January 27, 2010

Heart to Heart with Solomon Birch

I didn't have long to contemplate before Nadi knocked on my door. She was going to take the black book to Father Nico, and wanted to know if I was interested in going as well. I took advantage of the offer, as did most of the others.

30 minutes later were were all sitting in the same room as before, Father Nico looking just as human as ever. He was even drinking coffee. Really drinking, not just sipping. And really enjoying it, judging by his aura. I had a brief flash of intense envy.

After pleasantries, Nadi handed him the book, wrapped in a heavy cloth (the thing was still uncomfortable to touch).
"This is the book you were talking about?" Father Nico asked as he gingerly unwrapped the parcel.
"Yes. I found it in a weird extra-dimensional library under my friend's name, 'Ray Fawkes'."
Nico didn't even bat an eyelash at the absurdity of that statement, true as it was. He just continued to examine the book before responding, "It is a prison."
"Yeah, but for who?" Gio asked.
Nico refolded the cloth and set the book down softly on the coffee table. "It will take me a few days to figure this puzzle out. I'll let you know when I have something."
"I may be out of cell range for a few days..." Nadi protested.
"I'll make sure the information gets to you." I told her. She nodded her thanks. Nico gestured to the books around him. "You are more than welcome to chose a book to remove from the library if you would like. Which would you prefer?" He got up and began skimming titles.
Nadi looked as close to a kid at Christmas as I'd ever seen her. "All of them."
Nico smiled and pulled a large, leather bound tome from the shelves. He set it down in front of her almost reverently. The thing was ancient. I didn't get a good look at the title, but he told her he thought it was interest her greatly. He provided Nadi with an oil skin to transport it in.

Giovanni pointed to a much small book high on a shelf. "What is that book?"
Nico followed his gaze to the odd looking manuscript. "That has not been opened for a long time."
"Does it scream at you too?" Gio asked. I didn't hear a damn thing, personally.
"Not in the way you are thinking." Nico said. Obviously he knew what Gio meant. That made one of us.
"May I read it?" Gio asked, but Nico shook his head. "I'm afraid the book is too dangerous to open here." "What can I do to get that book from you?" Gio asked in his best bargaining voice.
Nico gave him an apologetic smile. "Nothing. I'm afraid there are things in that book that I wouldn't want the Lucifuge to know."
Gio shrugged, but he couldn't quite stop looking up at the book the rest of the time we were there. I idly wondered if Nico meant the Lucifuge herself, or the group as a whole...

"Is there anything else I can do for any of you?"
"I'd like to meet with you to talk more on what we discussed last time I was here. When would be a convenient time for you?" I asked. Father Nico had already been so helpful, that I couldn't be anything less than polite to him. I'm not a bitch to everyone.. just to people I feel like deserve it.
"Convenience isn't really an issue. I'm always here." Like I said.. helpful.
"I got a call from the Prince tonight..."
"So I heard. Congratulations."
I blinked, mildly surprised, but continued. "Thanks.. but that's what I want to ask you about. Why do you think the Prince would rescind the kill on sight order?" I tried to keep my expression neutral, or at least show only detached curiosity. It was harder than I thought it would be. I was usually pretty damn composed.. only showing what I wanted people to see.. but this.. this thing got under my skin in all the wrong ways. It made it difficult to school my expression or body language.
Nico returned to his seat. "Well, it could be a trap, but that's unlikely. There are many other easier ways to flush you out if he wanted too. More than likely, someone the Prince owed a large favor to has been speaking on your behalf."

"hmm." I considered that possibility quietly. It was certainly food for thought. Who would have gone up against the Prince for me? And used up a massive favor to do so...I had a few suspects... but it was still only a theory. I needed to call Norris. He would know. Whether or not he'd tell me was iffy, but he'd at least give me something to go on. And seeing as he was the primary suspect on my list of champions, the call would serve double duty. I fervently hoped that it had been Norris, and not Birch. It wouldn't surprise me if he had done it for some twisted reason.. the thought of owing anything to Birch made my skin crawl.

All these thoughts ran rampant in my head while the others continued talking to Father Nico. I clued back into the conversation long enough to realize that Nobody had asked Nico for book on the Gentry, and since he had none, Nico was telling him stories that he knew concerning the Fae.

Eventually I left. Faery tales weren't all that pertinent to me at the moment and regardless, I had other things on my mind. I couldn't focus on stories. As I departed, Father Nico walked us to the door.
His parting comment was disconcerting. "Good luck with Solomon Birch, Harper."
How does everyone seem to know fucking everything that I do? It's downright obnoxious. But I just thanked him and left.
I headed back to the sewers. Gio and Ori went to the shop, I think to survey the damage left by Bright and the Foundation. I put in my call to Norris when I was safely underground again.

"Evening, Norris." I managed not to let my voice betray my nervousness. I was always nervous when talking to Norris. It was like walking on extremely sharp eggshells. "Miss O'Shea."
"How are you tonight?" Two people I felt the need to be polite to in one night. It was probably some sort of personal record.
"Fine. Congratulations, by the way." He said.
I paused. That almost confirmed to me that it wasn't a trap. I doubted the Price would have actually made it widely known that he'd rescinded the order if it was. "Thank you, that's what I'm calling about, actually. What would cause the prince to lift the order?" I was seriously hoping to get a straight answer, and for once, I actually got one. I think that might have been another record. A straight answer from Norris. Damn.
"You are a hero to this city and a valued member of my covenant. You should not be hidden away." He said simply.

The nervousness, dread, and anger I'd felt since receiving Maxwell's call dissolved instantly. In fact, more of it than I even thought I'd had.. it was nice to be rid of that huge burden. "I am indebted to any of those who were involved in my..acquittal, if you will."
"I hold you to no debt." Norris said without hesitation.
The answer surprised me, but I didn't let it color my response. "Thank you."
And he hung up.

I actually sighed in relief. Norris had gone to bat for me, and won. Not only that, hadn't asked for anything in return. It occurred to me that he might every well have done so as payment for one of his own debts, but I didn't really care either way. I didn't have to stay hidden in a fucking sewer anymore. As nice as Maury had been, and as comfortable his haven was, it was still a sewer, and I'd be glad to leave it behind me. Now the question is.. how will everyone react to me returning? I had no idea if Maxwell had told many people about the Malkavia. It would probably be smart to stay under the radar for awhile. I wouldn't be surprised if a few kindred out there had yet, conveniently, to hear that the order had been rescinded.

But it was worth the risk. I just had no idea where I'd go. That thought sobered me up a bit. The shop was still under lock down. Or so I thought. It was about then that Giovanni and Grigori got back with unexpected news. I walked into the lab and they were both packing shit up.

"What's going on?"
"Bright's giving me my shop back. They're done with it. We can go back...unless you really enjoy the sewer rats." Gio said with a smirk. I responded with a derisive smile, and the finger.
"You really think it will be safe there?" I was skeptical.
He just shrugged. "I don't see why not. They have no need of the place itself, they just wanted what was in it. They have that now. But if you really want, you're more than welcome to stay in the sewers." I made a face. "I didn't think so. Lets go see Maury." And Gio headed off in that direction.

Both he and I went to talk to Maury.
We explained the situation to him. he didn't seem at all surprised by any of it. "We really appreciate your hospitality. We are going to get out of your hair now." Gio said. Maury looked down the hallway at my bedroom door, cracked epoxy still adhered to the frame. "As you will."
Gio grimaced. "Uh, sorry about that... well.. not really.." I just rolled my eyes and we both thanked him. It seemed minuscule compared to what he'd done for us. He accepted our thanks, then looked me square in the eye (I was still practicing looking at someone without making eye contact. I'd seen what some kindred could do with eye contact..) and said, "Please tell Norris, the next you see him, that he and I are now square. This has absolved my debt to him."
I nodded once, and left to start moving. It was interesting, I had thought Maury's debt had been to Traveler, not to Norris. This is what I get for making assumptions.

We started moving. The collector helped us, even brought along his posse. Ori seemed a little weirded out by the whole thing. It didn't take very long, we finished that night. I didn't have much in the way of possessions. Mostly just clothing. In fact, none of us were really bogged down with much. The most difficult part was transporting the lab itself. In passing I wondered what Maury was going to do about the sword that was stuck in the wall of the internet room.

That question was soon answered.

I set down the stack of boxes I'd been carrying, ignoring Gio's 800th warning not to break anything and leaned back against the door frame, crossing my arms. "Is that everything?"
Gio's gaze went past me, over my shoulder and into the other room. "Now it is."
I pushed off the frame and turned around.. to see the Collector slowly lowering a giant chunk of cement with a sword hilt protruding from one side to the floor. He was substantially bulkier, and the new muscle mass rippled with effort.
Giovanni gave a small laugh ."Impressive."
The Collector turned his eyeless face to us and gave a deep bow... then utterly vanished.

I really need to learn how to do that.

Ori gave a theatrical shudder. "That is the ugliest ninja ever."
I looked at him quizzically. "You do realize he's probably still here right?"
"Oh uh...shit." Ori started looking around the room frantically.
I just shook my head and went downstairs to my room, relieving Giovanni of one of his numerous burn phones. I had another call to make.
"If you're going to call Valkyrie, isn't the burn phone a bit pointless? Don't they have a chip in your phone anyway?"
"It's not to keep me safe from them. It's to keep them safe from him." I called back over my shoulder as I left.
I didn't want a repeat of what happened with Denzelo, so I was going to take precautions.

I dialed the Captain once I was in my old (new?) room.
"What do you have for me O'Shea?" That's how he answered the phone. Pleasantries be damned. As though I gave a shit.  I tried not to let the reminder of my current 'mission' get under my skin.
"Our serial killer may be resurfacing."
There was a long pause before he said anything. "How do you know?"
"I don't for sure, but I came across photos of someone matching a few of his qualities talking with Citysmith." Name drop.. maybe get him off my back a bit.
"This is extremely annoying." If breathing were still required of me, I'd have snorted in disgust, on reflex. As it was, I managed not too. Annoying for HIM? I think I won out on 'inconvenience factor' on this one. But I kept that thought to myself.
"Yeah. Just thought you guys should have a heads up.. how is Denzelo anyway?"
He sighed. "Doing better, it seems.. but whatever happened.. well it fucked him up pretty good. Do you have anything else to report?"
"Nothing, but not for a lack of trying." Which was true. Damn Birch and his computer skills.
"Let us know when you have more." And he hung up on me. Ass.

I tossed the cell on the naked mattress and sat down next to it. I briefly considered how long I could keep Valkyrie off my back, how much information I'd have to feed them. This game wasn't fun, and I was already getting tired of it. I wondered what they'd do if I went 'rogue', dug that chip out of my shoulder and gave them the finger. They'd probably send another team after me, like they had before. But I was stronger now. Hell, I'd drank from a fucking GOD. But still, it was nothing to take lightly. But I'd cross that bridge when I came to it.

In the midst of these thoughts, something on the desk caught my eye. A book, one that I knew I never put there. I went over to the desk to puzzle over it. It was laying face down in the middle of the desk. It was thin, no more than 100 pages, and about the size of a journal. It was leather bound and the pages were made of old parchment, rather than modern paper. The entire thing screamed of age. I gingerly opened the back cover to reveal pages covered with hand written script, penned very precisely in dark ink, the script flowing and perfectly spaced. I held it carefully and turned it over, revealing a version of the Ordo Dracul insignia embossed on the front cover. The symbol seemed slightly off though, which made sense if the book was as old as it looked. Times changing and all that. The title was embossed across the top, above the insignia. "Rites of the Dragon."

I nearly dropped it.

As it was, I stared at it uncomprehending. I'd heard of this book. It was supposedly the memoirs of Dracula himself, following him from his death till torpor, and laying out all the founding guidelines for the Ordo Dracul. It was also, supposedly, extremely rare. This was not a book that just any member of the Order had access too. Hell, I was pretty certain that even high ranking members would have a hard time getting their hands on a copy. And I was holding one in my hands.

I didn't know who'd left it, more than likely it was Giuseppe, but it may have also been the gift that Rashida had promised.. but either way I didn't care. I had it, and that was the most important thing. I was holding the sum of the Ordo Dracul philosophy in my hands. The thoughts and events that led directly to the creation and development of the Coils, and the Order itself. The words of the Kindred who had discovered how to permanently change the vampiric condition, save it from a static existence. I would know what he'd been thinking. How he did it. It was my turn to feel like a kid at Christmas. Once I got passed the utter shock, giddy excitement, and intense amazement, I sat and carefully opened the book.

Once I began to read, I quickly realized the vast potential this book had to change my entire outlook.


December 8th, 2009

I didn't sleep all day. I forced myself to stay up so that I could read the manuscript over and over again. I read it through once, devouring every word. Then I read it again, just to be sure I didn't miss anything. I read it a third time and took notes as I did. When I left my room that night, I was on my fourth time through, and the implications were just starting to set it.

Nobody and Ori were in the kitchen, Becca was watching TV, and Nadi was no where to be seen. Gio was working in his lab when I walked in with my nose buried in the text.

"Wakey wakey oven bakey." He grinned at me.
I looked at him from over the top of the book and frowned. "What are you, German?" His response was to go back to his tinkering. "Kinda, yeah."
I gave a snort and settled onto a stool on the far side of the lab. The room began to dim until the work lamp over Giovanni's workbench was much too faint to work by. The place was nearly black, cloaked in heavy shadows. This did not, however, get the reaction I was hoping for. Gio simply reached over and grabbed a pair of goggles from a cabinet (the ones I'd given him from Valkyrie, though they looked modified) and put them on without a word and kept working. I frowned and just went back to reading, keeping the inky darkness intact just out of spite. It wasn't like I needed the light to read.

Well damn. That was immensely unsatisfying. Thankfully, I live with more than one idiot. I didn't have to wait long before I heard Grigori walk into the room and slam right into the edge of one of the unoccupied work tables. "Ooof! FUCK!"
Now that.. was much more satisfying. Ori gestured blindly in my general direction. "Hey, can you cut that out?" The irritation and discomfort in his voice made up for the lack of reaction from Gio.
"No." He couldn't see me smirk.
"But it's not bugging him!" He huffed, pointing towards the very faint pinpoints of light generated by Gio's goggles.
"That's okay. You're just as annoying." I was careful to keep all hints of humor and amusement out of my voice. I had a reputation to maintain, after all.

I turned back to my book as he grumbled and cursed and tried, unsuccessfully, to navigate out of the room without running into any more furniture.

Both Giovanni and I looked up sharply when someone knocked on the door of the shop. We shared a curious look, and both stood to investigate. I hid the book away.
I allowed the shadows to dissolve when I recognized Deuce Carter's visage. It was a premature move, but it wasn't as though they would've helped anyway. When Ori opened the door, I knew something was very wrong. His face was slack, and his arms hung limply at his sides. Before I could examine his aura, I caught sight of why.

The tip of a wooden stake was protruding from his chest about 2 inches. Before anyone could react, the person holding the other end of the stake threw him into and across the room.

Solomon Birch stood on the shop's doorstep.

In an instant, we were all ready for a fight, tension palpatable in the air.
"I would appreciate it if you'd invite me in." Birch's tone was about a thousand degrees south of friendly, and condescending as fuck.
Ori crossed his arms over his chest. "I ain't doing it. "
Giovanni looked at him through slitted eyes. His hand wasn't on the shotgun, but it was tensed, ready. "You staked my friend." Gio's tone managed to be colder.
Birch all but rolled his eyes. "Yes, and if you don't invite me in so we can settle this civilly, I'll do it to another friend, then another.."
I cut him off. "Invite him in, Giovanni." I inwardly cursed myself. I figured Birch would come directly for me, not involve others. In hindsight, that was monumentally stupid to assume.
Gio gestured for him to enter, but it was a stiff and curt movement. Birch stepped inside and shut the door behind him.

I heard Nobody yank the stake from Deuce's back. Deuce's eyes flew open, darting around the room like a caged animal. He rolled to his feet quick as lightning and snarled at Birch, tensing to charge.
Birch just sneered at him. "Do you want to do this again?"
Deuce bared his fangs, but didn't lunge. The glare he gave Birch was downright baleful.
Birch grinned maliciously at Deuce and turned back to look at the rest of us."One of you hacked into my computer system. I want to know which one."
Gio and Nobody turned to look at me, Ori started to speak, but I cut him off by simply giving Birch a two fingered wave. I couldn't blame the others, I'd brought this upon myself. Besides, I knew if Birch attacked me here, they'd throw in, regardless.

"Ah, good. That means we can keep this strictly a vampire matter, and we don't have to involve the other freaks." Freaks was said with intense derision, like he didn't want them to doubt for a second that he felt them beneath him.
He looked at me, face twisted up in self righteous rage. "Care to take a walk with me?"
I kept my expression bland and started mentally going through all the possible outcomes of this little adventure. Most of them weren't pleasant for me. "Do I have a choice?"
He looked at me with a grin that was more like like a baring of fangs. "Not even in the slightest." He opened the door and held it for me, gesturing me out in front of him. I was struck then that he was pulling dirty tricks galore. I realized then that he'd had us all duped. We couldn't have attacked him even if we wanted too. We'd all been rapt by him in one way or another. He'd been terrifying.. but I realized it was all tricks. I fought through it, but I didn't attack him. I kinda like existing.

He walked beside me on the sidewalk and I did my best not to display my nervousness. I watched his every movement, waiting for him to attack now that he had me alone. We walked about a block in silence before he said anything.
"So. What exactly motivated you to violate my privacy?"
I hesitated. If I told him the truth, he may kill me right there.. but if I lied, the possibly consequences were worse. I only paused for a few seconds before making up my mind. "Are you familiar with Project Valkyrie?"
He sneered and his voice was chalk full of scorn. "TASKFORCE Valkyrie. It is a Taskforce. So what is your TASK Valkyrie agent?" He said it like an insult.. and it sure as hell felt like one. Could be that I'm just sensitive about the issue.

But, there was no use in abashing myself in front of him for my affiliations, as distasteful as they may be. "I have the misfortune of owing them a number of favors. They called in a few."
"And what were these favors?"
I shrugged at the obvious answer. "To keep tabs on you." Which was mostly true. No need to mention anyone else.
He nodded, expression shifting to something slightly more pensive (yet still retaining that air of self righteous contempt) "I can work with that." He stopped walking.

Which was not the answer I was expecting. I also stopped and watched him with narrowed eyes. I was about to speak when a black town car pulled up.
"Get in." It wasn't a suggestion.

I got in. The interior was impressive and not at all what I expected. It was fancy as shit, but not just because of the leather and the trim. It was decked out in all the latest electronics. No wonder I got fucked over. He was a technology junkie. As we started to pull away, he produced a laptop from a panel and began typing. Before long, he had ejected a thumb drive and held it out to me.

"This is what you will give them. No more, no less. This is all the information you were able to get from my system. Now, if questioned, you will make the proper noise on just how very difficult it was to get this information. How I almost caught you several times. How it was backed up behind firewalls and proxys.." I pursed my lips at the implied insult and cut him off. "I know how to sell it."
His mouth twitched in the beginnings of a sneer. "Good. Now, you have already shown that you are willing to give up one of your own if pressed by a government agency... what I want to know, is why?"

Self righteous son of a bitch. I invade his privacy and all of the sudden I'm the government's pet? As though I'd betray whoever they asked me to. As though what I had done was even a betrayal at all. Doesn't there have to be some existing trust to break for it to even qualify? I spoke through gritted teeth. "I wasn't turning on my own. You assume I was going to give them everything I found. I as trying to get them enough information to keep them off my back, not put you at risk." Mostly true.. though I really could give two shits whether or not he was in danger.

"You mean to keep them off MY back." His eyes were all anger and violence. "Instead of getting in touch with me and informing me of this situation, you chose to be RUDE, and attempt to access my information without my knowledge. Why did you choose to be so rude?" Funny, last night I was dealing with all sorts of people I felt the need to be extremely polite too. Tonight I was dealing with someone that I went out of my way to be a bitch too.. and he's the only one insisting on politeness.
"Up until last night I couldn't exactly call anyone I wanted to up to chat without..certain consequences."
"Oh really? Couldn't meet with people?" He clicked the mouse a few times and spin the laptop around to face me. There were images of me with my dyed hair and baseball cap all around the city. "You're going to try and tell me you didn't contact anyone at all?"
I just gave him an annoyed frown. "I never said that. But I had no reason to believe that you'd do anything but serve my head up on a silver platter." Which was perfectly true. I was much more inclined to believe he'd take the KOS order to heart and relish being allowed to off me.
"Ah, you see, now we get to the REAL issue." He said cryptically.

The car slowed and pulled up to the curb. We were sitting in front of a nightclub. A BDSM nightclub. "You don't like me."
"You don't like ME." I countered.
He shrugged. "Its not really a requirement. Why is it you aren't fond of me?" Really? He wanted to know why? Oh let me count the ways. He slid out of the car, came around, and waited for me to exit myself. I answered him as I climbed out.

"Because every time I have interacted with you you've treated me like a lesser being.. and I don't appreciate it." I paused for a heartbeat, then added, "And because you're an asshole."
"Well.. you ARE a lesser being."
"Case and point." I said dryly.
We walked quickly through the club, which was dark with pulsing music and lots of leather and chains. I started to wonder just what activities Birch has engaged in to get all those scars.. he paused only briefly to gesture to two scantily dressed patrons on the way up to the VIP area. The two humans followed him like hungry dogs.

The room that we ended up in was mostly barren. There were tools on the walls that I didn't even want to guess at their purpose, and the floor had a drain in it. That was never a good sign. There were two chairs in the middle of the room, across from each other. He took one, so I took the other.

"So you don't like me because I'm..a racist, because I look down on you." he said it as an observation, leaning back in his chair, relaxing into it. I couldn't relax right now if my existence depended on it...
"Tell me. What was your last meal when you were still alive?"
I blinked at the abrupt shift."Carne asada and tequila." One doesn't tend to forget their last meal before Death.
"Ahh.. Carne Asada." He gave a disparaging laugh that ended in a sneer. "And did you ask the color of the cow?"
"You're Pathetic. Someone who tries to pretend that she is just like the little humans, only slightly different. You deny what you are and try to pretend humans are more than just cattle." He snapped his fingers and the two clubbers, who had looks of eager anticipation, knelt down on either side of him and he lounged against them as though they were furniture, using them as rests for his arms and feet. I couldn't keep the disgust off my face.
"And every time you look at me with that disgusted little sneer.. yes.. just like that.. you show just how weak you really are. You are correct, I do think you are a lesser being. You have yet to overcome certain difficulties of your condition.. and that makes you WEAK."
"Oh? Such as?" I said, with more than a little sarcasm.
"This.." he waved his hand in the air, searching for the word."..relation you still attempt to maintain with mortals. Pretending they are equal to you. But they aren't. You are a predator. You were made to hunt them." He truly believed that, I could see it in his body language, hear it in his voice.. hell, I could read it in his aura.
"And no matter how many DEER you eat, it will never be the same as preying on those you were MADE to prey upon. You are crippling yourself." His hand sliced the air as though into an invisible victims legs. "Its those like you that have made this popular lately.. this..vegetarianism." He curled his lip in contempt and disgust. It radiated off of him in waves. His aura was saturated with it. "It's pathetic. You attacked and fed off of a GOD. I am at least required to give you token respect for that..now you hide away and feed off of VERMIN? You have taken power and chose not to use it. To let it wither away into nothing. You are ineffective. You are a wolf that has chosen to make it's home among sheep, to suckle at the ewe's teat until all your fangs have fallen out." Obviously, he didn't think much of me. But he wasn't done yet.

He leaned forward in his chair, his voice mocking. "So tell me Mehket, do you SPARKLE in the sunlight?"

Blood red RAGE surged through my body. It was by sheer force of will that I kept the Beast locked in its cage. It howled and screeched and filled my head with graphic visions of ripping that superior smirk off Birch's face and wallowing in his entrails. I forced the sights away, as entertaining as they were. Bitter as that insult had been, I'd managed to keep my reaction internalized. Inwardly, I fought the rage and beast down. Outwardly, I casually folded my arms across my chest and gave him a sardonic smile.
"Blood is blood. Humans may as well be animals for the purposes of feeding. They serve me the same as wildlife. The difference is humans can be vastly more useful to me. I would rather not risk killing a something that could be a useful tool."

He cocked an eyebrow at me. "You don't feed on humans because you don't want to risk killing someone who may be useful to you?" He looked genuinely surprised, and no less condescending. "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard, and I've heard some pretty stupid things in my time." I just frowned at him.
He lifted his arm from where it was resting on the back of the young black girl. She stood and walked over to me, then returned to her knees. She lifted her chin and bared her throat. Her eyes, her face, her body.. they all screamed desperation. The desparate desire of an addict. I did my best to ignore the throbbing pulse in her neck and focus on Birch.

"They're addicts, Harper. They BEG for us to feed on them. It is what we were made to do. You throw away all the potential you have so you can avoid killing them? Pathetic. Your brethren feed off them nightly without killing them. You will never achieve anything without taking risks. No one ever got anywhere by being SQUEAMISH."
I scowled at him. "Why do you assume that I'm not willing to kill if its necessary?"
Solomon made a flick of the fingers to illustrate the lack of importance the question bore. "Conjecture." But he 'knew' he was right. I could see it written all over his face. He was downright convinced he was 100% right about me. And what stung my pride the most, was that amidst the insults and the degradation.. he actually was making a small amount of sense.

And apparently he saw something in me that showed him I had thought as much, because he smirked and leaned back in his chair again, all self satisfied. "You see, your problem is that you're a coward. You aren't willing to take risks to get what you want. You hide behind your moral outrage and your mask of spurious practicality, when really, you're just a scared little peon who isn't willing to take the RISKS to achieve anything worth mentioning. Pitiful."

Not willing to take risks? Hell, I hacked his fucking computer didn't I? This guy ate at my last nerve. The biggest problem was, there was a small part of me that was terrified he might be right. A nagging, tiny voice that said that my vow to do what was necessary was just a way to thinly veil my fears of the beast. Because all in all, hunting animals was far from practical or necessary. But I ignored it. Shoved it away and scowled at Birch. I wouldn't give in to inner conflicts in front of this pompous, self righteous, ingratiating son of a bitch.

"How does my choice of diet make me weak exactly?"
He gave me a look that said I should already know the answer to that question. A look that said I was continuing to prove to him how lowly a creature I was. "You are higher on the food chain then they are. Wolves, bears, lions.. they are predators, like we are predators. They don't hunt MICE."

I just stared at him. "Why do you care?"

"You were created to be a predator, and to be anything less to to deny yourself , to become weak, stunted, and pathetic... which apparently, you prefer. However, buried under all your deplorable cowardice, there is occasionally evidence of vast...potential. But instead of utilize it, you piss it away. You are not acting to that potential, and I find that.. disgusting."
Briefly, an emotion flashed across his features.. one I thought I had seen before. I dug back into my memories, and what I found surprised me. I recalled hearing a snipet of conversation one night at court, conversation concerning Giuseppe, though the speaker didn't actually refer to him by name. I remember the look on Birch's face.. because it sat oddly on his features. It was a flash of pure admiration. That was what this was about. He thought I wasn't living up to my..."parentage". Thats the reason he was taking interest in me. Because of Giuseppe.

Well Holy Fuck.

He narrowed his eyes at me, and the girl on her knees in front of me let out a small desperate whimper.

"Food for thought." He tilted his chin and looked down his nose at me. "Now get out."
So I left. The door shut behind me as I saw Birch rise and stalk towards the girl, still on her knees on the cold floor.

I walked in the direction of  the shop. I took the time to cool down, and to get my head on straight. He was an infuriating asshole, but a few of the things he said kept ringing in my head. I don't think it would have made a damn bit of difference if I hadn't been reading the Rites of the Dragon before he paid me that little visit.

I had a lot to consider. And I think I hated Birch the most for that.

No.. no.. the fact that he was raging cunt still made the top of the list of reasons to hate Solomon Birch in the end...

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