Estimated reading time: 18 – 30 minutes
“Twenty-one Makes a Dream Die”
Biting wind whipped Liana Moreau’s hair wildly about her waxen face. Violent shivers possessed her small frame, mimicking the panic thundering in her chest as she stood on the precipice of a fifty-foot drop.
But it wasn’t the threat of falling that commanded Liana’s churning fear.
“Don’t do it.” Puffs of air punctuated each drawn out word. “Just don’t.”
“Don’t do what? This?” A glittering smile broke with jagged glee. Long, translucent nails stroked the trembling woman’s exposed stomach. “But this excites me, little bird. Can’t you taste her fear?”
Liana’s nostrils flared imperceptibly. Rank terror polluted the space between them. It entered her body, clinging to the roof of Liana’s mouth and coating her insides with human frailty.
“It’s good, yes?” The elegant creature’s gray orbs sparkled with malicious insight. Touching Liana’s secret obsession, his throat possessed the tenor of a demented lover. “It’s so good having complete power over someone’s life…so very, very sweet…”
Liana swallowed back her useless denials. He had stopped listening to her long ago. Even so, Liana couldn’t help but listen to him and what she heard slashed her to the core.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Knowing that this thing’s existence is only of your choosing. Omnipotence is just so addictive…” Sculpted cheeks hollowed and a bitter smile creased his lips. “No wonder you love it so much.”
You’re wrong. I never loved having it over you.
Somehow Liana couldn’t make her throat form the words. Instead, visceral shame forced her to look away.
“No protests, little bird? Not even one pretty tear?” He brushed his mouth against his captive’s damp cheek. “She’s crying for me but you’re not. Don’t disappoint me this quickly, my love.”
Liana smarted beneath his mockery. Familiar guilt burned her eyes.
Now is NOT the time for regret. Deal with him like you’ve done before. Get him under control quickly!
Liana blew out a slow, steady breath, vainly trying to keep her mind from splintering into habitual purgatory.
This is what I have to do. I can’t feel sorry for anything. Not right now.
Drawing aristocratic dignity about her, Liana leveled the unstable being with an imperious emerald stare. “Come to me, Laurent.”
Thick, black lashes drifted shut. His perfect countenance slackened in potent consideration. Laurent’s arms loosened, giving his terrified prey a whisper of freedom.
“That’s it, darling” Liana coaxed, instantly shedding cold dominance like an unneeded skin. “Just come to me. I’m not angry. Don’t be afraid.”
“You’re not?” Laurent’s husky voice shifted, abruptly sounding young and unsure. “Truly?”
“No, my love. I’m not. Come inside and let us go to bed. Quickly!”
“Quickly?” Laughter seeped from Laurent’s rosy lips. Beginning as a whisper, it swelled into a cacophony of pure doom.
Liana resisted the urge to clap her hands over her ears. Tears filled her eyes while she whispered, “Laurent, please stop…”
The laughter died, leaving absolute loathing in its place. Laurent cocked his dark head in contemptuous amusement. “I’m not your dog anymore. So burn in Hel’s fire, you bitch.”
As if summoned by that Norse goddess of ruin, demonic wind suddenly whipped Liana’s thin sleeping gown up. She looked down in dismay, barely noting the whiteness of her naked limbs or the ice beneath her toes. All Liana saw was distance.
What am I going to do? The space between the inner bailey wall and the outer curtain seemed insurmountable. How am I going to stop this? Will he just let them both fall if I jump? I can’t take that chance yet.
Liana raised her hand in wary supplication. Desperation tinged every husky word. “If you won’t come to me, at least let Tanya go. Please, Laurent.”
He looked down vacantly, gradually remembering the existence of the person in his arms.
“Tanya.” Laurent said it slowly, savoring the syllables in his mouth. “I’ve never heard that name before. It’s beautiful.” He leaned forward and whispered, “Do you know what it’s like to die, Tanya?”
A small whimper escaped Laurent’s helpless captive. Her pallor matched the billowing lab coat she wore. Glassy blue eyes bulged with terror even as they prayed for help.
“Our f-f-father w-who art in h-heaven…”
“God is not talking to you. I am. Do not make me ask again.”
“I-I don’t w-w-want to die!”
Liana winced. Wrong answer. She recognized the sadistic game Laurent was playing. No one understood the calculated moves better than Liana. After all, she had played the role of mouse to his cat for centuries.
“I didn’t ask if you wanted to die. I asked if you knew what it was like TO die.” Laurent turned Tanya around and carefully brushed back her hair. The graying blond strands clung to his slender fingers perversely even as their owner quivered in near-hysteria. “Do you know what it’s like, Tanya?”
Her choked whimper inspired a lopsided grin. However, it did nothing to erase the maniacal cast of Laurent’s face.
“Ah, Tanya, that’s most unfortunate—especially because you ARE going to die. Ssh! Don’t cry! I can tell you what’s coming.”
Laurent’s frenzied tone dropped into listless confession.
“I know what it’s like.”
Liana’s face hardened, seemingly oblivious to Tanya’s plight.
You can’t end it this quickly. You’ll play with her more and when you’ve mentally broken Tanya, then and only then, will you let us all know if you ever really wanted her dead.
I can outwait you.
Unaware of Liana’s detached reasoning, Tanya’s knees buckled and she sagged in Laurent’s hold. “If I die, God…God will…”
“Will what? Welcome you to heaven? Don’t let your faith deceive you. There is nothing there.”
Laurent’s clipped words were relentless, meant to shatter all illusions of hope.
“Death isn’t peaceful, Tanya. It’s bloody. It’s hellish. It’s brutal. Just like…”
Laurent shifted his stance. His gaze instantly found Liana.
The exquisite mask splintered, giving birth to equal parts rage and despair. Laurent’s inhuman glare bored into his former lover, gutting her with pure condemnation.
She held his stare, but Liana tasted despair inside the frail shell of courageous observation. Mute pleas littered Liana’s convoluted mind like rotting dreams.
Don’t. Don’t feel that way, Laurent. Please.
Laurent continued to repeat his two-word lamentation, wearing on the emotional membrane of both his victims.
The staccato rhythm became profane, raping the barrenness inside Liana. She already knew what he was going to say. She had already tasted the wound he’d expose when he broke faith with repetition.
“What am I saying? You know what Death is like. I’m sure you do.”
Tanya vomited denial along with pieces of her dinner.
A pitying frown pulled at Laurent’s brow. He ignored the bile staining his boots. “You know it, Tanya. You’ve known Death if you’ve ever loved.” A shiver of regret lurched across his beautiful face. “I loved, Tanya. I loved and then I died.”
Laurent’s pained whisper sank into Liana, draining her of all color. She faltered in her resolve and showed him her corruption. “Laurent, it didn’t have to be this way—”
“I know what it’s like,” he interrupted harshly, “because I’ve done it hundreds of times.” Laurent pinned Tanya with his enraged stare. Cold madness glinted deep within his silver orbs. “But you already know that, don’t you?”
Tanya shook her head slowly, mindless with terror.
Laurent leaned forward, as if to share his secrets in perfect confidence. “I’ll even bet you watched me die, Tanya.” He smiled terribly, bringing long fangs closer to his prey. “Haven’t you?”
Tanya turned away, forcing her dirtied chin into her shoulder. “Mme. Moreau! Please make him stop!”
“Why keep bullying her when it’s so easy? She’s just a human!” Liana shouted gamely, emerald eyes brightening in morbid challenge even as her heart clenched with indescribable misery. “Take me instead, my lord. I provide much better sport.”
Laurent’s wild laughter sent chills down both women’s spine.
“I already know what you’re capable of, little bird. There’s no justice in it for me. Besides, this is infinitely more rewarding.” His lily-white hand caressed Tanya’s jaw. “After all, you seem to care whether this piece of meat lives or dies.”
A cruel smile graced Laurent’s lips, casting his face in murderous perfection.
Liana stood still, thoughts scurrying in nauseous chaos and disrupting her cunning. Which way should I go? Care or don’t care?
“Don’t make me ask you again, little bird.”
She swallowed once. “I do.” Liana saw the satisfaction creeping into his flinty stare. “You know me. You already know why.”
Laurent shrugged, his velvet-encased shoulders rising with easy elegance. “I don’t know anything about you. Never have. That’s why we’re here.”
Tossing Liana another mocking grin, Laurent quickly spun Tanya around. He ignored her frightened gasp and clamped one hand on her bruised wrist while the other returned back to her waist.
“Ssh, Tanya. There will be time for begging later.” Laurent settled his chin on her shoulder. “It bothered you to be called a piece of meat, didn’t it? Made you feel insignificant, worthless?”
Wise to Laurent’s expectations, Tanya whispered, “Yes.”
“Mmm. I understand. It doesn’t feel good to be looked at as a thing without feelings and value.”
“You ARE the reason for my life!” Liana shrieked angrily, hurt and enraged by Laurent’s insinuation. “No one, and I mean NO ONE, has ever looked at you that way!”
Laurent ignored Liana’s outburst and continued his sadistic conversation.
“Your mistress is very odd, isn’t she? Always has been. Quiet when she should be shouting, shouting when she should be quiet. Now, let’s go back to where we were, Tanya. How do you think I felt being called a…what was it? Ah, yes. A case study?”
Spittle flecked the crusted corners of Tanya’s drooping mouth. “I’m s-s-sooo s-sorry.”
Liana blinked back furious tears. Once more Laurent was backing them both into a corner. Except this time, Liana had no idea if she could sidestep Fate again.
One wrong move and it’s over.
“You’re sorry. Hmm.” Laurent mulled over Tanya’s answer for several moments before letting out a relieved sigh. “Since you’re sorry, surely you’ll accept my apologies for what I should do, won’t you?”
“No! Laurent, why are you doing this? You’re not capable of hurting anyone…” Liana’s voice faltered. “Please just stop!”
“Shut your mouth, Liana.” The soulless growl made Tanya scream in panic. Laurent turned his rapacious attention back to his hostage. He clucked his tongue and cooed, “Now look what you made me do, little bird. You made me scare her.”
Liana clenched the edge of her nightgown. Her nails tore through the sturdy cotton, piercing her naked thighs. Although her voice quaked, she managed to rasp, “I’m not scaring her, Laurent. You are.”
“On second thought, maybe Tanya isn’t afraid at all. After all, she’s bloodless—isn’t she?” He pursed his rosy lips in contemplation. “Only someone bloodless and without a conscience could help keep me in that hellish nightmare.”
“It wasn’t Tanya’s fault, Laurent. It was mine.” Crimson rivulets snaked down her legs. “I’m the only one you should hurt.”
The scent of Liana’s blood instantly intoxicated Laurent. He swayed forward, mouth open wide for nourishment before his long limbs locked in place. Ugly shame twisted his countenance and Laurent’s disgust for her became obvious.
“Oh, I am already quite aware of that, you bitch.”
Liana dropped her gaze. “Then punish me all you want. I won’t fight you. I swear it.”
“You won’t fight me.” Laurent turned his head slightly. With treacherous lips against Tanya’s ear, he murmured, “She tells me I should just hurt her. But doesn’t she understand that hurting you hurts her more?”
“Please don’t…I beg you…p-p-please don’t…I didn’t mean to…”
Laurent placed one finger against Tanya’s mouth, effectively silencing her. He released her wrist only to wrap a graceful hand around her throat. Laurent kissed Tanya’s ear with painful tenderness.
“Now let’s see what your mistress will do if I snap this skinny neck.”
Liana’s eyes widened in panic. “Killing Tanya makes you no better than me, Laurent!”
“Wrong. It does make me better. At least, I’d be showing her mercy by ending it now.” Venom threaded each softly spoken word, binding Liana with cords of hatred. “Unlike what you’ve given me, little bird.”
Liana quickly calculated the distance between herself and the precarious pair. I have to do it. I have to jump.
“Move and she’s gone.” Laurent tightened his hold on Tanya. He backed them both to the edge of the outer wall. Less than an inch separated predator and prey from a mortally fatal fall.
“Don’t! I’ll do whatever you say.” Liana’s gaze darkened to black when she saw him ease back defiantly.
Please let me stop this. Please!
Laurent lowered his head. Ebony hair fell over a smooth brow, tumbling along exquisite cheekbones. “Tell me something, little bird. Is your concern real or just a mask you wear to inspire devotion?”
When Liana didn’t answer quickly enough to suit his pleasure, Laurent drew a line across Tanya’s stomach, forcing out a broken cry from her parched lips.
He ignored Liana’s shout, keeping intense focus on the terrified woman beneath his hand. “Ssh, dear,” Laurent consoled with cruel kindness. “Don’t weep. It doesn’t hurt nearly as much as it could. Trust me—I know.”
“Damn you! Stop playing these games with me, Laurent!”
“Keep braying your orders, Liana, and you’ll see how much I listen.”
Indecipherable insanity tickled the tiny hairs on Liana’s neck. The absence of mercy found within his iron gaze compelled her to whisper, “Forgive me, my lord. I beg you, please don’t.”
“My lord.” The honorific rolled off his tongue, hinting at the bitterness of Laurent’s thoughts. “Was I ever really your lord, Liana?”
“Please…” Pitiful sobs quickly clawed their way past her shredded pride.
“You’re begging me. Me! You truly have become pathetic,” Laurent sneered. “There was a time when you would’ve taken her head yourself before debasing yourself before anyone. Surprising. Compassion isn’t something I expected from you, little bird.”
The caustic words cut deeply. Liana’s voice came out heavy and labored. “My lord…Laurent…don’t do something you’ll regret.”
“I’d never regret this.” He nuzzled his prey with the softest of kisses. Several moments crumbled with latent decay. “Tanya’s scent is divine…it makes me spin inside.”
Liana shifted her stance, grinding several pebbles beneath bare feet. Hearing Laurent’s obvious adoration for her employee made Liana sick with dread and jealousy.
As if aware of those tainted emotions, Laurent gifted her with a rakish grin. “Or maybe it’s not Tanya at all. Maybe it’s the air.” He inhaled deeply. Laurent’s eyes glittered with feverish anticipation. “Do you know what I smell?”
Liana shook her head slowly, watching her entire world disintegrate. There was no longer any doubt where this was headed.
If there ever had been.
All I did, sacrificed—suffered for us both—and this is where it ends.
“You don’t know?” Laurent lifted his hand up. Tiny carmine drops stained the long, elegant fingertips. “I smell something better than blood or even your cunt, little bird.”
Ruthless commitment possessed his smile.
“I smell freedom.”
Cold tears spilled forth in lamentation. Liana reached out one last time. “Don’t abandon me, Laurent. Please.”
Liana’s pleas cut through his hate, leaving raw agony to ravage his immortal beauty. Laurent’s smile faltered. It transformed his mouth into an ugly slit.
“Remember what I told you once? Remember how I told you I’d kill you, burn your body, rend your limbs apart, and let your ashes regenerate for what you did to me?”
Her shoulders bowed. Liana’s heart clenched and a broken sigh was born. “Every time I look at you I remember.”
“Do you?” Hollow laughter swelled in mimicry of absolute triumph. “Well…now I’ve finally found something worse to do.”
Hunched over, dangling by a heart sore thread, Liana felt her obsession grow. “Not possible, Laurent.”
He bared his teeth. It was an unmistakable warning. “You won’t control me anymore. Not another moment. Not ever again.”
A feral snarl mated with Liana’s quick intake of breath. She closed her eyes tightly. “If it were the other way and you had the power to keep me, would you?”
Silence judged her. A ribbon of grief tightened its noose about Liana’s neck.
“I had the power, my lord. I had the power and I used it. Not to condemn you, not to control you, but to save you. To fix what I had broken and save the man I love above all others.”
Liana swallowed once.
“Just like you did for me, my lord.”
Laurent’s conviction faltered—as did his heart. Tanya may have remained in his arms, but he stood alone on a precipice made of more than just stone.
Countless lifetimes breathed in his ear, pushing him towards the fey woman he lost his soul for.
“I love you, Laurent. I know you feel the same…though you don’t want to.” Tragic perfection curved Liana’s full lips even as her eyes wept. “Let me show you what is now. Let me show you how else I can love.”
He longed to set the hysterical woman in his arms free and capture the other in his cage. Laurent desperately wanted to hold Liana, take her to his prison and love her until he died.
“Don’t force me to show what else I can be. Please?”
But he couldn’t die. Neither could she.
Laurent clenched his jaw, grinding his teeth until they threatened to shatter. Cages weren’t enough. Memories weren’t enough. Nothing could justify Liana’s treachery.
Not the first time or the countless ones after.
And while Laurent watched her, loathing choked his regret. He wanted to crush her and he knew exactly what to do.
“You’re wrong, little bird. Seeing you now, watching you snivel, I know it without a doubt.” Laurent let his narrowed eyes roam up and down her figure. His fine lip curled in disdain. “I don’t love you.”
A terrible cry of anguish rent the night. Liana doubled over and shook her head frantically. “That’s not true. You’re lying!”
“I don’t lie—unlike you. So that’s why I say this clearly—never again, little bird. You will NEVER see me again after this moment.”
Liana’s strangled sobs suffered an abrupt death. She turned her head. “You don’t understand what never means.” From her bowed position, Liana’s wet gaze glowed eerily. Terrible power vied with maddened passion. “Just as you don’t understand that nothing you can say will ever change my love for you. Nothing.”
Laurent’s bravado disintegrated. Liana’s insatiable truth devoured him—nearly picking his bones clean of resistance. He shook his head, desperation manning his only weapon.
“Even if I say I’d rather love a sow than the one I married? Even if I tell you I don’t want you anymore? That when I dreamed I dreamt of fucking anyone but you?”
Liana straightened slender shoulders. Her beauty shifted, becoming utterly still, utterly dangerous. The wind, previously a separate entity, now seemed to emanate from her. It howled angrily, promising eternal vengeance if not appeased.
Terror asphyxiated the last of Laurent’s courage, causing his knees to buckle. He swayed forward and his heels left the ground. Only Tanya’s shrill shrieks kept him from pitching them both forward. Locking his limbs, Laurent jerked back but kept his gaze trained on the barren ground below.
Although away from Liana’s petrifying stare, Laurent felt his lips begin to tremble.
He truly was pitiful, just as he always had been. Bastard that Laurent was, he never learned what it was to have dignity. The only person who had ever given it to him freely was the same one to strip it away.
Then and now.
“Come to me, Laurent, and I’ll forgive every word you said. Defy me and we’ll both regret it.”
Laurent’s choked sob echoed a much softer one. He reluctantly shifted his attention to the fragile female in his arms.
In one moment, Tanya’s filthy face proved to be his salvation.
This woman was evidence of love gone wrong. This woman was proof of what lengths Liana would go to continue orchestrating an obscene lie. This woman was confirmation of the kind of creature his wife really was.
Inconsolable grief ruined Laurent’s smile. “So be it.” He tightened his hand, choking off his savior’s incoherent pleas. “I’m sorry that I’m your monster, Tanya,” he whispered sadly as he leaned forward once more. “But I’m more sorry you helped expose mine.”
Laurent suddenly flung Tanya towards Liana. Screams rent the silence before losing to the power of deafening sirens.
Liana caught the flailing body in mid-air. Without care for Tanya’s overwrought emotions, Liana tossed her onto the walkway behind them and continued her mad dive to the outer wall. Liana’s feet barely skimmed stone before she anxiously scanned the barren plain and forest beyond.
But it was too late. Laurent was already gone.
Liana stared bleakly into the shadows. A cacophony of noise continued to assault her, each rhythmic set growing more and more distant. The electronic wailings proved Laurent had penetrated straight through the estate.
Liana dug her fingers into the ancient wall. Several nails split, tearing into tender flesh. Her legs threatened to give way and the night sky blurred beneath the weight of bitter tears.
You’ve broken the cage door leaving your little bird behind. Damn you for doing this! Damn you for not understanding!
Dozens of feet pounded across the inner walkway. The esteemed scientists of Solange Incorporated flocked to their employer, feeling courageous now that Laurent was gone.
A miserable smirk twisted her lips. Liana could already hear their questions and observations.
“Where did the breach occur?”
“Our data shows M. Laurent was in a comatose state. He shouldn’t have woken at this stage.”
“What will we do now that our subject is missing?”
Indeed. What will we do now?
Liana schooled her tortured features into a bloodless mask before turning towards her audience. Standing together with identical lab coats, they reminded Liana of bleached crows. She raised her voice to benefit their mortal hearing.
“Cut the sirens and relay tonight’s footage to my office.”
Allain, a man who Liana had employed for the better part of three decades, called out, “Everything or just the cameras in Quadrant P?”
“All of it.” Liana watched as several enfolded Tanya into their ranks. “And take her to the Infirmary. She has a shallow scratch on her stomach as well as several scrapes from her fall. Tonight has been very traumatizing. I suspect she’ll need sedation.”
“What about Security? Should we dispatch them in pursuit?”
The very idea sickened her. She would never send Trackers after Laurent. Liana kept her tone emotionless with much effort. “No, Allain. GPS is enough for now.” Liana returned to her previous position, troubled eyes staring far into the night.
Their dismissal obvious, the group shuffled away.
“Thank you for saving me, Mme. Moreau.”
As intended, the hoarse whisper reached Liana easily. Something akin to guilt stabbed her. Liana nodded her head, not bothering to turn around. Once more, she raised her voice and answered, “I’m sorry for what you went through tonight. It shouldn’t have happened. I’ll make sure a generous bonus is added on the next pay cycle.”
“You’re most kind, Mme. Moreau.”
No, Tanya. You are.
Liana’s green eyes hardened as a new sound colored the landscape. She didn’t need to see the time to know New Year’s had just arrived—and with it the twenty-first century.
I should’ve seen this coming. I always lose right before twenty-one. Always.
Brilliant threads of silver, purple, and crimson stitched the night sky. Shrill whistles echoed across the French countryside as more fireworks glittered in celebration of a new year.
We were supposed to share this new century together. Even though you were sleeping, I was going to be by your side, Laurent. Like always. And now…
Tanya’s gratitude was unnecessary. Liana didn’t do it for her at all.
She did it for Laurent.
Everything Liana ever did was for Laurent. Always.
And now I’ll begin the hunt, my love.
Poisoned eyes glowed with an intensity rivaling the display in the sky. With renewed conviction, Liana ghosted her grief. She turned away and leapt into the barren courtyard. There were hours of footage to study and countless lines of data to analyze. No sleep for her staff tonight and definitely none for Liana.
Everything’s changed, Laurent, but nothing’s changed for me in eight hundred years. Where do you think you can hide that I can’t find you? But I’ll let you run for a bit. Run and see that the world is something you can’t tolerate. Then you’ll understand my kindness in keeping you here.
Run, my love. But never forget that I will always be behind you.
And I will find you because I won’t let you go—no matter how far you run.
Image Credit: Onatos @ Stock.Xchng