Flint glanced about furtively, still shaking off the rat guise he had suddenly had to take when the two policemen patrolling the area chanced upon the freshly-bled corpse.xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office"
"That is the damnedest thing," one of the cops said. He called the crime scene in to begin the forensics process. The officers dashed back down the hill to their car to fetch that famous crime scene tape of theirs, or at least that is what Flint figured. “What the hell do you make of it, Katie? I’ve never seen anything that fucked up before in all my 23 years on the force.”
Grinning, Flint stepped out of the shadows and over his meal. He had been an older man, fascinated with Flint's odd good looks and callow disposition. The attraction had initially only dismayed the man, but when the ministrations grew more eager as they led up to the bloodletting, his confusion grew into anger. It was the lonely Hollywood hill for said older man! The cops, or anyone else for that matter, had never found a corpse so soon after Flint had dispensed with it.
Flint stood on his tip toes, which was a little difficult to do, considering his boots were a couple of sizes too large for him. He peeped over the edge of the hill and watched the police scrambling about their car. His grin grew wider. There was just something about law enforcement that tickled him. Maybe it was because being a Vampire, Flint knew he was eternally on the wrong side of it. He never fought the law, especially after hearing that song and knowing who would win, but he had an insatiable curiosity about police and the things that they do, and had often found himself in more than one sticky situation because of that curiosity. One of the cops looked back up the hill and Flint ducked out of his line of sight. He figured he had better haul arse since his little hidey hole would soon be crawling with Los Angeles’ finest.
Ah, Los Angeles! Flint felt a glow of hominess in his breast as he looked across his city twinkling in the night. There had always been so much art and blood in those boundless lights. He had missed it all so much. Ever since his encounter with that abominable murderer of innocents, Flint had been on the run, if only at times peripherally. Just as Cadmus Pariah hunted him, Flint also hunted Cadmus, his heart bent on bloody vengeance for the senseless murder of his dearest friend. The only problem was, neither of them could sense the other to do any good. Flint had always been able to tell when a fellow Darkling was in his vicinity, and Cadmus Pariah...well, the Pariah was the Plenipotentiary of the New Hive. He sensed all Vampires everywhere, if they were at least three centuries old and older, or so Flint had heard. Whereas Cadmus did not actively hunt Flint, opting to make a point of slaughter once the rogue Darkling was chanced upon, Flint sniffed out Cadmus Pariah's trail whenever possible. He collected stories of the Plenipotentiary, rumours and old prophecies of the Augury, all fulfilled. In spite of himself, Flint found Cadmus a compelling study. He had certainly become Flint's passion, and that was saying a lot considering Flint's laissez-faire.
During his quest for tales and dreams, Flint had heard how Cadmus Pariah bathed in the Blood of his kith and kin. And there were rumours darker still, hints and silent whispers spreading out like yersinia pestis, that Cadmus could sing lullabies to mortals and have them enslaved within a span of seconds. The very few Vampires he found who had survived an encounter with Cadmus sat maimed beyond healing, or demented (or both), and they all had the same thing to say of him; that he was surely the demonic in the pristine flesh of an angel made manifest. His eyes were boundless and spoke of a beauty so maddening, and of an eternity so thoroughly lost, the only thing left for the one trapped under such a gaze was surrender to desire and insanity, yet never be satiated by such a beholding.
Flint well-remembered those eyes, two black embers, immense and alien in their perfection. Not human, nor Vampire either. Then again, Cadmus had said as much about Flint’s own eyes, calling the phosphorescent Green Fairy sheen by their Latin name, tapeta lucida. It was the same as an owl’s eyes, or cats’ eyes caught just right in the headlights of a car. Gareth had mentioned them when Flint came to him frightened and confused with his new state of being. It wasn’t an altogether unique trait, for the Romany who had befriended Gareth and shared their Vampire lore with him, knew all about how some Vampires’ eyes seemed to carry with them their own reflection. It certainly wasn’t a common trait, rare enough to garner Cadmus Pariah’s attention. From all Flint had so far learned, it took a great deal to capture any special consideration from Cadmus. To the Pariah, they were all a macabre assembly-line of sustenance, no more. The only exceptions to this, and only by necessity, were his mother long past Kelat, his Blood Nemesis Orphaeus Cygnus, and Faust the Confessor. Technically, now, Faust had indeed fallen victim to Cadmus Pariah’s special attentions, but was mortated into something Cadmus was unable to touch. And then there was Flint himself, who had miraculously resisted and overpowered Cadmus after learning of the Dark Child of Night’s involvement in the murder of Gareth Owen.
There were other rumours, too. Some he had heard independently from the other, which made Flint think there may be some veracity to what was being told to him. Flint had heard gossip of a thing some called the Singing Tree, but most called the Harming Tree. Others referred to it as the Fourth Relic, or maybe the First Relic of the New Hive, a dark beacon, each flesh string tuned to play the dying shriek of every Vampire who had given his life to its evolution. Indeed, all agreed that it was some sort of artifact, a homemade collection of gory souvenirs, meticulously perfected by Cadmus for some reason known only to him. If there even were a reason.
But Flint had investigated this Harming Tree, and he had concluded that it was a very old artifact indeed, fashioned out of a piece of deadwood, with twisted and gnarled branches sprouting from it, curling like the tortured souls who had contributed to them. Even though he had always affixed trophies to its resonating body, the act of collecting and offering them up to the Harming Tree took on a special significance after Cadmus was unleashed as a full Vampire, capable of emotion.
Whenever a person, Vampire or human, elicited a new emotion from the recesses of Cadmus’ soul wounds, he would take a piece of that person, preserve it in some alchemical manner, and add it to the Harming Tree. It was set as a reminder to the Pariah that a Philosophical Apex had finally transformed into an actual emotion.
From what Flint had heard, there were flesh tympanis on this atrocity. When Cadmus Pariah hummed in a certain timbre or on a different frequency, the Tree would buzz in response, making an alien music fraught with the desecration of ages. Flint was positive lurid drum skins weren’t the only thing to have graced this relic’s branches. Of course, all of this was still nothing more than conjecture on anyone’s part, because the Harming Tree never left the dread sanctity of Cadmus’ altar. Just as Orphaeus’ ginger scalp that Cadmus had hung to commemorate that moment of triumph so very long ago, its red curls cascading from a simple wooden pole, just touching the surface of the altar, so did the Harming Tree rest eternally at the centre of the Pariah’s sacred space. It may well have replaced the chalice in its holiness, in Cadmus’ infinite and incomprehensible mind.
It was a wonderment, this Harming Tree that rested somewhere in the ineluctable hills of England’s West Country, one of the most magickally vibrant places on the living Earth. It was the consensus among most Vampires who considered themselves privy to some great mystery, that Cadmus’ primary home was veiled in amongst the standing stones that dotted that countryside. Some even contended it was a castle, having gleaned this information from the Prince of Beasts, Orphaeus Cygnus himself. The Tree was there, waiting for its next trophy. Flint imagined that it craved the souvenirs of flesh just as Cadmus craved the Blood of his fellow Vampires.
Cannibal, thought Flint. Murderer!
Flint’s smile faded as he started down into Hollywood. He needed some sort of diversion, maybe a movie, to get his mind off Cadmus Pariah and his Harming Tree. His focus lingered too much on the artifact, because he could not help but think that if he laid hold of the Tree, he would have enough power to destroy Cadmus Pariah once and for all. Flint heard the cavalry heading in to take care of the drained body he had left behind. He sped up his gait and in a matter of moments, the thought of the legions of law enforcers was soon swept away. Flint rarely concerned himself with any one thing for very long. There was too much to enjoy. But soon, his mind turned back to Cadmus.
He shoved his hands into the huge overcoat he was wearing, pulled out a cigarette and a ragged pack of matches. Lighting the cigarette, he took a long draw from it and continued on to the edge of the city.
A movie might be exactly what I need, Flint mused. He remembered that there was an I-Max cinema near Hollywood and Vine, but he had heard that an even more spectacular place had been built somewhere on or near Wilshire Boulevard. That is where he would go. Flint hunched his shoulders and walked faster than any human could, blurring himself just enough not to be noticed by slack-jawed onlookers who couldn’t believe what they just saw.
He sped along, thinking about that glorious night when he would raze Cadmus’ terrible presence from the collective memory of the New Hive. He did not care that Cadmus was the last true Tarma to dwell in this world. He did not care that the Dark Child of Night thought that he had more knowledge and power under one painted nail than Flint had in his entire body. Truth be told, Flint cared about very little and, even though he knew it may well be the death of him, he did not care about the dangers of trying to take out the killer of his blood brother.
Flint wondered if he had stirred any kind of emotion in Cadmus, enough for him to want to add the Waltham Phantom to the Tree. What emotion would he represent? Ire? Curiosity? Repulsion? He may never know. But one thing he did know was that Cadmus had travelled to Los Angeles. Flint had heard it through the grapevine in the lush Vampire population of Reno, Nevada. Whenever possible, Flint followed wherever Cadmus roamed in order to gather more stories and possibly glean more about the Harming Tree. Now, three years on, here they were in Los Angeles again. Full circle.
Flint was not looking for a confrontation. Oh, no. There was no way he could win in such a fight; rather, he was keen on locking onto Cadmus’ journeys and following him back to his country home. His plan was to slip in with Cadmus, in rat form of course, locate the Harming Tree, then shove it through Cadmus’ dread heart. A grand plan it was, too. Flint would achieve this by any means necessary. Avenging his friend for the woeful way in which he was slain was the least Flint could do.
Sadly, Flint didn’t hold out much hope of actually locating Cadmus in this gigantic city. That psychic wall that muddied the senses between the two of them would only serve to make it all the more difficult. Besides, he did not yet feel strong enough to take Cadmus on, especially this far away from the object of all Flint’s hopes and fears. It would surely be the death of him. All he could really do was tap into the grapevine here and see where it took him next. For now, though, it was movie time!
Flint was treading a path down Wilshire Boulevard, the maddening soul of the entertainment business spreading out before him. He really wasn’t taking much notice of anything except for some clue as to where the new I-Max cinema was.
Corporation, corporation, corporation, Satan…no wait, another corporation. Nothing to see here, Flint thought to himself. This was usually his first reaction to just about everything unless he was hungry. Move along.
Flint flicked the fire off his cigarette and placed the butt back in his pocket. His coat was beginning to be a wearable ash tray. Maybe it was time for a new one. He was about to speed up his gait again, but a flash caught his eye. It was almost like a supernova that was so far away it was barely imperceptible, but present enough to make itself known. And there Flint saw him. Cadmus Pariah. He was standing at the doors of the Sony building, dressed down in jeans and a green tee shirt. It was a bit shocking to see Cadmus without all those layers of black Flint had met him in. That image had been so imprinted on the Phantom’s mind, he could scarcely wrap it around the hip and casual Cadmus he was looking at now.
Flint leapt into the shadows beyond the street lights and watched. The Plenipotentiary was talking amicably with what was obviously one of those fat cat music biz executives. The man handed Cadmus a small external hard drive and a CD, nodding enthusiastically. They shook hands and parted ways.
Cadmus watched the man step down the sidewalk a ways before he was picked up by his driver. Flint could plainly see the look of disdain on Cadmus’ porcelain face. The Dark Child gazed down the architecture of his nose at his surroundings as though he were king of all he surveyed. Flint shook his head disgustedly and made a small “pfff..” escape his lips.
That one tiny sound, barely heard by Flint himself, was enough for Cadmus to cast his gaze in Flint’s direction. His vast eyes were wide, the pupils fully dilated, making them look blacker than normal.
“You,” was all he said, speaking softly.
But the menace in that one word reached Flint’s keen ears. “Shit!” he spat and turned tail, for he knew death when he heard it.
It was too late, though. Cadmus Pariah was across the street in an instant, wrapping his spidery fingers around Flint’s slim throat from behind.
“My odd little Absinthe,” Cadmus purred in Flint’s ear, resting his pale chin on the Vampire’s shoulder.
He removed his grip from Flint’s throat and enveloped his arms around his thin frame, hugging Flint against him. The Phantom shuddered from a mixture of horror and desire, then more horror at the desire he felt. But instinct too him over, and Flint cast his head back, prepared for that rare ecstasy of Ambrosciata. He hated himself at that moment, despised what he was, this base creature to which he had been reduced in the matter of seconds.
Cadmus brushed his lips against Flint’s throat, then took his earlobe between his sharp teeth. When he heard Flint gasp, Cadmus chuckled, compounding the humiliation that had only just begun.
Fighting with ever fiber of his being summoning Gareth’s kind face, Flint hissed, “Get off me, Cadmus Pariah. Get…away…”
And Flint ducked away from Cadmus’ mighty embrace. The break surprised Cadmus, who had half-forgotten how Flint had managed to challenge his psychic authority. The break surprised Flint as well; he had figured Cadmus would have been prepared for any eventuality upon finding Flint again.
Cadmus spun on his heel to face Flint, and he smiled. The curling of his gracious lips brought the angelic even more to his face. Flint noticed that his eyes smiled this time, too. For some reason, this was more terrifying than anything for, if Flint’s suspicions were right, Cadmus’ smile meant that more meat had been added to the Harming Tree.
“You are a swift wee titch, aren’t you, then?”
“Do not call me titch…” Flint rankled at reacting to Cadmus’ taunt. He was playing right into the Plenipotentiary’s hands. Cadmus clicked his tongue in reproach.
“It is rude and…unwise to show your Plenipotentiary such disrespect.”
“I have no respect for you, Cadmus Pariah,” Flint retorted. All the while, he was weighing his options, that is if he had any. He was thoroughly unsure, but he still found himself moving a mere thread at a time, creating some space, any space, between him and Cadmus. If he had any chance at all, it would be to create some sort of diversion, then run like all hell was snapping at his hamstrings. And, honestly, as he glared at Cadmus Pariah, that was not far off the mark.
Flint’s intentions were thwarted when Cadmus put a geasa so strong on Flint, he knew there would be no way to break this one. He was frozen in place, watching Cadmus inch ever so closer to him.
When they were almost nose to nose, Cadmus trailed one fine finger along Flint’s jaw line. It was more an act of ownership than affection. Cadmus had not yet experienced affection yet, nor did he particularly want to. Such emotions made him uneasy. Those that humans and Vampires seemed to agree were negative emotions were the ones that Cadmus found much easier to incorporate into his personal myth. Amusement, however, was a surprising exception. Cadmus seemed to not get enough of that particular emotion. Of course, what the Dark Child of Night found humourous never seemed to bring a smile to anyone else, not that it concerned Cadmus one bit.
Withdrawing his finger, Cadmus stared at Flint, studying him. He had not changed over the past few years. His dark blonde hair still flopped like a wet rag across his vulpine face. His clothes ill-fitting, unseemly, and generally displeasing. And his eyes, yes those eyes, he had not given them much thought since their last unpleasant encounter! They still eclipsed with phosphorescent green at almost regular intervals. Cadmus had to admit, he found Flint’s eyes stunning. Large, expressive, and as thoroughly alien to this world as Cadmus’ own Tarmian ones.
“I see you’ve yet to clean up your act,” he said, his voice low. “If you had a future, I would advise you on how to better present yourself as an upstanding citizen of the New Hive.”
“And I see you’ve continued your murderous rampage.”
Knitting his dusky brow, Cadmus pondered on this statement. Was it a mere insult or what Flint thought may be an insult, or was it something more distinct? Curiosity burned within his breast, so Cadmus placed his forehead against Flint’s and pushed with his mind, but only a little at first. He did not want to kill Flint and spoil all the fun. The night was still young and full of promise, and Cadmus was hungry. With each barrier Flint threw up, Cadmus pushed harder and with more Will. It was a struggle, but Cadmus Pariah always had his way.
In the weird miasma that was Flint’s disorderly thought process, Cadmus began to explore. He probed all the recesses of Flint’s mind to quench his curiosity. And there he found all the flatfoot work Flint had been up to over the years. He saw in this primitive jumble of thoughts and memories, how Flint had twigged on to the Harming Tree, and this raised Cadmus’ simmering ire with this wee nonentity to high flames.
“The Harming Tree?” he said, his lips against Flint’s. “Now, how did you come across that tidbit of information? How on Earth did you, of all people, you surmise what my sacrament was, at least to some extent? You may answer me, titch, or I shall delve again. This time, I will not be so gentle, and I am a man of my word. Despite my desire to draw this out, my patience with you is swiftly reaching its end.”
Flint sneered at Cadmus. “You’ve caught me, Pariah. Do and be done with me.”
What the fuck are you doing? Flint thought to himself. Are you wanting to die before getting your chance to kill this bastard?
Cadmus Pariah drew his head away from Flint’s, lifted his obsidian eyes to the dark beyond the desecration of electricity. At that moment, Flint thought the Plenipotentiary looked for all intents like one of the saints of yore, painted in fresco on the ceiling of some forgotten chapel. There was no way to deny Cadmus’ beauty even when you had seen firsthand his ugly underneath.
“You see, my Absinthe-eyed friend, that would be altogether too easy, especially for you.” Cadmus used all the Willpower he had at his disposal to not rip out Flint’s throat then and there. “Nooo… I think that you should get to see that which you have so thoroughly investigated.”
“There is no bloody way I’m getting on an aeroplane with you.”
“My love, we do not need an aeroplane.”
Cadmus embraced Flint and whisked him into what seemed like a different dimension. There was no sense of movement, yet everything around them sped by at such an alarming rate, Flint began to scream from the terrifying absurdity.
“Scream your rodent head off, titch,” Cadmus whispered in his ear. “It will be good practice for the festivities to come.”
Flint’s Blood froze, and he forgot about the insanity around him. He had heard the legends of Faust the Confessor, and how he had lingered between life and death under the careful and cruel hands of Cadmus Pariah. Flint usually did not concern himself with the trappings of mortality, because it did not touch him directly. Now it was wrapped around in the form of the Dark Child of Night. Flint was almost certain that he would die, and do so horribly. He only hoped that the slaughter did not come in the forms of vivisection and evisceration.
Onward they raged through this strange quantum world. Then they almost instantly stopped in front of a modest house nestled in amongst verdant hills that seemed to shimmer as a sign that dawn was but moments away.
“Let us take shelter, Absinthe love, before the sun burns you to cinders.”
Cadmus’ voice was like fractured ice and Flint, in his paralysed state, could only despair. How, why had he been so stupid as to get caught the very first time he had encountered Cadmus since their nightmarish meeting in the cinema? Flint focused all his energy against the geasa, and felt it nudge just a tad. Cadmus felt it too, and he pulled Flint closer to him, spiriting the Vampire into his home. Once inside, Cadmus released Flint, who bolted for the door and began to jimmy with the knob, trying to escape.
“You daft little man,” Cadmus said flatly. “Do you honestly think I would have let you go that easily?”
Flint turned and scowled at Cadmus, his eyes glinting an eerie green. “I will find some way to kill you, Cadmus Pariah. I will kill you in your own home, holding the Harming Tree over you as your unnatural life ekes out of you.”
Cadmus simply smiled at Flint, moved across the dark room, lighting a variety of green candles. They barely illuminated the bleak interior of the front room. There were no decorations in the dark place, no art, no television or plants, no furniture save for the plain wooden tables on which rested the numerous candles. Candles also crowned the mantel of the fireplace, its cold ashes indicating that it had not been used in perhaps decades.
Walking back to Flint, Cadmus took his hand away from the door knob, cupping Flint’s fingers deftly in his own warm, dry hand. Flint gazed warily at Cadmus, and Cadmus returned the stare, looking downward at the small Vampire. He was an inch, maybe two shorter than Cadmus, and Cadmus was not a large man. His slight wiry frame suited his height, making him perfectly graceful. Flint, however, was draped in baggy clothes, an overcoat that reeked of stale tobacco, and shoes that were ridiculously large. Lost somewhere in the mess of his wardrobe resided a man who matched Cadmus’ own body.
“Why do you hide inside these ragged clothes?” Cadmus whispered, bringing Flint’s hand up to his lips, kissing his knuckles softly and with deliberation. “Why is that, Absinthe? You really mustn’t meet my sacrament dressed thusly.”
The Compulsion dripping from Cadmus’ words caressed Flint’s soul, but he still fought the inevitability of Cadmus’ steely Will. He turned his mind to Gareth, his brother in blood, and how Cadmus had viciously snuffed out his life as if he were nothing but an insect. He pushed the Compulsion away as hard as he could and Cadmus retreated somewhat. But he didn’t fully lose the hold he had on Flint.
“I am going to grace you with a privilege that no one, human or Vampire, has ever experienced, Absinthe my love,” Cadmus Pariah said, his voice like thick honey. “Tonight, you will walk into my sacred space, my altar room. And you shall feed my Tree, bathing it with your precious Blood as I pull your little life into my own eternal one. Why am I doing this? Two reasons…”
The Plenipotentiary placed his head behind Flint’s head, his fingers combing through his limp rabbit fur hair.
“The very fact that you know about my sacrament makes you a threat, a free agent who may eventually disturb my Great Work, the order of the New Hive and the purpose it now serves for me. And…you have stirred within me, despite your looking for all intents like a homeless man, a spark of interest I have not yet experienced.”
Cadmus drew closer to Flint, placing his cool smooth cheek against Flint’s scruffy face.
“I believe it is a vague sense of lust…for you. It is perplexing to me, and it fascinates me, this new emotion. It is almost a raw, animal apex. I am dismayed by this. Why is this, Absinthe? Tell me if you know. Tell me before I devour you and dress the Tree with your abandoned flesh.”
“Stop calling me Absinthe,” Flint growled his sharp teeth catching the light of the muted candles as he drew away from Cadmus’ intimate touch. “And I don’t know why you’ve surrendered to this particular emotion. I do not care. All I care about is your slaying my friend with no thought whatsoever. You will die for the sins you’ve committed, Your Majesty. Somehow, I will make you pay. Rape me, abuse me, bleed me, but I will survive this…and I will strike you with your own Tree in a great and righteous fury.”
“Oh such venomous eloquence coming from the mouth of a vagabond titch!” Cadmus exclaimed, smiling – truly smiling once again. And then he laughed. It was Blood-chilling that laugh, made all the more terrifying by the genuine mirth behind it.
The Dark Child leaned forward to once again connect his cheek with Flint’s. Flint could feel Cadmus’ long eyelashes brushing against the corner of his eye and, despite his fierce attempts to deny it, he could feel himself slipping into the warmth of Cadmus’ Compulsion and Glamour. At least Cadmus was having to work for whatever end he desired. Flint fought him every step of the way, the Vampires locked in a battle of Magick and Wills. But Flint was no match for Cadmus in the end, despite the aberration of his ability to resist Cadmus at all. He was younger than Cadmus and had had no training in the Dark Arts of the Apostate. He was full-blood human, with not a drop of Tarmian blood running in his Terran-born veins. Really, the only thing Flint had going in his favour at the moment, and he wasn’t even sure about this, thinking that Cadmus could be lying, was that he had somehow attracted the Abomination to him. He did have a rather strong Glamour, but it depended on the individual, it was hardly a sure thing every time, like it was with Cadmus Pariah. And he certainly was nowhere near as naturally attractive as Cadmus. Flint had been told once long ago, by whom he could not remember, that he was an acquired taste. Yes, those were the words; “acquired taste”…not something that came naturally for most everyone. That wounded him then, but not nearly as much as it might have anyone else. Actually looking back on it all, if Flint gave just a fraction of a damn about much of anything, he would have been desperately hurt by some of the things said and done to him in his life. Well, it’s good I don’t give a flying fuck, he assured himself. His ability not to care was like a cat’s purr: self soothing. Cats would purr when scared or in pain. Flint’s thoughts may well match the purr, just as his eyes shared the cat’s reflective weirdness. You will get through this, Flint. Cadmus has no idea how strong you really are, how unconcerned you are to be in this position. He has no clue because he’s too self-centred and he underestimates you because you, Simon Flynt…you are super-cool. You can handle this. You can handle Cadmus. You can handle anything.
The brush of those impossibly long dusky lashes succeeded in breaking Flint’s concentration, though, and Cadmus felt him falter, if only just a little. Before Flint could fully raise his defences again, Cadmus swiftly moved his lips to Flint’s, kissing him with a slow deliberation. Flint knew he did not have to do this. Cadmus could simply pull him into his prayer room, or whatever it was, and vivisect him right there on the altar. But Cadmus was taking the time to attempt a seduction. Should Flint just play along? Or was he kidding himself into thinking that he was playing along when he really was not? Thinking about such mind-games made Flint’s head hurt. He fairly sucked at all this Vampiric cloak and dagger shite, and his thoughts were muddying exponentially as the kiss drew out. But he forced himself to turn his head away, raging against the Compulsion that held him enough to be able to break the kiss.
“Get away, Pariah,” Flint said.
“And if I do not, what shall you do then?” There was no threat in the voice, but Cadmus did not need to exude threat. His was a valid question and one that would perfectly put Flint in his place. Cadmus could tell that Flint was already in a desperate inner battle, not only with himself, but also with what he thought Cadmus was up to. Let him wonder, let him ache from the possibilities and all the horrors each one may bring.
Flint was mute, unable to even answer Cadmus’ question, even to himself. He really had no options until Cadmus was certain of his superior hand in this cat and mouse game. Was he really so trapped as this, that he had nothing in his bag of tricks? The only thing he could think of doing was to make Cadmus think Flint was playing enthusiastically into his hands. Cadmus was used to getting what he wanted in the Arts of Desire, Flint could tell. Let him believe this was no different than the thousands of times he had done it before.
“I don’t know. All I do know is…” And Flint let it draw out for as long as he felt comfortable. He locked eyes with Cadmus, hazel green on shimmering obsidian. “All I do know is that I hate myself for…enjoying a kiss…so thoroughly enjoying a kiss with the man who murdered Gareth Owen.”
Cadmus crinkled his brow, scowling with a kind of confusion at Flint.
The one word question hit Flint like a ton of bricks. He did not think that Cadmus could ever make him feel worse about the loss of Gareth and the circumstances around it. But what is more hurtful: that your friend and brother was murdered because of his association with you, or that he was so unimportant, he wasn’t even worth a lasting memory in the mind of the killer?
Flint worked his throat, trying not to lose his mind right there and then. Don’t do it, man. Cadmus isn’t worth that level of frustration and Gareth is worth you not going batshit and losing what may be your only chance to avenge him.
Feeling the urge to scream subside, Flint answered in a voice so lacking in concern it surprised even him. “The friend who became my first source of food after I was turned.”
Flint watched Cadmus lift his eyebrows high as he ducked his head in that odd fashion that served only to endear and insinuate himself further into people’s psyche. “Aa-a-ahh, him.”