Alexander rented the nearby restaurant for the night to accommodate the whole group. With the darkness swallowing the last rays of sunshine, everyone seemed on edge while encased with bland white walls and large windows. Across the table, Maya toyed with her knife, flicking it back and forth between her hands. Ben stood like a stone obelisk behind his partner’s seat. Lucious paced around the empty square tables, and Alexander checked his phone every two seconds by the far window.
A warm hand grasped Helena’s, and Madeline said, “It will be alright.”
Helena gave her a half-smile and stared at the red entrance doors. It’s almost time...
Complete and utter silence took on an almost physical form when Nora paraded into the restaurant with the pixie, Kaliroth, perched on her shoulder and four male vampires trudging behind her. Nora’s long raven hair was tied with pink ribbons into two ponytails, and she beamed at Helena and the others in the room.
The pixie flew into the air and landed on the shoulder of a vampire with a buzz cut.
“Did you miss me, everyone?” Nora asked with a grin.
No one responded to her comment, and Helena’s heart launched into another nervous waltz. Why did Nora cast a suppression spell on me? She knew pressing the siren for an answer wouldn’t work without something in return. So, she refrained.
The vampires and the hunters stiffened and sized each other up.
“Such sullen faces on my arrival,” Nora said, waving for her entourage to wait outside. She plopped into a seat across from Helena, and Maya scooted away from the siren with the loud screech of chair against the tiled flooring.
“I’m sorry we forgot to throw a party for you,” Lucious’ voice came from behind Helena. He touched her shoulder as if in reassurance of his presence.
Nora’s mirth didn’t falter. She put her elbows on the table and nestled her chin on her palms. “I am glad you called in a favour, Helena. I was waiting for it.”
Lucious’ hand gripped her shoulder, and Helena looked up, seeing nothing other than a perfectly sculpted poker-face. The link seemed as still as the stuffy air in the room, but his inflexible posture betrayed his agitation.
“Why are you helping us?” Lucious demanded.
With a bored expression, Nora met his stare. “That is between me and my friend here. Isn’t it?”
Helena gave an uncertain nod. There would be plenty of time to question Nora what the spell was and why she had cast it in the first place once they managed to get Andrew back.
The door behind Helena opened, and Nadine strode out of the toilets. She made her way to Helena’s side and sat in a free chair on her right.
“You must be the siren who tried to capture me,” Nadine said, scrutinising Nora with a stare.
Nora rubbed her hands and sat back in her seat. “And you must be the precious saint everyone here is protecting.”
“Protecting is an extreme version of the definition,” Alexander piped in, gliding to Lucious’ side.
Nadine crossed her arms and eyed Nora. “I will need to syphon yours and the witch’s power to force open the gate. Will you give me permission to do so?”
Nora’s face hardened. Blue colour bled into her left iris, and her voice came out much deeper. “If that is the deal the young lady and I wish to make, I will permit you to do so.”
“Curious magic,” Madeline said softly. “Two souls in one body…”
Nora’s lips stretched into a smirk. “A beautiful and strong witch like you would know.”
A shudder ran through Helena. It was strange seeing a different soul in control of another body. Did Nora willingly give her body up for her father to control?
“…the ritual tomorrow,” Reaver said, and Helena snapped out of her dream-like state.
“No! It has to be done tonight,” Helena protested.
Reaver tilted his head to one side and raised a dark brow. “Is there any particular reason why we are rushing such a complicated process?”
Helena’s hands balled into fists in her lap. “We have to save a friend. He was taken.”
An outburst of laughter came from Reaver.
Helena didn’t find anything funny about the situation. Anger simmered beneath her skin. The only thing holding her back was Lucious’ hand that massaged her shoulder. Somehow, his touch grounded her. Once she calmed, she pressed her lips into a line.
Reaver’s laughter turned into chuckles. He wiped away the tear he had shed with a flick of a finger. “I have not had such a good laugh in a long time. It is…different to what I expected from one such as you.”
“What do you mean?” Helena asked.
Reaver winked and took hold of Nadine’s hand.
The saint jolted out of her seat faster than lightning, knocking the chair back. “Don’t touch me, filth!”
“At least, we know she doesn’t loathe us in particular,” Alexander commented, and Lucious chuckled beside him.
Reaver’s expression turned serious as he outstretched his hand to Madeline. “You wished to share energies. Without touching, it’s impossible.”
Madeline nodded, her copper hair sliding over her shoulders. “Reaver’s right. We must connect physically and mentally—a process that may take some time and would require utmost silence.”
After what appeared to be a drawn out minute of quiet from Nadine, she took a cautious step forwards. She lifted her chair and settled in at the table.
“It would be best if any of you uninvolved in the process left us. We will inform you when the energy merge is complete,” Reaver said.
Lucious nudged Helena’s shoulder, and she slowly rose from her seat as she studied Madeline. The witch gave her a reassuring smile which took away the apprehension Helena felt at first.
A hand wrapped around hers, and she looked at Lucious. He marched her to the main entrance of the restaurant. Warm evening breeze welcomed them, and she peeked over her shoulder to find Alexander, Maya, and Ben trailing behind them.
“We’ll wait at the apartment,” Maya said. Then, she and Ben headed up the street.
Alexander ran his hand through his hair. “I do not trust Reaver with this task. She or he—I am no longer certain—is scheming something, and it makes me itch all over.”
“I must agree with you there. The siren is too willing,” Lucious said.
Helena stole another glance at the exterior of the small family restaurant illuminated by the orange street lights. She let the vampires’ words sink in. There was no way she could trust Nora or Reaver. Having two souls present in one body didn’t mean that either of them was honourable.
Four vampires chatted across the road to one another as they waited for Nora to conduct her business. Why did they follow a young girl around and never complained?
“We don’t have much of a choice if we want to save Andrew,” she said.
“Helena, he may be a lost cause. What if a demon possessed him as one had Anna long ago? If my childe cannot control it, he will bring much destruction to the world and those around him,” Lucious replied.
Helena puckered her lips. “We don’t know that for sure!”
Alexander patted Lucious on the shoulder. “I told you she never listens to reason. It is like tossing peas at a brick wall.”
“Leave us to speak in private, Alexander,” Lucious said, and they exchanged a look that Helena couldn’t decipher.
Alexander shoved his hands into the pockets of his white trousers and strolled away as he whistled a slow tune.
Lucious’ hold on her hand grew painful, and she remembered that they were holding hands. He nudged her in the opposite direction of Alexander, and they turned a corner into the restaurant’s back alley.
“Is this what you want to do?” he asked.
At first, she wasn’t certain what he meant, but, as his words sank in, the meaning soon became clear. His tall frame merged with the darkest shadows because of his black clothes. She touched the place where his string would have been, and he caught his breath.
“Let me feel your soul,” she whispered.
“You do not want to know what I feel right now, Helena,” he said, his tone clipped.
She peered at the outline of his face and took a step closer. “Please, let me in.”
From up close, she could hear his teeth grinding. Without notice, he pulled her in and claimed her soft lips with his. Lucious tongue found hers as they danced to a silent yet passionate serenade. His hands glided from her sides to her derriere, and she let out a soft moan. The floodgates to his emotions broke, and terror mixed with anger shook the link.
She broke away from the kiss. Her legs were unstable from the overwhelming fear, but she fought to remain upright. She cupped his face, and her fingers brushed the rough stubble on his cheeks.
“What makes you so scared?” she whispered.
He let out a nervous chuckle. “What doesn’t? We are going into a world full of demons and our only backup is a demented siren and a saint.”
His emotions retreated and the link, once more, was immobile. He grasped her wrists and tugged her hands downwards. “That is why I want to know if this is what you want, my dear. I have no qualms about risking my life for you, but I will not involve Alexander in this. That is why he will remain here and keep an eye on everything on this end.”
“I never asked him to be part of this.”
“No, but he is a man of honour and will do what he can to help those he cares about.”
A pang of guilt hurt her chest as she contemplated how many lives she was risking to save one. What would happen if Andrew was gone or if a demon had possessed him? Would she have to kill him? Her stomach twisted with another knot.
Lucious caressed her right cheek. “I am not like Alexander. I am more a man of chance than a man of calculated moves. Because you are a part of my soul, a part of my heart, I want to know what it is you want to do. Ignore the words of others. Forget them and answer my question.”
Discarding her worries was harder than she had anticipated. They could be dead tomorrow if they failed. What if the Arcanae Mortum of the viator bijous didn’t work? Would they remain trapped in the Demon Realm? At the same time, she couldn’t leave Andrew behind. He had sacrificed too much for her, and it was high time she returned the favour.
“I want to save him.”
Lucious hugged her to his chest. “And I will stake my life on retrieving him, but I want you to remain here.”
His arms turned into an impenetrable prison around her as she tried to tear away. “You’re not going in there alone! He is my friend. I’m the one who has to go and find him.” Her outraged words came out muffled as she spoke into his shirt.
Lucious chuckled and let her go. “There’s the fire I’ve not seen in a long time.”
She glared and punched his shoulder. The action seemed to amuse him further.
“You did that on purpose!” she said.
He smirked and stroked her hair as his expression turned serious. “At this time, it is my greatest wish to find a room with no way out, so I can keep you from going through with this. I am refraining from doing that, but it is agonising to see you risk your life for another man.”
“Lucious, you know how I—”
He silenced her by pressing an index finger to her lips. “Let me finish.”
She sighed and moved his hand away.
A smile curved his lips. “Good girl. As I was saying, I will try not to restrain you. Having said that”—he took hold of her hand, leading them back in the direction of the restaurant—“if I find my childe or any other man flirting with you, I may endeavour to castrate them.”