“Thou shalt not covet thy human subjects, nor the Pure Ones who are thy slaves. Subjects must be held at an objective distance, ruled by a fair hand. Slaves must be leashed with tight control, mastered by a strong will.”
—Excerpt from the Dark Laws, verse twenty-one of the Ecliptic Scrolls
It was five o’clock when Inanna slipped back inside the hospice.
She had over an hour of night left, plenty of time to collect on the Blood-Contract and make her way back to the Cove before the early rays of winter sun started to weave their drowsy spell around her.
A little known fact was that Inanna felt less of the sun’s adverse effects than other vampires.
Only the Queen was aware of the truth.
To maintain appearances, however, she stuck to the usual vampire routine.
Checking briefly at the guest log on the empty reception desk, she saw that Gabriel had signed out before midnight, having stayed much later than his usual visit. Perhaps he sensed somehow that this would be the last hours he would spend with his wife.
When he saw her next, she would no longer be among the living.
Inanna walked soundlessly through the corridors to arrive at Olivia’s room. She entered as if one with the darkness, a mere shadow flickering against the wall, and locked the door behind her.
Olivia was in the throes of what seemed to be a nightmare.
She was making pained whimpers, gasping for breath, while tossing and turning on her narrow bed, her hands curled into claws as she fervently scratched the skin around her IV and throat.
A cool breeze drifted through the open windows, carrying the soothing scent of jasmine from the trees that surrounded the hospice, but the writhing patient seemed immune to its therapeutic effects.
Inanna had seen this sight thousands of times.
Hundreds of thousands.
It was the last feverish battle of the dying.
The drugs were losing their effects; the patient’s body was rebelling against her. She was flailing against the onset of death.
Inanna knew what she needed.
“I am here, Olivia,” the Chosen said, drawing near to sit beside the mechanical bed, taking one of the patient’s hands and squeezing lightly to calm the frenzied shaking.
“Do not fret. I am here.”
Olivia turned toward the sound of her voice and opened her chapped lips, but only incoherent grunts and mumbles tumbled from them.
As if frustrated with her inability to speak clearly, she began to shake her head from side to side, hot tears slipping from the corners of her eyes.
“Shall I ease your pain a bit?” Inanna asked, not really expecting an answer.
She drew one boney wrist closer and quickly sank her canines into the barely-there vein.
With the first slow draw of blood, the venom from her fangs trickling into the patient’s bloodstream like the most powerful sedative, Olivia stopped thrashing immediately and began to breathe more evenly, more deeply.
Stopping after a few small sips so that Olivia was calm and lucid enough to open her eyes, temporarily clear of pain and drugs, Inanna licked the wound closed and regarded the human woman with patience and understanding.
“Thank you,” Olivia began weakly, “thank you for giving me one more night with him.”
“He needed to hear your heart,” Inanna answered. “You have waited much too long to tell him.”
“I was a fool and a coward,” the patient agreed. “Even at the end I do not think he believed me.”
Inanna felt a long-stored anger unfurling in her stomach, stretching its way toward her throat, burning the tip of her tongue with a caustic reply.
Perhaps Olivia sensed it, for she admitted, “I know it’s all my fault. I have no one to blame but myself. He has given me, in so many ways, for so many years, a love I don’t deserve while I only hurt him with my stupid, thoughtless mistakes.”
The patient’s eyes took on a faraway sheen as she inhaled deeply the soft flowery fragrance wafting from the open windows and murmured, “Our old neighborhood was lined with jasmine trees. He used to follow me around when we were teenagers, you know. At first I thought it was because we walked the same way to school since we lived across the street from each other, and then I thought this shaggy-headed new kid was stalking me.”
She gave a small chuckle. “I was pretty full of myself back then. Being the head cheerleader and prom queen tended to inflate a High School girl’s ego.”
“But later I realized he was protecting me, since I often went home well past dark. Isn’t that strange?” she asked the question, but Inanna did not think she expected an answer.
“He has been protecting me ever since the beginning. But hard as he tried, he couldn’t save me from myself. All the terrible mistakes I made.”
Inanna kept silent, lowering her gaze.
Yes, she knew everything about those mistakes. She knew the couple’s entire tragic story. It didn’t have to be this way, she often thought.
It seemed so blatantly simple for Olivia to make the right choices, more pointedly, to choose her husband.
To choose her son, Benjamin.
But the woman seemed wired for self-destruction. Her choices in life not only hurt everyone who loved her, but ultimately, herself.
What a waste!
She felt a slight tug on the hand that still held Olivia’s wrist and looked directly into the patient’s eyes.
“You will take good care of them, won’t you?” Olivia beseeched her with tear-filled eyes. “Please make them happy. I can’t bear that my mistakes might outlive me.”
Inanna had to swallow twice before she found her voice, made it neutral, soothing. “I always keep my promises. Gabriel and Benjamin will lack for nothing.”
Olivia nodded, trusting the vampire completely.
The vampire who had been her secret friend for as many years as she’d been married. Perhaps because Olivia had a rather fanciful nature, perhaps she simply did not care, but she had known from the beginning of their unlikely acquaintance that Inanna was not of her world.
They’d met while Olivia was hospitalized after the “incident.” She’d shared a room with a patient dying of leukemia because the hospital wards had been over-occupied during the holiday season due to traffic and other accidents. She’d witnessed how this honey-blonde goddess-like creature had all but floated into the room, bent solicitously over the dying patient and whispered words of reassurance, promising to end his pain.
The man had neither family nor friends. He could no longer afford hospital bills and was essentially at the mercy of city charity. He might have been able to linger on for another month or two, but he was in a tremendous amount of pain. Olivia had heard his fervent prayers the night she’d been brought into the ward.
He’d prayed for death.
And death had come for him in the form of an angel.