Questions and Madness
“What treasure could possibly come from this hole?” Mara groaned from where she hovered in the air with Ruzha. The vixen had been ignoring her the whole trip across the sea. She was restless, nervous, and bored out of her skull. She had never been away from the castle before, and with their company in tow, she was more anxious than ever. “Can’t you answer that at least, Ruzha?”
“Do not speak to me as if it be true thee was an equal, wench,” Ruzha grunted back at her whining. How could such a babe have won the countess’ favor? “A whelp such as thee could not comprehend Lady Eve’s desires.”
Mara pouted back at the vixen. Glancing back down at the vampires that had come with them, a chill ran through her all over again. Those frightening faces wouldn’t leave her mind. The blackened eyes, the long fangs that extended past their lips, the predatory voices made her bite her lips shut. Just what were they?
“What are those things you sent down there?” Mara asked as she hugged herself.
“African?” Mara gawked back at the other vixen. “Aren’t they mad from drinking dead blood for generations?”
“They are our mistress’ pets,” Ruzha said with a perverse grin. “The lady birthed those folk some two millennia ago.”
Movement caught Ruzha’s eye. A figure came flying around the building, bursting through the door. He clashed with the vampire dogs, but what made the vixen gasp was who the person was. Ruzha began to tremble as her eyes dilated in shock. This was impossible. Michael’s words echoed in her mind from before. It couldn’t be…
Mara gaped as she ignored the panicked vixen beside her. She dropped down to the ramp that led to the door to get a better look. She caught her breath. What was Michael doing here?
“Lady Mary?” Gabriel called to the figure staring back at him from the doorway. He had to split his focus between the Africans as he tried to call to her. “Lady Mary, art thee well?”
Mara gawked back at him as her body went cold. What was going on? She felt like something had just grasped her whole being in a vice. She couldn’t find her voice. She couldn’t move. What was happening to her?
“Gabriel!” Ruzha’s voice screeched like a banshee, flying into the apartment. Her eyes were blacked out, hysterical and wild. She swung her sword for his neck, but Gabriel parried it with a labored grunt. He gaped up at her in horror.
“Ruzha?” The vampire was relieved to see her, but what had become of her? “Thou art alive!”
“Thee should not!” The vixen screamed as she pulled back to strike again. This time she didn’t wait to recover. Madly, she hammered her blade upon the vampire, who managed to barely parry each off. The vampires around them were kicked away by her boots as she hovered above, whirling around her opponent. “Thou art dead!”
“Ruzha! Stop!” Mara regained some of her strength for a moment. Stumbling forward, she wrapped her arms around the vixen’s waist, holding her in place. “Don’t attack him! He’s still not well!”
“Off me, pest!” Ruzha screeched at the younger vixen. Using her spike-heeled boot, she kicked Mara away from her. The sharp pain to her chest birthed a cry of pain from the younger vixen as she was thrown back against the wall behind the desk. She whimpered at the new pain in her back, but she was too stunned to do much else.
“Ruzha, gather thyself!” Gabriel cried up at the vixen desperately.
“Silence! Thee should stay dead!”
Wes shuttered as Mitch turned off the showerhead. He was soaking wet. The stronger man still had his hand on his mouth, but the fear in his chest had silenced him. He could hear the monsters yelling in the front room, fighting with Gabriel. It didn’t take much for his friend to move his chair.
Mitch knew Wes was terrified, but he didn’t have time to comfort him. This was survival, and he knew all about that. He’d had to fend for himself before. Wes hadn’t, so he had to look out for him. Pushing the chair into the bedroom, Mitch walked over to the closet.
“Mitch…” Wes’ voice was hoarse, as if he feared it would attract the predators on the other side of the wall. Seeing Mitch open his closet, he asked in a whisper, “What’re you doing…?”
“It’s big enough,” Mitch said to himself. His mind was running. He hoped this idea would work. “Wes? You still have laundry in the bathroom?”
“Good.” He grabbed the wheelchair handles to turn. As quickly and quietly as he could, the cook pushed the chair into the closet. It wasn’t very wide, but his chair itself fit inside. As Wes turned to gape back at his friend, Mitch gave him a look that quieted him. “You’ve got to stay here, Wes. I’ll come back when it’s safe.”
“Mitch…! What’re you gonna do…?” Wes grabbed his friend’s wrist. “Don’t go do something stupid…! This isn’t one of your dad’s games…! You could die if you do something reckless…!”
Mitch paused for a moment. Wes knew him too well, so he shouldn’t be surprised by what he was about to do. Taking the trembling hand off his wrist, he let a smile sprout on his lips. He could spare a second for comfort.
“I promised your folks I’d look after you. I’m going to keep that promise. Trust me for now, okay?”
“Mitch…!” Wes felt tears falling alongside the water dripping from his hair. There was no stopping him. Why was he so damn stubborn? “Mitch… Please don’t go…!”
“I’ll be back, Wes,” Mitch said as he closed the door to the closet. “I promise.”
“Mitchel!” Wes cried. That was a lie. He could hear it in his tone. He could read it in his eyes. He could feel it in the pit of his stomach. Mitch didn’t know if he was coming back.
Mitch tried to ignore the pleas. Rushing back to the bathroom, he grabbed some shirts out of his hamper. He ran over to the furthest window, rubbing the shirts all over the window sill. He then opened the window as much as it would go, tossing the garments on the canopy below.
“That should fool a dumb animal,” he said as he turned to pick up the wooden spatula. “I always wanted to play the wolf. Wooden knives should help.” Heading for the door, the spatula snapped in his hands.
Mara’s head began to clear. Her body must be healing. Glancing up, she watched Ruzha fight Michael, blade against blade. That was Michael, wasn’t it? He looked just like Michael, but his eyes held pain, shock, sorrow, maybe even frustration. Michael couldn’t feel any of those things, so why was there passion in his eyes now? What did this mean?
“Ruzha,” Gabriel grunted as he tried to talk the vixen down, “wherefore art thee hither? Does the vixen still possess thee?”
“Thee did perish! I did see thee! How could thee still thrive?” She screamed down at the vampire. Kicking one of her minions out her way, she used it to force Gabriel back.
“Prithee, Ruzha! Break free of that lady! Is Michael still ’mongst us? Allow us save him together!”
“I shall ne’er forsake mine own mistress! I shall kill thee again! Thee shall not survive a second time!”
Mara’s head was spinning. What were they talking about? All this talk of dying and breaking free was lost on her. Had they forgotten they were among African vampires? The beasts could turn on them if they lost focus. It was a miracle they had been too distracted by the two fighters to notice her. Grasping her head, she tried to ground her thoughts to do something, anything at this point.
That was when she noticed one of the beasts on the other side of the room. It gave out a hiss as his body clammed up and collapsed. Behind him, a man stood. She hadn’t seen him in the room before. Who was he? In his hand, he held splintered wood. She gaped in fear, staring at the vampire. It had wood embedded in its back.
“A hunter…? Here!” Mara gasped, covering her mouth in shock. Michael had told her about hunters, but he had said there were hardly any around anymore. What was a hunter doing in a place that held the countess’ treasure? Was this what she had meant by it not being a simple errand?
Mitch was grateful to Gabriel for being a hell of a distraction. These big guys' attention spans seemed easily appeased, so as long as he could keep that psycho banshee in line, he could take the muscle out quietly. He just needed more of Wes’ wooden utensils. He paused on his way for the kitchen, seeing someone sitting on the floor by the front door. He crept closer to get a better look.
Was that Mary? Her crimson eyes were fixated on him. She looked terrified. Had these freaks caught up to her while she was gone? Had she been captured or tailed? None of this was making sense, but he knew he couldn’t get any answers when he had predators stomping all over Wes’ living room!
“Bootless wench!” Ruzha barked when she caught the smell of the mortal in the room. “The companion! Catch the companion!” She may have been fighting, but she smelled blood miles away.
“Wench? Companion?” Mitch stared at the frightened vixen, perplexed. Everything he had learned as a child left his mind. He needed answers now. If Mary had led these things to Wes on purpose, he would strangle her himself. “Mary, what the hell is going on here? Why are you with these things? We’ve been worried sick about you all damn day, woman!”
“Ah!” Mara screamed, grasping her scalp. The strange feeling came back, only this time the pain that brought her to her knees came with it. Tears formed in her eyes as her body overwhelmed her. “My head! My head! It hurts! Make it stop! Please… make it stop...!
“Pick thyself up, pathetic wench!” Ruzha snapped at the wailing voice. What the hell was wrong with her now? Was this like the time they had dueled?
“Ruzha!” Gabriel cried, forcing her sword aside in her distraction to grasp her forearm. “Enow of this! The maid suffers! Break free, mine own rose!”
“Unhand me!” Ruzha swung her free hand to scratch him across the face, tearing away at his cheek. Her tremors worsened as she watched him wreath backward. “Do not touch me! Do not touch me!”
“Please…!” Mara gasped as if she could barely breathe, “I’m sorry…! I’m sorry…! It hurts too much…! Please stop…! I’m sorry…!”
“Mary, talk to me!” Mitch yelled back. Something was wrong. Maybe this wasn’t her fault. He had to help her. As he ran forward for her from his hiding place, a large, clawed hand grasped around his whole neck. “Damn…! Always… the rabbit…!”
The grip slowly tightened, making him gag. He thought his head might pop off the way the vampire was crushing his neck. The level of strength was far more than he could have imagined. Instinctively, his hand grabbed for the fist, only to feel the claws dig into his skin. This was bad, very bad.
“Human…” The beast laughed in a hungry tone. “Human all mine…”
Mitch gasped as his vision grew dark. The pain coursing through his spine branched throughout his body. What kind of vampire was this? It was more like a gargoyle. He reached for the crying woman, wishing he had been of more use. In those last moments though, he realized something from her tone of voice.
“You… aren’t… Mary…” He gagged as darkness overtook him.
“Nay!” Ruzha screeched in panic.
Pushing Gabriel back further, she spun around with her blade ready to swipe, snarling at the dumb, undead mass of meat. Swinging her sword downward with all the momentum she had pent up, she raced it through the side of its neck, sending the vampire’s head flying across the room. Mara screamed in terror as the body collapsed near her, falling on top of Mitch. Ruzha pulled the still clinging hand from the human’s neck, kicking the corpse off of him.
“We are not to kill the companion, thee dogs!” She hissed down at the cowering vampires that remained. African vampires could be fierce, but they feared their masters. “Thee shall join that should thee stray again! Do thee understand?” They bowed humbly to the vixen.
“Ruzha,” Gabriel spoke up as he gasped, “prithee come back to me. We can return to how it was. Thee… I… and Mi-”
“Enow out of thee! The dead should not speak!”
Ruzha screamed as her head throbbed again, pointing her wet blade at the vampire. Gabriel had lowered his blade, since the African beasts had been quieted. She shook terribly, even her eyes moved about rapidly from fear.
How was he here? He was supposed to be dead. She had seen it happened. This had to be a trick. What was Michael trying to do to her now? Grasping her head, she ground her teeth together as she growled. Blood seeped from her gums as she hissed.
“Retreat! All of thee!”
“Nay! I shall not allow thee to leave!” Gabriel cried desperately, rushing to block their path. “Break free of Eve’s control, Ruzha. I did swear on mine own blade the night I was released I would avenge thee both. The lady words are lies, mine own rose. Allow that lady use thee nay longer.”
“Stand ho! Do not speak another word!” The vixen grasped her skull with both hands, pressing her hilt against her crimson locks. She thought her head was going to implode. “Thou art dead… Thou art dead!”
“I shall set thee free from the witch’s grasp! I shall free thee!” Gabriel’s eyes were hard. He hadn’t felt such passion since the night Eve had torn his family apart. He would see her end. Even if it cost him his immortal life, he would see her perish.
Ruzha screamed as the pain reached a peak. Her eyes completely blackened. She rushed wildly, clashing blades with him. Reaching for his hip, the vixen ripped his sheath from its belt. Pulling backward, she rammed it into his chest.
“Ru...zha… mine… own… rose…” Gabriel whispered passed the bitter river, flowing from his throat. As his eyes dilated, a tear fell down his left cheek. His body lost all strength. His sword fell to the carpeted floor. He fell to his knees, staring up at her. The black eyes glared down at him with a twisted smile upon her crimson lips. He wanted to reach for her, hold her close, but the shadow of darkness was closing in quickly. With his last ounce of strength, Gabriel gasped, “Mine… own… rose…”
“Thee should have stayed dead.”
Ruzha’s voice was not her own. Slowly, the black bled back to white, and the smile faded away to tremulous lips. She watched the vampire slump backward as the sheath slipped from her hand. Her eyes found the wooden sheath rooted deep in his chest, right through the heart. His amber eyes rolled back into his skull as he closed them.
“I have killed thee… again… Gabriel…” She gasped, gawking at the body. Her breath caught in her throat. Her head pounded again. Grasping her scalp, tears streamed down her face as she clawed at the shallow flesh. “Dead! Dead! He is dead!”
“Master…” The simpleton vampires crept up to the screaming vixen. They reached for her coat, but their hands never touched her. “Master in pain… Help Master, yes…?”
Ruzha gasped. Her mind was clear again. Glancing about her, she found the human, lying on his face. The blood trickling from his neck made her nose twitch, but she had orders to bring the companion back if the target was not found. She didn’t want to stay another moment in that place. Walking over to the helpless man, she grabbed him up, throwing him over her shoulder.
“We shall return as our own mistress commanded,” she barked down to the vampires. “All of thee that can still fly, with me anon. Leave the rest that have fallen.”
“Please… make it stop…” Mara wept from where she still sat against the wall. Her condition had worsened. She couldn’t sense her surroundings anymore. “Please… I can’t bear it anymore… Please…”
“Gather thyself, pathetic wench. May this teach thee how thou art not fit to serve to our own countess,” Ruzha sneered down at the younger vixen. Digging her heel into the younger’s thigh, she frowned when there was no response. It was as if her body was at its limit with pain. “Gather yourself or be left with the dead!”
Mara did not respond. Ruzha recalled something the sage had told her before their departure. She was not to leave the maiden behind for any reason. Seeing how far gone Mara was, the older reached down to pull her up onto her hip. This was going to be a long trip home.
The last thing Mara saw was the platinum-haired vampire lying on the ground with the sheath embedded in his chest. Had Ruzha killed Michael? It couldn’t be true. As Ruzha left the apartment, Mara’s eyes gaped at the placid face even when they were too far to see it. The image was burned in her mind, along with a name that sent pain like fire through her veins: Mary.
Once they were gone, stillness fell upon the apartment. Gabriel continued to bleed out from his wound as he lay defeated. From the other side of the bedroom door, a faint whimpering murmured from beneath the crack of the closet.