Authors: Connie Suttle
* * *
"Merrill, let's get Chessman first."
"All right. Then what?" Merrill glanced at his friend, who cut into a steak Franklin had prepared for him.
"Well, I think we should pay the Seer a visit. As twins, you know? See if he attacks either of us. If he decides not to attack, I have the feeling you can wipe his mind easily. I say it's worth the effort."
Merrill looked thoughtful. "Yes. I think you could be right about this. Let's do it, brother."
* * *
Tuesday, April 13th
Joey and I both fed when we rose; we were planning to go to the coffee shop first, where Merrill's card was used. We took a cab, and I was handing the driver money as we exited the vehicle when the mugger knocked a woman down and snatched her purse right behind us. He never knew what hit him. I reached out and snatched the purse back with one hand, grabbing the thief's jacket with the other. I tossed him over the roof of the cab. His body made a crunching noise as it landed; I was surprised to see him struggle up from the concrete and hobble away.
Joey had gone to the woman and was helping her up when I handed the purse back to her. She thanked us, but we might as well have been alone in the crowd of people walking past us on that sidewalk. That suited me perfectly—we didn't need the notoriety.
We walked into the coffee shop, and I got what might be the biggest surprise of my life. Merrill was there waiting for us.
I was already in attack mode when someone else cleared his throat nearby. Joey was standing a few feet away, I noticed, his mouth open in an 'O' of surprise. I turned to see who had made the noise, and saw another Merrill.
"If you attack that one over there, you could be very sorry," the one closest to me said. Only then did I take in the entire coffee shop. Every person inside had gone perfectly still, as if they were suspended in time. I couldn't begin to imagine what was going on.
"I'm sorry to confuse you this way, but we have to remove that compulsion, one way or another," the first Merrill told me.
"Chessman, if you'll just look at me for a moment, we can take care of that," the one closest to me said. I didn't know what to do, or which one to guard against. I had fangs and claws out, but was desperately trying to hold on to some sense of rationality. I turned to the one closest to me; he seemed the more immediate threat.
I looked at him. He caught my eye and that was it. I was drawn in. I could no more look away from those eyes than I could stand in the sun. "I am removing the compulsion the Seer has placed upon you," he said. I blinked a few times. "You will no longer be held to the orders he gave you. You are now free to make your own decisions."
I breathed a sigh and felt the oiliness of the Seer's compulsion slip from my mind.
"Chessman," the Merrill closest to me said, "You made the right choice. Now, we are going to pay the Seer a visit. We'd like you to come along, actually. We'll have to wipe your mind afterward, but we want you to be there, anyway. You, too, Joey."
What in the hell is going on?
Joey sent to me.
I was thinking clearly for the first time in days.
Joey, don't ever let anyone know we can speak this way. If you do, we'll be used for things that you can't possibly imagine, at this point, and they won't be good things, either. Can you promise me this? Never tell anyone.
Yeah. I think you're right, Adam.
"Where are we going?" I demanded. Both Merrills smiled the same smile. It was uncanny. "The Seer is still awake in London. We'll just knock on his door," the one closest to me spoke again.
"You're just going to take me there and toss me at his feet, is that it? I won't go quietly, I believe is the standard phrase."
"Oh, no. We just want to see the look on his face when he figures out we've removed his compulsion," Merrill one said. Merrill two nodded in complete agreement.
I blew out a frustrated breath. "I have the private jet here, but it will be daylight before we can get back to London if we go now. I suggest you think this over before committing to this course of action. If you still want to go first thing tomorrow evening, I'll be happy to give you a ride back." Joey nodded in agreement at my statement.
"Oh, there's no need for the jet," Merrill two laughed. "Just let me allow these people to resume their lives," he lifted a hand, and the entire place was back to normal, people talking, laughing, even the noise of the espresso grinder resumed as if it had never stopped. I was bewildered. I couldn't imagine how something of this nature could be accomplished. There wasn't time for me to ponder it for long, however. The four of us were suddenly elsewhere.
The home was built on a grand scale, I noticed, as we walked through an old-fashioned drawing room into a library. Two people sat there, talking, when we walked in.
Wlodek, head of the Vampire Council was there, and he stood in a blur, caught completely by surprise. "Merrill, what is the meaning of this?" he shouted, then backed up warily, when he saw that he was addressing two of them. "Chessman, what the hell are you doing here? You'd better explain yourself, and quickly. Joey," he noticed Joey peering from behind the two Merrills, "I'll have your head if you're involved in this."
"Wlodek, calm down," one of the Merrills now said. I'd lost my equilibrium and my take on which Merrill was which when we'd made the apparent jump from one continent to another.
"Yes, Wlodek. We just wanted to drop by and wipe the Seer's mind," the other Merrill said. "Unless he wants to attack one of us. Depending on his decision, of course, he could die instead."
The Seer hissed, his eyes red and his fangs out as he rose from his chair. "Chessman, I'll kill you for this," he said.
"Chessman's not getting killed tonight," one of the Merrills said. "You either have the choice of dying or having your mind wiped. You know why."
The Seer hissed again but chose to back away. He was afraid—that was easy enough to see. He looked from one Merrill to the other, his eyes gradually going back to their natural green. The Seer wasn't tall, perhaps five-five or so, with short, dark hair. He looked to be in his mid-twenties, but I figured he might be the oldest member on the Council, even if he wasn't the strongest.
Wlodek looked at all of us, his eyes narrowing. "Someone had better explain this, or so help me, if I live past tonight I will place a death sentence on all of you."
"The Seer placed a compulsion on Chessman, here," one of the Merrill's said. "He ordered him to kill Merrill and not tell anyone else about it. Unfortunately for him, I have my own source of information," that Merrill said. "Rather than killing Chessman, we decided to remove the compulsion instead."
"You removed the compulsion of a Council member?" Wlodek stared—hard—at the Merrill who spoke.
"Chessman," Wlodek turned to me. "Did the Seer place compulsion on you to kill Merrill?"
"Yes he did, Honored One."
"And this compulsion has been removed?"
"Yes, Honored One." Wlodek swore. He turned to the Seer. "Tell me why I shouldn't order your death." The Seer backed away at Wlodek's words.
"Because I ask it," one of the Merrills changed. A tall, brown-haired man stood in his place. Wlodek hissed.
"You," he said.
"Yes. We cannot kill him at this time; it will greatly alter future events. I only discovered that earlier today. His mind does need to be wiped, however. He does not need to remember any part of this, or the reason he ordered Merrill's death. I hope we have your permission to do this, but it will happen, whether you agree to it or not."
Wlodek stared at the brown-haired man from the moment he had revealed himself. I have to admit, I was staring, too. Joey looked so shocked, he couldn't move. "Yes. Of course. Do it. Get it over with, then get out of my home. Dawn is coming."
The real Merrill stepped up to the Seer, who tried to back away, but Wlodek's barked "Hold!" stopped him in his tracks.
"You will not remember the events of this night," Merrill said. "I am removing those memories, as well as any sightings of this one here," he pointed to the brown-haired man. "You will never again order a death sentence against me or him, do you understand?" The Seer nodded, his eyes going blank.
"Allow me," the brown haired man came forward. "I'd like to kill you, you bastard, but I can't. This is all I can do." He reached out to touch the Seer's forehead with a forefinger. The Seer dropped bonelessly to the floor.
"Oh, don't worry," the man glanced at Wlodek. "I just put him to sleep a little early, that's all. He'll wake tomorrow evening, right back to his slimy, loathsome self."
Wlodek nodded deferentially to the man. "Now, Merrill, we need to take these memories from Chessman and Joey, here."
* * *
"Merrill, just toss him on the bed."
Merrill dropped the Chief Enforcer on the bed inside his apartment. "Do you want to take Joey to my place, or leave him here?"
"He can stay here. I've given them a false memory that the Seer has rescinded his orders. They'll never remember going to New York, actually, and I sent a message to the pilot of the jet. He'll bring the plane back tomorrow."
"Good. Let's go home."
* * *
Wednesday, April 14th
I was flipping through my diary. I hadn't written a thing in it for the past two days. I couldn't believe I'd done that. I never missed a day. Hearing Joey stir in the next room, I slapped the leather-bound journal shut and went to check on him.
"Adam, I'm going home. I can't believe I was too tired to go last night." Joey stretched before blinking at me from his place on the sofa. "Why don't you have a television?" His question was a plaintive one.
"Never needed one," I shrugged. "I see films all the time. Go home, Joey. Bear in mind we will be working together again." Joey frowned at me as he stood.
We work quite well together, my little vampire friend
, I sent to him. "Come here," I said aloud.
Thanks for the vote of confidence. Does this mean other vampires will cringe at the mention of my name, too?
"What if I don't want to come there?"
I can't imagine anyone will cringe, especially if they've seen you before. You just don't have an imposing presence, Joey
. "Come on," I motioned him forward.
I can't decide whether that's an insult or a compliment
For the first time in a long time, I laughed. Then I reached out and dragged him to me. I was old enough—more than old enough—to be his father. Or great-great-grandfather. I hugged him tightly. "Thank you, Joseph David Showalter," I said before letting him go and smiling at his stunned expression. "I appreciate the help."
* * *
Two days later
"Merrill, it's time for me to go."
"I know, brother. At least tell me where she is, now."
"On a world not worth saving."
"Why does she do that? That's dangerous in the extreme, isn't it?"
"Of course it is. But someday, my friend, you may not mind when she does it."
"If you say so." Merrill sighed heavily.
"I know it is difficult waiting, brother. You're the only one of your kind who has one foot in each of our worlds, after all. I have to go, now."
"So, assignment time, then, old friend?"
"Give your mate my love and make sure you come out of this alive."
"I don't plan to do otherwise, old friend."
Merrill watched as his "old friend" disappeared before his eyes. He sighed and got up. Wandering toward the front door of his manor, Merrill grabbed the keys to the car. He'd asked Brock to bring the Mercedes around hours ago; he wanted to drive into London. He closed and locked the door behind him and glanced up at the sun, high overhead. Reaching into a jacket pocket, he pulled out a pair of sunglasses and slipped them on. Fish and chips for lunch sounded good, and if he were lucky, might take his mind off other things for a while. He slid into the driver's seat, closed the door and drove away.
Kiarra at this time is still First among the Saa Thalarr and quite busy. She is also a member of the Larentii Council, one of a handful of members who aren't Larentii (Conner and Grace also hold that honor). Larentii Council meetings tend to meander, as Larentii often lose track of time. Kiarra, who hasn't been mated to Merrill and Pheligar long, is just getting home from a Larentii Council meeting. All her mates (Adam, Merrill and Pheligar) are a bit overprotective, so whenever she disappears and doesn't tell them where she's going, they get bent out of shape.
Also, Mack Walters, Martin Walters' son, is a Spawn Hunter for the Saa Thalarr, but his father hasn't joined the Saa Thalarr yet. Martin is still Packmaster for the Fresno Pack. One of Martin's packmembers has chosen to issue a challenge outside the full moon, and has paid R.J. Pitt to act as temporary Second. R.J., like his brother P.J., is well trained in the art of the blade.
Mack considers Kiarra his adoptive mother, since his mother left him, his sister and Martin Walters behind when Mack was young. Mack has been best friends with Kiarra and Adam's son Justin for a very long time and often calls Kiarra Mom.
Kiarra had gotten home quite late, but only slept four hours before waking at dawn, just as she normally did. Slipping away from Merrill's embrace, she walked softly downstairs to the kitchen for some juice.
Mack slammed into the kitchen as she leaned against the counter, drinking cranberry juice. "Mom, Mom!" he shouted, "Dad's being challenged!"
"Slow down, honey," Kiarra went to him immediately to calm him. "Who's challenging him? What are the stipulations?"
"It's that nutcase, Humphrey, and he wants the seconds to fight. He's brought in R.J. Pitt—he's a werewolf martial arts expert. With a sword." Mack paced frantically while growling and pulling at his hair. Mack was seconds away from the change, Kiarra knew, and attempted to grab his arm while he was in mid-pace.
"Does your dad have anybody to go against a blademaster?" she asked.
"There's nobody, and they're at the challenge site right now. If he doesn't come up with someone in the next few minutes, he'll have to forfeit. And if he forfeits, Humphrey will kill him."
"Are you sure? I mean, maybe Dragon can come?"
"I'll go. Can you get us there or do you want me to do it?"
"I'll get us there; I know where they are," Mack said, relief beginning to show in his eyes. Kiarra dressed herself with a thought in black leather pants and athletic shoes. A black, short-sleeved T-shirt, tucked in, topped off her outfit. She dressed this way to hunt spawn, but the clothing would suit this purpose as well.
Mack folded them to California—to a deserted field on the edges of Yosemite. At least thirty werewolves stood in a ring around Martin Walters and his challenger, Humphrey Dillon. Humphrey's temporary Second, R.J. Pitt stood next to Humphrey, waiting for Martin Walters' temporary Second to step forward.
R.J. was tall, heavily muscled and shaggy haired. Kiarra Looked, discovering that R.J. had worked as an assassin across the country. He'd been responsible for changing the leadership in strategic packs throughout the states and even a few in South America.
She and Mack stood just outside the werewolf ring. The werewolves, waiting for the challenge and subsequent outcome, all held tenuously to their human shapes. A few were very close to becoming wolf. One werewolf growled and snapped at Mack and Kiarra as they'd appeared in the field, his eyes yellow and fangs beginning to form. He backed off, however, when he recognized Mack.
Mack shouldered his way through the tight ring of weres, Kiarra following close behind him. "Dad," he said in a low voice to Martin Walters, "I brought your temporary Second."
Martin had been staring down Humphrey and his behemoth Second. He spared a glance for Mack when he'd heard his son's voice, and his brows lifted in a high arch when he noticed Kiarra right behind his son.
Humphrey laughed at the sight of Kiarra. "You brought a female?" he said incredulously. "Is this some kind of a joke?"
"She will serve," Martin growled.
"Matters not to me," R.J. snarled. "You'll just have your pack much quicker than you thought, Packmaster Dillon."
"Dad, the rules regarding interference are very strict, so you have to repeat after me," Mack whispered quickly.
Martin nodded slightly.
"My life is in danger," Mack recited.
"My life is in danger," Martin repeated.
"I call upon the First," Mack went on.
"I call upon the First."
"And place myself under her protection." Mack finished.
"And place myself under her protection," Martin said, sighing.
Kiarra nodded to him. "I will provide protection to the best of my ability," she promised. Mack walked out of the circle while his father stepped back to give Kiarra room to fight.
"We fight with blades," R.J. announced, pulling a lengthy, sharp sword from a sheath strapped to his back. He made a show of waving it at Kiarra. "Where's your blade, little girl?" he sneered.
"You know, I don't like your tone," Kiarra replied, her horn blade sliding into her hand.
R.J. frowned when he saw the blade appear from nothing, but shrugged it off. The Fresno Pack in the surrounding ring muttered to one another and shifted restlessly. Martin growled and they stilled at once.
"We'll keep this civilized," Humphrey felt pleased with himself and quite generous as a result. "Whoever draws first blood wins. Try not to decapitate her on the first pass, R.J." He snickered to his second. "I might accept her as part of the spoils, even though she's not big enough to handle a werewolf in the sack. If you don't kill her now, I'll likely screw her to death later."
Kiarra forced back the light threatening to envelop her in anger. With intense effort, she managed to set it aside and focus on her adversary.
R.J. merely snorted. "But boss, she's just the right height for my swing," he held his blade straight out, at Kiarra's neck level.
"Enough of this!" Martin thundered.
"Very well," Humphrey backed away to give R.J. and Kiarra fighting room.
* * *
"Kiarra's off the continent!" Merrill woke Adam.
"Where the hell is she?"
"What in the name of the light is she doing in Fresno?" Pheligar stalked in.
"I say we find out," Adam growled, dressing himself with power.
They folded space, following Kiarra's psychic trail to get her exact location. Only they held that particular talent; Belen had given it to them so she couldn't disappear again. They found her surrounded by werewolves, her horn blade in her hand.
She stood over a huge, shaggy werewolf, who lay on the ground, clutching a lengthy slice across his chest. The bleeding from the wound was running sluggishly since the werewolf's rapid healing process had taken over.
Two of Martin's wolves held Humphrey, and Mack was standing before his father's challenger, growling. "Do you want to kill him, Dad?" Mack asked.
Martin nodded to the two wolves that held Humphrey, and they dragged him outside the circle. He then went to stand over R.J. "What do you think of my Second now, fool?"
"Who—who is she?" R.J. knew his life hung by a thread.
"She is our wife," Adam growled. Kiarra looked up at his voice, only now noticing that all three of her mates had arrived.
"Crap," she muttered, then more brightly, "Uh, hi, honey, honey, honey," she nodded at each of them in turn.
"What are you doing, Kiarra?" Adam ground out.
"Kiarra, you scared me half to death when I woke and found you gone," Merrill said.
"Little mate, I hope you have a very good reason for not telling us you were leaving home," Pheligar scolded.
"It was an emergency," Mack attempted to intervene.
"Stay out of this, little wolf," Adam was still growling.
"Adam, I must be out of shape. It took me almost a minute to get this guy down," Kiarra attempted to distract him.
Adam ran fingers through his hair in frustration. "You're not out of shape, Kiarra. You're exhausted. You were gone for four days."
"Oh. Well, I thought that Larentii Council meeting ran a little long." Merrill chuckled softly at Kiarra's answer.
"She's got three mates?" R.J. couldn't help asking. Martin snarled at him and he flattened himself to the ground.
"She did me a great service, Adam," Martin turned to say.
"She should have told us she was leaving," Pheligar repeated.
"You'd have said no. You always say no. That's your favorite word to me—no." Kiarra trembled visibly, whether from fear or exhaustion, Merrill couldn't tell and he was watching her closely.
Merrill coughed. "We, ah, shouldn't have this discussion here," he nodded at the werewolves, who were taking an interest in the proceedings.
"Little wolf, I trust you can take this from here?" Adam asked.
At Mack's nod, Adam folded Kiarra, Merrill and Pheligar to Gryphon Hall.
* * *
A lecture followed, but Kiarra fell asleep halfway through it.
* * *
Note: R.J.'s life was forfeit after Kiarra took him down and the Fresno Pack didn't let him live long. Humphrey got it first, though.