Sunday, May 27, 2007

Episode 13: Finders Keepers

Lex lounged on the couch. He'd finally found it a few days ago, and it was more comfortable than his cot. It had been buried under a metric ton of books, but it was real leather and exceedingly soft. Soraperion hadn't even noticed when Lex had shifted the books around so he figured the old mage wouldn't mind.

Soraperion was searching again. Lex could see him through the doorway to the workshop, sitting at the round table in the center of the room with his books spread around him, still tracing runes in the air. The patterns were more complex now than they'd been before, and they were still getting more and more complicated as he worked longer.

Lex had finally begun to wonder if he should run away again. Soraperion provided him with some protection, but he'd learned a trick or two since he'd been attacked by Sue. If he could make it out of Las Vegas, he might be able to escape them entirely.

It was early in the morning, and Soraperion didn't own a television. Still, he might as well wait for sunrise . . .

From the workshop came a yell. Soraperion was standing, and there was something glowing in the air above the books. The runes had contracted into a spherical crystal, and inside was a wooden box.

Soraperion laughed, his grin so broad that tears streamed down his face. "There it is, there it is."

Lex stood, coming into the workshop and looking down at the box. "What is it?"

Soraperion sighed deeply, still smiling like a clown. "It's immortality, of a kind."

"Like a vampire?"

"No. Not at all. Have I told you anything about Vampires?"

"They won't attack you if they're afraid of you."

Soraperion smiled as though Lex had made a joke. "I meant, about where their powers come from."


"Vampires are consumed with the hunger for blood. The older and more powerful the vampire, the better he or she will have controlled their hunger and turned it into something that they can use to fuel their abilities and powers. This, though, is something that doesn't require that same damning hunger or impose the same half-life limitations." Soraperion reached out and touched the bubble, which flickered and then vanished.

"Where'd it go?"

Soraperion laughed. "That was just an image. A guide to the real thing. So we follow where it points."


"Yes," Soraperion looked around the room, and then down at himself. He was wearing one of his brown work robes and as far as Lex knew he was still working off a few moments sleeping at his bench from the day before. "Get dressed," he ordered Lex, and then swept toward his bedroom.

Lex was already wearing his only clean set of clothes. Since he'd moved in with Soraperion he'd only scrapped together one change, and when it was dirty he still wore his old jeans and jacket.

Soraperion returned a few moments later wearing a heavy black robe and carrying a tall silver staff.

Downstairs, the gray car was pulling around. It didn't have a driver and Lex suspected that Soraperion didn't know how to drive at all. How it guided itself was a mystery to him.

They both got in the back seat of the car, Soraperion laying the staff across their laps. Soraperion gestured, and the car set off in the night, and Soraperion made a set of gestures. A circle of pulsing blue runes appeared in the air, and as they drove Soraperion gave instructions to the car, which drove through the darkened streets of Las Vegas.

Soraperion growled at every red light, and finally, out of the outskirts of the city they reached a gate and the car stopped.

"Come along," Soraperion said, and got out of the car.

The gates were iron and heavy, supported by two huge stone posts and walls extended into the grayish twilight on either side.

Soraperion looked up at the gate, and spoke a word. The bars glowed blue white for a moment. He shook his head.

"They have no imagination," murmured Soraperion.


He gestured at the gate vaguely. "The bars are enchanted."

"So what do we do?"

Soraperion walked over to one of the stone pillars that bordered the gate. He turned to Lex and gestured for him to follow.

As Lex approached, Soraperion cast a spell. Something hit Lex from behind and he stumbled, but Soraperion caught him and pushed him forward at the same time. They stepped forward through the stone.

There was a roar and something pitch black spun around him, like a swarm of minute bees. He could feel them glance off of his skin and then spin around him. Soraperion pulled him forward and through the darkness, his feet slipping and sliding on what felt like marbles until he fell out in the silent night on the other side of the wall.

"Enchanted the gate, but they didn't do anything to the walls," Soraperion said smugly.

Lex looked wide eyed at the stone. There was a gaping hole in the stonework, but as he watched tiny pebbles of gray stone gathered back together and resolidified with a murmur.

Soraperion shook one last bit of stone off his cloak. It flew back to the wall and clicked into place, leaving the pillar completely whole again. Then Soraperion turned and started walking up the driveway, and Lex followed along behind.

"Do vampires live here?"

"No. Witches."

The house came into view around the curve of the driveway. The building was huge, four stories high and it had parapets like a castle.

There was a circular road in front of the house, and Soraperion walked right into the middle and stood there, looking at the building as though he wasn't worried about anyone seeing him. He gestured, and the circle that he'd conjured in the car reappeared, but now he enlarged it, adding symbols on both sides at once, and speaking forcefully. The noise seemed to be trapped in whatever he was building in front of him.

The pattern of lights grew larger, until it was a plate of moving runes three feet across, when suddenly it collapsed together and flared brightly. The box had reappeared, and it was pulsing. As he looked, Lex realized that a trail of blue fire, part of the nimbus that surrounded the box, was slowly flowing off toward part of the building. It was pointing to the third floor, to the left of the door.

"Aaaaaaahhhh," Soraperion sighed, and then turned to Lex. "When we go in, I'll be very busy. I want to give you this. If you're in trouble, open it, and it will protect you." He fished something out of his pocket with his free hand, and handed it to Lex. It appeared to be a small shell clasp, like a locket.

"I think I'm prepared then." Soraperion said. "Nothing more to do now except retrieve the box."

He turned back to the house, and they walked toward the door. As Soraperion approached it, he gestured with his staff and something white flashed, and the door disintegrated into dust, blowing backward in a boom. Somewhere in the house a keening wail rose, almost like a baby crying. It wasn't natural though: it never stopped for breath.

Just inside was a darkened room. Soraperion spoke a few words, and lights sprang up, dancing through the hallways until the entire place was filled with brilliant grayish yellow light.

The entryway was huge. It was two stories high, and at the back of the room was a marble grand staircase covered with a red carpet. There was even a crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling.

Someone bounded out of one of the hallways but encountered a ball of fire from Soraperion's staff and crumpled screaming to the floor. Another bolt of white light collapsed the arch of the hallway through which the man had come.

Lex stared at the burning figure, suddenly wishing that he hadn't come along, or at least that there was something he could consciously do to protect himself. The scream from the burning body trailed away and the the form twitched a few times before going still. The scent of burned blood washed over him and he gagged and almost threw up.

Soraperion gestured at another hallway and a latticework of iron grew into place through the stonework entrance like a metal creeping ivy. There were voices from that direction but no one appeared through the gaps in the metal.

"Don't want to make the same mistake they did though," Soraperion said to himself and swept his staff out. There was another burst of light and this time red and a crimson haze spread out and painted the formerly white surfaces with dark ochre slick. There was a smell almost like burned oil from a car.

"Third floor I think," Soraperion said to Lex. "Come Along."

They went up the stairs, and at the top of the stairs they headed left through an opulent hallway. Lex could hardly stop himself from looking around at the fancy surroundings even though he knew that he should be looking out for more people. I wish I was rich enough to live like this, he thought to himself, trying to imagine it but failing.

Soraperion's conjured lights were floating in concentrations around one of the doors in the hallway, which turned out to be another stairwell. They climbed one floor, and went through into a darkened hallway. Soraperion summoned more lights, and they continued.

At the end of the hall was a plain door made of wood. Compared to the others that lined the halls it looked rather ordinary. It didn't even have simple paneling and wouldn't have looked out of place in a warehouse to Lex. Soraperion gestured with his staff again, and there was a boom, but the door didn't budge.

"Better," he said and began to cast runes in front of him, spinning them together like thread until he had a knot of them in his fist. He gestured, almost like the glowing ball was a yo-yo, and it jumped forward at the door.

For just a split second Lex could see the heavy yellow and purple spells glowing spells protecting the door. Soraperion's knot spell splattered against them and the blue runes began to eat through the protection spells and through the door itself like acid. Within a few moments the door was a melting pile of sludge, and Soraperion stepped through.

There were in a large room, and it was filled with shelves that contained gold, jewels and pieces of artwork. Soraperion gestured, and the heavy shelves pushed out to the edges of the room. At the far end was a tapestry. The mage gestured again, and the tapestry was flung aside, revealing a safe door.

Soraperion examined the door, and frowned. "Very good actually. This is a passageway. Very clever." He looked at Lex. "Stay here. If someone comes in, use the device. Do you understand?"

Lex nodded, swallowing.

"Good then." Soraperion reached out and took the handle of the vault. There was a noise so loud that it flung Lex backward, and a five foot circle around the safe jerked down, pulling Soraperion and the safe out of sight into a black hole that opened up in the floor.

And then there were a few moments of silence.

Lex went over and looked down through the hole. Despite the magic lights that Soraperion had conjured, the sides of the hole were so deep that it vanished into darkness. "Soraperion?" he called and when there was no response, he tried louder.


Lex backed away from the hole, and looked around at the treasures that surrounded him. A few weeks ago he could have sold anything in this to pay for Lia and himself to live comfortably for a year. Now the idea of taking something was pointless. Soraperion would care for him, and even if Lex left, he wasn't sure that Soraperion couldn't simply kill him from a distance.

As he thought about it, he couldn't quite understand why he'd followed Soraperion. True, the mage had taken him in and protected him from the vampires, but breaking into this house, killing those people in the hall seemed extreme. It was wrong. They could sit in jail for years although Lex wondered if the authorities had any prison that could hold Soraperion. Or himself, for that matter.

There was a commotion at the door that Soraperion had melted, and Lex turned to see a group of people stumble through the door.

Most of them were women wearing night gowns, but one of the women, the one in front, wore black robes that reminded Alex of Soraperion's robes only she wore a yellow scarf around her neck.

She was short, and a little bit overweight, and she was smiling kindly. She reminded Lex of an aunt that had always been nice to him as a child.

"Who are you, dear?" she asked.

Lex didn't know what to say.

"Hold him," the woman said pleasantly, and two men started out from behind her toward him.

Lex's fingered fumbled with the catch on the shell device, and for a second he thought he wouldn't get it open before they reached him. Suddenly, his fingers worked the clasp and the two pieces opened.

There was a spell inside.

The runes were tiny, much too small to be written by Soraperion's fingertips. The glittering thing expanded, and Lex realized that this was by far the most complicated thing that he'd ever seen constructed out of runes and light. There were libraries of letters, and for a moment he could almost make out that each individual rune was composed of thousands of smaller runes.

The spell floated for a moment. Time for Lex slowed to a crawl. It was like the two men were fighting through molasses, but he couldn't look away from the little glowing thing in his hands. He wondered for a moment if it would throw fire at the witches and their men, or if it would act like the spell that had broken through the door.

The spell shivered, flickered, and then poured into Lex.

He screamed immediately from the pain. He was pretty sure that he was unconscious and he could no longer sense the room around him. There wasn't even a satisfactory noise to reassure him that his lungs were fine and working and that despite the pain he was still alive and screaming.

When things faded back into view, there was a slight blue tint and blur to everything that he could see, almost like he was underwater. A hand flickered up, and the two men coming toward him were thrown back into the far wall.

"Meredith Bliss," said Soraperion's voice. "You haven't changed a bit."

"And neither have you, Soraperion," the woman with the yellow scarf said happily. "Still using interesting people, I see."

"Do you like him?" Soraperion said, and Lex's hand lifted in front of his face. Lex suddenly realized that Soraperion's voice was coming through his mouth. He tried to move, but as he struggled he realized that he was no longer in control of his own body.

"An untrained mage," she said. "Also an untrained warlock, and perhaps a hint of something else as well. There are not many people that are so many things. It's much too bad he fell in with you."

Lex's body shrugged. "I knew that he'd come in useful sooner or later."

Meredith looked back at the people gathered behind her. She gestured five of them forward, two pretty younger women, one older woman, and two men. "Kill him," she ordered them, smiling. "Bybreak, you and Bear are with me."

The people that she'd ordered stepped forward, the women raising their arms and beginning to chant and the men pulling knives out of their coats.

Lex felt himself smirk, and he began to struggle again, but whatever had hold of him was not letting go. He sketched out a combination of wind and fire runes, and as they formed under his fingers he spoke a word of power and the simple spell expanded out into a sheets of fire, filling the room. The older witch finished her counterspell in the nick of time, and the flames stopped just short of the women.

One of the younger women, a pretty brunette, finished with her spell and launched it. It wasn't much of a spell. It would have stopped Lex's heart and he couldn't let her do that. He flicked it back at her and concentrated on the next woman, a blonde, as the brunette stumbled, gasping.

She was trying something slightly more ambitious. A seething ball of fiery plasma erupted in front of her, and streaked out at him. Lex sketched a barrier rune against fire, and let the ball harmlessly burn against it. He sketched a similar barrier rune but this time added a complex set of energy specifications onto it, and flung it at the opening to the hole. Bliss had been making her way toward it, but now she slowed and was forced to examine the impediment.

The old witch had finally finished her first offensive spell. She didn't want to attack Lex directly, so she dissolved the floor below him instead. Lex could have prevented it, but instead he sketched a set of air runes and flew up as the floor turned to sand below him.

Now that he was airborne, there were certain things that he had to guard against. He launched a series of protective spells, and then sent a series of force runes at the women. The older women and the recovering brunette managed to block, but the blonde was caught in the middle of her second spell, a real doozy, and she was slammed back into the wall. Her unfinished spell sputtered and exploded, surprising the brunette, who flinched back and stumbled again but still managed to keep her feet.

The old witch launched a wave of ice at him, but he just swung the fire protection rune around, and her ball of cold was eaten by the blonde's fire spell. Yellow light flared for a moment, and a ribbon of golden light raced out and caught his arms. It was a smart trick by the brunette but not enough to catch him.

A few carefully chosen words dissolved the bonds but by then one of the men was in attack range. He jumped up, stabbing with his knife at Lex's floating legs, but one of Lex's protection spells guarded him. Before the man could jump again, he gestured, and the man dropped his knife, sitting down in the middle of the battle with a blank look on his face.

Bliss was almost through Lex's barrier but from below came a brilliant blue light which filtered through the glowing mesh of the spell and resolved into a creature that resembled a spider, if only spiders had eight scorpion stingers instead of legs and were six feet high. A large man with long dark hair and tattoos, a Native American perhaps, stepped in front of her, and started to defend her with a staff or spear of some kind.

The Brunette had conjured a nifty looking knife from her position still sitting on the ground. She balanced it for a moment while she spoke to it, and then launched it at him.

"You don't want to do that," Lex said to the knife, which paused mid flight. "Aren't you more comfortable back with her?"

The knife seemed to realize its mistake and shot back toward the dark haired witch. Whatever spells she'd enchanted it with were effective. It cut through her own protections like butter and thunked into her shoulder with a happy splortch.

The second man was almost on him. Lex floated higher, momentarily out of reach and then flicked a fireball at him. The man's protections stopped it just above his skin, but the fire quickly heated the knife to a dull red. He screamed and dropped it, which he seemed to realize was a mistake about the same time his protections shattered and the remaining fragments of the fire burned deep into his skin.

The old woman had been working for a few moments, and she raised her hands. A wave of something black passed over him. It was like all of Lex's hairs were on fire, and on the inside he screamed again. On the outside though, he just smiled. "Not very effective," said Soraperion's voice, and he summoned a slew of firey arrow heads and fired them in her direction.

He glanced over at the barrier. The spider creature was dead, and Bliss, Bybreak, and the Native American were gone. Oh well, nothing for him to do about it now.

The arrow heads had paused inches away from the old woman's outstretched hand, but she was sweating, and the arrowheads hadn't dropped yet. The brunette, even with the knife in her shoulder, managed to gesture and shout something, and the arrowheads all dissolved into smoke.

As they vanished he sketched out a series of things. Water and air swirled together and were modified with a set of brilliant electricity runes. Lightning flickered out toward all of the women, but it only struck the already unconscious blond woman. He was hoping to surprise them, but another woman, middle-aged and with her red hair tied back with a white scarf stepped forward with just enough time to put up a defense. The bolts of lightning bounced off of her magics and into the shelves lining the walls, vaporizing several expensive looking works of art.

Two against one wasn't nearly a fair fight for the witches, but with the brunette still helping out with defense they were just managing to keep themselves alive against Soraperion's Lex puppet.

Down below there were noises, bangs and booms, and the occasional gust of colored smoke. Inside Lex struggled and struggled, but the spell had complete control of him. With Soraperion's spell inhabiting him he understood the runes though. The magery made perfect sense to him.

He also realized that the runes were all Soraperion knew. Everything was done with runes and modifiers and spoken words to add subtle variation and power. Lex had never needed any of that before. The part of Lex's mind that was still Lex looked around the room as Soraperion's Lex looked at the hole after a particularly loud bang.

Behind him on one of the shelves was a golden statue. As Lex's head turned away, he couldn't see it any more, but that didn't matter to what he had planned. He still struggled with the Soraperion Lex so that it wouldn't get suspicious, but he also reached out with his simpler telekinetic powers, grabbed the cow statue and jerked it forward.

For a second, he was worried that nothing would happen, but suddenly there was a shock and he fell out of the air, sprawling out on the sandy floor and seeing stars floating before his eyes.

With Soraperion Lex distracted, Lex suddenly found himself winning. One of his arms grabbed his other arm. For a moment, Lex wasn't sure which one he controlled, but neither was Soraperion Lex.

There was mostly silence in the room though. The witches were looking at each other and at Lex, lying on the floor, his arms clasped together.

"Did you do that?" the middle-aged witch asked the older witch.

"I don't think so," the older witch said, looking at him. "Stay back, it might be a trick."

Inside his head, Soraperion's Lex was still struggling with the real Lex. If you don't allow me to take over, they're going to kill you, Soraperion's voice whispered.

They can try, Lex replied.

I can protect you, the voice said almost desperately.

So can I, Lex bitterly replied.

A lick of probing fire glanced off of Soraperion Lex's remaining protections, most of which had vanished when Lex had knocked himself on the head.

He sat up, and looked at the women. There were lots of objects around. Behind the women, coins, boxes, statues and vases jumped off the shelves and started pummeling them viciously. The middle-aged witch let a bolt of something fly, but Lex lifted a hand and it glanced off like it had bounced off a mirror.

I need to get out of here, Lex thought to the voice in his head.

You have to wait for Soraperion.

Aren't you Soraperion?

The voice didn't respond.

Suddenly, the lights in the room flickered and went out and the floor shook. The Soraperion voice in his head suddenly began to buckle and fragment, even though Lex had ceased to struggle with it moments earlier in surprise.

He also felt his understanding of the runes fading away.

Internally, he grabbed the edges of the voice, which seemed to cling back.

Help? It suddenly seemed to think at him.

I need a way out, Lex reminded it.

This symbol, this symbol, and then say "Yona calla 'hrippe."

Alex started to sketch. Even with the voice showing him how to move, the symbols didn't come effortlessly, like it had under Soraperion's control. He had to take the time to carefully sketch them so that they wouldn't be ruined.

As he started the second rune, something rose out of the hole. It was the woman with the yellow shawl and the Native American, and neither of them looked hurt, or even as though they had a hair out of place. Bliss was carrying the box Soraperion wanted in one hand, and a bloody red staff in the other hand. She looked over at the women, and then over to Lex as though surprised to find them both alive. Before she could raise her hands, Lex's fingers finished the final line.

"Yona calla 'hrippe!" He shouted, and suddenly the runes flared. Something jerked him straight out of the building through the wall, sending stone and plaster exploding outward. He flew down the driveway, over the gate, and landed heavily in the gravel next to the car.

Can you move? inquired the voice.

Lex groaned. He tried to move his arm, but he couldn't. For a moment he thought that Soraperion's voice had taken over again, but it was just hanging at an odd angle. He'd hurt it when he landed.

Instead of his arms he used his head. His powers dragged him to his feet, opened the gray car's door, and propelled him inside.

The voice said, It will only take instructions from Soraperion. Let me use your voice.

Alex complied.

"Home," Soraperion's voice ordered, and the car started and began to drive away from the gate and the house of witches beyond it.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Episode 12: On Display

Lia knew that Annabelle was approaching before she knocked on the door. She could smell the lavender perfume and the faint scent of her conditioner from down the hallway now.

Annabelle would come in the morning, make sure that she was dressed and cleaned up, and then they would do lessons, like a private school just for Lia. In the evenings, Mr. Mohan would often come by her room. He would sit down across the table from Lia and ask her how she was. They would talk for a few moments, and then Mr. Mohan would look into her eyes, say a few words, and leave.

What the words were depended on the day. "Remember," was common, but so were "Learn" and "See." Often, when he would speak, she felt a rush of something indescribable, and afterward she would feel extremely powerful, like she didn't have to be afraid of anything.

Her ability to smell other people had developed a few weeks back. She's mentioned it to Annabelle, and she suspected that Annabelle had told Mr. Mohan, although he'd never mentioned it directly.

It was nearly time for Mr. Mohan to come home, but some of the smells were wrong. The cooks hadn't come in, and they weren't preparing dinner yet, which they always did for Mr. Mohan.

Annabelle entered. Lia was sitting at the desk with a paper and a box of crayons. She'd never had one with all of the colors before, and it was her favorite thing in the room, even more than the dresses, even though she knew that was probably sort of childish. Today she was drawing a thin figure in a black and red jacket. He was smiling, but not big like Annabelle or Mr. Mohan smiled. It was a thin smile, and even though she'd only seen it once or twice she could clearly remember it.

"Who are you drawing?" Annabelle asked, politely. She looked. "Your friend again?"

Lia nodded.

"Well, we still haven't found him, but don't worry, I talked with Michael and his people are out still looking. I'm sure we'll find him." Her voice was soothing, but they hadn't found him yet.

Lia put the crayon back in the box, careful to make sure that it went in the right spot. Annabelle had showed her how to open all of the drawers, and Lia opened the top one and put the drawing of Lex with all of the others featuring him.

"Mr. Mohan would like you to accompany him to dinner tonight. Would you like to do that?"


"You're going to be going to a very nice restaurant, so you'll want to be on your best behavior. Mr. Mohan asked that you wear something blue, and I thought of that new light blue dress that we bought the other day."

Annabelle went to the closet and Lia followed her.

About twenty minutes later, Lia was read to go. This light blue dress wasn't as fancy as the dress she'd worn the first day, but it was softer and there was beautiful dark blue stitching around the edges. Annabelle had tied up Lia's hair and put some dark red chopsticks with blue birds to hold it together. When she looked in the mirror, Lia thought she looked like a movie star.

Annabelle brought her downstairs, and then helped her into Mr. Mohan's limo, but didn't get in herself.

"Aren't you coming?" Lia asked, surprised. Annabelle seemed to be with her all the time.

"No, not tonight. But Miss Chi-Wong will be there tonight. She'll take care of you."

Annabelle closed the door and the limo set off.

Inside the limo, there were all sorts of cool things. There was a sunroof that opened, although Lia was barely tall enough to see the tops of buildings as they went passed. There was a television, and there was also a phone, and a box of cold bottles of water.

Lia flipped through television channels until they reached one of Mr. Mohan's offices, not one that Lia had seen before. As soon as they pulled up, the door opened, and Miss Chi-Wong slid inside, followed shortly by Michael and several of his men, and then finally Mr. Mohan. As they entered, Lia scooted toward the front of the vehicle, until she was pressed up against the glass window to the driver.

All of them were dressed very nicely. Michael and his men wore tuxedos, Mr. Mohan wore a heavy black coat that looked very expensive and Miss Chi-Wong was wearing a blue-green dress that looked beautiful on her, but looked strange with the briefcase that she was carrying.

Miss Chi-Wong looked at the dress and pressed her lips together, but she didn't say anything at first.

"What did Annabelle say about tonight?"

"She said that Mr. Mohan wanted me to come to dinner."

"This is an important dinner. There will be a lot of very important people there. You're quiet, which is good, but if you talk, always say sir or ma'am."


Miss Chi-Wong frowned.

"Yes, ma'am," Lia tried again.

Mr. Mohan's assistant nodded grudgingly.

Instead of pulling up on a street to let them out, the limo turned into a garage. The driver rolled down his window and talked to a man at a booth, and then they drove through a darkened set of corridors until they reached a place where the room widened and there were pale yellow lights.

When they stopped, all of them got out of the car.

Two of Michael's men went ahead, followed by Mr. Mohan and Michael, then Miss Chi-Wong, and Lia, and finally Michael's last two men. They swept through the glass doors so quickly that Lia was just on the verge of having to run to keep up.

Inside the building, it was like a palace. The floors glittered like black glass, and the walls were marble and gold. There were huge paintings on the walls. Some of the paintings were just shapes and colors, but others had people, some wearing costumes that made them look very old and some that were naked.

Lia's nose got a hint of several strange smells, like oil and eggshells, coming from the paintings. She wondered if they were worth a lot of money. They certainly looked like they were.

Through the grand hall they arrived at a stairway. Michael's men started right up, as though they knew the way, and again all of them followed.

There were men in tuxedos standing at the top of the stairs who hauled open two large metal doors. Beyond, there were lots of tables, filled with people wearing tuxedos and fancy dresses. As the eight people in Lia's group marched by, the people in the restaurant stared at them and some of them whispered to each other.

Only a few of the people looked at Lia, frowning and looking generally unfriendly. Most of them watched Mr. Mohan. Lia felt like she wanted to melt into the floor but Miss Chi-Wong reached out and took her hand and Lia felt a little better, as though she didn't have to worry about the people looking at her. Miss Chi-Wong could handle them.

They came to the far side of the restaurant, and this time there was a golden door that glowed in the yellowish lights. Mr. Mohan gestured, and two of his men opened the door. The two men behind Lia also fell away, and only four of them entered the room; Mr. Mohan, Michael, Miss Chi-Wong and Lia.

There was a huge table in the room, much to large to have fit through the doors. Lia wondered how they'd gotten it in, but she realized that it might have been built for this room. It wasn't quite round, it had three sides, each of which looked like it could fit ten or twelve people. There were only three people sitting on each side though, both with a larger figure standing behind them.

The three seated on the left were all women, wearing robes and covered with colored shawls. The closest woman was wearing a bright yellow over her squat frame, and she seemed lost in thought. The middle woman wearing red was extraordinarily average looking. She would have been right at home in a school or a library except for the fancy clothes. The furthest woman from her was thin and wearing a bluish shawl, much darker than Lia's dress. She seemed very familiar but Lia couldn't remember where she'd seen her before. Behind them there was a huge man. He looked like an Indian guide from old western movies but there were patterns tattooed all over his skin. As Lia looked at the tattoos they seemed to shift and change and Lia could almost smell a fifth person under the musk of the man's scent.

On the other side, to the right of the seats that looked like they were for Mr. Mohan and Miss Chi-Wong, two men and a woman were sitting. The man in the center was middle aged and Asian and very good looking and the woman that hung onto his arm was beautiful and blonde. The other man sitting at their side of the table was younger and white, and there was a slim computer in front of him, and he was typing away. Behind them was a large white guy wearing sunglasses. Lia barely had looked at them when the smell of rotting flesh filled her nostrils. She almost gagged, but managed to restrain herself.

Mr. Mohan seemed to have smelled it as well. He turned back, and ushered Lia forward. She came forward, her eyes watering, but when she touched Mr. Mohan's hand the smell suddenly reduced to a manageable level, as though his presence had pushed it away.

He gestured for her to come up and sit at his right had side, even holding the chair for her. Miss Chi-Wong sat on Mr. Mohan's other side and like the man sitting with the pale people she pulled out a computer and set it on the table in front of her and set to typing.

"Mr. Mohan," said the woman sitting in the middle to the left as she looked at Lia, "who is this?"

"This is Lia," Mr. Mohan said. "She is under my protection."

The Asian man chuckled. "Have you got yourself a toy, William?"

Mr. Mohan smiled. "I'm not nearly as twisted as your associates, Lo. Lia is an heir, actually."

The woman in red exchanged looks with the woman in blue, and looked back at Lia. "An heir? May I inquire as to what her totem animal is?"

"Lia is a were-raven."

There was a creaking scrape as the woman wearing the blue shawl stood up. She was looking intently at Lia, and there was a buzz. Lia looked into her eyes and found herself starring into two fiery yellow orbs.

The fire stretched out between them for a moment, washing over Lia and reminding her of where she'd seen the woman before, in the empty parking lot. She remembered flying and the blood on the woman's face as her claws tore into her.

This time though, there was no love to save her. Instead, something inside Lia struggled to burst out through her skin. She felt feathers everywhere.

I can eat you, Lia thought to herself desperately. I can claw your eyes out.

Then she was back in herself. Nearly everyone was standing, except for Miss Chi-Wong and the dead boy with the other computer. The woman in blue rocked back as though she'd been struck, nearly collapsing into her seat. Behind her, Lia could smell fur. Michael had probably changed partway.

"ENOUGH," Mr. Mohan said before anyone else could move. He looked at the woman in red. "Control your sister, Mistress Bybreak."

The woman in red looked at the woman in blue, who's eyes were still narrowed and looking at Lia. "Belle, stop," she said softly, and the blue woman tore her gaze away from Lia and nodded momentarily. She sat down, and kept her eyes down on the black wood of the table.

Lia realized that she was standing too. She sat back down in her big wooden chair, and Michael stepped forward to push it back in. Mr. Mohan sat down next, followed by the dead people and then the women in red and yellow.

"I'd heard rumors that you were looking for an heir," said the woman in red. "A bird, barely a predator at that, is an odd choice. Not one of your spawn, Mr. Mohan?" She sounded polite, but there was something about the way that she said 'spawn' that Lia didn't like.

He shook his head. "Lia is wereborn."

The Asian man chuckled again, but didn't say anything.

"She's young though. How old are you, Lia?"

Lia looked up at the woman in red, who was trying to conceal her interest. "I'm thirteen, ma'am," she said, trying to sound the same as the woman in red.

The woman in yellow smiled. "She looks younger," she said to no one in particular, but she said it in such a pleasant fashion that Lia smiled momentarily. "And so polite for a young one."

"I think that's enough introductions for today," Mr. Mohan said. "It's time we got down to business."

The woman in red and the Asian man nodded.

Miss Chi-Wong stood. "This meeting is called to order. The Vampires have called this meeting, and control the agenda, but is there any other pressing matter first?"

"No," said the woman in red.

Miss Chi-Wong nodded, made a note, and then said, "Mr. Lo."

As she sat, the Asian man stood. "I'm sure that you're aware through your own channels that the plague has reached North America." Mr. Lo nearly spat the word. "As such, there will be major movements of our people in and out of this area for the next month."

"If I recall correctly," the woman in red said, "the last time we sat here you assured us that the Europeans would be the last group of vampires to arrive in the city for some time. I'm beginning to feel nervous about having so many of your people here, Mr. Lo."

"We have followed the proper--," the blond woman started to say, but Mr. Lo gestured for her to be silent, cutting her off.

"I understand your concern," Mr. Lo said. "By way of apology I've arranged for the western District's contract to be offered to the Capriesi family at fifty on the dollar."

The woman in red paused as though she was thinking, and then nodded.

"And for us?" Mr. Mohan asked.

"I have a slightly more . . . long term contract that I wish to negotiate with you. I'd like to send Chris to your office, and let him work out the details with Ming some time this week."

The woman wearing yellow spoke up suddenly. "Uh, uh, uh," she said happily, wagging her finger. "That's within the scope of this meeting. Fess up."

Mr. Lo frowned, but nodded. "I need to hire a team of your boys to patrol a section of my area."

"Which area?"

"Between the airport and 515."

Mr. Mohan looked at Miss Chi-Wong. "We have two teams available," she whispered, although not softly enough to keep the other two groups from hearing her.

Mr. Mohan nodded at Mr. Lo. "Double standard rate."

Mr. Lo frowned, and then nodded. The blonde woman didn't look happy, either, but the other boy didn't say anything, he just typed away at his computer.

Miss Chi-Wong stood up again. "Any further business?"

"I have one thing," said the woman in red.

Miss Chi-Wong made another note, and then said, "Mistress Bybreak?"

The woman in red stood and looked around. "Prices are increasing on all markets by five percent."

Mr. Lo looked extremely annoyed and even Mr. Mohan looked upset.

"Why?" Mr. Mohan asked.

"The price of oil is going up."

"And that results in a five percent increase?"

"It does when your entire product is being flown in private jets."

"All of it?" Miss Chi-Wong said. "How is that even feasible?"

"The road blocks by the police on I-40 are causing this, aren't they" said Mr. Lo.

The woman in red nodded at Lo, and then turned to Miss Chi-Wong. "Bribing people at the Executive Airport is more expensive than at LSV, but it's safer for the families at the moment."

Mr. Lo sat back, but Mr. Mohan leaned forward. "Fuel has increased by three percent this quarter. I think that we would all find that a fair compromise."

The woman in red shook her head. "I think you should check your numbers again, Will."

"Three and five."

"For both of you?"

Mr. Mohan looked at Mr. Lo, and then nodded.

"Three and seven, then."

Mr. Mohan leaned back. "Done."

Mr. Lo winced. "We could make arrangements for I-40--."

Mr. Mohan looked at him, and shook his head, and Mr. Lo stopped talking.

The woman in red sat, and Miss Chi-Wong stood. "Are we finished?"

Both Mr. Lo and the woman in red said yes.

"Then this meeting is closed," Miss Chi-Wong said.

"Quick as usual," Mr. Lo said as he raised his glass, and suddenly the doors opened. There were people with food all around them. "You're all welcome to stay for dinner, of course." Except Lia noticed that nothing was offered to the dead people except a bottle of something dark that was set in front of the Asian man. Whatever was in the bottle smelled wrong, not like wine at all. It took her a moment to recognize it: Blood.

The three women stood. "Thank you, Lo, but I'm afraid we have other business."

The woman in blue, deprived of the table, kept looking quickly at Lia and then looking away, making Lia uncomfortable, but the woman in yellow smiled at her. "We'll meet again later, dear," she said and they swept out the door.

"Can you stand the smell?" Mr. Mohan whispered to her.

She nodded.

"Then we shall stay for dinner. I'll have someone find you a menu, and if there's anything at all that you want, just tell the waiters."

She nodded, and looked at Mr. Lo. He was sipping his glass of blood, but his eyes were fixed on her. This night had been about her, she was sure of it, but she still couldn't understand why.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Episode 11: Talking Without Words

Soraperion sat at the diner table across from Alex, who was watching his hands carefully.

Soraperion hands flickered in the air, as though he was using sign language, but instead of conveying meaning, Soraperion's fingers left glowing runes etched in the air. The longer Alex stared at the symbols, the more familiar each symbol seemed, as if he could name it and its function.

If he could watch them long enough, Soraperion's hands seemed to suggest that they could explain the universe.

Soraperion himself, however, was not nearly as forthcoming. In the four days since he'd picked up Alex, he'd barely said a hundred words. Alex had given up asking questions, and had taken to watching his hands, and the symbols streaming from them.

Last night he'd tried to do the same thing, and managed to create a few anemic symbols. Unlike Soraperion's dancing shapes that glistened and gleamed for long seconds, Alex's had faded quickly into nothingness.

The server came over, refilled Soraperion's coffee, and asked Alex if he wanted another lemonade. She ignored the symbols, and Alex suspected that neither she nor the other occupants of the restaurant could see Soraperion's magical display. Perhaps they just didn't want to see it, although Alex thought it was hard to miss.

Soraperion had promised to train Alex, but so far there had been nothing of the sort. Soraperion had arranged a bed in the spare room of his apartment, and twice a day he would take Alex to a restaurant, but most of the time he was lost in his magic.

He was looking for something, that much Soraperion's hands and symbols had made clear.

The problem was that Alex couldn't figure out exactly what Soraperion was looking for. Something important, obviously, but even Soraperion seemed to have only a vague idea of what it was. He seemed to be repeating a set of criteria over and over again and the symbols were slowly working their way through the universe to find the object.

Alex had been starring for hours at the symbols and he finally broke away to blink, and finally noticed someone looking at them.

It was a woman wearing black. Her hair was pulled back into a dark braid and her skin was unusually pale. She hadn't gotten anything to drink, but had moved over to one of the booths across from Alex and Soraperion and was sitting with her legs up.

Alex's eyes flickered to the windows and saw that the sun had dipped down under the horizon.

"Soraperion," Alex said.

The older man looked up at the woman, and then went back to what he was doing.

"Ignore her," he said as his fingers resumed their dance. "She won't bother us."

"Why?" asked Alex.

Too his surprise, Soraperion answered his question. "She's afraid of me," he said to Alex. "I doubt that she found us on purpose or she would have brought backup."

His eyes flickered up from his work. "She's not a very old vampire anyway." Soraperion had purchased an apple from the basket on the diner's counter, but he hadn't touched it yet. Alex had seen him do the same thing before. He would eat the apple later, back at his apartment, between meals. With one hand, he nudged the apple toward Alex. "Take this over to her," he said.


"Take the apple over to her. Tell her that it's a gift from me."

"You're not serious."

"She won't hurt you with me sitting right here. Take her the apple. I want to see what she says."

Alex reached out, picked up the apple, and then stood and walked over to the woman in black. Her eyes were darting quickly back and forth between Alex and Soraperion. As he approached, she smiled and he saw the elongated teeth and almost stopped but he forced himself to keep going. He didn't want to embarrass himself in front of Soraperion.

At her table he stopped and reached out, offering her the apple but unable to speak.

"What's this?" she finally said.

"It's a gift. From him." Alex nodded back toward Soraperion.

She looked down at the apple like it was a snake, and then looked back up at Soraperion. Alex could see the older man look up from his work, nod to her in a friendly fashion, and then look back down at his work.

The vampire swallowed, and for a moment Alex could see the terror in her eyes as clear as day. She reached out, and with a shaking hand she took the apple from Alex. Alex had half expected the thing to explode or kill her, but she just put it down on the table and looked back up at him.

"Thank you," she stammered.

Alex stood there for a moment in the uncomfortable silence that followed and then returned to the table with Soraperion.

"What did she say?" the older man asked.

"She said 'Thank you.'"

"See. They can be pleasant enough, if they're afraid of you. I'm sure she won't even report this to her superiors."

"Why wouldn't she?"

"Her superiors would be very upset with her for just letting us walk away. If she pretends like she hasn't seen us, she won't get in trouble for not killing herself in a futile attempt to fight me."

Alex looked at the woman, who was still looking at them from across the diner, the apple resting on the tabletop.

"What are you?" he asked Soraperion.

Soraperion's fingers paused again, and he looked up at Alex.

"I'm a mage, just like you, boy."