Chapter 11

In Which Distractions are Troublesome

Despite the appearance of Anya's motions, the bundle in the corner did not wake. Instead she became alarmingly still, and with time passing Kira had to ask after her again to be sure she was alive. She wanted her to whine. She wanted to flick crumpled paper at her or shake her shoulder to make her complain so that she could know she was holding up mentally. Anya had that rare constitution of a Gothic damsel and Kira wasn't sure how lasting the trauma of chains would be for her. But she didn't dare try speaking to her friend even before Grigori had stooped over the girl with an openly bleeding wrist and sent her into a state of oblivion. Not only was she so very, very tired on the cozy faded couch, but she was afraid Grigori might not like his captives talking amongst themselves, and she meant to follow her instincts in remaining the least likely threat to his designs. It was like watching a cat stalk a bird in slow motion; perhaps it would pounce, perhaps not—and she was not willing to protest lest it turn on her in fury.

Coward, her voice taunted, and she shrunk back in pain, too helpless and confused to deny it. Coward, it said again, and as she refused to argue her mind aimlessly wandered from one thought to the next, like someone skimming a book put in the wrong genre.

Would taking some liquid capsule medicine do any good if she had them handy? She was so sore in her body. Did vampires have immune systems? Hers felt like it was on the fritz. Why did gold spark in the microwave? If you rubbed gold pieces together could you make fire? Her head was on fire. Like the lace sleeve she'd carelessly burned while leaning over a candle. Lace made pretty trim, but unless it was black a whole bunch of it was too much.

Anya was like lace. Seeing her in small doses was pleasant; sweet, even. As long as conversation was only a small cuff and didn't extenuate to more substantial subjects. Anya could make things lighter, more delicate, more careful, but often she was just a way to contrast the more sturdy characteristics of brocade. Katen was brocade. Now her friends were dress materials, fluttering or billowing as their personalities deemed appropriate. What did that make Kira? Interfacing, maybe. Flimsy looking, but loyally sticking to the other fabrics until the end. Was this the end? Kira hadn't been to Croatia yet. She wanted to before she died. More than she wanted to see Italy. Penne noodles made her laugh. And feel hungry. What was she hungry for? Not penne noodles, she thought.

Was subterfuge a word? What did it mean if it was?

"Subterfuge is indeed a word, and an excellent one at that."

Then Kira remembered her abductor could read minds and tried to think back on any incriminating thoughts she may have had. Had she thought of rebellion? Only briefly, but she decided against it. That was a relief. Good job, Kira. He could hear her rambling to herself. Was this making her current situation better or worse? She wouldn't think about anything. That would be safe, and easy to do—to not think; it would be so simple. And suddenly, as in direct defiance to her unthinking thoughts, she couldn't stop thinking. Humming in her head worked better. La, la, la, la, la, la, la, LA, la!

"Why are you humming in your head?" the distraction of his rich voice was startling and unwanted.

"Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings."

"I asked why, not what."

"You couldn't tell why?"

"Your thoughts do not form in a succinct manner. They are difficult to follow. You must try and control them so we can more easily communicate."

"Oh. I'm increasingly bored." Increasingly was a word that went well with bored. She liked them together. They would keep together.

"Shall I read to you?"

"You would do that?" Kira couldn't recall any kidnapping stories in which the predator offered to read literature to his victim. But then, Katen had read more of such novels and would be the expert to consult.

"Of course I would, sweetling."

"Do you have a book?"

"No, but you do."

Kira had no recollection of any book being kept on her person. When was the last time she'd been to the library? What day was it now?

"I brought your book bag. It would have been difficult not to with it strapped to your shoulder like a baldric. I thought there may be some things within that are of value to you. Besides your notepad and writing implements, I believe you have a novel in there. Am I correct to assume?"

"Yyyy…yes. It's The Forsyte Saga, and I've been putting it off. My eyes are itchy, though. I don't think I can read right now."

"Which is why I offered to read aloud to you." He brought the dull looking tome out of the bag. It surprised Kira that he managed to do so without moving her at all.

"'Part one, chapter one: "At Home" at Old Jolyon's." It began as depressingly as Kira suspected. "Those privileged to be present at a family festival of the Forsytes have seen that charming and instructive sight-an upper middle-class family in full plumage…'"

His voice was deep, smooth, not monotone, and mostly nice, but with undercurrents of something nasty. Like a dark chocolate truffle with a surprise maraschino cherry inside. Kira hated fake cherries. They nauseated her like nothing else. The voice and book's contents would have lulled her to sleep but she felt she needed to keep aware and awake. The frightening part of him wouldn't let her lose consciousness as it kept tugging at some place in the back of her mind where rational thought was hibernating.

Kira kind of hated him for all the unpleasantness he was causing. Yet at the same time she didn't. He was such an interesting person, and she was not in the dark as much as before. Such conflicting feelings must be normal for a fresh turnee. She wondered how Katen had felt at this stage; if she had someone with her to help guide her through the part that made heads whir. Anya hadn't been granted the privilege of getting any explanation from their abductor and that meant Kira was on her own in dealing with the backlash of a thoroughly illogical mess.

Kira was always last. Being a year older than Kat didn't make a difference. She found herself taking the trodden road of turning points in life that Kat, and even Anya, paved ahead. This time she thought things had been moving admirably quick once she determined to act, but obviously she wasn't as quick as the vampires weaving a vast web of dramatic happenings around her. And now she was lying on a tattered couch with her sire as he must be, while he read aloud the most torturous novel ever published. It could have been worse, she mused, ever sarcastic even in a fog. She could have brought a math text.

-x-

The entire underground was at rest but for Melor, Galen, and the newest addition to their community. Melor had informed Katen of the reasons for the sudden hush that enveloped them after he'd returned from slipping out to attend yet another meeting with the council; the last one of the day, he dearly hoped. Katen was beginning to understand just how seriously he took his duties and what they entailed as to demands on his time. She hadn't yet left her room since the end of their hunting excursion, but Melor had been to and fro several times already in answer to important summons. Though unusual for vampires to be active so late in the morning, the situation called for unusual methods. Concern rose with each hour passing that did not bring news of the missing Anya. Daylight increased, heralding a large obstacle to their searching and making most of the prominent authority figures unwilling to take further risk on such fruitless work.

The council had finally dispersed for the present and the three persons who remained alert had their own reasons for breaking natural sleeping habits of the nocturnal.

Katen knew Galen was frustrated beyond measure. A tracker had returned just after sunrise to say that Kira was now missing as well. For all Katen knew that meant she was simply out of range of the tracker's built-in radars—a jaunt to her favorite bakery could have sent everyone in a flurry if they weren't paying close attention—and she wasn't too worried. Galen's arrival had an effect that almost changed that, however. He was mortified at his inability to help relocate Kira, and seemed to think it a dark omen that she was no longer accounted for. He wouldn't rest even while such an uncontrollable thing as daylight prevented him from further investigation. He hated being trapped indoors and made use of his time by speaking at great lengths to Melor about the situation. An arrangement Katen allowed, seeing as the concern over the elusive Grigori was so great. In all actuality, Katen was glad to have Galen there as a distraction. She wasn't comfortable enough with Melor in a confined setting to enjoy being alone with him yet. Nor did she take it for granted that she would ever be.

While her civil captor had been busy updating his peers on matters of grave importance, Katen introduced herself to the bounty of the wardrobe. The seamstress must have been given specific instructions to take her inspiration from Melor's time, though if Katen knew anything about authentic medieval wear, the woman had taken liberties that made them a touch more form fitting and simply ornamented, as well as eliminating the more cumbersome layers that made the order of dress confusing. Katen could already picture which gowns were going to be left alone and which would become entirely new creations by her personal design. The wardrobe was daunting in the prospect it held for her, but just as glorious in the visions of future raiment that it held. As her hand traveled to the end of the line, it brushed against a rustling plastic cover. Intrigued that such a modern object was being housed in the wardrobe, she immediately took pains to bring its contents out into plain view.

At first glance, which was partially obstructed by the plastic covering, Katen took it to be just what it was; a white gown with tiny sleeves and generously placed layers of chiffon. On closer inspection, it had a certain feel to it, of a gown much more valued than the others. It was the only one so well protected, set apart, and fully white. The cut of the gown though still bearing medieval influence was newer than the others, giving it an even greater contrast. All that and its immense weight allowed a heavy suspicion to take root in her mind. A thought came and went of taking it out to see its fullness and make sure with her hands that the material was as soft and impressive as it looked. There was heaviness very much like a train weighing it down, and she didn't want to fiddle with the complications of putting it back.

The implications of such a white gown made everything around her suddenly real. All the emotions she hadn't dealt with took on a new intensity, and a thousand fears beset her, shattering what ease she'd gained by the familiarity of fabric and trim. She didn't know Melor. At least, not enough to marry him. Panicking, she rounded up a list to relieve herself with: He wasn't vicious, he'd brought her cats, she was treated well, he made tea, he had not once been violent towards her…

She was still coming to terms with her feelings when Melor strode in.

"Are you all right?" Katen thought she must be very human in her ways to betray her emotions with so little expression. "Galen is here to have words with me... I can send him away if that is not agreeable."

"No, no! It's fine. The craziness of the past few days are catching up to me. I could use the space." At the word 'space' Melor slid his hands from off her shoulders where he'd spontaneously put them and his eyes roved about the room, looking lost. "Of course."

Katen couldn't help a creeping feeling of guilt. She should have known he'd take it to mean something different than her intentions. "I'd like to have some time getting the feel of my room," she added by way of amendment.

At that moment, he and Galen were talking quietly in Melor's room. Melor left the door open so that Katen was never far from view. He was by no means going to miss a single opportunity to be near his lovely woman, who was finally awake and stable enough to converse. At Katen's request, the men had transitioned from an entirely mental conversation to an entirely verbal one. She didn't want to have to work so hard to catch snatches of what they discussed as she bustled about the room in a new favorite gown, getting acquainted with the shelves and drawers as she went over in her head the things she would keep in which places and whether or not she wanted to rearrange anything out of experimentation of her new strength.

"She's still missing." Were she not familiar with the inflections of Galen's voice, his worrying was still unmistakable.

"It's barely been an hour."

"Much can be done in an hour for a man who's had hundreds of years to plot. Let me go after her."

"Galen, this is what we have trackers for. To fret over the matters above and take action accordingly."

"Yes, but they were not with her. They can't sense like I can."

"Your role is here! What you do in this very compound is important. Think of all the newborns that would be lost, or worse, executed without your guidance."

"I simply cannot understand why we're stalling!"

"He can't roam about in direct sunlight so easily, either."

"But it can be done, even for us. There are plenty of ways to shade ourselves. For anyone committed enough, it can be done."

"Galen, I can't leave my Katen."

"Then tell me how to track him! Give me visions... help me!"

"I can't do that. You must understand why. You're more use to us and those young ladies if you remain as you are—alive."

"I cannot sit idly by while I know he roams free with evil designs."

"But neither can you walk out into the sun and expect to be immune to all consequences. Have you tried reaching your mind?"

"It only reaches so far before everything dissipates. I've given myself several headaches already fighting against the laws of nature."

"You'd be more capable if you rested."

Galen rubbed his forehead in a very human gesture. "He cannot be allowed to... Melor, they're only girls."

"You know as well as I do they're not only girls. And you're no good to either of them if you try confronting Grigori half-dead of exhaustion and sunthirst. We've gone over every possibility and there's no more to be done at present. Not with so little to go on. I could let you wander without purpose or direction until you had to be dragged back unconscious, but I prefer to exercise my authority and forbid it instead. Let the trackers do their jobs and trust that the night will come. Or perhaps some new course will present itself before then."

Katen thought this good sense and so did Galen, though reluctantly so. He took his leave with brooding languor, though he was not so forgetful as to pass Katen in his bidding a "good rest."

She was uneasy again, alone in Melor's presence, now that she'd seen the skeleton in the closet; the skeleton that looked very much like a wedding dress. The lines in his brow and the thoughtful motions his hand was making across his mouth were very human in their manner. For what could have been mere seconds or long hours, Katen battled the strange desire to steal up from behind and put her arms comfortingly around his slumped shoulders. She prepared to say something offhand in order to relieve the tension that was rising up in her gut from the idea. Before she could say a word, he was out of his chair and halfway to the bed, making her aware of how long she'd been idly watching him.

Melor was doing a curious thing. Instead of making an amusing comment about the strange workings of Katen's thought patterns, he plucked a sleepy Bailey off his bed and carried him to Katen.

"I want you to stay here with your furry ones. Don't come out into the hall or anywhere else. Stay inside this room. If I am gone too long or there's an emergency here, call to me with your mind and I will come. I've just received word that chaos has erupted in the barracks. Remain as you are… safe in your room, and keep your cats close."

As Melor let Bailey pass from his arms to Katen's, his hands slid to rest on top of hers while the long sleeves of her gown teased him with their coverage of additional skin. He could not resist the comfort of allowing them to linger there on her knuckles where the silly sleeves began their distraction of his enjoyment as he urged her to be on her guard. Only when he could think of nothing more to say did he relieve her of the slight pressure his hands had granted. He entered her mind as a means of farewell and was awestruck to find her worrying about him. Out of a strong compulsion he could not resist, Melor traced her cheek with his thumb, and then brushed his lips over the same spot.

She was left standing bewildered in the middle of the room, clutching her boy cat and asking herself why she felt abandoned.


A/N: Hello, readers! I fear I have left you feeling abandoned as well. Could I make up for it with presents? I was thinking of posting some character pictures and images of certain rooms and garments that have been described so far, but then I thought of all the work that would take to upload and paste links and I wasn't sure it was worth it. :P But if you have requests, I'll make an effort for you! Providing I have an image of whatever particular thing you wish to see.