"So how'd you hear of Vicki Nelson Investigations?" Vicki asked nonchalantly. Amelie gave her a quizzical tilt of the head as they stepped into a sleek black car with dark, tinted windows, her heavy sunglasses hiding the depths of her true expression. "I'm kidding."
"Go figure," she replied, taking a moment to enjoy the slightly safer interior of the car before she clipped her seatbelt into position. "If you want to know how I found you, all you need to do is ask."
"Consider this me asking," the PI retorted, raising a hand to her forehead as the sun glared through a patch of growing cloud, momentarily shocking the nerves at the back of her eyes. "What do you know about me, exactly?"
"I know you've grown close to Henry," she said quietly, driving smoothly through the city traffic. "I know Christina is pretty much hell-bent on killing you, if only for revenge. She wants rid of him, of everything that causes her to feel something – I know it'll be my time at some point, she'll kill me so she can go feral again."
"Like the old days," Amelie explained, squinting into the street ahead. "Before she became civilised. She told me all sorts of things she used to do, just after she was turned. I told her it wasn't her fault, I said she didn't know any better, but I think she wants to go back to that. She's ready to give up."
"And she wants to kill me why, exactly? Though, having said that, I am getting used to being on everybody's hit list these days…"
"You got the upper hand over her," she said, smiling a little as she remembered learning of the source of her mistress' fury at the time. "You figured her out, you pulled her plan to pieces – not just last night, but the last time as well. She didn't like you poking about in her business, and her childe; she's a little territorial, to be honest. And yes – " she started, noticing that Vicki was about to question her knowledge, "I do know about last night. I was halfway to Toronto when I felt her in danger, and whenever she thinks about Henry – too often, in my opinion – your name always comes up. It's not hard to add two and two together."
"Where are we going?"
"We're going to see a friend of mine, an old friend. We go way back," she smiled. "But don't be surprised if he's a little…reluctant at first. He's just a puppy, really."
"Right," Vicki replied, unconvinced. "Y'know, I kind of had a similar experience you had with her, except with Henry. Last night, I mean."
The girl raised her eyebrows in surprise, creasing the pale, young skin of her forehead with amused incredulity. "You asked him to turn you?"
"No! God, no, not that. I was…I was dying, Christina fed on me, and I was still badly hurt from a bunch of other stuff that'd happened before then – Henry gave me his blood."
"Uh-huh. You seem fine, though. No change for you, oddly enough. Aren't you the lucky one?"
"Yeah, I know. Except the sun does kinda hurt my eyes. There's this weird tiredness too, like something pressing on me, telling me to go to sleep. Do you get that?"
She nodded. "Sometimes. Not always, depends on the state of the vampire you're attached to."
"What does it feel like? After nightfall, I mean. When they wake up..."
Amelie paused for a moment, struggling to find the words to describe something so vague and intangible that it might well never have existed to her during the day, despite the fact that it was the only thing she could feel, keen as the cold wind on her cheeks, during the long, winter nights. "You see things differently," she said finally. "Your human life becomes sort of inconsequential, or quaint – something strange and alien to you for the first few times. It fades away a little after time, but only because you change, you're something different to what you used to be. I'm not a vampire, but I'm not human either, not totally. I'm not the same person I was before I met her, and I haven't figured out if that's good or bad yet."
"It's like being protected," she continued, the words flowing with more freedom now than they had before. "Protected against anything, and anyone, which essentially makes you invincible. But at the same time, there's this pull towards her – or them, rather – that you can't ignore, and a desire that burns deep into your throat when you speak and squeezes your heart with the tightest grip you can imagine whenever they're around. You're everything, and nothing, all at once; dominance and subservience in the same breath, all of it intoxicating and deadly."
"And you're like that forever? From one extreme to the next, as long as Christina's alive?"
She shrugged. "I guess so. I don't know; but you're right, it is like living in two different worlds – every night is for her, and each day I wake up with the memories of what I've done for a woman I can't stand anymore. She's not even a woman, or a vampire; she's a monster, plain and simple."
"Good to know we're on the same page," Vicki sighed, feeling both out of her depth with the number of questions she was having to ask as well as fearful of who, or what, she would become when the finally sun dipped below the horizon. There were many things that were uncertain in her life at the moment, but the one certainty she had was that night would fall, and something would happen. She felt his death in her, a coldness crawling underneath her skin that baulked at light and existed only for the dark, Henry's nocturnal blood growing in strength and influence as the seconds ticked away, with every tired, slow breath she took in the discomfort of daylight.
"It took me long enough to figure out what she was doing to me, just using me for her own ends. Typical control-freak, I suppose. At least I know what to look out for next time."
"Coreen had a weird sort of epiphany, in the first night," Vicki recalled, the events becoming clearer as she reminded herself of the vulnerability her young friend had shown, even after assisting in her capture. "She tried to save me. She went and found Mike, and brought him to me…and then she helped all of us escape without her knowing. How can she have done that if she was under Christina's control?"
"I presume she wasn't Christina's biggest fan?" Amelie asked pointedly. Vicki shook her head in response. "Then I suppose you have your answer."
"That means there's a chance she'll be back to her normal self today – "
"I wouldn't bet on it," she replied. "If Christina tries hard enough, she can force Coreen to do whatever she wants. I don't know how that works when she's sleeping, but I think it's safer not to assume anything at the moment. I don't know all the rules, you know."
The car pulled gently to a halt outside a quieter street, home to a few grey-bricked apartment blocks and plenty of takeaways with gaudy, unlit signs, windows covered with grey shutters that seemed to reflect the now overcast sky above them. There was nothing particularly remarkable about it, though a strange uncertainty rippled vaguely through the PI's mind as she shut the car door quietly, as if something in the air that had existed so happily around her for so long wasn't right. She inhaled deeply through her nose, an instinct that she hadn't really though about before doing it, and caught the scent of the unknown – a scent she couldn't forget, but was like nothing she had ever experienced before. It was as if she was inhaling the colour of life as it moved through the world, and this was a black streak in the usual rainbow of creatures; there was something of the earth about it, of nature compounded into one individual, a wildness that reminded her of the beasts that prowled the forests of tales she had read in her youth. Whilst this had deeply unsettled Vicki, Amelie had taken a very different approach – again, instinctively, she too had sniffed the air around them, though in a more deliberate manner than her companion. She smiled as her eyes fixed upon a crooked alleyway running between two worn looking restaurants, walking with confidence towards the source of the anomaly as Vicki duly followed.
A heavily built man stood firmly at the end of the alley, his wide, muscled body blocking a black wooden door that would otherwise have remained relatively inconspicuous. He gave the women a tired, disparaging look, similar to how a waking bear might look at some inconvenient but tempting prey, and crossed his thick arms across an unusually broad chest. Vicki had taken down some pretty big guys in her time, much to her amusement after the fray, but she was not hopeful as far as this fight was concerned – Amelie, on the other hand, was practically beaming with anticipation, a wry smile masking the coiled spring in her mind, ready to pounce; it was clear to the PI that not much fazed her curious companion, leaving her wondering what exactly she had done in the past to make her so damn sure of herself.
"Bonjour, monsieur," Amelie said in sweet, girlish tones, her French leaving trails of simple elegance in the air surrounding them. She laid on her most innocent, appealing pronunciation of the English she spoke, enhancing her French lilt in an attempt to sway the doorman to her command. "We are here for Monsieur Kane, sent by a friend of his."
"Both of you?" he asked gruffly, looking at Vicki's frankly ordinary outfit with puzzlement.
"Ah, well, I think you'll find our client has – how shall I say? Eclectic tastes," she replied, Vicki nodding mutely in agreement as her hand clasped tightly around the baton lying in wait inside her pocket. "If you could tell him we have arrived I would be very grateful."
The guard sighed, ignoring her ridiculous flirtations as he turned and opened the door. "I'll get him," came their simple reply as he began to descend into the darkness of the stairwell beyond.
Without hesitation, Amelie rushed behind him and pushed with all the strength she had left, leaving the huge bulk of his body to crash noisily down the stairs. "Quick, come on," she muttered urgently to Vicki, who in turn extended her baton, gleaming silver in the grey light of day, and followed her into the darkness.
There wasn't much to be seen, at first glance, in the faded light of a beautifully decorated, if slightly old fashioned hotel room in downtown Toronto where Coreen now found herself. She lifted her head from soft, downy and unfamiliar pillows, her mind temporarily fixed in bewilderment wrought with an overzealous and pressing tiredness; a waking confusion gripped her, giving the relief of momentary ignorance of the world and all its horrors while her mind fought to catch up with the rest of her senses. It was comfortably dark, and she had no real inclination to open the curtains to let the evils of daylight in. No – she would rest here awhile, and wait for the safety of evening to descend.
Her arms ached terribly, like they did when she forced herself to use her often neglected gym membership once in a while, though she felt some change in her body that gave her strength despite this. She was growing, changing, becoming something altogether different in the space of only a day or two, a thought that terrified and excited her in equal measure. The muscles in her limbs practically pulsed with a stretching pain, a sensation of growth and expansion tingling under cold skin; she flexed her arm, watching it move fluidly through the dim light with curiosity, before deciding to eventually get out of bed and limber up a little. It would do her no good, with her being trapped inside and away from the daylight, if she had no idea where she was.
It was when she stood, easing herself out of the bed with unusual precision, that her mind finally caught up with her remaining senses, and the speed at which memories folded over one another in her head drove her to dizzying levels of realisation; each image, scent, sound and feeling hit her acutely almost at once, a whirlwind of imagery shooting its way painfully to her emotional core. She raised a cool hand to her head and stumbled a little, careful not to close her eyes lest the memories take on even greater clarity. She remembered, now, where she was, and what had happened when they had arrived, though she desperately hoped it was some sort of horrible nightmare she would find to be completely untrue. It was doubt that encouraged her to open the connecting door in the hotel suite, allowing it to creak open ominously as she stood still in the doorway, and sheer bravery that forced her to venture slowly inside.
A detailed look inside the room confirmed the horrible truth; two bodies lay motionless on the floor, throats torn out with savage violence and dried, dark bloodstains, inking the proof of their eventual death on their own bodies, glowing black, gaudy and indignant. The woman, who Coreen guessed was not too much older than she was, lay in a twisted heap, her glassy, vacant eyes staring directly into Coreen's conscience – pale, blue eyes that shone with dead, accusatory fluorescence in the void of the dark. The woman's companion, a man, was distinguishable only by the back of his head, his cropped hair matted with his own blood; she had been glad to not be forced to look into his eyes as well, as one dead human stare was enough to cope with. A shudder ran quickly over her skin as the reality of what she had hoped was just a nightmare truly dawned upon her; she had not expected to see the aftermath, the undignified and violent end Christina brought freely to her victims, and was now forced to accept this consequence as a way of life.
Christina, meanwhile, was the very picture of serenity. Her glossy, dark curls spiralled with feminine grace along her straight neck and pale collarbone, her face resembling the smooth, hard features of a porcelain doll – unreal, manufactured and completely flawless. There was definitely something of the dead about her, a perfection too difficult to orchestrate for the living, the muscles in her face so relaxed and inanimate that she could never have dealt with a single worry in her entire life. It was unsettling, seeing her so still and serene on the bed with closed curtains, as if she were bluffing and would wake up only to kill her, too. If there was one thing Coreen had learned about her mistress, it was that the hunger never ceased. There was a chance she would not make it through to the end of the night, and she knew it.
Soft, red rose petals adorned the bed in which she so casually, innocently slept, a few smears of blood remaining on her hands as only tiny clues to the truth behind her angelic appearance. It was so macabre, and so beautiful, that Coreen felt lost and confused within the few moments it had taken her to absorb the scene before her. She knelt quietly by Christina's sleeping side and, very gently, pulled a dark red petal from the bed beside her, rubbing it between her fingers as she thought things through. She was fascinated by Christina's rest, noticing her chest and stomach remaining completely still, with no breathing movements detected whatsoever and, feeling slightly braver, she hovered her steadier hand just centimetres above the vampire's partly opened lips, pale and colourless as the dead.
She felt nothing, of course – no warmth, no breath, no signs of life, nothing to make her seem anything but still and innocent as she lay, asleep and away from the world she tried so hard to live through. A stab of pity struck her as the loneliness of centuries played upon her mind; no wonder, then, that the vampire herself had fought so hard to ignore it. It was hard to believe that such a beautiful creature could be responsible for centuries of death, that she was more powerful than any entity she had yet come across, with the exception of the demon lord Astaroth. A force of nature sleeping soundly, waiting for the moment she could return to the waking world to wreak hedonistic havoc once again.
A yellowish glint caught her eye through the muted light; a fine, golden chain protruded slightly from a pocket in Christina's finely tailored jacket, folding neatly onto her sleeved arm resting on her side. She reached forward, pulling with only the slightest force lest she provoke some sort of response, until a gold medallion, shaped like the ancient Chinese sun, fell easily from the pocket and onto the bed. A strange, slight warmth spread through the palm of her hand as she looked at it more closely, the intricately carved eyes staring at her with old authority, transfixed in their haughty gaze as eight sharp rays along the edges dug into her hand. A chord of recognition sounded suddenly in her tired mind, and she knew then that this was something she must keep for herself. She raised her hand, letting the heavy amulet dangle over the still heart of the vampire, willing herself to plunge it into her chest and secure her freedom, but something stopped her from doing it; instead, it dangled, like her own mortality, between daylight and darkness, a threat rather than a promise, until she rolled the chain around her wrist and clasped her hand around the face once again. Maybe another time she would pluck up the courage to use it but now, as she pocketed the artifact and walked sleepily back into her adjoining room where no death threatened to disturb her peace, was not the time; if it came to life or death, however, she had a feeling she might need to summon the courage that had since abandoned her.