The hood was removed from Katherine’s head and she found herself in a van, surrounded by strange men — but none of them were the donors or warlocks who had kept her under guard. Unlike the men who had imprisoned her, these ones wore balaclavas — balaclavas that were reinforced by subtle enchantments — to conceal their faces. Katherine blinked twice, letting her eyes adjust to the van’s dim interior. It’s engine rumbled to a start and she bounced awkwardly in her seat as the vehicle started building up to speed.
A rescue? Katherine wondered — but she didn’t dare hope too much. She had no more allies that she knew of, and whoever these men were they had not unbound her hands. Fortunately, she had already recovered from the shock of being plucked out of the safehouse bathroom that had been repurposed as her cell. If not a rescue, then at least now I have a new chance for escape. The vehicle she was in was warded, but if these new people bore her ill will — and if they slipped up for just a moment — she might have a chance to call on Philippe to rescue her for real. And that hope was good enough for now. She voiced her next mental question even as she thought it.
“What do you want from me?” Katherine asked sharply. That they wanted something was obvious: No one would break a prisoner out of The Center’s custody without reason. Especially one accused of treason and consorting with Fae.
One of the men chuckled. “Always to the point, aren’t you, Katherine?” He unravelled his headgear, still chuckling as he did. Katherine’s eyes widened in recognition — although it wasn’t a recognition that served to do anything more than redouble her confusion.
“Mister Fleisher?” She asked in surprise. But she knew it was him: one didn’t serve as the right hand of the most powerful supernatural in town without learning the names and faces of the other people of note in the community — and their spouses. And while Charles Fleisher would have been just another courier for The Center — albeit one who passed through somewhat more regularly than most — his brief marriage to Katherine’s mentor, the quisling witch Linda, had elevated his status to ‘person of note.’
Charles smiled back at her. “Katherine,” he answered. “I’m surprised you remember me. Please, call me Charles.”
Katherine’s eyes narrowed. “You haven’t aged,” she noted. Because he really hadn’t. Recognizing him had been easy: he looked exactly as he had the last time she’d seen him, when she’d still been in college. Her voice hardened. “What do you want,” she repeated — refusing to be distracted and all the more suspicious due to her mounting confusion.
Charles laughed. “I haven’t,” he mused to himself. “That’s true.” He smiled a lopsided smile at her. “I’ve joined an organization that rewards its members a little more thoroughly than The Center has been known to,” Charles explained — even though he was answering the question Katherine hadn’t asked. He let his smile grow and Katherine’s eyes widened when she saw a hint of fang slide down at the corner of his mouth.
For an instant, she felt a flash of wild, irrational hope. She didn’t know why Charles Fleisher had liberated her, but if he was implying that there was someone out there — someone other than The Center — who was turning people into unreported vampires in exchange for their service, and that he had rescued her on their behalf….
She was a competent, powerful witch. And her morals were flexible enough for her to serve yet another set of masters, if it came to that. Is this my chance?! Not for escape, but for immortality? Katherine quelled the thought immediately. Her face turned cold and her expression became a mask. If this was her chance to secure eternal life and youth, then she wasn’t going to tip her hand at the very start of negotiations.
Charles’ lopsided grin extended to cover the other half of his mouth, leaving both of his fangs clearly visible. He stood, and some of the men beside Katherine shifted, allowing Charles to take a seat next to her. Once he had seated himself again, Charles placed a hand on Katherine’s arm and fixed her eyes with his.
“You see,” Charles said — and now there was no hint of humor in his voice — “your old master, Director Salvatore, was involved in something that, as it turns out, he lacked the moral fortitude to see through without ‘cheating’ on his emotions. And so, because he was foolish enough to go feral and be caught and then be put down, now I have to clean up the mess he’s left behind — and Director Lewellyn’s. Specifically, I need to recover their corpses before they can be reanimated and questioned by anyone at the Center… and my previous witch and I had something of a falling out. Without her glamours to help things along, I have found myself forced to rely on other means.”
“I see,” Katherine said slowly. “So you want me to do what? Enslumber whoever Abbigail has watching the corpses?” Despite herself, Katherine’s voice dripped fury and her lips twisted when Abigail’s name crossed them. That bitch… “Place wards over the corpses — and your hideout — so that you can’t be tracked magically? Tell you which of Salvatore’s local donors are still sufficiently enthralled that they’d help you revive him?” Katherine had the power and the knowledge to do those things. Turning over Emma’s name might have been the hardest of the three, but Katherine steeled herself for that possibility. It isn’t like that stupid girl didn’t betray me first. Although, really: Abigail was the problem. Abigail had ruined everything. Abigail had taken Katherine’s immortality. Abigail had stolen Megan’s affections and when that hadn’t been enough for her, Abigail had stolen Emma’s as well.
Charles leaned back slightly. He still gazed at Katherine, but his eyes were no longer fixed on hers. They ducked to follow the twist of her lips, and then roamed over her in a way that sent a shiver along her spine. Salvatore had looked at her like that, once upon a time.
“No,” Charles said with another of his chuckles. “Nothing quite so involved as all that. I already have warlocks on site setting up the spells that will ‘enslumber’ the guards there and a warded conveyance for the Directors’ bodies. And I’ve spent the past few days securing and warding a facility that will also serve as our ‘hideout.’ Plus, I have no intention of reviving either Director before they have been transfered to that facility — at which point securing additional donors to ‘volunteer’ to revive them will be unnecessary.”
So. Emma was safe enough. Katherine refused to acknowledge the hint of relief that thought gave her: Emma was still a treacherous backstabber. So Katherine would be able to be the bigger person and not stab her in return — that was all well and good, but Katherine refused to let their old relationship and stupid nostalgia make her give her former housemate any measure of forgiveness. But dealing with that surprise feeling had caught Katherine off guard. It wasn’t until a second later that her mind caught up with the rest of what Charles had said, and her lips tugged down into a frown.
“Then what do you need me for?” Katherine asked. “Why go through the effort of liberating me from The Center?”
Charles looked up from his perusal of her and gave Katherine a broad grin. He reached up and brushed back a lock of hair that had been mussed in her time in captivity, and then let his hand linger on her cheek. “Three things,” he said. “Just not the three you guessed.”
Katherine held herself stock still. She did not look away, but she kept her face stern and unintimidated, despite the way Charles’ casual touch emphasized the fact that her own hands were still bound; highlighting the disparity between her helplessness and his position as either her rescuer — or new captor. She had spent too much of her life with predators to give him the psychological victory that easily.
“First,” Charles said, “is that I need you to provide the clue that sends everyone looking in the wrong direction. Or, at least, the clue that makes them stop looking before they get to my involvement.” Charles brushed his thumb over Katherine’s cheek and cupped her chin with his other fingers, tilting her head up so that her gaze was once more transfixed by his. “You see,” Charles explained, “the thing is that you are a powerful enough witch to pull off all of those things you suggested. After all, when Director Salvatore insisted that Linda provide him with her best to head up his personal coven, she sent you. Which is actually what makes you so very perfect for my purposes. Not only do you have the ability to pull off the break in I will be executing, but you have enough skill that had your guards made even one mistake you may have actually freed yourself — and have a longstanding and deeply personal relationship with Director Salvatore.”
The smile that Charles shared now was chilling. It was the smile of a mastermind watching a pawn to see if it appreciated its place in the grander plan as the other pieces were moved into position around it. “Which is why,” Charles concluded, “when they find your blood spilled out where Salvatore’s corpse used to be, everyone will fall over themselves leaping to the obvious conclusion: that you freed yourself, broke in to reunite with him, and then — in a desperate attempt to prove your worth, or show your love, or just because of the unconscious demands implanted by decades as his willing thrall — you slit your wrist and gave of your life to bring back his. And I will be free to take care of my remaining business without anyone knowing to even look for me while I’m about it.”
Katherine took a deep breath. She was no stranger to spilling blood. That she could handle. But she knew there would be more to it than just leaving some of her blood at the scene of the crime. “You said three things,” Katherine told Charles.
His smile shifted from calculating to pleased. “And you’re detail orientated,” he agreed. “Well then, the second thing I need from you is to be able to trust you, Katherine. You won’t be of any use to us after this if we can’t trust you, and you’ve already demonstrated a certain, shall we say ‘flexibility’ to your loyalty. Given how disappointing my last witch was, if it turns out that we cannot reliably continue in an advantageous relationship then I may as well not leave your blood at the scene of the crime to begin with. Not when your bloodless corpse would be so much more convincing.”
Despite herself, Katherine tried to jerk back from the threat — but Charles’ grip tightened. His fingertips dug into her jaw, keeping her in place and preventing her from forming a coherent response. Preventing her from swearing on whatever oath he wished that she wouldn’t betray him or his interests. She felt her heart start to hammer in her chest as he continued to regard her, silently now. His eyes were dead: she knew vampires well enough to know that it was because he was no longer putting in the effort to convey any emotion at all. But while Charles’ gaze was as dispassionate and cold as stone, his smile had gone dark again.
“Which brings us to the third thing I require of you, Katherine,” Charles continued in an equally cold tone. Katherine’s head was fixed in place, but her eyes weren’t. They darted, looking for an escape only to fixate on Charles’ mouth. Straining to look down past her nose, his fangs remained prominently displayed. They’d never sunk back into his teeth after he’d flashed them at her that first time. “I spent a considerable amount of my own essence breaking you out. Breaching wards, twisting time; casting geases on those patsies we needed to cover our tracks. And there’s no way I can simply trust your words, should you promise not to betray me. After all: you aren’t fae, my dear, and even fae can break their oaths if they are willing to sacrifice enough of their self to do it. So, to pay me back for my effort — and so I can genuinely see if you will be of any worth to me after tonight — the last thing I need from you is for you to join me in a drink.”
Charles casually tilted his head to the side as he watched Katherine’s reaction. It brought one corner of his mouth — and a long, wicked fang — clearly into her view. She jerked once against her bonds; tried once more to pull away — and then froze. The tension flowed out of her as she gave up: she knew exactly how fast and ruthless a hungry vampire was, and she had no hope of escaping. She could only hope that whatever Charles took of her aura, it was enough to convince him that he could trust her. And for the promise of immortality, he could. That thought she focused on. Whatever else he took, she needed for him to know that.
Otherwise, Katherine thought just before Charles’ fangs snapped into her neck, I’m dead already. But she never had time to fully realize that thought, herself.
After all: Everything Katherine was had already started flowing into Charles’ aura before she’d even finished having it.