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Authors: Nicola Claire

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BOOK: Blood Life Seeker
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Because, that's what I was feeling right now, not anger, not even frustration, but outright fear. Huh.

“He said he was a old friend of yours. Michel, what's wrong?”


He is no longer a friend. He is the Enforcer for the
Iunctio
. He is their
guillotine
.”

Chapter 4
The
Iunctio

He stood abruptly then and began to pace. Yes, vampires pace, but only when they are
really
having a bad day. I think I've seen Michel pace only once. This was a new enough movement to make me blink in shock.

“First things first,
ma douce
. Where was your stake?”

“I don't sleep with a stake. When I Dream Walk, I lie down in my hunter gear and that's how I appear in my Dream Walk. This time I was asleep, in this.” I indicated my slinky nightdress.

He glanced at me, took in what I was wearing, then let out a long breath and a soft, but firm cuss.

“You will have to sleep with a stake from now on.”

“I can't sleep with a stake, it'll be uncomfortable, I'll scratch myself.”

“Find a way! Is it not better to be uncomfortable or would you prefer dead? This is not a game, Lucinda. You need to be able to protect yourself. I do not know what is going on here, but I do not like it. Your first non-controlled Dream Walk and you happen to meet the Enforcer. This is no mere coincidence.”

Oh shit. And now I was scared too. I hadn't even considered that this had anything to do with Gregor directly, other than the fact that he was about to kill a Nosferatin. What if he had engineered it? What if somehow my loss of control of Dream Walking was due to manipulation? Shit.

Michel sensed my fear, he came to me and sat down on the bed at my side, reaching up to pull me to him.

“I am sorry,
ma douce
. I do not mean to frighten you, but I am frightened.”

Oh my God. Michel was never frightened. Not really. Sure he has worried over me getting hurt when I hunt, when I Dream Walk and he can't help me. I put it down to just his need to protect me, nothing more. Annoying, but not unbelievable. But, to say he was frightened. I didn't quite know how to handle that.

He sighed against me, his breath warm on my neck. “Gregor
was
a good friend. We were inseparable. We did everything together.” His voice was low, soft, almost too quiet. “He is a complicated man, he has such... anger in him. Regret for a life lost, disgust at what he has become. When I met him, he was a hedonist, I did not recognise the anger for what it was. He was fun to be with, life to him was one big party, as they say. I am not proud of all I did when with Gregor, but it was intoxicating. To a vampyre there can be no greater love than the pursuit of our own desires.” He took another breath in, as if telling me this about himself, could be his undoing. Could be the one thing that makes me turn away.

I didn't comfort him. What could I say? I knew he had a life before me, before New Zealand, but I also wasn't sure I wanted to know about it.

“When I chose to leave Paris and come here, we fell out. Gregor could not understand why I would move to such a place, why I would give up what we had.”

I knew Michel had lived in Paris before he came to New Zealand, Nero's Nafrini had hinted at that, but I did not know what he had done there, what he had been. Somehow I thought it might be important now.

“What were you in Paris? What did you do?”

I could feel his smile against my skin, his lips were still resting on my neck, his head on my shoulder. I was betting it was a rueful smile, not a happy one.

“You can read me well,
ma douce
, can you not? I worked for the
Iunctio
, I was the Creator. I set the rules.”

“So, one of the good guys?”

He pulled away and looked at me, a look of sadness on the edges of his eyes.


There are no
good guys
on the
Iunctio,
ma douce
. They are law. And law is never nice.”

He stood again and started pacing. I got the feeling he didn't want to touch me right then. I tried not to be hurt by that, I think it was more because he believed I would not want to touch him.

“When I left for New Zealand Gregor cut off all contact. I have not heard from him since.” He sighed and turned to look at me. “Just because he was once a friend, do not underestimate him,
ma douce
. He is ruthless, especially when he sets his sights on something. I fear he may have set his sights on you.”


Why? Because of you? Could it not just be a coincidence he appeared in my Dream Walk? Does it have to be something to fear? This is my power after all, maybe it is the power trying to tell me something.”

Michel smiled, it wasn't unpleasant, just a bit condescending I think. “You always look for the Light, Lucinda, when there is often only Dark.”

I got up off the bed then and went to him. He didn't take me in his arms, just stood there, his hands fisted slightly at his sides, his eyes edged with sadness. He may think the world is full of Darkness, but I know otherwise. I know better. I am the Light, that's what my name means and somehow, I don't think my father chose that name just for how it sounds. I never knew my father, but part of me believes he knew what I was to become.

I reached up and touched his face, my palm against his cheek. He hesitated, then leaned his head into me, closing his eyes, rubbing against my hand like a cat, smelling my scent at my wrist. Sometimes, he was more wolf than a werewolf was.

“There may be Darkness out there, Michel, but I only know how to spread Light. Look at me when the Darkness comes and I will light your way.”

His eyes opened and he stared at me, the deep dark pools of blue pulling me in.

“You are more than you appear,
ma douce
. Every day I see it, yet I cannot believe it. I could not bear to lose you.”

I smiled. “If I'm lost, you'll be lost too.” In this case, lost was a euphemism for dead. If either Michel dies or I die, the other of our joining will too. The joining is symbiotic in nature. We will always be together, only death will part us now.

He sighed, again, he seemed to be doing a lot of that lately, and said, “There are more ways to be lost than simply death,
ma belle
.”

I didn't think I liked the sound of that.

He kissed me lightly on the lips, the cheek, the forehead, pulled me close and held me for a moment. Then bent down to my ear and said, “
Je t'aime, ma petite
lumière
. Dawn approaches, I must go.”

Before I could even voice an argument to that, he was gone. No blur, no flicker, simply gone and the room was left smelling of a sea breeze on a late summer evening. The light of the sun could be felt, but not quite seen, as it breached the horizon.

I rubbed my bare arms, suddenly feeling cold. I didn't think the temperature had dropped, it was more an internal thing, this cold. I looked at my bed. I couldn't go back to sleep. I couldn't risk being sucked into another Dream Walk. If I Dream Walk twice in one night, I'm out for the count for a week. Well, maybe less now that I have turned 25, but it would be several days and I just couldn't risk that.

It was early, just after half past six according to my bedside clock. Might as well get up and embrace the day. I took a quick shower and changed and was just switching the coffee machine on when the phone rang. No one usually rings at this hour. Hmm.

I picked it up while the smell of freshly ground coffee beans permeated the air. I was going for an Arabica bean this morning, something with a bit of zing.

“Hello.”

“Luce, it's Celeste.” Celeste is a Taniwha, one of Rick's Hapū and his fiancée to boot. I like Celeste, we've always got on and much more so since she and Rick became an item. Before then she was friendly, but distant. I had put it down to the fact that I was an outsider, not one of the Hapū, but now I realise she had just been jealous of my friendship with Rick. She's got him now, so I'm no longer competition. Besides, Rick and I haven't been seeing as much of each other as we used to. I no longer monopolise his time.

“Hey you, what's up?” I asked.

I could hear her taking a deep breath in on the other end of the line. Fortifying herself it would seem. “It's Rick, Luce. I need your help.”

My stomach felt like it had just dropped to my feet. I may not be seeing that much of Rick right now, but he has been my best friend since I came to Auckland. I would hate for him to be in trouble, or worse, hurt.

“What's happened, Celeste? Tell me.”

I realised then she was crying, I could hear it in the catch of her breath, the roughness of the whisper. She was trying to hold it in, smother it, but it was there, raw, waiting to be released.

“Celeste? You're worrying me. What's wrong?”

“He's been so angry lately. So not my Rick. I didn't know who to turn to, Luce. I didn't know what else to do. He'll listen to you”

“It's all right, Celeste, you've come to me now, we'll sort it out together. Why's he angry? What's happened?”

Rick may be a shape shifter, and shape shifters have mighty fine tempers, but he's more of a hugable Taniwha than most. He's big and athletic and strong, built like a pro wrestler, well a pro-kick boxer any way, but he's all gentle kindness and heartfelt caring usually. Anger is not something you see too often on Rick. But, in saying that, I had seen a fair bit more of it than usual recently.

“Ever since the battle and losing Rocky he's been different,” she replied.

Rocky was a young member of the Hapū who died fighting Max, the evil vampire who came to steal me away. I had always felt Rocky's death had been my fault. It didn't help that I had witnessed it and not done anything to help him.

“He's determined to get revenge. He's consumed by it,” Celeste continued.

“Max is dead, Celeste. Michel killed him. There is no one else to get revenge from.”

She laughed, a slightly bitter bark of a laugh, something so unlike Celeste's dainty, feminine titter. “He's not satisfied with just one vampire death, Luce. He wants them all dead.”

I felt the world fall away briefly and slumped down onto the floor by the phone, my back against the wall the base unit was attached to. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath in. “He can't mean that.” My voice sounded wrong, not mine, a little restricted, strangled even. Rick wouldn't be this foolish. Wouldn't be this unkind. I may be the official vampire hunter in this city, but even I don't want them
all
dead. There is good in some of them, there is Light. Surely Rick can see that too?

“He's fixated on it, Luce. It's all he thinks about, all he talks about. He's started to get a few of the younger Taniwhas on his side. He's talking them 'round. It's almost like he wants a little posse, so they can all go out hunting vampires in a group. I've never seen him like this Luce, he's a man possessed.”

“What does Jerome say?” Jerome is the Westside Hapū's leader, he's big and gruff and rough around the edges, but he's got a heart of gold in there too.

“He doesn't know yet. Rick has managed to keep this very quiet. They meet in secret, at night and off Hapū land. I only know because he talks in his sleep.”

That little bit of information I didn't need to know, but I pushed it aside. None of my business. And anyway, how could I possibly talk? I slept with one of the undead.

“What do you suggest I do, Celeste? You know how he feels about my current domestic situation. I can't help thinking he wouldn't hear me out on this one. Have you confronted him?”

“He'll listen to you, Luce. You've been his best friend for so long. He looks up to you, he adores you. He'll listen to you, I know it.”

I wasn't so sure any more. Maybe once upon a time, but lately Rick had been growing more distant, unable to comprehend why I would be in Michel's, the Master V
ampire
of the City's, arms.

“I don't think I have that kind of sway any more, Celeste. I'm sorry.”

“Please, Luce.” She was really crying now, I could hear the sobs between the words, the hitch in the breath, the whimper as she let it out. Crap.

“OK. OK. I'll talk to him.”

“Oh thank you, Luce. I know you'll make him see sense. I know you will.”

I wasn't so convinced, but I didn't say it.

“Look, I've got to get ready for work now, but I'll try to swing by the gym on my way home, OK?”

“Yes, yes, that'll be great. Thanks, Luce. Thank you.”

She hung up before I could say good bye. She'd accomplished what she rang for, she obviously didn't want to risk me changing my mind by hanging around for a girlie chat.

Damn. A rogue pack of shape shifters in my city. Could my life be any more complicated?

Chapter 5
Lynch Mob

Work was busy. Sale season. There's always a good sale on when winter winds down. Spring was just around the corner, but not yet fully blossomed. The days were getting slowly longer, the nights shorter. I always loved the onset of summer. Vampires did not.

I'd had a steady flow of customers all morning. Sales mean money, shops don't want to hang on to that kind of cash, so they high tail it to the bank. I'm the business banking teller for Queen Street's BNZ branch. The others do everything else, I just deal with the big deposits.

Counting coins is my day job, but it's the one thing that keeps me sane the most. There's just something so comforting about counting coins. Hunting vampires at night can be unpredictable, counting coins is not. I know what my day will bring from the moment I step in the door. It's cathartic, relaxing, reliable. Michel wanted me to give up my day job, he didn't feel being a bank teller was an appropriate job for the kindred Nosferatin of the Master of the City.

Needless to say, he didn't win that argument.

By the time the big clock on the wall behind our counters read 5pm, I was centred and calm and felt well and truly ready to face the night. Whatever it would bring. Even my fear of what would happen when I slept next didn't sway my good mood. Would I Dream Walk again? Would Gregor be there? All of it had faded away to just a soft shushing in the back of my mind.

I wasn't trying to ignore it. I was trying to control the fear. You never stop being afraid when faced with so much personal danger, I had just got good at breathing through that fear.

I changed into my jogging gear and headed out the door. Luckily for me,
Tony's Gym
is on the way home. I run past it on the way to and from work daily. It's handy, that's why I joined up as soon as I came to Auckland. I'm a gym junky and always have been. Sure, I've done the martial arts thing, a little Karate, a little Judo, but Kick-Boxing is where my heart is right now. That's how I met Rick. He's the kick-boxing instructor at
Tony's
. I met him three days after I arrived in the city and we've been friends ever since.

It didn't take long for us to share all our dirty secrets. Me being the vampire hunter extraordinaire, him the Taniwha shape shifter. I know Rick and he knows me. That's why I was having so much trouble getting my head around him starting a vampire hunting posse up right now. It just wasn't his style.

He was sitting in the corner of the kick-boxing area with a couple of guys. I recognised them immediately. One was Josh, a brainiac member of the Hapū. Josh was the Taniwha who hacked Nero's website for me. He's young, about 22 and built as big and as tough as Rick is, but he's got a naughty side. He's a teaser, a joker and a major flirt. I couldn't help liking Josh. The other two were also members of Rick's Hapū. The testosterone from that one little corner outweighed the entire gym right now, I should think.

The other two Taniwhas were Mikey and Joe. Mikey was a little on the tubby side - even shape shifters have a penchant for fast food - but an OK kind of guy. I'd not really had that much to do with him. He's about 27, so older than me, but about Rick's age and has long shaggy hair. I've never seen him in his Taniwha form, I wondered if his teeth were as sharp as Rick's or blunted from too much good eating. Joe was Rocky's twin brother. Just as boisterous, just as lovable, but alive. How must it be to lose your twin? I could not imagine.

The first time I saw Joe after the battle was the hardest of my life. I made a special trip out to Whenuapai to see Jerome and thank him and the Hapū for their help in the battle against Max. Also, to pay my respects. Joe had been there and at first I was mortified to have to face the brother of the boy who had died because of me, but afterwards I realised it was for the best. Facing him had been hard, not facing him would have ended up being worse in the long run.

I looked at the group huddled in the corner and I saw it. Anger, frustration and hurt. This was the posse then. I hadn't expected to have to face them all, no time like the present though.

Rick noticed me first as I crossed the mat towards them. His chocolate brown eyes didn't give anything away, there was no smile, but I didn't sense any unease either. Just neutral. Nothing.

“Hey guys. How's it going?” I asked the group at large.

The others spun around a little too quickly for normal humans, but they weren't normal were they? I kept reminding myself that right now as I felt the prickles of all those negative emotions running over my skin. It's not like I can read or receive emotions like Michel can mine, it's just you get used to the otherness of supernaturals and their mood or aura has an effect on me. I think with strong emotions that effect is sometimes more intense. Their auras practically try to smother me.

“Hey Luce.” That was Rick. Nothing more, just a greeting. It used to be we'd fall into a conversation with ease. Why was I getting the feeling that was no longer the case?

The others all nodded, Josh winked.

There was a moment of awkward silence and then I thought
to hell with this
and said, “So, what's this I hear about you wanting to hunt vampires?”

I've not always been this forward, usually I have a little more tact. I'm no diplomat, that's Michel's area not mine, but I can usually curb my thoughts before they reach my mouth. Recently however, life has just become too precious to beat around the bush.

Josh laughed, Rick stiffened and looked angrier and the others just stared at the floor.

It was Rick who spoke first.

“You been checking up on me, Luce? I didn't think you cared.”

Now that was a bit low, wasn't it? I was still his mate. Wasn't I?

“Celeste is worried about you, Rick. She phoned me.”

I'm not sure if Celeste wanted me to divulge that little bit of information, but she was going to have to face him sooner or later about this, I was just speeding it along a little. It's not that I was trying to cause trouble, but Celeste needed to toughen up over this. She's the one about to marry him, not me.

Rick's face clouded over briefly then he stood abruptly and took a step towards me. That placed him well within my personal space. Not something I normally have a problem with, as far as Rick is concerned, but right now he was not looking like a controlled kick-boxing instructor, just a very angry shifter.

“Well, if you're not prepared to do your job, someone has to, haven't they?” His voice was actually quite even, low and rough, but well controlled. At least something in him was. That anger rolling off him was causing my palms to sweat and a small increase in my heart rate.

“I do my job quite well thanks. I don't need your help,” I replied with forced calm.

“How many have you killed this week? Huh?” His face had come closer to mine, he was leaning in, I could see the muscles in his neck twitch. I would not take a step back. Years of coming up against the evil creatures of the night had taught me one thing. Never show fear. I just had never thought Rick might fall into that same category as the vampires.

“None. They've been well behaved,” I answered.

He laughed out loud at that and took a step back. I let my breath out but did not release the tension in my shoulders.

“Well behaved. Huh.” He turned to the others now, who all wore varying degrees of unease on their faces. “Do you see now? She doesn't care any more about the safety of humans. She won't kill the evil any more. She's too busy fucking them.”

“Now hang on a minute, Rick. That is totally out of line.” I'd taken a step forward and touched his arm in order to turn him back towards me. He threw my hand off and snarled. A real Taniwha snarl, all teeth and fierce grimace. I held my breath and my place. I would not show fear in front of Rick.

“What's got into you? This is not you talking, Rick. This is insane.”

“What's got into me? What's got into me! Rocky dying has got into me, Luce. Or did you conveniently forget that little bit of news, sweep it nicely under the rug out of sight, so you can look into the eyes of your lover without guilt?”

I chanced a glance at Joe. He was staring at Rick with a look of shock on his face. I didn't think Joe was quite on the same page as Rick yet, despite it being
his
brother who had died.

“Michel didn't kill him, Rick. Neither did I.” I didn't say I could have stopped it, I was right there and did nothing as Max drained the blood and life from the Taniwha in front of me. That was something I held close to my chest. Something I thought about every day of my life. Something I had to live with alone. It was a guilt, no two ways about it. But it was a private one.

“He died because of you though, didn't he? He died because a vampire wanted you and came to this city to fight Michel. For you. He died because your people trapped us in an alliance, one that we” - he pointed at himself then - “had no say in. He died because of you.”

What could I say? He was right. Oh dear God, what could I say?

“You disgust me, Lucinda. I don't ever want to see you again.”

He turned away from me then, shoulders rigid, back straight. I could feel the tears welling up in the corners of my eyes, the sting they created as they burned unshed. I noticed Josh stand and take a step towards me, but even he stilled when he received a low, long growl from Rick.

I've never been good at playing the victim. I don't usually cry. I'm capable of it, but I can normally control the urge. Rick had hurt me right now, really hurt me. I felt a small piece of my heart break away at the look of him so angry, so full of hate for me. But, I would not let it rule me.

I wrapped that hurt up and pushed it to the furthest corner of my soul, then gripped my fists and pulled my own anger around me as a shield.

“Whatever you think of me, Rick, you cannot go up against the vampires. You must see this won't work. There's too many of them and they are not all evil, despite what you think. It would be tantamount to murder, Rick, do you want to murder Shane Smith? Has he done anything to you?”

Shane Smith is one of Michel's flunkies. He's a bit of a weakling on the
Sanguis Vitam
scale, he's just not got an evil vampire bone in his entire body. He's strong and fast and can glaze if Michel commands him to, but he'd rather get you a cup of coffee and push your chair in for you at the club. He's a gentleman, a nobody on the Durand line power ladder. He's also someone I call a friend. Rick knows him and has had decent conversations with him in the past. Rick's always liked him too.

“They're all evil, Luce. Just to varying degrees. Isn't that what you used to tell me?”

Hell, he had me there. It's exactly what I used to say. Before I got to know Michel really well and before I came into my Nosferatin powers. When that switch was flipped however, they changed for me. Sure, they are all still capable of bad, Dark things, but there is also Light. I see the Light. I can't help it any more.

“I was wrong, Rick. There is good in them too. How can you contemplate killing that good?”

He let a breath out in a harsh burst, grimaced at me and shook his head. “He's really got you, hasn't he? Spelled you into thinking they are good. Into thinking you can save them. You can't. And I don't even think you can be saved any more either. You've chosen your path, Lucinda, let me choose mine.”


I can't let you go around killing them, Rick. I just can't. There are rules the vampires must adhere to. I follow them too. So do you. All supernaturals are subject to the rules Michel sets in this city and therefore the rules the
Iunctio
has made. Will you go against the
Iunctio
?”

Even though the
Iunctio
is the vampire network of rules, it sets the basis for all supernatural behaviour. They don't police the shape shifters, ghouls or magical community, but they won't stand back and watch mass slaughter outside of their own guidelines either. Rick would be biting off more than his Taniwha teeth could chew.

“All of them, Luce. Bring it on! I don't scare that easily. They are wrong, they should not exist. They don't deserve to breath the air we do.”

I wasn't going to correct him on the breathing part, vampires don't need to breathe to survive, but it was just semantics. I knew he hadn't intended that to be literal. But, I wasn't going to leave this right here either.

“I'm part of the race that vampires descended from, Rick. Does that make me something that doesn't deserve to breathe your air too?”

Nosferatin and Nosferatu come from the same kin, apparently. No one's actually super sure on that, but it's been said we were once one of a kind. But centuries ago split into those of us who went towards the Light and those that went towards the Dark. You pick which one I am.

He looked at me then, a good hard look, as though he could see more of me than what was standing there in front of his face. His eyes burned brightly and I did not like what I saw there. So much anger. So much hate. What the hell had happened to my Rick?

“Maybe you don't, Lucinda. Maybe you should be afraid of me when I come too.” His voice was soft, low, almost too low to hear. “You should go now.”

“I'm not leaving it like this, Rick. We need to talk about this. You need to see this is not right, at all.” I am nothing if not persistent.

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