It had been months since Viktoria was murdered and her body still hadn’t been found. It was hard to mourn her when I didn’t know what really happened. Could she still be alive? Even though all my senses and instincts said she was dead, I wanted to believe that she wasn’t.
A week after it happened one of her co-workers notified the police after she failed to show up to work, and hadn’t called anyone for five days. I had heard they classified her as a missing person as there was no evidence of a crime. The fact that her apartment was a rental, not a drop of blood was found, and she had no close friends only added to the speculation that she just left willingly. The police also hadn’t found any identification for Viki, or any financial documents. This also suggested a more voluntary missing, rather than the cloak and dagger kidnappings you see in the movies. That stuff just didn’t happen in Ann Arbor.
It was probably for the better that the police weren’t looking into a possible homicide, as they would be well out of their jurisdiction as it were. If this was going to get handled it would be done by those with the ability to take care of it properly.
Viktoria hadn’t told anyone at her work about me, which was fortuitous, so I was never contacted by the police. If she had, I’m sure the authorities might find it a little too coincidental that I was the one to find my mom and David murdered and also the last person to see Viktoria alive. I didn’t need that kind of attention, especially now.
Even though I knew exactly who shot Viki, word had spread throughout the wolf community that I was to blame. My name was even used specifically as the person who pulled the trigger. Theo was sure that the propaganda was the whole point of the murder, which made it even tougher to take. I felt responsible.
We were reaching a boiling point and if something wasn’t done soon there would be no stopping it. Theo predicted that this conflict could reach heights he has never seen in his lifetime, and that was saying something.
We had reports of a few altercations between the wolves and vampires in neighboring states, one of which resulted in a death of a friend of Theo’s. His name was Ronaldo and he was on his way to Ann Arbor to lend a hand. He never made it. Steve was able to find limited information regarding the incident and we think he ran into a couple of wolves while traveling through New York that turned deadly. The details were sketchy at best, as the information was third hand.
Jacques was successful in his mission to find the General and Theo made the decision, although a risky one, to request a meeting with him. When I say he requested this meeting I may be giving you the wrong impression. I think it was somewhere between a polite invite and calling the general a coward if he didn’t meet him. Jacques was vague on the details, but Bili was more than happy to fill in the blanks with her opinion. Theo wanted answers and apparently the past needed to be dug up to get them. I was still in the dark on much of this at this time.
I was riding with Theo on the way to the summit of sorts. Arranging the meeting was just the first hurdle. The second was surviving it. Theo had mentioned that there was an unpleasant history with the General and that was putting it in the mildest of terms.
If this meeting turned ugly, which was a real possibility, Theo gave us a fifty-fifty chance. Not a comforting statistic when you are talking about your life.
We were about ten minutes into thirty minute ride and neither of us had said a word. I knew we had a little time and there were just too many things I wanted to know to let this time get wasted. I rarely had Theo to myself where I could talk to him freely.
“Can I ask you something Bili?” I said.
“What would you like to know?” Theo said.
“Even though she has loosened up a little since I’ve been turned, she’s still a locked vault. A super sarcastic tough as nails vault to boot, but there has to be a reason why.”
“There is.” He said.
When he didn’t expound right away I felt I may have overstepped myself. These two have probably been together for centuries, and here I come asking all kinds of personal questions.
“Sorry. It’s too personal. I shouldn’t have presumed-”
“No. You should know. You are family Jack, and you spend the most time with her. A little background may give you some perspective as to why she is the way she is.” Theo said.
I’m sure Theo knew what my life was like for me at the beginning. Just hearing him say I was part of his family made me gave me a feeling I had missed for some time. It’s definitely one of those things you just don’t understand unless you have experienced incredible loss.
I felt honored that Theo trusted me with what was sure to be a personal story. He took a second, collected his thoughts and began.
“It was in the mid seventeenth century. Bilinda, as she went by in those days, was married to a minor English Lord named Landell Ainsworth. He was a bastard of all bastards. He treated her as though she was put upon this earth to be the object of his physical and mental torturous whims.
“I had come across them by pure accident. If you believe in accidents. I was on an errand for General Treville at the time, protecting a small consort of dignitaries through some hostile territories. A large group of bandits ambushed us, from upwind as luck would have it...for them. They killed a large number of those under my protection with their archers. I took several arrows as well. My men and I were able to fend them off and they retreated. I finished the job then tracked the bandits to a small town. It was that town that I crossed paths with Bili.
“I checked into the local inn and stayed a few days while I took care of my business as it were. I was about to leave when Ainsworth arrived, literally dragging Bilinda behind him. After I witnessed just a few of the abuses Ainsworth conducted in public, I decided stay a little longer to look into the matter further. I do not like the mistreatment and abuse of women.
“One afternoon I saw Ainsworth leave without Bili, giving me the opportunity to check on her. When I got to her door I heard some muffled sounds so I forced the door open and went in. What I saw infuriated me. She was tied to the bed with her hands and feet pulled tight to each bed post. The room didn’t have a fire going and was near freezing. Bili was gagged, bleeding from her mouth and nose, and both eyes were almost swollen shut. She did not have on a stitch of clothing, and was shivering uncontrollably. I was ready to track down Ainsworth and kill him where he stood, but my first priority was to take care of that poor young girl.”
Listening to Theo talk about Bili that way was hard to believe. To me she was almost indestructible, both physically and mentally. Right now though I just felt like giving her a hug. How could someone do that to another person, let alone their spouse? I guess crazy and evil have been around forever.
“What did you do?” I asked.
“I untied and clothed Bili and quick as I could then took her back to my room to warm her up and treat her wounds. She had several fresh injuries as well as numerous other partially healed wounds, including a few broken ribs. Once I tended to her immediate needs I headed for the door, to take care of Lord Landell. I do not take pleasure in hurting others, but this would have been an exception. I had several ideas in mind. Before I reached the door Bili stopped me. She did not want to be alone. I guess she just wanted to feel warm and safe for as long as she could, probably fearing it wouldn’t last and she would be returned to Ainsworth before long.
“I did as she asked and kept her company, telling her a very little about myself. I was able to get her to talk about how she ended up with Ainsworth and the grim reality of her life in general.
“She had been born into a noble family, but by title only. Her father was a first rate bastard as well, who had squandered what little money the family had. He didn’t give it a second thought when Ainsworth offered to pay him for his daughter. He traded her for a few gold pieces like she was livestock. Bili was just fourteen at the time and the years of hell she endured since that day would have killed a lesser person. I think many women in a similar position would have even taken their own lives, but Bili is a fighter. Her internal strength and will to survive kept her alive all those horrible years.”
“I hope there is a special place in hell for people like Ainsworth.” I said shaking my head.
We were getting close to our destination and the ruins of a once great city began to come into view. The abandoned warehouses, and the graffiti laced homes were a reminder that nothing is permanent. My mom used to tell me stories of when she was kid and how this city was a thriving metropolis.
“I stayed with Bili for two days straight and mended her as best I could. She was strong enough to travel now and I told her that I would take her to another village, give her some money, and help her start a new life without Landell. She thanked me earnestly, but the disappointment was written all over her face. This poor girl had nothing, nowhere to go, and no family to turn to. In those days a woman with no support or family would eventually be forced to turn to her last alternative when she ran out of money.”
My heart broke for Bili. I couldn’t imagine the hardships she must have endured in those days. As bad as I thought my life had been the last few years after losing my mom, I still had memories of her love. Her life was far and away more tragic.
“When I saw the distant sadness in her eyes I knew right then what she really needed. Something she had never known, and something she may have thought didn’t exist for someone like her. She needed freedom. Not the kind a prisoner gets when he is released from jail, but true freedom. The kind that allows you to distance yourself from the past as well as take control of your future.
“I sat on the bed next to Bili and told her the truth about what I was. I told her I could give her a life she never thought possible, and all it would take is one bite. I explained what life would be like afterwards, both good and bad then I asked her one simple question. Do you except this gift I’m offering you?”
“What did she do?” I said.
“Without hesitation Bili rolled up the sleeve to the over-sized shirt I had given her, stuck her arm out, wrist up, and stared me straight in the eye and said ‘what are you waiting for?’”
“Now that sounds like the Bili I know?” I said smiling.
“Some people just need is a sliver of hope and opportunity. When they get that sliver they never look back.”
“Please tell me Bili dealt with Ainsworth?” I pressed.
Theo gave a sly smile and shrugged.
“That’s a story for another time.”