A Scribe’s Tale: Queen Mousette

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Title: A Scribe’s Tail: Queen Mousette
Fandoms: Sylum Clan Universe; Blues Brothers 2000; CSI: Crime Scene Investigation; Historical Figures; X-Men
Characters/Pairings: Queen Mousette; Dilios/Robert Muldoon; Nicolaus Meridius/Warrick Calhoun; Shepsit Hemet Amun-Ra/Nefertiti; Clarissa Barton; Original Characters; Members of Sylum, Tallikut Clans, Vampire Council
Ratings: PG-15
Word Count: 19,854
Summary: With so many new Vampires in the Clans, it’s almost impossible for a simple scribe to keep up with all their stories. On a trip to New Orleans, Dilios looks forward to spending time with his Mate in beautiful New Orleans, but what else might a member of the Vampire Council learn in the city of magic and mystery.
Author’s Note: A huge THANK YOU to BJ Jones for allowing me to play in her Sylum Clan Universe. Love this ‘verse she created when a beloved character was ‘killed’. THANK YOU to Taibhrigh for the terrific banner art for my Sylum stories.
Disclaimer: Except for the work noted as being originally mine, all works of fiction and characters thereof belong to their original creators/studios/producers/publishers. No money is being earned, and they are used without permission. I apologize for any typos I missed.

 

Sylum Timeline:  January 2016 – March 2016  Flashbacks:  February 1854 – April 2016

 

~ Geneva Aeroport, Geneva, Switzerland, January 2016 ~

Dilios shifted his messenger bag to a more comfortable position after handing off his and Robert’s luggage to the flight crew. The self-appointed scribe to the Vampire population, had been thrilled when the Leaders of the Ghost and Darkness Clan had spent the holidays in Geneva. The South African Vampires might complain about the cold, but it simply didn’t seem like the holidays without snow. Lending half an ear to his Mate’s grumbling, he smiled as they climbed the steps of the Council’s jet.

“’Bout time we’re heading someplace where I’m not covered in layers so thick you won’t see skin ‘til midsummer. At least I can wear proper short pants until you nag all the Vampires in New Orleans into running us out of the States.” Muldoon continued until they were settled in their seats for take-off.

“The stories are much better when they come from the people involved. History is much richer if you can see and feel the emotions of the main players.” Dilios dropped his voice to a whisper. “It is what you asked of me, My King.” He felt love along with a rush of lust across their Bond.

“You have been even faithful to that request.” He growled. To distract himself from the desire to drag his Mate to the floor, and Claim him, regardless of Jason and the flight crew, Robert changed the subject. “Tell me about your latest victim.”

Hearing chuckles from the cabin, Dilios gave Bourne his fiercest glare. “I’ll be hearing from you and your cretin of a Mate, when I get back. I just know there are adventures you haven’t shared.” The chuckles turned to groans as Jason went looking for other things that needed his attention.

After a quick stop in Lisbon to refuel, the passengers settled down to get some sleep in preparation for an afternoon landing in New Orleans.

~~}~~

When the plane taxied up to the Sylum hanger, Nicolaus and Warrick were giving instructions to the grounds crew to get the Council’s jet refueled and back in the air. Noah helped Robert grab their luggage while Dilios headed for the two Clan Leaders. Jimmy, still twitchy being at the airport after the ambush during the Clan War, pushed to get everyone inside the reinforced SUV.

Listening with half an ear while Robert talked about the latest political maneuverings of the government in Johannesburg, Dilios watched the passing scenery. Fascinated by the many changes in the landscape since the last time he’d been to Sylum Manor, Dilios peppered Nicolaus with questions about the changes.

“Even though it’s been eleven years, there’s still a lot of scars left from Hurricane Katrina.” Nick looked up from his phone to determine where they were in relation to Sylum’s property. “With the damage from the attack followed by the hurricane, we decided it was a good time for updating and renovating.”

“Artemus had us up to our ears in biotechture architects, designers and contractors for months.” Warrick complained.

“Biotechture?” Dilios’ interest was immediately peaked.

“Solar panels, geothermal, hydroelectric plants, biodomes covering the aviary and mews. Sections of the Manor started to look like that place in Cornwall … What did they call it The Eden Project? If you scratch Camelot, I’m sure Arthur’s boffins are up to their pocket protectors in that project.” Nico grinned.

“What the hell’s a boffin?” Jimmy asked from the front seat.

“Geeks, nerds, the Clan’s scientific brain trust.” Noah poked his Mate.

“Hey! Drivin’ here.” Jimmy growled.

“I’ve been told it’s supposed to save us money. It’s certainly not because any of you shut the lights off behind you.” Nicolaus growled.

“I thought that was what all those motion sensor doodads were for.” Warrick teased.

Muldoon pulled his Mate against his side. This was one of the things he enjoyed when he got to spend time with members of Sylum. The relaxed atmosphere. His Clan was a tight knit group, but the problems they faced over the centuries with Colonial governments, apartheid, and racial tensions, it was hard to be this relaxed. For all his grumbling, he was glad he agreed to accompany Dilios to New Orleans.

Pulling up to the Manor, everything looked like the same as last time they visited until they noticed the solar panels on the roofs of all the buildings. From the front there was only a tease of the domes hidden by the wings of the house that had expanded as the Clan expanded.

“The changes blend so well, one would be hard pressed to tell what is different. I look forward to seeing these cost saving renovations.” Dilios barely waited for the vehicle to stop before he was heading for the door until Muldoon grabbed his belt.

“Slow down. It’ll all still be there when the car stops. No need to mow Nicolaus down to satisfy your curiosity.” Robert tried not to laugh at his Mate.

Face and neck red with embarrassment, Dilios looked at Nico to see the dark eyes twinkling with humor as laughter filled the SUV. Thomas met them at the door to direct the pair to their room, and suggested Dilios and Robert take the rest of the afternoon to freshen up from their trip. He assured the scribe Artemus would be at dinner for his interrogation.

It took nearly a week of poking through the domes that had replaced the glass conservatories, and following Artemus around his labs before Muldoon pulled Dilios away from the labs before the scientist snapped. The best part of the week for Robert had been watching Dilios poking about the bee hives on the property. Daryl Dixon had cat footed up behind his Mate, and scared a few hundred years off his life. That had been the highlight of Muldoon’s week. The soft-spoken Georgian had been careful to catch the startled Spartan before he fell into any of the hives.

“I think it’s time to take them to Pirate Cove and introduce Dilios to Queen.” Warrick commented as he sat on their veranda sharing morning coffee with his Mate before they headed off to work.

“What makes you say that.”

“He’s bothering Daryl’s bees.”

“I’ll give her a call.” Hearing a shrill bark, he recognized Daryl’s little Yorkie, Bobbie. Hearing a string of epithets in several languages, Nico sighed as he went in search of his phone.

~ Pirate Cove, New Orleans 2016 ~

Muldoon smiled softly over the enraptured look on his Mate’s face, the Spartan fascinated by the décor inside Warrick’s jazz club. He fully expected Dilios to spend the night bent over his journals unless the Reserve warden gave him a better distraction.

“We have not exchanged many personal details due to the unsecure nature of our communication, but we’re supposed to be visiting with Queen Mousette. She and Nicolaus share a Sire … She also owns a music production company showcasing artists from Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi. She has invited us to stay in her New Orleans home.”

“Her city house was given to her by the son of the Master who owned Queen and her parents. He was a patron of the Pleasure Boutique, and was enchanted by Queen’s voice and her nurturing spirit.” Warrick winked at Muldoon.

Fingers itching for a pen and his journal, Dilios was split between Warrick’s story and the décor. The gleaming wood walls were covered with all manner of parts from a ship including several bells, and figureheads. They’d had an excellent dinner in the upstairs restaurant, and were now settled in the VIP section of the first-floor club waiting for the featured artist of the evening. Warrick had been an attentive host, making for a relaxing evening. He was asking questions about one of the figureheads when someone announced Queen Mousette, and Dilios’ head snapped around so fast they heard the bones creak.

Sitting on a tall stool, wearing a teal peasant blouse pulled down to expose her shoulders, and a broomstick skirt, was an attractive woman with classic Yoruban features. A black top hat was perched on braids that laid over her shoulders. Colorful trade beads accented her arms and neck. Silver flashed on her fingers. Dilios was fascinated until she began to sing, and then he was enchanted … As was everyone else in the club.

At the end of her sets, Queen stepped off the stage and approached the VIP section. After exchanging hugs and kisses with Nico and Warrick, her attention turned to Robert and Dilios. Extending her beringed hand for them to pay homage, both men stood for their introductions.

“I look forward to the time we will be spending together.” Queen acknowledged in a soft throaty voice. I’ll be staying at my home in town during the week to handle business as well as appearing at the club. On weekends I return to my home near Larose.” She handed Robert a business card. “Come by the Governor Nicholls Street address at 2 o’clock Tuesday, and we can decide how to proceed.”

Nick and Warrick snickered as Dilios and Muldoon blinked as though coming out of a trance.

“We’ll make sure Thomas has one of the vehicles available, so you can come and go as you please.” Nick assured the men as they watched Queen move regally through the patrons.

“Is that the result of Vampire pheromones or the force of Ms. Mousette’s personality?” Dilios asked.

“Oh, that’s all Queen. She had that effect before she was Turned. Just ask Heather.” Warrick fought down another round of laughter. “I need to have a word with my manager, then I’ll be ready to head home.” He looked at his Mate.

Nicolaus looked at Jimmy, who slipped out the door to get the car while Noah remained in the shadows near the VIP section. He went back to watching the crowd as Queen drew everyone’s attention. The lessons she had learned at Heather’s knee had served her well over the years. Queen Mousette knew a lot of things about a lot of people. When rumors around the city said the woman was a sorceress because she seemed to pull information out of thin air, Queen took full advantages of that reputation to build an amazing information network that helped keep the Clan safe. Dark eyes were thoughtful as he wondered just what she would tell Dilios. 

~ Mousette House, Governor Nicholls Street, New Orleans~

Having changed from the trappings of a successful media production CEO to the woman that loved traipsing through the bayou gathering plants and roots with bare feet and hiked up skirts, Queen enjoyed a glass of sweet tea and shade in the seclusion of the house’s courtyard. Having heard her majordomo answer the door, she wasn’t surprised when Eloi led Dilios and Robert out the French doors.

“Gentlemen, welcome to my home. What can Eloi get you to drink before we get down to business?”

Though more used to hot tea than iced, both men asked for iced tea as Dilios pulled a journal from his bag. “As I stated in my emails, I, for lack of a better term, am the ‘keeper’ of our histories. I have been trying to catch up on Sylum members since your Civil War, but I fear I am dreadfully behind.”

“I am willing to tell my stories, but I will not be divulging stories not my own.”

“Fair enough.”

Motioning for the journal, she wrote down an address in another town. “I will be at this address starting Saturday. I’m taking a bit of vacation, which for me means I’ll only be coming to the city if there’s an emergency. Everything else will be handled by phone, email, or video call, so we will have plenty of time for stories. You can stay at the house or commute from the Manor.”

“We’ll stay. That way we’re not spending a lot of time driving.” Robert dared his Mate to disagree. He knew how his scribe got lost in the stories.

“I’ll have rooms prepared for your arrival on Saturday. Would you like to have supper with me this evening? Lisette always makes plenty. I understand if you have other plans, but if you stay I’ll tell you how I came to be at Lady Heather’s Pleasure Boutique.” Queen teased.

“That’s quite an enticement.” Dilios smiled. “I believe we will stay.”

Queen gave them a slow smile like they were the cutest things since puppies as she asked Eloi to bring a tray of snacks along with their refreshments.

“I was born, February 25, 1854, on a small plantation halfway between Slidell and Lacombe, Louisiana. My mother and father belonged to a French Creole, Victor Mousette, who had two sons, Paul and Phillipe. They raised rice, sorghum, and Charolais cattle they imported from France. Besides the plantation, he also owned a home … This home, in fact, along with other properties in New Orleans. Like most of the monied class in Louisiana, the family spent planting season on the plantation, away from the heat and danger of yellow fever always prevalent during summers in New Orleans. After harvest, the family moved to this house until Lent. Victor and his wife, Adalie were very popular among Creole society. My mother was head slave of the housekeeping staff. When I was old enough to step and fetch it, I started working in the kitchens until I become my mother’s assistant. That was life until The War of Secession.”

“As slavery has been in existence since long before the written word, I have stories from many Vampires who have been slaves at one time or another. If it would not cause you … Upset, I would add your experiences to the collection.

“I was nine years old when Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was announced. Some of the slaves Mister Victor bought through the years would tell us horror stories about owners that abused their slaves horrifically, treating their animals better than their slaves. In comparison to their stories, our treatment was more like unpaid employees, and less Roots. Paul and Phillipe attended college in France. Being the oldest, Paul returned to New Orleans. Phillipe stayed in France, and travelled around Europe until his older brother was killed, and his father called him home. To say the two men didn’t see eye to eye on the subject of slavery would be an understatement.  It was a time when the men in charge of the government were trying desperately to hold on to something they could see slipping through their fingers. Machines were being invented that made slave labor obsolete, and slaves were becoming more of a liability than asset.”

“How did you end up with Lady Heather?” Robert asked, trying to get to the good part of the story. Dilios would sit and debate societal conditions with anyone anytime.

Dilios’ glare let him know his Mate understood what Muldoon was trying to do.

Queen smiled indulgently at the pair as she picked up her story. “To keep from arguing with his father, Phillipe took his family to New Orleans where he became a highly sought after commodities broker. I began working when I was six, and was seven years old when the war started. Victor died during the winter of 1860 during an outbreak of influenza. He freed all 25 of his slaves in his will. Though it was a fight, Phillipe was able to get everyone their papers. Fear of the slave catchers caused them to ask Phillipe to keep them on as hired hands, so the only change was we each got room, board, and a small wage. When war came to Louisiana, everyone was given a choice to stay at the plantation, or come to New Orleans. Phillipe deemed it safer to be in the city than isolated in the countryside. He sold off the cattle, brought the small animals, horses, and the milk cow to the city. Some of the slaves went off to join the Army … North and South. We kept a low profile, especially after the city fell to the Union. General Butler was different kind of nightmare, especially if he thought you had money. The Missus and her daughters only left the house to go to the market until after Butler was replaced. The plantation was lost to exorbitant post war taxes, but Phillipe was able to hold on to his city properties. I believe New Orleans survived not only because it was an important port, but because Sylum’s leaders had influence with the politicians.”

The story was interrupted when Eloi called Queen to phone. Dilios looked up from his note taking, his expression thoughtful.

“I wonder if her being a child during the death throes of slavery in America is what made her experience seem … Less than others’?”

“Just going off my experience in South Africa, it takes generations to truly end a mindset. It makes a good sound bite for news broadcasts to say slavery, or apartheid, or whatever ended on such and such a date, but until you change the thinking of a population, nothing ends.”

Dilios watched as his Mate walked through the gate on the pretense of checking the car. His rational mind knew Robert was right, but his heart ached at the battles the members of Ghost and Darkness Clan encountered every day. He went back to his notes knowing it was all he could do until his king settled his mind.

“I beg your pardon, but sometimes a situation needs a personal touch.” Queen settled back on her chaise just as Muldoon settled back in his chair. “Now then … Starting to work at the Pleasure Boutique …”

~ New Orleans 1866 ~ 

It was a year after the end of the war, and things were finally starting to turnaround for the Mousette household. By appearing to be strapped for cash, and not drawing the attention of the Northern soldiers running the city, they were able to survive. Queen’s mother, Dinah, butler, March, stableman, Jonah, the Cook, Flora, and their young children were all that remained of the servants. Queen knew March was her daddy, but the butler had been so dedicated to the menfolk of the Mousette family, there was little room for her and her mother in his life. As Queen got older, her mother gave all her attention to the Mousette women, so other than give her duties for the day, she saw little of her mother. Since Mister Phillipe didn’t see her work as being  worth a wage, the twelve-year-old decided it was time to find someone who would appreciate her hard work.

Not wanting to walk down Bourbon Street alone, Queen went around the corner from the Mousette house on to Dauphine Street, and began the tedious process of asking at every business if there was any work. By the time she got to the last business three blocks from where she started, Queen was ready to return to Mister Phillipe’s house. She stood looking for a sign to tell her what type of business was inside the beautiful building. Before she could get chased off for being black and loitering in front of the fancy building, Queen found the small fancy sign that she sounded out to say, Pleasure Boutique. She didn’t know what a boutique was, but she knew anything having to do with pleasure involved either food, alcohol, or sex. She could handle the first two, but if it involved sex she’d be running back to Hospital Street quick like a bunny. Knowing better than to walk in the front door, Queen looked around the buildings until she found a door that was cracked open to allow heat out of the kitchen. Slipping inside, she lets her eyes adjust to the shaded room. It took several minutes for someone to notice the strange child standing by the door.

“Child, what you doin’ slippin’ around like a thief?” A large woman with skin the color of night scowled at her.

“Not slippin’ ‘round … Not thiefin’. Lookin’ for work.” Queen drew her slim body to its full height and stuck out her chin.

“You got sass, that’s for sure. What’s your name, Child?”

“Queen Mousette.” Since she had no last name of her own, she used Mister Phillipe’s last name the way many former slaves did after the war.

“You from the Mousette place over on Hospital Street?”

“My mama and daddy run the house for Mister Phillipe.”

The big woman stared at Queen for a few minutes before making up her mind about something. “Come along then, Queen Mousette. We’ll see if Lady Heather has anything for a skinny minute like you to do.”

Queen made sure to keep her fingers tangled in her skirt, so she wouldn’t give in to the temptation to touch all the beautiful things in the rooms they walked through to get to the front of the house. The woman paused to listen at the closed office door before knocking. When the soft voice from inside bid them ‘Come in’, the doors slid open to reveal an office and two beautiful women.

“Lady Heather … Miss Evelyn, this young’un says her name is Queen Mousette. She come slippin’ in the kitchen door sayin’ she’s lookin’ for work.”

“Thank you, Adah.” The woman with dark red hair and serene green eyes smiled. “Would you bring us a fresh tea tray?” At Adah’s nod, she turned her attention back to Queen. “I’m Lady Heather, and this is Miss Evelyn. We own this establishment. How old are you and what type of work do you think you can do?”

“I’m twelve years old and I’ve been workin’ at my mama’s knee since I was six. She kept the houses for old Mister Mousette, and then Mister Phillipe and his Missus when they moved to town ‘cause the old Master and Mister Phillipe fought about havin’ slaves.”

Both women’s lips curled in a smile. “You’ve been working in the house since you were six?”

“Yes Ma’am. I can do most anything about keeping a big house.”

“Queen, do you know what we do here at Pleasure Boutique?”

“Yes Ma’am. Your pretty ladies have sex with rich people. Though I hear tell old Mister McCarty likes a crop laid across his rump like his mama givin’ him a whoopin’.” The young girl snickered.

“Out of the mouths of babes.” Miss Evelyn chuckled.

“We do not talk about what happens in the house to outsiders.” Lady Heather chastised both of them. “Our house is the very soul of discretion.” Green eyes mesmerized Queen. “Do you understand discretion, Queen?”

“Yes Ma’am. We don’t be airin’ no dirty laundry outside the family.”

“That’s right.”

“Can you read and write?”

“Yes, Ma’am. Even though it was against the law, my mama taught me as part of my work in the big house. I helped with all the inventories, so I can cipher some, too.”

They were interrupted by Adah returning with a fresh tea tray, and stepped in close to Lady Heather to whisper in her ear. “Thank you, Adah. Show him in.”

Queen almost lost her nerve when she heard the word him. “Miss Lady, I ain’t here for no man. I’ll just be headin’ home, now.” She stood to bolt from the room.

“I’m sorry, Queen.” Lady Heather apologized. “You misunderstand. I do not employ children for the purpose of servicing our clients. Dr. McGregor takes care of the health of my employees.” Seeing the relief on the young face, Heather felt bad for scaring the child. “Timothy, come in and have a cup of tea while I finish my interview with Queen. I believe she will be beginning her new job.”

“Yes, Ma’am … Thank you, Ma’am.” Brown eyes widened in surprise. “You won’t be sorry, Miss Lady.”

“It’s Lady Heather or Miss Heather. Be here at 4 o’clock tomorrow afternoon to be fitted for your uniforms. I will pay you five dollars a week, and you may keep any tips given you by the clients.”

“Tips for what?” Queen was once again suspicious.

“Fetching food, drinks, cigars, and the like.”

The twelve-year-old gave her a hard look before nodding her agreement. “I’ll be here.”

~ New Orleans, January 2016 ~

“My mama liked to skin me alive when she found out I got a job at a brothel, but Lady Heather had a good reputation for taking care of her people, and helping women help themselves. Now. I believe it is time for supper. If you need to Feed, I can put out a call.”

“We’re good. I for one am ready to enjoy whatever smells so good.” Robert stood and stretched before following Queen inside the house.

Robert interrupted his Mate’s questions several times when dinner conversation started sounding like an interrogation. Dilios would send him a glare that would have been scary if Muldoon hadn’t been exposed to Owen’s ‘pets’. Over coffee and desert, Queen threw the scribe a few more crumbs.

“I hadn’t been working for Lady Heather very long … One afternoon I was making sure all the downstairs rooms were ready for the clients. Thinking I was alone, I was singing to myself. I turned around to go to the next room when I saw Miss Evelyn scooting around the corner to Lady Heather’s office. Next thing I know, I’m standing by the piano singing while Miss Evelyn played. The next day they started teaching me a bunch of songs, fitting me for fancy dresses. Thus, began my singing career.” Queen gave a pause. “It got me my first pay raise, too.” She chuckled.

It was close to midnight when the two men settled into their room rather than drive back to the Manor. Dilios was excited about finding more about the private side of Queen. He already had a good-sized file about her connection to Elwood Blues, and the Jupiter Twins, but the woman reminded him of a swan … Majestic beauty on the surface while working furiously under the surface. 

~~}~~

Queen took a moment to rest against the door. She’d spent decades entertaining moguls, celebrities, and politicians, but the time she’d just spent with Dilios and Muldoon felt like she’d danced through a minefield blindfolded. The Vampire Council member was too astute by far, and his Mate, as Head of Security for Ghost and Darkness, was nobody’s fool. Knowing the power of her words, Queen kept her ire at Nicolaus behind her teeth while wondering what her Clan Leader was hiding behind the smoke screen she was providing.

Stiffening her spine, she met Eloi’s concerned expression. “Have you made our guest comfortable?”

An indulgent smile lit the ebony face. “You know that boy makes himself to home wherever he pops up.”

Queen gave him a knowing smile. Eloi was one of her long time Chosen Ones, but there were several people that stopped by her homes that were far older than he thought. Closing the office door behind her, Queen arched an inquiring eyebrow at the boots propped on the desk Victor Mousette brought to New Orleans from France.

“Now, Cher, you know I would never mar this fine piece of craftsmanship.” The smiling man stood to kiss her on the cheek.

“You can take that Cajun smooth talking you learned at the knee at the old goat that haunts Journey’s End and save it for someone who doesn’t know you.” She chuckled pouring out two portions of cane squeeze.

“Been using it so long, it’s ingrained. Seems Keziah’s finally getting consistency in her recipe.” Remy savored the aftertaste of the fermented sugar cane.

“Finally realized this old woman knew what she was talking about when it came to building stills. Nothing beats copper.” Queen set her glass back on the tray. “You didn’t come sneaking in like a cheating husband to raid my liquor cabinet.”

“Whispers say you’re taking the boat out this weekend.” Queen gave him a short nod. “You got room for passengers?”

“Depends. Am I going to have to hide the silver?”

“Naw. Weather’s getting cold up north. A cougar shapeshifter, and his sister, who has mid-level healing ability are looking for a home. Would make a good addition to plantation security. Is there room at the inn?”

“You know very well we always find room. We had four kids leave for college, five for trade school, and one went to Xavier’s school. Fanchon needs someone new to mother hen.”

“And my Boo?” Remy got a sly look on his face.

“Aveline’s been going back and forth between the Houma Vo-tech/Rehab Center and the tribal lands getting inventory together for the two weeks the tribe’s scheduled to use the Clan’s space at the French Marketplace.”

“I think she could use some help, yes.” He winked at Queen.

“I think she’ll run your tight little ass off … Cher.” Her laugh was musical as she headed toward the door. “I’m going to bed. I’m sure you can find your own bed.”

~~}~~

Pulling into her parking space at the South Shore Harbor Marina, Queen watched the area for several minutes before getting out of her car. Supplies Charles and Pauline ordered for the plantation had been loaded last night as a cover for activity around her dock slip. Figuring Remy already had his passengers on the jet boat, she grabbed her bags and locked the car. Eloi would be by later to take it back to the house. Hearing the beep of the car alarm, Remy stuck his head out of the cabin and waved. Stepping onto the boat, she saw the dark-haired girl and boy watching her with wary amber eyes. Queen had read the files the Cajun had compiled.

Lance and Iris Murray were the mutant children of a couple that lived in the Ozarks near Branson, Missouri, until they were killed in the 2011 tornado that hit Joplin. They lived with their grandparents until hunting at local game ranches became popular. Fearing their grandson would be shot in his animal form, they’d called a member of the mutant underground to find a safe haven.

“Queen Mousette it is my pleasure to introduce Lance and Iris Murray.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, and once we’re underway we can chat. Make yourselves comfortable. Remy, if you could cast us off.”

“My pleasure, Cher.” The lanky kinetic tossed the ropes in the boat before settling in for the trip.

Navigating through the waterways of New Orleans, Queen questioned the siblings about their lives, their education, and their abilities. In turn they asked her about school, and if their grandparents could visit. Queen and Remy assured them once they were settled at Journey’s End, their family members would be welcome. The fifteen and thirteen-year-old finally relaxed and began enjoying the boat ride, and by the time they reached the dock at Journey’s End, Queen felt good about the newest additions to her odd family.

When word reached the big house that the black Land Rover from Sylum Manor was headed for the plantation, Lance and Iris were settled in their rooms, and the kitchen staff had dinner preparations well underway. Pauline took the two men in hand, showing them to their room before Dilios could use his I’m just a harmless scribe tell me everything you know charm on the first person he saw. Muldoon’s smirk earned him an exasperated moue, and had Dilios shoving his satchel at Robert to carry while he followed Pauline in an attempt to wheedle any little tidbit from the housekeeper.

“Queen is taking care of plantation business. Cocktails are at five, dinner is at six. Now, quit pestering me, or it’ll be late. Go find that Cajun charmer that lays about if you want to find someone who has time to prattle away the day.” Pauline scolded the Vampire. There’s refreshments in the courtyard if you’re feeling peckish.”

Dilios stood flabbergasted on the stairs as the Houma woman disappeared from sight. Hearing his Mate’s chuckles, he watched as the aggravating man dodged around him and headed to the patio.

“Relax. We’ve only just arrived, and you already have the staff on the run.”

“You know the Caretakers always have the best stories.” Dilios defended.

“Thomas also warned you the denizens of the bayou are fiercely protective of Journey’s End.”

The men settled at an umbrella shaded table with their plates of food. Hearing voices moving closer to the courtyard, the men saw Queen come around the corner of the house with a toddler on her hip while pointing out something on a tablet to an ethereal looking woman with translucent skin and long hair that carried all the colors of the bayou.

“One of our graduates was just hired to fill this position. Make an appointment as far out as possible, and I’ll make sure I’m here. Since we’re planning a summer session we should be able to satisfy the State Board without too much fuss.” Queen assured the woman. “If we can get all the inspectors here and gone at about the same time it should keep the upset to a minimum.”

“I think you are right. Do you want me to take Jezebel?”

“She’s fine. We’re just going over here for a snack and to meet Mister Robert and Mister Dilios.”

Settling the toddler and her plate, Queen turned her attention to her guests. “Sorry, there’s always an initial rush of problems when I first get here. How’s your room? Did you get settled?” She questioned.

“Everything’s fine. Your housekeeper is quite the firecracker.” Robert chuckled.

“Pauline and Charles’ families have been my Caretakers since I bought Journey’s End. We provide jobs, and have an agreement with the Houma Nation that allows them use of their traditional hunting and fishing grounds. The plantation gets fresh game, and another income stream for tribal members.”

“I see members of the local tribe are not the only ones that have a home on the plantation?” Dilios looked at the little girl working her way through her plate of food.

“Jezebel, just showed up on our doorstep one day with a note with her birthdate and first name. She has vitiligo. We can only assume her parents believed she was a Mutant because her skin was ‘dappled’. Journey’s End has a certain reputation for taking in the unwanted. Fanchon just showed up one day, as do many of our people. A lot of our residents get their degrees through online universities. Like any home, some stay … Some go … Some come back to visit with their families.”

“You’re the American version of Chateau Crisafio?Dilios fingers twitched to be writing this down.

Queen shrugged as she wiped down a squirming Jezebel. It seemed the toddler used the absorption method for her food. “I did get to visit once with Morticia and Gomez when I did a European tour right before World War I, but that’s a story for another time.” 

Her narrative was interrupted when a group of dark-haired pre-teens rushed the lunch buffet. Plopping Jezebel in Dilios’ lap was such a shock to both parties, they simply blinked at each other. Before either could react, Queen was taking her back after helping the students with their plates.

“Now then, where was I? Ah, not long after I bought this old place, I was standing out front wondering where to start when Nicolaus, with wagons of supplies, and people who, ‘just needed a place to stay for a spell’, came up the drive. A few days later Remy slipped out of the shadows with ‘a few friends’, that handled knives better than hammers. I woke up one morning to boats parked at the dilapidated dock. Next thing I know the Elders from the Houma are in the courtyard. Nicolaus, Warrick, and I sit down with them for lunch, and in no time at all I have a plantation full of Indians, Cajuns, Assassins, Pirates, and Freaks … Some who could have worked on the set of Carnivàle, and others, who today would be called Mutants. Then there were the various and sundry strays Sylum Clan always attracts.” She settled the sleepy child against her shoulder. “It’s a good thing my career paid well. For a Negress, only a few years after the Civil War, I was considered very wealthy. What money I didn’t need for Journey’s End, I had Mister Phillipe invest for me. His descendants still handle my investments.”

“I understand being a haven for adults, but how did the school and the children come about?” 

Dilios refused to be distracted as Robert stood to relieve Queen of the now sleeping Jezebel. Before he could reach for the child, a teenager with bright red and blue hair scooped her up with nary a twitch from the child. Dropping a kiss on the teen’s cheek, Queen turned her attention back to Dilios.

“Why don’t we get out of this heat. I’ll drop these in the kitchen while you fetch your notebook. I can see your fingers twitching worse than a Ninth Ward tweaker.” Queen teased the older Vampire. “Robert feel free to have Charles show you around the plantation. He’ll tell you the places to avoid. We have to be careful what we shoot at in the bayou. Don’t want you hurting any of our shifters.”

“That’ll be kiff. Never been one for sitting around, but I thought Mutant kids went to Xavier’s school?” Muldoon stood and stretched.

“Wait. You know about Mutants? I thought Nicolaus and …” Dilios snapped his mouth shut. 

“A few years ago, we had a kid from the Zulu tribe that worked on the Reserve. We just thought the kid was really strong. Turned out he was really strong, and his abilities caused some other problems. He’s a good kid, and I wanted him to get the help he needed. I called Bourne, who would neither confirm or deny, but told me to call Nicolaus. He helped me get the kid settled with Xavier.” Muldoon planted a kiss on Dilios’ temple as he lifted his chin to close his mouth. “You’ll catch flies, Love.” He headed off to find Charles.

“We’re much more low-key here. “Now if we get a power we’re not equipped to handle, or someone wants more specialized training, we’ll send them to New York. Most of the people staying here have survived by hiding and blending. It’s not just Mutants. There’s people who are strong mediums like me, or too empathic to be in the city until they get trained to block it out. Sometimes it’s local parents that are afraid to keep their kids at home, but they visit when they can. They just want to be like everyone else unless they’re like Fanchon with a physical manifestation … though green hair is not a big deal these days. She’s an excellent Headmistress for the school. There’s the added benefit of her family living in the bayous around the plantation. It gives us an added line of defense.” The singer stood to gather their dishes. She chuckled as she caught sight of Robert making a beeline for his Mate. “I’ll catch up with you in the sunroom after I help Pauline put the kitchen to rights.”

By the time a blushing, stuttering Dilios made it to the sunroom, Queen was settled in with her tablet going over the plantation’s accounts, and harvest schedules. She gave the scribe a leer as they heard Muldoon whistling when he passed the open French doors.

“At that time, they didn’t call bars … Bars, clubs, or saloons. They called them coffee houses …

~ New Orleans 1894 ~ 

Queen Mousette was exhausted. She was successful, she had money, but she was exhausted. At forty, she’d been working since she was six. Even while attending New Orleans University getting her degrees in music and business, she’d continued to work. Heather had urged her to cut her hours while going to school, but she refused. She’d continued to run the Mousette household after Mister Phillipe’s children had married and moved away from the city.

When Mister Phillipe died, Queen had been surprised to receive the house in his will. She thought about taking some time off, and maybe having a family … But no man or woman could compete with her passion for her schooling, music, and performing. Her parents had died years before, so after she’d cleared the house of the Mousettes’ belongings, she hired Florcent and Georges Fortier. She settled in to enjoy having a home.

Thinking she was beginning to experience ‘the change of life’, Queen did her best to ignore the fatigue, night sweats, and waning appetite. She didn’t get concerned until she developed a cough that didn’t go away no matter what folk or Hoodoo remedy she tried. Still, she continued to work until after her last set of the night at the Pleasure Boutique, she was cornered by Lady Heather. Alarmed by the ashy cast to the normally  rich cocoa colored skin, Heather settled her on the chaise in her office before sending one of the maids to fetch Clarissa Barton from the Sylum Clan’s French Quarter house.

“Lady Heather, I brought Miss Clarissa.” The young maid practically dragged the nurse through the back passages of the house to stay out of sight of the clients. 

“Thank you, Violet. You may return to your duties.” She pulled Clarissa into the office before closing and locking the door. “Queen has been rundown, and having night sweats for the past few months. She thought she was entering menopause, but lately she’s had a persistent cough. I am afraid it might be consumption.”

Queen had continued to sleep through the women’s whispered conversation until she was gently shaken by Lady Heather.

“Is it time to go on?” Queen asked confused.

“No, Child. Clarissa is here to check you over. You need to sit up.” Heather urged.

Clarissa looked, listened, thumped, and pressed. The more she checked, the darker her expression became. When she finished her exam, she urged the singer to go back to sleep. Pulling the cover over Queen’s shoulders, she pulled Heather to the far side of the office.

“Your fears are correct. She has all the symptoms of tuberculosis. There is no treatment. What a shame … Just when all her hard work is beginning to reap benefits.” Clarissa patted her friend’s shoulder in commiseration.

“Well, I certainly know a cure.” Heather straightened her shoulders, then moved to the chaise where she watched the woman she’d mentored since she was a sassy mouthed little girl. “I know a cure. All you have to do is say yes.” Heather whispered before turning back to Clarissa. “Be here tomorrow morning at 8. Since we’re closed on Sundays the house will be quiet.”

If anyone asked, Clarissa would have sworn she saw the priestess of Ra imposed over the New Orleans brothel owner as she began issuing orders to the night staff.

~~}~~

Queen woke the next morning feeling better, but still tired. She blinked several times, but she was still laying on the chaise in Lady Heather’s office. Well, hell. What must her employer think of her falling asleep in her office? Over the years the beautiful brothel owner and her paramour had become role models that had driven her to become educated and successful. Stretching out the kinks from sleeping on the chaise, Queen worked at shaking the wrinkles from her skirt before folding the blanket and heading for the kitchen.

She had finished breakfast, and was enjoying a cup of the cook’s chicory coffee when Violet came to a skidding stop in front of her.

“Miss Queen! Lady Heather says you’re to come to her office.” Finished her message, the teenager headed to where the cook was sorting out fixings for lunch and supper. “She’s wants a fresh tea tray, too.” She spoke low to the older woman. She dropped her voice further. “I got to go to Miss Queen’s house for some clothes and let the Fortiers know she might not be home for a few days.” 

Queen settled on the couch where Lady Heather indicated as another of the maids retrieved the coffee service, and replaced it with a tea service.

“Thank you, Ruth. Be sure to close the door when you leave.” Silence reigned until both women were enjoying a cup of freshly brewed tea. “I am sure you are wondering why you woke up in my office.” Seeing Queen nod, Heather continued. “You looked a bit ill after you finished last night. I called Clarissa to the house. You fell asleep while we were waiting for the doctor to arrive. You fell back to sleep before Clarissa could give her diagnosis.”

A blush darkened the flush Queen’s low-grade fever left on her cheeks. “I’m sorry you were put out over me having a spell caused by going through the change.” She set her cup on the tray. “I’ll reimburse you for Miss Clarissa’s fee.”

“I am not worried about such a pittance.” Heather waved off the concern over money. “I am concerned about your diagnosis. You are not going through the change.” Heather chided as the fine china rattled against the tray.

“What did she say was wrong?”

“You have tuberculosis … Consumption.” Heather set to freshening their cups to give Queen a moment.

Queen automatically took the cup and drank until it was empty. “There’s no cure.” She whispered as she carefully set the cup down.

When Heather’s eyes caught Queen’s, the ancient Vampire could see the desolation in the dark eyes.

“I have a solution. All you have to do is say yes to what I am going to propose.” Heather looked up as her Mate slipped into the room.

“What could you possibly do for a disease that has no cure?” Queen stared at her hands clenched in her lap.

“You have lived and worked in New Orleans most of your life. I am sure you have heard stories about places like Sylum Manor.”

Queen’s eyes went wide. She had seen Warrick Calhoun, a successful Negro business man, who it was rumored was once a pirate, and Mister Nicolaus, the white owner of Sylum Manor, here at Lady Heather’s getting REAL friendly with each other. Lady Heather and Miss Evelyn treated the men like they were their mamas. Through word or deed did Queen ever give any indication that she knew about the two men. Everyone knew there was no quicker way to get banned from Pleasure Boutique than to tell tales out of school.

“I always wondered why you treated Misters Warrick and Nicolaus like you gave birth to them.” Queen startled when someone laughed behind her.

“Oh my God. If you only knew.” Evelyn continued to laugh as Lady Heather; gave her a glare that should have cut her dead.

“Have you heard of Vampires, Queen?” Heather asked.

“This is N’awlins. You hear stories about every kind of haint, Loa, and type of creature.” Queen dropped into the accent of the city she’d shed during her college years. She herself had a bit of talent as a medium.

“Sylum Manor is the home to a Clan of Vampires led by Nicolaus and Warrick. Clarissa, Evelyn, myself, and others are all Vampires, and the Humans that know about and help protect our existence are our Chosen Ones. If you give your Consent, I can Turn you into one of us. That’s how you can be cured of tuberculosis. I do not want to lose the gift of your music … Your joyful heart … Most of all I do not want to lose the warm, intelligent, beautiful woman who has been our friend for so many years.” Heather reached out to cover the white knuckled fists.

“It’s not like the books … You don’t kill people … Make them slaves?” Queen looked up at her long-time friend hoping she was giving a believable performance. “I know Misters Nicolaus and Warrick come here on occasion, and they don’t look any different than the first time I saw them when I was 14.”

“No, Child, we don’t kill or enthrall people. That is why we have Chosen Ones. Once upon a time I was a priestess in the temples of ancient Egypt. Evelyn’s was an Egyptian princess. Nicolaus and Gabriel are my Vampire children. They would adore having a baby sister.” Heather teased gently.

“Love, you might not want to scare her with the likes of Nicolaus and Gabriel.” Evelyn chuckled.

The door opened again allowing Clarissa into the office. She paused long enough to get a feel for the room. “Do we have a decision?”

Everyone turned to look at Queen who stared back at the three women. Her gaze finally stopped on Lady Heather. “I’m not ready to quit just yet. I still have a lot to do, so I Consent to be Turned.” The work she and Nico were doing was too important to give up. She had been a Chosen One to Nico for years, but it was their secret … Just as the real reason Nico and Warrick had pitched in to help rebuild the plantation, but if he hadn’t shared their association with his mother, then it wasn’t her place to tell their secrets. She couldn’t wait to see the expression on his face when he found out Heather was her Sire.

“Come, we will go upstairs to our apartment. I took the liberty of sending Ruth to your house for clothes and to tell the Fortiers that you will be away for several days.”

With a nod of agreement, Queen followed Lady Heather up the stairs followed by Evelyn and Clarissa.

~~}~~

Heather sat by the bed watching her newborn Childe. The Turning had been near perfect.  Body run down by the fight with her illness, Queen had experienced little pain as her body went through the transformation. Clarissa had been both worried and impressed by how smoothly everything had proceeded after Heather had drained the singer. They were all waiting for Queen to wake so they could teach her to feed, and hopefully spend the rest of the day relaxing, since the brothel was closed.

Like a scene from a novel, Queen arched off the bed with fangs exposed and eyes glowing like chunks of cherry amber. After several minutes of wrestling accompanied by hisses and growls, the three women finally got the newborn Vampire subdued enough to question her.

“Queen! What in the names of all the Gods is wrong?” Heather kept her hands pinned to her chest as she straddled the lithe body.

“They won’t stop talking … Too many voices … Stop … Stop … So many … So hungry.” She went limp as she finally stopped fighting Heather and Evelyn.

“Clarissa, find Violet and tell her to fetch Mrs. Heloise, and bring the Chosen Ones we selected. We can at least solve one problem.”

A soft knock at the door had Clarissa ushering Heather’s butler-driver, Pierre, into the room. Queen smiled at her friend as her Sire helped her off the bed.

“If you live a blessed life, you hope to never feel as hungry as you are right now. In starvation mode there’s a possibility you could drain too much when you Feed, and cause the death of your Chosen One. We are here to teach you when to stop. Pierre will not be the only Chosen, we have two more waiting so do not panic when we tell you to stop.”

“Thank you, Pierre.” Queen pulled the big man into a hug before she manhandled him to a position where she could reach his neck.

As hungry as she was, and as much as she wanted to keep Feeding, she didn’t want to hurt Pierre, so she had begun pulling away at the same time Heather whispered for her to stop. Licking the wounds until they closed, Queen kissed him on the cheek, and passing him off to Clarissa to check him over before taking him to the kitchen for a hearty lunch. Her feeding from the next two Chosen Ones continued without trouble, as they were people she considered friends from the years they all worked for Lady Heather.

Clean, fed, and given the Vampire primer, the women retired to the apartment’s living room with a fresh tea tray. Queen was still trying to deal with the spirits that were excited about finding a living person that could hear them. A few minutes later, Pierre escorted a well-dressed woman with skin lighter than hers, and copper colored hair, mostly tucked under a tignon. Lady Heather stood to greet her guest.

“Heloise, thank you so much for coming.”

Heather embraced the woman who had once worked at the Pleasure Boutique before making a placée marriage with one of the Boutique’s clients. She was one of the few genuine spiritualists in New Orleans, and a Chosen One.

“Me and mine are always available to your family. What can I do to help?” Her husky voice still carried a trace of her Jamaican origins.

“Come, have a cup of tea. I find a cup of tea makes most things a little easier. You remember Queen?” Heather asked as she sent Violet for another cup.

“Absolutely. Before I was breeding with my first child, Henri and I used to come to the Boutique just to listen to her sing. She is surely blessed to have such a voice.” Heloise accepted the cup from Evelyn. “It’s good to see you again, Miss Evelyn.”

“We were sorry to hear about Henri’s passing.” Evelyn squeezed her shoulder.

“He didn’t go far.” Heloise chuckled. “He hangs about trying to tell me how to invest our money as if I didn’t do just as good a job as he did, and then there’s the whining about the children ignoring him.”

“That could prove problematic should you want to remarry.” Clarissa scoffed, not quite ready to jump on the spiritism bandwagon.

“I doubt it will ever be a problem. Henri was my one, just like Lady Heather is Miss Evelyn’s Mate.” Heloise gave her a sad smile. “Now, that we’ve talked our way around the room, why was I called here in such an all fired hurry?”

“Yesterday, Clarissa told me I had tuberculosis. Lady Heather Turned me a few hours ago, and when I woke up all the spirits in the city decided they needed to talk to me, all at once. Made for a … tumultuous awakening. I used to hear the very loud spirits when I was young, but over the years I stopped hearing them, until today. I got them to tone it down, but they’re still loud.” Queen offered.

“I can imagine. First congratulations. I take it you’ll be swearing to Nicolaus, and his group of scalawags at Vacherie?” Queen gave her a nod. “If you good ladies don’t mind me taking over your office, I’ll give Queen a crash course in dealing with being a very strong spiritual medium, and we can all get back to living our lives.”

“Not at all. Have Violet find me before you leave.” Lady Heather hugged the woman close. “Ladies, let us go see what Adah has made for lunch.” She led Evelyn and Clarissa from the room.

It was time for afternoon tea when Heloise and Queen emerged from the office. The ladies of the house, along with Lady Heather and Evelyn, were scattered about the first floor enjoying their day off … Nibbling from the buffet prepared by Adah and her kitchen minions. Heloise provided a distraction as her friends descended on the former prostitute while Queen slipped away with Lady Heather.

“I know you want to get home, but until it becomes known that you are a member of Sylum, you can feed from our Chosen Ones here at the house. We will make arrangements for you to meet with Nico to swear loyalty, and you can begin building your own network of Chosen Ones.”

Nodding as her Sire spoke, Queen asked what was foremost on her mind. “What about strangers?”

“If there is need, but in these times, you do not know what they have ingested or what diseases they may carry. It is better if you know something of the person. What is in the blood is known to affect us. We will also begin your sword training. That might be better done at your house since you have a walled yard, and will draw less attention.” Heather mused almost to herself.

“Sword training!”

“Yes. Beheading can kill us. There are Rogues and Hunters out there that would kill us for who we are. Rogues because they live outside our laws, and Hunters because they have lost someone to a Rogue, and now Hunt all Vampires be they Rogue or no.”

“Lovely.” Queen mumbled as she collected her bag, and walked out to see a cab waiting at the curb.

“Evelyn and I will call around ten tomorrow. Wear clothes you don’t mind getting torn and dirty.” The ancient Vampire’s smile reminded the singer of a gator hunting lunch.

Boy, wouldn’t they be surprised when they got to the house.

~ Journey’s End February 2016 ~

The story was interrupted by the sound of music coming from the direction of the school. Dilios watched Queen disappear out the French doors. With a put-upon sigh, the scribe finished writing out the story while wondering when he would get Queen to sit still for more than a half hour. The woman was constantly in motion, moving from project to project around the plantation.

Not wanting to leave his journal behind in case he got the opportunity for an impromptu story, he followed the sound of the music. He really wanted to explore more about speaking with spirits. He had several people he’d like to chat with regardless of the fact they were dead.

Inside the auditorium, Dilios found not only Queen, but also his Mate. Muldoon had been drawn out of his wanderings to investigate the music. One stage was a group of youngsters ranging in age from approximately five on the drums to young adults. One teenage girl was using her ability manipulating light to create a light show while Elwood Blues and Mack McTeer, along with several other students provided vocals. A flash of pleasure, that drew a leer from his Mate, ran through his body at the thought of having the two bluesmen in residence. He could kill two birds with one stone, and give him someone to talk to when Queen wasn’t available.

It looks like they might be staying at Journey’s End longer than they planned.

~~}~~

“Tell me about Elwood Blues.”

Queen’s head snapped up from the reports she was reading to look into blue eyes that were old as time, but still held a spark of innocence that some souls carried no matter the events of their lives. Saving her work, she laid her tablet aside to give Dilios her full attention.

“What about Elwood?”

Dilios smiled at the singer. The petite woman was a born protector, and was stingy as a miser with her information.

“How did you meet?”

“He came down from Chicago looking for Warrick. He worked at Pirate Cove for a few years … An apprenticeship I guess you’d call it in running a blues club. That boy certainly has a talent. I had a speakeasy in Larose at the time, and Warrick would send Elwood out to pick up his shipments of cane squeeze. The women in Keziah’s family all have the touch when it comes to distilling anything. Sometimes he’d spend a day or three hanging out with the musicians that came to play, learning about Cajun and Zydeco style of music. Warrick Turned him somewhere along the way.” She chuckled at a thought. “That boy could be stubborn as any mule once he got an idea in his head. After a time, he took off for his hometown, opened a few clubs, then one day he shows up here with his Mate volunteering his services teaching music at the plantation’s school.” Queen reached for her iced tea.

“You ever been to any of his clubs?”

“Of course. What kind of friend would I be if I didn’t help out by singing in his clubs once in a while? Plus, they’re a good place to season my singers.” Queen frowned at Dilios. “They’re good boys. I enjoy having them around. Mack is brilliant with the children. Nice thing about the music industry is people simply think you’re just eccentric if you don’t look normal.”

Hearing the bite entering her voice, Dilios thought it’d be a good idea to try a different topic. “When did you buy Journey’s End?”

“I don’t know that I should tell that story. My Sire is not aware of my association with her son prior to my Turning.”

“I assure you few people actually read my scribblings. It is mainly the younger Vampires whose histories interest them. With the betrayals of the last few years, and the influx of Rogues developing those dreadful organizations, the Clans depend more on their investigative agencies for their backgrounds than they do my journals.”

“I really do not want to deal with Heather’s disappointed face.”

“If anyone would understand keeping secrets, it should be the Advisor of the Medjai Clan. She has kept enough of her own secrets over the years that have then come back to bite her in behind.”

“You have heard the old saying, ‘Do as I say, and not as I do.’” Queen chuckled. She paused as Pauline set a pitcher of fresh lemonade on the patio table. “I was very successful for a single, black woman in the post-Civil War South. Singing at Pleasure Boutique paid a 12-year girl very well. I saved every cent possible. Heather and Evelyn made sure everyone at the house got some level of education. When I was 19, the Methodist Episcopal Church opened New Orleans University. It was for blacks, and it was co-ed. I went to school during the day, and kept singing at the Boutique.” Queen shook her head and chuckled. “Heather and Evelyn made sure anyone going to school had their school work done before we could go to work.”

She was interrupted when Mack and Elwood’s band came running into the courtyard. “Miss Queen! Miss Queen! They yelled together.

Queen arched an eyebrow at her two biggest kids. Elwood and Mack looked sheepish. “Settle down, and tell me what’s happened.”

“Mr. Mack said we could go to Pirate Cove if you say it’s okay.” Muriel, their black-haired lead guitar player spoke up.

Frowning at the Blues Brothers, Queen looked at the kids, and wondered whose attention span was shorter. “Why would I allow you to go to a bar?”

“Warrick is sponsoring an amateur afternoon in the square in front of the building tomorrow. He invited the kids to come perform. We wouldn’t actually be in the bar.” Elwood promised.

“What about the littlest?”

“We’ll take care of them Miss Queen. We promise.” All the teens spoke at once.

“Who else is going as chaperones?” She insisted.

“We thought we’d take our guest … Other guest.” Mack shifted his eyes to Dilios.

Queen rested her face in her hands. Assassins chaperoning her kids in New Orleans. What could possibly go wrong there. She’d be placing a call to Warrick as soon as she could find something to distract Dilios.

“If one thing goes wrong, you will all be very old before you’re allowed off the plantation again.” Queen admonished the kids, Elwood, Mack, and Aveline lurking in the shadows behind Dilios.

Thankyouthankyouthankyou.” The kids swarmed Queen for hugs while the adults began herding them toward the auditorium to collect their equipment and instruments.

“Where were we? Ah … College …

~ New Orleans 1877 ~

Since Sunday was a day of rest at the Boutique, Queen had begun singing at the Absinthe Room. After graduation, she went to Heather and told her about wanting to start working in other coffee houses. She applauded Queen’s ambition, and gave her blessing with an admonishment to always look ahead.

Queen was singing three nights a week at the Absinthe Room when she got a down and dirty introduction to Vampires. Misters Nicolaus and Warrick were friends with the owner, Cayetano Ferrer, and one night two drunken, Yankee carpetbaggers took exception to Warrick threatening to have them thrown out of the club for harassing the female staff. While one man occupied Warrick, his companion came up from behind and stabbed him in the back, close to his heart, causing Nico to enter the fray, and eliminate the threats to his Mate. Cayetano sent Remy to fetch the constables. Queen got everyone back to their liquor, cards, and music while Nico and Ferrer carried Warrick  to his office. The patrons’ attention back on the entertainment, no one noticed the officers leaving with the two men that jumped Warrick. Queen saw Nico having a word with one of the constables as they shook hands before leaving.

Finished with her last set of the night, Queen was surprised when a wane looking Cayetano asked her to see Nicolaus in the office. Seeing Warrick stretched out on a leather couch with his eyes closed, she turned her attention to Nicolaus sitting with the wounded man’s head in his lap. He looked worried and exhausted.

“Have a seat, Queen.” Pulling one of the chairs from in front of the desk over to the couch. She indicated to Nicolaus she was settled. “I have a favor to ask, and I need you to hold your questions until I finish.”

He gave the young woman a quick and dirty version of Vampires and Chosen Ones. After asking if she had any questions, he asked if she’d allow Warrick to Feed. Seeing that Cayetano was still a little wobbly, the only question she asked was about the nature of Lady Heather and her companion, Evelyn. When Nicolaus confirmed they were just a few of the Vampires in the New Orleans area, she agreed to become a Chosen One.

~~}~~ 

Between sets at Pleasure Boutique, a few weeks after the incident at the Absinthe Room, Queen noticed a long-time client sitting at the bar fingering a sheaf of papers. Queen knew his wife had recently died. His son had lost a leg at the Battle of LaFourche Crossing, and his daughter lived in Baton Rouge with her husband. Settling next to the grieving man, Queen laid a hand on his arm.

“Monsieur Laumond, is there something I can help you with?” She asked soothingly.

“What? Oh, Queen. How are you? Your music was wonderful, as always.”

“Thank you. Is there something I can do for you?” Wanting only to help lift the strange mood from the man.

“I was sitting here debating whether to try and gamble away my home, or simply give it away.” He signaled the bartender for a refill.

“Why would you do either one?”

“My wife and I made it through the war, the blockades, exorbitant post-war property taxes, and a dozen other crisis … But I cannot seem to garner the gumption to continue alone. My children have gone to Baton Rouge to build their lives in the capital. I no longer have what it requires to stay on that moldering plantation with the echoes of my Charlotte in the rooms.” A film of tears covered brown eyes.

Only having a vague idea of the location of the Laumond plantation, Queen made a snap decision. “Monsieur Laumond, would you consider selling me your home?” Queen held her breath. Laumond’s reputation in his dealings with blacks was one of being honest and fair. “You were going to give it to some Yankee in a poker game, who would never appreciate the land like a native. I have money and resources.” She kept the emotion out of her voice while appealing to his Southern nativism. It would do no good to seem like a flighty female with no head for business.

“You have a point, Child.” He patted her hand. “You’ve given me many hours of enjoyment with your singing and sweet nature. Listening to an old man talk about his halcyon days.” He asked the bartender for writing implements. “Meet me at this address at 10 o’clock tomorrow morning, bring this amount of money, and I will sell you my home.” He handed the paper to Queen.

Offering her hand, they shook, and following an impulse, she kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you, Monsieur. I promise the land will be put to good use.” She tucked the paper away, and went to finish her evening

~~}~~

Two hours later, Queen was walking in the door of the Absinthe Room. Catching Cayetano’s attention, she asked if Warrick or Nicolaus were in town.

“They just finished dinner in the private dining room. You know the way, but be sure to knock … Loud.” Cayetano smirked.

Queen didn’t think there was an employee that hadn’t caught the two men in flagrante delicto. Carrying a tray with coffee and brandy up the back stairs, she knocked on the double doors. There was a significant pause between her knock, and the bid to come in causing her to smirk as she opened the door. Sitting the tray on a side table, Queen poured them all a snifter of brandy and a cup of coffee.

“You’re not working tonight … Are you?” Warrick had an expression that said he was trying to remember the schedule.

“No, but I was hoping you were in town. I need your help.” She then proceeded to tell the two men about Maurice Laumond and his offer.

“Are you looking for a loan?” Warrick could see the wheels turning in his Mate’s head.

“What? No! I have the money. I know local lawyers are used to dealing with Blacks, and some even do right by us, but I don’t know this person. Working at Lady Heather’s I know about everyone who is anyone, and no one with this name has ever been at Pleasure Boutique. There’s gotta be something wrong with a man don’t visit Lady Heather’s.”

The two Vampires smiled into their coffee cups. “There are some men that take their marriage vows very seriously.” Warrick offered.

“Not in New Orleans.” Queen insisted.

“Times are a changing.” Nicolaus offered.

“Still. I’m not trusting no lawyer I don’t know. If I could impose, and nothing against you Warrick, but I need Nico to go with me to make sure I don’t get cheated or accused of stealing my own money, or some such.”

“I’m free tomorrow.” Nicolaus looked at his Mate.

“We’ve got a shipment of liquor coming in tomorrow. I’ll be busy here until mid-afternoon.”

“I’ll meet you in front of the attorney’s office.”

“Thank you, Nico. I know Chosen Ones are supposed to protect you …”

“That goes both ways, Queen. I remember the Laumond plantation. You can get there by land or water. There’s a lot the Clan can do with a piece of property like that.” Nicolaus assured her.

After the doors closed behind Queen, Warrick turned to his Mate. “What do you have going on in that devious mind of yours?”

“Depends on the property, but you never know when some place with multiple escape routes might come in handy.”

“If you want to keep her association with the Clan out of the mouths of the gossips it might be better to send Jack in your place.”

“Good idea. I’ll send a note with him for Queen to let her know I sent him.”

By noon the next day Jack McCoy had finished filing the deed on 1,500 acres in LaFourche Parrish, Louisiana. Queen celebrated by buying Jack lunch anywhere. Anywhere just happened to be Tujague’s where they invited NIcolaus and Warrick to share Queen’s good fortune.

~ Journey’s End, February 2016 ~

“So how much did you pay Laumond?” Dilios laid down his pen.

“He wanted to get away from the plantation so bad he sold a $40,000 property to me for $5,000. The house and buildings were in need of repair. Even though there wasn’t a lot of fighting in this part of the South, people didn’t have the money or manpower to keep things all spiffed up. I never would have accomplished all this without the Clan’s help. It’s been a good partnership.” Dilios watched as dark eyes got misty. “Some days I stand here and see that 12-year-old slave. I think how far she’s come, and how far I can go. Then that old haint, Jacques shows up and brings me back to earth.”

“Jacques?”

“Monsieur Laumond didn’t mention the ghost that lives on the plantation. He had a Cajun, well they were Arcadians back then, anyway, the Laumond family hired Jacques Petit to hunt and fish for the family table. Jacques liked it here so well he stayed after he died. He has descendants still living in the area. He even goes to visit them once in a while, but he always comes back here. He’s a busybody, and plays little pranks, but he never hurts anything or anyone. He loves the kids.”

The scribe watched his Mate going across the yard toward the barn with a ladder and toolbox.

“I believe I will go and see what Robert has gotten into.”

“I would say Charles gave him a few things off his honey do list.” Queen chuckled. “I’ll see you in the dining hall at six.”

~~}~~

Dilios was reading over his journal making additions and corrections. Robert was stretched out beside him with a book. A contented smile appeared as he read. With their busy schedules, it was seldom they got to spend time like this. When they were in Africa, Muldoon had his duties to his Clan, and the running of the Reserve. While in Geneva, Dilios was at the beck and call of Council business. He was thinking when it came time to leave New Orleans, the plane might skip going to Geneva, and land in Johannesburg, allowing Dilios and his king to disappear into the wilds of the Reserve for a time.

“You realize in all we’ve heard and seen, there hasn’t been any stories of lovers, husbands, children of her body, or anything that smacks of romantic ties.” Robert continued to read as Dilios simply stared. It was easy to forget his rough and tumble Mate was so perceptive. “It’s interesting the number of shallow draft boats at the docks. Wouldn’t be surprised to find our Queen gives shelter to the Cajun Navy and all the pirates skulking around here.” Robert chuckled.

“Where all did you wander to while you were gone?” Dilios laid his journal aside then relieved Muldoon of his book.

“Charles was very good about informing me of the points of interest on the plantation after I offered to handle the repairs of the barn roof.”

“That was very good of you, but with the short timetable until dinner, I would rather occupy ourselves in the other ways.” Dilios purred as he started working on the buttons that kept him away from his Mate’s tanned skin.

~~}~~

Dinner was a relaxed, chaotic affair with the older children helping the younger, and the adults taking care of several toddlers. Dishes passed up and down the table without the assistance of Human hands. Giggles accompanied glares at using powers at the dinner table.

Once everyone was settled for the evening, Queen dressed in jeans, boots, a poet’s shirt, and leather vest, asked the men if they wanted to ride along with her. Heading out the drive they came down earlier in the day, the men settled back to take in the scenery that they had missed while making sure they didn’t get lost on the way to Journey’s End. Their attention was drawn back to Queen when she slowed and pulled into the parking lot of a building with a weathered appearance and picnic tables under a roof lit with strings of decorative lights.

Beer signs in the windows indicated it was a bar, but the sign over the door declared the bar to be Queen’s Crossing, let them know to whom the bar belonged. The inside was comfortably crowded with people listening to an excellent zydeco band and dancing outside under the lights, and on the dance floor close to band. There were signs posted everywhere about something called the Battle of the Bands that would occur in late March.

Queen sat them at the bar, and called over one of the bartenders before disappearing into the crowd. Muldoon’s keen Hunter’s eyes found her moving through the room shaking hands, and greeting her customers. After several hours of good music, including Queen doing a few songs, the pair had several interesting conversations with the patrons sitting nearby. Dilios would have some tidbits to add to his journal. They looked around the bar to see Queen having a few words with a fortyish looking woman. She had dark hair streaked with silver, dark mesmerizing eyes, and a curvaceous figure.

When Dilios quizzed Queen about the woman on the ride home, she told them she was Isamene Dubois, bar manager and local Hoodoo practitioner.

“Isamene can cure your baby’s colic, or curdle your cow’s milk. She’s run Queen’s Crossing since she came back to the bayou after being the first girl in her family to go to college. She used her degree in hospitality to help several businesses in the area get established and maintain their business, including mine. This Battle of the Bands got started accidentally almost 20 years ago when Elwood brought Mac here after they were Mated. Everybody and their brother wanting to strut their stuff to show up the city folk from Chicago. Even got Dwight and his Mate, Jim to leave the city for a day or two for the festival.”

Walking to the house, Robert held Dilios back. “Was she putting us on about the cow’s milk thing?”

“When we get to the house you can research Hoodoo, and then tell me if she was having a bit of fun. Kind of like that Zulu shaman that liked you so well.” Dilios chuckled.

Queen left the men to their devices and retired for night. Robert led Dilios to the docks, enjoying the night sounds of the bayou though they were on watch to not disturb any nocturnal visitors.

“It makes me miss the Reserve.” Muldoon pulled Dilios close to his side.

“I see no reason for us to not spend some time in Africa before returning to Geneva.”

“You keep saying that, and I may begin to believe we can make it happen.” He stole a kiss before turning their path back to the house.

~~}~~

“Tell me about Laurie and Lily Jupiter, Riddick’s twins.”

Queen knew people told the scribe a lot of stories, but she couldn’t see Riddick being one of them. She wondered if the man was fishing for information.

“What about them?” She sipped her coffee. She’d learned from the best about using the props around you to control the situation.

That stumped Dilios. Queen was forthcoming when it came to talking about herself, but was terribly reticent to talk about others.

“Didn’t they live with you for a time?”

“After their mother died, they came to stay with me for a time when Riddick was needed for a Hunt. He wanted them to attend finishing school while they were here. They didn’t want husbands, so saw no need to go to school to learn how run a household.”

“What did the good folks of New Orleans think about that?”

“If they knew what was good for them, they didn’t think anything of it.” Queen snapped. Dilios paled a bit. “Sorry. My life wasn’t near as bad as some slaves, and I know it didn’t come anywhere near the experiences some of the older Vampires have experienced with slavery, but it took a lot of years before I got away from being Lady Heather’s singing pickaninny.”

“How long did the Twins stay?”

“You’re like a dog with a bone. It was before they were Turned. I was going to college and singing. Aveline and Remy befriended the girls. Added to the lessons Richard had given them, they helped make them the Hunters they are today.”

“What did Riddick think about those two teaching ‘his’ girls? I would have thought he’d have left them at the Manor. Thomas could have taught them better than any finishing school.”

“Their mama, rest her soul, put up with a lot, and bless his heart, Richard wanted them to have a woman’s touch. I was lucky to have the tutelage of Heather and Evelyn. We didn’t tell Riddick everything we did. What Richard doesn’t know he can’t bitch about.”

“You’re a brave woman.”

“If it came to a choice between being able to serve tea, and being able to defend themselves, he’d rather they could kick ass.”

“You speak fondly of Nicolaus, Warrick, and others, but you never talked about any one special person.”

“You’re certainly making hay today, Dilios. Y’all in a hurry to get somewhere?”

“We thought you’d be going back to the city after the weekend.”

“I’m usually here unless I’ve reason to be in the city. I’m fast coming to the time when I’ll have to die so I spend most of my time here. I have very capable managers running the media company. Believe me, I have plenty to do right here.”

Dilios shivered as he felt a wave of cold air pass over his body. He watched as Queen stilled as though listening to something no one else could hear. She stood without explaining to Dilios.

“You’ll have to excuse me, I need to make some phone calls.” Queen headed for her office.

After Queen left the courtyard, Dilios continued making notes. Pauline brought a fresh tray with coffee and snacks as Charles and Muldoon came in from the barn. The three men watched as the van loaded with Elwood, Mac, and their musical kids headed for New Orleans. The Vampires were left alone when Pauline called Charles into the house. Next thing they knew, Charles had backed one the plantation’s pickups to the kitchen door, and storage tubs were being loaded in the back. Doors opened on the housing wings as the adults herded students of all ages, with backpacks together as pickups flew into the courtyard.

Queen came out the door and shoved their bags into their arms. “Either go with the Charles or head back to Sylum.” Confused by the chaos, Robert finally grabbed Dilios and propelled him toward Charles’ pickup. Dilios stared at the pistols Queen wore in thigh and shoulder holsters.

“Get in … Quick … Get in the back. Put the littles in the cabs … Hurry … We’ve got two hours! Fan! Make sure the camp is protected. Few people know about The Camp, so you should be safe.” Pickups with their beds and cabs filled with people headed for the docks. “Charles?”

The Camp was cleaned and restocked last week. Staples are good for two weeks. If we’re there longer than that we can hunt and fish. Get word to the Elders to resupply.”

“Keep your phones charged since there won’t be anyone near the house radio so we can keep you abreast of the situation. Makes sure the Cajun Navy scatters quick as everyone hits the ground. They’re to go to West Champagne Bay, cut across the canals to Bayou Lafourche, up to Golden Meadow. They’ll take out at the Houma docks. With Fan’s people on watch, you should be good. Get Pauline and go.”

“The spirits?”

“That’s my bailiwick. Lots of spirits don’t want strangers bringing their troubles to the bayou.” As she watched the taillights disappear, Queen pulled her phone out of her pocket and dialed a number from memory.

She smiled as the mist started to rise.

~ An abandoned farm west of Baton Rouge, Louisiana ~

It was well past midnight when four black Super Stallion helicopters hovered over a field west of Baton Rouge. The field was only big enough for two of the monsters to land at a time. Men and vehicles boiled out of each helicopter until they all dropped their loads, and took off to return to base … Mission complete. Four men in each of the three SUVs, and three in a very special van.

The drive was fairly quiet as the men double checked files, pictures and plans. The drivers commented about the thickening fog, but continued driving. They took the longer route to make sure they had some place to stop to refuel the vehicles. They were greeted by the first light of dawn when they stopped in Des Allemands for fuel and coffee. They were right on schedule as they settled in for the last leg of their journey.

~~}~~ 

In the living area of the Clan Leaders’ suite within Sylum Manor, three men made preparations for a guerilla war. Ornate bracers with the finest workings housed the finest steel covered muscular forearms. Leather over linen, straps buckled, guns checked, extra ammo tucked in hidden pockets, finely balanced blades secured, and hoods pulled up to obscure faces. Stepping off the balustrade, they landed softly in the dormant flower beds.

Taking off at a ground eating jog, the three men headed for the SUV that had been moved to an equipment shed earlier in the day. As the three men drove away, two men cringed at the thought of angry bodyguards while the third man gave a hearty laugh at their discomfort. A message was scheduled to be sent to the Clan’s Head Scientist and Business Manager listing people and resources to bring to Journey’s End with an eye to arriving close to noon. The three men knew the security team would be hopping mad, but would restrain themselves in the presence of children … He hoped the students would be back by then.

~~}~~ 

Last leg of their journey … Journey’s End … The leader of the group snickered to himself as they kept to the speed limit, and tried not to look like a conspiracy theorist’s wet dream. It wasn’t so bad on the four lane roads, but when they turned onto the two-lane road, where everyone knew everyone, they were going to draw unwanted attention. Stryker was unhinged when it came to Mutants, but the money would see them soon retired, if they didn’t get killed on these retrievals. If Stryker’s information was correct, they could get a whole van load of the little bastards. Looking up from his files, he noticed the fog was even heavier than when they left Des Allemands. Checking the weather, there was no forecasts for fog. He wondered if one of the brats was like that weather witch, Storm, and then it started to get cold inside the vehicle.

The sun was just beginning to rise when they pulled into a closed down bar right before their last turn into the plantation. They decided to gear up in the parking lot since there was no neighbors around to alert anyone of heavily armored men in black vehicles. The fog was now a blessing until it began to feel like they were being watched. Returning to their vehicles, they settled to wait until the light changed enough to keep everything from looking gray.

None of the men noticed the curtain twitch at the window of the small house behind the screen of trees and vines behind the bar. The smile that crossed the exotic face had caused many a brave man run in the opposite direction. Setting her intention firmly on the bit of paper in her hand, she turned to the statue of the Archer. Giving her offering of milk, Isamene settled the paper on the tip of the statue’s arrow. Lighting a candle, she watched the arrow of justice seek out its target.

Driving down the only direct route to Journey’s End, the fifteen men were glad to be close to the end of their mission. Ever since they stopped at the bar, things had turned weird. If they were superstitious men, they would have claimed the fog was moaning. It felt like tendrils of fog were penetrating their clothes causing their nerves to jerk and spasm. By the time they stopped, blocking the drive to the main house, the fog was too thick to see any of the buildings.

“Man, let’s get out of here, and tell Stryker to shove his job.”

“Suck it up. You going to let a little fog psyche you out. It’s a bunch of kids, and a few adults.”

“They’re Mutants!”

“Not even Mutants can beat us with a tranquilizer dart in them. Now get your asses in gear before I shoot you myself. Now, we’re on the count in 3 … 2 … 1 … Go!”

Three men stayed with the van while the other twelve spread out across the plantation grounds. The coms were quiet for several minutes until a scream filled their ears.

“IT’S IN MY EYES … IT’S IN MY EYES!”

“What’s in your eyes?”

“The ghost! It went in my eye! I can feel it in my head!” There was a splash. There was another scream … Then silence. A shadow moved through the mist grinning at the meal he’d provided the denizens of the canal.

“Son of a bitch. Everyone pair up. Watch each other’s back.”

Just then something flew by his head to hit the man behind him, striking him in the throat, red energy ran over his body, leaving him unconscious. The other two fired blindly into the fog.

Remy moved through the branches of ancient oaks circling the house. Queen would be really pissed if he got shot because he was standing around congratulating himself. He headed toward the dorms hoping to catch up with the others before they paired up.

Queen moved through the old tunnels under courtyard heading for the barn. She wanted to check on the animals before getting these people away from her home. It’s a good thing her heart no longer beat when Jacques suddenly appeared in front of her.

“Dammit, Jacques!” She hissed at the spirit.

“What’s you think of my family, Cher?” His grin was wide and toothy.

“They’re doing great. It would be really helpful if you could tell me where those men are, so I can take them down.”

“I can do that. Your skinny thief’s running the treetops while they shoot at ghosts, and three of your Hoods snuck in through the mist.” The spirit cackled as he disappeared.

Moving again, the singer was thankful she was no longer alone. She had put a call in to Nico, as soon as she got the message from Jacques Baton Rouge family, asking for help. She had hoped they would arrive before she got overrun. Two on fifteen was not good odds, but with the help of the bayou’s spirits, they might survive. Jacques’ comment about Hoods told her help had arrived.

A call to Elwood made sure he and Mac got the kids to her city house after their performance, and to stay behind the walls until someone called with an all clear. Aveline had wanted to come back to the plantation, but Queen refused to leave any of her kids without protection. She also tasked the Assassin with being at the Clan’s hangar at 10 o’clock to pick up Alex Summers. Alex was arriving from Xavier’s school for Muriel, a student she had thought was a strong medium, but each year her abilities were changing and growing. Queen believed was she was a Mutant, who was coming online as a precognitive, and had called Xavier for someone to escort the girl to New York for testing.

Continuing through the tunnel, she wondered if there was a leak in Charles’ staff, then got to thinking the layers of separation between Journey’s End and Xavier’s school. The spirits had told her Stryker was coming, but they didn’t tell her how the head of Black Moon got that information. If she found out it was someone on her end, her spirit network would make sure there was nowhere for them to hide. Feeling her phone vibrate pulled her out of her thoughts. Seeing a message from Nico let her know he, Warrick and Kenway were on the grounds. Queen sent a quick message to Remy to let him know her plan, and that they had help. Now all they had to do was stay alive.

A kinetically charged bo staff took down two more mercenaries. Leaving them zip tied together, Remy headed toward the barn. He didn’t want to take a chance of Queen shooting him in the fog, though the tingle he got through his empathy told him it wasn’t real fog. He was reaching for the knob on the side door when he heard a pistol shot. He slipped inside to see Queen holding a gun on the man she’d just shot in the leg.

“You shot me in the leg, you bitch.” The mercenary whined.

“You should thank me I didn’t shoot you in the head. Now shut up and strip off your weapons and vest.”

“Need a hand, Cher?” Remy leaned against a post.

“Tie this idiot up. He’s got zip ties in his vest.”

“This one makes four down.” Remy looked over to where Queen was rooting through the pockets on the tactical vest. “Who is their target?”

“I’m thinking Muriel, but it may our guest that’s arriving today. Her abilities haven’t settled enough for me to make a determination, so I called an expert. Apparently, these idiots planned on taking everyone they could grab. I guess Stryker’s running low on lab rats.” She ground out. “We got four … According to these papers there’s eight more. Three in the van, five running around my house.”

“I’ll take the van.”

“I’ll take the everywhere else. Nico, Kenway, and Warrick are out there having fun.”

“I noticed you didn’t mention Jimmy.”

“I imagine Nico’s hoping the kids will be back before Jimmy gets here to kick his ass for running off without him.”

“I imagine you’re right.” Remy smiled as he slipped out the door.

When the mercenary started to run his mouth, Queen tranqed him.

~~}~~

Angry voices could be heard when Queen cracked the door to the girls’ dormitories.

“They’re not here. She sent all the kids away. How did she know. If I find out Stryker’s got a leak, heads are going to roll. They can’t have gone too far in this fog. We’ll go to the docks. They have to be on the water. We didn’t pass any cars or van loads of kids on the road.”

“You want to go to the water after the way Mark disappeared? I bet the gators got him. That fog is just plain weird. It’s like fucking Halloween out there with the groaning and moaning. I’m ready to blow this place and tell Stryker to kiss my ass. No money’s worth all this. Where’s the com traffic. I tell you someone’s out there picking us off. In fact, I like the idea of leaving better every minute I think about it.”

Barreling out the door, he never saw the two by four that took him out. Queen dragged the unconscious man away from the door. Searching his pockets, she used his own zip ties to hogtie him then relieved him of his weapons.

“Pete! Pete! Where the hell did that boy go?” He grumbled as he headed back toward the vehicles. “It’s like this mission was cursed from the time we set down in this damn state.” The team lead grumbled all the way back down the driveway. He really should have looked up.

Hearing him calling his remaining men, Queen followed him back to the driveway. She hoped Remy had finished off the men in the van, six with automatic weapons against five with knives and pistols … Not awful, but not great. Seeing a flash of red reflected off the mist, she hurried to get closer. Coming around the corner of the house, Queen saw the group kneeling around a fallen man. He had pulled out his earphones repeating that they needed to make the voices stop. With a look of disgust, they got the downed man on his feet, then continued to the vehicles. Queen stopped long enough to load one of the tranquilizer guns she’d liberated from a mercenary, before hurrying down the driveway. The Clan crew might be able to get some new information on Black Moon if they were tranqed instead of dead.

~~}~~

Queen stopped behind the last oak tree between her and the four black vehicles. She watched fascinated as the mist that had closed in around the plantation buildings seemed to be rushing to coalesce around the remaining mercenaries.

Each of the remaining men froze as they looked to be encased in mist. Queen could see the faces in the mists, but the men only seemed to hear the voices. While they stood frozen, the four men moved faster than she could see in the mist, but when it cleared, the mercenaries were unconscious, and the four men were grinning like they won the Lottery. Queen hit each of the mercenaries with a tranquilizer dart, and left Remy and the three Hoods to restrain them.

“Ah, I see the Cavalry has arrived.” Remy picked up his hat from where it fallen during his tussles with men guarding the van to point out the SUV’s coming up the drive.

“So, will there be a fight over jurisdiction?” Queen leaned against her friend as her body realized the danger had passed.

“You okay, Cher? You hurt?” Remy started to check her over as three hoods were pushed back.

“No fight. He’s forensics, we’re SWAT, and they were here to kidnap children. Sounds like a Fed problem to me.” Nico smirked.

“I’m sure after you’re finished with them they won’t be your problem.” Queen chuckled. “I’m fine. I don’t recommend running on adrenaline for two days as a regular practice.” That brought belly laughs from all four men.

“Why don’t you head to the house, and I’ll wrangle the herd.” Remy teased gently.

“I’m not some fragile petal.” Queen growled. “I’m perfectly capable of handling this bunch.” She circled her hand to indicate the three men who were pulling their hoods back in place.

Queen straightened her posture as they began loading the mercenaries into their own van. The men headed off to retrieve the mercenaries left scattered around the area while Queen began making calls to bring her chicks home. The big coffee maker was about finished percolating when Artemus and his Mate, Jim West nearly stumbled into the house, arms loaded down with phones, laptops, tablets, and papers. Queen took them through to her office where they could spread out on the conference table to work through the information they’d found.

It was a blessing that there had been very little property damage, and with a little sweeping the evidence of anything happening would disappear. It was also a blessing the mercenaries only thought to attack from the land side. Since it was still early, she took the time to warm a mug of blood, pour a cup of coffee, and find something resembling food. Pauline had nearly stripped the refrigerator and pantry. It was good this was their normal day to receive their weekly supply run.

Queen stepped out into the courtyard to let the Cavalry know there was coffee and sandwiches. She hid her smile behind her coffee cup when she heard and saw James Hickok all up in Nico’s business about leaving the Manor without him. Warrick and Kenway were off to the side snickering when Jimmy turned on them for being accomplices. A piercing whistle stopped the yelling.

“There’s coffee, and a little food that Pauline didn’t have time to strip out of the kitchen.” She went back inside to take the tray she’d fixed into the office.

It didn’t take long before the Clan Leaders joined West and Artemus to run photos of the group through law enforcement and Vampire databases. If any of the men were wanted, it would help determine what would happen to the mercenaries. If they were arrested locally, very little would happen in the way of punishment, but if they were on the federal or international wanted lists, they would have more leeway getting information.

With Remy staying at the plantation, Jimmy didn’t kick up too big a fuss when Nico ordered him, and Noah take the mercenaries to the Manor. Nico called Horatio to let his Head of Security know what was happening. That call garnered the Clan Leader two rounds of quiet anger. One for leaving without his guards, and one for not keeping his Council in the loop. Horatio passed on reports of UFO’s, and black aliens invading Baton Rouge. His Head of Security was going to attempt to back track what had to be helicopters big enough to haul people and vehicles. With a deep sigh, Nico raided Queen’s top shelf liquor cabinet to get a little Irish for his coffee.

“You ready to let me teach you to fight?” Queen jumped as Remy whispered in her ear.

“No, but I might let Aveline teach me after we wrap the Battle of the Bands. I think I might retire from the public life for a while. Might be time to think about what I want to do next.” His only answer was an arched eyebrow. “Don’t mind me. I’m just thinking out loud, I should be thinking about what I’m going to feed everyone.” A shiver passed through her as she headed to the pantry to see what she could throw in a pot and call it supper.

As someone who had carried information between the Clans during her tours, Queen knew how important even the smallest tidbit could be for filling in the big picture. The information they were finding about one of Stryker’s bases of operation meant they needed to move before the team missed their check-in, and Stryker had the base dismantled.

By the time everyone got back to the plantation, all signs of the attack had been removed. The crew going to check out Stryker’s base had left as soon as Aveline returned with Elwood, Mac, and the kids from New Orleans. Queen got Alex settled into a guest room. The blond Mutant had been incensed Stryker had gotten hold of information about his trip. A quick call to Charles set the cat among the pigeons in New York.

It was close to dark by the time everyone that had been at The Camp pulled up to the dock. Queen greeted her people and sent them to get cleaned up and to the dining hall, pronto. When everyone sat down to supper, Queen was intensely aware of the two guests missing from the table. She was sure there would be more yelling when the three hooded men got back from the Black Moon base. She asked the spirits to watch over her friends before turning her attention to the family that was around the table. Tonight, she was feeling incredibly blessed.

~~}~~

Dilios was brimming with curiosity about what had happened while they’d been at The Camp with the students and teachers. He’d been able speak with several members of Fanchon’s family that carried the same mutation as the school’s Headmistress. The community was happy that their children had a place they could go for schooling and acceptance be they Mutant or Human. The number of students that had passed through the plantation’s school, and the number that had returned to contribute to their communities was staggering.

The stories he’d gleaned from the people with whom he’d spent the past two days made an interesting picture of Queen. It was always interesting to see Vampires through the eyes of the Humans around them. He couldn’t wait to hear what happened at the plantation.

After supper, the scribe went in search of his host. Robert had been practically sitting on him to allow equipment and supplies to be cleaned and packed away so life was returned to normal as quickly as possible. Now that his king had been distracted by the students wanting stories of Africa, Dilios could go in search of Queen. His search was unsuccessful, so he went in search of Pauline.

Robert noticed his red-faced Mate slink into the room followed by Pauline looking like she wanted the scribe’s head. He’d felt a myriad of emotions through their Bond, the one at the forefront was embarrassment. Not willing to interrupt his story, he ignored the latecomers until he finished, and shooed everyone off to bed.

“Get a little over enthusiastic, Love?” Robert eyed the frown on Pauline’s round face. At Dilios’ nod, the Vampires headed toward their room. “Perhaps it would be best if we go back to Sylum tomorrow. Give things a chance to settle. Plus, I’m sure there will be versions of the events floating around the Manor as I understand Nico, Warrick, and Kenway were here.” Watching the emotions that played across Dilios’ face, he threw his Mate a bone. “We’ll come back for the music festival. Good food … Good music.”

“Sounds good. Things are still in a bit of an uproar.” Dilios was still subdued, but looking forward to listening to the stories going around the Manor.

Queen appeared at breakfast with a new guest she introduced as Alex Summers, and though she still looked tired, she spent extra time with both the students and teachers. Summers looked young enough to be a senior student, but the lack of a heartbeat pegged him as a Vampire. As much as Dilios wanted to act, his encounter with Pauline still had him a bit gun shy about approaching Queen. As the men loaded their vehicle, Queen appeared with a beautiful Houma basket filled with snacks for their trip. She also handed them an envelope with two VIP passes for the festival.

“Hopefully, the next time you’re here will be a little less exciting.” She rubbed a hand tiredly over her face.

“Things are never boring when we visit Nicolaus.” Dilios gave her a hug. “Sorry about the hyper enthusiasm.”

“No worries.” Queen hugged both men before she shooed them to their vehicle. “See you at the festival. I think you’ll find it … Interesting.” She waved as they pulled out of the driveway.

~ Battle of the Bands 2016 ~

As she had done every year since the festival started, the only people with Queen were Pauline and Fanchon. With a lot of people in costume, no one gave her students a second look. Queen’s wig and costume had been cleaned, aired, and along with her throne transported to the festival grounds last night. The two women encouraged Queen to strip down, so they could begin getting her into the layers worn under the gown that looked like something from Marie Antoinette’s closet.

Wooden staff in one hand, jeweled chalice in the other, Queen settled on her throne while four of her male students dressed as footmen got in the front and back to move the monstrosity across the giant stage. The stage manager cued up the stage band for The Queen’s entrance as the emcee did her introduction.

~~}~~

Dilios pulled his Mate through the rows of vendors at the Blues festival. There was so much to see and do that it took a reminder from Robert that they would be back tomorrow to get the scribe to slow down and enjoy what he was seeing. They’d bumped into Elwood, Mac and their students on their way to the staging area. His program also listed Dwight Hendricks, and other members of various Clans scheduled to perform. He was thrilled to have the chance to see another side of many of his friends. While there were a good many strangers in the VIP section, there was also a good representation of the North American Clans. He was ecstatic to have such a variety of people and Clans from which to glean stories.

~~}~~

Queen breathed a sigh of relief as the heavy wig was lifted off her head, and the corset unlaced. Battle of the Bands was over for another year. A group from Elwood’s club in Memphis had been crowned the winner. Mac and Elwood’s classic Soul Man that closed out the show every year was still the biggest hit. With all the participants joining in the montage, they probably heard the music in the next parish.

Bayou Queen Productions had appointments with several acts, and Dwight had promised to come by the plantation and talk with her about doing some recording. There would be no tours or publicity pictures. The man had a following from Memphis to New Orleans constantly clamoring for him to record. All in all, she was pleased with the end results of the weekend.

Before exhaustion could take hold, Queen went in search of Isamene. She needed to check that the fields around the bar were clean, and back to normal in time for business as usual. She noticed her people from the plantation already picking trash, and helping the vendors. The trucks had already removed the portable dressing rooms, and the stage would be gone before dark. The addition of the giant TV screens on the stage were a hit with the crowd.

Hearing the heartbeat approaching, Queen didn’t startle when her bar manager wrapped an arm around her waist.

“Instead of standing here trying to figure out what’s not getting done, come inside for a bite to eat and drink. You’ve done enough this weekend, and everyone was glad to have the day off school.” Isamene tugged her toward the bar.

“You’re not being very subtle.” Queen growled as she allowed herself to be handled.

“Have you ever known me to be subtle?”

“Good Gods, no. You’re a blunt instrument if there ever was one.”

“That’s why you hired me.”

“Not the only reason.” She stopped to hug her friend before they entered to bar.

“Sonya!” Isamene yelled once inside. “Two lunch specials in my office in ten minutes.”

“You got it!” Someone yelled from the kitchen that had been built on the back of the bar.

Closing the door behind them, Isamene removed the scarf and a myriad of necklaces from around her neck. “I don’t have any of that fancy cloned blood in my fridge, but I do have the real thing.” She moved into Queen’s personal space causing her to bump into the office door.

“I’m fine, Isamene. I’ll be going home soon …” She trailed off as she realized how hungry she felt. The rush of blood under the beautiful tanned skin … The primordial scent of the bayou mixed with plants and oils that touched Isamene every day. “You’re right, my friend. Why should I wait when I have all this beauty before me?” She purred as she nuzzled along the angular jaw.

Heartbeat picked up, skin prickled with goose bumps as sensitive fingers brushed over bare arms. Isamene stepped closer, wanting to warm herself by the fire Queen was sparking. Strong arms clamped around her ribs … Hands rested against her shoulder blades pulling her into a tighter embrace as she felt Queen’s fangs sink into her neck with a sigh. A kiss followed the licks that closed the small wounds. Another sweet kiss on the lips before Queen settled Isamene on the couch in time for Sonya to come in the office with a food laden tray.

Sharing a meal, talking over the business, trading stories about their experiences during this year’s Battle of the Bands, enjoying the warmth and peace of their friendship, after 123 years Queen finally felt comfortable in her skin … In her life. Now was the time to pause for a few years to enjoy the life she has built.

~ Sylum Manor April 2016 ~

Dilios sat on the veranda enjoying one the many varieties of tea Thomas kept on hand. The honey from Daryl Dixon’s bees was superb. The young man was experimenting with the differences in the honey from the bees near the swamp compared to honey from the bees at Ellerslie Plantation. The honey he was using was from the swamp hives, and added an interesting flavor to his tea.

Along with enjoying the nuances of his tea, he was reading over the stories he’d collected during Battle of the Bands. The time he’d spent sitting with Jim Longworth while his Mate performed on stage was eye opening. The detective reminded him of Anthony Crisafi with his ability to talk for hours while saying very little of import about himself except to complain about none of the Clans holding rodeos.

D’Artagnan had sat behind Jim snickering while Rodney went on about no one ever wanting to hear his stories. Dilios turned to a clean page in his journal after Jim finished one of his stories, and looked expectantly at Rodney. When the genius realized most of his stories were beyond classified, his face turned red as he buried his head in John’s shoulder. John had distracted him from Rodney’s embarrassment by telling him some little tidbit from his time in the Musketeers, gently teasing Rodney about his foot in mouth disease, which brought the scientist back to his usual charming self. John and Jim along with Dwight shared several stories from the New Orleans police department and forensics lab, that were now peppered with Vampires. It added a flare to their stories when Rodney huffed about the three men being work partners as well as friends.

His attention back on his journal, his thoughts turned back to the original reason for their trip to Louisiana. The attack on the Journey’s End plantation had dampened the time he and Robert spent with Queen. Her time was taken with the care and treatment of her students and people at the plantation. Robert had been fishing with Pauline and Charles’ sons when the plantation’s hooded protectors had returned from the warehouse that served as a base of operation for Stryker’s crew of mercenaries. There wasn’t a whisper of what had been found, but Dilios expected he’d find out when he returned to his Council duties. Information like that was not something you put out on the general airwaves.

He’d also noticed the blond young man that had been introduced as Alex Summers after the attack, sitting in the VIP section. The only information he’d been able to glean from anyone was that the young man was a member of Vampire Council. That Dilios could not remember meeting the young man was telling. He was at the festival with Muriel, the guitar player, who returned to Journey’s End to play in the competition. The young woman had apparently transferred to a school in New York that was more challenging academically.

Queen had been apologetic about not having more time to spend with them, but invited them back anytime. She was going to hand the day to day operations of her businesses over to her managers, so she had more time for the plantation, and projects she kept putting off. So, the rest of their time was spent enjoying the city, and poking around the corners of the Manor.

Daryl Dixon’s telling of how he and his Mate, Rick Grimes had been Turned was blunt and short causing Muldoon to laugh until his ribs hurt. Jimmy with his sparing use of words simply said Rick was his sister, and his father was still a sadist son-of-a-bitch. It was Noah that had filled in the part of the story where they, along with the Winchesters had caused Joshua Hickok to run without accomplishing his goals.

After thousands of years of life, it still amazed Dilios the treasures he found when he went off his itinerary. Robert chided him for even making an itinerary, but with the sheer amount of information he dealt with … Organization was a must. Tomorrow they were leaving for Africa where they hoped to spend at least a month before going back to Geneva. If the information found at Stryker’s base was worth anything, he was sure his time in Africa would be short.

Dilios was drawn out of his thoughts by the rumble of a high-performance engine. Thinking it was probably the Winchesters, the scribe stretched his neck to see if it was the infamous Baby that had rolled up to the Manor. It was not an Impala, but it was gleaming black with a silver GTO emblem in the grill.

Two men stepped out of the car, the driver wearing a black leather jacket, black t-shirt, black jeans, motorcycle boots, and experimental blond hair. Stretching his arms over his head revealed a shoulder holster under his jacket. His companion wore a knee length black leather coat, deep red t-shirt, jeans, knee-high boots, and brown hair that fell over his eyes in waves. After stretching out the kinks that comes from riding for hours, the two men turned to let two teens, and a boy of maybe six, out of the back seat. Standing together, they all looked like they had raided Abby and Icabod’s closet.

When the brown-haired man shut the car door, Dilios saw a flash of a leather holster. Well, that explains coats in Louisiana in spring, he thought as he watched to see what would happen next. Warrick was the first out of the house to embrace the brown-haired man. Stretching his hearing, the elder Vampire heard Sylum’s Co-Leader call him Jeremy. Warrick had been followed closely by Gabriel and Jimmy.

Jeremy introduced his traveling companions as Ray Kowalski, Marcus and Mariah Solomon, and Joshua Durst. Then Dilios couldn’t hear anymore because Warrick and the two Hunters herded everyone inside. Searching his considerable memory, Dilios could not pull up the any of the names he had heard. His ruminations were interrupted by his Mate.

“Eavesdropping again?” Robert threw himself in a chair and poured a cup of tea.

“Simply admiring a pristine example of American muscle car.” Dilios countered.

“Is that what they’re calling it these days.” The Head of Security for Ghost and Darkness waggled his eyebrows.

“Do you recognize the name Jeremy Parks or Ray Kowalski?”

“Nope. You could just go inside and ask Thomas.”

“Ask Thomas what?” The Chief of Staff picked up the tea tray.

“Who your guests are.”

“Ah. Members of Tallikut. Lunch will be served in 30 minutes.”

“That cleared things right up.” Muldoon gave a belly laugh.

They sat, simply enjoying sharing the natural sounds of the Manor, and each other’s company right up until five minutes before lunch when people appeared from all directions to race inside the house.

“Guess we ought to head in before we’re picking crumbs off the platters.” Robert grabbed his Mate’s hand, and pulled him out of his chair. The Spartan once again followed his king, and the scribe would continue to tell their stories.

~ Fini ~

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