Five or Fifteen
It was either the fifth or fifteenth time the cretin entered my pitch-black chambers that I finally remembered his name. I’m not sure what took me so long—usually I have a knack for remembering such things, as the best way to gain an underling’s trust is to remember something about them, usually a name, a pastime, or an accomplishment. I had learned the usefulness of an empty compliment long ago.
Where my faculties had failed me before, they rallied as the door creaked open, pale blue light pouring from the other side. The simpering eyes, the weak chin, the terrified posture… It was Noah, my assistant. Lord, I can’t fathom how I could ever forget his name. We spent nearly every waking moment together for the last year or so. He carried a small folding table under one arm and a high-backed wooden chair under the other. He placed them both in front of me, and then went back to get something else, leaving the door open behind him.
In the new light, I took stock of my surroundings. I was in a stone room—a former slaves’ quarters, no doubt—and it seemed as though I was chained to the very wall. I scoffed. Never have there been chains that could hold me, and I wasn’t about to let Noah La Rue restrain me, either. I casually flicked my wrist forward with enough Potence to easily rend even the strongest metal to ribbons, but instead, chained I remained. I pulled again, this time with all my force. Again, nothing. I slumped to the floor, frowning. There were bits of glass scattered about the ground, and the granite was dry and caked in filth.
When Noah returned, he had a carafe of vitae in one hand and a long-stemmed glass in the other. He smirked at me; looked down at me. The fire in my belly roared. I would make him regret his insolence. I called to the power of my blood and leapt at him, seeking to bring down the very wall to get at him. Once again, the chains held fast. I stood now, taller than he, baring my fangs and glowering at him.
“I am not sure who you think you are, boy,” I spat, “but when I get out of this room, I will make you pay. I will pull each and every bone in your body out through your pores until you cry my name over and over again, begging for mercy.”
He laughed at me. “Oh?” he asked, setting the carafe down on the table and taking a seat. “And what is your name?”
“Do not think that you can play with me, boy. My name is…”
I froze. I couldn’t recall. I didn’t know who I was. I knew that it was a name to be feared, to be uttered in reverence, yet I could not recall it. The very essence of my being, lost. I flagged, collapsing to my knees on the stone before him.
“That’s more like it,” he said, filling the glass with blood and placing it on the table. He put down the carafe and slid the glass over to my side of the table. “Now drink, if you would. You have forgotten much, but you must keep up your strength.”
Forgotten? What madness was he talking about? And why did he think I’d just drink whatever he offered me? Did he think I was the kind to throw myself at the ground and miss?
I looked from the glass to him and back again and, despite myself, I reached out to take it. The glass was only barely within my reach, leaving the table just outside of it, and I had to stretch to pinch its rim with my fingertips. I knew I shouldn’t drink any of it. It was poison, to be sure, and if not that, then something worse. I fought against myself as my arm lifted the glass to my nose. I took an involuntary deep breath, inhaling the aroma of vitae, and downed the entire glass in one drink. I choked on it at first, trying to refuse it, to stop from swallowing. The blood was like fire and power and lust, burning its way down my throat. It felt good. And then, it felt… right.
“What have you done to me?” I asked, dropping the glass onto the floor, shattering it into a million pieces. I stepped back, shock written on my face like a newspaper headline. My foot crunched on something. A memory itched at the back of my mind, screaming that I was missing the obvious.
Noah smirked. “I’ll let Marcia explain it to you.” He stood, took the carafe, and left the room, again leaving the door wide open.
I was equal parts enraged and calmed at the thought of this Marcia. I knew that I had heard her name before and that she meant quite a bit to me, but I could not place her in my memories. When she finally entered the room, an aura of majesty and terror washed over me, and were I the kind of person to cower, I would have.
She was short, well-muscled, and well-dressed, with dark skin and dark hair. She was a vampire—I could tell that on an instinctual level, though I knew not how. She glowered at me and spoke in a low, commanding tone, “Sit.”
And sit I did. Just as polite as you please. I sat right down on the broken glass and the grime. I sat like God himself had commanded it. I sat because my master and savior had asked it of me. And I was furious. No one ordered whomever I was around.
“Good boy,” she said, singsong and condescending, “I am glad that you mastered that trick, Francis.”
A flood of memory came back to me. Francis was me. But I went by Frank. And Overwater was my last name. I was Frank Overwater. And Frank Overwater was elated to hear he had pleased Marcia.
I grimaced and willed myself to stand, but I didn’t move. I did not understand this power, but I would overcome it. I just needed more information.
“What is the meaning of this?” I asked, far more polite than I intended. “P-please release me…” The next word came out like it was pulled from my gullet with a hook. “…master.” I threw up hot, sticky blood onto the floor.
“I’d stoop to affectations or insults, but I don’t imagine you have the constitution for them right now.” She leaned over the table and leered over it. “Instead, I’ll let you piece it together yourself. Now, do you remember your Camarilla Elysium at the end of July?”
The memory washed over me as soon as she suggested it. “Yes. I had returned from Atlanta. Piper and I—” I took a sharp breath. I remembered Piper. My paramour. The Prince of Atlanta. She would know. She’d come looking for me. She would be my deliverance.
“Don’t think she’s coming, Francis,” Marcia interrupted. “Were she coming, she’d have been here by now. Go on.”
I swallowed hard and glared at her. Despite my wishes, I continued. “Piper and I talked on the phone. About our plan to start expanding the Imperium. I had stepped outside for some privacy when…” My heart sank. “…when those two assassins came out of the woods.”
Marcia nodded. “And what did you say to them?”
“I greeted them as monarchs greet strangers. Asked them why they felt the need to creep around in the darkness rather than coming inside as honored guests.”
“You thought you were somehow not their target, didn’t you?”
I searched my memories for a moment, then nodded. “I had killed one of their kind who took a contract on my head. I was supposed to be immune from future contracts.”
Marcia smirked. “And who took that contract out on you, Francis?”
A practiced lie swirled in my head about a political rival. I queued the details in my mind, and I said, “I did. I hired the assassin under a different name. I told them the target was an ancillae of no particular power.” I threw up again. That was not the story I had intended to tell.
“Good. Good. I see these lessons are finding their mark. Go on.”
I nodded. “That’s when I heard the commotion inside. I turned to look, and they set upon me. It was a fight I should have won handily, but instead… They had these chains.” I looked down at my wrists. They were the very same chains the Assamites had clapped around my wrists that night.
“And what did those chains do?” she asked. “I presume there are no chains that can hold Francis Overwater.” She grinned and raised her eyebrows.
“They robbed me of my strength. They held me there. And the assassins made me watch as a veritable army of their kind and stinking, rotting Samedi drug each and every Kindred out to the yard, put them on their knees in front of me, and executed them.” The pain of the memory weighed on me. I could suddenly remember the look on each face of the Kindred I was supposed to protect. And then, Sabine, defiant to the very end, tried to Dominate our captors, but it was no use. They cut her head off slowly with a length of piano wire. She mouthed to me for help as she turned into a desiccated corpse.
Marcia nodded. “I remember Sabine the best. How she cried and flailed. How she tried to call me mother. I enjoyed watching her die.” She closed her eyes, savoring the memory. “Now. What of New Orleans?”
“You. And the Independent Alliance.”
Marcia stood. “You know, Francis, I will never tire of hearing you grovel. But when I do, that will be the night of your Final Death. Now look at me like a good boy.”
I struggled against it, fought and gnashed. Still, I met her gaze. With the last of my willpower, I spat at her. “I will kill you for this, Marcia.”
She smiled, a predator in every way, fangs bared, and vengeance in her eyes. “You say that every time, Francis. Every single time. And it’s delicious.”
It was either the fifth or fifteenth time the cretin entered my pitch-black chambers that I finally remembered his name. I’m not sure what took me so long—usually I have a knack for remembering such things…