Helena made the mistake of getting involved with the darkness, and now she's knee-deep in it. Even her guardian angel has given up on her…literally.
A shiver induced by the stone wall ran through Helena. Her heart kicked into the next gear when she noted the restraints around her wrists. She struggled, tugging at the unforgiving shackles time and time again.
“Looks like she’s finally awake,” someone said in a gruff voice.
“Then get on with it,” another replied.
She whipped her head around in search of the voices. The sudden action blurred her vision, causing her to squint. A low-wattage bulb at the end of the room exposed crates and stacked boxes. A bald man sat at a table; his legs crossed at the heel whilst his beefy hands held the local newspaper.
The second man pushed away from the grimy wall, sauntering towards her. His unnerving grin revealed a set of elongated canines.
A breath caught in her throat.
“Aren’t you a tad bit young to be working for Alexander?” he asked.
A deep frown creased her face while her attention darted between her captors. She didn’t work for Alexander nor did she ever want to see him or Lucious again.
The stranger stopped a foot away from her. Dark, greasy hair clung to his scalp in thinning streaks. A few strands separated at the front, curtaining his heavy-lidded eyes. He reached out, grabbing her hair with a sharp twist and lifted her head to meet his narrowed eyes. “I asked you a question, human.”
Her nose wrinkled in disgust. His breath—a mixture of cheap tobacco, beer, and something else—caused her stomach to churn. Panic will not solve anything, she thought, yet her heart ignored her rationalisation.
“I don’t work for him,” she said, surprised her voice came out unshaken.
He waved at her thin shirt and smart trousers. “We saw you leaving his club looking like this.”
Helena fought the urge to roll her eyes. If he’d been inside, he would know Alexander’s staff didn’t wear uniforms. Well, the bouncers did… “This is what anyone would wear to an interview!”
His eyes flared with a light-grey glow, and she instantly regretted her snappy tone. She flinched under his menacing stare which made her think of a glowering two-year-old she used to babysit. The kid always shot daggers her way if she didn’t give him any candy.
“…you listening?” He let go of her hair with a sudden shove as he shouted at her.
Helena’s head dunked, encouraging the faint ache to blaze into a full-blown headache.
“I think I hit her harder than I thought.”
“Rick—” The companion set his newspaper on the table, “—if you can’t get anything out of her…”
Helena figured the one who ran the operation was not ‘Rick’. His literate friend held an authoritative confidence the man in front of her lacked. She imagined Rick struggling to read a novel by Tolstoy. The image alone made her lips twitch upwards.
“What’re you smiling about? Don’t you understand what’s going on?” Rick snapped.
She glared at him. Arguing wouldn’t help, but her mouth lost its filter. “Should I?”
Her left cheek exploded with a burning sting as he backhanded her across the face. Automatically, she moved to rub the pain away and realised with a sickening feeling what situation she was in—chained to a wall with two unknown men in a dingy room.
As a dull ache settled in her arms, she bit her lower lip to suppress her bitter tongue from bringing more trouble.
Rick leant in and peered into her face. His lips hovered next to her ear. “Let’s see how much you know.”
He grabbed the sides of her head, forcing her to look at him. When their eyes locked, he grinned.
Helena struggled, screaming, “Let go!”
“Calm down, human.” His harsh tone switched to a soothing melody.
Right on cue, her body relaxed at his command. His glowing eyes became the centre of her universe. Anything he said would be a binding instruction.
Inside, she screamed, fighting his overpowering control, but nothing happened. Why couldn’t Lucious influence me and this idiot can?
“Are you paying attention?”
“Will you obey my commands?”
Flat and emotionless, she answered him in an instant. “Yes.”
Leaning in to the point their noses almost touched, Rick asked his golden question. “Do you work for Alexander?”
The grey glow in his eyes intensified, causing her to feel like she was floating. Her wrists throbbed. The metal cut deeper into her skin, and a groan escaped her.
“Do you know Lucious?”
The vampire’s fingers dug into her jaw, and she winced. “Where is he? What do you know about him?”
“Russian Roulette. He wanted to meet me to undo the link.”
The silent partner sprang from his chair, knocking it over as he rushed to his feet. “What kind of link?”
Words failed her as she fought through her jumbled mix of emotions.
Rick jerked her head backwards and hissed, “Answer his question.”
“I’m not sure. It was an accident.”
In his frustration, Rick shook her. “I’ll suck you dry if you don’t give me some proper answers!”
His partner pulled out his phone, typing something on the smooth glass screen. “She doesn’t have much information, but she can be useful in other ways.”
Rick trailed his fingers along her arms, inching his way closer to her jugular. “Can I play then?”
His influence on her dropped, and Helena glared at the side of his greasy head.
“You can feed but nothing else. We may be able to fetch a decent price for her later.”
Shivers ran through her when Rick faced her with a growing grin. There was little she could tell them about the link, so she couldn’t use that information as leverage. She didn’t know much about Lucious, Alexander, or their plans.
Helena groaned. Her headache transformed into a constant droning. Closing her eyes, her thoughts turned into a prayer for Michael to appear and tell her some good news. News, of any kind, was better than being with these monsters.
The leader glanced at them before his attention returned to his phone. “You have two minutes.” He strode out of the room without another word.
With Rick’s overseer gone, her smart remarks would lead her to an early grave. She eyed the closing door, willing the second man to return while her heart battered against her ribs.
Rick fished out a folding knife from his jeans’ pocket. Light bled back into his irises as he teased the blade open.
Helena squeezed her eyes shut. She wasn’t going to be his puppet again.
The cool metal tip touched her cheek. “If you don’t open your eyes, I will cut this pretty little face of yours until you do.”
She wavered. The stinging in her cheek hadn’t gone away, and she wasn’t keen on finding out what being chopped to pieces felt like. After all, he threatened with more than a paper cut. Clenching her teeth, she lifted her eyelids. One second of contact was enough to fall under his rule once more.
“Good. Don’t move.”
Her body refused any further movement, and she berated herself for being so weak.
One by one, the buttons of her blouse popped onto the concrete. With the last one gone; he pulled the material apart. His eyes twinkled as if he was a child, opening his Christmas present. He appraised her chest, and her heavy breathing filled the silence.
No matter how hard she fought his mental hold, she could do nothing. He grazed the knife across her pale skin. Blood rushed to the surface, trickling down her small breasts and staining her plain bra. He slid the dull side of the blade across her chest, entranced by the sweet perfume of her blood.
She was certain it couldn’t be her lack of feminine curves that kept his attention.
His mental hold slipped, and she regained control of her limbs. When the knife touched her waist, her hips bucked. In one painful second, the sleek metal sank into her skin. An agonised scream escaped her, bouncing off the walls of the enclosed space.
The boss reappeared, shouting, “I thought I told you to feed and nothing else!”
Rick jerked the blade out. “This bitch is hard to control. Unless I’m looking right at her, she breaks the bloody hold.”
“I don’t give two shits about that,” the man growled. “Leave her be until he comes for her. We must prepare.”
Grumbling under his breath, Rick licked her blood off the blade and let out a satisfied groan. With a fleeting glance in her direction, he stashed his knife away and left with his partner.
Her mouth went dry. She studied the gash. Dark red tendrils descended her side. She rested her head against the wall, focusing on the chipped white ceiling to stop nausea from claiming her in its rising waves.
What am I going to do? No one knows where I am, she thought.
A silvery voice came from her right. “That’s not true.”
Her eyes darted to the side, and she grunted. A headache hit her like a hammer to the face. Her guardian angel stood three feet away with his angular features encased by his long, straight mane of golden hair.
She glared at him. “Where have you been?”
Michael bowed his head in apology. “I should have come sooner, I know. I wanted to find out who they contacted, so I followed—” He paused mid-sentence and rushed to her side. His hand hovered next her injuries. He gritted his teeth. “He hurt you.”
“I’m alright, but can you—” She stopped short of asking him to untie her. This whole situation was too comical not to be in a TV drama. He was right there, but he couldn’t save her. His ghostly presence forced him to become a mere observer in her realm. He couldn’t help her in this predicament even if he wanted to. She knew it, he knew it, and the hurt on his face proved it.
Michael sighed. “He will come.”
“And if I don’t want to see him?”
“Helena, you know what will happen to you if you don’t leave this place.”
She arched a brow. “You called him names mere hours ago, what changed?”
“If he can get you out of here, I will adjust my terminology.”
Helena snorted. This day keeps on getting better and better.
Five days ago…
After sealing the final box, Helena stretched, relieving some of the dull pain in her lower back. She wiped the sweat off her forehead and surveyed her old bedroom. It was nothing more than an ocean of pale brown boxes and suitcases.
Double checking her things one last time, she closed her eyes. The sound of her beating heart enveloped her as happy memories merged with the familiar smell of rose scented candles on her windowsill. From downstairs, muffled voices of her mother and Richard floated up. This is where she grew up—a home she would miss.
Her fingers itched with anticipation and a smile tugged at her lips. Sitting on the edge of her bed, she reached under the pillow, retrieving a journal. She rested the two-inch-thick bulk on her lap. It had been on her mind ever since she rummaged through the dusty attic last night. Once she had laid eyes on the leather cover with carved fern leaves, she wanted to know the secrets held inside. Yet, priorities such as packing were paramount. If not done in time, she would be forced to listen to Laura’s complaints until her ears bled.
She peeled back the jacket, revealing the first aged, yellow page. A list of names presented itself to her. They appeared handwritten by different people, possibly multiple owners of the journal. One name caught her attention. She skimmed through the strange diagrams and drawings of plants, recognising a few from her grandmother’s garden when she was little. Faded, an archaic language filled the worn pages. She didn’t even try pretending to comprehend it.
Beautiful curving letters sparked recognition and her hand froze. Her grandmother had been the last owner of this journal. Helena smiled at the bittersweet memory of them spending time together. The old woman read stories to her of witches battling against the dark forces in the world—tales she would never forget.
Her grip tightened. The calm, happy memories decayed as the tragic episodes unfolded in her mind once more. Her mother’s version was simply a story of a loving grandmother turning into a crazed woman as she ended her life by setting fire to their home. Yet, those fragments of her childhood remained a knot she couldn’t unravel no matter how hard she tried.
Michael’s words sprang into her mind, making her jump. “Sasha is finishing the preparations. You should change.”
“I’m busy,” she replied.
“This is your last night here. That thing cannot be more important than spending time with your parents.”
She slammed the journal shut. “Fine!”
Standing, she cast a fleeting glance to its hiding place under the pillow and walked to her wardrobe. A set of clothes she had prepared for tonight’s dinner awaited her on the top shelf. She changed out of her sweat-tinged tracksuit and into a baggy T-shirt with a pair of jeans.
As she opened the door, a delicious aroma greeted her. Her grumbling stomach led her downstairs where she found an excessive amount of food spread out on the round oak table. Her mother went overboard with preparations as per usual. Nonetheless, Helena refrained from pointing it out and took in an appreciative whiff of the roasted chicken.
Her step-father’s salt-and-pepper hair bobbed as he battled with a bottle of wine. His two large brows scrunched, creating an impression of a dark unibrow.
“Don’t just stand there.” Her mother’s underlying Russian accent never failed to show when she was anxious. With a huff, she piled plates and cutlery in Helena’s hands and rushed back into the kitchen.
Helena set the table mumbling, “Well, hello to you too, Mum.”
As Richard settled the bottle on the lacquered surface, his shoulders slumped. The small cork got stuck halfway in the bottle’s neck, unwilling to move in either direction.
“We haven’t had champagne in a while,” Helena said.
“You’re right. I think Sasha bought one for the occasion.”
When he left the room, her mother reappeared, and two brown eyes zeroed in on Helena. Her fingers raked through her short, platinum hair, as she commenced the emotional bombardment. “Are you sure about moving out? You can stay with us until you finish studying or—”
Helena crossed her arms. “Mum, we had this discussion last week.”
“Yes, we did.”
She wanted to kick herself—upsetting her mother was not something she enjoyed. It would be easier for her to travel to and from college if she moved in with her friends. She glanced at the kitchen door. Richard was taking longer than he should have. So, she tapped her foot to try to melt the silence growing between them.
Her mother’s transitory act of sadness disappeared, and she squared her shoulders, disapproval remained etched into the frown lines on her face.
“I know you’re worried, Mum, but I’ll be with Laura and Andrew.”
Sasha relaxed her stance and hugged her daughter. “You are my only child. I can’t help worrying.”
Helena patted her back, unsure of what to say or do next. Thankfully, the heavens answered with a loud pop coming from the kitchen and a faint clinking of glasses.
Richard strolled into the room with a grin, revealing his pearly teeth as he held up an opened bottle of champagne and three champagne flutes. “I take it you two are doing well?”
“We’re fine,” her mother replied. She pulled away from Helena, folded her apron over the back of her chair, and took her seat.
Following Sasha’s example, Helena sat next to her mother.
Richard poured each of them a drink and joined them at the table. The instant he took a sip from his glass, he cringed.
Helena glanced at her thighs to hide her snort. She loved her step-father. Even though he was busy as the Head of the Science Department, he remained a family man. He never complained and took care of her and her mother after her real father disappeared from their lives without so much as an explanation.
“Did you finish your registration?” Richard asked.
Helena raised her head. “Yeah, the second I got accepted.”
“I’m concerned by your choice. Becoming a doctor or a lawyer would pay better than a—” Her mother waved her hand in the air, searching for the right word. “I don’t even know what you can call your degree.”
Helena looked away. Her mother’s stony eyes held enough disappointment to drown an army. The silence continued to spread, and Helena clutched the cutlery. The metal warmed in her palms. “If I get bored, I will choose something else.”
“Bored?” Sasha’s voice rose.
Finished with the conversation, Helena switched her attention to her food.
Richard cleared his throat. “I heard there’ll be quite a downpour tomorrow. Hope it won’t hinder your move.”
Her mother gave Helena a fleeting glare as if telling her their conversation wasn’t over and faced her husband. “How bad will it be? I have to meet with the girls.”
Helena took the distraction as a reprieve and mouthed a “thank you” to Richard who winked in return.