Only a little over a week later, and i have an update! That's pretty good, considering my track record...
Thank you to everyone who reviewed and was so enthusiastic for the last update! It must have been a surprise for those of you to get your Story Alerts on the last chapter, as you probably gave up on me long ago! Thanks again for keeping the faith people! Enjoy...(and reviews are always appreciated!)
Elaina sat dejectedly in her seat across from her silent, and furious, brother. After ordering her to return to her seat, Jordan had locked himself in the tiny conference room with Lawrence, and had proceeded to verbally assault him for losing his composure. Elaina hadn't been able to hear anything through the soundproof walls, but the pair of them were in there until well after the pilot announced their imminent landing, which occurred about ten minutes after Elaina had resumed her seat. When the door opened, Elaina forced herself not to stare back down the aisle, but she couldn't help looking up when Lawrence walked past. As he walked further forward to his seat, he turned slightly and gave Elaina a small smile, assuring her he was alright. Jordan dropped into the seat across from her, glared, and had been giving her the silent treatment since.
Doing her best to ignore her brother's cold demeanour, Elaina focused her attention to the window she was sitting beside. Cordalla was coming into view, its lights twinkling brightly through the rain. By studying the lights below them, she was able to determine that they were heading to a rather large airport. She was about to comment on the fact that it would be risky to land in such a heavily secured place, when she remembered two things. First was that her brother may not appreciate her attempt at breaking the ice he had so furiously created between the two of them. And second was a memory of her lessons at the Academy. Cordalla was entirely run by the League of Nichelle. It had been for almost two hundred years now. Nephrita and Haljir were nowhere near as secure as Cordalla. They'd only been free of the presence of the Organization for a few decades, at most.
There were few cities that actually were completely out of the control of the Organization, most having strong pockets of the Organization well entrenched into the fabric of the city, if they didn't control it entirely. In the cities under Organization control, there were secret compounds where vampire Leagues lived, plotting and scheming until the Agents infiltrated and eliminated them. Venisa was one of these sorts of cities. There was also a vicious turf war going on between the League of Nichelle and the League of Danall there. The city was essentially permanently divided into three factions, each sympathizing with one of the three regimes. Cordalla, however, had no such problem. It was the League of Nichelle that had ultimate control, and the Organization was trying, with highly limited success, to infiltrate and shake them loose.
It was for this reason that landing at the city's major airport was not as risky as it first seemed. No one would outright attack and search the Nichelle plane because everyone in the city worked for the League of Nichelle. That was how things appeared at least. It was quite likely that there was an underground ring of Organization supporters, maybe a freelance rebellion secretly being supported by the Organization, operating in Cordalla. Elaina would be surprised if there wasn't. Civilians were always restless, expecting and demanding things that were unreasonable or downright stupid. However, appeasing to the locals was how insurgent powers, such as the League of Nichelle, were able to take control.
The Organization had immense power. They were above local governments on issues concerning vampires. Basically, there were two forces that ruled a city not run by vampires. The first force was the governing body, which oversaw taxes, education, health care, and things such as that. The second force was the Organization. They demanded at least one child from every family enter the Academy. They enforced laws, most of them established by the Organization. Citizen rights were essentially void if there was any suspicion of a vampire sympathizer in the immediate family unit. If one member of the family was found guilty of being a Faithful, their spouse, parents, children, siblings and the children of their siblings, were all arrested and ruthlessly questioned.
Apparently, in vampire run cities, life was much better. Rumour was that, so long as there were no blatant moves to harm the ruling League, citizens were generally safe. There were however mandatory blood donations, and sometimes people would simply disappear. But in vampire controlled cities, if you worked for them, you were safer than if you worked against them. People scrambled to be given official Faithful positions, so that they could be protected by the Faithful Code. The Faithful Code prevented any vampire from feeding from a Faithful without the explicit and informed permission of said Faithful. Vampires who broke the Faithful Code were severely punished by both their peers and their superiors. Thus these positions were worth their weight in gold.
Their landing was rough. The plane bounced twice before settling and Elaina was jolted in her seat when they came to an abrupt stop. As soon as they were settled, Jordan rose to his feet and explained, "I've relieved Nikoli Marchette from your service. I feel he is better placed elsewhere. His brothers Colin and Kegan are welcome to remain with you, should you so choose. I am taking him on as my own bodyguard, as he had proved himself valiantly."
Elaina was only momentarily confused. She realized that he'd pitched his voice so that the other passengers could hear, and took this as a sign that he wasn't going to inform their father of her indiscretion with the bodyguard. Elaina smiled gratefully and replied, "Marchette will serve you well."
Jordan nodded stiffly. "Stay with Maggie until you are sent for, alright?" he ordered. "Let us hope that there are no mishaps between now and when I next see you." He quirked an eyebrow and gave her a loaded look.
Elaina nodded, knowing once again what he was implying. "See you later, Jordan," she said, more formally than felt natural when addressing one's brother. Jordan nodded stiffly again and swept off with his entourage, leaving Elaina on the plane with her posse.
Maggie reappeared a moment later, informing her aunt, "As you've been deprived of your sole bodyguard for the time being, Victor and Pete will be taking Marchette's place. Master Neskab already has his own personal bodyguards with him, so when you're with him, which will likely be often, you'll be under their protection as well."
Pete appeared at that moment with a rather large grin on his face. "I don't know about you, but I'm super excited that Nikoli got the boot," he said jovially.
Elaina laughed and asked, "And why would that be?"
Maggie rolled her eyes and stated, "This idiot's been trying to become a bodyguard for years. He seems to think it'd be really fun. He wants to guard the high profile figures, because the guards see a lot of action typically. But I doubt, even if he was given a bodyguard position, he wouldn't be charged with protecting someone of your rank. So this really is a dream come true for him." Pete shot his sister a dirty look.
"I dunno Pete," Victor said, joining them in the aisle, "I think you need to learn to be a little quieter if you want to be a bodyguard. They're generally seen and not heard. In fact, they are so silent, one is supposed to forget they're there." He dropped into the seat next to Elaina's before adding, "I don't think you could go for five minutes without cracking some sort of joke, or making an ass of yourself, which would definitely piss off a client."
Pete made a face and gave his cousin and sister the finger, before quickly dropping his hands behind his back with a sheepish look, muttering, "Sorry Miss Elaina." The other two howled with laugher, and Elaina couldn't help the chuckle that burst from her.
Still laughing, Maggie put her arm around her brother and assured Elaina, "Don't worry; you'll only be stuck with this idiot for a few days. I'm sure that your Father won't permit his only daughter to be guarded by this buffoon."
Pete looked annoyed and gestured at his cousin. "How come you're not making such a big deal out of Victor being bodyguard?" he asked peevishly.
Victor raised an eyebrow and smirked. "Perhaps it's because I am a bodyguard," he pointed out. "I did guard Aunt Kyra before her plane was shot down, and a bodyguard can really do jack all when his client's transport is blown out of the sky at twenty thousand feet." He turned and addressed his aunt, "Kyra Nichelle was your older sister. But she was assassinated about thirty years ago, and I've been out of a job since. Which is ridiculous because I wasn't even there when she died. If I had been, I would be dead too, and my son Michael wouldn't have been born. And if Michael wouldn't have been born, I wouldn't have become a grandpa again." He turned to Maggie, "By the way, Michael had a Contract with Jolene Hammond, and they just had a baby girl. Named her Kelly."
"Oh congratulations," Maggie cooed. "Michael must be ecstatic."
"Oh he is," Victor replied with a hint of amused exasperation, "He's been texting me all week about how she has such tiny toes and fingers." He snorted.
"You're a grandfather?" Elaina asked hesitantly. Her ego lowered a notch. She felt like such a little girl at that moment.
Victor sensed the sudden change in emotion and said, "Hey, don't you worry about that sort of thing, Elaina. I've only got three kids, and I only have four grandchildren from all of them. Maggie's the oldest of us, and because she's of higher rank she has more kids, but she's only got five." Elaina didn't feel very comforted, and Victor could see that, so he went on to explain, "It's just because you were Awoken so young that you're entering a Contract now. Usually, parents wait to Awaken their child because they don't want to have them deal with this first Time. It's frustrating to deal with, as a parent, and they'd prefer it if their offspring had a little more self control before being presented with an infant. Everyone's first Time would fall at around twenty, give or take a few years. It all depends on how old they were when they hit puberty."
"Aw hell Elaina," Pete said, "we're not that old either. I mean, Maggie's pushing 150, but other than that," he shrugged. "I'm the youngest of us, and I've only got two kids, and I'm only sixty."
Elaina made a face, "I'm nineteen," she pointed out. "I feel like I'm being babysat right now."
Pete snorted, "If that's how you want to see it, go ahead," he said with a shrug. "I'd personally feel pretty sweet having people so much older at my beck and call. I'd see it more as being executive, as opposed to babysitting. I assure you," he leaned down a bit, bracing his hand on the back of Victor's seat, "you're much more interesting to be around than babysitting entails. Hell, you're Lady Elaina Nichelle!" he exclaimed. "Do you realize how many people are going to be kissing ass to babysit you? I mean, you're Lady Nichelle! Babysitting you is the biggest honour any of us will probably ever get. I don't even know how I got so lucky," he added.
Maggie and Victor nodded emphatically. At that moment, Kegan Marchette approached, saying, "We should probably get going now ma'am. We've given Lord Jordan ample time to reach the compound safely. The cars are waiting just outside."
Elaina nodded and got to her feet, waving him past, saying, "lead on." She followed Kegan to the back of the plane, descending down the stairs to the tarmac. Before them were three nondescript black SUVs with tinted windows that were most likely made out of the best bulletproof glass available. Elaina climbed into the back seat of the one parked farthest to the left, with Victor sliding in next to her as Pete claimed the passenger seat. The rest of Elaina's posse distributed themselves among the remaining two cars, and with smooth efficiency, the convoy pulled away from the plane.
They'd been driving for a few moments in silence when Pete turned around in his seat and asked Elaina, "So what's Venisa like?"
Elaina had been about to answer when Victor interrupted in an irritated tone, "Pete, if you have any aspiration to become a bodyguard, the golden rule is that you do not make small talk with the client when your energy would be better spent watching rooftops for snipers. Although the client may be interesting to talk to, they become far less interesting when they have a bullet in their skull because you were too focused on lame questions like 'what's Venisa like?'" As he said all this, he had been doing the very thing he was berating his cousin for. He had his head tilted so he could watch the rooftops and windows of the buildings they were driving past.
Elaina smiled slightly at the apologetic look Pete shot her before he turned around. She agreed with Victor's lecture. Her years of training made her also look instinctively upwards and around the car, surveying for signs of trouble. She'd learned long ago that people overlooked and dismissed things that a different pair of eyes would catch. When it comes to safety, the best person to rely on, when possible, was oneself. It's all well and good to blame someone for not watching your back, but that was also your responsibility.
The rest of the drive was spent in silence; chosen by Victor, Elaina and the driver, and imposed upon Pete. The other cars of the convoy split off in different directions, creating confusion for a potential tail. Elaina's car parked in an underground garage and she waited for Victor to walk around the car to open her door. She was quickly getting used to the idea of bodyguards, and the looks and lectures given by Marchette were enough that she remembered she was not supposed to open her own door because snipers were given a clear target. Victor walked quickly around the car, his eyes roving around the empty garage, watching for signs of trouble. When he reached Elaina's door, he paused again, doing another sweep of the area with his eyes. Only then did he open the door, and it was only partially, standing in a manner that would almost entirely prevent an open shot. As soon as Elaina stepped out of the car, Victor took her by the elbow and led her at a brisk pace to an elevator. The driver had run ahead and queued the elevator for them, so the doors dinged open as they were reaching them. Victor pulled his aunt off to the side as the driver poked his head into the elevator, inspecting it for traps. Stepping in, he closed the doors, and then opened them again, walking out. As Elaina walked past him, guided by Victor, the driver smiled courteously and said, "Have a good day ma'am." He bowed slightly and returned to his car.
Pete followed Elaina into the elevator. Victor had pushed her off to the side so that she was not standing directly before the doors. As the doors dinged shut, Pete asked, "Why was he playing with the doors?"
Victor rolled his eyes, "Because he was seeing if there was a bomb in place that was triggered by the elevator doors closing. If there had been, we wouldn't have found out with the client in harm's way. What he also should have done was travel down a floor, then back up to ours; that way he would have been assured that there hadn't been any tampering with the brakes. Normally I would have insisted, however, I didn't want our client out in the open like she was, and the greatest we'd fall is four stories, which wouldn't harm us."
"Oh," Pete simply said as the concept dawned on him. He pressed the appropriate floor button for his cousin and leaned against the wall, facing the door.
Victor rolled his eyes in exasperation and snapped, "Get the hell out of the middle of the doorway. If someone is waiting for us, the first thing they'll do is shoot into the compartment as the doors are opening. And you're an even shittier bodyguard if you're dead."
Pete looked embarrassed and moved to stand next to Elaina. Elaina felt some sympathy for him, but not very much. She knew everything that Victor had just said, and would have felt just as frustrated if she were in his place. She'd hated working with unthinking Agents, because they caused a lot of accidents. She noticed with approval that Victor had yet to say her name, and was merely addressing her as `the client.` It was a prudent move, as Elaina Nichelle was supposed to be dead.
Elaina did notice that they were taking the elevator down as opposed to up. The garage they`d pulled into had been under a high-rise skyscraper, Elaina had assumed they`d be going to one of the upper floors. However, they were passing deeper and deeper underground. When they came to a halt and the doors slid open, Victor strode out first, looking from left to right several times before striding back into the elevator and taking Elaina`s arm. He half pulled her along, pausing when he reached the doors to look left and right again, before proceeding down the hallway to the left of the elevator.
The three of them walked in silence through a labyrinth of twists and turns and corners. Elaina was officially lost by the time they came to a halt before a door that appeared to be made of reinforced steel. The vents on either side of the door most likely held a nasty gaseous surprise for anyone who attempted to force the door. There was a fingerprint scanner next to the door, as well as a retina scanner, which Victor approached, breaking the silence for the first time to say, "I wish that we didn't have to go to such elaborate security lengths. However, if we do wish to remain undiscovered, certain sacrifices must be made." There must have also been a voice recognition requirement, because the door slid open only after he'd spoken, despite giving his fingerprints and retina scan.
Beyond the door was another elevator, one that required Victor to slice open his finger and press against a little sensor before it would open. He sucked on his finger as he checked the inside of the elevator. Victor selected the appropriate floor once they'd all entered the elevator, and the doors slid shut. Elaina felt the lift moving horizontally before it jerked upwards. It was very fast moving because she felt the pressure of its rapid acceleration and deceleration before they came to a stop. The doors dinged open to reveal an empty corridor with dark red carpet, and cream coloured walls with handsome wood panelling to about waist height. As soon as they exited the elevator, the doors slid noiselessly shut, leaving no indication of their presence. Victor led them to the right and they rounded a corner, coming face to face with a rather threatening looking man in a black suit.
"State your business," the man said brusquely. He was wearing sunglasses, so it was hard to tell where his eyes were focused, but Elaina was fairly certain that they were sweeping between her and her companions.
Pete grinned and asked, "Jack, when did you get all bad-ass? And when did we need to tell you what we're doing?"
"Standard security," the man replied shortly with a shrug. Elaina realized then that he wasn't being overtly suspicious, he was just bored. She instantly felt annoyed. This was most likely the entrance to someone's personal quarters, possibly even her father's. However infrequently the entrance was used, the security personnel had to be constantly vigilant. It was something she'd drilled into the students she'd had when she'd shortly taught for the Organization. Her classes weren't even finished when James, Tsar and Ashmore had kidnapped her.
Without another word, the Jack stepped over to the door and swiped his key-card through a slot next to it. There was an electronic beep and a quiet clunk, and the door swung inwards. He stepped aside and let the three pass through without any sort of explanation or hindrance. Great security here, Elaina thought peevishly, I feel incredibly safe now.
Victor led them through a maze of identical corridors before coming to stop before a pair of double doors that were painted white and had gold accenting on them, like every other door they passed. Beyond here was another elevator, which they climbed into and rose for only about ten seconds. When the doors slid noiselessly open, they were standing in a large, luxurious foyer.
Elaina could tell that she'd entered a "richer" part of the compound. The floor appeared to be marble, the three small tables, each bearing a vase of flowers, were made of a dark, polished wood, and the armchair and loveseat that sat off to one side were made of dark leather. The ceiling was a solid mirror, and there was a crystal chandelier hanging from it. A man in a suit better tailored and of a better material than the last man they'd seen, stood before the double doors at the opposite end of the foyer.
"The Lords Nichelle are indisposed at the moment and aren't accepting visitors," the man in the suit said. His tone implied that he was the person who would deal quite thoroughly with any unwanted visitors.
"We aren't visiting," Victor said. "We are expected by Lord Jordan as well."
The man cocked an eyebrow. "Please, have as seat as I verify that," he gestured to the chairs next to the elevator doors. As Elaina sat down with Pete, Victor remaining on his feet, the man lifted the receiver on the telephone on the table next to the door. He spoke quietly enough that Elaina couldn't catch what he was saying, but he seemed satisfied when he hung up. Stepping away from the phone, he said, "My apologies for the inconvenience ma'am. I wasn't informed of your arrival." With that he turned and opened the door for them, standing aside so they could pass through.
The doors had barely closed behind them when an unfamiliar voice greeted them. "Well if this isn't a magnificent day for the Nichelle dynasty, then I don't know what would qualify as one," the man said, striding towards them. He stopped before them, beaming. "Elaina, I never thought I'd see you again." He laughed, and threw his arms around her suddenly, "But then again, I guess I've never actually met you yet!" He stepped back from his embrace and extended his hand, "Henrik Nichelle," he introduced. "I am the youngest son of Zachariah Nichelle. It's good to be a big brother again." He grinned widely and shook Elaina's hand with zeal.