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  2. Chapter Twenty-two Rise “Well,” Cameron exhaled slowly, stretching his arms above his head, “That explains a lot.” Legs taking up the entire length of the gondola bench on his side, Cameron leaned back against the glass window. He’d listened to both Madeline and Levi explain what they learned from Alesdair and was now processing the information while enjoying the gentle swing of the cabin as it slowly rounded the apex of the Ferris wheel. On the bench across from him, Levi sat properly, arms crossed, studying the wolf’s reaction. Considering how deeply involved the Orimura clan now was in all this, and with Cameron being a formidable descendant, it made perfect sense to recruit him as an ally. Levi had even dressed up for the occasion in a collared, long-sleeved, dress shirt and dark trousers; his way of showing his respect for the seriousness of the alliance he was proposing. Cameron, however, was in his usual jeans and t-shirt despite the chill in the February evening air. And then there was Madeline, bundled up nervously in her winter coat on the floor of the gondola, half-hidden in the shadows created by the colored lightbulbs dotting the Ferris wheel’s frame. The three had met up in a park Southeast of Tokyo, mainly because she felt guilty about the whole onsen fiasco. They visited the aquarium and walked the gardens for a bit before Levi and Cameron decided to take a ride on the monumental Ferris wheel. Madeline protested, but both her companions agreed it was the one place in the park they could talk freely. The ride wasn’t bad at first, but as the distance between the glass-walled cabin and the ground increased, so did her fear of heights. It didn’t take long before she moved to the floor to avoid the view, clean clothes be damned. “But why couldn’t she leave the Tetsugawa building?” Cameron asked. “She made a promise. Simple as that,” Levi replied. “Gideon tricked her into making one the moment he knew the necklace’s enchantment was failing. Fae can’t break their word.” “And he planned on having those flowers at the reception,” Madeline added, voice quieter than usual due to her current mental state. “He must have switched out my necklace before then.” “So he knew she’d be susceptible to being bound by promises because he more or less short-circuited the real opal. He just had to wait for the opportunity,” Cameron explained the situation to himself out loud. Levi nodded. Short-circuited. Madeline dwelled on the phrase for a few moments before coming to a realization. “Guys? I know when Gideon stole it,” she announced looking up at the both of them. “It must have been during the night before I was supposed to go to the onsen. Maybe that red shadowy stain I saw for a moment on the hotel chair was where he was sitting?” Analyzing the facts, Levi tapped his index finger against his lips before speaking once more. “He must have been able to translate the original Fae incantations to know what the necklace’s job was before he would have wasted his time adding his own magic to it in order to produce a copy. And considering how guarded their written languages are...” “Gideon sure does know a lot about the fae,” Cameron added, narrowing his eyes. “Suspicious, don’t you think?” Levi asked. “Definity,” the wolf agreed, “So what’s next?” “We’re going to head back to the states, meet up with Gwen so Madeline can get some guidance,” Levi replied. “I’d appreciate it if you and I could exchange contact information in case this gets bigger.” “Bigger how?” Cameron asked, arching a brow. “So far this involves the Fae, the Orimura clan, the Tetsugawa clan, and Gideon. Call me pessimistic, but I expect there to be more. And while I’m good at staying steps ahead of everyone, I’m not that good,” Levi smirked. “Sure, but I’m not doing it to help you. I’m doing it to protect Madeline,” Cameron stated. “Fair enough.” “I’ll let the pack know what’s going on,” Cameron added. “And I’m sure the Elder will want to be briefed.” As the gondola reached the loading dock with a gentle bump, Madeline rose to her feet immediately ready to leave. It was a relief to be back on the ground, even if the smell of asphalt was awful compared to her non-issue with it days before. “How do you both deal with scents?” she asked, wrinkling her nose. “The pavement is just… nauseating.” “Being born with a strong scent of smell is much different than having it suddenly sprung on you,” Cameron replied, “Although I’m betting certain things bother you more than it does us.” “True,” Levi added, “Man-made things at odds with nature probably smell worse.” As they walked toward Cameron’s motorcycle, Levi pulled out his cellphone to summon a cab back to the hotel. “Promise me you’ll call me when you’re back home safe?” Cameron asked Madeline, worry briefly clouding his eyes. “And if you promise, I know you will for sure, unlike when you forgot after leaving with your friend Gwen.” “I promise,” she responded confidently. “You don’t have to worry.” Glancing from Madeline to Levi, his expression darkened. “I still don’t trust him. So be extra careful, got it?” It saddened her that she couldn’t explain to Cameron why he was so wrong about Levi. History had painted a devious picture of him, and he kept up the charade for good reason. All she could offer Cameron now was a tight-lipped smile and a nod of her head hoping that would lead him to worry less. Seeing her nod in agreement, Cameron flashed a quick, toothy smile before mounting up and roaring off into the night. ------------------------------------------------------------- “How are you doing?” “I’m not sure,” Madeline responded as her blue eyes traced the pattern on the hotel bedspread before meeting Levi’s. “Is that a weird thing to say?” “Considering that up until yesterday you thought you were just human, no. That’s not a strange answer at all.” Sighing deeply, Madeline rose from the bed. It had been a very long day and tomorrow evening they’d board a plane back to Washington. She was feeling more exhausted just thinking about the long flight. “I’m going to take a shower,” she informed, making her way to the bathroom. With so much on her mind, she was oblivious to the clear glass walls, stripping down to nothing before stepping under the showerhead. Twisting the faucet, the warm water cascaded down over her body cleansing away the tension and anxiety of the day. Alesdair told her his line, their line, was water attuned, causing her to briefly wonder if that’s why the water always felt so unusually therapeutic. The more time she passed under the deluge of hot water, the more she felt renewed. Washing her long auburn curls felt like she was cleansing her spirit, ridding herself of negative energies. Lathering some soap in her hands, Madeline closed her eyes and began to gently wash her face, savoring the slow and methodical process. There was a sudden drop in the surrounding air temperature and humidity as the glass door quietly opened and closed. Holding perfectly still, she concentrated on the space behind her. She could sense the heat of a body, a chest rising and falling with relaxed breaths, and the placement of bare feet forcing the stream of water to redirect its path. Only one person could be standing at her back right now, and the single thought of his toned, nude body ignited her desire. “I’ll leave if you want me to,” Levi’s silken voice whispered in Japanese from over her right shoulder. Eyes still closed, she let the soothing sound of his voice resonate, picturing the intimate details of his lean frame only inches behind her. Pulse-pounding in her ears, it would be a lie to say she hadn’t been wanting him. From the first moment she laid eyes on him from her cage in that warehouse, even as he fought, he intrigued her. Bewitched her. She put up with years of his cruel teasing. Almost giving in to the way he toyed with her emotions only to retreat and finish out her fantasies of him all alone. Lips parting to speak, her voice cracked as she uttered only one word. “Stay.” [-NSFW-] ------------------------------------------------------------- Levi strode elegantly through the lobby of Taro’s building. His movements were undetectable even to the experienced security “wolves” who could not even pick up his scent. After making love to Madeline, he had slipped back into his white, collared shirt and black trousers but remained barefoot. Thinly pointed, velvety-black ears tipped in a silvery-teal majestically crowned his tousled black hair, and his slitted emerald eyes momentarily glowed turquoise, a consequence of the power he seethed. He could feel life in the building, from the bodies on each floor to the smallest desk plant. He could also feel the presence of death. It was far above him, which was likely Taro’s personal quarters, and far below, paired with magic. It was the draw of it below him that guided his path. He was looking specifically for where Gideon studied while under Taro’s roof and surmised it would be below-ground since the depths of the earth provided natural protections, especially for those who dealt in magic. It was a hunch, but knowing how Gideon’s copy worked, Levi guessed the original black opal would not have been kept too far from the copy, lest the spell connecting it to the fake be weakened. Heading purposely for the staircases and avoiding the elevators, Levi descended into the bowels of the building at remarkable speed. When he reached the targeted floor, he was met with an electronic lock, interfaced through a numerical keypad and a biometric scanner. Normally amused by such security precautions enough to manually deactivate them, tonight Levi simply placed his hand over the device and tripped the tumblers. He smirked. The door led to a darkened hallway which opened to a single room, void of cameras, which wasn’t surprising. One such as Gideon would not dare allow himself, or his experiments, to be recorded. There were, however, papers and instruments galore. Raking his long, sharp nails slowly along the meticulously scribed notes on Gideon’s writing desk, Levi left a fuse-like trail of thin blue flame which illuminated the dark room and quickly licked the papers to ash. He gave a husky chuckle imagining the look on the master vampire’s face after seeing what had become of his research. And just knowing the mischief he was causing was enough to make the tips of his ebony hair turn a fiery aqua, pricking with delight. Before he gave into the temptation of vaporizing all the books on the shelf as well, a familiar sight caught his attention reminding him of the reason he came. Hanging from a simple wooden stand under a glass dome rested Madeline’s original pendant and chain. The tips of his claws heated to a blueish-white. He circled them around the top of the dome producing an eerie whine akin to rubbing the edge of a glass. In moments, the glass melted, leaving a hole in the dome large enough to reach his hand into. Cautiously, he removed what belonged to Madeline and confidently sauntered out. ------------------------------------------------------------- After what felt like many hours later, Madeline stirred. Eyes still closed, she extended her arm to wrap around Levi’s body, only he wasn’t within reach. She had remembered falling asleep in his embrace, completely spent, but as she opened her heavy eyelids she discovered that not only was he not within reach, he was no longer in bed. And there was a strange light coming from the open-air bath. Sitting up, she grabbed the bathsheet that had been haphazardly strewn on the duvet hours ago and wrapped it around her body. As she approached, Madeline became aware that the light wasn’t coming from any fixture, and it was bobbing oddly in the air. Soaking in the bath was Levi, rolling a golfball-sized flame of blue light back and forth over his knuckles. As Madeline opened the glass door to join him, she noticed he was completely nude. A blush spread over her cheeks. “Still shy after all that?” He whispered teasingly, extinguishing the flame and cloaking himself in shadow. “How did you sleep?” “Great,” Madeline smiled back sheepishly as she sat on the edge of the bath, eagerly dipping her feet into the warm water. “You?” “I didn’t, actually,” he replied, reaching for something in the artificial grass that carpeted the ground around the tub. “But I did put all that energy you gave me to good use…” Extending his hand out to her, Madeline couldn’t believe what rested in his palm. It appeared to be her necklace. The real one. Splashing down into the water next to him, towel and all, Madeline clasped both hands around his. “How did you get this back?!” she asked excitedly. “Gideon had it, didn’t he? How did you know where he was?” “I went back to the Tetsugawa building and tracked it from there, betting that was the only place in Japan Gideon would have kept something that important.” Madeline had so many questions. How did he get past security to wherever Gideon was keeping the necklace? Did he have to suppress his scent again? Did he have to fight anyone? And why was he so eerily calm about it? A throaty chuckle interrupted her thoughts, followed by a sigh as Levi tossed his head back and looked up at the pre-dawn sky. “They’ll notice it’s missing, but they won’t suspect it was I who took it,” he revealed. “I didn’t go as Levi the Thief.” Eyes widening, Madeline was surprised by his abandonment of common sense. “I thought you told me it was imperative we kept you a secret,” she stated, voice dropping to a whisper as she removed the necklace from Levi’s hand and brought it to her chest, fastening it around her neck. “Why did you do that?” Looking at his now empty palm, Levi called forth another ball of flame, this one a bit larger than the previous one. It spun slowly, floating above his hand in a fully controlled rotation. “To be honest, I’m not really sure,” he confessed. “I wanted to? It belonged to you? It sounded like fun? A combination of the three I suppose.” Biting her lower lip, Madeline stared at the sphere as it rolled, flames licking the air. After all the talk about why he was masquerading as a felinae, he just decided to roll out on the town, in Japan no less, as his true self. It was no revelation that her desire was energy to him, but tonight he responded to it differently. It was almost as if he got high. “Are you sure you did the right thing?” She asked nervously. “Is this a momentary lapse of reason?” The cerulean ball of flame vanished into thin air, and shadows once again engulfed them. “I don’t think so. It was more along the lines that I’m out of practice being me,” Levi tried to explain. “Last night sort of... supercharged me. It grabbed Leviticus by the scruff and tossed him aside because he was not allowed there.” Madeline let out a laugh. “What?” Levi asked, arching a brow. “When you think about it, it makes sense, right?” she said as she scooted next to him in the bath, wet towel clinging to her upper body while the lower half floated on the surface. “You impersonated Leviticus. You became this persona that didn’t allow the real you to exist. And since you told me it was you that became attracted to me, not the impersonation, that part of you was being selfish last night.” “Ooo, aren’t we being haughty?” Levi smiled before leaning over and kissing Madeline on the cheek. “I’m being serious,” she pouted. “Your ears last night were not the same ears you showed me at the Halloween party. And I’ve never seen your eyes like that either.” Levi paused. “My eyes? What did they look like?” “Well, they glowed an electric blueish-green and the pupils were slits. Now before you say anything, I know cats pupils take that shape in bright light, but it was dark last night. In all these years, I’ve never seen your eyes do that.” “Those are my real eyes,” Levi whispered, sporting a weak smile, “So I guess you’re right. It seems when I’m under your enchantment there are things I lose control of.” “Well, they are beautiful,” Madeline replied blushing. “Thank you, but don’t expect to see them very often,” Levi warned. Madeline pouted once more. “News of your inheritance has no doubt circulated by now,” Levi began. “Which gives you protection from most of Leviticus’ enemies. However, I still have to keep up the charade of being Levi. And while what I did tonight was a bit impulsive…” The heartbroken expression on Madeline’s face at his words caused him to backpedal immediately. “I’m not referring to that. I’m talking about getting your necklace back,” he said as he flicked her forehead with his finger. “Baka. At the very worst, it made me a brief blip on my family’s radar. Which doesn’t really matter since I’ve planned to go see them soon anyway.” Madeline couldn’t speak. She was only able to stare dumbfounded into Levi’s emerald eyes. They sent someone to kill him and technically succeeded. There was no doubt he was going to be in danger all over again. And though she thought him to be invincible since the moment she first laid eyes on him, this was something that could truly get him killed. Seeing her rising panic, Levi drew Madeline into his arms. “You can’t,” she protested, eyes growing hot with tears as the world around her blurred. “You’ve been gone for so long and I finally get to see you, finally get to love you, and you’re going to leave, and….” “Shhhh,” Levi soothed, stroking her hair. The pain of her sadness wasn’t as bad this time. Perhaps it was the residual strength she’d given him earlier. “I will be fine, really I will. It’s a bit of a different situation now.” “How so?” Madeline sniffled. Levi took a moment to choose his words carefully. If he told her most of his brothers were mysteriously killed off and he was going to investigate, that wouldn’t help matters much. “I’m going to prove I didn’t kill my brother.”
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