Authors: Unknown Author
Tags: #Don Bassingthwaite
Matt didn’t seem particularly impressed. “They didn’t fight us because they were afraid to let the humans see them. It’s that stupid Masquerade of theirs that kept them back.” He snorted. “If they had any brains at all, they’d forget trying to hide. Then I’d be worried.”
Tolly giggled. “Like a cartoon character, Matt?” Miranda and the others just looked at him. He smiled. “You know. Frightened of a bearskin rug.
The mad vampire’s body ballooned up and he grabbed at Matt with suddenly stubby arms. Saliva dripped from exaggerated teeth.
Matt stumbled, startled. “Get out of my face, kook!” He slapped at Tolly. The blow landed with the smack of skin on modeling clay. Tolly blinked and collapsed back into his normal form, rubbing at his face. His jaw sagged ridiculously to one side. Matt snarled and drew his arm back again. Miranda grabbed it and pulled, twisting Matt around. She seized him by the front of his shirt and lifted him into the air.
Her w’ords were a hiss, backed up by an angry glare and exposed fangs. Miranda shook Matt hard enough to snap his neck back and forth. “If I hear any more talk about violating the Settlement, I will take you before the Archbishop, and we’ll see what he has to say.” Matt paled. The Archbishop was the leader of the Sabbat in Toronto — and quite fond of his captive menagerie of vampires. In the past he had very casually killed vampires more powerful than Matt for even criticizing the Settlement. “And if you’re that unhappy with the way I handled the situation tonight,” Miranda continued with a smile, “maybe you’d like to take the matter up in a duel.” She threw him to the ground. “Right now. How about it?”
Matt stared up at her, anger burning in his face. He glanced at Blue. The big vampire refused to meet his gaze. Miranda waited. “Well?” she asked.
Matt looked down. “No,” he muttered. “You did the right thing.”
She could have demanded that he repeat the words, humiliating him further. She didn’t, however. Instead, Miranda simply nodded and turned her back on him, contemptuously daring him to try attacking her from behind. She knew that he wouldn’t. He and the rest of the pack would follow her. Blue might be bigger, Matt more devious, Tolly more... inhuman, but none of them could match her for simple, callous evil. She was a serpent and they knew it. They would follow her.
She was untouchable in her evil. She was Sabbat. Miranda walked confidently down the paths of the park, through the old gates, back onto Beverley Street — and froze.
There was a man sitting on the hood of her car, his feet resting idly on the bumper. He was dressed in black, just as she was: tailored black pants, polished black shoes, and a shirt of whisper-thin black silk that clung to his muscular body. The combination of that body and a face that should have been on an angel would have been enough to inspire mingled feelings of lust and envy in anyone who looked at him. He might almost have been a clubgoer who had wandered up from Queen West. Almost.
The pack was suddenly clustered around her, staring at the man. Tolly smiled, his still-twisted jaw rendering the expression horrifically grotesque. Blue’s own expression was dark. Matt’s lips were drawn back in a happy snarl. All they saw was a mortal where one didn’t belong. A lone mortal who had definitely picked the wrong car on which to rest. “Oh, yeah,” murmured Matt, “I needed this.” He glanced at Miranda. “May we teach
a lesson, Mother Miranda, or does the Sabbat have a treaty with the humans as well?”
Miranda considered the man for a moment longer, then smiled as well and nodded. Matt’s snarl turned into a broad grin. “Tolly, get behind him. Blue, you’re with me.” Miranda noticed that he didn’t attempt to include her in his plans, a deliberate snub. That was all right. “Hey, buddy,” the arrogant vampire called out, “is that your car?”
“Yeah,” the man lied casually. His gaze was vacant, the look of a man who had had too much to drink, the look of a man with his guard down. Matt strode into the street cockily. Blue hung back a little bit, perhaps a touch suspicious. Tolly... Tolly was already gone, faded into the shadows in the instant Miranda’s attention had been off him. She caught the tiniest of flickers in her peripheral vision. It might have been Tolly crossing the street. The man patted the car’s hood. “Beauty, isn’t she?”
“Sure is.” Matt and Blue came closer. “I have a friend who used to have one just like it.” Writers and literary critics were always talking about the “legendary” vampire as a symbol for sex and sensuality. They were right. When he chose to, Matt could be irresistibly charming, radiating an exotic, predatory allure.
That allure worked almost visibly on the man. He gave Matt a brainless grin. “Really? They’re great cars. Tough, too.” He bounced up and down on the hood a few times, setting the car rocking on its shocks.
A red flush of anger spread across Blue’s face, and red light flashed in his eyes. Miranda caught the shifting of shadows as claws grew on his hands. “You...” the big vampire began in a growl, lurching forward. Matt threw an arm across his chest, holding him back.
“Never mind him. Seeing cars bouncing brings back bad memories from high school.” Matt’s voice dripped sweetness like a honeycomb. He stepped closer. “What’s your name, buddy?” He grinned, his smile a sudden flash of white teeth.
The smile brought the man’s attention to Matt’s face. Simple animal instinct. They made eye contact. The man’s gaze dulled instantly as Matt’s will overpowered his mind.
“Lie back,” Matt ordered him softly. The man slid down obediently so that his back pressed against the cool metal of the car’s hood and he stared up into the hazy night sky. “Tolly,” Miranda heard Matt call. Nothing happened. Matt called for Tolly again, then cursed the mad vampire. He walked closer to the car.
There was a quiet crunch that Miranda could hear from across the street. Matt just barely had time to glance down at his feet, at the scattered minefield of garlic cloves into which he had walked, before he froze, paralyzed. A look of confusion was locked onto his face. The man on the hood of the car snapped himself upright, flicking something, another clove of garlic, at Blue. Startled, the big vampire still tried to dodge, diving aside with unnatural speed. The man’s aim was better, though, and his arm faster. Blue was paralyzed before he hit the ground. His body didn’t even change position as he fell.
Miranda walked up to the car and studied the garlic scattered on the ground, just as writers were right about vampires’ sex appeal, folklore had gotten some of the facts about vampires, like the dangers of stakes through the heart and exposure to sunlight, correct. On other matters, though, they had been very wrong. Crosses didn’t do a thing, and garlic was no more than a pungent herb. Under normal circumstances. “Interesting choice. Even if Matt had noticed this, he would have thought you were no more than some kind of misinformed would-be hunter."
“That was the idea.” Solomon climbed off the car. “You don
t have to worry about it, by the way. The only danger now is that it will make your shoes smell bad.” She smiled at the mage. “I’m surprised Matt didn’t see it, though.”
“All of his attention was on me. He didn’t have a chance to notice it.” Miranda raised an eyebrow. She knew enough about magick to doubt any lucky coincidences that happened to Solomon. He just shrugged. “Believe what you want.”
Miranda smiled again, then considered Matt, as stiff and still as a mannequin. She put her hand on his shoulder and shoved gently. Matt rocked. Miranda grinned, glancing at Solomon. “May I?”
Solomon grinned back and held up his left hand. Obediently, Miranda kissed the chain tattoo, then turned his hand over and ran her tongue over the pale skin on the inside of his wrist. Solomon shivered slightly. Miranda looked up at him, her smile lascivious. Solomon pushed one hand through her thick hair.
“May I?” she asked again.
“Go ahead. He’s essentially unconscious right now.”
She gave Matt a strong push between his shoulders. The paralyzed vampire toppled forward onto the car hood. His face banged into the hood. A broken nose wouldn’t be much for him to heal, but it would be embarrassing. Miranda turned back to Solomon. “That felt good. Is there something I can do for you, O Master?”
“Don’t call me that.” He caught her hand and kissed her wrist in turn. “Save it for the Bandog rituals.”
Miranda twisted her hand around to grab him underneath the chin, lifting him up until he was standing on his tiptoes. She looked into his eyes and smiled. “Full obedience.” Solomon gave a little moan. She let him slide back down to the ground. He took her hand again and kissed it a second time.
“I pay homage to Miranda.” He stepped into her arms, head and knees bending so that he could kiss her breast. His head lingered there for a moment and she could feel his breath through her shirt. “I pledge my body in service to the Sentinel of my Ways, the Hungry Mistress Who Commands the Three Aches, my Lady of Thorns, the One Who Wills, the One Who Goes Before Me.” Solomon straightened again, but kept his eyes humbly downcast rather than meet her gaze. “I am your servant in this world.” He paused, waiting. Miranda parted her lips, exposing her fangs. With a shiver of anticipation, Solomon kissed her, then sent his tongue darting into her mouth to caress her fangs with hesitant eagerness.
The blasphemous mock-obedience had shocked her the first time he had pronounced it, but she had grown used to it quickly. If Shaftiel’s chief servant could mock his master in this way and get away with it, why shouldn’t she accept it? Miranda let Solomon lick her deadly fangs for a moment longer, then pushed him away roughly. The mage sighed with a little pleasure at her rejection.
It was all just a game. They both knew and they both accepted it. Miranda had lost interest in sex as mortals practiced it when she had become a vampire, the pleasures of the flesh lost to the pleasures of blood. Solomon’s touch was enjoyable, but her arousal could be deadly. That, Miranda knew, was what Solomon found so exciting. She was a creature who was far more powerful than he at such close quarters. He risked himself each time he approached her in this way, trusting her in his complete submission, knowing that any attempt to satisfy her would fail because of her very nature. Each time he failed, he became all the more penitent. The only way he could ever succeed would be to die.
It was a game that Miranda enjoyed as well. It forced her to balance her hunger against her self-control. She dominated not only Solomon, but also her own vampire instincts. She harnessed the beast within. There was no need to disguise her true nature when she had sex with Solomon, only to restrain it. Because the sex play was long and slow, the final blood-taking that came with Solomon’s climax was much more intense than the typically frenzied feedings of the pack. There was no love in their sex, only desperate submission and hungry dominance. And if giving her body to Solomon gave her some measure of power over the leader of the
Bandog in return, well, that was a deal that she was willing to make. It was a cold relationship, but worth it.
Hadn’t she joined the Bandog for the power that the demon Shaftiel promised?
“Why did you come here, Solomon?” she hissed. “The next Bandog ritual is in five days. Couldn’t this have waited?” Her annoyance was only partially mock-aggression. The Sabbat was wild, but it had its rules. There were things that terrified even vampires, and demons were among those things. If the Sabbat inquisitors ever found out that she had become a demon-following infernalist, she would be destroyed out of hand. She had been very careful to keep the pack from finding out about the Bandog. Solomon’s public appearance jeopardized all of that.
“No.” Solomon caught her hand and kissed it one last time, then stood. All trace of his eager submission was gone. “This is business, Miranda. I want to hire you
— or rather, the pack — to do a job for me. For the Bandog.”
“Does it matter?” Solomon smiled.
Miranda raised one eyebrow and tilted her head to the side. “Possibly. You can’t fool me, Solomon. I’m not one of the wealthy, middle-aged baby boomers you blackmailed into joining the Bandog.”
“I didn’t have to blackmail all of the Bandog,” Solomon replied candidly. “You’re not the only one who wants Shaftiel’s favor. Even humans have problems that they want solutions for.” He nodded at Matt, facedown on the hood of her car, the frat boy’s stolen blood oozing from under his head. “He’s getting to be quite a pain,
isn’t he? I was watching you tonight.”
Miranda suppressed a shiver of paranoia. One of the benefits of acting as Solomon’s mistress was that she had learned some of what the mage was capable of doing with his magick. Once he knew a person, he could find and spy on them anywhere in the city. She put forward a strong front. “You promised me the power to deal with him.”
“Be patient, Miranda. You won’t have to wait too much longer.” He reached out to stroke her thick, kinky hair. “The pack will be paid with money, but Shaftiel is calling on your pledge of servitude.”
The words sent a thrill of anticipation through her. “What does he want?”
“Sacrifices. Sacrifices disguised as murder.” Solomon put a finger against her lips before she could ask for more details. “There’s nothing else I can tell you now, except that it’s all for the greater glory of Shaftiel and the Bandog. The murders must be committed in a certain way. You’re the perfect Bandog to commit them, but you’ll need the pack to help you.” He smiled again. “Don’t worry. They don’t have to know why you’re doing this.”
The vampire brushed his hand aside easily. “They probably won’t even wonder why.” Senseless violence came easily to the Sabbat, part of the disdain that they showed for humanity. Miranda narrowed her eyes and considered Solomon. “Does this have anything to do with the three Bandog who died recently?”
“You’re as suspicious as the rest of the Bandog.” Miranda bared her teeth. “Like I said, Solomon, I’m no innocent.”
“No,” Solomon agreed, “you’re not.” He nodded. “It does, but not in a way that I can explain to you now. I’ll tell you everything at the same time I tell the other Bandog — at the ritual on Thursday night. For now...” He lifted his wrist to her lips. She kissed it obediently. “Who dies and how?” she asked.