Lucien tried to keep up with the conversation, but the adults talked so fast between themselves that it made his head spin. As he sat at the lobby table and watched his brother, Tajali, and Valyrna look over a map, he tried to think of any way he could help. But he only knew Adonai had disappeared and that some guy he used to work with had done something to him. The rest of the details got lost in the shuffle.
Valyrna leaned against the table as she stared down at the weathered parchment. “All right, so ... Sounds like Alec used a sedative to knock Adonai out. He’ll have to keep dosing him up, too, or he’ll be able to get away. So they have to be somewhere close and secluded. Alec wouldn’t chance wandering too far.”
She trailed off and her fingers rapped on the wood for a moment. “I wonder ... ”
Tajali followed her gaze. “Do you have something?”
“Maybe.” The hunter pointed to something on the map. “Alec has to run out of that drug sooner or later. If he plans to hold Adonai captive, the easiest way to incapacitate him is with water. That old mill by the river isn’t used anymore, right? Perfect hiding place. Two birds with one stone.”
Lukiel nodded. “Right, but we better make sure that’s where they are first. I don’t want to give that ass a chance to trick us again.”
“Of course. I’ll go scout it out.” She peeked into the pouch where she kept her crossbow bolts, and then she headed for the door. “I’ll be back as quick as I can.”
“Stay safe. We’ll keep an eye out around here.”
After Valyrna left, Lucien hopped out of his seat. “I wanna help.”
Lukiel hesitated. “Luc ... I really don’t want you involved in this. Alec’s dangerous.”
The boy prepared to argue, but he stopped when he heard the lobby door open. Probably shouldn’t fight in front of a guest. But then he realized it was Lilias. Maybe she could convince his brother to let him do something useful.
Before he could speak up, the vampire stepped around the table to meet her. “Miss Lilias, can I ask you a favor?”
She appeared a bit startled, probably because Lukiel had barely spoken a word to her since the day she arrived. “Uh, yes. Yes, of course. What can I do for you?”
“Could you take Luc back to the house and help him find something for dinner? Tajali and I ... we’re ... um ... ”
The brunet took over. “Something’s come up, and neither of us has the time. It’d be a huge help if you could take over tonight.”
Lucien’s surprise mirrored his aunt’s. Though his brother begrudgingly allowed him to spend time with Lilias, he insisted that she not be allowed at the house. Why did he suddenly change his mind?
The boy hesitantly spoke up. “But you said you didn’t want - ”
Lukiel rested a hand on his shoulder. “I know what I said.” He turned to Lilias and continued, “I admit I had doubts about your intentions when you first got here, but ... Well. Recent events have made it clear that I was mistaken. And it would be nice to have some family around. So ... You’re welcome to come around as often as you like.”
A smile slowly appeared on the other vampire’s face, and Lilias looked like she might cry. Though she held herself together on the outside, her quivering voice betrayed her emotion. “Thank you. That means a lot to me.”
Lukiel returned the smile, and then he turned back to his brother. “Go ahead. Show her the house.”
The kid beamed, his excitement overpowering everything else. He broke away from the older sibling and sprinted forward to catch Lilias by the hand. “Come on! We live just down the street!”
His aunt’s laughter echoed in his ears as they raced out of the inn and around the corner. A few curious people stopped to watch, but he didn’t care. He was just happy Lukiel finally trusted Lilias like he did. It didn’t matter that her son had killed the rest of their family. She was nothing like Cain.
By the time they reached the house, he was out of breath while Lilias hadn’t even broken a sweat. But he still managed to talk around his huffs and puffs as he pointed to the garden in the front lawn. “The townspeople ... planted these ... for Mom and Dad ... and Olivia.”
Lilias broke away to crouch among the flowers. She spotted the plaque and nudged some petals out of the way to read it. A moment later, tears tugged at the corners of her eyes again. “Wow ... they really meant a lot to these people.”
She rose to her feet and looked up at the house. She seemed hesitant to go any further, so Lucien gave her arm a gentle squeeze of encouragement.
That seemed to do the trick. Whatever reluctance had been there evaporated, and she let the boy lead her inside.
It was tough to tell what went through her head from that point on. Lilias took time to wander the building, pausing now and again to examine an item or photo. She didn’t say much, so Lucien let her do her own thing.
At the top of the stairs, she stopped to stare at the family portraits. With a sad smile, she turned to the kid. “You know, you look so much like your mother. It’s uncanny.”
The comparison caught him off guard. “Really?”
He glanced at his mom’s portrait. “I don’t remember anything about her,” he murmured.
“No ... I suppose you wouldn’t.”
Lilias moved to stand beside him and wrapped an arm around his shoulder. As she spoke, her words carried a certain fondness. “When we were little, we used to compete at everything. Who could run faster, climb higher. Stupid sibling rivalry. She was much better at being the good wife, though.”
She glanced down at him. “She would’ve been proud of the way you boys turned out.”
Though he worked up a grin, Lucien felt a lump rise in his throat. “I miss her even though I can’t remember her.” He leaned against his aunt and into the hug. “Does that make sense at all?”
She laughed a little. “She’s your mother, sweetie. Of course it does.” Her expression shifted, and she suddenly appeared upset. Maybe a little angry. “If it hadn’t been for my son, you wouldn’t have had to grow up without her.”
He got an idea then, but he wondered if it would be okay to make the suggestion. After a moment, he decided to chance it. “I’m actually not that hungry. Can I show you something else instead?”
Interest flashed across her face. “What do you have in mind?”
Rather than answer, he took her hand to lead her down the stairs and out of the house. He turned towards a road that led out of town and to a small path into the nearby woods.
After a short walk, they found themselves at the cemetery gates.
Lucien looked around at the rows of simple headstones. Some of them sat crooked, and the names on many were so worn they couldn’t be read. Others sported various degrees of damage from the elements. A brief thought flashed through his mind that the town should hire someone to properly take care of this space.
Despite the disarray, he knew exactly where he wanted to go. Hell, he could name most of the legible headstones in here from memory. Lukiel didn’t know it, but the younger brother sneaked in here all the time when everyone else was too busy to keep tabs on his whereabouts. He’d done it for years. Even Tajali wasn’t aware of his frequent visits.
The boy took a second to steel himself, and then he led Lilias towards the far corner of the cemetery. Three simple stone tablets sat close together. He’d kept them relatively clean and maintained, so they stood out a little bit from the others. On them were inscribed the names of Stephen, Amelia, and Olivia McNallie.
He glanced up at his aunt. She didn’t say anything, and although she kept her expression under control, she swallowed hard as she stared at the headstones. The sisters may have had a falling out, but he could tell Lilias still cared. And if she did, he knew his mom would have, too.
His attention returned to the graves. After a moment, he knelt in front of his mother’s and began to talk to her in his mind. Normally, he would speak out loud as he told her about his day and whatever was bothering him at the time. But he didn’t want to interrupt whatever may have been going on in his aunt’s mind, so he stayed respectfully quiet.
He didn’t know how long they stayed there. This happened a lot when he visited his parents and sister. He would lose track of time and then have to hurry home so no one noticed his absence. It could have been five minutes, or it may have been an hour. However long it was, neither he nor Lilias spoke a word.
The calm silence shattered at the sound of a shrill scream, followed by a short scuffle and choking. Lucien spun around to find his aunt pinned to a tree by a strange man. He held her tightly by the throat, and she dangled high enough that her feet couldn’t reach the ground.
In his other hand, the stranger held a silver-headed ax. The blade pressed into the woman’s throat, deep enough that a single quick push would be enough to lop her head off. If she moved at all, the weapon would kill her.
She seemed to know this and somehow managed to choke out a single word to Lucien: “Run.”
The kid finally snapped out of his daze when he realized something. He heard his brother give a description to Tajali of the man who took Adonai - and this guy matched it perfectly. Tall and slender, dark ponytail, uniform, and a tattoo on his forearm identical to the one the phoenix wore.
His mind told him to listen to his aunt and run to find his brother, but anger overtook his common sense. Instead of fleeing, Lucien leaped forward to attack the man. He latched on to the hunter’s arm and tried to pull him away from Lilias, all the while screaming at him to let her go.
The interference only irritated the guy. He swung the handle of his weapon at the boy, and it connected with the side of his head. The world immediately went dark.