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The emotion kept rushing over me like a warm Summer rain. Thoughts of Richie eventually getting out of that bed...possibly with a decent head of hair by the time he wakes up...and being able to walk on his own two feet again. The thought of it created an overwhelming 'push' to tear up, the knot in the back of my throat almost tight enough to cut off my air supply. But I only let a few tears fall. If nothing else, I did it to hide my face from the public eye. The less attention I draw to myself, the better. Especially tonight.
I couldn't help but feel a touch of apprehension over the idea that Trevor had taken such an interest in Richie while I wasn't around. Why? He doesn't even know Richie. I doubt that I've ever even really shared any memories of my best friend with him during the entire time that I've been at the lot. Why would I?
Even when Trevor appears to be helpful and sweet...he's always trying to play some kind of angle. And until I figure out exactly what that angle is...I'm going to stay on guard and seriously uneasy about it.
As I ventured further towards the location where I was supposed to meet this 'Jeweler' person...I was surprised by the area I was entering into. Not another dismal neighborhood, abandoned lot or warehouse, or some dismal part of town where vampires would be able to dwell easily without being noticed. No...this was different. A bit of a progressive area, like a smaller version of downtown. Brightly lit. Clean streets. Full of shops, both corporate and local. Tall buildings as well. Not exactly what I was expecting. A big change from the lot, or from Jeremy's blood shack in the middle of nowhere.
I was truly hoping that the Jeweler could truly give me some kind of guidance. Some direction. I was praying that he would finally tell me what it is that I'm supposed to 'bring to the world' or whatever so I could just do it and get it over with. I didn't want to think about it anymore. I didn't want the burden on my shoulders. I was tired of being lost and confused. Wondering if every right turn should have been a left. If every left turn should have been a right. I just wanted to hide from it all. Make it all go away and pretend that none of this was actually happening to me. All I wanted to do was love Taryn, enjoy the friendships I have with my family in darkness, and be left alone.
As always...nobody will ever leave me alone. Not until they get what they want out of me.
There are times at night, when things are quiet and I have room to breathe...that I wish Comicality was here. I wish he could have helped me through this, instead of being forced to abandon me at the most crucial part of my 'training'. I couldn't help but to feel his absence in all this. He was tough on me, but at least he understood. He pushed hard, but he knew when I had had enough. If only I were smarter I could have figured out what he was trying to tell me. He never just came right out and told me what I had to do. He just...UGH! I needed ANSWERS! Not more questions! We could have accomplished SO much more by now if he just stopped withholding important information from me. Sometimes, I think he cares more about being mysterious than he does about helping me find the key to this 'Dawn' everybody keeps talking about.
I don't know. I'd try to find him...but I wouldn't even know where to start. After what Dizz told me...Com could be dead now for all I know. Dead and gone, forever. I've barely been surviving the few scraps that I've been in myself lately, and that was mostly by accident. If Com is dead...and this Jeweler guy isn't what he's cracked up to be...then I may have no one to turn to for any kind of guidance at all. I'd be all alone. With only a few musty old scriptures and a bunch of unrevealed secrets to clue me in on what's to come. And how to deal with it.
That idea, in itself...was frightening.
As I followed the memorized 'map' that I kept in my head, I found myself heading towards a large glass building that was basically standing tall in the center of the main street. It looked like a giant office building or something. A skyscraper in comparison to some of the other smaller buildings around. That was definitely the place. I could sense it. That's where the map told me to go. Thanks, Doc. you're a genius.
I was still a few blocks away, but I noticed that the human population in this area was almost nonexistent. I noticed a few vampires here and there, and they definitely noticed me...but that was about it. It was almost as if this was a 'Vampire Only Zone', and visitors weren't welcome. I couldn't tell if that was a good thing, or a bad thing. But I continued on regardless.
As I got even closer, a lot of the vampires in this area didn't even bother to wear their Optrix. Their eyes burned with an amber glow for all to see clearly, right out here on a public street. More of those golden gazes attached themselves to me. I couldn't avoid the paranoia that began to set in. When you've been abused at home and bullied at school for as long as I have...you learn to generate a certain level of hostility towards those who would stare unapologetically in your direction for too long.
I couldn't tell if they were surprised, curious, or simply not used to seeing 'halflifes' like me in this part of town. They didn't seem to be confrontational about it. But it creeped me out just the same. I just kept my head down and kept walking.
Only one block from the tall glass office building...
Now I notice a few vampires that seem to be reaching for cell phones when they see me walking in their direction. Turning their backs to me as they made calls, I assume, to alert certain 'people' to my presence. So much for showing up unannounced.
Then again, for a vampire who operates with his level of secrecy...I shouldn't have expected anything less.
However...there was a sudden chill that ran through me as I was hit with a feeling of intense dread. It hit me hard, out of nowhere. I stopped dead in my tracks, almost as if I had run into an invisible brick wall.
I couldn't explain the feeling. I didn't understand what it was telling me. But deep down I could sense that something was seriously out of place. A surge of caution ran through me. And my instincts told me to look upwards to the rooftops of the buildings around me.
I scanned the entire area, but I didn't see anything. Nothing at all. In fact, the streets around me had emptied themselves completely. Not a single vampire remained. Was it the paranoia? Was it my mind playing tricks on me? It didn't feel that way.
I stood still for a few minutes more, just to make sure. I didn't have Jun, Dion, or Jenna, to back me up out here. I didn't want to keep moving on this if it was going to turn out to be more than I can handle. I needed to be smart about running into this all alone. But once the silence and lack of proof concerning any real danger had passed...I began to continue my short journey forward.
I wonder what Taryn's doing right now. I wonder if he's ok. I don't know why I thought of that at this particular moment...but thoughts of him being hurt had suddenly become my number one concern. I guess it comes and goes. I always worry about him. I always will. No one has ever touched my heart in a way where I just randomly worry about his safety, long distance, before. Hehehe, but I guess that's just how it was meant to be for us. I would die for him. Technically, I already did...but I'd do it again, a hundred times over...just to keep him safe.
That's what my love means to me. That's why I need the Jeweler to set me free from my obligations. So that we can finally be together. Just the way our intertwined destinies had planned it out for us.
Shaking the feeling of caution and fear surrounding me, I walked the rest of the way to the shimmering tower of glass before me. I think I actually began to feel better as I crossed the street and started heading to the doors of the main lobby. So...this might be it, right? This might be the source that's going to give me all the answers I need. Deep breath, Justin. Let's do this.
I was able to open the door and walk in with ease...but I wasn't permitted to go much further than that.
The lobby was HUGE, with a long desk against the wall, tons of security cameras, and a big water fountain on the side. The room was also full of armed vampire guards, all wearing bulletproof vests and sunglasses. I counted fourteen of them, stretched from one end of the main floor to the other. But I wouldn't be surprised if there were more hiding out somewhere. And I'm sure more were 'on the ready' if a simple call was made for them to come down. Why would someone who's supposedly just trying to help out need so much security? It seemed a bit overdone, if you ask me. But I had been invited. I doubt that I had much to worry about. It was the Jeweler who was looking for me, after all.
The men in the lobby were still as I entered the building. They didn't hide the fact that they were staring me down like a pack of hungry jackals at the scene of a fresh kill. Even through their sunglasses, I could feel the harsh blaze of their menacing stares as they attempted to burn a hole right through me. This wasn't going to be as simple as just having someone call upstairs, is it?
One of the bigger guards stepped up and blocked me from advancing any further. He had short, almost buzzcut, gray hair...and a healthy growth of stubble on his face. In a gruff and gritty smoker's voice, he asked, "Are you lost kid?"
"I'm...I was supposed to meet someone. He's waiting to see me." I said.
"Oh really? And who might that be?"
I felt a little weird saying it, especially with some of the other guards now inching closer to see what the disturbance was. "He calls himself The Jeweler. He's been searching for me."
"Searching for you, huh? And so you decided to giftwrap yourself and show up at his front door? How sweet of you." The guy's massive arms were nearly the size of both of my arms put together. The heavy cigar stench on his breath was nauseating. Even worse on the fabric of his uniform. And yet, he kept stepping ever closer, making sure to prove his dominance by towering over me...as my head barely came up to his shoulders. "Beat it, halflife. Ain't no Jeweler here." He tried to shoo me away before turning around to go back where he was standing before, but I didn't move.
"Look, it's important. Ok? It's an emergency." I said. But the guy didn't seem to care.
Then, as my eyes looked at a desk further away in the lobby by the elevators...something out of the ordinary caught my eye. There was a boy, maybe only a year or so older than I was, sitting on top of the desk and watching a few of the security monitors. He had medium length, oak brown, hair and a slim build. He was chewing bubblegum...and playing with a yo-yo. Absentmindedly letting it drop from his hand...and letting it dangle and spin at the end of its string for a few seconds before pulling it back up again. In a room full of fully grown adult vampire soldiers, he was the most 'out of place' part of the whole scene.
The boy didn't bother to look up at me. Nor did he seem even remotely interested that I was even there. But when the main officer didn't listen to me, I directed my next plea in his direction instead. I called out to him, "This is the place that the Jeweler told me to come to. He has been going through an awful lot of trouble to find me. He'll be pissed if you don't at least tell him that I'm down here." The boy let the yo-yo drop again...let it dangle and spin for a full 7 seconds, and yanked it back up into his hand again. He never lifted his eyes to acknowledge me. Never once.
I took a few steps closer.
"If you could just tell him that I'm down here, I'm sure that I could..."
The big soldier took large, frustrated steps towards me again. This time he put his hand firmly on my chest. "What did I tell you, kid? HUH??? Go play somewhere else!" He gave me a heavy handed shove. "Fuck off!"
"You'll be sorry if I don't get to see him tonight." I said, still hoping to get the boy's attention.
The guard said, "Alright, you know what? Enough is enough. Now you're starting to get annoying. I told you, there's no Jeweler here. You know what that means? It means THERE'S NO JEWELER HERE!!! Now are you going to walk away like a good little brat, or are we going to have to give your next sleep cycle some damage to repair, newblood?"
"If you just take a second and talk to him..."
I didn't even get the words out of my mouth before he shoved me again. Harder this time. Then again. And again. Pushing me back towards the doors while the other guards began to swarm behind him for assistance. "Go! I'm not telling you again! Get the fuck out of here! GO!" This time he put his hand in my face and push my head back.
I felt it. Like a storm brewing in the center of my stomach. So much power. Sooooo much pressure on me to unleash it. But I gritted my teeth and got a hold on it before I did something....'messy'.
I was practically shaking as I held the many weapons at my disposal inside. And with an angry stare, I tried to speak. "Listen to me, ok? We don't have to do this."
"Is that a fact?" He smirked.
"Look, why don't we just save ourselves the cliché, obligatory, fight scene and you guys just take me up to see him? Otherwise we're going to waste a lot of time and break a lot of furniture. I'm going to end up hurting you all, and you're just going to have to take me upstairs anyway. So why don't we just skip to the end credits on this one, alright?"
The big guy seemed so amused by me even suggesting something so ridiculous that he had a decent chuckle to himself. I saw him tightening the black leather gloves on his fingers as he shook his head in disbelief. "Heh...What do you know, fellas? We've got a real badass on our hands tonight, don't we? And I thought this evening was going to be uneventful."
Without warning, his fists suddenly shot out from his hip and aimed directly for my face. Three, swift, strong punches.
He hit nothing but air.
Dodge left! Dodge right! And I caught his third punch by grabbing the back of his wrist!
"Stop!" Came a young voice from the background. And we both turned to see the boy with the yo-yo holding his hand up so as to pull back his security. Much to my surprise, they all obeyed. Even the largest of them, who had to struggle a bit before pulling his thick muscled arm out of my grip. He narrowed his eyes at me and I didn't back down an inch. The boy said, "It's alright, Cage. Take five." He followed his order, but he'd love nothing more than to finish what we started.
Whatever. I've dealt with worse.
For the first time, the boy's eyes met mine, and he playfully hopped down from the desk top to approach me. I saw him blow a bubble with his gum and smile, all the while still playing with his yo-yo. He had an arrogant smile that seemed as thought it was designed to antagonize everyone around him. A bratty smile. A demon's smile.
He was in no hurry to get close enough to me to speak. And he was close enough...he was in no hurry to speak. He blew another bubble with his gum as he looked me up and down, head to toe and back again. And finally, he asked, "What did you say your name was again?"
"It's Justin..." I said.
"Justin. Nice. You look like a Justin." He chewed his gum a few more times, still looking me over during another pause. "So...you say you've got business here with us tonight?"
"Yes. I do."
"And you say...the Jeweler contacted you...he 'gave' you this location...and just told you to show up? Do I have that right?" He let his yo-yo drop down for another extended spin before pulling it back up again.
"Not exactly. He didn't know I'd be coming tonight. But I know that it's extremely important that I see him as soon as possible. He's the one who told me that."
The boy nodded. "Hmmm...ok. So how did he contact you? Exactly?"
"Online. Through a friend of mine." I said, and he just gave me another aggravating smirk in silence. "Look, I don't have a whole lot of time. If you can just tell me how to find my way around here..."
"Whoah whoah....slow down there, Dagwood."
He snickered to himself. "Wow...you really are a young one, aren't you?" He leaned forward a bit and sniffed the air around me. "Newblood, huh? Spanking new baby boy. I'll bet you haven't even made it through your first year yet, have you?" I didn't answer, but he never lost his smile. "Yeah, I can tell."
At that moment, a small walkie talkie on his belt loop beeped, and the boy answered it. The voice said, "Objective completed."
"Cool." The boy said, giving me a wink. "Bring him in."
Already irritated by the difficulty of this situation, I asked him, "Are you going to help me or not?"
"Well...here's my problem, 'Justin', can I call you Justin?" The boy started playing with the yo-yo again and walking a slow circle around me. "If my employer had really contacted you...online, as you say...then I am assuming that he would have given you a list of house rules prior to giving you this location. He did give you a clearly worded list of instructions, did he not?"
Confused, I told him, "I...I don't know what you..."
"You've just walked in the door, and you've already broken one of the first, and most important, parts of you being allowed to come here at all. And that is...that you come here alone."
"What are you talking about? I did just what the Jeweler told me to do. I am here alone."
"Oh really? Is that so?" The boy said, and I felt that familiar sense of dread and danger as I heard some scuffling coming from one of the side doors in the lobby. And it was then that I saw a boy struggling to break free from their rough and rugged grasp of him.
It was TARYN!!!
"Let me go!!!" He shouted, and my heart nearly stopped from the shock of it.
The boy gave me another smirk and said, "So I take it that you don't know this person, then? Is that what you're telling me?"
"Let him go. He has nothing to do with this..." I pleaded.
"But on the contrary, my friend...he's here. I'm looking right at him. So he has everything to do with this, now doesn't he?"
They manhandled Taryn and pulled his hair back to hold his head up. God, it HURT me to see him mistreated like this. "TARYN!!! Please...please don't!" I whimpered.
The boy grinned. "Taryn, huh? That's nice. He looks like a Taryn."
"You're making a BIG mistake! I didn't even know he was here!" I yelled, but he wasn't buying it.
"A likely story." He said, dropping the yo-yo down again and pulling it back up. "You've only been here for a few minutes and you've already insulted the man upstairs by breaking his ONE cardinal rule. ALL visitors...come alone." Then he leaned closer to softly whisper, "Sorry...but the Jeweler doesn't do group jobs." Then he looked over at the guards holding Taryn and gave the order. "Take the kid out back and 'stake' him. We'll put him in one of the hotboxes, he'll be ash by dawn."
"NO!!!!" I screamed! "Get your hands OFF of him!"
This time, the trigger was automatic. My feet dug into the ground, my legs balanced in a powerful stance. And as I felt the bitter cold of shadows wrapping themselves around my fists and quickly swirling up to envelop both arms just past the elbow...the static electricity in the air began to build. A FIRE began to burn hot within me, and the storm that I had once gotten a hold on so easily was now swirling into a tempest of anger that I wouldn't be able to control once it was unleashed upon those who would do my angel any harm.
The windows of the giant lobby began to rattle. The floor began to tremble. Dust and small objects began to lift off of the ground as though there were no gravity left to hold them in place...and my eyes turned a deep shade of red as I prepared to tear this whole fucking BUILDING down around us if they caused my Taryn to utter so much as another whimper of pain!
The guards had never seen anything like it before. They all looked around them as the walls and support beams began to blister and crack from the pressure. Fear had been introduced into their hearts, and as Comicality's shadows connected to it...they only got stronger. Colder. I've known fear. I've known pain the likes that they've never SEEN! Do they want a taste? Because I'm prepared to give it to them.
"LET HIM GO!!!" I said, giving them one last warning before I surrendered myself to the moment and treated them to the painful bloodbath they've been looking for! "I won't say it again!!!"
At that moment, I heard the boy's walkie talkie beep again. "Strings. Come in, Strings." Said the voice on the other end.
The boy never took his eyes off of me, but he answered the call. "Go, for Strings."
The voice calmly said, "Escort our young guest upstairs. I would very much like to meet him."
Unwilling to back down just yet, the boy, 'Strings', kept his stare fixed on me. "With all due respect, sir...I've got no confirmation on his identity yet. And he's not alone..."
"It will be alright. Bring him to me. Let's not be rude to our guests. Let them both come up, if that is his wish."
Strings gave me a bit of a mischievous wink, and he said, "Copy that." Then he held up a hand to the other guards. "Break up the party, people. boss' orders."
The second they let Taryn go, he ran across the lobby as fast as he could and lunged forward to hug me tight around the neck! I held him so close. So very close! I hate feeling so HELPLESS when it comes to keeping him safe!
"I'm sorry, Justin! They came out of nowhere, and they..."
"Shhh! It's ok! We're ok..." I said. I just closed my eyes and held him against me. My heart was still beating out of control. It took a few moments for my body to power down, for the objects in the room to drop back down to the floor. But it was Taryn's love that always brought me peace of mind. Always.
Strings sort of grunted to himself, and said, "Yeah, yeah. Real cute. You wanted in? You're in. Let's not make a soap opera out of it." I heard him, but I didn't dare let Taryn go. Not just yet. Seeing him in a position to get hurt was a huge scare for me. I wasn't really ready to let him go until I knew for sure that he felt safe. That's when I noticed Strings drop his yo-yo down again...but this time, he let the spinning end of it touch the ground. It instantly flared up with an electric spark, and it crawled towards us on the tile floor...giving me a bit of a shock as it touched my foot. "I said...let's move. Quit being so damned queer." And he pulled it back up into his hand as he guided us to the furthest elevator at the end of the lobby.
Three guards also came along to 'escort' us, crowding the elevator as soon as they stepped inside. Strings hit the top floor and we were on our way. Hopefully to some much needed answers, and a clear path for me to follow from here.
I could feel Taryn's hand nervously reach for mine, and I held onto it. But I was upset that he would put himself in danger like that. I wonder if what I felt outside was his presence. His distress. The only thing that kept me from getting angry was the fact that I was so relieved that he was ok.
Strings kept slinging that yo-yo up and down, almost obsessively, in the elevator. That along with the loud chewing of his gum was grinding on my last nerve. "Do you have to do that?" I asked him. "The yo-yo thing?"
"Nope." He said with a grin. And he let it drop again....this time letting it spin and dangle at the end of it's string for even longer than normal before pulling it back up. All while looking me directly in the eye. Almost as if to make an extra nuisance out of the act itself. I think he liked being an asshole, and he didn't hide it.
We finally reached the top floor of the building, and Taryn and I were happy to get some breathing room again.
Strings left the guards to watch us, and he said, "You wait here. I'll see if he's ready."
Standing in that long hallway, I turned to Taryn and whispered, "Why did you follow me? I told that this was dangerous. You shouldn't have come here."
"And you shouldn't have lied to me." He said. "I've been in love with you every minute of every day for months now, Justin. Do you really think that I can't tell when you're lying right to my face?" I looked away from him briefly, but he was right. "I'm not as dumb as you think I am."
"I don't think you're dumb, Taryn. I was trying to protect you."
"I'm not as helpless as you think I am either." He said defiantly.
That's when Strings came peeking back around the corner and whistled for us. Beckoning us forward like a couple of trained puppies. Still...I followed. And I held Taryn's hand in mine the entire time.
What we found at the end of the hall was much more than what I had expected. I steep set of stairs, leading up into a giant glass greenhouse that sat on top of the office building. It was sooooo big. As big as an entire floor of the building itself, and the starlit sky above was clearly visible through the endless skylight windows above. Dim lights and soft classical music added a soothing atmosphere to the place, filled with small trees and plants, the fragrance of freshly grown flowers lingering in the air. The trickle of water from numerous fountains flooded the room, and I almost felt like some sort of intruder in this...an urban replica of the Garden of Eden itself.
It was then that Strings led us forward to the very center of the garden...and I laid eyes on him for the first time.
"Justin? My, my, my...I am certainly very honored to meet the likes of you." He said. "My name is Fabian Lockheart. I...am the Jeweler."