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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 original, 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.”
Long Gone Day - Part One “So much blood I’m starting to drown…” Decades ago... He sat on a wooden stool in an unfamiliar bar, spinning the thin red straw in his fourth, and likely last, Jack and Coke. Glancing across the square-shaped bar to his right, the grunge cover band had played through about a dozen songs and was likely near the end of their set. He had shown up early, not to see them but rather a lady he had met online. She was considerably late, but even if she stood him up, he didn’t regret paying the cover charge. The music was good. It seeped into his soul making him feel connected with everyone else in the room through the muddy beat of the bass and drums. The singer was a thin, unimposing Asian guy, with long, straight black hair that hung down to his waist. But his voice… damn. He belted out lyrics with such power that everyone in the place was enthralled. When they started their set, conversations stopped in mid-sentence. People set down their drinks. He was that good. Wearing faded blue-jeans and an unbuttoned red flannel, he firmly held the chords on his bass guitar, while his slender fingers stroked the thick strings with perfect rhythm. Beating the skins with a tribal approach that satisfied the most primal needs of the spirit, the drummer was quite the opposite of the vocalist. He was a tall man with chiseled arms and wide shoulders that whittled down to a toned waist. He wore black jeans and no shirt as he sat behind the drumset, his blood-red hair wet with sweat, sticking to the sides of his long face and as he tossed his head around. But it was the guitarist the intrigued Michael the most. She was a petite young woman, with beautiful golden-blond locks styled in perfect ringlets that bobbed and bounced against her thin shoulders as she played, never losing their curl. She wore a dress that was reminiscent of something a doll would wear, a knee-length red plaid dress with black lace trim and a black petticoat underneath. She played her guitar with effortless precision, and she had a dreamy look on her face as if she was in a trance. Despite her skills, she seemed to be a backdrop to the other members, coming to the forefront only when she needed to play a solo. And she kept that dazed look on her face for most of the performance, except the few times Michael thought she was staring at him. Which of course had to be his own wishful thinking. She was beautiful and talented, and there is no way she would be looking at a low-class joe like him, even in his brand new, buttoned-up black dress shirt and faded jeans. He’d spent his week’s paycheck on them for this date, but underneath, he was still his poor, futureless self. He had driven an hour in his beat-up truck just to get here from his side of town. He tried calling his date when he first took a seat at the bar, to let her know he’d arrived, and she responded she was almost there, but that was an hour ago, and other calls to her went unanswered. Did something happen? He’d only known her online for a month, so he couldn’t say he was really sure if this was even legit. He always told the truth about himself on the dating website, and sometimes that would lead to things like this. Perhaps a friend had talked her out of going after looking over his profile, but better for them to know he worked construction, never graduated, and doesn’t come from money, than to lie about it and have it come back to bite him later. He’d seen that happen with his friends, and it was always a mess. Baby blue eyes looking back down at his drink, he stirred the ice around a bit more. The band had finished up their set and were breaking down equipment as the sound system kicked in with a mix of similar music. Michael looked down at his phone again. Still nothing. When he looked up, he was suddenly staring into a pretty pair of green eyes. It startled him, how silently she appeared. “Who are you waiting for?” she asked curiously in a sing-song voice. “I was meeting someone for a first date,” Michael replied, running a hand nervously through his short, shaggy black hair. “But I think I’ve been stood up.” “Stood up?” she pondered, unfamiliar with the word. “It means she’s not going to show up,” Michael explained. He thought of himself as a pretty handsome guy, but women in this town wanted more than that. They wanted a way out of poverty. He felt embarrassed telling this amazing person about his failure. “Sounds like it’s her loss,” the guitarist replied. “You’re pretty, and you have an honest heart. What more could a girl want?” Michael was speechless. Did she just tell him he was pretty? And more importantly, did that mean he was someone that a person like her could want? A shy, warm smile spread across his lips. “And you have a joyous smile,” she added, exchanging his expression with a beautifully bright one of her own. “Thank you,” he said, accepting the compliment. “Hearing that from someone as lovely and talented as you really cheers me up, no matter how the rest of the night goes. I’m Michael by the way.” Just then, the red-headed drummer shouted what must have been her name from stage-side. “Gwen!” “Be right there,” she waved back with a little bounce in her step. Turning back to Michael, she took his hand and shook it. An odd gesture in a situation like this, but he shook it back. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Michael. Perhaps we’ll meet again if the fates allow.” And with that, she skipped away, leaving the warmth of her hand to fade against his skin. His bulky cell phone rang in his shirt pocket. It was his date. “Soooo sorry I’m late. I’m here now. Had to park in back because the place was packed.” “I’ll come out to meet you,” he replied. Sliding the bartender a tip across the counter, he hurried outside to meet up. He still planned on dinner, and there were a few late-night spots he researched just in case. Hands in his front jean pockets, Michael rounded the back of the bar into a group of men he hadn’t seen before. “And here he is!” one of the three said excitedly, draping his arm around Michael’s shoulder. Looking around, Michael didn’t see any sign of his date. “If you guys did anything to hurt her…” he threatened. He was good in a fight, had to be coming from his rough, poor neighborhood. There was a man on either side of him now, as well as one at his back, and they walked him across the back parking lot into the alleyway of a couple of businesses that were long closed. “How typical,” one of the men sneered, amused by the words. “Listen here,” the one behind him started, “There’s no girl. Never was. Just us.” “What do you mean?” Michael asked, not quite understanding what was happening. The man to his right grabbed Michael’s wallet from his pocket, taking his $200 in cash and dropping the rest to the damp, oily ground. Michael tried to grab his wrist to stop him, but the man was abnormally strong. “There is no girl,” he repeated, dragging out the words as if slowing. “But you’re too uneducated to pick up on that. What kind of girl would want to meet you anyway? You barely make enough money to take care of yourself, and you’re never going to be anything but a dirty human putting a strain on the planet.” Then in a split second, he cocked his arm back and punched Michael square in the jaw. Michael’s head snapped back, and the rest of his body followed suit, landing with a skid on the wet concrete. He’d never been punched so hard in his life and there was a weird vibration in his skull. Getting up slowly, he raised his fists. “Are you kidding me?” the man who had punched him laughed out loud, astonished at Michael’s lack of fear. “You really have no idea you’re going to die here, do you?” Michael didn’t flinch at the words, remaining at the ready with his fists up in a boxer’s stance. There were two seconds of pure stillness, and then the man who had punched him lunged forward with fangs exposed. Michael couldn’t react. He was knocked down instantly by the force of his attacker. Trying to scream, to give an outlet for the pain that ripped through him, he could only gasp with his open, dumbstruck mouth as the air was knocked out of his lungs. The weight of the man straddling him felt like solid stone, cold and immobile. No part of him felt of the warm, spongy sensation of flesh and bone. Fingers like steel gripped Michael’s arms, bruising both his skin and the muscle underneath. Another fist decimated his jaw, and the side of his face grew warm and sticky with blood. His kicking feet were quickly locked down by another set of iron-like hands. After a few shallow panicked gasps for air, he opened his mouth trying to scream, but it was forcefully engulfed by the depraved kiss of the monster that dominated him. He struggled with all his might, but could only feel the rupture of his muscles from his own frantic, mad convulsions as tears flooded his wide blue eyes. Then came the maddening agony. He felt sharp teeth sinking into his tongue, grinding the muscle apart little by little like a knife through a cheap piece of overcooked meat. He couldn’t call out, couldn’t trash in pain. He wanted to die, right this second, before having to feel any more of this. Hot blood started to fill his mouth, burning his throat as he tried to breathe. He was painfully drowning in his own blood. And in his mind, he pleaded for it to all end. Loading gear into their RV, Terrant froze. Maseo as well. “What is it?” Gwen asked, worried. The boys clearly sensed the physical attack. “Blood,” Maseo answered her, eyes narrowing. “I can hear the struggle,” she said after sharpening her attention in the direction they were both looking. Her eyes focused on something her companions couldn’t see, and then her expression turned to one of heartbreak. She bit her lower lip and took off running. “Gwen… wait!” Terrant shouted after her as he and Maseo left the gear and made chase. She moved faster than her bandmates, which was in itself no small feat, and found three vampires attacking the pretty man from the bar. He was in complete misery, moments from death, and there was blood everywhere. Without thinking twice, she dropped her hands to her sides and then opened her palms to the three vampires. Rays like bright, golden bullets streamed from fingertips, showering into their skin. It wasn’t real sunlight, but the sting was more than enough to get their undivided attention. In a panic, they sprung up from their prey and raced off down the alley. Gwen dropped down to her knees into the puddle of Michael’s blood, unphased as it splashed onto her dress and slicked her perfect skin. Cradling his head in her arms, her kind, green eyes fixated on his, trying to force a calming magic into him. He was so terrified and in shock. Tears streamed down his already wet face, mixing with the blood that was still pumping up from his mouth as he tried to breath through it. There was no way he was going to make it. “You have to save him,” Gwen spoke to Maseo who had just appeared behind her. When she turned her head and looked up at Terrant, her green eyes burned assertively. “Terrant. Get them.” Terrant glanced at Maseo, who nodded in approval and then charged off down the alley after the vampires. “Maseo, please,” Gwen’s eyes softened as she begged. “I will take care of him, I promise, just don’t let him die. He’s too pretty and rare.” Maseo knelt down and placed his hand on Michael’s chin, turning his head from the left to the right as he looked him over. The man was still sobbing uncontrollably, losing blood by the second. If Maseo hadn’t been a vampire of the old blood, he would have felt tempted to partake, but unlike most of his kind, he had control over his need. Opening Michael’s mouth, he quickly realized what they had done. They had bitten off most of his tongue. He would certainly bleed to death if nothing was done. Maseo hadn’t turned anyone before. He was against that sort of thing. His strong blood would allow this new vampire the perk of not needing to feed very often, and their lifestyle would definitely make the adjustment easy, increasing his chances of survival, but that would mean another companion, and they didn’t even know who this guy was. “I don’t think it’s a good idea, Gwen,” Maseo protested. “We know nothing about this guy. I refuse.” “Maseo,” Gwen narrowed her eyes commandingly, “I invoke my right of primogeniture. You will do it.” Maseo shuddered. She’d never invoked her birthright before. When he was entrusted to watch over the hypersensitive fae by her own people, he was specifically instructed to accommodate any requests long as they didn’t break any laws, human or otherwise. But this… this was unexpected and went against his principles. Although she was his friend, and he trusted her, she was still fae, which meant he needed to be careful with who would be responsible for this stray pup. “Give me your word that you will care for him throughout his days, Gwen,” Maseo demanded. “He will NOT be my burden. Ever.” “You have my word Maseo,” she responded. “I absolve you of all responsibility. Any judgment and all hardships of this decision will be mine alone to bear.” “Even when it comes to my clan?” Maseo narrowed his eyes, reminding her. “He will carry the blood of my clan and therefore will be of my clan, as well as your House.” Gwen nodded. “Fine then,” Maseo sighed, surrendering. “Let’s get this over with.” Maseo rolled up the sleeve on his red flannel shirt and used the thumbnail on his opposite hand to make a two-inch slice into his forearm. As the blood beaded upon his skin, he had Gwen turn Michael’s head to the side causing the blood Michael had collected in his mouth to spill out all over the fabric of Gwen’s skirt. Righting his head again, Maseo laid his forearm against Michael’s mouth and let his own blood drip in. Blood to blood was required for this to work. Normally it would be done via a transfusion and not in this crude, barbaric fashion, but Maseo was certain that the large wound on what remained of Michael’s tongue would suffice, and time was of the essence. Michael was still gasping for breath, swallowing the vampire’s blood without realizing it. The burning was stronger at first, and he thrashed his feet around from the fire in his throat, but then it started to sooth the torment. He felt his eyelids grow heavy from exhaustion as the pain faded slowly away from his entire body. He felt light. Was this death? He was sleepy. The last thing he remembered was seeing the face of an angel. “There,” Maseo said standing up. “He’ll be asleep for a while now while his body adapts.” “Thank you,” Gwen said looking up at him with tears in her eyes. “I will never forget this debt.” “You don’t even know this guy,” Maseo scolded, but his voice was softer than before. “I’m not sure why you even requested this. He’s a complete stranger.” “He’s rare, Maseo,” she said, trying to elaborate. “I am not sure how to explain it to someone like you, but I will try. His heart dances like a twinkling star. It pulses like the energy our music makes. He is like a sparkling gemstone that…” “Enough, I get it,” Maseo chuckled, raising his hand to make her stop. “You like him a lot. Although I don’t know how much he’s going to twinkle for you now that he’s died. “It doesn’t matter. He is mine. I made a promise.” Just then Terrant returned back to them. He stopped a few feet from where Gwen sat on the ground, Michael’s head still in her lap. Crossing his strong arms, he slowly approached. “Gwen, what did you do?” he asked as if catching a child who had just broken something expensive. “Me? Why do you assume it’s me?” “Because I’m sure Maseo didn’t suddenly want a new drinking buddy.” “What’s done is done,” Maseo interrupted. “Let’s take the koinu inside.” “Koinu?” Terrant asked. “It means puppy,” Maseo explained. Terrant lifted Michael easily, tossing him over his shoulder and they walked to the RV. “They were young ones,” Terrant revealed under his breath to Maseo and Gwen as they walked back to their transportation. “Confessed to doing this trick countless times to humans they considered trash that no one would miss. I got the names of their makers, then I killed them. Oh, and I also painted the Mark of Culling in their blood on the wall near their bodies. Let their sires clean up the mess. Assholes.” Maseo nodded approvingly as they unlocked the RV and stepped inside. Terrant carried Michael’s unconscious body to the very back and laid him down on the queen-size bed, while Maseo went to the fridge and removed a black beer bottle that disguised the blood inside. Twisting the cap off, he guzzled down the whole bottle within seconds as Gwen took the seat across from him. “Are you okay?” she asked sincerely, her voice merely a whisper while placing her small pale hand on the same arm where he’d cut himself. The wound was already mostly healed. Leaning his head back against the leather seat, he blindly set the bottle on the nearby table. “I’ll be fine,” he answered breathlessly. “It just took more out of me than I was expecting.” Walking past them, Terrant took his seat in front of the wheel and started the engine. After a few moments of letting the RV warm up a bit, it rolled out of the bar’s parking lot and headed for the highway. “You should get some sleep though,” Maseo recommended. “It’s a bit of a drive to the next gig and we’ve got about four hours until daylight.” “Okay,” Gwen replied, standing and making her way to the back where Michael slept. “Wake me when you need me to take over.” Saying nothing in response, Maseo just waved her off and closed his eyes. He was tired, and only had one question on his mind. What have I just done?
Chapter Twenty-one Neverland “I guess this is it?” Madeline deduced, looking up at the barely-there Neverland marquis. The vertical-hanging, garden-themed sign was faded by sunlight, the lettering precariously curling at the edges like dried flower petals. Unexpectedly more nervous than she imagined she’d be, Madeline gripped the address card in her trembling hand. Sensing her apprehension, Levi interlaced his fingers with hers, giving a reassuring squeeze. Taking a deep breath, Madeline crossed the inconspicuous threshold into the shadowy hallway. Its walls, black paint now peeling, still held the pasted remnants of discolored posters announcing age-old events. It had the atmosphere of a place that hadn’t seen activity for a very long time, its heyday long gone. Wearing the powder-blue sweater-dress Levi had purchased for her, Madeline was careful to keep her black lita boots out of the grime.
Chapter Twenty-one Neverland “I guess this is it?” Madeline deduced, looking up at the barely-there Neverland marquis. The vertical-hanging, garden-themed sign was faded by sunlight, the lettering precariously curling at the edges like dried flower petals. Unexpectedly more nervous than she imagined she’d be, Madeline gripped the address card in her trembling hand. Sensing her apprehension, Levi interlaced his fingers with hers, giving a reassuring squeeze. Taking a deep breath, Madeline crossed the inconspicuous threshold into the shadowy hallway. Its walls, black paint now peeling, still held the pasted remnants of discolored posters announcing age-old events. It had the atmosphere of a place that hadn’t seen activity for a very long time, its heyday long gone. Wearing the powder-blue sweater-dress Levi had purchased for her, Madeline was careful to keep her black lita boots out of the grime. “This is a clever facade,” Levi revealed in a hushed tone as his green eyes peered out from beneath his black hood. His gaze combed the walls, nose failing to pick up any offending scents. “A long, dark hallway, unbarred from the street... Even in Tokyo it would be marred by unpleasant odors. This smells clean.” Stormy-blue eyes drifted from her surroundings to examine Levi. Looking as pristine as always in casual black trousers, a black hooded jacket, and a forest-green henley, his face was fixed in a calculating expression. Absent was his flirtatious, and often snarky, attitude. He was wary, carefully processing everything and expecting a challenge. The previous day was strenuous for him, having had to suppress his scent, leaving Madeline to wonder how low his energy reserves were especially now knowing that he was continually maintaining the charade of being felinae. Disengaging her fingers from his, she knew what she had to do. Reaching out with both hands, she gripped the soft fabric collar of his henley. The height of the heel on her boots only required her to tilt her head up a little bit to match his, and slowly, closing her eyes, she pulled him close for a kiss. His warm lips pressed against hers softly, rhythmically, before giving way to the sweetness of his tongue. Madeline’s hands slipped beneath his hood, tangling in Levi’s soft, black hair as Levi forcefully pushed her back against the wall in the darkness, his kisses driving deeper and more fervent. Pinned intimately against Levi’s upper body, the worries of what the day would bring were trivialized. “We’ll get out of here okay,” Levi promised, breaking away from the mouthwatering kiss. “How can you be sure?” Madeline questioned breathlessly. “Because I am going to have so much more of this later,” Levi grinned devilishly, removing his hands from her body, but not before lifting her chin up to his face again and placing one sweet kiss on her flushed cheek. It took Madeline a few seconds to regain her composure. “Getting a little cocky, are we?” she quipped playfully. “There’s nothing little about it,” Levi responded smoothly. Interlacing their fingers together once again, the couple continued to make their way cautiously down the hall, losing more and more daylight the deeper they went. At the end of the narrow hallway was a burly, older, Japanese man who glared at them with an unfriendly eye. Madeline assumed this was the bouncer. To his left was a door which likely led to whatever Neverland was. Handing the man the card Gwen had given her, Madeline watched him apprehensively, unsure what was going to happen next. The bouncer felt the card more than looked at it, flipping it over a few times in his hands. Suddenly his eyes widened, and he looked back at Madeline in surprise. Clearly, she did not look to be the person he was expecting. “Welcome to Neverland, m’lady,” he greeted as politely as his rough English would allow before handing the card back to her and giving his best attempt at a bow. “Oh, and that, m’lady,” he added, pointing to Levi, “Is your responsibility.” Madeline was shocked by the bouncer’s words at first, but then managed a sly smile. “Did you hear that Levi? You’re my responsibility. So be good.” Normally, Levi would have had a playful response, but he presented a question to the bouncer instead. “Good sir,” he asked in a very uncharacteristic voice, “What is the time ratio today?” “It is one-to-one in honor of m’lady’s visit,” the bouncer replied, treating Levi as if he were Madeline’s servant, yet still maintaining politeness. Levi frowned. One-to-one was a highly unusual accommodation. Almost unheard of. “Then we’re expected?” Madeline inquired, glancing once at Levi, then back to the bouncer. “Yes, m’lady.” Not being able to decide whether that was a good or bad thing, Madeline took a step toward the door. The sudden weight of the bouncer’s hand on her shoulder guided her past the mundane looking door and towards the absolute darkness behind him, as he mumbled somewhat of an apology that she was going the wrong way. Reaching out to brush the bouncer’s hand aside, Levi’s entire arm unexpectedly began to twist into the pitch-black void before rotating into an explosive swirl of color as if being sucked down a prismatic-colored drain. The sensation of his eyeballs riding the spiraling waves while the rest of his body felt utterly absent was not a completely foreign feeling. Levi had experienced this exasperating sort of travel before. This was a portal. A fae portal. For a brief moment, all the colors faded back to black, leaving Levi temporarily feeling that he’d nodded off. Then, as dramatically as it had started, he was hit with a wall of sound and found himself standing in a foyer overlooking a nightclub. Next to him, Madeline was doubled-over shaking, her legs half a moment from giving out beneath her. Releasing her hand that he’d managed to hang onto during the entire experience, he slipped his arm around her waist to support her. “Oh. My. God,” she uttered, gasping for breath between every few words spoken. “Never did drugs before... but I imagine… that’s what a bad acid trip… would feel like.” “Are you going to be okay?” Levi asked as he held her up, concern in his brilliant green eyes. “Yeah, just give me a few moments.” As Madeline caught her breath, Levi took a more careful look around. The foyer was located at the pinnacle of a grand staircase of mirror-like black steps that cascaded downward toward the main floor in one seamless piece of dizzying obsidian, reflecting every ray of the expansive rafter lighting circling overhead. Crystal-clear, as if being pumped directly into his tympanic membrane, was a mesmerizing remix of White Rabbit. The place was packed with gorgeous people wearing immaculate, expensive clothing and sporting perfect coifs. Regaining her composure, Madeline felt immediately underdressed. “We’ve crossed into The Veil,” Levi spoke quietly as he released his hold on her. “Be very careful with what you say, and don’t make small talk with anyone. We need to mingle though. We can’t linger up here or we’ll attract attention.” “Never expected the fae to have a discotheque,” Madeline observed with amusement. “Who do you think kicked off that whole movement?” Levi asked. “All that wild abandonment, the mind-altering experiences, the music… it all had a pretty big fae push. Lots of humans went missing during that period only to come back very messed up - if they came back at all.” Nodding in understanding, Madeline followed Levi down the staircase to the dance floor, weaving about ten people deep into the dancing crowd before coming to a stop. His green eyes raking through the dancers confirming his suspicions. All were fae. He did pick up the scents of a handful of other shapechangers beyond the dance floor, but they were definitely in the Veil. This was bad. Levi stared deeply into Madeline’s stormy-blue eyes, the two exchanging glances which conveyed the unspoken importance of fitting in and staying cautious. Completely in sync, the pair began dancing to the upbeat rhythm. Since the affirmation of their relationship, both Madeline and Levi were more free with the movements and proximity of their bodies, rolling against each other and pressing closer than they’d ever dared before. For a moment Levi considered how enticing this would all have been had the sense of impending death not hung so heavily in the air. He could feel eyes on him from every direction. Fae kept shapeshifters more or less as pets and Levi guessed the crowd was probably trying to figure out how a stray got inside. They likely considered Madeline, being human, inconsequential. Nothing more than a plaything. He hoped this predicament wouldn’t back him into a position where he’d have to take action. That would cause a stir which would circle the globe in a matter of minutes. Knowing Gwen sent them here to meet someone, Levi scanned for anyone showing a capacity for authority. To the far end of the dance floor, opposite from where they’d come in, was a clearing for tables and couches, and beyond that, some private rooms encased in smokey, tinted glass. He only took his eyes off Madeline for that brief moment, and somehow she was gone. Giving an audible growl, he spotted her dancing away with an incredibly handsome, even for fae standards, blond gentleman who appeared slightly older than her. The graceful fae held her left hand up, his other around her waist, moving effortlessly, almost waltz-like, with her through the crowd. Pushing through the masses, Levi was almost upon them as they stepped through one of the doors leading into a private room. Warm light bathed the room as the man slid himself and Madeline into a rust-colored, leather, horseshoe-shaped booth right about the time Levi caught up to them. And as Levi lunged into the booth next to Madeline, flashing a set of very long, and very sharp, claws, the door to the private room closed. “An extremely poor choice,” the blond fae frowned in disappointment. “You’re fortunate I blacked out the glass, or someone else might have seen that.” “Who the fuck are you?” Levi spat, retracting his threat and pulling Madeline practically onto his lap, as much as the space between the table and booth would allow. “I’m no enemy, I assure you. In fact, I am possibly the best ally you have.” “How so?” Levi was deadly protective of Madeline and was poised to do anything to get them out of here if need be. The fae that sat across from him was stunning and unnervingly powerful, so much so that Madeline was fighting her training to remain on guard. It wouldn’t take much for this man to ask Madeline to stay with him, and for her to agree, and then there would be no way in hell Levi could get her out, not even if he reverted to his true nature. The blond fae completely ignored Levi’s question, focusing solely on Madeline. “You’re so beautiful!” he praised happily, giving her a sunshine-filled smile from ear to ear. “Then again, I knew you would be. And I see you’ve caught yourself a feisty one.” He giggled profusely and then sighed. Madeline was clearly enchanted by this stranger, but then her eyes narrowed. She remembered him from somewhere. Where would she have seen him? She paid little attention to the continual stream of customers from her day jobs years ago, purposely keeping the endless faces from clogging up her memory. She backtracked through a handful of nightclub visits with friends but couldn’t place his wavy blond hair or piercing blue eyes anywhere, and with his looks, she should have. Due to a strict budget, there wasn’t really anywhere else she would have gone back in the day where a mass of people would have been gathered. Except for grandma’s funeral. “I am getting beyond pissed off,” Levi continued, still being ignored. “Such beautiful auburn hair,” the fae said, reaching out to stroke his fingers through Madeline’s locks as she sat frozen by his advance. Levi reached out so fast that the movement of his arm couldn’t be seen, and he wrapped his fingers around the fae’s wrist like a vice. “When my eyes first settled on your mother it was the most brilliant sunny day. The heavenly light glinted off her long locks, rivaling that of my kind. She sat between rows of flora, wearing nothing but a paisley sundress and a floppy straw hat. Toes dug happily in the dirt, never minding the insects around her. Humming delightfully to herself while her slender fingers pulled tirelessly at obnoxious weeds...” Levi eased his grip. “Wha… what did you say?” Madeline asked in a whisper. “The barrier here is impenetrable, so there's no need to whisper. I had to erect it to help keep your boyfriend here from being an ass and endangering himself. Which I must say, is very out of character for you, Leviticus. I know your secret. I met Leviticus before you became him, trickster, so mind your manners. That being said, you must really love her to be acting so irrational right now, and I can’t say I blame you. Her mother had me in a bother much the same way. Drove me to do unthinkable things. There just must be something about McCaffrey women… even Jason was entranced...” At that point, Levi released his grip completely, let go of Madeline, and slumped back into the comfort of the booth, mentally exhausted. That great big dot he was trying to connect years ago finally appeared. “You knew my mother?” Madeline asked hopefully, leaning in anxiously. “Of course he does,” Levi interrupted, rubbing his temples. “He’s your father.” “He’s what?! But he looks so… young.” “Hahahahaha!” the fae laughed aloud. “And of course you have my eyes. Perhaps introductions are needed. I am Archfae Alesdair Floradorei, but you can call me Alex. Or dad. That necklace was indeed your mother’s, but it’s not an ordinary necklace. It masks who you are. Helps keep you safe. It served your mother much the same way.” There was an intense sadness in his eyes for a brief moment as he thought of the past. And then it was gone. “By the by, would you care for a stiff drink? I can’t imagine anyone would like to take in all this sober.” Speechless, Madeline nodded, and next to her Levi signaled by lifting a finger that he would like one too. “Marvelous!” Alex pressed a slender index finger against a three-inch diameter malachite button in the center of the table. Within moments, a woman with skin as white as porcelain, edges of her cheekbones sparkling with glitter, seemed to flutter into the private room wearing a lavender, thigh-length, chiffon sleeveless dress. Carrying a drink tray, she leaned forward towards Alex with a smile, letting him whisper his order into her ear rather than shouting over the oddly clubbed-up version of "Light My Fire" that was playing outside. With a playful wink, she hurried away, long blonde waves trailing off behind her. “I’m assuming you are who we’re supposed to meet,” Levi ascertained out loud, raising his voice above the music until the door closed. “Most definitely,” Alex replied. “As much as Gwen’s disability hampers her life, she is invaluable to me as a trusted source of worldly information. Three colorful drinks appeared on the table out of thin air. Levi’s was a mystic blue that seemed to swirl with a glow all its own, while Madeline’s and Alex’s sparkled like diamond water. “Don’t worry, they are all perfectly safe to drink,” Alex said, seeing the apprehension on both his guests’ faces. “So, back to the beginning…. I’m really not sure how I happened upon your mother as she tended her garden that day, but I simply could not take my eyes off of her. Never had I come across such an enchanting human with such a sparkle to her. And the pureness of her spirit! The way she embraced the Earth completely with such a small gesture had my loins swelling with…” “Stop,” Levi interrupted. “We don't need to hear that part.” “Surely you have a similar tale of when you first laid eyes on Maddy?” Alex pouted, brokenhearted that his magnificent story had been pruned. Long ago images of Madeline’s bare breasts bobbing as she strangled a fae from within the bars of a cage flashed before Levi’s eyes. “Um... no,” Levi replied with a sigh and a chuckle, running a hand through his black hair. Disappointed, Alex went back to telling his story, omitting the details of intimate encounters even though he felt they would add an important element. “I made that gem for your beloved mother to make it easy for her to visit me whenever she wanted to. Certain precautions had to be taken, you see, because although our side isn’t bothered by complicated love, the other side doesn’t share the same open-mindedness. If they would have found out she was my human lover, they would have hurt her. Endlessly. Just for fun and spite. And it would have been much worse had they discovered her connection to the Orimura clan.” Alex took a sip of his drink, and Levi picked up on the glitter of what looked to be a solitary diamond set in the center of a rose gold flower suspended in a silver band on Alex’s finger. “As things happen, she became pregnant with you,” Alex continued, “Which left us in a dilemma. She couldn’t live in the Veil. Spending too many years here would drive her mad, and she didn’t want to leave you here to be raised without her. I couldn’t abandon my rank either. Not because of selfish reasons, but because of the safety of those under my care. A grandson of Oberon just doesn’t up and leave the Veil for a human and her child…” Levi was shocked. A grandson of Oberon?! “So your mother and I sat down and had a long talk. We decided she would leave and never return to the Veil. For her safety and yours. She gave birth to you in the Veil, with me protecting her in the process, and then she left with you when she was able to do so. Being away from the Veil for too long caused the years to catch up with her, so I manufactured pieces of family history to fill in the time that couldn’t be accounted for, and she took care of you for as long as her life allowed.” Madeline’s vision began to blur as tears struggled to spill over her lower lashes. All that time, she hadn’t been with her grandmother at all. How did mom maintain the facade so perfectly? Through all Madeline’s mourning and childhood sadness, her mom's act of being grandma was airtight. She couldn’t imagine that type of sacrifice. Levi pulled her close, wrapping his arms gently around her. Once again, she found comfort in the warmth of his embrace. He placed his hand lightly on her head and cradled it as he held her to his chest, tilting his own head down so his lips were against her ear. “Shhhh,” he whispered lovingly, trying to calm her heart. Her sadness was physically hurting him, but he wasn't about to move away. “I am sorry, Maddy. Had there been any other way, we would have found it. Believe me when I tell you that your mother was the greatest love of my life, and not a day goes by that I don’t miss her tremendously.” Alex reached out and touched the pendant on the chain around Madeline’s neck, noticing immediately that this was not the original. “My dear, can you remove your necklace for me please?” he asked politely. Seeing the concerned look on his face, Madeline nodded, slipping her hands behind her neck and disconnecting the clasp. Gently, she placed the black opal in the palm of her father’s hand. With a flourish of fingertip motion, Alex was able to zoom in on a thread of minute, arcane symbols, making them much easier to examine. Even Levi leaned forward to get a closer look. The thread was composed of linked characters that maintained a constant rotation around the pendant, a mix of Old Norse, alchemic, and binary code. With an expert eye for magical scripts and incantations, Alex quickly realized that the axis of the spell on the outer layer was off balance. “While I don’t understand the digital language, this seems to be a recently made living copy of your mother’s necklace,” Alex revealed. “This is bad.” “How bad is bad?” Levi asked. “Well, the necklace was primarily created as a two-part, interwoven incantation. The first spell made your mother appear to be fae instead of human, and the second spell allowed your mother to enter the Veil independently.” “Wait… how is that possible?” Levi asked suspiciously. The Veil only allowed fae to enter, and even then, only through specific reinforced checkpoints. If magic existed that would allow anyone to enter anywhere, it would be disastrous. It opened the Veil up to an invasion. “The less you know, the better,” Alex replied. “And I permanently destroyed all notes on the procedure afterward to prevent duplication. As I was saying, your mother and I decided it would be better to cast a reversal spell on the necklace, since any attempt to remove either spell already existing on it would result in its destruction. Because the necklace only reacts to the blood of the person it was designed for, we knew it would react for you.” “So when she wears it,” Levi added. “It masks her fae side and prevents her from entering the Veil on her own.” “Down to a molecular level,” Madeline added, words focused towards Levi. “That’s why Maseo said those things about my blood.” “Indeed, and I added the anti-theft spell on it afterward as a precautionary measure. But now, there really is no need for her to hide her identity. With Elizabeth passed, there is no danger to Madeline as she is recognized as a full member of fae court.” “She’s only half though,” Levi interjected. “She wouldn’t be recognized as fae unless she is more than half.” “An interesting fact that is overlooked by most,” Alex continued. “Is that the magic in the Orimura clan is fae magic, which makes Madeline fae by blood law because that makes her more than half.” “The Orimura clan has fae blood?” Madeline asked. “That explains their longevity,” Levi replied to Madeline, “And your percentage of fae blood explains your affinity for the sword.” “An unintended perfect storm of genetics,” Alex added. “She can wield, and likely has access to, any clan items those four are able to use.” Four. As Levi and Alex continued to converse, Madeline remembered the number of the clan, and the anomaly she wasn’t supposed to look into. Ever. “I am beginning to understand the issues then,” Levi said, still staring at Madeline. “If someone were to control her, they would have access to some powerful tools.” “Then you can appreciate why I requested you to rescue her long ago, and forced you to stay with her,” Alex said. “I needed someone capable of protecting her until I could get things on my end figured out. Unfortunately, it appears I’ve run out of time.” Alex’s eyes drifted down to his drink solemnly before he caught himself and met both their gazes once more with a bright smile. “What do you mean?” Madeline prodded, noticing the brief change in his demeanor. “Nothing that would change your current arrangements,” Alex responded. “Although I strongly suggest you prepare yourself to embrace your fae heritage. There really isn’t a need for the necklace to function any further, especially considering that the original is likely being tampered with as we speak.” “Gideon,” Madeline murmured, feeling ashamed and angry that she somehow allowed the real necklace to be stolen right out from under her nose. “Gideon?” Alex questioned in a raised voice, looking appalled. Madeline nodded. Squeezing the gemstone pendant in his hand, a fleeting expression of rage engulfed Alex. There was a faint red glow struggling to make it past the tight clench his fist had around the stone, and when he opened his hand, the opal was streaked with melted silver. If Gideon had the original, given enough time he would likely be able to peel back the layers of magic, then the physical properties. And although it might take him years, the probability of re-engineering another was high. If Gideon were able to mass-produce the desired effect, the Veil would be lost. Alex had just broken the copy, and without its link to the original's magic, the false pendant lay dormant and dull. Madeline bolted upright, startling Levi. The colors around her were suddenly vibrant. Crisp. Distant objects she couldn’t make out too well before were now hyper-focused. And the music… there were notes in it that chimed as if they were alive. And somewhere, in a forgotten corner of her conciseness, a presence stirred. Ah...there you are. “I apologize my dear, but with the original in his hands, I had to break the enchantment on this copy. You will begin to be accosted by your fae senses.” By the look on Madeline’s face, Levi knew it had already begun. “You will see things; indications of magic, nature’s true form, ghosts of the dead… Do not let them frighten you. They have always been around you, unseen by you until now. Our family’s house has an affinity for water and light, and since you are my daughter I would guess water would be your attunement. Certain noises might startle you, or irritate you, which hadn’t before. Certain things that hadn’t had much effect on you before will likely make you very uncomfortable, like iron, rot, and decay, carrion flowers, pollution… and for goodness sake don’t ever go back to Aokigahara again. It is one of the few places on the Earth that cripples our kind. It actually overpowered the necklaces’ own spells, which up to that point I would have considered an impossibility. Oh! And before I forget...” Alex reached into his pocket and removed a ring exactly like the one Gwen wore yesterday. Handing it to Madeline, his expression softened and his gaze glazed over he fought back tears. “This is your legacy,” he said, giving the proud smile of a father. “House Floradorei. Wear it with honor.” Slipping the ring onto her finger, the band magically adjusted to her size. For a few moments, Madeline could do nothing but watch it sparkle. “So Gwen was acting as your emissary?” Levi asked. “Oh dear me, no, Leviticus. Gwen is my niece. Madeline’s cousin. It is just my sister and I at the head of House Floradorei. Gwen is her daughter.” Madeline stopped admiring the ring. “What the fuck? Gwen and I are cousins??” “Language!” Alex scolded. “But yes, but she didn’t know until right before I asked her to retrieve you from the Tetsugawa building. I would highly recommend letting her introduce you to our ways. Due to her special circumstances, I couldn’t imagine a better teacher.” “What about the guy she brought with her? He seemed very familiar.” Alex chuckled, glancing at an elaborate painting that hung on the wall to his right for a few seconds before looking pointedly at Madeline with a shimmer of mischief in his eyes. “Ah, that gentleman… I confess that you’ve slept with him, but the details are not mine to tell. Now if you’ll excuse me…” “Wait,” Madeline interrupted, standing along with Alex. “I can count all the guys I’ve slept with on one hand, and he’s not one of them.” “That’s not necessarily what he means,” Levi interjected, suspicious of this gentleman. “Going by words alone, you slept with me last night. And that wasn’t the first time.” Smiling in acknowledgment, Alex tapped a slender finger to the side of his nose, pointed at Levi, and then left the room through a door at the back, leaving both Madeline and Levi alone in the private room. The door Alesdair passed through led directly to his private chambers within the Floradorei estate, deep within the Veil. Portalling from any random door into the estate was a neat little trick, only no one was around to be amazed by it. Well, almost no one. Sitting elegantly on a broad pedestal placed against what appeared to be a window, scaled tail coiled around his two front feet, rested a multi-colored dragon. A pair of small, golden horns accented with beads of silver curled slightly backward, and in the center of his forehead, grouped in a V-formation above his eyebrows, crystal blue scales glittered. Most of his cat-sized body was covered in various hues of emerald green scales that occasionally blended into gold, except for his chest, belly, forehead, snout, underwings, and the fronts of his legs. Those areas were clad in brushed-silver scales, almost armor-like. Staring through the glass that appeared as a painting to Madeline and Levi, its ruby-red eyes regarded Madeline longingly. “Can I go?” the dragon asked Alesdair hopefully. “I have missed her. And I don’t like him. At all.” “I’m afraid she’s had more than enough surprises for one day, Horace,” Alesdair replied. “Soon though. I promise.” “He’s not a cat. He pretends. He lies.” “I know, and so does she. Do I sense jealousy?” “Did you know he is in-between?” Horace questioned, eyes still fixed on the redhead in the other room. “My eyes see all truths.” This caught Alesdair off-guard. “What do you mean?” “He has not committed himself to benevolence. Not completely. There are still shadows lurking.” “True, friend, but there are shadows within us all.” Alesdair sighed solemnly. Horace’s words rang true, and not only concerning Levi. It had finally come to this, the moment Alesdair knew was unavoidable. It was time to pay for the indiscretions of House Floradorei.