Blood Spatter: Part Seven

RECAP of Part Six: Kiril and Miho finally relent to the inexplicable attraction that has been drawing them together, and Miho finally contacts a concerned yet still cryptic Sebastian. Following information from the vampire king of Prague, Jazz and Konstantin are discovered, but it is not entirely a happy – nor peaceful – reunion.

In the past I have felt like a bit of a grandma for carrying a handkerchief, but right now I’m glad to have it. If I could, I’d be sitting in Jazz’s lap. I want to curl my arms and legs around her and never let go, but I actually feel pretty weak with relief that she’s still… alive.

That’s the other thing isn’t it? Kiril and I talked about the possibility, but now the reality is squeezing my hand almost painfully.

Jazz is a vampire now.

Even in my ugly crying state, I can tell Konstantin is highly apprehensive. He’s not letting Kiril out of his sight, like maybe he thinks Konrad sent us here to kill them both, but at the same time he wants to comfort Jazz who is clearly struggling with the moment.

No one really knows who should talk first, but eventually, I cough something out – the biggest question of them all.

“Why?”

“How did you even find us?” Konstantin scowls, ignoring me.

Kiril’s response is curt.

“I didn’t, she did,” he points out, indicating with his thumb in my direction. “Now answer her question.”

“Why what?” Konstantin glares, and I have to fight not to shrink back.

“And watch your tone,” Kiril snaps icily, and Jazz places her hand on my knee before leaning toward the two men.

“Cut it out, both of you,” she growls, then looks to me with such an apologetic shadow in her beautiful blue eyes I nearly forget how mad I am at her. “I’m sorry, Miho, really. It was never my intention to hurt you. Things just got… complicated… really quickly.”

Her hand is cold.

“I didn’t even know,” I sniff, “you were serious… but becoming a vampire serious?”

Jazz winces.

“We didn’t plan it like that,” Konstantin replies. “And it is my fault.”

“Not just yours,” Jazz quickly adds. “I didn’t say no.”

“I just got… carried away,” Konstantin frowns, looking into Jazz’s face apologetically.

“That is usually my line,” Kiril snorts, perhaps an attempt to lighten the mood in his own way, but it falls flat.

“It is what it is,” Jazz rationalises. “And I don’t regret it, not the vampire part anyway.”

Though Konstantin is still peering at her, Jazz’s eyes return to Miho and rest there.

“I can’t go back to London, Miho, or the UK even,” she goes on, and instantly both Miho and Kiril are shaking their heads.

“I honestly do not care what you do,” Kiril declares, pointing at Jazz, “but he is going back, unless he wants Konrad’s finest hunting him down and killing anything that gets in their way.”

Konstantin winces, so it’s clear he knows the truth in that statement.

“I won’t be leaving him,” Jazz announces forcefully, and I feel as much as see the tension in her hand, the creep of her fingers toward a fist.

“Do you even understand the predicament you have put yourself in?” Kiril presses, and I – at least – feel as if he has grown ten feet. “Konstantin is Konrad’s golden child, the one upon whom he pins his legacy because he is purportedly the elusive perfect mix of blood powers.”

It’s a surprise Konstantin doesn’t interject; he shifts uncomfortably, for though in another tone Kiril’s assertion could have been a compliment, even to my ears it sounds like a terrible and oppressive yoke.

“He has spent centuries breeding for a vampire like Konstantin,” Kiril snorts, and there is bitterness there. “Many women and many children slain because they did not meet his standards – he will not let his hard work run away with a turned for something as foolish as love.”

“You only say love is foolish because you lack the capacity to feel it,” Konstantin spits, and I cannot help the flit of my focus between the two brothers.

And in a split second that doesn’t go unnoticed by either Jazz or Konstantin, Kiril and I meet somewhere in the middle.

“No way,” Konstantin blinks, and Jazz goes that little bit further, snatching both my hands and nudging me sideways, putting her legs between Kiril and I.

No way,” she reiterates, but Kiril is unfazed.

“Do not project your foolishness on me,” he derides, a dark, jaded sound that hits me far more solidly than it should. “At least in my own pursuits I have the good sense to keep clear of Konrad’s zone of absolute destruction.”

“This wasn’t planned!” Konstantin charges, rocking to his feet, and Kiril is standing beside him that same instant, an intimidating obstacle between Jazz and I, and his brother.

“It does not matter how or why,” Kiril grates through his teeth, so low I physically feel his words. “As your reckless lady friend said, it is what it is, and what it is is a mess no amount of running will mediate.”

“You are the mess mediating expert,” Konstantin snaps back, and I’m finally at my limit, leaping to my feet and placing a hand against both their arms. Tingles spread up through my fingertips, but my annoyance overwhelms it.

“Enough!” I bark, taut and pointed. “This stupid circular bickering is getting us nowhere.”

Silence fills the space vacated by my patience.

“You want him to go back, Kiril – he needs to or Konrad will send Narumi and others after him,” I go on quickly, before I lose my steam. “Jazz won’t leave him, but going back for her is suicide – so what now?”

Licking his lips and looking slightly destabilised, Kiril takes my wrist and slowly lowers it away from his body.

“Konstantin needs to return post haste,” he says, evenness returning to his demeanour. “For now, until Konrad is appeased, he comes back with me, and Miss Mann here can take refuge at one of my estates on the outskirts of London.”

“Hide?” Jazz exhales.

“Bide your time,” Kiril corrects. “If there is any suspicion – and to be frank I would not put it beyond Arno or any of his people to attempt garnering Konrad’s favour by divulging what they discovered here – then there must be distance between you that leaves none.”

“And then what?” Konstantin huffs, sliding around his brother to sit on the arm of Jazz’s chair.

“Then I cure cancer, end war and solve world hunger,” Kiril sneers. “You be a good boy and play Konrad’s foot-stool until it is safer, but make no mistake – her life will always be in jeopardy if you continue this… relationship.”

“Could you say it with any more distain?” Jazz glowers, and Kiril’s self-confident grin only grows.

“You hooked up with the nice brother,” he leers, and I’ve had enough of the snarkiness.

“Will you come back?” I ask Jazz, but of course I’m caught between wanting her back in my life, and keeping her safe.

Biting her lip, I can see she too is in the grips of indecision, and it’s not one she wants to make without Konstantin’s input.

“I hate you, you know that?” Konstantin drops acerbically, the comment definitely meant for Kiril.

“Because I am right?” Kiril sniffs.

“Because you’re only ever right at the most infuriating of times!” Konstantin spits back, and Jazz takes this as the signal to move.

There is absolutely no way I’m letting her out of my sight, so I follow without so much as a glance back at Kiril, though the brothers remain glaring at one another.

Jazz and Konstantin had been travelling light, so there wasn’t much for them to pack up before they were ready to go. Miho, on the other hand, had far more luggage.

Though there was still so much to say, a weighty silence – a storm cloud on the very brink of breaking – followed their progress all the way to the airport where they boarded Kiril’s jet. They had encountered no problems – nothing from Arno and nothing from Konrad, and arrived back in the U.K to nothing but a limousine with heavily tinted windows. And still the thick tension persisted, all the way through the city, glancing over their shoulders, until it all gave way to much greener scenery.

But the rolling hills the farthest thing from Miho’s mind. She took very little in about the grandeur of Kiril’s sprawling estate, focused instead on trying to put all her questions and statements about everything that had happened since Jazz’s disappearance in some sort of order.

In a bedroom fit for a queen, the two men left Miho and Jazz sitting on either side of the bed. Both of them look down at where their hands were folded in their laps until Miho lifted one to rub fingers against the slowly increase throb of her temple.

“When did you know?” she asked quietly. “About the vampires?”

“Not right away,” Jazz answered, staring across the room at the balcony doors. “But, before…”

“Before what?” Miho pushed, rocking to her feet and turning around, though that only aggravated the ache in her skull. “I mean, I knew he’d been at the club, that you’d seen him outside a couple of times, but we used to share everything… I’d have thought the existence of supernatural creatures would count as pretty important to tell your best friend.”

“I think you’re well enough informed now to know why I couldn’t say anything,” Jazz frowned, tipping her chin toward the door in a gesture meant to indicate somewhere in the great manse, Kiril and his brother were no doubt having their candid own discussion. “I wanted to protect you.”

A noise something akin to a snort punctuated Miho’s incredulity.

“Did you expect me to accept you’d dropped off the face of the Earth and just get on with my life?” she questioned rhetorically, kneading the back of her neck. “Because that’s the only explanation I can think of that might have led you to think I wouldn’t do everything in my power to find you, and in doing so, put my nose in vampire business anyway.”

There was little for Jazz to do but cringe, because Miho was right.

“It was a difficult choice to make,” Jazz began awkwardly.

“You chose him, Jazz!” Miho exclaimed, the thundering in her skull doing little to aid in the containment of her sense of betrayal. “And I would never stop you from seeing someone you loved, but you actually chose to be with him, to keep his secrets, to become one of them, rather than stay with someone you’ve known practically your whole life! You just, threw me away.”

Cringing for the twisted expression on Miho’s face, Jazz finally tried to approach, but the wild slashing motion of Miho’s arm warned her not to get too close.

“I’m sorry,” Jazz sighed, and she’d lost count of how many times she had said it. “I fell in love with him and he with me, and when he confided his secret…”

“You couldn’t have told him there is nothing we don’t share?” Miho snapped, her eyes losing focus. “You couldn’t have told him we’re practically sisters and nothing can… nothing should have come between us?”

“Miho, be reasonable…” Jazz tried again, but she had seen Miho lose her cool enough times to know a temper like that was beyond reason and logic.

“You’re a fucking vampire!” Miho shouted, her whole face scrunching up as she backed away, the animated nature of her expressive hand movements causing her to wobble. “There’s no coming back from that, and what’s worse, if Konrad finds out his favourite son has gone and given his heart to a turned, you’re dead, dead!”

Breathing heavily against the boiling emotions in her chest, Miho leaned against the sideboard. Oh she was angry, no two ways about that, but now her fingertips felt as if they were burning away from the bone and her skull was cracking from some inexplicable pressure that distorted her vision.

Obviously, Miho was very angry, but it became clear when she blinked away large tears rolling red ribbons down her cheeks, that something else was very very wrong.

“Miho!” Jazz gasped, dashing forward in time to catch Miho before she hit the floor.

“Everything’s on fire!” Miho panted through teeth tightly clenched, and Jazz wanted nothing more than to comfort her, but blood was now dripping from Miho’s chin, and within Jazz a dangerous hunger called.

“Konstantin!” Jazz shrieked in panic, laying Miho gently against the carpet and moving swiftly to throw open the bedroom door. “Kiril! Help!”

She didn’t know where either of them were in the spacious mansion, they could have been in another wing entirely, but as Jazz took a necessary step onto the landing – away from the scent of blood that taunted her – two blurs flashed toward her at great speed.

“Jazz? Are you o…” Konstantin began, but his sentence broke off when he too was reached by the sweet smell of Miho’s distress.

“Take her down stairs, now,” Kiril barked sharply, and with eyes flashing an uncompromising warning, he spared neither a second more before disappearing into the bedroom. “Miho,” he hissed, pulling her gently into his lap.

And instantly the razorblades that had been digging through his veins were somehow dulled.

The beast within him paced irritably as Kiril weathered the tantalising spectacle of Miho’s blood-smeared face, but he hoisted her into his arms and carried her whimpering to the bed.

“What is this?” he whispered coldly, not to her but to himself, as he gently wiped her face clean with a hastily acquired pillowcase, before tossing is as far across the large room as he could. “Miho?” he breathed again, and finally she seemed to rouse from her agonised state enough to focus on his face.

And her mind was clear, her skin prickling pleasantly in the wake of each soft pass his fingers made down her cheek.

“That was…” she croaked thickly, reaching out to take his other hand and draw it down between her breasts, pressing his cool palm over the rapid pulsing of her heart. “I thought I was going to die.”

“What happened?” he soothed, his voice sounding foreign to his own ears.

“Nagging headache just, got worse and worse,” she murmured, savouring the sensation of his fingers sliding through her hair and the pressure of his hand that ensured they were connected. “Then it just, erupted… but…”

The last few tears fell, but this time they were clear.

“The moment I touched you,” Kiril continued, his brows knitting, “the more I touch you, the pain subsides.”

“You too?” she exhaled, examining his face as it drew closer.

Less than a minute ago it had felt as if she was being torn apart; but now she wanted to taste Kiril’s tongue, ravenously claw away his clothing and bury him so deeply within her the memory of that pain would be erased completely.

“Just relax,” he instructed, lips brushing lightly against hers with the promise of more, but to her disappointment he then sat up. “There is something I do not like about this.”

“Bleeding from the eyes was sort of traumatic for me too,” Miho piped up, shifting his hand over to her right breast. “But…”

Her pause was filled with puzzlement.

“… all I want now is to feel you,” she finished finally, frowning. “Kiril…”

“I know,” he admitted, but it was through gritted teeth.

He was fighting himself, Miho could see his struggle.

“Why am I not freaking out?” she exhaled, clutching his hand more firmly. “I should… see a doctor.”

“Liana will examine you,” he asserted, rocking back and standing, but Miho dug in her fingernails.

“Don’t leave!” she gasped quickly, a reflex, and Kiril’s gaze narrowed on her grip.

“I will return momentarily,” he told her, strain tightening his voice. “But until Liana has examined you, your friend will have to stay away. She is still young, and if you bleed again she may not be able to control her primal urges.”

“But not you,” she stated, rather than questioned, not removing her grip.

“No, not me,” he smiled with a gentleness Miho had not yet seen from him, and she allowed her hold to fall away.

True to his word, just minutes later Kiril returned, a woman a step behind him.

Though she again found relief in Kiril’s presence, this did not detract from the sharp, clear blue of the other woman’s eyes, and her instantaneous study of her new patient. And there was something old-world about her – from the modest ankle length of her skirt, to the well-loved leather doctor’s bag she carried to the bedside and opened.

“You may leave now, Master Kiril,” Liana said softly, placing a stethoscope around her neck.

“I shall stay,” Kiril responded, much to Miho’s relief, but Liana turned to frown at him – and when she spoke it was much more crisply.

“Master Kiril,” she began, firmly, the tone of an uncompromising woman. “I should like to begin my examination of your lady friend, however, I shall not do so without the requisite privacy necessary to uphold her dignity and confidentiality.”

Miho blinked; people generally did not speak to Kiril in such a manner. She expected a storm to break in the room – gale force winds and lashing rain, but Kiril simply looked annoyed.

“She is…” he began, but Liana cut him off abruptly.

“In capable hands,” she finished for him. “I shall call for the young master if I require assistance.”

This made Kiril ruffle, but Miho lifted her head a little.

“I’ll be okay,” she forced out, though she honestly didn’t want him to go.

Wordlessly he ground his teeth for a few seconds, while Liana simply peered at him expectantly.

“Fine,” he huffed, then stalked out, closing the two women into the room alone.

If she was pleased, or felt any form of satisfaction over her victory, Liana’s expression showed none of it. There was an intensity of focus about her, a stare that told Miho she missed very little, and practiced hands that spoke of experience.

There was little talk between them, save for questions and answers, and when Liana had determined Miho’s basic physiological details were normal, she requested more comprehensive tests to be performed… in the basement.

“So,” Miho quipped, much of her strength returned as she walked beside Liana out of the elevator into the incongruously sleek and sterile décor of the basement. “Kiril really is Batman.”

“He has considerable wealth, if that is what you mean,” Liana nodded, guiding Miho past various rooms before urging her to enter another.

“He doesn’t have a mask wearing fetish?” Miho quipped, settling into the indicated chair before a piece of medical equipment.

“Not to my knowledge,” Liana replied, taking her time to calibrate the machine. “However, what Master Kiril does outside the estate is his own business.”

There were still so many unanswered questions – like who this woman really was, and what her relationship to Kiril was, but Miho didn’t want to just blurt them out. She felt suddenly, acutely aware of his age, and what that meant for his relationship history – not that she was all that clear on his relationship at present either.

“Just relax, and look straight ahead,” Liana instructed with a small smile, indicating the chin rest, and Miho complied.

What followed was a gamut of tests, at the conclusion of which, Liana showed Miho back to her room wherein Kiril arrived shortly.

“Well?” he prompted impatiently, but Liana seemed completely unfazed by him.

“She has no evidence clinical conjunctival hyperemia, periorbital or palpebral edema, and maintains normal vision and extraocular movement,” Liana explained. “The young master is currently examining pathology for some underlying cause of the hyphema, though there are no visible indications of infection.”

Miho caught a handful of the medical jargon, and surmised what Kiril then vocalised.

“So you have no idea what happened,” he dropped, clearly displeased.

But the hand he had on Miho’s shoulder was light, warm.

“As yet, no,” Liana responded, and appeared a more than a little irritated by the fact.

Konstantin had been the one to contact Konrad: Kiril’s idea. Since he and his father didn’t get along – to put it politely – and to increase the chances of distracting the king from his rage – however unlikely.

Eyes followed the pair as they made their way silently through the lobby of Konrad’s primary place of business, but no one questioned them. Kiril strode with his typical air of self-confidence despite the derisive daggers shot his way.

Oh, if only they knew.

Better that they didn’t.

“When was the last time you were here?” Konstantin asked as they reached the elevator.

He was not so practiced at hiding his discomfort.

“A year or so,” Kiril shrugged. “Daddy dearest is not especially welcoming.”

“Like you ever tried to make peace with the guy,” Konstantin snorted, stepping into the gilded cabin of the lift.

Very conservative.

“What, drawn, and talk of peace?” Kiril smirked.

“Yeah, yeah, you hate the word, and he started it,” Konstantin huffed. “But you can’t tell me you’ve done anything to try and appease him.”

“No, I cannot,” Kiril agreed with mirth, not the slightest bit repentant. “That is what happens when you kill a man’s mother.”

“That’s your excuse?” Konstantin snorted. “Really? Because yours is not the only mother he’s killed.”

“So I should not hold him accountable because he has a full complement of victims on his ledger?” Kiril retorted.

“And I suppose your hands are clean?” Konstantin challenged. “Perfectly clear conscience?”

“Do not be absurd,” Kiril sniffed. “But by comparison…”

“Bad is bad, Brother,” Konstantin argued, looking up as the elevator chimed.

“I will keep that in mind as I’m bailing you out of the grave you have dug yourself into,” Kiril smirked, and was first to saunter out into the plush antechamber.

“Hmm, new carpet,” Kiril noted flippantly, causing several chatting in the large room to stop and stare.

As if it was his house, a crown upon his brow, Kiril strode unaffected by the attention he had drawn; in fact, Konstantin noted he seemed pleased and entirely unsurprised.

The way he pushed through the double doors was anything but subtle. Indeed, he announced his arrival like a performer: exaggerated, confident movements, boldness, and an aura that drew and held gazes.

“Father!” he exclaimed in an overly affable tone, clearly intending to mock the poor relationship they shared.

Konrad did not turn from the conversation in which he was engaged, though two other bodies in the room inched away from the king.

Not only unaccustomed to being ignored, but already looking to stoke the fire of opposition, Kiril filled the hall with his presence. As much as Kiril clashed with his father, this magnetism was what had allowed him to build his own empire despite the king’s enmity, and Konstantin had to admire that.

When there was no reaction after a few more seconds, Kiril’s upper lip began to curl, and Konstantin saw all the theatricality recede.

“You have ten seconds to acknowledge my presence, or your favourite and I return to our fun and games,” Kiril growled.

Challenge accepted.

It was the sudden slamming of the doors they had entered through that drew Kiril and Konstantin’s focus, and there they found Narumi with arms crossed over her chest.

“I am listening,” Konrad stated, his voice reverberating most unnaturally. “But not for long. You have already kept me waiting.”

“Drop the drama, Konrad,” Kiril dismissed, hands deep in his trouser pockets and looking completely relaxed. “We are here of our own volition at your most insistent behest.”

“And yet it was not you I called for,” Konrad dropped, only now turning to rest his unsettling scrutiny upon his children.

Kiril, however, he looked right through.

“Explain,” he added, cold and commanding.

“I sent Konstantin to address sensitive interests in Europe I could trust to no one else,” Kiril answered, and that more directly drew Konrad’s ire.

“And who are you to send my son, anywhere?” Konrad glowered, Kiril’s demise swirling in his eyes, his disdain carving his mouth in jagged lines.

“You would not question the contributions my business assets make to this kingdom,” Kiril replied calmly. “Because you would notice a significant decline in both revenue and influence were I to transfer my operations to say… Australia?”

“Do not over-estimate your worth,: Konrad retorted, approaching his elder son with a predatory gait.

“Oh, I know exactly what I’m worth,” Kiril chuckled, and the two vampires who had skirted to the edge of the room began their way toward Narumi, perhaps for protection from the oncoming affray. “But I stopped measuring myself by your skewed standards many years ago. After all, when you’re that small…”

Knowing he was playing with fire and brimstone, Kiril made a ‘tiny’ gesture with his thumb and index finger.

While the eyes of the three who were not important enough yet to be given names froze in absolute shock, Konrad began forward. It was Narumi, however, who took firm hold of Kiril’s chin and forced him to look at her.

“You owe your king the truth,” she hissed into his face, eyes boring into his, and he knew her power would catch him in a lie if he attempted to tell one. “So I suggest – for once in your life – you do not lie.”

“Konstantin was working for me,” Kiril told Narumi confidently, and instantly her nose wrinkled.

“As much as it surprises me, my Lord, Kiril is telling the truth.”

With his full focus on Kiril, Konrad didn’t notice the most unsubtle double-take Konstantin performed.

“It is truly touching how much you trust your children,” Kiril sniffed. “Now, if there is not anything else, there are a great many other things I would like to be doing.”

“Konstantin, remain,” his father ordered, and Kiril made no quarrel.

IF he dropped himself in it now, both he and Jazz deserved to be hunted as far as Kiril was concerned.

Following his retreat, Narumi waited with Kiril for the elevator and stepped in beside him.

“And what did that little ruse just cost me?” Kiril drawled, working the ache of his jaw and touching the throbbing pain of one temple.

“The truth would be nice, but I know it’s unlikely you’ll give me that,” she shrugged nonchalantly. “So, for now I’ll keep that one banked. Need I tell you whatever game you’re playing is a most dangerous one?”

“No,” Kiril grimace, and this certainly did not escape Narumi’s notice.

“What is wrong with you? You’re paler than usual.”

“It was a long trip and I am famished,” he answered flippantly, but his tone was tainted by discomfort.

“Have you been feeding from junkies again?” she snorted in amusement, knowing full well his response was a falsehood.

“Best you mind your own business, Narumi,” Kiril warned. “You want none of mine, and if the king learns of your complicity in my deception there will be little left of you but dust in the wind.”

“I knew what I was doing, cousin,” she smiled. “And I know – whether you tell me or not – I will uncover what you’re hiding.”

As swiftly as inhumanly possible, Kiril returned to the estate. Blinding pain seared his consciousness, and so he feared Miho was in an even worse state.

He was directed to Liana’s infirmary by an anxious Jazz, but he left her alone upstairs to ponder Konstantin’s failure to return.

“I was forced to sedate her,” Liana reported, when Kiril showed alarm at Miho’s unresponsiveness. “She was thrashing about quite vigorously, in addition to the symptoms you described earlier.”

Sliding his palm up Miho’s arm, Kiril’s own anguish abated swiftly, and when he touched his lips to the warm of hers, a buzzing joy flooded his veins.

“This is most unnatural,” he exhaled in relief.

“I have been able to determine no medical explanation for Miss Fujiwara’s condition,” Liana admitted. “And could certainly not yet venture the correlation with your own afflictions, save – it seems – that it intensifies the longer you are parted.”

“Unacceptable,” Kiril snapped, but he was gentle in the brushing of Miho’s forehead.

“It is all very well and good you saying that,” Liana grumbled. “But at this stage I must consider the cause to be rooted elsewhere.”

“Such as?” Kiril prompted expectantly.

“Witchcraft, obviously,” came a rather impertinent voice from the doorway. “Clearly, both you and your visitor have been hexed.”

Carrying a tome almost as large as his entire body, the lean child moved effortlessly toward Liana.

“I’ve been reading,” he announced.

“That is all you ever do, Kai,” Kiril pointed out, but he was clearly listening.

“And a good thing too, since you do so little,” Kai snorted, though he sobered and straightened his shoulders when Liana looked displeased.

“Did you know,” Kai began again, “that the Cerchio di veli coven in Florence during the Renaissance were well reputed for their love spells?”

“Are you truly suggesting I am subject to a love spell?” Kiril scoffed.

“Wealthy families paid fortunes for political gains founded in love spells that caused infidelity and broke politically motivated marriages,” Kai elaborated, much to Kiril’s disdain.

“Have you upset any witches lately?” Liana queried. “Aside from me, that is.

“No more so than usual, and even if I had, they would certainly not be alive enough at present to curse anyone,” he asserted.

“Unless,” Kai piped up, “she is the primary target of the manipulation?”

Appreciatively, Liana nodded, and Kai smiled broadly.

That Kiril did not immediately shut down this concept, told Liana Kai’s postulation had some merit.

“So, who exactly is your little friend?” Liana asked, since Kiril was not forthcoming with the details.

“A hunter, I suspect,” he replied, and both Liana’s and Kai’s eyes bugged. “You have plenty of blood to test so I want it confirmed,” he added waspishly. “I need to be sure.”

“So, you’ve been out and about cavorting with a hunter?” Liana questioned, though it was obviously rhetorical.

“Unawakened, but yes,” Kiril confirmed, his top row of teeth scraping over the lower.

“Are you insane?” Liana hissed, leaning over Miho toward him.

“No, hexed apparently,” he retorted, glaring icily, and Liana moved back. “Return to the library, Kai,” he then commanded. “I want to know which spell and who I need to kill to break it.”

“And you’re going to be doing what meanwhile?”

For a second Kiril pursed his lips, his fingers paused mid-way through stroking Miho’s hair.

“I have a child to teach the ways of our world and a couple of nightclub owners to manage.”

“You’re going to leave here with her? With both of them?” Liana blinked. “If you are indeed connected by magic, it may very well be ill advised to kill her before the spell is broken, but to allow her out in public? Have you lost your senses?”

“Watch your tone, Liana; you know who you are talking to,” Kiril snarled.

“And it’s because I know, I think this is a terrible mistake,” she tried to reason. “Were the king to learn of this…”

“He shall not, unless some poor creature no longer wishing to live should tell him.”

Both fact and a warning Liana heard loud and clear.

I rouse to a melancholic piano melody drifting purposefully through the mansion. Though I picture the simple press of keys, the sound each makes is far more than that; there is a ubiquitous pain woven into the undulating tempo, a graceful, sorrowful longing in every hanging pause and a hand offered in my direction.

Wrapping myself in the satin robe hanging at the end of the bed, I pad out of the bedroom I don’t remember returning to, coaxed by the music’s sweet desperation, completely under its spell. And half way to the lower floor, I find myself unable to move – peering down into the lounge I discover the source of that beautiful distress.

Transfixed, unblinking, I watch Kiril’s fingers glide across the concert grand, the monstrous instrument of dark, varnished wood tamed by the skilful touch of his cold fingertips; and I wonder if it’s possible to be jealous of an inanimate object. Yet it seems so alive, the silver strike of each hidden string taking flight and fluttering upward to where I stand – and I can almost see those hazy wisps of sound shuddering toward me: fragile, hopeful, fervent but somehow laces with fine threads of irritation.

When the final reverberation gives way to silence, I inhale a sob and finally release the tears that have been swimming across my vision.

Clear at least this time.

Kiril looks up at me, his expression unreadable, his thoughts so shielded compared to the open emotion of his unguarded tune.

“You’re such a trope,” I declare, my voice still thick with a clinging sadness. “Sullen vampire playing broody music on his piano in the dead of night.”

“The pipe organ was taking up too much space,” he replies, and it might have been humourous had his tone not emerged so darkly from between those perfect lips I have kissed fervently and want to partake of again. “And it’s a little past noon.”

Impassively, he turns a couple of sheet music pages and begins again to play, ignoring my approach.

What am I supposed to make of that?

Have I irritated him by interrupting, offended him with my remark, or is there someone worse still than the wracking pain connecting our separation?

Persisting despite the ache in my chest, I complete my descent and tread slowly across the space until I am directly behind him. The swaying rhythm of his new malady causes me to frown; he is right there within arm’s reach and yet he somehow feels very far away. To reassure myself, I lightly place a hand against his shoulder, but immediately recoil when the piano shouts a single, dramatic discord and Kiril becomes still.

“What?” I scowl, with equal parts indignation and upset, and Kiril turns his whole body, suddenly trapping my legs between his, possessively drawing me close again with one arm around my waist.

I’m looking down at him, but the power is all his; not something I’m used to nor entirely comfortable with.

“Spit it out,” I huff, even as his hand floats downward over the curve of my backside.

“I am angry,” he answers finally, and as much is evident in the arctic sharpness of his eyes.

“I can see that,” I retort, trying to maintain my train of thought as he begins to gather up the back of my robe.  “It’s not like we both don’t have plenty of reasons to be pissed off at the world right now, so what particular frustration has got your goat right now?”

“I want you beyond all reason,” he snarled, but hidden beneath it was a despairing purr. “I want to consume you entirely, but then you would be gone and that I simply cannot allow.”

This confession is so incredibly frightening, but at the same time the most mind-blowing statement I have ever heard – of this I am sure.

Expressing this is nigh impossible, however; emotions refuse to be converted into words. All I can do in response is climb into his lap, lock my fingers at the nape of his neck and drink that sweet affection from his lips. Fervently, he searches for the places about my body of greatest warmth, until he’s straining against my inner thigh.

“Wait,” he utters, incongruent with the insistent press of his fingertips. “Wait.”

“For what?” I rasp. “A written invitation?”

“This,” he begins again, swallowing his desire in a massive gulp, “this isn’t real.”

“You’re going to let witches tell you what is and isn’t real?” I challenge.

We’d spoken in the infirmary about the theory of a curse or spell binding us by lust, and at first I was outraged and sickened and frustrated. To be manipulated in that way, to be robbed of emotional freedom made me feel trapped, suffocated.

As Kiril kissed me good night, however, and left me alone I couldn’t reconcile what I knew of my desire’s falseness with how powerful and real it felt.

How it feels.

“I will let the facts do so,” Kiril clarifies, and the icy edge causes me to recoil, rock back and pull free easily because Kiril allows me to.

“Oh well, in that case I’ll just be on my way and waste your time no longer,” I bite back, the lashing of a wounded and confused animal.

“You are overreacting,” he says from his seat. “You know very well you and I cannot be apart at present.”

“Enjoy your headache, Kiril,” I spit, failing to resist the burning hurt of a knife twisting between my ribs.

“Are you a woman or a toddler throwing a tantrum?” he hisses, in front of me before I can dodge.

“I’m a woman taken for a fool!” I shout into his face. “Caught up by your unnatural charm and swagger – maybe drawn by magic if you want to blame it – but preyed upon and lured nonetheless until I gave myself to you!”

“And I am the only one who has ever had the pleasure I suppose?” Kiril volleys.

I don’t know if he’s just caught off guard, or if my rage has given me supernatural speed, but my palm snaps loudly across his face.

“Miho?” Jazz calls from above, but all my focus belongs to Kiril for another barb before I stomp upstairs.

“I hope you have a good memory, Kiril,” I snarl. “Because hex or otherwise, screaming fits of bloody murder, it’s a pleasure you’ll not have again.”

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