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I have to admit to feeling a bit...royal as I followed the Jeweler and two of his silent assistants down the extended hallways of the luxurious building. The material of the clothes that he had given me would slide gently across my skin with every step, and yet, his robe seemed to be even fancier than what I was wearing.
The walls were all painted with soothing and warm colors, the red carpeting beneath my feet...deep enough to leave temporary footprints as I walked across it. After sleeping in an abandoned junkyard for the past 8 months or so, I found it hard to believe that vampires could live this way. I don't even think Soren's set up at his fighting arena could boast such an elegant presentation.
"This place seems so big..." I said.
"Well, this particular facility has a variety of functions." He said. "But they all center around one golden concept, and that is the search for ourselves. A place where we can wash the filth of the outside world and find true completion within. It sounds like a quick and easy task, but it takes study. Discipline. Dedication." He smiled at me, "This is why you are so very important, Justin. Why I have spent countless years searching for the Mimic's resurrection in darkness. You truly are a herald for a new age. And once you've discovered your true self, you will begin creating the catalyst that may awaken us all."
Feeling uneasy with the heavy obligation of it all, I said, "Somehow, I don't think what I have to say is going to be all that enlightening. Outside of 'stay in school' and 'eat your vegetables', both of which I obviously don't live by anymore...I doubt I'm worthy of being a role model."
"Perhaps not yet." He said with a grin. "But you will be. Have faith, young one. I have studied all manner of myth and mystery surrounding your rebirth. We can expect many great things from your transformation. The more you understand, the more we'll all understand. We merely need to find the road that leads you to your very center." He put a friendly arm over my shoulder and said, "It is a journey that we will take together. There are many things that we can learn from each other, given time. I look forward to it."
Leaving the hallway, I suddenly saw us turning a corner and entering a giant room that looked as if it was covered, wall to wall, with computers. Giant screens, all alive with activity, and with a room full of operators handling the workload. I don't know...after all of the plants and the fountains and the soft music...this big technological warehouse seemed to be a bit out of place. It was like going to visit the Dalai Lama and finding a workstation for NORAD in his basement.
There were people typing on keyboards in this wide open space before us, the room dark except for the brilliant glare of the active computer screens before them. It almost resembled the clubs Gyro ran to every night, minus the pound of loud music. As The Jeweler guided me through the room, I noticed that some of the keyboards were covered with a series of symbols that I had never seen before. So strange. As each symbol appeared on the screen, I stared on in amazement, watching more symbols come back as responses just as quickly. A thousand conversations...all happening at once. Who knows how many other vampires were on the other end.
I heard the Jeweler speaking to one of his older staff members in the same language that he greeted me with when we first arrived. I couldn't translate it, but there was something about the sound of it that my ears could instantly recognize. The Jeweler turned to put a hand on my shoulder, as if to proudly show me off as his welcomed guest. "
The man replied, "
"Perhaps it is the energy and passion of youth that was needed all along." The Jeweler grinned, and signaled for me to follow him further. "This is the center of our communications network. Here, we may trade current knowledge on the goings on of all our vampire sectors across the planet. Some things newly discovered, others unfortunately lost to history. Ever since you've been born into darkness, we've had to broaden our reach into cyberspace and nearly triple our staff. It began with rumors and whispers, naturally. But soon, many psychics and fortune tellers have been receiving omens concerning your arrival...and your possible outcome. You've awakened many minds and aroused many ancient fears about what kind of creature you are destined to become. We've been monitoring as much exchanged information as we can manage between all sources, but we can't catch everything." He said. "Hopefully, anything that slips under our radar will be something inconsequential."
"Is this where the Elders talk?" I asked, and he chuckled to himself.
"No, my dear boy. If the Elders knew where to find you...you would be dead already." How can he just say something like that and simply keep walking forward to continue his little 'tour' as if that's not supposed to DEEPLY disturb me?
He took me further through the halls of the building, and it almost seemed as if the high rise itself was getting bigger and bigger the more I saw of it. There was soooo much going on in this place, but it was so self-contained. Looking at this building from the outside, even if you live just across the street from it...you would never know.
It was then that we passed a small cluster of people in the hallway. Vampires in their mid 20's from the looks of it. I noticed that they faces were flushed, their eyes red, as if worn out from sobbing. There were three of them, and they were all hugging a woman who was still holding a handkerchief up to her nose to control her sniffling. We only made brief eye contact, but I could feel Jenna's empathy ability beginning to take hold of me and yank fiercely at my heartstrings as we passed one another. Thankfully, I recognized the sensation in time to focus on dulling the intensity of the building emotional breakdown...but from the little bit that I detected in that woman and in the hearts of her friends...it was almost like they were never going to see her again. A sense of loss, and sacrifice. Helplessness as well, but in smaller doses.
I tried not to stare, lowering my head to hide my intrusion on what they were feeling. But I knew that I haven't felt anything like that since we were all forced to walk away and leave Dylan to spend his last final moments out by the Lake....alone.
We entered another room that was full of noise. Noise the burst into the hallway as soon as The Jeweler's servants opened the large double doors for us. This time, I was invited into a large gymnasium of sorts, with mats covering much of the floor, ropes hanging from the ceiling, punching bags, and workout dummies. The place was packed with fighters all practicing their individual training routines with all the enthusiasm of a platoon readying themselves for war. Again, this place had more surprises than I could have possibly prepared myself for.
"As you can see, Justin...our security officers are very well trained and perfectly capable of keeping you and your sire safe during your stay here." He said. "Here, we train both vampires, to protect you at night, and daylights, to protect you during the day. The building is quite secure, I assure you. But in the case that we DO have any inconveniences to arrive in the near future, you can be certain that you are in good hands." He was very proud of his operation. Who wouldn't be? It was obvious that he ran a tight ship. But as I looked around at all the soldiers he had at his disposal, and how hard they were pushing themselves to the limit...I couldn't help but to wonder what all this security was for. I mean, I can understand a certain degree of safety measures being put in place, 'just in case'...but this seemed a little over the top to me. What was this Fabian Lockheart guy hiding that needed such an army to keep it guarded?
I especially took notice of some of the guardians as they walked both sideways and upside down on the walls and ceiling of the place. Just standing there, sticking to the wall as if gravity itself had no real direction or purpose at all.
Thinking back a ways...Doc's memory functions kicking in to remind me of crisp details and old conversations...didn't Dash talk to me about this before in his sanctuary? About seeing my footprints on the wall, and detecting the fighting styles involved in that particular conflict? I believe he referred to the wall walking ability as...'A talent reserved mostly for Mafia element.' I thought it strange that it would be incorporated into the training of the many people I saw before me.
"And over here is our chief of security. He goes by the name of 'Minefield', and even though you may not see much of him during your stay, you can be certain that he is always around the corner. Waiting. Watching. Ready." The Jeweler showed me the man that he was talking about as he was working with three or four of his vampire students at the edge of the room. The man was about 30 years old. He looked younger, but the intensity in his eyes and the few visible scars on his body proved him to have a few more years of wear and tear on him than what you could see from a distance. His eyes were cold. So cold. A predator's eyes. They gave you a chill, no matter what other emotions the rest of his face may be trying to present to you at that time.
The man had longish hair, a shiny dark brown, sweeping over the tops of his shoulders, and dark green eyes. An athletic build, squeezed into an almost skin tight black spandex suit, fixed with belts, buckles, and suspenders...all black...only made for holding weapons if he needed them.
It DIDN'T look like he needed them.
"AGAIN!" The man said. "Concentrate on your target, build the energy into the heel of your foot, or the palm of your hand....and let it EXPLODE! Once you ignite the explosion, you merely need to maintain the potential energy until it reaches its intended target! DO IT!" Minefield had a slight New Zealand accent, but it had been worn thin over time. Making me think that he had been stateside for a while.
I slowed down my pace until my feet came to a standstill, and The Jeweler stopped to let me watch.
I could sense the intense build up of energy in the air. I could see the determination in their eyes. Heh...observing them trying to pull off what was certainly an advance attack method reminded me sooooo much of the first time Taryn tried to teach me how to mind read on that grassy hill in front of the Aquarium the night I awoke from my crossover. Fond memories of trying my best to understand...and failing miserably in the process.
There were targets in front of them all. Half dummies, upper torsos, set up against the wall not more than 20 feet in front of them. The trainees built up the energy, they controlled their breathing, they raised their knee slightly...and then brought their heels down with a loud stomp! One by one. I watched as the collision created a bright spark on the floor. Each soldier attempted to mentally guide that burst of energy towards the lifeless targets in front of them...but all of the kinetic outbursts fizzled out just a few feet in front of them.
As one little energy trail after another traveled forward from their massive stomp...I didn't see a single one of them hit their mark. Or even get close.
With a disappointed shake of his head, 'Minefield' stepped forward and pushed all of his students aside. Saying, "I told you...to hold your FOCUS!!!" And with a single stomp of his foot on the floor...four bolts of energy shot out from the impact in four different directions! I could see the surge moving, like lightning bolts crawling over the floor, and it SPLIT, half way, to separate the charge to all four targets and slide up the stakes they were posted on...up through their chests to make each and every one of their heads explode simultaneously.
Minefield slowly grinded his foot into the mat, allowing some of the smoke to die down. And he said, "Now go back and practice what I told you. You're not even close to being where I need you to be, skill wise. GO!" Then I noticed him looking back over his shoulder at me. Again...it wasn't the kind of eye contact that represented anything 'friendly'. Nothing remotely welcoming. But as his penetrating stare met mine, he gave me a smirk anyway. Did he know who I was? What I was? Did he know why I was here?
Another person that I was hoping not to run into again any time soon.
At that point, after one of his servants whispered something into his ear, Fabian told me, "I just thought that you should know...your sire has taken leave of his room. He's being escorted through some of our facilities as we speak."
Feeling a little uneasy, I asked, "Wait, what? Where is he? I mean, he's still in the building though, right?" A little jitter went through me, and I said, "Would it be ok if he came here to walk with us tonight? Or just...can I see him? For a little while. Taryn won't be any trouble. I swear..."
He looked into my eyes and gave me a small grin. "You really and truly love him, don't you?"
"More than I can say. Certainly enough to know that being away from him like this gives me an ache in the middle. I guess that seems pretty silly to you guys. Hehehe!" I said. "C'mon...we've got plenty of time to talk and 'break open' and stuff, right?"
"I only wish that were true." He said. "You have no need for worry, Justin. I can assure you that Taryn's every need is being tended to as we speak. He will be treated well by my escorts. You have my word. But for now, I will need your focus. Agreed?" It wasn't quite the answer that I wanted, but even though I was anxious to be in my boyfriend's arms again, I did what I could to exhibit some level of self control. "Come. I have more to show you. We will reconnect with your beloved shortly after. Deal?"
"Yeah. That's cool." I said, a slight blush in my cheeks. "Sorry. Hehehe, I mean, it's not like Taryn and I met yesterday or anything. I just...I miss him when he's gone. It's like he's a permanent part of me. Like...my heart doesn't beat the same without him."
"I understand." He said. "A love like that is very rare. And it grows more unique, and much more inspiring, through its joyful longevity. What you have is very special, Justin. Remember these times as a guiding light in the dark. Something to bring you joy when your circle reaches its inevitable end."
"End? What end?"
"Come. I would like to show you something."
"Yeah, but...what inevitable end? What do you mean?" I asked. But he kept walking forward without answering me. There was a young servant on either side of me, and they were constantly fawning over me, picking at every tiny hair or piece of lint on my clothes. It was actually beginning to make me a bit uncomfortable, to be honest. I'm not used to being...'worshiped' like this. So I followed The Jeweler into the next room, if for no other reason than to get them to stop brushing and touching me so much.
As I entered the room, the sounds of, yet another, large fountain could be heard in the background. And I noticed the unnaturally high ceiling, with intricate carvings in the plaster, as if it had been carved and maintained by Michaelangelo himself. The walls were a glaring white, almost bright enough to disturb my vision and cause it to blur. And...hanging all around us from the ceiling, some embedded in the walls, some even shimmering behind the waters of the fountain itself...were bright jewels, displayed in a variety of dazzling colors.
I can't say that I've ever seen anything like it before. I mean, I know what jewelry looks like, but...these gems were so...different. Maybe it was the brightness of the walls, or the lighting in the room...but whatever it was, I became fascinated with their hypnotic appeal. As I reached out a hand to gently hold one of the jewels hanging from the high ceiling, I'm assuming from a thin but strong wire, I noticed the eccentric cut of its surface. No bigger than a fifty cent piece, it looked like a diamond with a slight tint of purple. Something about its beauty caused me to hold it with such a gentle touch. And there were sooooo many! Luckily, the room was designed with pathways for us to walk on, because it would be hard to wade through the many crystals without getting tangled in their many strings.
Every jewel glowed with its own individual brilliance. Blue and orange and green and gold...it was such a sight to behold.
"What is this place?" I asked as The Jeweler stood next to the large fountain against the wall.
"This, my young friend, is a very special room indeed." He smiled. He said something in the vampire language that he was speaking before, and he told me, "Loosely translated, it means 'Shrine Of Those Remembered As Light'."
I looked back at the jewels. Hundreds...no, thousands of them. "I don't understand."
"Well, Justin...for those of us who cross over and are born into darkness, facing both the blessing and the burden of immortality, the very concept of death changes for us. And therefore, the very concept of life changes for us." I watched the Jeweler sit on the side of the fountain, and he dipped his hand into the cool waters below. "Everything is always changing. Always in a constant state of flux. Until...the moment of death. Many believe that to be the most cherished moment of any life. The moment when the book can be closed. When the story is finished. And we can finally reach completion. We can finally see the entire story, from beginning to end, and find meaning and purpose in a life well lived." I saw him pull his hand out of the water, holding a few more gems in his upturned palm. "For those vampires who come seeking a release from the obligation of having their lives go on and on without any defined purpose or meaning...I provide them a beautiful ceremony. And I created a monument where their existence can be remembered...and cherished...and displayed for others to celebrate them as they deserve to be celebrated."
Feeling a shift in my comfort level, I cautiously asked, "Ceremony? Shrine? I'm...I'm not sure I understand..."
"We have a selection of specially equipped chambers here in the building that we use to provide other vampires a method of facilitating a dignified Sun Quest when they feel that one is needed. It's all done voluntarily, of course. They step into the chamber after their memorial service...say goodbye to their loved ones...and then await the coming dawn through glass ceilings. Meeting their end with grace and a sense of wonder." He said. "They enjoy what us who live in darkness cannot. If only for a few brief moments. Then we collect their ashes, and we begin the process."
"Process?" I said, now feeling more uncomfortable than EVER!
"Yes. We take the carbon from the ashes, compress them, mold them, shape them...and we turn them into the very jewels you see before you." He said. I suddenly felt sick. "Jewels. Trophies created as a monument to those who were loved. Those with dreams, and passions, and desires. A jewel that will last forever, as a sign of completion. The end of a circle...left to shine brightly among others who have done the same. There is no greater sight than the view of relics, designed to commemorate a soul that has finally found its purpose."
Looking around me, a cold shiver ran down my spine. "This is a graveyard?" I asked.
He said, "This is a showcase, Justin. A festival of souls that have found their place among the rarest gems on Earth." I think he could see the look in my eyes as I stared blankly at the jewels surrounding me on all sides. There were sooooo many of them! And I thought Jeremy's blood shack was a 'difficult' place to be in. "There's no need to be afraid." He said.
"Sorry. I have a...problem with...stuff like this?"
"Yeah. You know...dead stuff. Death in general." I could feel my heartbeat increasing. My breath getting short. So many jewels. So many. Each one was an actual person. A PERSON! This wasn't a 'showcase'. It was a tomb. And I was standing right in the middle of it.
I noticed one of The Jeweler's servants coming to speak to him again, bowing slightly before speaking to him in that verzpertillio language again. I kept listening to it...hoping to pick up on some of the similarities and repeated words, but I was only able to recognize a word or two. Actually...I'm surprised that I was able to recommend that many. It wasn't until I heard the name 'Taryn' that my ears perked up.
"Taryn? What about Taryn?" I asked.
"Leave us." The Jeweler said, and the young man bowed nervously and skittered away from us. He then turned to me and said, "Your sire is in the lobby..."
"Sweet!" I blurted out. "I'm gonna go down and meet him there. This place is starting to...give me the creeps. No offense."
I could see just the faintest glimpse of frustration on his face. "Justin...there is much for you and I to discuss..."
"I know. Honestly, I do. I just wanna make sure he's ok. Just for a little while. This place is so big, and we kind of wanted to explore it all together, you know? You should see the way his eyes light up whenever he sees something new. Hehehe, it's so cute..."
"Justin..." His voice was stern. Abrupt. But once he saw my reaction, he softened his tone immediately. He forced a subtle smile to cross his lips, and he said, "...Of course. As you wish. Perhaps we can continue a bit later on this evening?"
"Totally." I said. "I'm sorry, I just...I mean...can you tell me where to go. I just want to be close to him for a while. That's alright, isn't it?"
"Far be it from me to stand in the way of my most honored guest." He said. And with a nod to his servants, he got up, and proceeded to escort me out of that shiny 'mausoleum' of his and to the elevators so we could go downstairs.
I was fidgeting and tapping my fingers the whole time we were in the elevator. The Jeweler noticed my excitement, and when he looked at me, I gave him a smile. A wide, goofy, grin that caused me to blush from its childish nature.
He smiled back at me...sort of. I don't know...it didn't look as genuine as mine was. But who cares? I was moments away from seeing my sweetie again. His philosophical babble can wait for a few hours! Right now, all my heart was craving was Taryn. Why would I need anything else?
The elevator doors opened in the lobby, and I was the first one out of the door. The Jeweler and his servants followed me, but it only took a few strides for me to leave them behind.
That's when I saw him. Hahaha, my eyes got wider as I approached, and even though Taryn was displaying a tiny blush in his pale cheeks, he attempted to keep his snickers hidden from me as he took a few bashful steps towards me. Hehehe....what the heck had he DONE to himself?
I took a look at him, and he had most of his HAIR cut off! It was still a bit wet, so it had gone from its reddish brown splendor to an almost brownish black color! Omigod...it was soooo short! With a tiny 'spike' in the middle, dyed a bright fire engine red. It was a totally different look for him. I don't think I had ever seen his bright green eyes look so big before.
"Hehehe, Taryn! Baby, what did you do to yourself?" I said, hugging him close and giving him a loving kiss on the lips.
"Do you like it?" He asked excitedly. "They gave me a temporary makeover! Haircut and gel and everything!"
"You got that done just now?"
"Sorta..." He grinned. He showed off his hair by turning his head from side to side. "They call it a faux hawk! And they put red dye on the tips."
"Hehehe, I know what a faux hawk is."
"So, whaddya think? Do I look hot?" He asked.
"You look like a rooster!" I chuckled. But once Taryn gave me a playful shove, I said, "A SEXY rooster! Definitely a sexy rooster." We shared a tender kiss with one another. I can't believe how GOOD it felt just to feel his body heat next to mine. And seeing him with this new look, while although different and unexpected...was soooo CUTE on him...I was suddenly tempted to take him right back upstairs to our room and enjoy a few more hours of boy love between the silky texture of our expensive bed sheets. I swear...I never got enough of him. Not ever.
I kissed him again. And then again. His fleshy, almost girlish, lips...they were soooo soft. I got a thrill every time they touched mine. I wasn't aware that we had practically began making out in front of everybody until I heard the elevator doors open up again behind me.
Suddenly, I saw Strings and a small posse of security guards march out into the lobby and walk towards us with a certain sense of urgency.
I held Taryn close, but we both kept our eyes on him as he approached the Jeweler and the other guards took their places to secure the area.
Strings said, "We have visitors. A convoy of black vehicles. Vampire signatures have been detected. They crept up on us, but the vehicle tags seem to be marked with Elder authorization, sir."
The Jeweler stepped forward to lightly push Taryn and I further back behind him. He said, "How far out are they?"
Strings looked out of the lobby windows just as a few black vehicles came to a screeching halt just in front of the lobby windows. And, while still chewing gum and flashing that antagonizing smirk of his, he said, "Not far at all boss. Not far at all."