The war council began with a history lesson from Cam and Dayle, with Nix putting in an occasional correction or addition. They told us about Florida, and the set up for getting rid of Star, and then the fire at the house and their escape.
Dayle shook her head. "I still don't understand how she could have gotten out. She was on fire, and I saw her fall to the floor. Even if the fire didn't kill her, she couldn't have gotten out of there through the door. The flames were right behind us. How did she get out?"
"The window." We all turned to look at Tess, who had spent the last half hour imitating Jesse's brooding ways. "She got out through the window."
"You don't know that, Tess." Nix's voice was a little softer than normal.
Tess leaned forward, her elbows on her knees, and her head down. "I'm pretty sure."
"How?" Dayle leaned forward to ask the question.
"I -- I saw the busted window, right after I jumped from the second floor."
Dayle's eyes went wide.
"Tess, most of the windows blew out because of the heat. Dayle and I saw some of that happening as we made our way to the front."
"I know, Nix. But there were broken branches in the bushes below the window."
"Could have been debris falling from above."
"Or it could have been Star, and if you had told us, we could have found her and ended this!" Dayle was practically yelling at Tess, and Cam leaned forward with her hand on Tess's shoulder.
"Knock it off, Dayle. You and Nix thought she was dead too. There was no reason for Tess to think any different."
"But she saw the window, Cam! If she had mentioned it --"
"The two of you would have presumed it was from the heat. None of you thought there was any way for her to get out. You were bleeding, Nix had a broken wrist -- I still don't know how that happened -- and Tess had burns everywhere. There was no reason for any of you to think Star was still alive."
"Cam's right." Nix coughed a little and shifted on the couch. "None of us would have been worried if she'd told us the window was broken. It's over. It didn't work. Star's here. Let's deal with the here and now, please?"
Dayle's mouth snapped shut and she looked down. "You're right. I guess I just -- getting that call was tough. I never expected it."
"None of us did. When Trey gave me the description of Kruise's attacker, I couldn't believe it either. Wasn't until I'd checked with some of the other clubs that I was sure. She's going by the name of Stacy, for the most part. Hitting straight and gay bars."
"Um," I wasn't sure I should break in, by I figured now was a good time if I was going to. "Nix, you ever gonna tell us what happened to you? I mean --" I waved a hand at her. "You didn't get all that by tripping or falling down a flight of stairs."
She took a deep breath and nodded. "Yeah, I think it's time I told you all. Then Tess can tell me that I was an idiot, Cam can say I was just being impulsive, and Dayle can agree that I was impulsive and idiotic." She shifted again as a chuckle went around the room.
"I got a tip from someone that Star was at this straight bar off 49th. After sitting out there for an hour, I saw her. She caught a cab to another bar and I followed her inside, but I lost track of her in the crowd. I decided to give up, try again the next night. I went outside and got into my car, and . . ."
Nix slammed the door in anger and jammed her key into the ignition.
"Great. Just great. Now I gotta find the bitch again."
"No you don't."
The blonde vampire froze at the response from the back seat and was about to whirl around when she felt something press against the back of her skull. Glancing into the rear view mirror, she saw that it was a .45 automatic.
"Looks like the bitch found you, Nix." Star laughed a little. "Now. Why are you following little old me? Hm?"
Sanity told Nix to stay quiet, but she'd lost that at the sound of Star's voice. "Cause I'm going to kill you."
"Yeah? You couldn't kill me 26 years ago, and you're not going to kill me now." She tapped the gun against Nix's head. "Start the car. You're going forward three blocks and then take a left. And if you do anything other than what I tell you, I'll not only kill you --" Star jerked something up from the floor of the back seat. "I'll kill her."
Nix glanced up to meet the terrified gaze of a young woman. Her eyes were wide, and her mouth had been taped shut. Nix's heart sank as she realized that there wasn't much she could do yet to save her.
"You could let her go, you know. It's not like I'm going to run away. I've been following you too long to let you just walk away."
Star cocked her head as if considering that. "Nah. I like this bitch. She looks like a baby butch, doesn't she?" She squeezed the cheeks of her bound captive. "I so love killing baby butch's." The gun pressed into Nix again. "Drive. And maybe she'll live."
She followed Star's directions to a warehouse down near the river. Although this particular place didn't appear abandoned, it was hidden behind several others that were. No matter what happened, no one would be down here to help or investigate in perhaps months or years.
If she and the girl were going to get out of this situation, Nix realized, it would take more than a little luck.
Star ushered them into the building, Nix in front of her with her hands on top of her head, and the girl stumbling along with her hands bound behind her back.
It looked like the inside of a dungeon, and Nix realized that's what it was. When Star didn't feel like killing right away, she brought her catches, both male and female, here. Manacles hung from the ceiling, and whips were curled on tables and shelves. Blood littered the floor in large and small stains, like red confetti on the cement.
The only one who got pleasure out of this dungeon was Star.
"Okay, we're here. Let the girl go, Star."
The other vampire looked back and forth between her two captives, as if trying to make up her mind.
"Hm. You think I should let her go, Nix?"
"Yeah. She's just a human. I'm the quarry here. You can let her go."
Star nodded. "Just a human. That's true." She pulled the girl closer and ripped the tape off her mouth. "You're just a human, you know that?"
Nix tensed, hoping she could get one clear shot at Star. Even if she hadn't been feeding regularly, Nix had always been strong due to her age. One good shot and she could lay out her opponent, at least long enough for the girl to escape.
The young woman was crying and begging Star to let her go. Star was smiling and watching her. The still bound captive stepped backward, and Star turned to watch her, putting her back to Nix.
It was enough. Nix clenched her hands together and brought them down on the back of Star's neck. The younger vampire stumbled and Nix stepped around her intending to drive a knee into her face.
Instead, she found her knee grabbed, and then she was off balance and falling backward. Her head hit the floor and she lay stunned for a moment.
Before she could regain her senses Star had her up, her hands in the hanging manacles, the wrist cuffs locked around her.
Nix shook her head to clear it. When she looked up, she saw Star before her, the human woman in her hands. Even as Nix watched, Star drew a knife from her belt and held it to the girl's throat.
"Just a human. You're right. But don't you remember, Nix? Humans are food." She slit the girl's throat, letting the blood spill for a moment before leaning down and licking at it. "Only food."
The scent of fresh blood was powerful even in the salty air of the warehouse. Nix had to clench her teeth against it, feeling the desire well up from deep inside her. It really had been too long since she'd fed.
As if she knew that, Star brought the girl closer to the blonde vampire, using one arm to hold the limp body up even as her other hand moved the head aside so Nix could see the blood flowing freely.
"See it? See the pulse still fluttering? She's still alive." Nix swallowed. The wound was still pumping out blood, sluggishly. "You want her?"
Closing her eyes, Nix shook her head.
A blow across her face rocked her back on her heels and she opened her eyes again.
"Don't lie to me. You know you want this. Tell me."
"Say it, Phoenix. Say you want it." She backhanded Nix. "Say it."
Nix had to keep her jaw clenched to stop her fangs from extending. "No."
Star gathered some of the girl's blood on her hand and wiped it across Nix's face. "You're such a fucking idiot. You actually like these pathetic creatures."
"They're people, Star. They're not just food."
"People? No, they're animals. Or don't you remember?"
Nix avoided her gaze. "I remember. But you can't hold the transgressions of one group against the entire species." She met Star's eyes. "Just like I would never want your sins blamed on me."
For a moment, Star stood in silence, staring at Nix. Then, calmly, she reached down and snapped the girl's neck. Whirling, she threw the body as far as she could, watching it hit the floor with an audible thump, only feet from the entrance.
Then she turned back to Nix.
"My sins?" Star laughed, and Nix was reminded of how insane the other vampire was. "And what of yours? Are you ready to pay for your sins, Phoenix?"
Without another word, the beating began.
Star spaced her punches evenly, controlling her blows. She didn't want to kill Nix -- yet. But she did want her to hurt.
Nix kept her jaw clenched tight, trying not to make a sound as her face was pummeled. Her eyes began swelling. When a rib broke, she whimpered. When Star broke her leg, she let one half cry out. As the whip landed on her back over and over, she began to cry as silently as possible.
It wasn't until Star began playing with her knife that she finally got what she wanted. Using her lighter, she patiently held the tip of the knife in the flame until it turned red. When she began cutting patterns in Nix's flesh, the vampire screamed.
Satisfied Nix wasn't able to fight back, Star released her from the chains, watching with a cold smile as her prisoner dropped to the ground, several wounds breaking open as she hit the pavement. Tossing a heavy tarp over her, Star picked Nix up and carried her to the car, putting her in the trunk. Then she tossed the dead girl on top of the tarp.
The smell of blood that still hung around the corpse made Nix nauseated. She needed blood, soon. Being able to smell it and not taste it was driving her crazy. Moving carefully, she tried to reach up and pull the tarp back, but it was wrapped tightly around her, and she couldn't get an arm free.
It wasn't a long drive, and Nix wondered if Star was planning on tossing them both in the river. Salt water in her wounds would make her even less likely to heal, she knew, and if she was still wrapped in the tarp, she'd drown quickly.
When the trunk opened, she could smell beer, and rotting garbage, along with the fumes of many cars.
The weight of the girl disappeared and then she was being lifted and tossed onto another hard surface. The tarp was removed, and she could see buildings around her, and a garbage dumpster.
"Well, here we are. Your new home." Star carefully set up a wall between her and the outer part of the alley, but Nix had seen enough to know which bar was across the alley. "Now, you're going to be smelling and hearing a lot of people. But you know that if you call anyone over, one of two things will happen. One, they'll call the police. They do that and your secret is out. Two, you'll be so starved that you'll drain them without knowing." She laughed. "I'd almost like to see that."
Star pulled out her hunting knife again, and Nix flinched. "As you can see, you're facing east. The sun just went down a little while ago, so it's still quite a few hours till daylight. But, you'll be watching as the sun rises, and you'll be so tired, you won't even notice the fact that you're burning."
Nix said nothing.
"Oh, you're thinking that in a few hours your body will have healed enough for you to at least avoid the sun, right?" Star chuckled. "Even though you're practically starved for blood, you could be right. So, I'll have to make sure that doesn't happen."
Putting one hand across Nix's mouth, Star used the other to drive her knife into the upper region of Nix's abdomen. She turned the blade a couple of times, making sure the blood was flowing the way she wanted it to.
"I want you to know, Nix. I enjoyed that sweet human you were playing with in San Francisco. It was so nice of you to make sure she was unafraid of vampires." She smiled. "And I even used my teeth on her when I killed her. That was nice of me, wasn't it."
She took her hand off the vampire's mouth. "Wasn't it."
Nix bared her fangs, then tried to brace herself as Star curled her arm to backhand the blonde.
Star chose not to, however.
"You always could get under my skin." Star looked at the hunting knife again. "Guess this time I got under yours." She winked and walked away.
Nix heard the car start, and choked on the dust it kicked up in the alley. She got a hand across her bleeding stomach and tried to think of a way out of this mess.
It was all she could do to move the piece of cardboard over so it could possibly protect her from the sun. She was lying there in exhaustion, trying not to panic.
She'd been there for a couple hours when she heard a familiar voice.
Salvation came in strange ways, she mused.
Then she gathered her strength and tried to call out to Jesse.
The room was quiet after Nix's story.
The vampire's head was down and she had folded her arms over her middle. To my eyes she looked smaller, shrunken, as if the attack had taken inches from her already small frame.
"You were an idiot. Should have called us and told us what was going on."
Cam smiled, hearing the teasing note in her lover's voice. "Nix was just being impulsive, Tess. That's her nature."
Dayle caught onto the joke. "Yeah, she was impulsive, but she was also an idiot." She nodded.
Nix looked up at them and started to chuckle. It went around the room, breaking the tension.
Tess winked at her. "I just want to know one thing. Who gave you the tip as to Star's location?"
Nix looked at the floor as Kelsey slowly raised her hand. "I did. I didn't think Nix would try to follow her by herself, or if she did, I didn't think she'd follow her into a bar on foot. I'd never have called her if I'd known . . . "
"That Star was a psycho?" Kruise's frank analysis of the rogue vampire made everyone turn to her. "She is, you know. I mean, what she did to Nix kind of proves it, don't you think?"
Kelsey nodded. "I think so."
"You do, huh, Kelsey?" Tess leaned forward again. "So, tell us what kind of help the council's going to give us to get this psycho."
Kelsey's face turned red and she looked at the floor. "I took the problem to the council as I said I would, Tess."
"And their response?"
The answer came in a soft voice. "Non-interference, no involvement. They think Star is the problem of the elders who originally quarreled with her. Not a council problem."
"Okay, I'm confused." Jace shocked me when she interrupted. "Exactly what does this council do? What's it for?"
"The council," Kelsey answered, "is the governing body for the vampires that live in New York City and the surrounding boroughs. We mediate disputes, give out penalties to those who break the rules, and make sure that the humans don't discover the truth about us."
"Oh, really." I couldn't resist saying something. "And just what humans would you be talking about?"
Nix chuckled. Kelsey, reminded that she was sitting among humans, looked even more embarrassed. "Humans in general, Trey. There are small pockets that know, of course. The clubs, and groups of friends. But, for the most part, all the humans that know are not in a position to divulge the vampire secret to the world."
"Or if they did, they wouldn't be believed." Dayle pulled her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. "Part of the council's responsibility has always been to make sure that no evidence of our existence falls into the wrong hands."
Kelsey nodded. "Right."
"Okay." Jace moved forward a little on the couch, and I knew she was about to launch into a logical debate. It almost made me feel sorry for Kelsey. Jace can be devastating in her logic.
"Okay. So, you guys at the council decide the rules and punish those vampires who break them, right?"
"And what exactly are the rules? I mean, what kind of codes do you guys have?"
"Well, the biggest one is not to draw attention to ourselves. Everything else flows from that."
"Like . . . no wholesale slaughter of humans. If you have a disagreement with another vampire, the council mediates it and our word on the matter is final."
"Is there a council for the United States, or just separate city councils?"
"Just cities. From what I understand it's a bit more centralized in Europe, but we've never needed that."
"Well, what do you do if a vampire moves here from another city?"
"We welcome them, make sure they understand the rules."
"And if another council makes a decree, do you honor it? Like, if two vampires are fighting in another city and a council makes a decision, what happens if they both move here and the dispute is renewed by the loser of the original settlement? Do you have another hearing, or do you declare the matter settled by the other council?"
Kelsey frowned. "I can't remember that ever happening, but I suppose we would review the decision of the other council and if we agreed, it would stand."
"So, let's say a vampire comes to you and says that someone committed a crime in another jurisdiction, broke a law that was very important in that group. Almost caused the vampires there to be discovered. And the council in that city handed down a punishment, but the offender fled before they could be punished. They're living in New York, and the council from the other city requests that you either hand over the offender, or complete the punishment yourself. What do you do?"
I could see a small smile on Jesse's face. Nix was grinning openly, as was Dayle. I couldn't help but feel pretty proud of my girlfriend.
"Again, I think we would review the punishment, and --"
"What is your punishment for a vampire that nearly blows the cover of another vampire? That draws too much attention? And keeps doing it after they've been warned to stop?"
"They'd be banished."
"And if they refused to leave, and did the same thing again?"
"They'd be executed."
"And if the judgment of another council was one of execution for an offense that is also punishable by death, would you honor that judgment?"
"Cool. That means the New York council should uphold the execution decree of the San Francisco council and execute Star immediately."
You could have heard a water drop fall on the carpet.
"But -- that's not -- it's --" Kelsey stopped. Jace's logic was very good as usual.
Not that it mattered.
"I'm sorry. As illogical," Kelsey bowed her head in Jace's direction, "as it sounds, the council has decided it will not be involved in this war between ancients."
"Yeah, well, Tess and Cam explained the ancient thing over dinner, and I still think it's stupid." Jesse pulled out her cigarettes. "Just because they're older you don't have to pay any attention to them, or help them when they need it, or - or -- do anything about a renegade murderer just because all the people complaining are older than you, or weren't born here?" She flipped her lighter open. "I've run into a hell of a lot of discrimination in my life, but you guys . . ." She lit the cigarette and let out a breath of smoke.
Kelsey looked down at the floor. "I'm sorry. I'll try again. I'll try to use other arguments, but --"
"It's okay, Kels." Nix reached over and patted her knee. "As much as I'd like the council to help, I kind of suspected we'd get another no. Things don't change quickly in the vampire world."
"I'm really sorry, Nix."
We were all quiet again, and then Kelsey stood. "Well. I guess I should get out of here. I can probably do more to help if I don't know what's going on." She shook her head. "That didn't come out right. I mean, if I don't know what's going on, then the council can't accuse me of being involved, and I have a chance, slim though it might be, of changing their minds."
Kelsey leaned over and hugged Nix. "You too. If I don't hear from you I'll be calling to find out if you're okay. Do as your doctor told you and rest, would you?"
Jesse extended her hand to Kelsey in a move that surprised everyone. "Thanks for the help."
"No problem. Remember to use the salve, okay?"
"Kruise and I will, yeah. Take care."
Other good-byes were said, with even Jace and I getting hand shakes from the council member. Then she was leaving, and Cam was coming back to retake her chair after seeing the vampire out.
Dayle had moved over and taken her vacated seat. Kruise was sitting up again, though leaning towards Jace. Jesse's cigarette had burned down and she cursed as she crushed it out. Tess was standing by the screen door, staring out into the night.
Nix was watching everyone, a quiet speculation in her eyes.
"So. I guess the next thing to decide is whether or not the humans are going to be involved in this."
Dayle's quiet statement was dropped into silence that was instantly shattered by all four of us demanding that we be allowed to stay.
Silence reigned again as we all stared at Tess. Even Cam looked surprised at her lover's outburst.
"Dayle, they've made the decision that they want to be part of this. Kruise has a right; after all she was attacked by Star. Jesse saved Nix, which gives her a place as well. And Trey --" she smiled. "Trey wouldn't stay out of this if we tied her up and shipped her to England on a slow boat by way of China. She'd find someway to get back here and muck everything up."
I tried to look indignant as everyone chuckled.
"And Jace goes where ever Trey does, so that's that." Tess looked at each of us in turn. "But the four of you are going to follow orders. This is not a simple brawl with nosferatu, or a rumble with a gang. You're getting involved in a hunt for a person that is a killer and has no respect for humans, or anyone. So, when we come up with a plan, there will be no deviation, no going off on your own," she glared at Nix for a moment, "and no heroics. Is that clear?"
Seven heads nodded.
"Anybody have to work this weekend? Kruise?"
She shook her head. "We just closed a show last weekend. They gave us this weekend off."
"Not till Monday, and I can take vacation if I need to."
Tess nodded. "Good. Trey?"
I shrugged. "I'm a free lance writer -- I write when and where I want. No assignments currently, so I'm free till we finish this."
"All right then. It's nearly dawn. I'm wiped, Nix needs sleep, Kruise looks tired and Dayle had a long flight. Time for us all to get some sleep. Tomorrow morning, after we've gotten breakfast, we'll begin planning. Go to bed, all of you." She waved her hand for us to disperse. "Oh, and one more thing. No one leaves the apartment until we've set a plan. I don't want to take chances. Star's insane."
We all nodded, and groups began to break up.
Jess insisted that she would carry Nix back to the guest room, and said she'd sleep in the chair beside the bed. That way she could be there if anything happened. Dayle was about to protest when she caught Nix's glare. She raised an eyebrow but said nothing.
Jace groaned when she heard we were sleeping on the floor. Luckily, Cam kept me out of the doghouse by pulling out a couple of air mattresses and a pump to inflate them.
Dayle and Kruise took the couch, which opened into a full bed. I heard them talking a little bit, and Kruise laughed. It was a nice sound, and one that had been missing for a while.
After making sure everyone was settled, Cam turned off the light and headed for her room. I saw Tess waiting for her in the doorway, illuminated by the light behind her. They embraced, and I could see Cam pull Tess's head down as she wound her arms around her lover. I saw Tess's shoulders shaking, and for a moment I thought she was crying.
Then the door closed behind them and darkness filled the rest of the apartment.
It took me only a few minutes to fall asleep but my dreams were filled with images of Nix and Tess and a raised gun. I woke up trembling, with Jace kissing my forehead.
After that it took me a long
time to close my eyes.
End Part Seven
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