"Matters of Family"

Matters of Family
by Faye Locke

           Lucard stared at the papers that were invading his usually organized desk. Something had gone terribly wrong in one of his growing businesses in America, and now he had to pick up the mess and try to put it back together before the authorities noticed. It seemed that one of his lower mangers thought he would become involved with a local mob boss, thinking he could make some side profit from Lucard Industries without Lucard knowing. But the plan backfired, and the mob dealt out their justice before Lucard could administer his own. As it was, several employees had been murdered. Stories needed to be concocted to tell their relatives and authorities.
           That was the easy part. Lucard himself would normally not be involved in such trivial matters. The problem was one married couple that had both been victims. They had one daughter, whom Lucard now realized he was obliged to take into his care.
           He remembered the married couple well. Jaeger and Irina Savore. It was Lucard who had supplied the false documents for them to immigrate to the US, and it was Lucard who had employed them for twenty years. They were brilliant strategists, and he dearly regretted losing them. The problem came from a simple error he had made in their documents. He had listed the "next of kin" as a person who had never existed. The American authorities were now trying to find this person. When they discovered he did not exist, they would suspect foul play and begin to look further in Lucard Industries. Lucard most certainly did not want anyone poking around in his business, especially in a branch he had allowed to become particularly unscrupulous. After all, he had an image to protect.
           The only choice was to take on the identity of the relative, and take the girl in himself. He did not know what to do from there. Perhaps find a married, childless couple to adopt her? That should be easy to do. Satisfied that he had resolved the problem, he put all the paperwork in one stack and told his secretary to take it to a legal advisor for dealing with. He had wasted enough time on the matter.

           Serina retrieved her luggage from the baggage claim at the airport, still looking for the person who was supposed to meet her. My flight was not that late, she thought angrily, tossing her shoulder-length raven-black hair over her shoulder. She was still furious about the whole situation. Being whipped off to the airport in Miami before she even got to attend her parents' funeral was hardly proper. All she had had time for was to pack two bags with all the belongings she'd thought she'd need to survive for a few weeks. Already she had an endless list of items she had forgotten. Her photo album. Her stuffed animal, Marx the pig. Hair ties. The list was far too long and too annoying for her to dwell on for long.
           Jet lag and grief were hitting her in alternating waves, and she was not sure she could stand against them much longer. The police in Miami had kept her in their "safe house," interrogating her every waking moment about her parent's past and the men who had... I have to say this... killed them. And then she had been carted off like a piece of property. Just because I am not legally of age. Three more months and I could have chosen where to go. Just three more months before I am 18. Yet the thought of having her birthday without her parents was far too painful for her to think about so soon after their deaths.
           The police just did not want to believe that Serina knew nothing of her parents' past before they had come to the United States. They did not want to believe her that Jaeger and Irina Savore had grown irritated, even belligerent when pressed about the issue. More than the other issues, they did not seem to believe that Serina had not clearly seen any of men who had taken her parents. I was half-asleep on the couch at the time, how could I have seen them? Yet every time she closed her eyes, Serina imagined her parents' accusing eyes staring at her, demanding to know why she did not notice what had happened that night.
           A sign caught Serina's eye and brought her out of her thoughts. "Serina Savore" was printed clearly in block letters. Rolling her hazel eyes, Serina walked up to the man holding the sign and introduced herself. She muffled her surprise at his wordless reaction. Throwing the sign into a trash can, he took both her bags from her and walked away swiftly toward the exit. She had to jog to catch up to him.
           "Hey," she said, coming alongside him, "wait up, will you." He did not even look at her, but he did slow his pace a little. Serina studied him as they walked through the airport. His brown hair lacked any shine, and looked as though he had tried to calm the wildness of it a little. However, it spiked in odd directions. She had barely glanced at his eyes, but she had seen that they were a dull, lifeless brown. His features were nondescript, yet gaunt. He had a feeling of sickness to him, but she could not lay a finger as to what. Her ability to see maladies affecting people had been with her as long as she could remember. Mother always said gypsy blood runs strong. She had learned long ago not to tell what she saw, however. Those she had told had avoided her afterwards and whispered "witch" to all those who would listen. Whatever this man had, she had never seen the like of it before.
           They left the airport without further incident. Serina was shocked that she was to ride in a limousine. Just who is this Geoffrey Faig anyhow? Why haven't I ever heard of him? She had been surprised to learn she had any next of kin, much less someone of this wealth. Once inside, she noticed the words "Lucard Industries" emblazoned on several items. Perhaps Geoffrey works for this Lucard Industries? Who or what is Lucard? Serina decided that she was thinking too hard on trivial matters and surrendered to her exhaustion, falling fast asleep on the plump cushions.

           Awakened by the car no longer moving, Serina sat up and stretched as much as she could sitting. She could not tell what time of day it was because of the heavily tinted window, so she had no idea how long she had slept. Not enough, I am sure, she thought, yawning. The driver opened the door for her and she stepped out into pale twilight. At least three hours, she noted. Why does it feel like one? The structure before her was immense. It defined the word "castle." Stone walls and stone turrets loomed in an almost ominous manner over her. Her gypsy sense twitched irritably, as if trying to warn her of danger. From what? The driver escorted her into the building, still silent. It was only after they had gone through at least five minutes of hallways that Serina realized that he had not brought her bags. Maybe I'm just meeting Geoffrey here. Her guide stopped in a room occupied by a prim, middle-aged women that had "secretary" written all over her.
           "Serina Savore?" the woman asked before Serina had a chance to speak.
           "Yes, I--"
           "Mr. Lucard will see you now." She pointed at a door on the opposite side of the room. "Go right in."
           "Mr. Lucard?" Serina questioned. "I think there has been a misunderstanding. I am here to see Geoffrey Faig, not Mr. Lucard." The secretary gave Serina a dark, measuring look, then picked up the phone.
           "Mr. Lucard," the secretary said into the receiver, "Serina Savore is here, and she insists she is here to see a Geoffrey Faig, what... oh, yes sir. I'll send her right in, sir." She put the receiver delicately back into the cradle, all the while giving it a very dirty look. "Mr. Lucard says he will explain everything. Please go on in." Serina hesitated for just a moment, wanting to insist the she see a Geoffrey Faig now and that she was tired of the bureaucratic nonsense she was having to put up with, then thought the better of it, not really wanting to raise a scene. Looking at the secretary once more, she realized the woman was suffering from a severe stomach ulcer caused by a great deal of stress. I wonder what she gets so stressed about? Serina dismissed the thought as she entered the room of Mr. Lucard.
           Shutting the door gently behind her, Serina jumped when she heard an automatic lock click. To keep me in or others out? The office was richly furnished in mahogany and leather. The desk directly in front of her contained two neat stacks of papers and several expensive-looking paperweights. On the wall behind the desk, there was a black banner with a silver rook. The large leather chair behind the desk was turned away from her, its high back preventing her from seeing any of the occupant. The gypsy sense twitched more fiercely now.
           "Hello," she said, ignoring the warning of her gypsy blood, "I am here to see Geoffrey Faig."
           "I am sorry to be the one to tell you this," said the seated person, slowly turning the chair, "but Geoffrey Faig is dead."
           Serina did not hear any of his words after the chair came completely around. The warning from her gypsy blood became something more painful than anything that it had ever done. She found herself pressed against the door before she was aware she had moved. Her hand went for the doorknob, only to find it firmly locked. The horror of what she saw was too much. Lucard was a very handsome man, yet, to her eyes, his face flashed from healthful to a grizzled skull. The power coming from him flowed over her in sickening waves. She looked down, closing her eyes and rubbing her temples, but she could not deny what her blood told her. Five hundred years, at least. How can a person live that long? The blood sang evil, evil, evil, evil into her mind with a maddening frenzy. She slid down the door until she crouched on the floor, her knees against her chest. She heard him walking toward her, and the pain threatened to become unbearable.
           "Miss Savore?" his accented voice sounded concerned. "Are you all right?" He touched her lightly on the shoulder, and she flinched as if she had been touched by a hot iron. Scooting away from him, Serina fought to bring herself under control. He's too close.
           "Please," she said, not looking at him, "please go to the other side of the room." Lucard hesitated for a moment, then his footsteps moved away from her. Slowly, Serina calmed her gypsy sense to a angry murmur. She stood, still shaking a little, but feeling in control again.
           "You said Geoffrey was dead?"
           "Yes," Lucard was giving her the oddest look. Well, I would, too, if someone had reacted like I just did. He's probably wondering if I am sane. "There was an automobile accident a few months ago. I did not have the chance to notify your parents. When I found out that there was no family other than him, I sent for you myself. I try to care for those who work for me."
           "I don't work for you," she stated. She had a ringing headache now, but the image of the skull no longer competed with the view of his face.
           "No, but your parents did. At the very least, I owe them the care of you."
           Serina shook her head numbly. "I can take care of myself."
           "Really?" He stepped closer to her, and she moved away just as quickly. "True, you are older than I thought you were, but..."
           "As you are," she said quietly. Her blood was whispering the truth to her.
           "Excuse me?"
           "You are older than I thought you were," she said simply. The headache was gone. The gypsy sense was happy when she did not try to deny speaking what it told her.
           "What do you mean by that?" Lucard's voice was now dangerously quiet.
           "What is it like to live five centuries?"
           Shock crossed Lucard's features, but was quickly replaced by careful consideration and amusement. He laughed. "Is that what you think?" His smile was gentle, almost fatherly. "Miss Savore. Serina. I understand the last few days have been very hard on you. You must be in dear need of rest, which I am keeping you from. We will talk again when you have rested."
           "I'm not that tired," she insisted, annoyed at being put off like a little child. I knew he would not believe me! Why did I have to speak?
           "When you have rested," he repeated, sitting in his chair again. The lock on the door clicked open, and he turned around once more to study the banner.

           Serina was escorted from Lucard's office to a simple room that offered all the luxury of a Motel 6. Her two bags lay across the bed. Sighing, Serina opened one and searched for something to sleep in. She pulled out an oversized T-shirt and changed quickly. What I really need is a shower, she thought, scratching at her scalp. Three days without bathing was definitely not a pleasant experience. But the room's bathroom only contained a sink and a toilet, so she had to make do with just sticking her head under the faucet and washing her straight black hair while hovering over the sink. The small hand towel did little to dry her hair once she was done, but she did feel a great deal cleaner. She braided it loosely, then crawled into the bed and fell into an exhausted sleep.
           She woke later with the sun shining brightly in her face. Yawning, she sat up and did a double-take of her surroundings before she remembered the events of the day before. Five hundred years. I must have been imagining it. In fact, most of the events that had taken place the day before were blurred in her mind, like fresh paint smeared by a careless hand. I really must apologize to him. Blame the jet lag and try to start over.
           Swinging her legs over the side of the bed, Serina stretched her neck and back. A knocking came at the door, causing her to hastily pull the sheets over where the shirt had slid up.
           "Um, yes?" she stammered, still feeling a little dense from the sleep. "Hello?" That timing just seems a little too good. Is there a camera in here or what? She looked around, then quickly stopped herself when she realized how obvious she must be. I have a right to be suspicious, she thought, looking around with what she hoped was a nonchalant manner.
           "Miss Savore," a male voice said from the other side of the door, "might I come in? I have breakfast for you, if you would like."
           "Ah, sure," Serina said after checking once more to make sure that she was decently covered. The man who came in was the same who had picked her up the day before at the airport. Very versatile, or maybe they think I would feel more comfortable with someone I have already met? He did not even talk last time. She studied him carefully as he came in and set a silver, covered dish on her night stand. He still had that wrong feeling, one that she was unable to pinpoint. Now I wish I had indulged this gypsy more often so I could know what I feel means.
           "I trust you slept well?" he asked, sounding as if he had known her for years.
           "Hmmm?" Serina had been thinking too much when he had spoken. Can't think and hear at the same time this early in the day. "Yes, I did sleep very well," she finally managed. "What time is it?"
           "It is a quarter past noon. Mr. Lucard would like to see you when you are feeling refreshed. I will be back in half an hour. I trust that will be long enough for you?"
           "That should not be a problem." Lucard probably wants to see if he needs to send me to the nut house. The driver left without a further word. When she sure he had left and no one else had come in, she jumped off the bed and uncovered the plate. Scrambled eggs, bacon, and two biscuits awaited her consumption. There was also and quarter gallon carton of milk and an empty glass. Picking up the carton, she scowled because it was whole milk, but poured herself a glass anyhow. She did not take long to finish her breakfast, very grateful that it was not motel quality.
           She chose her clothes carefully, wanting to look mature, yet not foolishly so. She chose an outfit of loose pale green pants and a matching long vest top. As she was looking over her jewelry, she paused over a cross her mother had given her on her sixteenth birthday. It was delicately made of silver, blessed by a priest on the same day she had received it. Still wonder why Mom had to make such a big deal over getting it blessed. Then she realized that it was the gypsy blood pulling her toward it. I will not let it make a fool of me again. She chose a pewter rose necklace and earring set instead.
           The knock came when she was combing her hair. It had retained some of the curl from the braid, but she knew that the waves would not last for very long. "Come in," she said, putting down the brush and taking one last look at herself in the bathroom mirror.
           "I'll take you to see Mr. Lucard now," the driver said, peering into the bathroom. Serina followed him from the room through twisting hallways until they reached a set of double doors. "Just through there."
           Serina entered slowly, taking in the contents of the room in wonder. It was wall to wall with books. Really old books, bound in cracking leather and covered in dust. There were two expensive looking leather couches facing each other with a rectangular coffee table between them in the middle of the room. Lucard sat on one of the couches, holding an old, battered book open in his hands.
           "Ah, Miss Savore," he said, turning from the book to her, "please do sit down."
           The image of the skull flashed again. NO! Not again! Leave me alone! To her surprise, the skull disappeared and the feeling of evil went away. "I think I will stand," she said, not wanting to get any closer. No telling how long she could control the gypsy sense. Best that she keep her distance. "If that's okay with you?"
           "Yes, of course," he said with a smile that was half amused and half triumphant. What does he think he has won? "Now," he said, carefully placing the book on the table, "about our conversation last night." Oh, no. Here it comes.
           "It was jet lag," she interrupted. "You were right. I was tired. To tell you the truth, I don't even remember what I said. I--" Serina stopped her rambling excuses when he held his hand up for her to be quiet.
           "Miss Savore, I am afraid you are missing the point," he said sternly. "What you said last night was true."
           "No, really, it was the jet--" She then realized what he had said. "What?!"
           "Five hundred years is a long time to live, yet it does have its perks."
           "That's not funny," she said, thinking she was the butt of a very bad joke. Or perhaps he is testing me to see if I really am crazy. "Listen, I know what I said was weird, and I am sorry if I insulted you."
           "I know of your heritage Miss Savore." Lucard seemed irritated. "I know what the gypsies are rumored to be capable of. Tell me what you saw last night. What you see now."
           "I don't know what you are talking about," she insisted. How long is he going to push this facade? I know I made a fool of myself last night. He does not have to rub it in like salt in a wound. "I saw nothing."
           "Then why won't you sit?" His question struck a chord. If I sit, if I get any closer to him, he will know for sure that I am crazy.
           "I've--I've been off my feet for hours," she stammered, "I really want to get some blood flowing." She thought she saw a faint smile.
           "Not because it hurts you to come any closer?"
           "Of course not."
           "Then," he said, standing, "it won't bother you if I come closer?" He took a step toward her, and she quickly took a step back to keep the distance in between them.
           "I--I don't think that would be proper." She could hear a faint ringing in her head. Evil it whispered.
           "Don't think what would be proper?" He did not take another step, to her relief.
           "Well, you know," said Serina. This is really winging it. "People talk." She looked away from his face, embarrassed by the laughter she saw in his eyes.
           "There is no one to see us here." Lucard's voice was wavering on taunting. "They would not know if I was making love to you. They do not know anything more than I want them to know."
           Serina did not answer. His words made her very uncomfortable. She turned away from him and tried to look at the volumes she had admired earlier. The sudden pain caught her unaware, bringing her to her knees again. She looked behind her to see that Lucard was within touching distance of her, his face replaced by the skull again. Evil, evil, evil, danger roared in her ears agonizingly.
           "Please," she said, squeezing back tears, "please step--" Lucard was sitting on the couch before she had a chance to finish the sentence. The din of the warning receded, but it left a headache. She sat on the floor, feeling very nauseated.
           "I regret the need for that," Lucard said after several minutes. "Now tell me what you saw." Serina regarded him in a new light. How can he be so handsome and so evil? I bet Eve thought the snake was pretty, too. She felt fear for the first time as she gazed into the hungry light of his eyes.
           "I saw," she started, still feeling silly voicing what she had sensed, "I saw five hundred years. More like felt. I know that you had been alive at least that long." I really don't need to say the rest. Please don't let him ask for it.
           "And what else?" Of course he wants to know it all. How could I think differently? He's probably got what he wanted all of his... life.
           "I see a skull instead of your face. That's the feeling of your age. And bloodshed. A lot of it." Eyeing him closely, she chose her next words carefully. "And evil. Great evil. Danger to me. Danger to anyone around you." His face was void of all emotion. I don't think that is a good sign. "But that's just how I interpret it. I am pretty new at this stuff. I always ignore it. Doesn't work for everyone anyhow." Serina did not add that she had never been wrong about her interpretations before.
           Lucard was silent. He looked back at the book, flipping through the pages, as if looking for something. "You do not know what has kept me alive all these years?"
           "Alive?" Something stirred in her, something angry. "You aren't alive. You're dead. That's what the skull meant." She blurted the words out before she had time to realize what she had said. I think that was a mistake.
           "You need training for your... talent," Lucard said, seemingly unfazed by what she had said. "I will find someone who can... train you."
           "But I don't want--"
           Lucard cut her off with a dismissive wave of his hand. "As I understand it, you are still yet a minor. I am in charge of your schooling. I will see to it that you are taught how to use this ability to its full extent."
           "In three months, I won't be a 'minor' anymore, and I will be able to chose what I want."
           He fixed a very hard look on her. She could feel his power. Serina knew that he would force her to learn whether she wanted to or not. Something told her that "forcing" would not be a very pleasant experience. How do I know this? Am I reading his mind? Or is he planting these ideas in mine? What is he? She swallowed hard, wanting to look anywhere but his cold eyes. But she could not look away.
           "Then again," she said, "maybe learning how to control this would be a good idea."
           "I knew you would see it my way," Lucard said. "Don't bother to unpack. You should be on your way before nightfall." Serina nodded numbly. "You should get some more rest before you go." Nodding again, she left and took his advice, feeling somehow lucky she had left the room alive at all.

           Lucard was very pleased as he watched Serina leave. His luck had always been good, but finding her--having her literally dropped into his possession, was beyond his normal quota of luck. The girl had incredible potential; he was glad he had caught her before some vampire-hunting nut had. Her talent was very rare. He had seen her kind before, as either lackeys to other vampires or hunting them. When she fully learned control, she would be able to resist the compulsion vampires used to make their victims compliant. The book he had found said that an untrained person with the talent would find the presence of powerful undead, such as vampires, very painful at close distances. It advised keeping such an untrained person away from all undead, as they were extremely vulnerable.
           The book had also made vague suggestions of other things that could be done with her talent. Powerful magics. He could use any sort of power, and hers he would use to its fullest extent. With her, he would crush any vampires who dared to oppose him. Of course, he would make her a vampire, but not until she returned. She was still a little young for the changing. But when she came back... he could not help but to laugh out loud. Nothing would be able to stand in his way.

Continued in Part Two.

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