Chapter 18: Breathe
“Did you get your memories back?”
Cassidy barely heard Nadja’s question. She was leaning against the side of the desk with her head in her hands. Her brain was busy trying to focus in on where she was. At this moment, her mind felt as if it was half asleep. She tossed her head back and forth several times as if the effort was clearing the lethargy from her brain. Shortly her knowledge of the here and now merged with the newly recovered memories that were swirling about at the forefront of her mind. It took her a few seconds to take all of this in, and then her thoughts focused in on what had just transpired.
“You did that?” Cassidy questioned with a sudden awareness that lost memories had been restored.
“You’re welcome,” Nadja responded coolly while sitting on the sofa at the end closest to the door.
Cassidy took a long pause after this to come to terms with this new reality. Accepting the fact that her memories could be so easily taken and restored was not an automatic function. It took several seconds of thought to suppress her disbelief. At the end of this resistance a new thought popped into her head.
“Is there more?” Cassidy questioned with an anxious look.
“You tell me,” Nadja challenged casually. “Are there any blind-spots in your memory?”
Despite the inflection of jest in Nadja’s tone this question prompted Cassidy to examine her recent past. She soon concluded that she would not recognize a blind-spot even if it was there. She came to this thinking because she was not aware of any blind-spots before these memories were returned to her.
Cassidy’s amazement with what had just happened went away an instant after her mind recalled the phrase, “I think we should dispose of her.” She became flustered when her mind began to consider this recovered memory. She looked at Nadja with a new awareness of the precariousness of her situation. She wanted to take hope from the idea that her fate had not been decided yet and from David’s protectiveness of her. But this understanding of her situation produced a new thought and a question.
“Why are you telling me all of this?”
Nadja was reluctant to give a truthful answer to this and chose to say nothing over a lie. Cassidy inferred from the silence that she was not going to live long enough to repeat any of this. She took a deep breath to strengthen her courage so that it could endure the fear that this thought produced. She then turned her thoughts to another subject that was churning in her mind.
“Why did Cristiãn say that he would drink my blood?”
Nadja felt no reluctance towards this question and responded to it immediately.
“Ingesting the blood of a mortal magnifies the effect of our pheromones on that mortal.”
“So, your pheromones work better on the people you drink blood from?” Cassidy questioned from behind a constrained demeanor of fear.
This answer was a match to Cassidy’s suspicion. She understood that her investigation of the booth three regulars had made her a problem for the vampires. She gathered from these recovered memories that David had been trying to back her away from this focus. Her hope was that his entreaty to bite her was a viable alternative to killing her. But her memories on this subject suggested that most of the vampires did not think this would be enough to derail her investigation.
“But drinking my blood can’t guarantee that a memory will stay blocked?” Cassidy questioned with an inflection of suspicion.
“It gives us a powerful depth of control over a mortal,” Nadja explained with a nod. “But keeping a memory blocked indefinitely requires continuous maintenance.”
“Then why won’t they let David drink my blood?” Cassidy questioned with a look of bewilderment.
“Because it’s a dangerous risk,” Nadja educated flatly.
“I don’t understand,” Cassidy challenged with a hint of desperation in her voice. “You said drinking my blood would give David more control.”
“When we drink the blood of a mortal our control of them is ten times more powerful,” Nadja explained with a casual delivery. “But this depth of control is just as fallible over time as a compulsion without the assistance of blood enhanced pheromones. With a mortal’s blood in our system we can create a memory block quicker and easier, and it will likely last longer. But that’s all it will do. The brain forgets the small stuff on its own, but large thoughts and memories that are blocked off in the mind torments people. These torments reconstruct lost thoughts and memories. Sooner or later all compulsions around significant events or thoughts break down.”
“So, does that mean you can’t block a memory?” Cassidy questioned for more clarity.
Nadja sat still for a moment as she gave this a question a moment of thought. Shortly into this she rose to her feet and took two steps toward Cassidy. Her demeanor was without expression. Her gaze was fixed on her, and it did not waver. Cassidy was unnerved by this change in her demeanor and leaned back in worry of what was behind it. This feeling was diminished, slightly, when Nadja began to speak again.
“The only way to be sure that a compulsion stays in place is through continuous reinforcement. Cristiãn would have to fortify the compulsion every three weeks at a maximum. And because enhanced pheromones last only as long as the blood of the mortal is in a vampire’s system, he would have to feed on you each time. The continuous maintenance of the block increases the chance that he will be found out. And even with the block there is no guarantee that some casual event won’t trigger a reawakening.”
Nadja paused to give weight to her last remark, and then she added to it with another.
“The risk is not limited to David. It extends to all of us.”
Cassidy took no notice of this last remark. Her mind turned inward in response to a sensation that was welling up inside of her. A sudden fluttering of her heart and a feeling of apprehension captured the bulk of her attention. She immediately began to ponder if her anxiety was causing the palpitations or was it the other way around. After a long moment of examining herself she took note that Nadja had went silent. She looked up and saw her gaze fixed on her.
“What’s happening?” Cassidy questioned with a slight tremble in her voice.
Nadja took a moment to affect a slight inhale and exhale. Behind this she spoke while holding her stare atop a rigid stance.
“I suspect you’re experiencing an abnormal heartbeat.”
Cassidy’s eyes widened from shock after hearing Nadja’s casual description of what she was experiencing at that moment.
“Are you doing this?” Cassidy questioned with a sudden shortness of breath.
“Yes,” Nadja reported without a change of demeanor.
“What-what are you do-doing to me?” Cassidy coughed out with difficulty.
Cassidy pushed herself back along the edge of the desk and away from Nadja as she spoke. The look of fear on her face seemed to expand with each labored breath that she took.
“I am escalating your anxiety.”
Nadja took two steps forward as she spoke these words. Cassidy stood up in response to this and fumbled back away from the desk and against the wall.
“What?” Cassidy questioned from behind a confused expression.
“You’re feeling the effects of extreme hypertension,” Nadja explained with an absence of emotion.
“You-you’re kill-killing me!” Cassidy exclaimed with a look of shock.
“Yes, I am.”
Cassidy pushed back along the wall and further away from Nadja. She felt a desperate need to get away from her. Cassidy’s eyes began to search for an escape. The door was behind Nadja. She quickly concluded that there was no chance of getting past Nadja and began to scan the contents of the room for a weapon. She saw nothing that could be used to any great effect. Despite this she lunged toward Nadja and tried to fight her way past her. The effort was feeble. The exertion expended what little oxygen she had within her. Her breathing began to labor to the point of wheezing. She stumbled backwards into a corner of the room while gasping for air. Nadja moved a step closer. Cassidy began to slide down towards the floor.
“Soon you may start to feel pain in your chest, in your left arm or in you jaw,” Nadja breathed out in a voice engendered to elevate Cassidy’s fear. “The pain in your chest might feel like a burning, or like a fist clenched around your heart. Breathing will continue to grow more difficult and a feeling of lightheadedness should be happening as I speak.”
“Why are you doing this?” Cassidy queried in a voice that was heavily laced with worry.
“I have no choice,” Nadja returned with a flat delivery.
“But your-your brother,” Cassidy puffed out with effort. “He wants me to live.”
“It is for him that I am doing this,” Nadja growled back.
“He-he, he wants, he wants me to live,” Cassidy gasped out again.
“And I want him to live,” Nadja countered with finality.
Cassidy did not know how to respond to this. A frown quickly mixed with her expression of terror. Nadja paid no notice to this. After a moment of reflection, she commenced to explain the thinking behind this remark.
“I know my brother. He cares for you. He cares for you like none other since Constantia.”
“Then why, why are you killing me?” Cassidy queried with as much desperation that her breath could produce.
“Because they will kill my brother if I don’t kill you first,” Nadja answered with a stern expression.
Once again Cassidy was confused into silence. She gave Nadja a wide-eyed stare as she continued to struggle to breath.
“He will fight for you,” Nadja continued to explain after a pause. “And he will not forgive those that he blames for your death. I know my brother. He will kill for you, or he will try. Either way it means his death.”
Nadja hesitated to search out the next words to come from her mouth. In the end, she said what naturally came out.
“He’s my brother. He’s my twin,” Nadja declared with passion.
Nadja paused behind this statement and looked at Cassidy with a glare that represented the weight of the thought that she held in her head.
“I’m the only vampire that Cristiãn will not raise a hand to,” Nadja continued with insistence. “I am the only one who can kill you. He may never forgive me for it, but he’ll be alive. I will not lose my brother because of you. —I won’t. —I can’t.”
Cassidy took from Nadja’s words an understanding of her predicament. She knew that reasoning with her had little chance for success. Instinct and fear motivated her to try to get back up on her feet. It took two seconds for this effort to sap her of the wind needed to complete it. She fell back down to a sitting position on the floor. Shortly after this she turned her face away from Nadja and tried to hide it from her. She could feel a tightness in her chest. It felt more pronounced every time she took a moment to pay heed to it. The feeling of terror swelled within her despite all attempts by her to control her fear. A few seconds later the sensation of lightheadedness began to distort her vision. Suddenly the sight of Nadja standing above her caused her heart patter at a faster pace. Cassidy gasped for air as she gripped her hand to her chest. She had no awareness of anything other than the turmoil that was raging inside of her. And then suddenly this began to subside.
“What are you doing?” Petru questioned while flipping his look from Nadja to Cassidy and back.
Nadja turned from Cassidy and toward the door just as her mate walked in.
“I am doing what I must, Petru,” Nadja explained from behind a stern expression.
“They want her in the main room,” Petru explained while holding his focus on Nadja. “Everyone is here.”
“What do they need her for?” Nadja challenged with a look of annoyance.
“Lucian wants to ask her some questions,” Petru answered dismissively.
Without wasting a second Petru turned the subject to the matter that concerned him most at this moment.
“Cristiãn will never forgive you if you kill her.”
“But he will be alive,” Nadja roared back. “You know what will happen if he tries to interfere with the outcome of the vote.”
“You don’t know how the vote will come down.”
“Yes, I do, and so do you,” Nadja disputed with defiance. “And you know better than I how he feels about her.”
Petru had no immediate response for this. He seemed to be looking through Nadja as he considered what he had heard. He knew that Nadja was referring to his situation as Cristiãn’s maker. This fact gave him and Cristiãn a connection that she could match with her brother. He could feel the emotions in Cristiãn and vice versa. When they were near each other this connection was made through the pheromones that emanated from them. He knew the depth of Cristiãn’s feelings for Cassidy, and the weight of pain her death would inflict. After a long pause his look of concern changed into one of determination. An instant after this he spoke.
“I can’t let you do this,” Petru spoke as he moved to Cassidy. “Cristiãn will never forgive you.”
Petru grabbed Cassidy by the arm and pulled her up onto her feet. He then began to pull her along behind him as started for the door. Nadja put up no physical resistance as she listened to Petru explain his motivation.
“We may be able to resolve this to everyone’s liking,” Petru insisted. “You can’t be sure what will happen. We have to try.”
Petru was not sure he believed what he had just said. Hope was the motivation behind the words. He knew that all the vampires, other than himself; Nadja and Cristiãn, would be inclined to vote for Cassidy’s death. It was his hope that the divide would give cause for several of these vampires to agree to a compromise. This was far from a sure bet, but in his mind, it was not inconceivable. It was a gamble he felt he had to take. He had no doubt that Cassidy’s death by Nadja’s doing would destroy the relationship between the siblings. This was a scenario that he feared to see. As their makers, he cringed at the thought of their emotional anguish flooding into his mind and his sensitivities. They were the two dearest vampires to him, and their pain was something that he did not want to see or experience. As he steered Cassidy toward the door his mind was in a desperate search for an alternative to this end.
Despite her disagreement with this thinking, Nadja said nothing as she watched Petru lead Cassidy out of the room. She examined Petru with a mixed expression of fear and concern. She knew that Petru experienced the feelings of her brother just as he did with her. Because of this she thought it unwise to challenge her mate on this. She had little doubt that he would err on the side of Cristiãn’s affinity for Cassidy over her pragmatic decision to kill her. Because of this thinking Nadja stood in place for several seconds after Petru and Cassidy were gone from the office, and then she followed.
For Cassidy, the discourse between Nadja and Petru’s existed as little more than background noise. Her brain was still struggling with the terror that had its grip upon her thinking. Her awareness that something had changed suddenly came to the front of her attention when Petru pulled her up from the floor. Out of desperation to be out of the room and away from Nadja she followed behind the male vampire without resistance.
Shortly Cassidy found herself in the hall outside of the office. She pulled back against Petru’s lead. He stopped to give her time to catch her breath.
“Slow deep breaths,” Petru urged in a soft voice. “You’ll be okay—slow deep breaths.”
Petru allowed Cassidy time for several deep breaths.
“Come on,” Petru urged with a gentle tug at her arm.
Petru supported Cassidy as they went down the hall. Her breathing continued to be labored. Her look of fear had transitioned into an expression of dismay. Her mind had cleared to the point that she knew where she was going and why. This new state of awareness had her mind in a frantic search for a way out of this predicament. But with each passing second the effort looked to be increasingly unlikely. Running and fighting were not viable options, and no other strategy came to mind.
Nadja followed Petru and Cassidy from several steps behind. She felt a reluctance to take each step that brought her closer to the room where the other vampires were waiting. She feared what would happen. She feared how it would end. And this fear was not limited to just her brother. Nadja knew that Petru would stand by Cristiãn. To what extent she could not be sure, but she feared that a conflict could bring him to the same fate. And she had no doubt that interference from her to protect Cristiãn would bring Petru full into fray. The more she thought about it the more she wanted Cassidy dead.
Nadja and Petru’s love for each other existed without question. This feeling was maintained by their connection as biologically mated vampires, but its genesis went back to when she was a mortal. Her first meeting with Petru came about when he was more than three-hundred years into his life as a vampire. She fell in love with him despite his vampire affliction, and he fell in love with her at first sight. Their romance as vampire and mortal had been going on for three years when Nadja finally convinced him to turn her despite the risk of killing her. Petru was the only person that she cared for as much as she did for Cristiãn.
“This way,” Petru encouraged as he steered Cassidy through the entryway to the main room.
Cassidy followed his lead at near to baby steps. Breathing was still a conscious effort, but she could feel the increasing ease to do it. Several seconds later they were in the main room of the nightclub. Cassidy stopped several feet in front of the bar. She was reluctant to go into the center of the room. Her heart was still thumping in her chest, but this was not the cause of her hesitation. She was afraid of what was to come. Her mind was no longer focused on what was happening inside of her. She was very much aware that this was the meeting that would decide her fate. After two pants of breath she walked through the entryway.
The first thing that Cassidy took notice of when she stepped into the main room of the club was the number of vampires. She did not bother with counting them. She had no great interest in the exact number, and her suspicion was that count came to seventeen. She believed that the addition of Petru and Nadja coming in with her accounted for all the vampires from the Romanian cave. After scanning the room Cassidy’s eyes came to rest on David/Cristiãn. Their eyes locked in on each other. Cassidy noted him from behind her own expression of fear. She knew that he represented her only chance to survive this event.
David/Cristiãn looked at Cassidy with an expression of shock. By his estimation, she looked to be tired and in pain. Her posture was bent, and Petru maintained a supportive hold of her arm. He took a moment to examine the terrified look in her eyes, and then he turned his eyes toward Nadja with a glare of anger. Several seconds later he turned his gaze back to Cassidy. The room was still for several seconds more behind this moment, and then the voice of Lucian broke the silence.
“Detective Tremaine, welcome to our inquisition.”