Rettah woke slowly and fitfully, not wanting to acknowledge that she was laying on a hard, cold stone floor. With a sigh, she finally opened her eyes, blinking slowly into the dim cell. Only a pale shaft of light fell in from a small window next to the ceiling.
She groaned softly as she tried to move. Most of her wounds had healed themselves by now, but some cuts inflicted by silver still stung. Standing, Rettah tried to peer out the window in some hopes of figuring out just where she might be, but there was nothing to be seen from this angle. Overcast skies, and the window faced north, so far as she could tell. It was barred and much too small to try to slip out of.
Muttering in disgust, she turned around and went to examine the door. It was solidly built, of heavy wood, but she thought that she might be able to break through it. With a snarl, she shifted form, gaining bulk and height as fur sprouted along her body. The werewolf slammed herself at the door, ripped at the hinges with her claws, but to no avail. The door wasn't even scratched. Warded by magic, she reasoned in frustration, letting herself return to human form again. With a shake of her head, she sat down to wait and conserve her strength.
It was fully dark outside before she heard anything outside the door. Footsteps, very faint. Then the door creaked open, blinding her with light from the hallway. Rettah blinked slowly and rose to her feet again.
"Now, don't try anything," said the silhouette against the light, a male voice with a touch of a Spanish accent. She could vaguely make out other figures behind him. "This place is heavily warded and you won't get far." She might not be able to see him very well, but she could smell him, and he smelled... wrong.
Rettah decided to bide her time for the moment and learn what she could, in hopes of surprising them when they weren't expecting it. "Who are you?" she asked. "What do you want with me?"
"Relax," said the man. "We're not going to hurt you."
"You're a Kalkandu, since when did the likes of you turn humanitarian?" Rettah said.
Her eyes had adjusted enough to make out his face, and he looked consternated. "Perhaps you have fundamentally misunderstood the basis of our faction. I imagine that the Drakandu have brainwashed you against us. No matter. We will deal with that as we are able. Now, first, tell me, what is your name?"
"You first," Rettah snapped back at him.
"Ah," he said, nodding faintly. "You are intending on being difficult, then? You have no real cause to be. It was a simple question, merely a formality for the ease of communication. But if you insist, then we can play that way." He raised his hand, and the two others with him came into the cell and took positions to either side of her, grabbing at her wrists.
She twisted away and said, "Hey! Don't touch me! Hands off!"
"No, that simply won't do at all." They were too quick for her, and managed to put some sort of bracelets around her wrists before she could wrench away from them again. From the bite she could feel from them, she realized they were made of silver.
"What was that supposed to do?" she asked, scratching at one wrist.
"Don't bother trying to get them off. They won't be removed until I am good and ready for it," said the small man. "Oh, and also don't bother trying to change form or use your magic, either. I imagine it would be most unpleasant for you."
"Why didn't you put them on me while I was unconscious, then?" she wondered.
"I was hoping that you would be cooperative, but alas, no such luck." He shrugged. "I had not realized that the Drakandu fed such propaganda to their members, but honestly it should not surprise me. Come along, then. We have much to do tonight."
The three of them led Rettah out of the cell and into the brightly lit hallway, and she followed along reluctantly. They took her to another room down the hall, and she paid close attention to every turn they made and everything she could see along the way. There was a metal chair in the center of the room, facing a comfortable armchair, which the small man took a seat in.
"Please, sit," he said, gesturing to the other chair.
Rettah slowly went over to sit, watching him all the way. There was something about him she couldn't quite pin down, and it wasn't just an oddity of the lighting. No, she knew what it was. "You're a vampire," she said.
"Astute observation," he said. "Bravo." He inclined his head toward her with an almost mocking quirk of the lips. "And you are a werewolf. Are werewolves also capable of dealing with others like civilized beings, or are you limited to snarling and growling and trying to attack everything?"
Rettah resisted the urge to snarl at him. "I am a civilized being," she grated.
"Excellent," he said. "Then tell me your name."
Rettah sighed and relented. It wasn't like it was her true name, after all. "Rettah," she said simply, not bothering with her clan name or hometown.
"And I am Enrique," said the vampire. "A pleasure to meet you, Rettah." He quirked his lips at her again. "So tell me, Rettah, are you hungry?"
He made a small gesture with his fingers, and a panel at the side of the room slid open. Beyond it, there was a large buffet with fresh food laid out, smelling absolutely delicious and reminding Rettah that she hadn't eaten anything since before the battle. She stood quickly and went over to the table, only to be pushed back by a forcefield.
"Uh-uh-uh," said Enrique, shaking a finger at her. "Not yet, my dear. Not until you've earned it." He gestured to her chair again, and she sighed and resumed sitting there.
"What do you want?"
"Must we be so crude and impolite?" Enrique said. "A simple courtesy is all I ask. I asked you a question, Rettah. Are you hungry?"
Rettah stared at him for a moment, then nodded.
"Would you like something to eat?"
"Yes, I would," Rettah replied.
"You have but to ask, of course. Go on."
Rettah grated her teeth. "May I have something to eat?"
"Tsk, tsk. You didn't say the magic word, and you didn't address me with the proper respect. Try again, my dear."
She would dearly love to rip his face off at the moment. "May I please have something to eat, sir?"
"Much better. You may." The vampire chuckled softly. "Perhaps in only a few years I might wind up with a well-trained pet werewolf."
Rettah, who had already gotten up to go eat something, froze in her step to turn and snarl at him at that comment. "I am not going to be anyone's pet!" The forcefield pushed her away again.
"Temper, temper," he said, shaking his head. "That won't do at all. I thought you said you could be a civilized being? You'd best apologize for your rude behavior before you can eat anything."
Rettah clenched her teeth. This was ridiculous, she thought. He hadn't even asked anything sensitive of her, though he was surely waiting until she was properly 'trained' to respond to the more innocuous requests first. Surely he didn't mean to starve her, though. But fine. She could play this game. "My apologies, Enrique. It was merely a reflex. I shall attempt to control myself better."
"Very good. You may eat." He stood up, and said to the two guards, "When she is done with her meal, do return her to her cell. We shall continue this tomorrow night." He turned to her and said, "I applaud your progress." Then he left.
"Report," Sedder said, glancing at the young woman in front of him.
Tabitha saluted to him, revealing a nasty burn on her forearm as she did, standing out against her normal splotchy two-colored skin. "We engaged the enemy on the outskirts of San Diego. They were prepared for us. We have one dead and three wounded on our side. I do not believe that we inflicted any casualties upon the enemy."
"We can ill afford encounters of this nature," Sedder muttered. "But only four of you returned back to headquarters. What happened to the last member of your party?"
"Rettah," Tabitha said, shaking her head. "We thought she was dead, but when we got back to the scene just before the cops showed up, her body was gone."
"Rettah's a werewolf. She could have taken much more punishment than the rest of you and survived."
Tabitha nodded in agreement. "That's what I'd thought, and wanted to make sure to try to get the bodies out of there in case they could still be healed. But we couldn't stay long enough to grab Marcus's body and get out. The cops came onto the scene and assumed it was some gang-related incident, and we didn't care to stay around for questioning, so we scarpered."
"So if Rettah was gone before the authorities arrived on the scene, either she got up and went off on her own, or the Kalkandu took her," Sedder said. "And if she hasn't made her way back here, I'll have to assume the latter."
"What would the enemy do to her if they've taken her prisoner?" Tabitha wondered.
Sedder snorted. "They're Kalkandu. They'll probably fart rainbows and belch flower petals at her in hopes of trying to get her to join their cause. Even failing that, they've got a thing against actually hurting anyone they perceive as helpless or innocent, and prisoners would certainly qualify. Most likely she'd be just fine until she can figure out a way to escape."
"You're not going to send anyone after her?" Tabitha asked.
Sedder shook his head. "I can't spare anyone, anyway, and it's too dangerous. Your team is off duty until your wounded have recovered and you've had a chance to find replacements for the missing team niches."
"Yes, sir," Tabitha said, her tone sounding a little dejected.
"And don't you dare think of going off to try to be heroic against orders, either," Sedder said. "It's too dangerous. You're dismissed."
"Understood, sir," Tabitha said, and she turned and left.
"Welcome back, Rettah," Enrique said, stepling his fingers at her from his armchair. "I trust that you slept well?"
"About as well as could be expected on a cold stone floor," Rettah said with a snort.
"Ah, of course," Enrique said. "How rude of me. Well, regardless, here is some breakfast for you." Another buffet full of food opened up on the other side of the room. "Go ahead, be my guest."
Rettah went over, to discover no forcefield stopped her this time, and went to gorge herself as she had the opportunity. "What, you're not going to try to starve me in hopes of gaining every possible bit of compliance out of me?"
"No, of course not," Enrique said. "That would be most uncivilized. Essentials for existence will not be withheld from you, of course. You will, however, face another level of rewards and punishments for your cooperation or lack thereof, so I would advise you not to grow complacent." He made a face at her. "And do relax and enjoy your food. You do not need to, pardon the expression, wolf everything down as if it's going to be snatched away at any moment."
Rettah ignored him and continued to eat until there wasn't anything left. It had seemed like more than there actually was, but at least it was plenty to not be feeling hungry. Enrique patiently sat and watched her the entire time, as if cataloguing her poor table manners.
"Are you finished? Good then, come and have a seat and I will explain the rules of the next game to you."
With a sigh, Rettah went over and sat down in the metal chair across from him again. "What this time?"
"Here is the prize," Enrique said. "If you win, you will be moved to a much more comfortable holding area, with proper bed and bath facilities, the latter of which you doubtless need by now." He made a face.
Rettah made a smirk, but she had to admit that that sounded nice. "And if I don't?"
"Well, let me say that there are worse places in this fortress to be than in simply a cold stone cell," Enrique said with a shrug. "I imagine that you would find it even more difficult to sleep underneath the party room. They constantly blare their speakers there at all hours, and they never did quite get in the soundproofing."
"I don't mind music," Rettah said.
"I would hesitate to call it music, personally. It is that horrible new style which they call 'hiphop' that seems most popular with the young ones these days. I do not quite understand it, but it takes all kinds, I suppose. They also went a bit overboard on the bass, I believe. A well enough thing the rest of the fortress is warded enough that it does not reverberate the entire place."
"Right..." Rettah muttered, rolling her eyes a bit and sighing. "I get the picture. So what, precisely do I have to do, then?"
"Oh, not much," Enrique said. "Simply continue to be polite and civilized, and try to restrain your animal impulses. Such a simple thing, I don't ask much, really. Do you think that you can manage that?"
"Fine. Fine. I can do that," Rettah said. She was finding this whole business very confusing by this point. What the hell game was he playing at here?
"Excellent," the vampire said, grinning at her. "I shall be monitoring your performance quite closely to see whether or not you are prepared to be a part of polite society. Tell me, from where do you originate?"
"Anda," Rettah replied.
"Is that in Africa?"
"No, it's someplace else. Another world," Rettah said. "You know about other worlds, don't you? You are an Elkandu, right?"
"Yes, yes, of course, another world," Enrique said. "I should have known that you were not one of the local werewolves. They tend to be a tad more, shall we say, polarized. So then, how old are you?"
"So young? Hardly a whelp." He chuckled softly, but there was no real amusement in it. "Tell me, Rettah, what do you fear? Do you fear the prospect of dying so far from your home? Of never again seeing your friends and family? What did you tell them when you left to join the Drakandu in their war?"
Rettah set her jaw, not coming up with an answer as the thought of it sank into her mind. She had always been in a habit of running off for one adventure or another ever since she was young, but she'd never seriously thought she just might not come back one of those times.
"Of course I'll be back someday," Rettah said. "The Elkandu always said death isn't permanent. Everyone will be reborn if they die."
"Ah, but will it still be you? There's the question."
"They teach us mnemonics so that if we die, we can recover the memories of our previous lives in full," Rettah said.
"So, you would obliterate the new you that you've become in favor of holding fast to who you were before?" Enrique said, musing at her.
"That's not what it's like."
"No? Have you died yet and tried it out?"
"You hold a lot of faith in the things which you have been told to believe," Enrique pointed out.
"Other people I've known have been killed and reborn, and they came back just fine," Rettah said. "Sometimes you'd never realize that they weren't the same as what they started as."
"Would it not be preferable simply to not die in the first place?"
"The Elkandu are foolish and careless. They too shall pass," Enrique said with a shrug. "It will not be long before they destroy themselves with their recklessness. Would you not prefer to outlive them? Perhaps you might even die of... old age." He quirked a grin at her.
"They also say that exposure to the Nexus causes natural aging to cease," Rettah said.
"And yet they also teach you how to remain yourself if you are reborn, rather than teaching you how to avoid dying so that you might actually be immortal?" Enrique said, shaking his head slowly. "Tsk. Such a waste of resources."
"Wait," Rettah said. "Aren't you a member of the Kalkandu, Enrique?"
"Oh, yes," the vampire replied. "Of all the factions of the Elkandu, they seem the most likely to end up on top when all is said and done. After all, look at this, see yourself? They realize that their enemies will be reborn if they kill them and continue to fight as if nothing had happened, so instead they choose to capture them and attempt to sway them to their side."
"Point," Rettah admitted a little dejectedly.
"Also, they will provide a convenient means of escape from this world should the inevitable global destruction occur."
"Do you think that likely?"
"Have you not seen the signs? There will be, as you might call it, the apocalypse. A third World War will be the least of our worries, and will not be the end. Things will get far worse. And I intend to be nowhere nearby when it occurs."
"So you'll escape through the Nexus to some other world," Rettah said, nodding faintly. "I suppose that's a sound enough plan if you think that outcome likely."
"Optimistic, are you?" Enrique said, lips quirking mockingly at her again. "Do you honestly believe that the Drakandu will be the ultimate victors in this little conflict?"
"The Drakandu are the ones who are in the right, here. The ones who are fighting for the freedom of others rather than trying to oppress others and impose their beliefs of right and wrong upon others."
"Do you really think that's what the Drakandu are doing? And the Kalkandu, for that matter?"
"Neither is the whole of the matter, you realize," Enrique said, shaking his head. "These three factions of the Elkandu -- and don't think for a moment that the Rezalkandu are not involved in the conflict, as they say they are -- are petty squabbles of ideology, much like those of my own kind went through in the past. Each of them firmly believes that what they are doing is the correct way, the way that things should be done. The Rezalkandu simply want to hide, to observe, and to stay out of the business and sight of mortals. But that does not mean that they are not involved in this conflict, not at all. They will likely be the linchpin to determine the final outcome, and whether or not the Elkandu as a whole survives the ordeal."
"I thought you said that you thought the Kalkandu were most likely to win?"
"They are the ones whose ideology is most conducive to continued existence. Unlike the Rezalkandu, and for that matter, many of my own kind, they do not think that the solution is to hide in the shadows and go to great lengths to assure that they are unnoticed, that no trace of their existence might pass. What both do not realize is that in a rapidly changing world, it becomes increasingly difficult to hide any trace of the supernatural from the eyes of mortals. How long until that masquerade is blown wide open?"
"And the Kalkandu and Drakandu don't try to hide," Rettah said.
"Correct," Enrique said. "There they are, out in the open, living among mortals, and constantly surprised at how much of their activities the mortals seem to simply fail to notice! The Drakandu, however, are reckless. They do foolish things simply for the sake of doing foolish things at times. They exhibit a deplorable lack of caution and foresight. This will ultimately be their downfall. The Kalkandu, on the other hand, while they do not believe in the need to hide their existence forever, are more cautious. They think through what they are doing, and while they do not constantly hide, they also do not seek to attract unwanted attention."
"I see," Rettah said.
"Now, I believe we are done for the night. Do you think that you have been a good, polite being here?"
"You were the one who did most of the talking," Rettah replied with a faint smirk.
"But you listened to me and considered what I had to say, did you not?"
Rettah bit her tongue and carefully replied, "I listened to your fascinating viewpoints with considerable interest."
"Excellent," Enrique said. "Run along, now. The guards will show you to your new quarters."
The new arrangements were comfortable enough, and all Rettah had to do to maintain them was to listen to a vampire drone on and on every night and pretend to care about what he was saying, all the while restraining the urge to snap and snarl at him over one thing or another. If he thought that she was looking too bored or not paying attention, or not answering his questions properly and promptly, back to the cell she went.
She started to really wonder just why he was doing this. Surely he had better things to do than to attempt to brainwash one young werewolf? She could understand perfectly well why he was involved with the Elkandu in the first place, as an escape route if things went badly as he seemed convinced they would. Was he merely biding his time until what he perceived as the inevitable end?
No one came to rescue her. There was no hint that the Drakandu thought she was anything but dead, and probably expected her to be reborn and rejoin their ranks in due time. It was not a reassuring thought, and she had to wonder just how she was going to get herself out of this mess, as listening to Enrique was slowly driving her insane.
Stuck in the noisy cell for the night after a conversation went particularly badly, Rettah finally decided to try and see what the bracelets would really do. She shifted form. The bracelets constricted on her as she grew larger, sending agonizing pain up through her arms as they bit into her skin, forcing her to resume human form. Not willing to give up just yet, she tried shifting into wolf form instead. They grew smaller to still fit snugly over her paws, but it wasn't quite as bad that time. Maybe there was something to this.
Still, she wasn't small enough to be able to fit through the bars of the window, even if she could reach it. She tried anyway, leaping up and trying to grab at the windowsill with her paws, but to no luck. Finally, in frustration, she let loose with fire magic. The bracelets glowed white-hot, and redirected the power into themselves rather than let it harm anything nearby. She thought briefly that with enough power, she might manage to get the bracelets to melt, but she only succeeded in causing herself severe agony again. Still in wolf form, she finally passed out mercifully.
She slept fitfully, and was barely coherent when the guards came in and dragged her to the interrogation room.
"So, you've been bad," Enrique said. "Tsk, what a disappointment. I suppose it was inevitable that you would eventually attempt to discover how the bracelets worked, however, and I shall be gracious in not holding this against you too badly. Let it not be said that I am not benevolent."
Rettah whimpered softly and put her tail and ears into a submissive posture. She couldn't even manage to change back into human form at the moment.
"Although for tonight's meal, I believe dogfood would be more appropriate."
He brought out a pet dish with juicy dogfood in it and sat it in front of her. She had to wonder if he'd kept it around to bring out on just such an occasion, but she wasn't about to complain at the moment. It was food, and she ate it hungrily.
"I'm certain that you would be much happier for the bracelets to be removed, of course, but you much understand that I cannot trust you yet to not do anything foolish should you be freed in such a manner. If you wish it, you will need to prove yourself trustworthy and obedient. Can you be a tame wolf for me, Rettah? Hmm?"
Rettah finished eating her dogfood and looked up at him, licking her lips and cocking her head. She had had quite enough of this nonsense and wanted to be through with it, now, by any means necessary. Even if it meant doing whatever the vampire damned well wanted her to do.
She trotted up to him to sit at his feet. This was humiliating. She restrained the urge to snarl at him or try to bite him.
"There's a good girl." He reached down and scratched her behind the ears. "Now, I realize that this is going to be painful and difficult for you, but I want you to try to return to human form now. Think you can do that?"
Rettah gave a soft whine and nodded her head faintly, then stepped away from him. Pain shot through her body as she changed form. When it was over, she was on her hands and knees at the vampire's feet, panting and trembling.
"There now," he said. "Have you learned your lesson? You're not going to try anything like that again, are you?"
"No, sir," she murmured. "I will not do that again."
Rettah started to get up again, but found his hand firmly on her shoulder. She remained kneeling, and glanced up at him in puzzlement.
"No, I think I prefer you right there for the moment."
"As you wish," she said. Rettah would dearly love to rip his throat out, but patience. Patience. Let him let down his guard and get these damnable bracelets off of her.
"You know, when I was a mortal, I had a puppy once..."
Damn, he was going off on another one of his stories again. The man did so love to hear himself talk. And he had quite the talent for talking on and on without actually revealing anything sensitive or useful. Maybe she just wasn't listening closely enough. Maybe she didn't really want to.
"... but he was never the same after being stepped on by that horse," Enrique was saying. "Rettah, dear, are you listening?"
"Yes, sir," Rettah replied hastily. "Of course, sir."
"Then tell me how well you've been paying attention. From what country did I originate?"
He chuckled faintly. "You're merely guessing, but you did guess correctly. Now, tell me, would you like to rip my throat out?"
"Yes, sir," Rettah replied almost reflexively.
"Because then you would finally be able to shut up, sir," Rettah said. "No offense."
"Ah. Constantly wanting to rip the other person's throat out but not being able to do so." He smirked. "One of the finer points of vampire society. Why have you not attempted to do so as of yet?"
"Because even if I were to succeed, I wouldn't get anywhere and I'd still be stuck with these bracelets."
"I don't believe that is the real reason," Enrique said.
"What?" Rettah said.
"You could not kill me because you would miss me terribly if you did so."
"No, I wouldn't."
"You wouldn't know what to do without me. You would not bite the hand that feeds you. You would rather obey me without question. And you will do so."
Rettah couldn't answer that. She didn't like this game he was playing. The sooner she was out of here and free again, the better. At least she was taken back to the comfortable room again tonight, and could get some real sleep. She was exhausted.
Time went on, and Rettah might have lost track entirely if not for the phases of the moon. Six months passed. She had to wonder what was going on outside. How the war was going, whether any of her compatriots were even still alive.
There were times that she didn't see Enrique for several nights at a time, or barely saw him in passing. The more he told her and reinforced an attachment to him, the more she found herself missing his constant company when he was away.
She'd been rewarded for her diligence and obedience. He had graciously allowed her toys to play with. A laptop, though without internet access, headphones and music to listen to, books to read, even a television. She didn't like to think about what happened when she was disobedient. The Kalkandu claimed that they were above torture and liked to keep their hands clean, but that didn't keep them from coming up with ways to make someone absolutely miserable without it being called outright 'torture'.
Then one night, rather than the guards taking her to Enrique, he came to her. "Hold out your hands," he said. She lifted them out to him, and he touched the bracelets and did something to them, and they came off. He tucked them away in his jacket.
"Thank you, sir," she said, rubbing her wrists. They still stung a bit, and it felt weird having them off after so long.
"Come," Enrique said. He turned and led her out of the room.
"Where are we going, Enrique?"
"Have you been following the news of late?" he asked. "Know that the news networks only know the half of it. War approaches, and it's time to be gone from here."
"You're taking me with you, sir?"
"Of course," Enrique said. "I haven't spent the last half a year taming my very own pet werewolf for nothing."
He led her off down the corridors and through a shimmering archway to someplace else, a maze of winding tunnels lit by glowing white orbs. This must be Calarey, she thought, but she'd never actually been inside Calarey. She hadn't realized that it was underground, or so chilly. Perhaps it was located on Sasherey. The tunnels there were bustling with activity, but no one gave them a second glance.
Calarey's Nexus was situated in the center of a large cavern, glittering and glowing with radiant beams of light. The guards stepped aside for them, and Enrique went over and touched the pillars, and gestured Rettah close. In a brilliant white swirl of mist, Calarey faded from around them, and they were gone.
The mist cleared to show a night sky, a dusty field. It wasn't Earth anymore. There were three moons in the sky. The air was deathly still and smelled wrong somehow.
"Where are we?"
"A nice place I heard about from the Elkandu called Mezulbryst," Enrique said. "This will suffice for the moment, I believe."
They were alone. There must be no one else for miles around, she thought. She was free of her restraints and from the Kalkandu fortress. Now was the time to strike.
Rettah shifted form, growing large and furry, and letting fires of rage surround her in a blazing aura. She leapt at Enrique, trying to rip his throat out.
Enrique stepped back out of harm's way, away from her flames. Then she suddenly found that she could not attack him. She simply could not will her body into making an aggressive move toward him.
"Dear me," Enrique said. "That was not polite at all."
"This is how you repay my generosity and kindness? After all that, you still wish to kill me?"
"I will rip your throat out!"
"Such a pity. Such a waste. And here I had thought you might be capable of behaving like a civilized being rather than an animal after all. Well, if you wish to throw all that away, be my guest. You will be back, though. You will come groveling to me and begging for forgiveness. You will not forget me. You will miss me terribly."
"You tormented me and tried to brainwash me," Rettah snarled. "You held me prisoner for months!"
"And in the end, you will only remember my benevolence," Enrique said. "Go on, then. Run along off to whatever wilderness you please. You will come running back to me, tail between your legs."
Rettah tried again to rip his throat out, but still could not make a move against him. With another snarl, she turned and fled into the gray and dismal wastes.