My eyes were so heavy. I couldn’t remember why. I fought to open them but nothing. Where was I? What had I done? Where was Dank? Why wouldn’t my eyes open?
“Shhhh, it’s okay Pagan. Don’t get all worked up. I’ve got you.”
Leif’s voice. Why was Leif here?
Abnormally warm fingers brushed hair from my face and I shivered as goosebumps covered my body. They weren’t from pleasure.
“Yes, I’m here,” he murmured and continued playing with my hair.
“Where am I? Why can’t I open my eyes?” the panic in my voice was evident.
“You’re with me for now. Where you belong. Where you’ve always belonged. You’ve been mine since the moment I chose you when we were both just children. And as for your eyes they’ll open soon enough. Your human body had difficulty dealing with the travel and for that I’m sorry.”
Nothing he said made any sense.
“I don’t understand.”
“Just rest. You’ll feel better soon.”
I used every ounce of strength in my body fighting endlessly to open my eyes. But nothing happened. Everything remained dark. Until, exhausted, I slipped away into the darkness.
Blinking slowly, I stared up at what appeared to be black chiffon. Studying it in confusion I realized it was draped over the bed I was laying in. Turning my head to take in my surroundings I noticed the room was illuminated by a faint orange glow. I pushed up on my elbows and wondered if this was real or if I was dreaming. Candles covered the room and flickered causing light to dance across the ceiling. The walls were made of stone yet the room was elaborately decorated with silver candelabras and a crystal chandelier. I had to be dreaming. Shaking my head to clear it, I swung my feet over the side of the bed noticing for the first time the black silk sheets I’d been sleeping on. Like the other parts of the room the massive iron bed frame looked out of place in a room with stone walls. Where was I supposed to be and how had I conjured this place up?
I sat there studying the small flames in front of me and focused on what I could remember: I’d been at Dank’s concert, There had been a girl... a mean girl. A girl Dank had taken up for. Oh, I’d run and Leif had found me.
Gasping, I jumped up and spun around looking for a door. This wasn’t a dream. I needed to get out of here. Something wasn’t right. Leif had taken me away. Drugged me. Why did I have to be such a drama queen and run away? Before I could work myself into a complete tizzy, the stone wall to the left of the bed began to move and a hidden door swung open.
Leif walked into the room dressed in his usual jeans and polo shirt. He looked so normal. He looked like a high school quarterback. His blond hair was perfectly messy as if it had been styled to look untouched. The blue eyes I’d once trusted sparkled as they met mine. It was so hard to believe he was evil.
“You’re awake,” he appeared pleased by this as he closed the door behind him.
“Where are we?”
Leif held out his hands and grinned, “My place. You like it?”
I didn’t break eye contact with him. This wasn’t the answer I was looking for and he knew it.
“Why am I here Leif?”
He smirked and lifted one eyebrow. This wasn’t an expression I was familiar with. Leif never appeared cocky.
“Because you belong to me.”
Forcing the panic that was trying so hard to break through further down while I held my calm expression I took another step toward him.
“I don’t belong to you, Leif. I’m not a possession. I’m a person. Please take me back home.”
Leif let out a hard laugh that held no humor, “So that Dankmar can have what I created? I don’t think so Pagan,” he stopped and ran his hand through the messy locks of hair. It was a move I’d seen him do hundreds of times. Somehow seeing that small touch of humanity eased the fear gripping me.
“You see, he was bound to love you. You’re different. He saw that. But what he failed to explain is that you’re different because I made you different. Not him. Not fate. Me. Everything about you has been molded into my creation. You were chosen for me.” He held out his hand, “it’s okay, trust me. My touch would never harm you.”
Shaking my head I retreated until the iron footboard of the bed touched my back.
“Have I ever hurt you, Pagan? Listen to your soul. It knows where it belongs. The fire flashing in your eyes right now is your soul reaching for me.” He stopped in front of me and smiled down at me like he had a wonderful secret to share. He held out his hand to me, “give me your hand.”
My eyes. He was the reason my eyes were glowing a freaky orange color and he wanted me to give him my hand? I don’t think so. This was a problem.
“Please Leif, take me home. I just want to go home,” I pleaded.
Frowning, Leif dropped his outstretched hand. “What must I do to make you trust me? You trust Death without question. Death, Pagan. He is Death. How can you trust a creation meant to take souls from earth and not trust me? I’ve never let you get hurt. I’ve never left you alone. But he shows up and you fall mindlessly under his spell. What did he do to deserve you? He didn’t save your life. He would’ve taken your soul when you were a kid. Left your mother grieving the loss of her child and not thought of it again. It’s what he does.”
“But why did you save me?”
Leif gave me a small sad smile and tilted his head to the side studying me. “I’m not your darkest dream, Pagan. I may walk in the darkness but I saw a life worth saving and I chose it. My father chose it. He agreed you were meant for me. Now it’s up to you to accept that the life you have always lived is coming to an end. It is past time. You were supposed to die that day on the road and when Death came I was to take your soul instead. You would’ve trusted me. Your soul and my spirit are one. But Death broke the rules,” Leif growled and stalked over to one of the many candles lighting the room, “I’d become lax in my judgment. I knew Death was with you but I believed he was doing what he does when he takes a special interest in a soul, preparing you. Instead, the fool was falling in love with you.”
I watched horrified as he held his hand over the flame causing it to grow until the tip was licking against his palm. His fist tightened over the flame then he turned back to me and opened his hand to reveal a ball of fire.
“I may not control Death but I do control the dead. Those who made less than intelligent choices on earth. They walk among the darkness under my father’s command. Under my command. I need someone to fill the loneliness. You’ve been my companion for over fifteen years now even if you don’t realize it. But your memories will slowly return. You’ll see that you do, in fact, belong to me.”
Dank was stronger than this. I chanted that reminder in my head to keep my heart from racing in my chest. He would find me. Even if I was in the pits of Hell. Glancing around I seriously doubted that was where we were. Nothing about this place reminded me of Hell. Well, except that I was stuck in here with a Voodoo spirit lord.
“You’re just going to take me from earth? What about my mother? I can’t just leave her.” That was actually the least of my worries but he’d brought up my mother’s grieving so I thought I’d throw it back in his face.
Leif frowned and closed the distance between us causing my body to go on high alert. I had to mentally force myself not to recoil from his closeness. I wasn’t sure how he’d handle that. He was bound and determined my soul was his but it sure didn’t want to have anything to do with him.
“I’ll take you back soon. She won’t even realize you were gone. I just needed a place where I could talk to you. To explain, without,” he paused and a sour expression curled his lips, “that stupid transporter or Dankmar continuously botching my attempts.”
So he was taking me home. I wasn’t going to be stuck in this creepy cellar room forever. This was the best news I’d heard since he walked into the room. Breathing became easier.
“You were worried I would hold you prisoner? Come on Pagan, you know me better than that. When have I not made sure you were happy? When have I ever intentionally hurt you? Never,” he finished reaching out to grab my hand and hold it in his. I wanted to jerk it away and run to the other side of the room but I didn’t. Angering him wasn’t the best idea. If he was planning on letting me go home I didn’t want to change his mind by pissing him off.
“What is it you want to talk to me about?” I asked in a soft non-confrontational tone. It seemed to please him and his boyish grin appeared. That was the Leif I knew. Just seeing his smile eased my mind.
“That’s better. Your heart has slowed down. I don’t like having you scared. I never want you to fear me.”
Too bad. I wasn’t a fan of evil spirits so I would always fear him.
“Come for a walk with me, please. We can talk while I show you around,” he said tugging gently on my arm. I wasn’t really in the mood to take a tour of Hell but I also wanted to go home so I let him lead me to the stone door that matched the walls perfectly. I’d have never known it existed had he not used it.
The cool moist air didn’t surprise me as much as my surroundings did. This wasn’t Hell. Although it smelled very similar to what I’d expect if it were. The steam rising from the black asphalt street in front of me was from the wet night air cooling it down from what must have been an abnormally warm winter day, not the pits of Hell. The old and weathered French buildings lining the street were filled with bars, dance clubs, and of course voodoo shops. I might not be in Hell but this was the closest thing to it. A door to the bar directly across from us opened and a man came stumbling out cackling loudly as a larger man threw him out then firmly closed the door. The small boy tap dancing only inches from the drunk man didn’t even flinch as the man cursed and laughed while walking directly at him. Where were that boy’s parents? It had to be midnight. A woman ran up the street squealing with laughter then stopped and lifted her already tiny top until both her breast bounced free and bare for the man chasing her. She then turned and continued to run from him in stiletto heels with her chest completely in view for the world to see. The man finally caught up with her and swung her up in his arms burying his face somewhere I’d rather not see. Jerking my gaze off them and their revolting behavior I saw a horse drawn buggy making its way toward us. I’d never really seen one of these in real life. I wondered if that was why the streets smelled of manure and vomit.
“Come on Pagan, you’ve got your eyeful. Let’s go for a ride,” Leif pulled me toward the carriage as the horse stopped in front of us.
“We’re going to ride?” I asked as he lifted me up into the back of the buggy.
“Yep,” he responded grinning and took the seat across from me instead of beside me. I was thankful for the distance from him but I didn’t like the fact that his eyes would be fixed on me.
“So, what do you think of Bourbon Street? Everything you’d ever imagined?”
I could honestly say I’d never thought of Bourbon Street at all. Not once in my life did I imagine anything about it. Now, I knew the exact location in Louisiana Leif had brought me. I turned my attention back to the streets as we passed by them. Lights broadcasting naked women flashed in windows and chalkboards claiming to have the best gumbo in town also filled the streets. Voodoo shops were endless and the small little dolls I’d always thought of when someone mentioned Voodoo littered the windows. That was all I’d ever known of Voodoo. A little doll you stuck needles into when you disliked someone. It was an amusing thought, nothing more. How off track I’d been.
“These shops, the Voodoo ones...,” I began and Leif chuckled.
“Are owned by regular people sucking the tourists dry. Not one of them hold any power. I’d guess if a real voodoo spirit were to grace their doors they’d close up and leave town. The real voodoo isn’t along these streets. It can only be found deep in the swamp by those chosen by the spirits to embody it.”
Oh fabulous, the evil spirits were picky. Doesn’t that just make it all better. I didn’t roll my eyes but the grin on Leif’s face said he knew I was attempting to be on my best behavior.
The old French buildings began to give way to cleaner, more elegant buildings. I wondered how much of New Orleans I was going to see before I was sent back home.
“This is the Garden District. It is a nicer area. The most well preserved southern mansions can be found right here.”
As fascinating as that was I wasn’t interested in New Orleans neighborhoods.
“What did you want to talk to me about Leif? Why am I here?”
Leif leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. I straightened in my bench seat in order to keep a safe distance from him. Thankfully he didn’t seem to notice.
“I know you understand now what your mother did. You remember all the times I’ve come to you in your life. You know it was me that day in the old Voodoo queen’s home that removed the sickness from your body. Yes, I did it and I require, my father requires, a restitution for it. All gris gris comes with payment. Not the monetary kind like the voodoo shop owners require. Real Voodoo requires something more. The more difficult the request, the more the payment will be.
I wanted you to live Pagan. I’d watched you from the moment you arrived in New Orleans. The nurse watching over you was the granddaughter of the voodoo queen. She brought me to see you the first day you arrived. I was fascinated with your spunk. My father was looking for my mate and I went to him with the request to have you. He said we must wait. That if it was meant to happen then fate would play into our hands. When the doctors said you would not see another day, your mother went to the nurse and she brought you to the old voodoo queen who summoned me.”
He stopped and studied me a moment. I’d known most of this already, except of course, the connection with the nurse. After taking a deep breath, almost a sigh, Leif continued, “A life cannot be spared for free. The cost is a life for a life. I saved your life and in doing so bought your soul. It has been mine since the day you were healed. I’ve been near you ever since.”
My mother had sold my soul to the devil. That was what he was telling me. Except it was hard to think of Leif as the devil. He looked so normal sitting there in front of me. If only he were a normal boy I could break up with and walk away from.
“None of this makes sense. Why did you become human? Why did you ignore me for years? Why did you pretend with me? Why do you want me? Why can’t you just let me go?” The questions spilled out of my mouth. And Leif started to open his mouth again when an angry sneer took its place. That was new. That most definitely did not look like the Leif I knew. What had I said to set him off and, ohgod, don’t let him morph into a horrid demon.
“He’s here. How the hell did Dankmar get here so quickly?” he roared and the buggy came to a stop. I took in my surroundings as Leif stood up and jumped down from the buggy leaving me alone. The street lights were dim and the nice lit up mansions and busy streets we’d been on earlier were gone. This was downright creepy. A hand grabbed my arm and I jerked around and screamed but it instantly died as Dank pulled me up into his arms.
“It’s okay,” he assured me and I let out a choked sob of relief. He was here. I was going home. He ran his hand down my hair. “Shhhh, I got you. He’s gone.”
“Where? Are you sure?” I whispered against his chest.
“Yes, he bolted instead of facing me. He’s out-ranked Pagan. I told you that.”
Nodding into his chest I wrapped my arms around his waist and inhaled his scent. I didn’t care that he’d hurt my feelings earlier. I’d over-reacted. I just wanted to leave this place.
“Let’s go home,” he whispered in my ear.