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"Seriously," Sailor Gryffald said, "what were you thinking, Alessande?" Sailor continued to pace while Alessande sat.
After a stop at the police station, Brodie and Mark had dropped Alessande off with Sailor and had gone straight to Pandora's Box, since Brodie had been anxious to see Rhiannon, the canyon's vampire Keeperand his fiancée. Alessande was glad to be alone with Sailor and free to talk.
Sailor continued, "Those monsters were about to sacrifice you. Believe me, you helped save my life, so I know how competent you are, but no one knows what kind of evil you were really up against, if I understand what you're saying correctly."
Alessande winced. She really shouldn't have been so angry with that vampire copafter all, he had been trying to save her. But, in her own opinion, she had been prepared. Ready. And she was suspicious of vampires and
No, she shouldn't have snapped at him.
"I had to be taken captive," Alessande explained wearily. "It was the only way for me to get in there and find out what's going on, who's behind the cult and the deaths." There was more to her logicand her desperation to get at the truthbut at this moment she wasn't ready to completely explain herself, not even to Sailor Ann Gryffald.
"But you're Elven," Sailor said sternly. In the world of the Others, Sailor was the Keeper of the Elven community in the L.A. Valley. "You're an ancient?"
No one liked to be reminded of her age, Alessande thought, arching a brow at Sailor.
"Sorry," Sailor said. She and her two Gryffald cousinsRhiannon and Barriewere new to the Keeper job, but all three had already been tested under fire. Alessande knew that because she'd been involved with helping Sailor find her way.
They'd met when Alessande had carried Sailor into her home after Sailor had been attacked during the recent so-called Celebrity Virus plague.
"Seriously," Sailor went on. I can't tell you how proud I am of so many in the Elven community, but we're not considered the the toughest of the Others.
Alessande, you create potions, you're a healer. You live alone . You're practically a hermit."
"Gee, thanks," Alessande said.
"I'm not trying to offend you, and you know it. You brew the best tea in the countrymaybe in the world. You're like a beacon of caring and wisdom. But you're gentle. And you could have been up against were-creatures, vampires and God knows what elsenot to mention very vicious human beings. How did you intend to save yourself in that situation?" Sailor demanded.
"I was going to teleport," Alessande said, indignantly.
"You can't teleport when you're unconscious," Sailor argued.
Alessande shook her head, desperately wanting to deny the seriousness of the situation, but the truth was she knew she might have gotten herself into troubleserious troubleand she should be grateful to the cops who had come to her rescue. She had just gotten it into her head lately that she had to be more proactive in protecting all Othersalong with the human race. And that, of course, was because of Regina, because she'd been forced to see firsthand once again what could happen to the young and innocentespecially the young and innocent among the Elven.
Like the rest of the world, L.A. was filled with all manner of creatures most of humanity knew about only because of legendand movies. Creatures that most humans didn't even believe in. Keeperslike the Gryffald cousinswere human beings, but more. They had special powers aligned with those of the particular paranormal race they were tasked with protecting, and were generally born into longtime Keeper families. They bore special identifying birthmarks. It was as if their role had been predetermined by a divine power.
There were areas in the world where the Other races seldom desired to live too hard to blend in, not enough for them to do.
L.A., however, was a haven for Others. Because it was a movie town, monsters and strange creatures abounded on-screen and, frankly, offscreen, given how many unique individuals tended to migrate there. As a place to "hide in plain sight," nothing filled the bill like Hollywood. That meant that the area was densely populated by Others, so there had to be a commensurately large number of Keepers.
Elven, like Alessande, were fairly recent arrivals in the New World; they were creatures of the earth. Ocean voyagesthat much time away from trees, from the rich soilwould have killed them. Alessande had only left the Old World herself when transatlantic flight started to become commonplace.
She was an ancient, one hundred six years old, though she knew she appearedin the human worldto be about thirty. She'd seen a great deal of the wickedness the world had to offerwickedness dealt out by both human beings and Others.
Despite everything she'd encountered, everything she had lived through, she had chosen to heal, to advise.
But, damn it, she was an ancient! She should have been able to overcome whatever drug had been given to her.
She'd been aware of everything as it had been going on, and to some degree she had been able to fight the drug, though she had feigned complete passivity.
But they had drugged her, and it had definitely affected her. Would she have been able to escape at the last second?
Now she was at the Gryffald family estate, a small collection of historic homes on a nice little hill in Laurel Canyon, collectively named the House of the Rising Sun. Sailor's home was the main residence, and it was called Castle House, while on either side were the guesthouses: Gwydion's Cave, where Bar-rie lived, and Pandora's Box, where Rhiannon made her home. When their fathers, Keepers all, had been called away on international business, the cousins Sailor, Rhiannon and Barriehad been thrown into a game that was ages old, though mostly new to them, since they hadn't expected to take their places as Keepers for years to come, yet the land had been deemed for Keepers for decades. The property had originally belonged to a magician billed as "Merlin," real name Ivan Schwartz, who had been helped by the Gryffald cousins' grandfather. Schwartz had added the guesthouses to his estate so that the Keepers could live on his property if they chose. Before he died, Ivan had sold the estate to the Gryffald family for such a pittance that for all intents and purposes it had actually been a gift.
Of course, it came with a catch. Merlin was still around, haunting whichever house he chose. He was a very polite ghost, often extremely helpful, and totally respectful of the inhabitants' privacy, so in actuality he was a perfect tenant.
At the moment, though, Alessande was glad he wasn't haunting Castle House.
Keepers had watched over various communities of Others at least since the ancient days, before accepted magic had ended and the world had become a place where the unusual was feared and anyone different, even if they were human, was considered an enemy to be burned at the stake or otherwise destroyed. Because the cousins' fathers had been considered some of the wisest and most effective Keepers in the world, they had been called up to help form a council so that Others around the world would have guidanceand lawsto help them all live productive lives without attracting the kind of notice that would lead to a return of the bad old days.
Every Otherfrom the gnomes and leprechauns to the were-folk, vampires and shapeshifterslived by the Code of Silence, keeping the very existence of the Otherworld secret from humanity. The Code was broken only occasionally and for very special human beings. Even the rashest Others, those with little respect for laws of any kind, upheld the Code, because the Code meant survival. Without it, they could all be doomed. While many in the Other community had powers that made them far stronger and far more lethal than human beings, the human population of the world was larger by perhaps 99 percent, and therefore the Others were vulnerable to persecution and death should their existence ever come to light.
Jonquil, Sailor's big ragamuffin of a mutt, whined softly and licked Alessande's fingers. She smiled and scratched the dog's head. If only the world were made up of such creatures as this. Jonquil seemed to instinctively know kind people from the cruel ones.
Sailor was doing very well as an Elven Keeper now, though when Alessande had first known her, she hadn't taken her position seriously at all. But that current knowledge gave Alessande a measure of confidence when she was speaking with her Keeper.
"I was always aware of what was going on," she said. "I know that I appeared to be unconscious, but there was a part of me that was there. I believe I could have teleported when the right moment came." Elven were strong, even if not as strong as vampires, and while they couldn't give the illusion of being someoneor somethingdifferent, as shapeshifters could, they were able to teleport, moving through space, very handy in escaping dangerous situations. No one yet knew the science of it, but being an Other often meant that there just weren't logical answers. No one really understood how shapeshifters managed to appear to be birdsand then fly away.
"Believe isn't good enough when your life depends on it," Sailor said sternly. She looked at Alessande. "Don't get me wrong. I know I wouldn't be where I am today, knowing what I know and doing my job with my mind focused on my responsibilities, if not for you. But, Alessande, I have to agree with Brodie and his vampire partneryou were risking your life, and you almost lost it."
Alessande smiled; she loved Sailor, and knew her Keeper was being completely sincere. Alessande had been both healer and coavenger when Sailor had fallen ill to the Celebrity Virus, then had brought justice to its perpetratorsince the plague's spread had been intentional. Alessande knew what she was doing when it came to dealing with the world'sand the Otherworld'sevils.
So she really didn't understand why Brodie was so upset with her. Brodie knew her, knew she was capable of handling herself when the going got tough. As for the vampire copwell, he was a vampire, and she didn't expect a hell of a lot out of any vampire.
"Honestly, I knew what I was doing," Alessande insisted.
Jonquil barked as if in agreement. "This is the kind of situation the police need to handle," Sailor said.
"The police? Oh, Sailor, come on. We both know that, in situations where Others are involved, the police are all but helpless."
"That's why Others are encouraged to join law enforcement," Sailor said. "Whether you want to believe it or not, Brodie and Mark were anything but helpless at the cemetery."
"I don't care," Alessande said. "We have to be involved when it comes to our world, Sailor. You know that. And even if they did manage to arrest a number of cult members, we still don't know who's behind it all. Someone is at work out there doing something far more vicious than merely creating a cult, and they have to be an Other. I believe it's either a shapeshifter or a vampire, which is why it's not such a great thing for a vampire to be working on this. I mean, seriously, a vampire policeman is really something of an oxymoron!"
"Oh, Alessande, honestly, that isn't true," Sailor said. Her eyes were wide as she stared past Alessande, who swung around quickly in her seat to find Rhiannon Gryffald had arrived, standing with her hands on her hips, watching Alessande.
No, of course it wasn't true, and she knew it. She didn't understand her own behavior right nowshe was usually cool, collected and serene.
It was the situation.
And maybe even the fact that she had almost died, but she had to remain in denial or give up on her ultimate goal.
And now, just as she had spoken carelessly, Rhiannon had walked in.
Rhiannon Gryffald was the oldest of the three cousins, and though she had not particularly wanted to come to L.A. when her father had headed off to form the international council, she had been the first to embrace her life as a Keeperthe vampire Keeper for the Valley. And she was very much in love with Brodie.
Thankfully, Brodie was an OtherAlessande's kind, Elvenso there was no awkwardness in trying to explain the Otherworld and Rhiannon's role in it to him. He was a great guy and a good cop, and Alessande was fond of himjust as she was fond of the entire Gryffald family. But Rhiannon was quick, maybe too quick, to defend the basic decency of the Valley's vampire populationand quick to take offense if they were accused of misdeeds with no proof.
"I'm sorry," Alessande murmured.
"Vampires get a bad rap," Rhiannon said. She tossed back a length of auburn hair. "I knocked," she told her cousin. "I guess you didn't hear meover the rant."
"Rhiannon," Alessande said, "really, I'm sorry. It's just that Brodie's partner behaved as if I was some kind of idiot with no idea what I was doing."
Rhiannon arched a brow. "You were about to be a sacrificeif I heard correctly."
"I would have teleported at the right time," Alessande insisted stubbornly. "But first I would have figured out who's behind the cult and the killings. Never mind. I'm not trying to be argumentative or cast aspersions on anyone. But this is ridiculous. When we left the police station, I agreed to come here to talk with Sailor, as my Keeper, but if no one's going to take me seriously, then forgive me, but I really should be leaving."
She'd come straight herefrom seemingly endless hours of police paperwork. From questions that she answered as best she could when there was no true answer to some of them, or no answer she could give in the world of men. She'd been very careful, trying to be forthright without giving away any information that would make the human employees of the police department suspicious.
And worse, her car was at the impound lot. She'd had to ride with Brodie and Mark, and she was stuck here until she could ease her way out of the conversation and get someone to drive her home.
She spoke in an even tone to Rhiannon. "Forgive me. This It's senseless," she said quietly. "The fact that you're Keepers makes you responsible for dangerous situations, but it doesn't preclude the rest of us from acting when those we care about are threatened. I really would like to just go home now, if you don't mind."
"Alessande," Sailor protested gently. "We're not attacking youreally."
"No, I don't mean to attack," Rhiannon said softly.
"If it seems like we are, it's because we're frightenedfrightened for you."
At that moment Barrie Gryffald, Keeper of the Valley shapeshifters, burst into the house. "I heard what happened! Oh, my God! Alessandeyou're all right?"
"I'm fine, Barrie, thank you," Alessande said.
"But you set yourself upwere you able to find out anything about Regina?"
"Regina?" Rhiannon asked.
Alessande lowered her head for a moment. She looked up at Barrie and shook her head slowly. "No. I'd hoped I'd be taken wherever she might be and that "
"And that you could save her," Barrie finished.
"She's innocent and young and she disappeared two nights ago now. I'm afraid. The longer she's missing."