“March on and fear not the thorns, or the sharp stones on life’s path.”
“The first thing you have to do is get trained,” Julien says as we sit at a small table in the reception room and a servant brings a tray of food for our breakfast. I select some scrambled eggs and toast, with a cup of coffee and orange juice. I’m starving, having barely eaten since Julien met me on the beach.
“What will that involve?”
He scrapes eggs and bacon onto his plate and digs in as if ravenous.
“You need to learn how to use your powers,” he says between bites, eyeing me judgingly. “You beat Michel in the dojo but that was just one on one. If you have several opponents and some of them are also Adepts with fight sight, you’ll need to know how to beat them. You’re going to a special training facility in France.”
He nods, takes a sip of coffee. “They specialize in Nitō Ichi fighting. You need to know how to fight with two weapons – a stake and a sword. Or a gun and a stake. The trainers there are the very best. You’ll be there for two weeks to get the basics and then you and I will practice for a while. You’ll be tested when I think you’re ready. If you pass, no one will be able to beat you without a very tough fight.”
“I can’t beat either you or Michel any more, can I?”
He shakes his head, takes a long drink of orange juice, looking at me intently over the rim of his glass.
“No. Not since we both ascended.”
“Since you both became able to manipulate our minds, make us think you have wings or can disappear.”
“Oh, ye of little faith,” he says and shakes his head, grinning. “You are so stubborn.”
He turns back to his food but now, he’s a bit less focused, like he wants to say something but thinks better of it.
“What?” I say, knowing he wants to speak up but he doesn’t.
He shakes his head. Puts his fork down and pushes back from the table.
“Nothing,” he says. He regards me from under those dark brows, his gaze intense. “It’ll be a tough two weeks, Eve. You better eat up. You’ll be worked like you’ve never been worked before. The mental and physical discipline will change you.”
“You’ll become tougher. Wiser.”
“It’s not just a physical discipline. It’s mental. It forces you to focus on what matters. It centers you spiritually.”
A thrill goes through me at the thought of training and becoming stronger. I took some Kendo as a teen, using wooden katana. I knew that Nitō Ichi was double sword fighting.
“What about Michel?” I say, wondering how he’ll respond to the fact that Julien is planning to train me.
“What about him?” he says, and I can still hear a thin note of anger in his voice. “You’re mine. I made that clear to Vasquez. Michel’s out of this as far as I’m concerned. Things are the way they were supposed to be so forget him and his grand plan of manipulation.”
He just waves his hand in dismissal. “He thinks he can control everything. He’s self-deceived.”
I try to push Michel out of my mind, but I know he’ll be upset that I’m with Julien. Right now, I’m still too shocked by his revelation to know how I feel. I sigh and drink down the rest of my coffee.
“What about your blood when I’m at the facility?”
“I’ll make sure you have a supply to keep you healthy. Mine is like ten vampires so it will help you heal from any wounds or bruises you get during training.”
“When do I go?”
“Tomorrow. We fly tonight.”
“You think I’m ready?”
“If you aren’t, you’ll get ready really quick.”
“Will I see you at all?”
He shakes his head. “Not until your training is over. I’ll see you the last day when you’re tested.”
A sense of apprehension fills me. Going to France, staying at a training facility for two weeks away from everything I know.
It will be a real test.
That night when it’s time for my blood feed, I’m in no mood for sex and Julien retreats when he feels me so apprehensive, his lust doing nothing to arouse me.
“I’m sorry,” I say when he pulls back so I no longer feel his desire. “I’m nervous.”
“It’s OK. You’ll feel better soon.”
I feed on his neck as he likes me to, and when I have enough, I just lie in his arms, the endorphins from his blood relieving my anxiety. He lays me back on the couch and rolls on top of me, his face in the crook of my neck, breathing in my perfume. Soon, I start to respond again to the feel of his body on mine, of his lips pressed against my neck. He doesn’t want to feed on me tonight. He wants me to be as strong as possible for my training.
But he thinks one last fuck won’t hurt me and I see his mind and how he wants me. He wants to fuck me missionary style, my legs wrapped around his waist, him resting on his elbows, his face over mine so we can watch each other’s pleasure.
So we do.
Julien spends the night preparing his blood for my stay in France – fourteen small vials of his blood so I won’t go through withdrawal and we can still connect. We fly on his private jet. The flight will be long and my nerves are on edge as the plane taxis down the runway of the private airport where he keeps his plane. He takes my hand and relieves some of the anxiety I feel and we sit like that for a long time, side by side, hands joined across the narrow aisle between the seats.
After a night flying, we land in France and drive the rest of the way to Carcassonne. Being there brings a sadness to Julien that I can sense even at a distance. He has so many memories about this city and his transformation to a vampire. He fought so many battles in the surrounding areas during the Crusades.
“It makes you sad to be here,” I say as we walk the cobblestone streets of the old walled city before the drive to the Abbey where I’ll train. “I don’t remember reading the manuscript but I know you and Michel lived here when you were children and then later… after…”
He threads his fingers through mine. “It’s been so long since I’ve been here. It’s a bit hard, the memories.”
We stop in front of a stone dwelling with new windows and white plaster on the outside.
“This is where she lived,” he says, his voice soft.
“Danielle. The one you resemble.”
I remember what I read in my journal. Soren compelled Michel to kill Danielle.
“You loved her?”
“In my way. The way a seventeen-year old boy-man loves. With total abandon but my love was incredibly shallow.”
“How is love different now?”
“It’s deep,” he says and squeezes my hand. “But the abandon isn’t there any longer. That’s a thing of youth and innocence. It comes from the belief that love never ends. Now, I think there’s always a bit held back. For protection.”
He smiles briefly.
“Scar tissue is a great motivator.”
We drive through the countryside towards the Pyrenees Mountains and anticipation builds inside of me as we near the Abbey. It’s nestled in a high mountain valley surrounded by forests, the old stone building with a walled enclosure and a huge garden inside.
The guard at the gate takes Julien’s and my passports and reads them over then motions Julien through. We arrive at the massive front doors of the Abbey, and I get out and stand in awe at the ancient building. I sign papers and Julien meets with the trainers while I receive my gear and have my blood taken by a medic with a tray. Then it’s time for Julien to leave and I tear up, suddenly afraid and already missing him.
“Shh,” he says and wraps his arms around me, his chin resting on the top of my head. “You’ll be fine. You’re very gifted. Just try to focus on the training, do everything to the best of your ability, and think of me at night when you’re lying in bed. I’ll feel you thinking of me. They say you shouldn’t masturbate during training so your energy won’t be wasted and so I won’t either. But I will think of you and we can connect for a while.” He bends down and looks in my eyes. “But if either of our minds go there, I’ll shut you out so be warned. I want you to pass with flying colors, Eve. No hanky-panky.”
“Hanky-panky…” I say and blink away tears, barely able to imagine being apart for him for so long. Not being able to touch him. Then the moment comes to part and I stand there, wiping my cheeks. He walks down the hallway and away from me for two weeks.
I follow one of the trainers to my little cell of a room with a narrow single bed and dresser, a desk with a light and a crucifix on the wall over the head of the bed. She tells me that these rooms were once meant for monks who lived in total silence. All residents are expected to maintain a vow of silence while at the Abbey except during training and to talk with officials and trainers. No talk with other students is permitted. Lights out at 9:00 p.m.
She leaves me and I sit on the bed as darkness encroaches on the Abbey. It’s now 8:30 and I have half an hour to get settled, so I unpack the few possessions I am allowed to use – pen and paper, my clothes, toothbrush, bar soap, shampoo and conditioner, brush, comb and medications if needed. Everything else is provided by the Program.
Finally, I drink down the vial of Julien’s blood and lie down on the hard little bed and close my eyes, the endorphin rush overwhelming me. Sleep is a long time in coming. When my mind searches out Julien, he’s still on the road back to Carcassonne, and I feel a brief rush of love from him and then he shuts me out.
Training is intense.
If I thought I was worked hard as a child at my father’s knee when learning to play piano, it was nothing compared to training at the Abbey. We work all day, starting at dawn, training to improve all aspects of our physical health, from balance to strength to reflexes. We learn about weapons, about fighting tactics. We learn about making weapons from everyday materials in case we’re caught unawares.
Each night I go to bed aching from the day’s exertions, drinking down the small vial of Julien’s blood. Then I lie in a kind of stupor as it heals me of my pain and fatigue. It’s then I want to connect with Julien, but he denies me for fear we’ll both succumb to our lust. Instead, we connect right before I drink it when I’m still exhausted and aching from the most recent bouts.
I lose fat while I’m there, and gain muscle. I can start to see definition in my muscles that I never had before and when I look in the mirror, I’m different. My face changes – my chin is sharper, my cheekbones more defined.
Julien was right. This is changing me. I am stronger. I feel more confident.
For the final three days of training, we each get our own sparring partner, who we’ll train with for the rest of the time. Mine wears a traditional Japanese costume, a Ninja-like outfit, except for the ornate scowling mask covering his entire face. He stands stiff while I enter the dojo during our first session and bows to me when I take my weapons and stand before him.
I bow back, and then my coach signals that we can start fighting and I lunge at him. He’s fast, so I gather that he’s another Adept who has already gone through training. I’ve improved tremendously during the past ten days of training, but he’s still better than me, always seeming one step ahead of me when we fall into fight trance.
Still, either I’m really good or he just keeps a bit ahead of me, letting me show my ability without shutting me down, but we seem to be almost equals. The fight goes on and on, much longer than normal and by the time our weapons are locked together, sweat is dripping off my face and my cheeks are hot, my breath ragged.
“You’re good,” he says, his voice muffled from behind the mask. “One of the best.”
He pushes me, managing to get his foot behind me, and I trip and fall back and he’s on top of me, his swords crossed and it’s a good thing they’re wooden or I’d be dead.
Then he pulls his mask off and it’s Michel…
Book 3: Retribution available at Amazon.com on December 11, 2012.