The Vampire Narcise

Chapter 21

When Chas was dragged out of the chamber, away from Narcise and Giordan, he realized he was being given a miracle-just like that day when the cat had run into the street and caused the accident which allowed him to sneak into Moldavi's home the first time.

He still had his stake, now hidden in his sleeve during the walk to the dining chamber with Belial...and he was certain he'd be able to take at least one of his two captors by surprise.

As he faked a stumble, a quick flick of the wrist slid the weapon into his hand and loosened the guard's grip on one side of him. When he righted himself and came back up, it was with the point of the stake ready. It found its mark with the same ease and power it always did, and he breathed a silent thanks.

By the time the other guard realized what happened, Chas had him slammed face-first against the wall, the stake at his back. "Get me out of here," he said. "I want the way outside."

He had to get out of the place so that he could come back in and free Narcise. And he knew exactly how to do that, what he needed to find...for it had all suddenly become clear to him.

He'd figured out Cezar's Asthenia.

As he was observing everything that happened, from the time he and Narcise entered her brother's chambers, and his reaction to her presence, Chas suspected there was something wrong. Moldavi had seemed so pleased to see them...until they walked into the chamber.

Then, he'd ordered them out almost instantly. "Take my sister to the dining chamber," he'd told Belial.

And every time Narcise moved closer, Moldavi had slowed and changed. His breathing, his voice, even his body had tensed. He'd tried to hide it, but Chas was used to watching for the signs of weakness from the prey he hunted.

But Chas still didn't completely figure it out until they got to the larger chamber...that, he realized later, gave Moldavi a larger space in which to be confined with his Asthenia. And he'd had Narcise stripped immediately...and her clothing taken from the chamber.

Why would he do that unless there was something he needed to get out of the place? Without, of course, anyone realizing it.

And that was when it all crystallized for Chas. The vision Sonia had seen had Narcise in it, and it was clear that Cezar had some mixture of fear and admiration for his sister...but she was also holding an ivory fan.

And in her clothing, she had been wearing a corset...with the ivory busk that Chas had given her. It was ivory. Moldavi's Asthenia was ivory.

The next thing Narcise was aware of was Chas's face, dark and frightened and furious, looking down at her.

"My God, Narcise," he said, touching her cheeks as he gathered her into his arms, his eyes glistening. "I came as fast as I could. Can you... Are you... Holy Mother of God... Narcise."

The feathers had disappeared...the pain was gone...the paralysis and heaviness had eased. Her body throbbed in places, and was numb in others...but she could breathe. And think. And remember.

She struggled to sit up, extricating herself from him. "Giordan," she breathed, looking around frantically. Had she lost her chance? Had she lost him again?

Chas's face changed and he stepped back so that she could see the tanned body, sagging against the wall, arms straight above his head. Giordan's face was half-lifted, his glittering eyes scoring her, and as their gazes met, she saw wild relief in his.

She slid off the table upon which she lay, her knees wobbly and the room spinning. Something wet oozed from her shoulder, and there was blood and dampness in other places. Her arms hurt, her back felt as if it had been seared. She saw Belial's body sprawled on the stone floor. His head lay in a pool of dark red blood, its putrid scent nauseating, nearby.

Chas caught her arm as she began to sink to the ground, and said, "Stay here. I'll see to him." His words were as taut and short as his movements, and Narcise felt a wave of remorse as she realized his pain.

She watched as he released Giordan, saw the way he sagged and pitched forward when Chas cut him free from the bonds that had held him upright, and she had to move from the table to meet him. Already, the weakness was ebbing, her legs were stronger, her mind clearer.

She looked around the chamber, and for the first time, she saw more bodies-dead, vampir bodies...and then she saw her brother.

He was sitting in a chair on the dais, tied to his seat, surrounded by slender white items.

He wasn't dead...but he wasn't moving.

All at once, she had Giordan in her arms, his heavy, solid body, warm and welcome, sliding against her-and it was all she could do not to collapse into shameful tears.

How much time had she missed? How much had she lost? She'd been so wrapped up in herself, in her center...

"I'll take care of things in here," Chas said, turning from them. "See to him. I think he's-he needs..." His voice trailed away and he walked off with jerky steps.

"I'm well," Giordan muttered into her hair, but his arm was tight around her, and he leaned against her too heavily to be "well."

She smelled scents on him that she didn't care to identify, and, blinking back angry, horrified tears, she helped him out of the ugly chamber without a glance at her brother.

She knew where to go, and took him back to her own private apartments. A niggle of guilt bothered her as she left Chas behind, and she promised herself she'd go back to him as soon as she got Giordan settled.

But he was weak, with an ashen cast to his rich, golden skin, and she knew he'd need to feed before he recovered his strength. How much blood had Cezar taken from him? Had there been others who'd fed as well?

What else had happened?

The smells and marks on his body told her more than she wanted to know, and Narcise blocked her mind from thinking about it or imagining it, remembering the shiny gray color to his face. He was safe now. Cezar wouldn't bother him...or either of them...again.

When she eased him onto the bed in her old chamber, Giordan didn't release her, and she tumbled down with him, their legs bumping and sliding awkwardly together. Bare skin to bare skin, her breasts pressed up against his torso, his warm arms loose around her waist.

"Narcise," he murmured, his lips moving against her hair again, "is it really you? Have you come back to me?"

"Giordan," she replied, pulling away to look down at him. "I'm sorry. I don't even know what to... I know that I can't say anything to change what happened, to make amends for it...but...I'm so sorry. I didn't understand. I didn't-" Her voice broke at the end and despair took over. How could he ever forgive her? "So...sorry."

The Mark on her back shot a renewed blast of pain-or maybe it had never stopped doing so-but whatever the case, she felt it.

And along with the shock of hurt came an unlikely sense of satisfaction. If Lucifer disapproved, then there was something good about it.

And it had all ceased being just about her some time ago.

"Shh," he said. "Don't...say anything."

"Are you hurt? What can I..."

He covered her mouth with his, his lips warm and firm, fitting over hers with a softness that made her want to weep. His hands glided up her unclothed body, gentle and yet possessive.

"Belial," he said, pulling away suddenly, his face hardening. "He-"

"He's dead," she replied. "Chas..." She shook her head and pressed her swollen lips together.

"I would have killed him myself. Watching him-" His voice trailed off and he looked at her, his brown-blue eyes deep and filled with grief. "I knew what Cezar was going to do. I tried to stop him, Narcise."

"By Fate, I know you did," she replied wildly, consumed by her own guilt and shame. "Giordan, there was nothing you could have done-"

"I would have done anything-"

"But you already did," she wept. "You already did. And I didn't see it. I was too... I didn't, I couldn't, understand...what you'd done."

He gathered her close, but she could feel the trembling and weakness in his powerful arms. She pressed a kiss over one of the wounds on his shoulder, tasting the remnant of luscious, warm, clean lifeblood. Desire and affection rushed over her, and he shivered beneath her lips.

"You need to feed," she told him, pulling away, putting aside her own needs and desires. "You can hardly lift your arms."

"No," he murmured. "I only need you, Narcise. I never thought-"

"Please, Giordan. Allow me." She raised her arm and offered it to him, at the same time as she admired the smooth planes of his chest, dusted lightly with dark hair. "Just as you did for me."

He shook his head. "I can't. Narcise. I can't." He turned his face away, his mouth tight, his nostrils flaring as if he drew in her scent, but tried to force it away at the same time.

Something sharp and hard stabbed her in the heart. He'd fed on Rubey. She knew he had...she'd scented and smelled the proof.

If he loved her, why would he not take what she offered? Her heart thumping, an uneasy churning in her insides, she looked for something to cut her skin...just as he had, when she'd demurred his same offering, ten years ago.

A lifetime for some. But just a flash in the life of a Dracule.

"Please," she said, wanting to help him, and at the same time, wanting to erase the remnants of Belial that had been imprinted on her.

She raked her arm over the corner of her bedside table, and it did enough: leaving a slender red line that burst into shiny pearls of lifeblood.

"Narcise." He sucked in his breath and she put her arm there...but even then, he turned away. "I can't. You don't understand...I've changed. I can't."

But then he shuddered, deep in his middle as he pulled in a breath. His belly and torso flinched against hers, and all at once his mouth was on her...closing around her arm.

His tongue slid along the slender wound, leaving a moist, hot trail in its wake, and Narcise's desire blossomed fully inside her, shooting low and deep.

She rolled and pressed against him, jolting delicately when he slid his fangs into the soft side of her arm. The rush of her blood into his warm mouth, his slick tongue tasting the lifeblood was as pleasurable for her as sinking her fangs into his vein.

She tasted his salty skin, felt the racing and pounding of his pulse as it beat with her own. His eyes were closed, his face taut with relief as he drank-

Giordan abruptly pulled up, thrusting her arm away and lurching off the bed. He fumbled at the table, grabbing a small bowl from it just in time to vomit inside.

Narcise went still and cold. Did he hate her so much that he couldn't...

Slowly she eased away from the warm place on the bed, the last remnants of her pleasure evaporating, leaving her shaky and confused. His back was to her, that broad expanse with shifting muscles...and a Mark that had turned white. It covered his shoulder and down his back, smooth and light-as if he'd been tanned around it.

He looked up then, wiping his mouth with the back of a hand, and saw her. "Narcise," he said, reaching for her. "I'm sorry. It's not you-"

"It must be me," she whispered, her throat suddenly raw and dry. "You have no difficulty feeding on Rubey."

His fingers were surprisingly strong, and he kept her in place on the bed as he came back onto it. "No. I shouldn't have tried. I knew what would happen...but I can't resist you." His smile was forced and wavery, making her even more discomfited.

She blinked back tears, not even caring that she might appear weak. She was weak. Weak and foolish. And what she'd done was unforgivable.

You are the strongest person I've ever met, he'd said to her once.

That was before he'd really come to know her.

Giordan wouldn't release her hand. "After what happened...before...when I left, I was so dark and angry and-well, I went a little mad. I don't remember what I did, precisely, but it was violent and evil and black. I do remember waking in an alley, with no memory of anything but the realization that I didn't have you any longer-" He squeezed her fingers. "No, don't talk. You need to understand."

Narcise couldn't look at him, so she stared down at their joined hands: his dark, powerful one closed around her pale slender fingers.

"There was a cat," he said. "In the alley, and she blocked me in. I couldn't leave. And I stayed there as the sun rose, lost in that dark time-I can't describe how it was, but it was horrific. I tried to hide from the sunlight, but one part of me was exposed." He gestured to his shoulder, drawing her attention from their hands. "I saw a bright light, and this happened. I felt as if my soul...were battling. They were. The light won."

Narcise reached to touch the markings, certain that he was making the entire event seem much simpler than it had been. "Did you..." She shook her head. The white lines were no longer raised, nor was the texture any different than the rest of his skin. The change of color made the mark look almost beautiful, instead of ugly and malevolent.

"I was weak and beaten, and when I finally made my way home, I tried to feed. And every time I did..." He gestured to the bowl, an odd expression on his face. "That happened. At last, Drishni came to me and I was able to feed from her. Because she eats nothing brought to her through death or violence. Somehow, with my change, my body would no longer accept anything violent or evil. After that, I realized I was changing. In many ways."

"And so you can feed on Rubey?" she asked, knowing that her tone was stiff with hurt.

"She eats no meat. And she offers freely." His eyes searched hers. "But I don't love her."

Narcise turned away to hide the tears. What a fool she was. "And Luce?"

"He no longer owns me. Kritanu-an old Indian man who Dimitri sent after he learned about this-says that I've attained a level of moksha that most mortals can never reach. Because I'm immortal, still, Narcise. I still have forever."

So he wasn't like Dimitri and Voss. She frowned, her heart lightening just that bit. "You are no longer Dracule...but you aren't a mortal?"

He shook his head, his eyes steady. "I don't know what I am...but I know that I'm my own man once again. And that I have an eternity to learn what this change means. I hope... Narcise, will you stay with me?"

"But I'm Dracule," she replied. I can't love you.

"It doesn't matter, Narcise. I love you...and that will never change. I told you: it's only you. It's only ever been you."

"He has to die," Chas told Narcise sometime later. Much later, after she and Giordan had fully recovered in the privacy of the bedchamber. "That's why I came: to slay Cezar. Then you'll never have to worry about him again."

She nodded, imagining a life without her brother's dark shadow hovering over her. "But how can it be done? He's protected himself so well. You can't even put him on a guillotine."

"There is a way," Chas replied. His expression had been, and remained, emotionless-something that she'd come to notice since he'd rescued her from the feather cape.

When he thought she wasn't looking at him, however, she felt his eyes on her: heavy, filled with heartache.

The next day, Narcise walked into the dining chamber to watch the execution. The servants and made vampirs who'd lived with Cezar had either been slain by Chas or run off now that their master was a prisoner. There was no one left but the three of them and her brother.

Cezar was manacled to the high-backed chair, his arms and legs chained in place. He was also fettered at the hips so his torso wouldn't move, and a chain positioned his head and held it immobile against the back of the chair.

Narcise found the sight of her brother thus contained visually shocking-horrifying, really-and more than a bit unsettling to see a man who'd made her life so tormented now in such a crudely helpless condition.

As executioner, Chas had managed the preparations, and now he stood off to one side, sharpening a long wooden pike. It looked lethal and wicked, and Narcise shuddered in spite of herself. Giordan, who'd come in with her, had an understandably tense look on his face.

Soon, she would be rid of her brother and the threat he posed to her and the rest of the world. And then she could go on to live the rest of her life without fear.

"Narcise," her brother said from his restricted posture.

This was the first she'd spoken to him since the events of yesterday.

She walked over to stand in front of him and found his blue-gray eyes steady and clear. They fastened on her, and she felt a wave of hatred and disgust for the man who'd taken so many years of her life away. Yes, he'd given her immortality-an unwelcome gift, after all-and he'd taken so much else from her: a normal life. A family. The natural cycle of living and loving and dying.

The man she'd loved...or tried to love...for more than ten years.

"Did you come to bid me farewell?" Cezar asked. "Or to taunt me? I must congratulate you, Narcise. You've beaten me at last."

"I thought it only proper to bid you adieu," she replied, aware that Chas was listening. "And to make certain the deed was done. I'm sorry that our reunion wasn't as long as you'd hoped. But I'm not sorry that there will be no more children bled by you." And that you won't live to torture me any longer.

His face changed as he looked at her, and she saw a flicker of something in his eyes. Not fear, not anger...perhaps something like regret. "I have always only admired you, sister."

"Admired and tried to control," she reminded him. "Bartered off to the highest bidder or the strongest sword. Such admiration."

"How else was I to keep you with me?" he asked. "You would have left the moment you had the chance. I wanted you with me. All the time. Forever."

"You nearly achieved just that," she said, her throat raw again. "What happened to you, my brother? How did you become like this? You used to be...sweet."

For a moment, his facade crumbled, and she saw the real Cezar: a frightened, self-loathing, insecure man. "I couldn't find who I was supposed to be," he said. "I couldn't accept who I was."

But then the tortured expression was gone just as instantly as it had come, and he took on a haughty face and speared her with cold eyes. "I should have been you. I wanted to be you, Narcise. Always loved, always petted and worshipped...perfect in form and image. A woman of unbelievable exquisiteness."

Her heart was pounding and Narcise realized that Giordan had come to stand with her, resting his hand at the base of her back. Comforting and supporting.

"You always had the men," her brother continued. "They always loved you and wanted you...and I could understand why. I admired you...even loved you...but I wanted to be in your place." Cezar's attention flickered to Giordan, standing behind her. A flash of regret and admiration went through his gaze and his lips flattened in a humorless smile. "And then he came and I knew I'd lose you to him. And rightly so. You were," he said to Giordan, allowing his eyes to glow a bit, "all that I'd hoped and imagined."

Narcise felt Giordan's faint shudder against her, and she eased back a bit so that she was closer to him and his hand pressed more firmly into her back.

What he'd gone through. For her.

The very thought, especially now, faced by Cezar and seeing the lust in his eyes even as he prepared to die, made her sick with regret and revulsion.

How could Giordan ever forgive her for misunderstanding? For doubting him?

"And so I'll go to my death, envying you still, Narcise," Cezar said in his lisping voice. "What an irony." He closed his eyes.

Narcise turned away, her belly lurching. It was time.

Chas was there, watching silently. "I'm ready," he said, flashing a look toward Cezar. "Let's finish this." He turned to walk away, then paused and came back. "You don't have to watch, Narcise."

"No," she replied. "I'll stay. I'll see this done."

Giordan, who couldn't witness such a deed, squeezed her hand and, after one last searching look, left the chamber.

Chas brought a chair and positioned it behind Cezar's seat. He climbed up on it, the long, lethal pike in his hand, and stood there for a moment.

"This," he said as he raised the long stake vertically above Cezar's head, "is for the children you slaughtered, and for the Jews you blamed for it. This is for Narcise, and the years of abuse in your household and for keeping her captive. And for tricking her into the covenant with Lucifer."

The point hovered directly above Cezar's dark head, and Narcise couldn't take her eyes away from him. He sat, immobile, stony, unable to move, trussed and captured, helpless-just as she had been. He stared straight ahead, his lips curved in a faint smile. But fear glinted in his eyes.

Chas would have to slam the stake all the way down, through his skull, into the brain and mouth, down his throat, and into the chest cavity...then into his heart. Narcise closed her eyes. Her brother would be killed in an instant, put out of the misery of the life he hated.

He'd be gone, sent to Lucifer forever.

No more fear, no more violence....

"Goodbye, Cezar Moldavi." Chas raised his arms, muscles tense and swollen, and just as he moved, Narcise screamed. "No!"

She flew across the room, launching herself at Chas, slamming into him and the chair just as he brought the stake down. They crashed to the stone floor in a rough heap, the pike clattering across the ground as a white-hot blaze engulfed her.

"What the hell are you doing?" Chas said, grasping Narcise's shoulder as he pulled up into a sitting position. "What's wrong?"

She was shaking her head, her body trembling, her belly heaving. Pain screamed through her, radiating from her Mark, raging through her like a ball of fire. "I couldn't let you," she gasped, tried to speak, looking up at him through the blazing red pain that grew stronger and hotter. "Couldn't...kill him."

He's still my brother.

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