Chapter 24 Baptism by Fire

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After Ishan finished drinking from him, Simon laid him back down on the bed. He couldn't believe what Ishan had done. Simon had offered Ishan his blood back, but Ishan had only taken half. Something else had happened, too. Some strange connection formed between the two, beyond anything that Simon could comprehend. It started before Ishan drank from him, but it was much fainter then. The difference between before and now was like listening to someone through a bad radio signal compared to standing right in front of them, face to face. He could see, hear, and smell everything in the infirmary. He even reached out and touched the cold side bar of the hospital bed that Ishan lay in. And yet he was also feeling all of these senses through Ishan simultaneously. Ishan had been experiencing Simon's memories for hours now. If it had only been Simon's life, it would have been over in a matter of minutes. But, Ishan's own history was now a part of Simon's memory. Simon knew, however, through this new link between them, that Ishan wanted to experience the cycle of his own past in private. It was almost as if they could think with the same mind.

He left the room to begin assessing the damages that had been sustained to the nest and to the ancestor's tunnels. He knew that he was doing as Ishan would have done if he were conscious and able to move, but he did not mind. He wanted to give Ishan his privacy and things would need to be rebuilt soon. He had accepted this place as his home from the moment he woke up in that infirmary next to Ishan. After he was finished examining the mess, he checked the sleeping chambers. Most of them were occupied. Of course the rooms that belonged to Peter and the other vampires who had taken up with him were empty. But, upon checking, Simon was surprised to find the rooms of Rachel, Boris, Yavo, and Rodney all vacant as well. Had Peter's men killed them? A strange pang of anguish filled him as he not only felt Ishan's loss, but felt it himself as well. Living through Ishan's life, he felt as though they were his family, too.

But, still another possibility existed. One in which Simon knew all too well, that Ishan did not want to accept. However, regardless of how it had happened, they found themselves hoping that Hank had made it out of the city alive and in the custody of the Empire. It was the only chance they would get. It had been one of Ishan's better ideas to include a clause in the blood pact giving him the option to choose a mediator. At the time, the Emperor had seen no reason to prevent it. But by now, Ishan and Simon were sure he was now concerned about the choice Ishan had made. They wondered if the Emperor had any clue what made Hank so special.

* * *

Lotinger entered the Emperor's chambers, bowing low as he came. The Emperor looked up from his desk and raised his right hand in a gesture of acceptance. Then Lotinger stood up stiffly as the Emperor turned his attention back to the papers on his desk.

"You asked to see me Your Holiness?"

"Yes, Mr. Lotinger, and I suspect that you know exactly why as well," the Emperor said, not bothering to look up this time.

"Yes, my Lord. I acted against your will by striking the convict, and for this sin I should pay the penalty." Sweat began to bead on Lotinger's forehead.

"Yes, Charles, you should, and you will. I cannot afford to have someone so close to me who cannot prove themselves completely and utterly faithful."

"But Lord, I am faithful. I am your most faithful servant. I would follow you through the gates of hell. I would lay down my life for you." Lotinger's voice shook with devotion and desperation.

The Emperor looked up at him then. Lotinger staggered backwards a little as he noticed that the man's eyes were completely black.

"Lord, please!" he begged. "Everything I've done, I did for you."

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