“What am I supposed to call you when we’re alone?”
We’ve survived two days together. I flaunt my appearance as Alyssiana Laur and watch the vampires in this mansion shrink away. I don’t know all of her history yet, but she’s a real piece of work who knows how to keep people in line. Perhaps in another life, I would be as cold and malicious as her.
Laur is always by my side. He’s quiet during the day and a bit boisterous at meals, but he doesn’t truly come alive until we’re shut away in our shared room. I tried to argue to stay in my own chambers, but he insisted that I could protect him better if we stayed close.
He was right.
I haven’t slept since receiving the envelope with this job and it’s starting to grate on my general wellbeing. “We could just not talk,” I grumble, the edges of my personality blending with the cruel persona of Alyssiana Laur.
Laur snags a pillow from the bed and heads for the couch on the opposite side of the room. “I think I liked you more when you were trying to cut my heart from my chest.”
I shouldn’t care. This man is a means to an end. He’s a job. A job that if done well could result in me making enough money to pay off my debts to Jack. I didn’t mean to become a mercenary. It seems like a lifetime ago that I made a deal with the well-dressed devil. Now, though, since Laur has agreed to split the estate’s wealth with me if I remove Alyssiana from the picture, I have the first real chance in eighty-seven years to make a gamble for my freedom.
The word is a bubble of hope that clogs my heart. It’s stupid. I shouldn’t be putting too much thought into all of this. My dreams are a seal about to be swallowed by a killer whale.
There’s no real escape from my lifestyle.
Laur has slung a quilt over his legs and crossed his arms over his chest. I shouldn’t care that he’s a pouting fool. I can’t decide why his scrunched eyebrows under that ridiculous dyed blue hair matters.
It doesn’t. That’s the truth.
Something akin to sympathy or concern registers in the back of my mind. Feelings. This stupid excuse for a man is ruining my heartless image.
It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have made this bargain with him. There’s no janitor waiting around these halls to clean up my emotional mess, so I have to deal with Laur myself. It’s for the best that we continue to play a united front.
At least, that’s how I try to argue that my next words are more for him than me.
“Phoebe. No last name. Just Phoebe is fine.”
Laur sits up instantly, surprise coating his features as he gathers his blanket in a heap in his lap and stares at me like I’ve repeated complete gibberish instead of real words. “You’re Phoebe the phoenix.”
It’s not a question. He’s tasting every syllable on that silver tongue. It shouldn’t matter what he thinks. It doesn’t. Yet…when he utters a name I haven’t used in the better part of a century like it’s a title meant to be worshipped or praised or never forgotten, I can’t completely ignore the way my chest warms a little too quickly.
I should say something else. I should turn out the lights and tell him to go to bed. I should…
The power flickers and then cuts out completely, drenching us in darkness.
Laur immediately scrambles to his feet, grumbling as he stumbles to get out of his blanket and manages to kick something with his big toe. I don’t move. There’s thumping and cursing coming from Laur, but nothing else.
A sliver of moonlight sneaks into our room through the thick, grey curtains. We’re alone. It’s dark and we’re alone.
Laur doesn’t let fear quiet him. “Who do you think did it?”
The undead man can’t see me any better than I can make out his dark form in this room. If he was a full vampire, then I could use his specialized vision to our advantage. No, as we are, I need him to be quiet while I listen for any threats.
My arm outstretched, I hold my hand at face level as I let flames break out along my fingertips. It’s not a lot of light, but it’s enough for him to see me raise a single finger to my lips in a motion of silence. Quiet. Somebody has cut the power on purpose. They want to catch us off guard.
It’s probably that woman from the dining room yesterday afternoon. I can’t remember her name. All of the people here think too highly of themselves. They have ridiculous names to go with their posh demeanors. This one in particular had her hair piled on top of her head and a dozen roses threaded through it. She thought it was clever to hand out flowers to the rest of the gathered women.
I was foolish enough to take it from her.
A thorn bit into my hand and a single bead of blood welled to the surface. I saw her nostrils flare. My exterior is perfect. I look exactly like Alyssiana Laur, but I’m no witch and no vampire. There’s no way to cover the smell of ash and lingering smoke that runs through my veins. Her eyes dipped right to my hand before I could excuse myself from the room.
Maybe this isn’t about Laur at all.
My heart thunders in my ears as I move to stand closer to the window. If this isn’t about Laur, it’s about me and they’ve been smart enough to attack at night. Magic still swirls through me, but a phoenix is tied to the sun. I won’t be able to change my appearance rapidly or keep a flame lit through the long night if I also have to run from a predator or engage in a fight.
I hear the footsteps too late. They’re already in the conjoining room.
I hiss the words at Laur, but he’s too busy staring at the door to pay me any attention. “Who’s there?”
My physical appearance can be changed at will, but there’s nothing I can do to reduce the effect physics has on me. I can’t move faster. I can’t stretch my arms beyond their limits and wrap them around Laur across the room from me. Instead, I’m rooted to the floor as the door splinters inward and he’s slammed backwards.
His head cracks against the wall. There’s a smear of something that can only be blood as he slumps to the floor. I let the flames on my hand die.
“Make this easy, little bird.”
I know that voice. I’ve fulfilled jobs for that sultry voice. I will spend the rest of my days wishing I’d never met the owner of such an addictive tone.
There’s a snap of fingers and the lights come back on. I blink against the sudden change, glaring across the bed at the man who broke into our room. He tilts his head to the side, taking in Laur’s prone body and my undressed state.
“Didn’t realize you were getting paid for evening deeds, dearest.”
I bare my teeth at him, flames biting at my gums and reshaping my smile until I am sharper and deadlier than ever before. “Most mercenaries work at night, Jack.”
His black eyes flick between me and Laur once more. “Shouldn’t you already be done taking care of this job?”
I shake my head. “He’s the client.”
Jack’s depraved laugh rips through the room. “I wouldn’t have approved of that. Who gave you the mission, little bird?”
This is not the time or place for this conversation. Cassias Laur is a private man, but his estate is only so large. Eventually, someone else is going to realize that there was a problem with the power and come looking for the supposed master of the house.
“I’ve been doing this long enough to take my own cases, Jack. Let me finish this one.”
Arguing with Jack is miserable work. The demon has the patience and wit to walk most people in circles. He’ll have me agreeing to something far worse if I can’t get him out of here quickly.
He obviously has the same idea. Another snap of his fingers plunges the house back into darkness. My heart stutters. It climbs to my throat and demands to be released.
I wouldn’t admit it to Laur, but I’m terrified of the dark. Phoenixes are terribly difficult to kill. It’s much easier to lock them up somewhere and forget the key. Jack knows that.
He knows I dread the night.
His cool breath caresses my ear. I don’t move. My skin crawls and sweat coats my palms, but I don’t dare move.
There’s certain rules in dealing with Jack. He can’t touch me unless I make contact first.
“Are you getting attached to your clients now, fire walker?”
Jack’s low chuckle seems to vibrate in my bones as he circles me. The man is more shadow than figure. The moon doesn’t dare peek in anymore. My vision is gone. He moves too quietly for my ears to pick up on the movements. I’m prey sitting pretty for my predator.
Terror winds its way down my spine like a centipede, weaving its writhing body through my nerves and pinning me to the floor.
I was ready to deal with a witch to retrieve Laur’s heart.
I don’t know if it’s worth going toe to toe with Jack.
There’s a low moan from the other side of the room as Laur starts to come back to life. My foolish heart gives a hopeful thump, thump, thump. It’s a worthless reaction, though. Cassias Laur is a coward and a scam artist trapped in this house by the witch who took his heart. He isn’t a hero. He can’t save me.
Nobody can really save me from Jack.
Jack is what lurks at the edges of my nightmares. He is night incarnate. A blackened soul ready to reap the vulnerable with a cutting grin and curling fingers. He is the darkness made physical.
He holds the key to my freedom and knows it.
Unperturbed by Laur’s waking, Jack clears his throat. He’s centimeters from my face. If I waver at all in my current stance, we’ll brush together.
“I was contacted to come retrieve my asset by the lady of the house, little bird. You can leave with me now or I will give her permission to deal with you as she sees fit.”
That damn woman in the dining room. She must have snitched to the real Alyssiana Laur. Any attempt to take the witch by surprise is now gone.
There’s no good way to get back Laur’s heart without going straight through Alyssiana. I wanted to sneak my way into her world and tiptoe back out, but that option has been ripped out from under me.
We’re completely screwed.
“Don’t worry ‘bout me. You can go home. I’ll deal with her on my own.”
Laur’s words are slurred. He’s still on the floor trying to recover from the damage Jack’s arrival caused.
“You’re a dead man,” I murmur, my words struggling to penetrate the consuming darkness.
There’s a scuffle. Laur must be trying to push himself up into a seated position. “I haven’t lived in a long time. I’m willing to go down for this, but you don’t have to stay involved. Go back to your life, Phoebe.”
I would have.
A day and a half ago, I would have wiped my hands of the money and the possibility to better my life in order to return to the relative safety of my previous lifestyle. Now, with my name on his lips and his pain my fault, I can’t just leave. Cassias Laur needs his heart. He deserves it more than anyone else.
I won’t abandon him.
Jack must sense my wavering loyalty as he leans close enough for me to smell the peppermint on his breath. “When Lady Laur is done with you, I’ll have a dark hole to shove you into, Phoebe,” he snarls the threat, my real name a weapon in this circumstance. “Don’t make me the villain, little bird. Come with me now and we’ll pretend you didn’t just try to make the biggest mistake of your career.”
That’s his promise.
If we fail, Laur dies and I’ll be tortured to live out my extended lifetime in some mildewy pit deep within the earth. I’ll be down there long enough to forget the way the sun feels when it tickles my skin at the beginning of the day. He’ll keep me hidden from the world until my magic is dried up and my name is long forgotten. I’ll die a thousand times in the dark.
Somehow, Laur makes it across the room and presses his fingers into my trembling hand. “It’s okay. Go home.”
I shake my head. If I leave now, Laur is dead. If I fail, Laur is dead. However, if I stay and best the witch, we both get a chance to live.
It’s not fair to throw away his life to save my own.
I may fear the dark more than anything else on this planet, but I won’t let it conquer me. Holding onto Cassias Laur, I send Jack away and accept my fate.
Win or lose, I’ve made a decision and can no longer deviate from this path.
Squeezing Laur’s hand, I let my head fall on his shoulder as the lights flicker on and the night continues.
Thank you for making it to the end of yet another short story. I made a total of three versions of this story, covering the subject of vampires chasing different characters through the dark and creating intense fight scenes from thin air. None of it hit the mark of being scared of the dark, though, so I dug around in my phoenix story for a better lead. I hope you all enjoyed this character development and the official first time I’ve named Phoebe.
For anyone new to the blog this week, most of my stories have recurring characters. To follow along with Cassias Laur and Phoebe, you can check out my other stories containing them: Here for a Heart, Villain or Hero
As always, take a few more minutes to check out Bridgette’s story as well! Afraid of the Dark
Thanks for your continued support and come back next week for a story centered around a “deal with a devil.”