CORFINIO, ITALY - 1487
"You are running from a bloody woman?"
"She's not just any woman, Patrick. It's La Mora."
"La who?" he scoffed. "Never heard of her."
"Well, I have, and I have no intention of facing her. If you want
to die, then that's your choice. I like my head where it is."
"No woman is that good, Sergio."
"It has nothing to do with if she's good or not, but the methods
she uses when she fights."
"What? She doesn't observe the Rules?"
"From what I've heard, she observes some of them."
"Then I should face her."
"No, Patrick. You are in no condition for fighting."
"I can fight!"
"Oh, yeah? Is that why I beat you every time in sparring yesterday?
And the day before and the day before that..."
"Okay! I get your point."
"Do you?" Sergio walked toward Patrick and placed both hands on his
shoulders. "You're carrying a lot of things bottled up inside
lately. Remember, I was with you the last time you saw Rebecca. Your
concentration is off and you are too vulnerable to fight. No, I'll
face her even though I'd rather not."
Patrick nodded. He didn't want to argue with his friend. Ever since
he'd seen Rebecca with that damned woman Amanda, he hadn't been
himself. Two refusals by an Immortal he'd loved was just too much,
especially coming on the heels of the death of his second wife,
Katherine, who succumbed to the Plague. He knew she'd die
eventually, but not so soon and so drastic. He'd been forced to
watch her wither away as he did his best to take care of her in her
last days. But even after nearly a century and a half the pain of
losing her was still a festering wound and it and two rejections from
Rebecca showed in his skills.
Sergio squeezed Patrick's shoulders. "Why don't you come with me?
Ramirez could always use more hands."
Patrick thought of accepting the offer, but the last thing he wanted
was for Ramirez to witness how weak he was. All Patrick wanted to do
was lose himself and not think of the pain. Wasn't it enough that
he'd lost his mortal wife and found Rebecca, first as a nun in
Darius' church, and second as a dishonest thief who wanted nothing to
do with him? Twice now, she'd completely immersed herself into
another life, into another person. He wished he could do that, but
how and what?
"No. I think I'll move on and head south."
"Then, we part, my friend." Sergio extended his hand for a
handshake. Patrick took it and the two friends parted.
Patrick watched his friend walk off into the darkness of the night.
He turned around and entered the house he'd rented. He poured
himself some wine, and began to sip it. He leaned against the wall
and looked out the small window. All he could see was the dirt road,
but that was better than the empty bed that waited for him. Patrick
couldn't understand why Sergio was so afraid of this woman, after all
a woman was for love, not fighting. It didn't make sense, Sergio was
an excellent swordsman. He'd been taught by the best, Ramirez.
A bright crackling light flashed across his face causing Patrick to
snap out of his remembering. Patrick looked out the window and saw
blue lightning snake around a building and shoot up into the sky.
His eyes widened when he recognized the throes of a Quickening.
Patrick ran out of his home toward the receding Quickening and
stopped dead when he sensed an Immortal. He followed the sensation
until he came to an alley. Sergio's body laid one place and his head
another. The victorious Immortal knelt on the ground close to his
body. The Immortal looked up, dark eyes cold and glaring at Patrick.
"I'm Aria al-Haban," she said out of breath and staggered to her
feet, her sword held weakly in her hands. "You find me at a
disadvantage." Patrick had his sword out and he felt rage seep
through him, as he watched his slain friend on the ground. A part of
him screamed to take her head now while she was down, but a stronger
part of him overruled it. His honor simply wouldn't allow that.
"Don't worry!" Patrick spat. "I won't fight you until you've
regained your strength."
Aria arched her eyebrows at that statement. "What?" She couldn't
believe her ears.
"I said I won't attack you until you've regained your strength."
Aria smiled. "A man of integrity? That is such a rarity these days I
didn't think any more existed." She looked at him more intently,
wondering who stood before her when she caught the red hair.
"Patrick O'Brien," she stated.
Patrick stepped back surprised.
Aria smiled at her incredible luck. She'd heard about the Irelander
as she'd tortured the truth out of Ramirez' former students. But she
never imagined she'd find him so quickly.
"I should be ready in an hour."
Patrick nodded. He turned toward Sergio's body, and missed when Aria
nodded to someone behind him. The next thing he knew, he was
attacked by three men. They held him tightly, and forced him to face
Aria. Patrick watched her approach him, a smug smile on her lips.
He couldn't believe he'd turned his back on her after Sergio warned
him about her.
"Is this your idea of playing by the rules," Patrick spat.
"No," she said as she stopped in front of him. She retrieved a
curved dagger from her boot and waved it in front of his face. "This
is my idea of playing by my rules."
Patrick cursed at her. One of the men punched him in the stomach,
causing him to double over. The two holding him pulled him back up
roughly. Patrick hadn't recovered from the first blow when the same
man punched him again.
Aria raised his chin and held it tightly. He tried to wrench his
face free, but couldn't in his current position. "There's a simple
way for you to walk away with your head attached."
Patrick gazed at her. "How?"
"Ramirez." Patrick's eyes shot wide open. What? Did she expect him
to hand over his mentor's location?
"I want his head and you will help me get it."
Patrick laughed. He could not believe her audacity. "Never! You
might as well take mine!"
"I could," she smiled. And with that, she stabbed him in the heart.
He died instantly.
Patrick O'Brien cursed at himself. After Corma had warned him about
La Mora, how could he have been so stupid and turned his back on her?
Now here he was, a prisoner, chained to a wall, and weaponless. His
body ached everywhere--even in places he didn't know existed. He
looked at his captor and kept himself sane by imagining how he'd kill
her when he got the chance. Aria sat on a foot stool opposite him,
her elbows propped against her knees. She carved a piece of wood
with a sharp knife. Patrick shuddered seeing the object in her hand,
as thoughts of how good she was with the instrument flooded his mind.
Aria glanced at him, as she continued her craft work. "I've done
every thing imaginable I can to you," she paused grinning at him,
"both painful and pleasurable, seeing you're good healer and all, for
the past..." Aria's brow furrowed as she calculated the time, "five
weeks." she smiled at his discomfort. "Why don't you just swallow
your pride, Patrick, and just tell me where I can find Ramirez."
Patrick mumbled something under his breath, which Aria only caught
the tail end of.
"Kill me?! When?" she said, feigning shock. "Oh! While I was weak
from Corma's Quickening." Her smile broadened. "Yes, Patrick, you
Aria stopped carving and stood. She picked up a plate of food,
filled with meat, gravy, and bread. She walked over toward her
prisoner. "You really should eat something, Patrick."
No reply. It irritated him that she used his birth name. He would
rather his enemies call him by his last, but she knew it bothered him
so she taunted him with it as much as she could.
Aria stood close to him, the smile never leaving her lips. How he
would like to rip it off, he thought. Aria dipped the bread in the
gravy and placed it close to his mouth. Patrick looked at her with
contempt, his mouth set tight, his body rigid. There was no way he
would eat from her hand.
"Come on," she purred. "Don't be so childish, Patrick." She
caressed the side of his face, but he turned away from her.
"So we're still playing hard to get, huh?" Aria set the plate down
and grabbed his face. She held it firmly. "Eat!"
Patrick made no motion to open his mouth, but his stomach betrayed
him, making a loud garish noise. Aria stepped back stunned, then
"Fine," she said backing away from him. "Have it your way, Patrick."
She ate the bread and threw the remains on the dirty ground. The
door closed behind her plunging him into darkness again. Though he
loathed her presence, it was the only time he had light, and human
contact. Not that she was human.
Patrick relaxed his body too much and the chains around his wrist bit
into already tender flesh. He cursed Immortality--what good was the
special healing powers when the pain remained? He didn't' want to
think about what Aria had done to him, and he doubted that he could
take more, but he'd die before he gave up Ramirez!
As the tears poured down his cheeks, falling to his bare and whipped
chest, Patrick grimaced and tried to think of happier times. But all
that came to him was the last suffering days of his dead wife. After
she died, life as he knew it had changed dramatically and he'd ended
up in Paris at Darius' church. He'd found Rebecca there, becoming
elated at having found a piece of his old life, but that feeling
quickly deflated when Rebecca spurned him. She had a new life with
Darius and he had no part in it. She didn't want him around to
remind her of her painful past. Dejected, Patrick left.
He'd thought of finding Ramirez, but having his teacher see him so
depressed wasn't exactly what he wanted.
Patrick travelled aimlessly for weeks, months, questioning who he
was- -how could it be that living life as he had netted him nothing?
He had no country to return to, no friends that wanted him or he
could unburden himself to. He was always the strong one, the one
everyone looked to, came to. Who did he, Patrick O'Brien, turned to
when he needed someone? He believed in honor. A man of his word.
But how could that help him now? Aria held all the cards, and she
didn't have any honor. No scruples. But he was chained to a wall
and she was out there, laughing at him. Patrick hung his head,
feeling deep down that it wouldn't take more for him to dance to her
tune. He'd died of starvation before, it wasn't pleasant, but he
would not take any food from her. Or so he prayed.
Time ceased to matter to him. He was so weak he could barely move.
He no longer hung from the wall, but laid on a filthy cot on the
ground. His eyes were wide open, but the darkness remained. Patrick
didn't know which end was up and in the last few days, Aria had her
fun with him, testing new thresholds of pain. He shuddered violently
as he remembered his screams, his howling, his begging, his crying.
But still, he would not give up Ramirez. He would die first.
His honor and friendship to the man who became like a father to him
forbade him to do it. And again it had landed him into harms way.
Sometimes he wondered why he bothered, but he knew he couldn't deny
who he was. No one went from one spectrum to the other? Could they?
Rebecca had. It wasn't enough that he'd found her once at Darius'
church pretending to be a nun, but the last time he'd seen her, she'd
been in cohoots with Amanda. Up to no good. How could Rebecca,
sweet Rebecca, someone he never thought would be corrupted, end up
like that? Patrick shook his head, and tried to concentrate on other
He had no idea how long he'd been inside this dungeon, but he knew
one thing. He was hungry. His throat was parched and right now he
would do about anything to satisfy it. But he couldn't. Patrick
knew Aria was counting on that too. He heard noises outside his door
and he staggered to his feet.
The door opened and the light blinded him. He felt extremely
vulnerable and shrank back towards the back of the cell. Rough hands
grabbed him and hauled him out, he tried to struggle, but he was weak
from hunger. The men simply laughed at his attempt and continued
dragging him forward. Patrick blinked, trying to focus on his
surroundings, but all he could see was a ball of white light.
The men stopped. Patrick heard a door open and he was shoved in. He
fell to the floor and skinned his knees and hands on the rough
texture of the floor. They healed, but the pain was staggering.
Slowly, he came to his feet and began to feel his way around. There
was a bed with soft cool sheets. He wanted to jump in and wrap
himself in the inviting comfort, but didn't. He continued to feel
his way, while his eyes re-accustomed themselves to light. He
knocked something off a table and it landed against his leg. His
heart stopped when he felt liquid run down his feet. Patrick fell to
his knees and groped for the source. It was a rough feeling vase.
He stuck his hand in and felt liquid. He didn't stop to think about
what he was drinking. If it killed him, he'd simply revive, and if
she took his head while he was dead, so be it. All he wanted was to
satiate the heat in his throat. Patrick drank it greedily. There
was no bitterness to it, and he drank it all. He reached out in
front of him and felt another vase. He stuck a finger inside and
felt more water. He drank that and remembered this time to throw
some in his face. His sight clarified more and then it hit him. He
wasn't imagining it. There was food in the room.
He ate every crumb like a street dog feeding off scraps. He stuffed
as much into his mouth as he could fit, gagging several times, but he
didn't care. Not a piece went to waste. Every single morsel went
inside his mouth. He licked his lips and reached for more food. It
was heaven. His eyes slowly adjusted to the room, and images began to
take shape. Patrick's eyes widened and the food he had in his hand
fell to the ground. Then it hit him. In his current state, Patrick
had ignored a sensation that no Immortal should disregard. There she
stood, in the middle of a throng of people, watching him.
Patrick wished he felt hate toward her, but all he felt was shame.
He hung his head and the murmuring and laughter finally registered.
"Bravo." Aria said as she clapped. Patrick didn't dare raise his
head. "You are such wonderful entertainment, Patrick. Why I didn't
think of this sooner, I have no idea."
Patrick saw her booted feet, then closed his eyes. If his friends
could see him now. Aria raised his chin and he didn't struggle.
"Are we feeling co-operative this morning?"
"You are a stubborn one. You've been in that cell for six months!"
she said, a smidgen of awe in her voice. "And not once have you
Patrick opened his eyes, hoping the hate that brewed inside him for
Aria returned the look with a smile. "Oh, Patrick," she said as she
wiped stray pieces of food from his face and beard. "I am going to
enjoy breaking you." Aria caressed his face and hair. Patrick
didn't resist her. How could he? He had no strength to fight her.
Aria nodded to someone behind him and he felt hands grab him. "I
guess since you haven't complained about your accommodations, then
you can stay there for a while longer. I just wanted you to
participate on the celebration."
Patrick's brow furrowed, wondering what celebration she talked about.
"See those people over there?"
Patrick looked at the sullen faces.
"For every day you don't tell me where I can find Ramirez, they have
agreed to give their life."
Patrick looked at Aria stunned. "You wouldn't," he said, his voice
hoarse from lack of use.
"But I would, Patrick." Aria cocked her head to one side. "So?
What's your answer?"
Patrick hung his head. He couldn't betray Ramirez. He couldn't. He
wouldn't! But those innocent people would die because of him. He
would have to live with their blood on his hand. Or was she
bluffing? Aria ordered him back to his cell when he made no motions
of talking. Patrick sat back against the cold wall and closed his
eyes. The food he'd consumed had given him energy, and he felt
better than he had in a long time. He could easily spend another few
months in here. There were worse things. And he refused to believe
Aria would kill all those people. But Patrick couldn't have been more
He felt an Immortal approach, and the door to his cell opened. Two
men entered carrying something... or someone? Patrick's eyes widened
when the thud of the body greeted his ear.
"Since you are so lonely in here, I thought a bit of company would
suit you well."
He couldn't believe it. He refused to believe it.
"Maybe if you asked her nicely, she'd even party with you." Patrick
stared at her, his mouth hung open. Aria laughed at him, and closed
the door. Patrick was left alone with the dying woman. Forced to
listen to her cries as she died a slow death. He thought he could
take it, but after several days, and the tiny cell filling with the
smell of rotting human carcasses, he snapped.
Patrick knew he'd lost. He screamed for one of the guards and he
told Aria Ramirez's last known location.