Eternal Kiss of Darkness, Page 3Jeaniene Frost
Kira dangled out the window on her makeshift rope, reminding herself with gritted teeth not to look down. It had taken hours to tie the bedspread, sheets, drapes, and shower curtain together until it was long enough to reach to the bottom of the house. Then she secured it around two corners of the bed, waiting tensely until after dark so she'd have less chance of being seen. It took another half hour of mental pep talking before she'd worked up the courage to heave herself over the window ledge, and she'd had a moment of sheer panic when the rope first stretched under her weight.
But the rope, the bed anchor, and her biceps had held. Slowly, Kira edged down, tangling the rope between her legs to slow her descent. You're doing fine, Kira told herself as she carefully began to climb down the side of the house. With luck, she'd be safely on the bottom in just a few minutes. If she had even more luck, it wouldn't take her long to find help. She doubted she was still in Chicago, judging from the lack of almost any houses or buildings within eyesight, but she had seen what looked like another home past the line of trees to the north. That's where she'd try first - assuming the rope or the bed didn't all of a sudden break.
When she reached the ledge below her window, Kira blew out a tight sigh of relief.
One story completed, two more to go. So far, no one had sounded the alarm. Pretending to be a compliant captive had worked, it seemed. She'd even pretended to eat the food and drink the soda the blond-haired man with the scar running down his cheek had brought her, but in reality, she'd flushed them down the toilet. No way was she risking being drugged by touching that stuff. She'd swallowed some water from the shower when she cleaned off. That was more than enough to keep her hydrated, and she doubted they were clever enough to have drugged that.
Kira kept easing herself down the rope, amazed that her arms didn't feel shaky. She'd lost a lot of blood this morning, but for some reason, her arms were steady, handling her weight with ease. That was unusual enough to concern Kira, but she decided to worry about it later. Like, when she was far away from this house and at the nearest police station.
She made it down another story, holding her breath as her rope brought her dangling directly in front of a window. The light inside glowed against the glass, making the interior clearly discernible to her. Kira prayed the darkness outside would make her almost invisible by contrast. She lightly kicked off to position herself away from the center of the window, and lowered herself a little faster. Should she risk looking down to check how much farther it was? No, Kira decided. She'd done well to get this far, considering her fear of heights. No need to ruin that by looking down now.
When Kira finally felt solid earth underneath her feet instead of more emptiness and rope, she almost whooped in relief. She stuffed her glee back, though, pulling the rope to the left of the windows and securing it by tucking the end under a potted plant. With luck, no one would find it until morning, and she'd be long gone by then.
Kira began to run as fast as she could in the direction where she thought she'd glimpsed the other house from her bedroom window. It was dark as pitch outside, but she was pretty sure she was headed in the right direction. Her heart thumped with joy and exhilaration. She was free!
She made it twenty yards before she ran into a wall.
Mencheres had watched Kira climb down the house with a mixture of wonder and amusement. She certainly was a tenacious female, stringing together rope made from various materials in the bedroom - and were those shower curtain loops she'd used as anchor points for her knots?
"Want me to get her?" Gorgon asked, his voice too low for Kira to hear him.
"No," Mencheres replied. He was rather curious to see if she'd make it all the way to the bottom. If the rope broke or she lost her grip, he could easily catch her. But in the meantime, watching Kira maneuver down the side of the house was more entertaining than anything he'd done in the past several months.
"You may go back inside," he told Gorgon, his mouth twitching as Kira delicately kicked away from the window. She was being very quiet for a human; but of course, with his hearing, she made quite a commotion.
Gorgon nodded once before disappearing back into the house. Mencheres stood on the darkest part of the lawn, where he'd be invisible from Kira's sight, and continued to watch her. He tensed when the bed frame that the rope was anchored to creaked warningly, but her line held. When Kira made it to the ground, Mencheres smiled along with her. Well done, dark lady.
Pity he couldn't let her complete her victory by running away, however. A human telling the police tales of supernatural creatures was the last thing Mencheres needed.
Radjedef would seize on that as more proof that Mencheres had broken their laws.
Radjedef. How odd that Mencheres hadn't thought about the vengeful Law Guardian since he left the warehouse this morning, but he would tend to his business regarding Radjedef later. First, he had to erase Kira's memories of everything supernatural. He could pass her off to Gorgon or another vampire in his line to mesmerize, but taking care of Kira himself seemed the least he could do to repay her for the kindness she'd shown him at the warehouse. Even if she regretted that kindness now.
He could always find another way to implement his plan concerning Radjedef after Kira's memories of that warehouse and him were gone. Mencheres hadn't seen Radjedef in over a week. No need to rush; he'd accomplish his objective soon enough.
Mencheres let Kira run for a few paces before he stepped in front of her. She collided with him hard enough to knock a scream out of her, but he absorbed the impact as if she were a butterfly.
"That's two brave yet foolish things you've done today," Mencheres noted.
Kira's breathing was labored, but her aim was steady as she punched him squarely in the chest. "Damn it! It's you again, isn't it?"
He could see her clearly in the dark, but she'd be almost blind with the lack of lights on the lawn.
"Yes, it's me," Mencheres replied. He didn't comment about the punch though he couldn't remember the last time a person had actually struck him.
"You watched me the whole time, didn't you?" Kira demanded. Bitterness wafted from her, changing her scent from lemons and sea spray to something harsher. "Why? Did you think it was funny, seeing me try to get away?"
In fact he had been amused, but only because he knew she was never in real danger.
The angry desperation in her tone made him pause, however. He might have known that Kira wasn't in jeopardy, but she hadn't. In truth, he had told her nothing to truly reassure her that she had no reason to fear, whether she was inside the house or dangling on a rope outside of it.
"I apologize. " Mencheres dropped his hands from her shoulders, where he'd steadied her after Kira had barreled into him. She didn't attempt to run away once he released her. She just stood there, gulping in breaths and glaring at him.
"What are you? And what do you intend to do with me since it's clear you won't let me go?"
Mencheres hesitated for a moment before giving a mental shrug. Soon enough he'd erase her mind. What did it matter if she knew more in the interim about him?
"The modern word for what I am is 'vampire. ' "
Kira's heart had already been pounding, but at that, it skipped a beat.
"Vampires don't exist," she said, even though she sounded as if her words were a last attempt at denial instead of a true statement of disbelief.
"That's exactly what humans are supposed to think, except you've seen too much to hold on to that fabrication any longer," he replied steadily.
"But you were out in the sunlight this morning, and my cross . . . " Mencheres reached out to touch the emblem hanging from Kira's neck. Merely touching silver wouldn't hurt him. Its burning, draining effects were dormant unless silver broke a vampire's skin. "The effects of sunlight, crosses, wooden stakes, and holy water are red herrings my people deliberately planted along the mill ennia. Our real weakness is not something we al
lowed to become common knowledge. "
"Silver," Kira said.
His brows rose. She couldn't see it, but she must have sensed his reaction, because she shrugged.
"That must be what those other, ah, vampires were using on you this morning. The knives didn't quite look like steel, but of course, they were so bloody . . . " Her voice trailed off again and she looked away, biting her lip. Amidst the shocking silence of her mind, he caught a changing of her scent into something that reflected an emotion he was well acquainted with.
She did wish she hadn't stepped in to help him this morning. Mencheres couldn't blame her, but to his surprise, he found that it actually . . . hurt.
By the gods, was he really saddened over what a stranger thought of him? He was over forty-five hundred years old! Perhaps it truly was time that he passed on from this world. Before he manifested other forms of what had to be undead senility.
"Those other men were not vampires," Mencheres corrected her coolly. "They belong to another race known as ghouls, or flesh-eaters. "
It sounded like Kira gagged. "This morning I walked in on ghouls, who eat flesh, hacking away at a vampire who drinks blood. Is that what you're telling me?"
Now fear sharpened Kira's scent, and a fine tremble went through her limbs, but her spine stayed straight. "Is that what you're keeping me here for? To drink my blood?" Mencheres couldn't stop himself from glancing at her throat with its temptingly rapid pulse before he replied.
"No. I told you - you have nothing to fear from me. I would have already returned you to your home except I am unable to erase your knowledge of this morning yet. Once my blood has left your system, and I can clear your mind of this, you will be freed. Until then, you will be unharmed. I give you my word. "
That tremor slowed, but her heartbeat didn't stop its racing. "This is like a bad dream," Kira whispered. "You might promise not to harm me, but someone else brought me dinner, and I'm guessing he wasn't human, either. If you mean it when you say you don't want me harmed, you have to let me go. If not, I'm only safe until one of the other vampires around me gets an appetite. "
Mencheres couldn't stop the snort that escaped him. "My word is law among my people. No one would dare to touch you without my permission, and I've expressly forbidden it. You are quite safe from anyone getting an 'appetite' around you, Kira. " She was silent for several moments. Mencheres concentrated on her mind, but it remained frustratingly elusive to him. Her scent wavered between mistrust and shock, though, telling him as much about her internal struggle to digest this information as her thoughts probably would.
Kira's distress was to be expected. Considering she'd started the day knowing nothing about the creatures that existed alongside humanity, then had almost been murdered by some of those creatures and was now held against her will by others, she'd shown remarkable strength. Mencheres had seen leaders of nations reduced to incoherent sobbing under lesser circumstances.
"Even if my life isn't in danger, I can't just stay here waiting for my mind to become malleable again," Kira said at last. "I have a job, and, ah, other very important responsibilities. Please don't misunderstand, I'm more than relieved that you're not intending to eat me, but I can't just disappear for several days. If you let me go, I'll go home, and I won't breathe a word to anyone about any of this. "
"Is that where you were intending to go when you ran tonight?" Mencheres asked, his hand shooting out to stop Kira as she started to turn away. "And do not lie to me again. " Kira's face flushed as she met his gaze.
"I was headed for your nearest neighbor's house to call the police," she replied softly.
Mencheres dropped his hand from her face. "And that is why I cannot let you go while you remember anything about what you've seen. "
"But that was before," Kira said insistently. "When I still thought you were going to kill me, so yes, the police sounded like my best option. But you've proven that I can't run off without you knowing, and you could clearly overpower me anytime. I can't imagine you'd go through the effort to lie to me this much if you just intended to kill me. And if you're not going to kill me, then you must not be the insatiable murderers legend paints you to be, so I don't need to warn humanity about you. Yes, you killed those people who were torturing you; but that's justifiable homicide in any court, so there's no need for me to tell anyone anything. "
Kira's voice had risen in her agitation, and her pulse accelerated again. Mencheres said nothing, knowing she was trying to reconcile the facts out loud more than anything else. It was always frightening for humans when they realized their belief in the superiority of their race was false. When they realized how vulnerable they truly were to the other species that shared the dark with them.
"Besides," she said at last, expelling the word on a ragged sigh. "No matter how many people I'd tell, who would believe me? I'd never believed any of the clients who used to talk about weird, impossible things, and I heard more than a few of those stories as a private investigator . . . "
Kira's eyes widened even as she stopped talking in midsentence. Mencheres couldn't hear the thoughts form in her mind, but from her expression, she was realizing some of the stories she'd summarily dismissed might have been true. Then she looked around the darkened yard as if seeing it with new eyes, her breath hitching.
Mencheres watched with pity, knowing it was the moment Kira truly accepted that all of this was real. The small part of her that still hoped there was another explanation had finally given up. He'd observed this same mental surrender in humans before, too many times to count, and though Kira might believe she could return to a normal life with this information, Mencheres knew she couldn't.
"You do not want this knowledge," he said, his voice quiet but firm. "It will destroy your life. You will see every shadow in a different way, and every strange sound will make you wonder - is that a person, or a monster? Humans who are not part of a vampire's or ghoul's line do not do well with this information. Time has proven that repeatedly. " What he didn't tell Kira was that time also proved that such humans usually ended up dead. Eventually, those mortals tried to make someone believe them about the supernatural world, and an unclaimed human spreading tales about the undead was a threat to both species. Both vampires and ghouls did claim a certain number of humans as property, but those humans were specially chosen, then removed from their own world. They lived with their undead protectors in full knowledge that if they spilled the secret about either species to mainstream society, they would be eliminated.
Such knowledge wouldn't reassure Kira, however, so Mencheres kept it to himself. He really didn't want her climbing out of any more windows in the future.
"You'll let me go unharmed?" she asked at last, seeming to come to a decision.
"As soon as I remove these memories from your mind," Mencheres promised.
She gave him a measuring look. "I'll need to call my boss, make some excuse about missing work. I can't afford to get fired. "
"I'll see to it that your employment situation is taken care of. " But Mencheres wasn't about to let her call her employer even under his watchful eye. Kira worked for a private investigator; the line could be traced, or she could use code words indicating danger that Mencheres might not recognize. He would like to hope that Kira wouldn't do such a thing in light of her new capitulation, but he was too jaded to trust in hope.
"I need to call my sister. " Her voice hardened in a way that it hadn't when Kira spoke of her job. "She's not well. I can't let her worry my disappearing without telling her something. "
Mencheres inclined his head. "I will make arrangements for you to speak with her tomorrow. "
Kira took in a long breath and let it out slowly. "All right. How long should it take until you can erase my memories?"
He mentally calculated how much blood he'd given Kira. It had been several swallows at least, and his blood was very potent. "A few days a
t minimum, a week at most. " She winced but didn't reply. Again, Mencheres was impressed with her fortitude. Kira had attempted to run away and had repeatedly argued with him to let her go, but she hadn't resorted to begging or hysterics. What sort of person was she, to make her so unusually strong in the face of such trying circumstances?
If he still had his visions, he could look into the future and see exactly what kind of person Kira was. Nothing revealed character more than seeing the culmination of a lifetime's worth of decisions. But Mencheres couldn't see the future anymore. He drove back his immediate flash of anger at that. Railing at the gods over what they gave - and then took back - was useless.
"All right," Kira said again, bringing his attention back to her. "I can't believe I'll be spending up to a week with vampires, but . . . all right. "
Mencheres hid a smile, his mood lightening as he saw the wry way Kira shook her head. She wasn't the only person surprised at this recent turn of events. A part of him also couldn't believe he'd just committed himself to being housebound with the same human who had ruined his plans this morning.
"Are you ready to go inside now?" Mencheres asked, offering her his arm.
Kira's mouth curled as she took it after a moment of hesitation. "I guess so. Tell me, vampire, what's your name?"
What was one more thing to erase from her mind? "Mencheres. "
"Sounds Spanish," she murmured, looking him over as best she could in the dark.
"Egyptian. " Yet another detail he'd have to erase from her later. What was it about Kira that made him so uncharacteristically talkative?
"Ah. " She smiled then, the first one he'd seen that didn't look forced. "So, Mencheres the Egyptian vampire, are you really old, or are you as young as you look?" He gave her a sideways look as he began walking back toward the house, feeling the oddest pang as he contemplated their age difference. "I'm older than dirt," he answered dryly.
"A vampire with a sense of humor. I really didn't know that existed," she quipped with equal dryness.
Mencheres didn't answer. First, he was telling her things he had no reason to reveal, now he was joking about his age. How strange. He'd thought his sense of humor had expired a long time ago.
"I suppose putting that room back together will give me something to do for the next few hours," Kira noted with a sigh.
"That is not necessary, you'll . . . stay in another room. "
Mencheres almost tripped as he bit back the words that had so nearly crossed his lips: You'll stay in my room. What possessed him even to think such a thing? He hadn't found his sense of humor - he'd lost his mind.
Undead senility. There weren't very many vampires left who were older than he was.
Maybe it was an actual condition after all.