long, last look as he reached back out to grab the crystalline doorknob and tugged the dark-stained oak door shut. Lying on his side, facing toward the window and the sunlight streaming through, the bassist looked both comfortable and safe. It was an image that kept a smile on Zoeyís face as he retraced his steps down to the mansionís kitchen.

"One last thing before you go, Zoey," came the pleasant tones of Claudeís voice from the driverís seat of the vehicle.

Pausing, the musician turned and looked to the left at the much older ghoul. His denim-clad rear still on the sensual, black leather passenger seat, his hand pressing down on the handle of the bright silver Mercedes SL-600ís door, he had just been about to exit the sleek, ultra-comfortable convertible when the cookís voice stopped him. "Whatís that?" he asked over the low, almost sexy purr of the machineís engine.

"You will be home before sundown." Claudeís still-pleasant voice held a note that was adamant.

Zoey nodded slightly. Just from the tone alone, he knew that the slender Frenchman was relaying an order from Lis herself. "I plan to be back as soon as possible. Promise."

"Good. Youíre part of the family. Weíre counting on you to help out."

Thinking back to breakfast, the guitarist nodded again. The other two had still been missing, and further inquires had revealed that the arsenal -- it still gave Zoey an odd feeling to realize that Lis owned that sort of a stockpile of weaponry -- was being checked because word had come that the primogen of the city were going to move against the Sabbat that coming night. "What about Alex?" Zoey asked, his mind flicking to a memory of seeing his friend apparently lightly dozing. The bassist had been doing so while Zoey had rolled in the television from his own room -- the appliance was situated on a sturdy, wheeled, wooden stand, which made the transference easy -- into the bedroom in which Alex was staying, and had connected the television set to the power and cable there.

"I believe Lis shall let her wishes be known regarding him this evening," Claude replied.

"All right." The now-redheaded man pushed open the passenger door of the gorgeous car, and set his black-booted, right foot down onto the asphalt surface of the parking lot. "Just to let you know, Iím going to collect my car, go visit the others at the hotel, and then stop by my apartment and make sure everythingís okay there. Then Iím coming home."

"About three hours then?"

"Better make it four, just in case I end up staying longer with Rick and Tony."

"Merci, four it shall be," Claude responded. After what had happened the night before and knowing that a major offensive was being mobilized, the Elder Toreador had been insistent that nothing happen to her golden angel. The cookís congenial expression took on a note of satisfaction; the headstrong guitarist understood the implication, that he had only four hours before heíd be gently "persuaded" to make his way back home.

"Claude, I told Alex a few things . . . not a lot though. And he knows heís supposed to stay in his room until someone comes and fetches him. I think heíll sleep the whole time Iím gone, but . . ."

"Iíll keep an eye on him, Zoey," the cook reassured the other ghoul.

Recalling the first conversation heíd had with the rest of Lisís household, the musician chuckled softly. "Heís a good kid. He wonít get up and start pilfering the house for portable valuables."

Claude laughed as well. "Cíest bon. I do not think Lis would like another such scoundrel in her midst. But is he someone worthy?"

"Of continuing to have a blood tie to Lis if he wants?" Zoey finished, still sitting sprawled half in and half out of the shiny Mercedes.


"In a word, yes," the musician replied, sliding out of the convertibleís interior and standing up. Boots crunching on some gravel that littered the parking lot, he turned and gave the door a shove. All right, so maybe he was a bit curt just then, but Zoey certainly didnít feel apologetic about it. The car door closed securely with a thunk; without looking back, he proceeded to walk across the flat plane of asphalt, shoving his graceful hands into the pockets of his indigo jeans. It was a good thing the weather was a relatively nice spring day; having only a plain, emerald T-shirt along with the pants would have left him feeling a bit cold had the weather turned nasty. One reason why he wanted to swing by his apartment on the way back from the hotel was to recover his leather jacket. Though he had lost his black one in his visit to the Serpentsí den, he still had a deep brown one -- his favorite one in fact, since the rich color went well with his normally golden hair -- waiting in a closet at his former home.

Green eyes swept over the scene. Behind him, Zoey was aware of the purr of the Mercedes becoming louder as the cook started to drive away, but again, that was something of little concern to the musician. He wanted to get his beloved car back, and it was that goal upon which he remained focused.

It was there, right where he had left it. The sleek, deep green Mustang looked slightly forlorn in the almost completely abandoned parking lot. Yesterday, he had come here in the afternoon, finding the place almost filled with vehicles of all sorts. Now, what with the understated exterior of the posh Egyptian-themed club cordoned off by yellow crime-scene tape -- apparently somewhere along the line, the mortal authorities were allowed to secure the nightclub -- the parking lot had about half its stalls occupied. Noting that many of the vehicles seemed to be ones he remembered from the afternoon before, Zoey idly wondered if a number of the patrons were hauled in by the police for various reasons.

A frown settled on his handsome face while he crossed the distance to his car, a playful wind rippling the neat queue of his dark copper hair. That same breeze swirled around the black ragtop Mustang, making something bright yellow ruffle near the windshield. Puzzled, Zoey checked there first, discovering that the item was a piece of paper tucked under the black blade of the driverís side windshield wiper. Pulling it off, he glanced over it.

It was a flyer, a request from the local police for any witnesses to the events at the Black Sphinx to contact the authorities. Noting that email, snail-mail and a special phone number were all included as ways for potential witnesses to come forward and talk to the police, the guitarist softly snorted and carefully folded the yellow paper into a small square. Like theyíd even believe me if I told them the truth, he ruefully thought, slipping the square of paper into a pocket of his snug-fitting indigo jeans. Iíd better check with Lis and see what she has to say before I decide on getting involved or not.

Stepping to the side and pulling out the spare key -- his normal keyring was gone, just like all his clothes and belongings that heíd had with him upon entering the Sphinx -- the musician unlocked his car and tugged the driverís side door open. At least heíd had the foresight to stash his spare keyring at Lisís house, having brought it along the night heíd dressed up to visit her again. Taking the familiar seat behind the wheel, he grinned and gave the empty passenger seat a loving pat with his hand. "Did you miss me?" he jokingly asked the car, placing the key in the ignition.

Down went the clutch, depressed by a booted foot, the other foot hovering over the gas pedal. A twist of the wrist and the engine roared to life; Zoey pressed down on the gas as his hand moved to rest lightly atop the gearshift. Putting it into reverse, he backed the sexy convertible out of the parking stall, the first step in visiting the rest of the band.

The drive over to the posh hotel passed uneventfully. The traffic was on the light side, the springtime sun shining down through a scanty filter of high clouds. Along the tree-lined city streets, the delicate petals of white and pink added a nice touch to an already pleasant day. Tuning the radio to the local rock station, Zoey couldnít help but sing along to familiar songs. After last night, it was good to be alive and free, able to enjoy the day. Pushing aside thoughts of the upcoming purge, vampires and all of the dark and secret things of the night, he concentrated on just existing and the joy of being alive as he drove along the city streets.

Impressive as before, the hotel was much as Zoey remembered. His car taken care of by the valet service, his stop at the check-in counter a breeze compared to last time, and the elevator operator stopping the plushly appointed conveyance at the twentieth floor, he once more found himself in the hallway heíd lead his two bandmates down to the room. Walking along the carpeted corridor, his boots silent on the thick, low-pile floor covering, he scanned over the plant-decorated space for the room in question. Spying the walnut door, the numbers glimmering goldly upon it, the musician came to a halt and knocked loudly.

The dark wooden entry opened slightly after a long pause, the clunk of a sturdy security chain coming taut quite evident in the hushed stillness of the hallway. Well, at least they were using their brains in opening the door.

"Whoís there?" came the slightly defensive question.

No wonder the chain was still latched, Zoey thought, smiling a bit. Rick was the one there -- he recognized the brunetteís voice the moment he breathed the first syllable -- and of the two band members holed up in the suite, the drummer was the smarter and more likable of the pair. Despite his aggravation at Tony on a number of occasions, Zoey liked the black-haired keyboardistís musical style, and his talent was nothing at which to be sneezed. "Itís Zoey, Rick. Let me in?"

"Zoey?" Another pause, the shifting light behind the cracked opening betraying that the drummer was peering carefully into the hallway. Then the door closed, the sound of the chain being moved muffled by the thick wood, before the walnut panel was opened once more. "Zoey!" Rick shouted, grabbing the slender musician in an affectionate bearhug.

"Better let me in," he repeated, feeling uncomfortable at being glomped by his bandmate out in the hall.

"Whoops, sorry," Rick apologized, letting go of his friend and practically dragging Zoey into the well-appointed suite. Shutting the door behind the two of them, the wide-shouldered, athletic musician leaned against the solid door. "Damn, Iím glad to know youíre all right. We hadnít heard anything . . . Why the hell do you have red hair?"

"Ay, perdůn," Zoey mumbled, giving the other man a sheepish smile and ignoring the question about the color of his hair. "I got a bit . . . tied up. Whereís Tony?"

"Heís in the bathroom, taking a shower."

Now that it was pointed out, Zoey could hear the sounds of running water in the distance, a soft background not easily noticed over the dialogue blaring from the television. "Okay. Just wanted to be sure. You two been treated well?"

"Itís been great so far," Rick replied, folding his muscular arms over his broad chest, hazel eyes looking over his friend. "Room service is prompt and the meals are wonderful. Iím feeling guilty about how much this has to be costing . . . So why the red hair?"

"Donít worry about it overly much. Lis can certainly afford it, and she wants to make sure you guys are in a safe place." Once again, the slender guitarist ignored the query about the copper hue of his mane.

"Has there been any word . . . ?"

Zoey nodded, his face lighting up in a grin. "Thatís why I came to see you. Alex has been found."

Rickís expression blanked into one of surprise, followed swiftly by hopeful apprehension. Pushing off the door, the athletic drummer took a step toward the smaller man. "He okay?"

"Heís safe and sound somewhere where he wonít be hurt," Zoey replied, the look of joyful relief on his friendís face worth the telling of the news.

"So what happened?"

"What we thought happened. Someone wanted that ring and thought Alex had it. He managed to escape from them, but he was too tired to go into details."

The drummer nodded, lifting a hand and brushing back a stray lock of his golden-brown hair. "Glad heís all right. Weíll see him when itís safer, right?"

"Of course," Zoey replied, chuckling softly. "But right now, he needs to recover and the people looking for that ring need to be dealt with."

"Do you still have it?"

"No." Shaking his head in a negative gesture, his ponytail swaying lightly against his back, Zoey softly continued, "I gave it to someone who can deal with the people wanting that ring. Thatís really all I can say, Rick."

Behind them, deeper into the suite, the sound of the shower abruptly stopped. Hearing the shower curtain being pushed aside, the guitarist turned and stared at the doorway to the other rooms.

It didnít take long at all before the other Raven emerged from the bedroom of their plush, Victorian-decorated surroundings. Still toweling off his curly black hair, bare save for his ragged-looking blue jeans, Tony strolled into the room as best as someone could with their head buried in a towel. "Hey, Rick? Think we could call room service for another bottle of -- "

"Tony, look whoís here!" the drummer swiftly said, cutting off the keyboardistís words. Concerned by the amount of drinking his friend had been doing over the last couple of days, he was glad for any distraction he could give the dark-haired musician.

The towel stopped moving, then was lowered to expose the keyboardistís handsome face. Hazel-brown eyes widened slightly in surprise as he noticed who was standing there next to the other musician. The red hair threw him off-base for a moment, but the emerald eyes and graceful stance were quite familiar. "Zoisite?" Tony asked, his light baritone voice holding a note of uncertainty. Catching the nod of assurance from the guitarist, the black-haired man scowled. "What the hell are you doing with red hair?"

Zoey sighed, realizing that a change as drastic as the dyed hair wasnít going to be allowed to go unexplained. "I dyed it, obviously. Itís a temporary thing. I wanted to go check out the Black Sphinx -- "

"You? Go there?" Tony asked, incredulous. Well aware of the goodie-two-shoes attitude their bandleader had when it came to things like that, hearing that was another surprise.

Before Zoey could add anything else, Rick laughed and walked up to him, clapping him on the shoulder. "Hey, we understand. You have a reputation to uphold. Wouldnít want anyone to not think youíre a saint, now donít you?"

"So what did you do? Disguise yourself?" the keyboardist asked, smirking a bit.

"Well, if you must know, yes," Zoey responded. If they wanted to think that he did so to keep his name unsullied by having it known that he went to an exotic palace that catered to providing people with tits and ass among other pleasures, so be it. It was a better explanation than the truth. "I didnít want anyone to know that Zoisite de la Vega had gone there."

That garnered him laughter and teasing catcalls from his two friends, sounds that actually made him blush slightly. Then the moment passed as Rick excitedly gave Tony the good news.

"Guess what? Zoey here says that Alex has been found alive and well."

The keyboardist blinked, at first startled by the announcement. Then a bright grin crossed his face, a look of pure relief. "Thank God heís all right. Where is he?"

"Heís someplace safe," Zoey repeated, then gestured toward the plush hotel suite, "just like you two are. There are things that still need to be dealt with, so for now, Alex will stay where heís at and you two will stay here. I know itís probably boring as all get-out -- "

"Itís not that bad," Tony responded, cutting the guitarist off in midsentence. "The meals are great, the surroundings are better than Iíve ever had before in my life, and Iím not anxious to get out of here where thereís trouble still looking for me."

"Iím worried about the gigs we could be doing . . ." the brunette drummer grumbled, folding his arms over his broad chest again.

"Hey, once this all clears and the people that want that ring get taken care of, Iíll bet that weíll get one hell of a break," the guitarist responded.

"Like what sort of a break, Zoey?" Tony inquired, his light baritone voice sounding skeptical.

"Lis has already told me that sheíll call in some favors and see about getting us a recording contract."

"For real?"

"No bullshit?"

The now-redheaded musician nodded, grinning brightly, replying to the simultaneous questions. "Iím serious, guys. She thinks we have potential, and sheís got influence. So I tell you what . . . While youíre here lying low until this all blows over, why donít you two work on writing some new songs? By the time we can all get together, we may have a number of things to work on for a possible first album. Sound like a plan?"

The other two Ravens nodded excitedly, both of them smiling at the prospect of having one of their biggest dreams come true.

"All right then. Next time I see you, I hope to have a couple of songs to hammer out with you," Zoey responded.

"So what are you going to do now?" the drummer asked, sapphire eyes remaining focused on the slender leader of the band.

"Right now Iím going to go home and check on the apartment. Those people may be persistent about that ring and they may have trashed the place. Oh, another thing . . . Iím moving out."

The two stared at him, startled by the abrupt announcement. "You are?" Tony asked.

Zoey nodded, a bit of a smile on his face. "SŪ, I am. Lis wants me to move in with her, and I agreed to do so."

"Ah," the drummer responded, laughing slightly at the sappy expression on the guitaristís face while the keyboardist smirked a bit more. "Well, I canít blame you for wanting to do that."

"Iíll still pay my part of the rent until we get our career underway," Zoey promised. "I gave my word that Iíd help you as much as possible, and Iím an honorable man." Of them all, he was the one with the most stable resources, the trust funds set up by his parents able to make his life comfortable enough. Alex had his family nearby and they were willing to assist their son, but the other two really had no one else to rely upon.

"Thatís very nice of you," Rick said, then frowned slightly. "Maybe you should get going and see about the apartment? If it has been broken into . . ."

"All right, all right," the slender ghoul quickly replied, "Iíll go check it out. Iíll give you a call from the apartment and let you know, okay?"

"Sounds good to me," the drummer replied, Tony nodding in agreement.

Nodding, Zoey swiftly made his good-byes and headed out the door, relieved to know that everything was going fine for them. That took another load off his mind, and right now, anything that would make things seem normal and in control would be welcomed.

Home sweet home, but not anymore, he thought as he stepped through the doorway. Emerald eyes scanning over the entryway -- the kitchen was immediately to his right, the dining room just beyond that and then the living room, while the hallway to the bathroom and the three bedrooms were to his left -- Zoey didnít see anything out of place as he pushed closed the apartmentís door. In some ways, he was going to miss this place, though he was just as excited at being adopted into Lisís "family". Despite his jealousy concerning certain things, he was beginning to get a sense of belonging that heíd missed for most of his life. Heíd spent so much time trying to be a rebel against his parents that he never truly felt like he belonged in his very own family, and his relationship with the other guys in the band didnít give him that sense either, not with him being the leader.

Stopping, he turned to the coat closet to the immediate left and opened the sliding wooden panel. Grabbing out his brown leather jacket, he slipped it on and tugged it into place. Closing the sliding door again, he did a quick tour of the apartment, just to reassure himself that everything was okay. Near as he could tell, the sparsely furnished dining room and living room were fine; television, stereo, collection of records, CDs, cassette tapes, video tapes and DVDs, the DVD player and VHS VCR were all there. Nodding in satisfaction, he made his way down the hallway.

Rickís room was the first one, and he opened the door to peek inside. Everything seemed to be there, in the disorganized-appearing jumble the good-natured drummer kept everything in. Posters of supermodels and rock bands hung on his walls, a small TV sat atop the sturdy wooden dresser; Zoey noted absently that yet again, Rick hadnít bothered to make up his bed before leaving the apartment. A smile coming to his face, he stepped back and pulled the door closed.

The next room was Tonyís, and the door to it was also closed. Opposite that one, the open door to the single bathroom gaped like a dark mouth there in the smooth plane of the hallwayís wall. Turning the brass-colored knob and pushing the door open, Zoey poked his head in and looked around. Like the chamber before, the keyboardistís bedroom seemed just as heíd expect. Tony liked to keep everything nice and neat at least, despite all his other flaws. The bed was made, there were no dirty clothes lying about, and everything looked in order. A glance over in the corner showed that Tonyís Roland keyboard, the one he kept at home to practice on with headphones, remained there on its chrome stand. The small TV was there as well, sitting on a low bookcase next to the dresser, and fantasy art posters were taped to the walls. As before, Zoey closed the door behind himself when he decided to move on.

The hallway ended at the door into his own room. That one was half-open, and he pushed it out of the way with a slender hand as he stepped inside. Like the others, he had his own television set, his being set on a bookcase against the wall opposite his double-sized bed. His other two instruments -- an electric Fender and a lute -- rested on chrome stands off in a corner, the small practice amp for the Fender next to them. Though he wasnít a practicing Catholic, having long ago given up on whatever faith he may have had, a small shrine to the Virgin Mary was set up on top of his mid-sized dresser. It hadnít seemed right to have nothing at all, even if it what he had was more for decoration than an outward sign of a true belief. Glancing over at that side of the room, he was about to move on when the feeling that something wasnít quite right swept over him. Frowning, Zoey slowly walked over there, trying to pinpoint what seemed odd.

A mirror framed in the same wood as the dresser sat atop the flat surface, pictures of his now-dead parents smiling back at him from where they were tucked in between frame and silvered glass. In the center stood the gold-framed picture of the Virgin, a brass candleholder to either side bearing a half-burnt taper of the same blue as the Virginís mantle. Off to the left, a small cedarwood jewelry box sat, while to the right were a couple of spare belt buckles, his brush and comb and a scattered pile of loose change. Everything seemed in order . . .

Wait a minute . . . Zoeyís emerald eyes narrowed as he focused on a third candleholder there, sitting just offcenter on the surface of the dresser top. He didnít remember a third candle there, especially not a burnt-down stub of what looked to be red wax in a holder that was gold-colored and unfamiliar. Crimson drops lay in hardened spatters over the surface of his dresser. Hissing in a breath, he realized the implications; someone had been in here, searching around by candlelight.

Stepping back, the hairs on the back of his neck rising at the creepy realization, the slim ghoul took a long, slow look around his bedroom. Nothing else seemed out of place, though he was fitfully aware of not really knowing where everything had been the last time heíd looked at it before heading out for an evening at the Sphinx. It all seemed to be okay, save for that one addition to his belongings . . .

He looked back at it, frowning and shoving aside the sense of anger and violation. The longer he stared at it, the more he was sure it wasnít anything heíd seen in the apartment before, and the more he was certain it wasnít anything the other two men would have left behind in his room. It stood there, looking innocent enough, just to the left of his brush and comb. "How the hell did this get here?" Zoey murmured to himself, stepping back up to press his body against the front of the dresser. Glaring down at it, he started to reach out to pick it up, then thought better of it. Were there any fingerprints or the like, touching the object would either obscure them or just confuse the issue.

Emerald eyes scanned over the rest of the dresser, looking for anything out of place. Something else wasnít quite right, but what it was, he couldnít quite put a finger on it. The frown on his handsome face shifted to an irritated scowl. I know thereís something else . . . but what? Think, Zoey . . . It took a few more moments of staring before he finally noticed what seemed out of place -- and when he realized it, a cold shiver went down his spine.

His brush and comb were clean. Not the sort of clean youíd expect from an occasional grabbing the broken-off and shedded hairs from the teeth and bristles, but rather a clean that looked like theyíd never been used before. Of course, one of the last things heíd done was brush through his hair before traveling to the Black Sphinx. If anything, there should be strands of his newly dyed red hair in both the objects, but there were none at all. Not a single hair remained.

And hair made a good link to its owner according to a number of occult beliefs.

"Madre de Dios," he softly hissed, stepping back, shaking his head at the implications. A sense of unease and fright accompanied the renewed sense of violation at having his domicile invaded. He needed to get back to Lisís place and tell her about this.

Third Song, Third Stanza Fifth Song Story Index

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"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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