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,
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?"
"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
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
"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."
"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
Mr. Lo sat back, but
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.