Light bright enough to shine through my eyelids woke me. I instinctively reached for my Gift, but nothing happened. Even if I was completely drained I could always feel it there… and I didn’t feel even the slightest bit hungry. I should have been ravenous.
I squinted against the light, feeling with my other senses while my eyes adjusted. I was naked, laying on very high thread count sheets and a very soft and sumptuous mattress. There was a scent of lavender and ocean in the air. I could also smell Egyptian tobacco, sulfur, and coffee. Chimes sounded in the wind and someone was sitting in a wicker chair in the room. That person was not breathing.
I opened my eyes all the way and my vision still didn’t clear. I sat up, looking directly at where I knew the person was sitting. “Who are you and where am I and why can’t I see?”
“Ah, you are awake. This is good.” The voice had a pleasant Italian accent, “I understand you were involved in a bit of… unpleasantness in Mexico recently. Do not worry yourself; that is all over now.
“I am Natele. You’re in my villa. We are safe from the light and for the moment, safe from The Tribunal.”
“Why did you take me from Cuidad Obegeron?”
“You would have died my dear.” He said
“I WANTED to die!” I snapped.
“I am not one to leave a lady in distress.” He said smoothly, “I came to your timely assistance.”
“You SHOT me in the HEAD.” I growled, my hands reaching, feeling for the edge of the bed. I was unable to feel the sides with either of my hands.
“Well, you seemed to be in a slightly … unstable state, and you had recently shown yourself to be quite effective at eliminating any and all threats arrayed against you.” I heard a rustle of cellophane and the scratch of a match head, the hiss of it lighting. “Here, these are Fatimas. Your favorites I understand.”
I reached out and took the lit cigarette from his hand, although I was certain he moved his hand to where I was reaching which annoyed me even more than I already was. “You’re a regular Prince goddamn Charming.” I took a drag. The familiar taste of the smoke and the ritual was calming, “But you still haven’t told me why you brought me here at all instead of leaving me to die like I wanted to.”
“Because dear lady, the revolution still has need of you.” He said, “You have created something even if it was not your intention in the first place. I am afraid I have selfish reasons for bringing you here. If you died under those circumstances it would have given much support and credence to The Tribunal.”
“What do you mean ‘under those circumstances’ exactly?” I asked, sliding myself to the side of the bed and succeeding in bashing my shins on the legs of a side table. I felt on top of it and found an ashtray.
“Well… dying by suicide would confirm their claims that you are insane, unstable, dangerous and suicidal.” He said, sounding mildly amused, “Even if it is true, I still need you alive. I have been spreading rumors that it was all an elaborate trap that went horribly awry when they attempted to spring it on you.”
“Those rumors are true.” I shuddered, feeling completely empty. “What did you do to me?”
“I? All I have done is render you unconscious and transport you here to be bathed and laid in a comfortable bed to recuperate.” Said Natele, sounding a touch defensive. “Please understand that although my reasons for saving your live are not altruistic in nature my uses for you are strictly political in nature.”
“Then why the FUCK can’t I see?” I demanded, fumbling on the table for the pack of cigarettes and lighting a fresh one from the first. “Why am I not ravenous? Where is my goddamn GIFT?”
“What?” Natele’s voice was horrified, “Your gift is gone? It cannot be, the Dark Gift is forever. It cannot be used up, it merely must be fueled.”
“You’re babbling Natele. The fact remains that I am blind, unable to heal it and…” My voice trailed off to a whisper, “I can’t even feel it.” I put my head in my hands and let out a slow, agonized breath.
“Well. That changes things a bit, but doesn’t change my overall idea.” Natele said, “Instead of a military leader, you will become a martyr.”
“I will not let you trot me out in front of the ignorant masses as some goddamn cripple.” I hissed, “You’d better figure out another plan.”
“Oh no, I don’t think that’ll be necessary.” He said, his voice cold and harsh, “I have you here and you’ve admitted to being helpless.”
I stood from the bed so rapidly that the backs of my knees hitting it broke something judging by the splintering sound and covered the distance between us in less time than it would take for a normal person to blink. My ears were not enough to show me his exact location, but they were enough for me to grab the front of his shirt.
“Do you understand me?” I said, breathing smoke out of my nose. “Try and play with fire and you get burned. I burn hotter than the surface of the sun.”
“No my dear, you used to but not anymore.” He said. I could feel his breath on my face when he spoke. “Your Gift has abandoned you. You’re alone in a body that cannot heal with a mind that has memories of centuries.”
A cold sweat broke out on my skin, but I did not release him. “I don’t give a rancid rat’s ass about life or death. You may recall I was attempting to die when you intervened.”
“That’s as may be, however I am not allowing you to do so.” He said, “As a result you are under my contro-“
I slammed my left hand into his throat and squeezed, cutting off his ability to speak. “You don’t get to make decisions. You don’t get to make demands. I will do as I please regardless of whatever happens to me. You cannot keep me from dying if I choose to any more than you can keep me from killing you right now.”
“Well then.” He croaked, barely able to get the words out, “I had better give you a reason beyond threats.”
My hand tightened and it was as though I was attempting to crush a solid steel bar.
“I am not as frail as you presume.” He said, his voice not betraying even the slightest discomfort. “I am one of your people, not some mortal weakling.” A hand like a vice closed on my wrist and I was forced to let go.
“Make an enemy of me and you’ll regret it woman.” He said in Russian, “I know who you are. You would best remember where you have come from and who allowed you to become what you are.”
Now I recognized his voice. He had dropped the urbane Italian accent and the music of his native land was clear. I knew him. His name was Vladimir, a typical Russian mobster name… also quite the archetypal horrible vampire name, a reminder that sometimes stereotypes existed for a reason.
“Oh Vlad, certainly you’re beyond threats. Especially with old friends.” I kept my voice neutral, “Although you aren’t beyond deception which either means you’ve changed or you’re afraid.”
He chuckled, a truly dreadful sound. “My dearest Renyovalia, you have always been at your most beautiful when you’re defiant, afraid and helpless. This is just how I remember you.” He sighed in satisfaction, “I never should have attempted to deceive you, but I needed to know if you had slipped.”
“What have you done to me?” I demanded, not sure if I really wanted to know the answer or not.
“As I said before, I have done nothing to you.” He said, his voice amused. “This affliction of yours is a truly puzzling and I must admit, a most entertaining surprise.”
“If that’s the case, then why did you bother with the accent?” I said, “I know your face and there is no FUCKING way I would be misled by an accent alone. You knew I would be blind.”
He was silent for a few moments, I almost thought he’d left. I finished my cigarette and flicked the butt in the direction I’d last heard his voice.
“Same old Renyovalia.” He purred, “Always perceptive. Always too free with your words.”
“What’s the game really Vlad?” I asked, trying to keep my voice light.
“I told you why you are still alive.” He said, and I felt the cigarette I’d flung in his direction burn my forearm. “Do not press your luck.”