The tattoo shop was quite overwhelming. The walls displayed different tattoo collections—even the human skin with tattoo that was framed. It was not even hidden under the guise of placing a label that it was some kind of a special cloth made by himself, the master tattoo artist, of this shop.
Orfeo. I knew him by reputation as the Master of Darkness vampire and reputed to be one of The Six Elders. Only five of them were known to the Dark World and each held a title as a leader of some important office or society and they didn’t live in one place. They were everywhere just like the Dark Empress.
It would be good to speak with him even for just a short time—if only he would meet me. I was sure he knew of the Dark Empress’ whereabouts. Even if it would be impossible to fish out this kind of information from him, I was still hoping that he’d even give us a clue or something before we go meet Haunter and the others.
I looked at the shop’s human receptionist behind a desk that was full of portfolios of tattoo designs. She was a redhead with a pierced nose, unpaired earrings, with tousled pixie hair, small facial tattoos on her left cheek that I couldn’t make their designs, dark smoky eyes, thin lips, and slender frame. She wore a spaghetti top that also showed other bodily tattoos as well as arm and hand tattoos.
She looked at us while chewing a pink bubble gum. “What can I do for you? You can look at these though while Orfeo is busy,” she said and pushed some portfolios in my direction.
“So, it really is Orfeo’s tattoo shop,” I stated to her unblinkingly.
She gave me a mocking grin. “Why? Is it supposed to be a secret?” she queried. She blinked slowly as she watched my face intently.
I shrugged. “I want to talk to him.”
She shook her head. “You didn’t hear what I just said? He’s busy.”
I looked at Creep who got a punk boy form, while Crina and Ji-Yun were admiring some tattoo designs on the wall like they were in a museum. He blew cigarette smoke to the redhead staff.
“We are talking about skin here, bitch,” he said and winked at her.
She stopped chewing her gum as she looked at him and then her jaw dropped a bit. She nodded. The password seemed to work just fine.
“Fine. I’ll give him a call right now.” She took the phone and dialed a number that I saw her punch.
I took note of those numbers like a habit.
“Some people are looking for you. They want to talk to you. They said about skin. What should I tell them?” she said fast in Romanian language. Maybe she thought it was safe for her to talk in local language because we were strangers. But she was mistaken. I lived long enough to almost know every dialect and every language in the world. So, I gave her a slow smile while she put back the phone.
She had no idea that I could hear his response in Romanian through the phone. “Ettore will talk to them.” It was clear she was human and had no idea she was serving a vamp boss. An elder at that.
“Get ready for a beating, Creep,” I warned him telepathically.
Yes. This won’t be easy. I was very sure that Orfeo would send somebody else for him. Or better yet, somebody elses. I know how the Dark World works. It won’t be easy to talk with an elder, after all.
“Maybe it’s better to send Crina and Ji-Yun out?” he suggested through our telepathic conversation.
“I don’t think it’s safe either. Besides, Zurko and the others are not so far away from us.” I looked at the redhead once again.
“Well, please have a seat and wait for my boss,” she said and gestured to a long black sofa for us to sit down.
My eyes strayed to the wall clock behind her. It was only a couple of hours before our rendezvous meeting with the wolves and Haunter. I wasn’t sure now if we could make it in time. But I needed to talk to Orfeo even though he has sent his man—or men—over. So we won’t leave even if it would mean war.
We didn’t take a seat either. We just stood there. After a few minutes, a bulky white man in his early thirties walked in. The receptionist retreated and went out through the back door upon seeing him—them—come in and close the glass door. One of the six tall and bulky men closed the blinds, and they all looked at us one by one.
“You are looking for Orfeo?” The bulkiest man asked me directly.
I guess it was Ettore in his Italian accent. He was the only one who was white, while the others were all black skinned. And he seemed to know that I was kind of the leader of this group at first glance.
I smiled at him for paying his respects at least. I was sure that no matter how good a fighter he can be, I won’t fall into his hands like a rag doll. I could tell his age as a vampire for half a century, way younger than me and not even half.
His men were all ready to fight, flexing their muscles or stretching. That was how it was so obvious. I signaled Ji-Yun and Crina to move back and so it was only me and Creep who faced them without fear.
“Ettore, right?” I wanted to know at least his name. To be sure.
But instead of replying, he grinned maliciously and was about to punch me in the face but I was too quick for him. The rest of his men tried to assist him, but Creep took care of them when he instantly took his original form that also took them by surprise.
The ratio was three to one. Of course, we were outnumbered but that didn’t mean we couldn’t win. And so the fight began. Most of the things inside the tattoo shop were dropped to the floor or broken. But that didn’t stop us from fighting against each other.
“I just want to talk!” I said while I hit Ettore with my roundhouse kick, which landed on the side of his face. He bounced to the wall and heavily slumped on the floor.
The other two tried hard to hit me but I was too quick for them as well. Meanwhile, Creep was doing fine on his own. It turned out that the other three were not vampires. Because of the dark ink used of the tattoos on their foreheads, I didn’t get to notice them right away. I just realized now that they were the unique tattoos of Medjays in Ancient Egypt. My throat went dry.
“You’re Medjays?” That made them stop for a moment.
It was rare for vampires to recognize them. Mainly, older vampires did as a matter of fact.
I noticed Ettore get back on his feet, and he looked at me with a piercing pair of gray eyes. He spat out the blood before looking at me again.
“And you are?”
I ignored his question. I was quite shaken by the turn of this event. It was known that Medjays and ninjas turned into vampires were the Dark Empress’ bodyguards. Meaning, she would just be around here somewhere and never left. Well, admittedly, they were also bodyguards of The Six Elders. Still, hope sprang within me. I might be able to find her soon!
I swallowed hard. “I wish to meet the Dark Empress,” I started telling Ettore after looking at each face of the five Medjays that were present in the room.
But still, there was something wrong in this picture. The Medjays were supposed to be vampires. Why was it only Ettore who’s a vampire here? I couldn’t be wrong. These black men were Medjays.
Ettore laughed at my face. “Are you out of your mind? Who are you to meet her anyway?”
“Look. I know that it is not easy to meet her. I get it. But I know that Orfeo’s one of The Six Elders even if you’re going to deny it and I know that they are the watchers of the Dark Empress…” I said, referring to the Medjays. “But I just want to tell her something very, very important!” I gestured as I was speaking to him.
Ettore snorted while I glanced at Creep who was still ready to fight by the look of his stance. His dangerous whip-like tail was hovering near their faces.
“I say when it’s important or not,” Ettore said in a hard tone.
I shook my head. “I can’t tell you right now what it is. I just want to tell it to the Dark Empress myself. You must understand some politics, don’t you?”
“To hell with politics!” he interjected. “Just because you mentioned it is about politics I can actually let you see and talk to Orfeo as you wish. I’m sorry to disappoint you. You’ll get nothing from this place. So, if I were you, I’d walk away from here and never look back. Otherwise, you’re going to face some consequences.”
“If you knew me, I think you’d think otherwise.” I got back at him.
He blinked at that. His grin faded. “What do you mean?” he asked in genuine confusion.
“But I won’t tell you, of course. I’ll let you discover it yourself.” I gave him a toothless smile but I knew it was also some kind of provocation.
He showed me his fists and got on his fighting stance once again, ready to break my face.
“Hold on. You know Dena?” I asked him.
I so hoped that the mere mention of my maker’s name would make sense into the head of this stupid vampire. I didn’t have a problem fighting with him but it would be important that I won’t kill one of the Dark Empress’ loyal people. With that, I was so sure about it. Why else were there Medjays in our midst right now?
He stared at me like he didn’t recognize Dena’s name.
“Oh, well. I can tell you who that is, Ettore,” a familiar sweet voice butted in. Just when I thought it was, I wasn’t wrong. It was Andrea.
The blond vampire looked so enchanting right at this moment when she stepped into the messed up shop. We didn’t notice until now that the door was already broken. She was with two tall and muscled vampires who looked like her bodyguards, wearing black suits and all.
She smiled at me like she already knew it was me and that it was as if we were going to meet up here in this miserable place.
“Hello there, Saber!” she greeted me in her familiar way. Like we were close as best of friends.
Ettore, on the other hand, eased up upon knowing Andrea—obviously. I wondered if Andrea made this man dance on her palm some time in the past. Well, it just made me think.
“Saber you say?” he asked the elegant woman who was wearing a skimpy summer dress of color gold, which made her blond hair more devastatingly beautiful. Yeah, she forgot it was autumn, obviously. Then, Ettore turned to look at me from head to toe and back.
“Why did you tell him my name, Andrea?” I looked at her with disappointment. And if only looks could kill, perhaps I did it over and over to this annoying and yet charming woman.
“Oh, well. I thought it’d be necessary under this specific circumstance,” she said it elaborately and looked around her gracefully. Her small shoulders shrugged carelessly. “Besides, my interference might get you where you want to be,” she added and looked at me with a sweet smile on her beautiful lips.
I eyed her with suspicion. She did pledge to me unofficially, we both knew it; however, it didn’t matter because I still didn’t trust her and her clan.
“I don’t need your… interference, alright?” I again stared at Ettore. All along, he’d been watching me. So our eyes seemed to probe into each other.
“Saber, huh?” he said and slowly grinned as if something interesting has piqued his attention, while the Medjays merely looked on, waiting for his command.
I shrugged without comment.
His grin grew wider. “So, why do you want to talk with Orfeo again?”
My eyes strayed from him toward Andrea. And she was also watching me, as if to see if she could hear something amazing and useful for her. I calmly smiled back at Ettore.
“It’s only for Orfeo’s ears, I’m afraid…” And before I could even finish my sentence, a playing card got passed us and it hit the wall.
“Oops!” a familiar voice said without genuine regret.
We both looked in the direction where it came from. I saw Ataru together with Sephora and Zurko. My expression changed. I got annoyed by this other interference. I met them by the doorway so they could not get into the shop where it was already cramped with other vampires and Medjays. Plus, they just might ruin everything now that Ettore was willing to listen to me.
“I don’t need your presence here. Why are you here?” I said through gritted teeth.
“You’re our—er—sponsor’s mate. We’re supposed to back you up!” Zurko said uneasily and I noticed that his eyes strayed to Ji-Yun across the room.
But I chose to ignore it at the moment. I signaled to him and the others. “Just get out of here and you know what you’re supposed to do next.” I quickly added when he was about to protest. “No buts!” I waved my index finger near his nose.
Sephora looked at me with a straight face and turned on her heels. The boys then went after her as I turned back to face the others.
“I didn’t know you’re friends with some users. You surprise me, Saber,” Ettore observed with an interesting look in his gray eyes. His mouth was pulled down, and he nodded like he was impressed. “You’re an interesting one, I give you that.” I also noticed his eyes caress Andrea’s face when he turned to her. “And you, the woman who’s the Poison of All Russia, are also interesting as Saber here. I wonder what your hidden agenda is for supporting her?” he remarked in wonder. He stepped closer to her.
“I, of course, know which side I’m on,” she purred with a seductive smile.
Ettore’s eyes bored into hers for a moment then he clucked his tongue.
“The side you’re on. So, which side is that?”
We all knew it was a tricky question, especially nowadays that the Dark World was starting to be in chaos, I realized, when I heard that my maker has changed sides. I didn’t know what triggered it. Dena was never good in politics but the change… Or, maybe I just thought that she wasn’t. Maybe I didn’t know her after all.
I shook my head out of this reverie. I had to focus on the present. Perhaps I’d know later what made Dena change sides. But first, I wanted to see Orfeo if he was the last man who’d know the location of the Dark Empress, to be by her side and protect her from any of her enemies’ devious plans. Deep inside me, I knew there must be a plan for assassinating the Dark Empress.
Politics were never my thing but then if it would involve the balance of the Dark World, I had to do something. Even if it would cost me my life. I want to do the right thing.
Andrea laughed charmingly. My eyes were set on her while I was still on my guard.
“This is soo dragging. We might miss your boyfriend’s pack.” I heard Creep’s voice in my head. He sounded like bored. In fact, he turned into his former human form at the moment.
“We’ll have this under control. Just stay put,” I telepathically answered him, without even glancing at him.
“To which side are you on, Ettore?” Andrea questioned right back at him.
He gave her a toothless smile, his eye glinting with mischief. “I can’t let you poison my mind, if that’s what your intent, Andrea. I’m immune to such charms flaunted by someone like you.” Then he shook his head and his eyes directly bored into mine once again. “I’m sorry. I can’t take you to Orfeo.”
I swallowed and blinked. It almost crushed me. I was truly disappointed by this stupid vamp!
“It’s a matter of life and death, Ettore!” My voice was firm and yet urgent. I stepped closer to him; however, the Medjays blocked me by merely standing right in front of me.
“Whose life and death?” Ettore asked and the Medjays stepped aside.
I glanced at Andrea, and she nodded. I looked at him again, with sincere eyes.
“I’ve already told you it’s only meant for Orfeo to hear. I can’t say anything more to you. If you’re not going to tell me where he is, I’ll look for another way to meet him.”
Ettore shook his head. He took his sweet time before he spoke to me.
“You’re one persistent, free, and homeless vampire. How would I know you’re not going to threaten one of The Six Elders? Besides, I don’t trust you to meet him, knowing that you are Dena’s daughter!”