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|Nikolai captures Danse and drags her away, determined to find out who she is, and why Vladimir wants her. For now, Danse lets him do so...||
The Next Day: Her Home
“How was work last night?” Poppy asked curiously.
“Only three brawls and seven drug incidents,” Danse said, although her tone sounded vague. “I managed to clear out all the pushers, but I let the bouncers take care of the brawls. I’m sick of beating people up.”
“Poor auntie,” Poppy said soothingly. “Can I go to the Super-shake bar?”
“Too young,” Danse said, her voice sounding amused. “Not until you’re eighteen, and you know that.”
“It’s not fair,” Poppy sighed, sulkily. “Tara is old enough, but she doesn’t ever want to go out as much as I do.”
“Unfortunately, you don’t get credit from older sisters,” Danse replied. “Where are all the others?”
“In the pond,” Poppy replied lazily.
Danse smiled. The pond had once been a pool, but with the collapse it was too expense to maintain it. With the changes of weather, the bunker-strength walls had slowly become green with age, and as it was impossible to purchase chemicals to clean the water, someone had the bizarre idea of turning the pool into a pond, adding fish and plants to prevent the algae from taking over. The trees which had overgrown above the pond dropped their litter into the waters, feeding the fish and simultaneously providing shade to limit water loss through evaporation.
Now cleaning the pool only involved regular checks of the bottom with goggles, for the plants were grown in pots with the soil held down by rounded pebbles. A filter had been installed for hygienic purposes, and the younger ones were easily talked into cleaning the bottom of glass and debris after parties. The water was clear enough to still see the pattern of the tiles, and this was the way Danse liked it, wanting to keep some semblance of civilisation rather than letting the pond turn into a miniature lake.
“We should take the fish out and make it a sea-water pond,” Poppy suggested.
“Too expensive,” Danse replied callously.
“You always say that, but we could put little fish in there, and wait until they’re big enough to eat.”
“Some of the koi are big enough to eat,” Danse chuckled.
Danse laughed as Poppy, disgusted by this suggestion, jumped up and left the lounge. However, now that she was alone, she couldn’t help but think about the stranger she had met whilst at work, although he had soon disappeared with a young woman. Since she hadn’t heard about any more murders, she was sure the young woman had been safe. Smiling to herself, Danse knew exactly what Nikolai had wanted, and that usually didn’t involve ripping the woman apart. She certainly was safe.
The Same Day: His Hotel
Nikolai looked at the empty side of his bed. He had waited as the woman he had slept with from the club the other night tried to pick up her things and leave silently. Although he had heard her every move and even watched her when he knew she would not turn, he let her leave, knowing that she wanted nothing more from their night together, as did he. Now that he was alone, he had the time to get ready for the next stage of his mission, having to change his entire plan. Now knowing that she was an otherworlder, like him, he had to wonder at her living with mortals. He had heard of such otherworlders, those who had bonds of love with mortals that bound them to protect them, and perhaps those young ones were related to her. Nieces and nephews, perhaps, but certainly not her children.
Perhaps they would prove to be her weakness. If he tried to take her by force, she would certainly fight back and although his strength would easily surpass hers, she would be hurt. Vladimir would not like that, for if anyone hurt his prisoners, he wanted to watch it. Why did Vladimir what her?
Rolling onto his back and staring at the grubby ceiling, Nikolai considered this now knowing what he knew. If Vladimir had known what she was, then he would never have sent Nikolai after her. Of course, Nikolai would never dream of handing Danse over to Vladimir without finding out what he wanted with her. She was one of his kind, bound to him by their ancient otherworld blood. Like him, she was separate from one of the larger and older otherworld families, living a life of exile with mortals. Of course, Vladimir chose to make his life one of exile, refusing to marry the bride his parents chose for him. Why she was living on the other side of the earth from their usual habitat was a complete mystery to him, but like all mysteries he encountered it was one he intended to shatter.
He flipped off the sheet that covered him and reached towards his jeans, lightly draped over a chair. Checking his pockets, he found the card Vladimir had given him. It read, quite simply, ‘Danse Dember.’ He had not recognised her family name as one of those he knew, but now he knew that it had been changed. Toying about with the spelling, he soon found that like his, hers had once belonged to a Viking family; a family so old that his own family thought their ancient rivals had all but died. “D’Ember,” he whispered. Only the oldest D’Ember still lived, his castle in a long unexplored forest near the top of the world.
They were once very powerful, and even though he was the last one of his family who had survived the Revelation of the Otherworld, Eric D’Ember was as gruff, cruel, and confident as he had been when his children had roamed the renaissance and ruled their family lands until the Revelation. He knew of Danse’s existence, Nikolai realised suddenly, and would fight tooth and claw until she was free if he knew that Vladimir had her.
Nikolai dressed, showered and checked out of the hotel, heading towards the nearest magic shop to find a witch. On the way, he considered how he now had to change all of his plans. If Vladimir had Danse, then Eric D’Ember would not only fight Vladimir, he would also turn his hatred onto Nikolai. Although his family would forget their anger against Nikolai to defend him, it would only be their attempt to defend the family honour that spurned them into battle, and if they still held the same hatred against him they might wait until he was dead.
Half an Hour Later: Ye Old English Sweat Shop
Most mortals would laugh at the misspelling on the title of the shop, and then gorge themselves on the sweet toffees, chocolates, and other lollies that abounded in the front room of the store. However, they would not know that the gaffe on the sign was quite deliberate, since the woman who owned it was a very good local witch. To those customers who knew, stores with signs that were apparently misspelt by intelligent people were deliberate, since a simple twisting of the word would reveal a mistress of spells.
The witch looked up when Nikolai entered, and raised an eyebrow as he flipped the sign about to read ‘closed’ from outside. “Normally I just let my assistant stay here while all other customers slip into the back room,” she said reproachfully.
“This isn’t a normal call,” Nikolai said sharply, handing here a small plastic bag. Inside it he had gathered the white dust from the bottom of Danse’s tablet box. “I want you to analyse this and tell me the exact ingredients.”
“Impossible,” she said, shrugging. “I’m sorry, but magical potions are nothing that science can determine.”
“Fine,” Nikolai sighed, handing her a small disk. “I want this, then.”
As she read the data he had supplied, she smiled to herself. “Big game hunter?” She asked.
“In a manner of speaking.”
“This could bring down a full blooded demon from the otherworld armies. It will be expensive, of course.”
“I can pay,” he replied simply, passing her his credit disk. “But I want this in an hour… Say, is your assistant half as fine looking as you? You must be a third level witch, but you certainly look more maiden than hag, if you know what I mean.”
“My assistant is the pretty one of us both,” the witch replied calmly. “She is also my lover – your charm will not work on me if you’re hoping to cut down the price. Also, remember that when I have made this for you, I will have some for myself. Don’t forget that, for should you decide that it would be easier to kill me than to pay me…”
He chuckled, causing her to stop. “Why are all the prettiest witches lesbians?”
“I know what you are,” she said, smiling in spite of herself. “I feel myself being drawn to you… Is it true what they say about your kind?”
Nikolai considered this. “That we’re the best partners to have in bed from all the demons in the otherworld, including those with different… Appendages?”
“No, that you’re rude, cocky, and obsessed with sex. Never mind answering that.”
Nikolai smiled at her cool manner. “I like you more every time you counter my attempts to pick you up.”
“You’ll be in love soon enough,” she said simply.
“Well, I also want this.”
She looked at the image he opened for her and smiled. “You like bondage?”
“Incidentally, yes, although I was not thinking about my own desires. Can you supply what I want?”
The witch gave a dazzling but shark-like smile. “Everything but the sex.”
“Two out of three ain’t bad.”
That Night: Her Home
Danse didn’t have work that night, but because she usually worked late hours as undercover security at the club she found it difficult to get to sleep until after midnight. At two o’clock she did her usual check of the house, affectionately looking into her nieces and nephew to ensure they slept well, and absentmindedly picking up a dropped book from Tara’s hand and adjusting Poppy’s sleep mask. She checked that all the doors were locked, more out of habit than from any other cause, then quietly walked up the stairs and crawled into bed.
After only being asleep for an hour and a half, Danse woke suddenly, sitting upright. Her ears had picked up a sound somewhere outside the window, and with a sudden rush of terror and anger she realised that someone had opened her blind. The curtains now moved slightly in the gentle summer breeze, and Danse glanced about the room, desperate to find whoever had entered. She could smell him now, and her eyes suddenly narrowed. “I know you’re here,” she called angrily. “I can smell you.”
She was surprised to feel the warmth of someone’s breath on the back of her neck, and noticed for the first time since waking that her mattress sagged slightly either side of her, as though someone stood on it. Now Nikolai squatted behind her, gently slipping a long and thin bladed dagger about her neck, pressing it against her jugular. “You left your guard down,” he accused.
“You’re the man from the club,” she replied.
“Yes.” Nikolai smiled thinly. “I am sure you wish now you had asked me my name.”
“Only so I can curse it,” Danse spat.
“Well, I know your name, Danse D’Ember, I know what you are, and I am the same as you. I know also that you have lived far from your family for long enough for your senses to have become dull, and now you know also that I am confident I can win any fight you choose to start with me. I am faster, stronger, and much more powerful than you could hope to be, for I have embraced what I am when you use pills to hide from what you are.”
“That blade burns my skin,” she whispered.
“Yes. Be thankful I haven’t yet drawn blood, for then you would quickly become unconscious. I want to speak with you before I take you away.”
“You’re a real Peter Pan,” she said dryly.
“Your family are fine. I have not harmed them.”
“If you had, blade or no blade I would kill you,” she snapped.
“I would never harm mortals just to hurt another,” he said coolly.
Nikolai was silent for a moment, and then decided to quickly begin questioning her. “Who gave you your otherworld blood?” He demanded.
“My mother,” she replied.
“How did she die?”
Danse’s voice was cold and tense when she replied. “A semi trailer driven by a mad wannabe demon chaser crushed her into a wall.”
“Ah.” His voice seemed softer suddenly. “You sound as though you actually care for her.”
“Don’t you care for your mother?”
“Our kind rarely does. We marry from lust, then argue and fight for the rest of our lives. Our children resent us and our grandchildren kill us for our power.” He paused. “I was hired by Vladimir Pleshenktor to find you. Does that name ring a bell, perchance?”
“He’s a vampire?” She guessed.
“You have no idea who he is,” he said flatly. “Then why does he want you badly enough to hire me?”
“Alive, or dead?”
Nikolai paused. “Pardon?”
“I asked a simple question. How does he want me?”
“Alive, I believe. If he wanted you dead he would kill you himself.”
Danse smiled thinly. “Then I can fight him.”
“I am not sure about that.” Nikolai glanced down at her. “Why do you even have a quilt? Surely in this forsaken land you kick it off each night.”
“I do,” she confessed. “But a bed is not made with only sheets and pillows.”
He rolled his eyes. “I believe I might find someone who will pay me more for you than Vladimir. I am trying to decide who I should hand you over.”
“How much is Vladimir paying you for me?”
She raised her eyebrows at his reply, unaware he had halved the amount to protect himself. “I can’t outbid him, I am afraid.”
“I wouldn’t let you,” he chuckled. “I would feel a fool capturing you and then releasing you to your own custody. Here, put this on.”
He flipped a silvery cord to her and she regarded it coolly. “I hope this isn’t some strange kind of g-string.”
“Amusing, but no. Slip it on over your hands.”
The moment she obliged, he tugged on the long end and the lasso suddenly tightened. Now Nikolai could relax, for the cord could never be broken or untied except by him. “What have you done?” Danse asked, trying to pull her wrists apart.
“Don’t try anything,” he warned.
“I can still make you hurt.”
“Yes, but if you kill me, then you will be trapped in that forever.” He paused, contemplating this. “Oh, you can cut off a hand.”
“I will not be leashed like a dog!”
There was a pause, and Nikolai nodded suddenly. “I understand. If you will not run from me, I will remove it, but you must promise on all that you care for.”
“I promise,” she said firmly.
“On your family,” he prompted, smiling thinly.
Her face twitched slightly, but Nikolai was not about to relent and she knew this. “You said you would never hurt…”
“I wouldn’t. Someone else might,” he interrupted.
“I promise, on the safety of my family, to not run from you should you remove this bond.”
The moment Nikolai removed the cord from about her wrists, she slammed her fist into his face, cracking it into his nose with enough force to cause his neck to snap backwards. Recovering from this blow and gently fixing the position of his nose, knowing it would heal soon, Nikolai glared at Danse. “You said…”
“I said I wouldn’t run away,” she snapped.
“I can tie you up once more to stop you from fighting me, and you have nothing else to make your promise on that I will believe,” he snarled. “Don’t ever try that again.”
They exchanged warlike glares, then Nikolai pushed her towards her wardrobe. “There’s a bag in the top of that. Grab it and throw in everything you need for a seven-day trip. You might want to write your family a note saying that you’ll be okay.”
“And will I?” She demanded, obliging.
“I don’t know, but I know you won’t want them worrying,” he countered.
As Danse walked towards the bathroom he suddenly barred her way. “No pills.”
“I need them,” she replied, suddenly distraught.
He smiled to himself. “Not with me. Don’t take them.”
“Are you going to watch me pack?” She snapped, unable to bare his commands.
“No,” he confessed, smiling. “So you can pack that pretty little crossbow you keep in that locked box.”
“What makes you think it’s a crossbow?” She countered, slipping into the bathroom.
“Easiest thing to use when tracking otherworlders to kill. The wooden bolt kills vampires, while the tip can be dipped in mercury and potions to kill werewolves and zombies. Don’t you feel guilty about tracking down your kind?”
“Not when they’ve killed the same kind as my nieces and nephews,” she replied coolly, emerging from the bathroom. “Mortals have only a short time, but they treat their brief lives with far more care than any otherworlder.”
Nikolai smiled at this, watching her move about. “Pack a good dress,” he ordered. “You’ll need it. Take some make-up and jewellery as well.”
She looked at him with contempt but obeyed him anyway, pulling out a large leather trench from the wardrobe.
“What do you need that for?” Nikolai asked. “It’s boiling.”
“Yes, welcome to Australia, it gets hot in the summer,” she snapped irritably. “But Vladimir doesn’t live here, and neither does the other person you are taking me to. It will be cold, wherever they are.”
“True,” he agreed, smiling at her perception. “Take your perfume, too.”
“No, I’m leaving that for the girls,” she replied.
“I may never see them again, and they have been all the family I have known and loved,” she said, remaining calm. “The girls get the perfume.”
She took out two slips of paper from a small brown bag that was inside the bottom of her underwear drawer. “That’s worth more if you leave it blank,” he observed.
“Not to them,” she snapped.
Danse wrote a simple letter for her cousins, and sealed it in a matching envelope. On the other slip of paper she left her credit disk details and other information, leaving a set of keys on top of them. “What are they for?” Nikolai asked, interested.
“An emergency,” she replied. “Just the one.” She paused suddenly, looking at her mobile. “Can I take this too?”
“You won’t have coverage for long,” he warned. “It depends where we go.”
“It’s a chance,” she said, slipping this into her pocket. “Let’s go…”
She looked longingly to the bedroom door, and as he picked up her bag and slung it over his shoulder, he nodded. “Go check on them once more,” he instructed. “I’ll be waiting outside.”
When Danse emerged from her home, she nodded curtly to him. “Let’s go,” she snapped.
Nikolai could tell that she was sharp with him only because she was hurt at having to say what might be goodbye, but he could not relent. “The next plane leaves in about an hour,” he said, looking to the road. “We’ll have to walk to the main road to catch the airport bus, but it will be there in ten minutes to pick us up.”
“Doesn’t your contact have a private plane?” She demanded sarcastically.
Nikolai grinned suddenly. “That’s the plane I’m talking about,” he explained. “We’re going to New York.”
“So Vladimir wants me?” She guessed.
Nikolai couldn’t imagine how she knew this, but it was a simple deduction based on his American accent. If he were from America, than the first person who hired him must also be from that country. “What did you write in your first letter to your nieces and nephews?” He asked curiously. “The one you sealed.”
“I told them all for the last time that I loved them,” she said, her voice cool.
“Why do you take care of them?” He pressed.
Danse stopped suddenly. “I will not tell you anything about my life just to entertain you,” she snapped.
Her voice sounded loud in the emptiness of the street, but both she and Nikolai had no cause to care anymore. “Your life might depend on it,” he countered.
“How?” She demanded.
“Trust me on this,” he replied calmly. “Why are you caring for your nieces and nephews?”
“Because my mother wasn’t standing in front of that wall, waiting for the next semi that passed to crash into her, that’s why,” she snapped, her face contorting. “My sisters were both with her that night, both waiting to start work for the night so they could afford to send their children to school. They died with her – and though there is little in this world that can kill us so quickly, a fully laden semi trailer and a concrete wall killed my mother instantly. Are you satisfied now, knowing this? My father died of a heart attack a year after that, so I am all they have left.”
They walked on in silence, and she looked at him sideways, seeing no expression. “Surely you cannot hate your family with such loathing that you cannot understand the love I share with my family?”
“I can, and I do,” he replied.
“Why?” She asked, smiling at the next thought in her head. “May I guess?”
“Go ahead,” he said through clenched teeth.
“You thought them too unfeeling and cruel?”
This was true, and he flinched visibly. “I am right,” Danse realised, smiling at this revelation.
“As was I. My family thought that by virtue of their otherworld blood they were far greater than humans, and far more worthy of respect, admiration, and consequently, life. They care for nothing but their power and the retention of their power. The last time they ate with mortals, they were eating that mortal’s child, and he knew.”
Danse was quiet for only a moment. “So now, to anger them, you’re handing me over to someone just like them?”
Nikolai was silent. This was true on both accounts, for Vladimir was certainly no better than his parents, if not worse. Although he knew little of Eric D’Ember, he knew that his parents loathed him. He was no friend of mortals, true, but no friend of anyone. He would be content to know that there was someone from his line left, a female who could continue it at his command. Although he doubted Danse would be so obliging, perhaps he would be satisfied merely to know that she lived, especially if she returned her last name to the original spelling and accepted his assistance. Nikolai remembered her house. Old, he realised, everything in it was old. Once the family was wealthy, but now Danse struggled to raise four mortal teenagers by herself. Eric would not abide one of his own living so poorly.
After a Lengthy Plane Trip: New York Private Airport
“Wake up,” Nikolai ordered, gently shaking Danse’s shoulders. “We’re here.”
“Stop that,” Danse snapped, moving away from him. “Where are we? Is this New York? Where’s the sky? Oh, my god… It smells here.”
“Yep, that’s winter,” Nikolai said cheerfully. “That would be the fumes of the industrial buildings.”
“Oh, I suppose you think that’s rugged and cool,” Danse grumbled, standing up and walking to the door, kicking it until it opened.
“Yes,” Nikolai agreed. “It’s almost as though we’re going through a new industrial revolution.”
“And people in the southern hemisphere are worried about the hole in the ozone layer,” Danse muttered.
“Why worry? You’re all going to die of something eventually,” Nikolai chuckled.
“Yes, if not drowning, then skin cancer.”
“Would you like an apology from me on behalf of all New York?” He demanded, losing patience.
“That would be a start,” she conceded.
“Well, we’re sorry. Are you satisfied?”
“Of course not,” she scoffed. “You have no authority to make that apology on behalf of anyone other than yourself. I will either have to find the mayor of New York or the president…”
As they walked down the runway, Nikolai stopped near the entry to the airport administration building, where all passengers arriving or departing had to pass. Given the private nature of the airport, there were no official sign in or out areas, however there were a number of guards who had their own ways of detecting would be hijackers and intruders. “Stay here,” he said, interrupting Danse’s angry rant by grasping her arm firmly. He fished out his mobile phone and quickly dialled a number, smiling when he heard Vladimir’s voice.
“You’ve got her,” Vladimir said, pleased.
“Don’t even think about sending your goons over here,” Nikolai warned. “I’ve got her. Transfer the money across, and then I make my next move.”
“Consider it done.”
“Not until it’s done,” Nikolai snapped. “I’ll be watching my bank account, and you’re not getting near her until the money’s transferred.”
“Is she beautiful?”
Nikolai looked to Danse, who had suddenly become quiet and tense. “Very,” he decided.
“Interesting. The money is transferred.”
“I’ll wave my hand when I want them to come across.”
“What did he ask about me, that made you respond with ‘Very’?” Danse asked suspiciously.
“He wanted to know if you were afraid,” Nikolai lied, checking his bank account from his mobile. “It’s in.”
“Lead me to the wolves,” Danse said dryly, offering him his wrists.
Nikolai looked to them, confused. “You promised not to run, and I promised to unleash you.”
“What’s the point?” She countered.
He smiled slowly. “Well, with your hands tied you can’t help me fight those who are to take you to Vladimir,” he pointed out, raising his hand.
Swathed in bandages and long, loose cloaks, Vladimir’s lackeys were vampires, but ones enslaved to him and used for his menial work. He often sent them on their more dangerous missions, knowing that they would rarely survive and so he never had to fear from their growing power. Now they strode towards Nikolai on his silent signal, with no way to know of the danger they now faced.
“Have you ever fought vampires before?” Nikolai asked, watching with glee as they approached them.
“Not in the plural,” Danse confessed. “Someone called Roth once visited Australia, hoping to hide out in the one place no one would think of to look for him. I killed him.”
Nikolai looked surprised. “Roth? You killed Roth?”
Although she heard his question, Danse made no reply, instead darting out towards the vampires, almost appearing to plunge her hand through it’s chest, only achieving this thanks to a small wooden knife Nikolai had slipped into her palm. Whirling about her, keeping his back to her alone, Nikolai fought with an equal fury and speed. Contrary to popular myth, vampires were actually slightly slower than humans, depending on their powers of beguilement, hypnotism and shape changing to fight their prey. Nikolai and Danse’s kind, however, were much faster, stronger and powerful than vampires, and so they easily cut through those sent by Vladimir.
Barely in a sweat after easily slaying the last vampire, Nikolai turn to Danse to see her shivering slightly. “Are you cold?” He asked incredulously.
“Of course I am,” she said irritably. “Hey, look in that plane!”
“What?” Nikolai demanded, turning.
“It’s the mayor of New York. Hey, you! Yes, I am talking to you, buddy. You owe me and my country an apology, young man.”
Moments later, Nikolai succeeded in dragging Danse away from the astounded mayor. “Did you succeed?” He asked.
“Of course I did,” she snapped. “Do you know what town I’m from?”
“Is that the one I found you in?”
“Yes,” she replied.
“We haven’t had a mayor since angry mobs tracked him down in Hawaii and tore him apart,” she explained.
“Was he an otherworlder?” Nikolai asked, surprised.
“No.” She paused, looking to the administration building. “Where do we go now.”
“Now?” He repeated, snorting. “Now we find somewhere to hide in this city. Vladimir has his friends hiding everywhere, so we’ve got to lose them. Follow me, and keep close to me if you want to live.”
|The Game 3D2||Wolfrunner: Chap 03|
|The Game 2D2||Wolfrunner: Chap 05 End|
|Wolfrunner: Chap 04||The Maldonian Chronicles 01: First Blood|