Arabian Knight

Chapter 7

"Please, don't!" Nick implored adamantly. "I beg you, LaCroix, don't!"

His pleading fell on deaf ears, and it appeared that LaCroix would carry out his threat to take Natalie's life. With his bad ankle, Nick had no hope of rushing and tackling him. He could only stand and watch helplessly as his master threatened to destroy his world. He was about to scream for mercy, when an orange blur, suddenly race across the room and launched itself at the vampire. Careful to avoid attacking his mistress, Sidney sought out the black fabric worn by the stranger and dug his sharp teeth and claws deeply into the vampire's flesh.

The cat clung tenaciously to the arm that was wrapped about his owner's waist. LaCroix let out a yelp of pain as he instantly released his victim in order to rid himself of the troublesome feline. Once Natalie was freed, Nick ordered her to get out and go for help. Nat didn't want to leave him alone, but there was little time to argue. She dashed out before she had the chance to see what fate befell her beloved pet. LaCroix grabbed the animal by the head and forced its teeth out of his arm. He held the struggling wild cat up by the scruff of its neck, then flung it hard across the room. The heavy, pleated draperies over the windows provided the animal with the cushioning it needed to survive the collision. There was a soft thud as it hit the window, but it latched onto the curtains with its claws for a second, then leapt to the floor. Sidney appeared slightly disoriented from the encounter with the window, but suffered no obvious injuries. He looked about for his mistress, and upon not finding her, trotted off to search the bedroom.

LaCroix tended to his bleeding arm, licking the bite wounds a few times to heal them. "For such a small beast," he spoke to Nick, "that animal showed more guts than even you, Nicholas. He did what you were unable to do. But don't worry, I'm sure she couldn't have gotten too far. I'll hunt for her later. I'll put an end to that woman and her meddling once and for all."

"I know what you're thinking, LaCroix, but Natalie had nothing to do with the way I am now."

Wordlessly, the vampire stepped closer, then reached out to cup Nick's face with one hand. He studied his son's appearance carefully, noting the bruised chin and the tired, red-rimmed eyes. His gaze drifted downwards to the bandage that covered Nick's arm. He grabbed the arm and snatched off the bandage, hearing Nick hiss from the pain his actions caused.

"This isn't like before," said LaCroix as he stared at the stitched wound. "This isn't some drug affecting your mind causing you to believe that you are mortal. This is the real thing." He looked into Nick's eyes and asked, "How did she do it?"

"I told you. Nat had nothing to do with this."

"Explain!" LaCroix demanded as he released his grip.

"It's a... it may be a little hard to believe but... I guess you'd have to call it magic."


"Yes. I made a wish."

"A wish?"

"Yes. I came across an ancient Chinese wish box. I heard about it in a legend once told to me by a harem girl centuries ago. If you solve the puzzle, then it grants you a wish. I solved the puzzle last night and it granted my wish. It's made me mortal again."

LaCroix frowned at the words. "It would appear so. And this magic wish box; where did you find it?"

"I was investigating a suicide case earlier this week. My partner discovered the puzzle in the trash at the scene and--"

"In the trash? Perhaps that is where it should have remained. And you say the previous owner committed suicide?"

"Apparently, he had some emotional problems."

"Yes, it would seem so. And where is this magic box now?"

Nick didn't want to give up the box, but he knew he had no choice. He turned away from his master and began looking for the puzzle. He picked up the pillow he had been resting his head upon earlier and found the puzzle wedged into the corner of the sofa. Nick thought that he would be able to pick it up and quickly make that final twist in order to make his wish, but his movements were no match for the speed of his master. LaCroix snatched the box from his grasp, then took a few steps away as he examined it carefully.

"It's quite beautiful," said LaCroix. "I take it that you move the pieces about until the dragon is completely formed?"

"Yes," Nick replied halfheartedly.

"And then you're entitled to make a wish?"


"It would seem that you're only one step away from solving the puzzle again. Am I correct?"

Nick nodded dejectedly and sighed. "Yes."

"I wonder what would happen if I finished it for you," LaCroix mused aloud. He noticed the anxious look that covered Nick's face, his eyes wide and his mouth hung open in an unvoiced desire to stop his master from making the attempt. LaCroix smiled devilishly as he twisted that last section of the puzzle which brought the dragon into alignment. Nick held his breath waiting for the box to open and display the crystal inside. When nothing happened, he realized that the puzzle was still waiting for him to solve it. He still had a chance. He just had to get his hands on it again, which meant that he needed to outwit his adversary.

LaCroix looked at the puzzle curiously. "What? No puff of smoke, no magic genie humbling himself to serve me? I must admit, it's rather disappointing. Am I missing something, Nicholas?"

Nick didn't bother to respond. He cast his eyes downward, trying not to show interest in the item that LaCroix held in his palm. He didn't want his master to know how much he wanted to get his hands on it. His only hope was for LaCroix to get distracted and put it down.

When he saw that Nicholas was refusing to answer him, LaCroix tried a different tactic. "Perhaps I'll simply make a wish anyway, in case it actually does work. My wish, Nicholas, is for you to forget all about this being mortal nonsense and come back to me where you belong." LaCroix looked from the dragon to Nick and raised his eyebrows questionably. "Well? Do I get my wish, Nicholas? Or do I go and hunt down all your little mortal playmates?"

"LaCroix, why won't you try to understand?"

"Understand what?"

"That this is what I want. Being mortal is what I really want."

"You're a fool, Nicholas. You don't know what you want. You never have."

"I want this!" Nick retorted adamantly, raising his voice and eyeing his master defiantly.

The old vampire was momentarily taken aback by his son's assertive demeanor. "I see. So, I imagine you expect me to simply allow you to run off and marry your doctor and raise a brood of rugrats in the suburbs? But even if I did turn a blind eye, there's still the Enforcers to consider."

"The Enforcers have no need to worry about me," said Nick. "I'm actually less of a threat to the community as a mortal than I was as a vampire. In my search to find a cure, I was always doing things that could draw attention to my being a vampire. But as a mortal, all I have to do is keep my mouth shut, which I plan to do. Nat and I can just move to some boring little town where no self-respecting vampire would even care to set foot."

"You think it would be as simple as that?"

"LaCroix," Nick spoke with barely restrained excitement, "what has happened to me is a miracle! I've been given a second chance at a mortal life. I'm not sure I can explain to you just how important this is to me. I know you have never understood my desire to just grow old gracefully and die a normal death. But between the growing old and dying, I want to be a husband and I want to experience fatherhood. I want the trips to Disney World and the walks on a sunny beach. I want to attend the little league games and school plays and college graduations. I want normalcy, LaCroix."

"Normalcy?" LaCroix sneered. "You truly want this?" he asked, placing his hand on Nick's injured arm and squeezing mercilessly. The renewed pain forced Nick to his knees. "To be easily damaged?" LaCroix continued his querying. "To be weak and vulnerable to death? I would be remiss in my duties as a parent if I allowed you to go on this way," said LaCroix. "You are my child, Nicholas, and it has always been my duty as a father to do what is best for you. The problem is that I've been far too lenient in allowing you to have your way. Now I feel it is time that I take control. You've had your little taste of mortality, so it's time for you to put away those childish fantasies and come back to the world in which you truly belong."

"If you bring me back across," Nick grimaced through the pain, "I swear, LaCroix, I'll walk into the sun the first chance I get."

"You're bluffing. You don't have the courage. You've never had."

"Take away from me what I've wanted so badly all these centuries and I vow I will find the courage. I don't want to become a vampire again, LaCroix, and I won't! If you will not allow me to lead the life I desire, then I'd rather not exist at all. I'm serious. If you are able to coax me back from the dead after taking my blood, then you'd better be prepared to watch me like a hawk. I _will_ walk into the sun the moment your back is turned and you will lose me forever."

LaCroix searched his child's eyes carefully as he listened not only to his words but his fast-beating heart as well. It was apparent that Nick was telling the truth about his intentions. LaCroix released the hold he'd had on the injured arm and took a few steps back.

"And what of the lovely Miss Lambert? You would leave her unprotected? Perhaps I could persuade her to take your place."

Slowly, Nick raised himself up off his knees and stood tall and strong on his feet, determination still written on his face. "I would kill her myself to keep you from getting your hands on her."

LaCroix was struck not only by the unexpected declaration but the fearless conviction he saw in those cool, blue eyes. The vampire had to consider his options carefully. Indeed, it was possible that Nicholas might reject him, might choose to cross over into the light instead of coming back as a vampire. The best way to prevent that would be to take a little of Nicholas' blood over a period of several days in order to first create an unbreakable bond before bringing him across. LaCroix used to create servants for himself that way in the early days. Unfortunately, the vampires who were thus bonded to him in that manner had a bad habit of becoming too clingy and needy. They lacked personality and a sense of independence. Eventually, they got on his nerves and he was forced to eliminate them. The vampire's train of thought was derailed when his child hobbled up to him and gently took hold of his right hand.

"Let me go, LaCroix," Nick requested in a quiet voice. "Please," he added as he raised his master's hand to his lips and kissed the ring on his finger. It was an act he had performed only once before, soon after becoming a vampire. At that time he had requested that LaCroix return his mortality, but was told that it was far too late. His new master then informed him of what a great gift he had just been given and the wonders awaiting him in the future. Nick had kissed his father's ring and vowed to repay him for his gift.

"I owe you so much," Nick spoke softly, his eyes only half open and focused on nothing in particular. "I know I haven't shown much gratitude for the good things you've done for me. I seem to only focus on the bad. I can't even count the number of times you've rescued me when my own foolishness put my life at risk. You are like a father to me, caring for me when I'm hurt or in danger, punishing me when you feel I've misbehaved. I understand why you've done the things you have to keep me a vampire. And perhaps I'm being selfish, but I need for you to let me go now. What's happened to me is something very special and I don't want it taken away. Please, LaCroix, I beg you. Let me go."

A small smile appeared on the old vampire's face. His eyes shifted from the hands that still held a firm hold on his up to the eyes that timidly returned his gaze. "That was a very pretty speech, Nicholas. One might even think that you actually meant all that."

"I do," Nick was quick to respond, his eyes glistening with hopefulness. "Please, LaCroix," he begged for his freedom again, his voice barely a whisper. He thought for the briefest moment that he was getting through to him. The expression on his master's face was pensive, almost compassionate, but it quickly faded.

The vampire pulled his hand away from Nick's grasp and took hold of his son's injured arm. He brought it to his lips to lap at the thin lines of blood seeping from beneath broken stitches. With eyes closed, he tasted the blood, remembering the flavor from nearly eight centuries ago and recognizing that which made it unique. He carefully licked the wound to aid in its healing and to help alleviate the pain. Nick hoped that the kind gesture meant good news for him, but when LaCroix released him and stepped back, the words he had to say were not what Nick wanted to hear.

"Perhaps there is a part of you that sincerely wishes for a mortal life and all its trappings, but there is also a part of you that craves what I have to offer. Ask yourself this, Nicholas: if you truly don't want me in your life, why do you leave me with such easy trails to follow?"

"I --" Nick started to protest but realized that there must have been some truth in the accusation. He looked away almost shamefully, offering no further response.

LaCroix gently patted his cheek. "You are my creation, Nicholas. Mine to possess. And I don't appreciate mortal quackery or even the mystical attempting to take away what belongs to me." With that statement, LaCroix lifted the magic puzzle he'd been holding in his left hand, and crushed it. The sound of breaking glass could be heard, and although the outside remained in one piece, it was now crumbled like a tin can. As Nick watched in despair, LaCroix tossed the puzzle away, not caring where it landed.

"There will be no further discussion of the matter," LaCroix dictated as he made himself comfortable in a chair adjacent to the couch. "Now, I suggest you get dressed and prepare to depart. I'll take you back to the cellar in the Raven, where we can relive our first days together. How does that sound?"

It sounded like the death of his dreams. Nick glumly turned away to do what he was told. He picked up his T-shirt from the back of the couch and slipped it on. He then picked up his crutch which was lying on the floor in front of the sofa, and used it to steady himself and hobble towards the bedroom. As he was nearing the opened bedroom door, he saw the puzzle that LaCroix had crumbled and tossed away. Only now, it appeared to have been restored to its previous undamaged condition and in the position he'd last left it in with one movement away from completion. Nick stifled a gasp of surprise and thought quickly about the best way to retrieve the puzzle without alerting his master. He took another uncertain step forward, then faked a loss of balance and dropped to his hands and knees.

"You see," said LaCroix, not bothering to come to his aid, "mortality has its drawbacks."

Nick picked up the puzzle and with nervous anticipation, twisted the final piece into its proper place. He held his breath as he watched and waited for something to happen.

"What are you doing?" LaCroix asked suspiciously. His sharp hearing had picked up on the faint clicking sounds the puzzle made as it began to open. When he didn't get an answer and saw that Nick had made no effort to stand up again, LaCroix decided to investigate. He stepped up behind his offspring and saw him mesmerized by what he held in his opened palms. "And what is your wish, Nicholas?"

Nick started at the sudden sound of his master's voice close to his ear. He still hadn't settled on a wish, and his mind was a jumble of indecisiveness. LaCroix walked around in front of him and stared down at his dazed child.

"I suppose you wish me dead, burned to ashes by the morning sun and scattered to the four corners of the earth?"

"No!" Nick was quick to answer.

"Why not? I thought that's what you wanted, to be rid of me once and for all. And it's not as though you haven't tried to kill me yourself before. Are you sure you don't wish that I was burning in hell for all eternity?"

Nick shook his head, not wanting such thoughts gaining substance in his brain. "No, LaCroix, I don't wish anything bad for you."

"Really? How touching. Apparently, there's still some love left. Well... what if you wish that we had never met?" When Nick shook his head at that suggestion, LaCroix mulled over the reason why it too was being rejected. "Oh, of course. If we never met, then you would not be here today becoming one with the lovely Dr. Lambert. I do see your dilemma, Nicholas. Mmm..." he continued to ponder aloud. "Then perhaps we should go for something less complicated. You could simply wish for me to cease interfering in your life and allow you and your loved ones to live in peace."

LaCroix had spoken the words facetiously, but Nick rolled them around in his brain and realized that they would work. He lifted his eyes from the crystal sphere, up to his master and nodded slightly.

"Yes," he uttered softly. "That is what I wish."

Their attention was then drawn to the crystal sphere as it cast off a soft glow and the smoke inside whirled about until the words, 'As you wish,' were formed. Nick placed the flattened box on the floor and watched in silence as the ends folded themselves up to seal the crystal inside a square box, then the image of the dragon went into hiding once again.

With the help of his crutch, Nick rose to his feet and stood eye to eye with his former master. "Will you go away now, LaCroix, and stay out of my life?"

LaCroix became somewhat befuddled. Thoughts that didn't really seem to be his own, suddenly flooded his mind. The idea that he should do as Nicholas requested took firm root, and after a moment, he nodded his head. "If that is truly what you desire, Nicholas."

"It is."

LaCroix lowered his eyes sadly. "Yes, well... perhaps it _is_ time we went our separate ways. Toronto has gotten rather boring of late. Perhaps I shall travel the world and concentrate on finding a new companion. Someone who will appreciate all that I have to offer. A female, I think this time."

"Sounds like a good plan," said Nick.

LaCroix started to head towards the entrance, but turned back suddenly to face him. He reached out to caress the bruised spot on his son's chin. "I've tried so very hard, to protect you from things that might do you harm. I let my guard down briefly and look what happens. You think that mortality will bring you happiness, but trust me, Nicholas, it will not. I know you better than you know yourself. Mortality is merely a toy that will easily break and as soon as it does, you will lose interest. I will ask that you reconsider your decision one last time. If you refuse me now, I shall not make the offer again."

Nick shook his head. "No, LaCroix, you don't know me that well. This _is_ what I want. I won't tire of it and I won't change my mind."

LaCroix stared into his son's eyes and read within them, an unwavering finality. The vampire finally conceded with a deep sigh and a nod of his head. "As you wish, Nicholas."

There was a moment of awkward silence at that point which was suddenly interrupted by the sound of a door opening. Natalie had returned, flanked by two, beefy men wearing matching, navy blazers with the hotel emblem on the breast pocket.

"Hotel security," said one of the men. "Mr. Simmons, Mrs. Simmons here says there's some kind of disturbance?"

"It's okay, Nat," Nick spoke up. "Everything's all right now. LaCroix was just leaving."

"Would you like for us to escort the gentleman out?" asked the other security officer.

LaCroix answered that question. "That won't be necessary. I know the way."

"Well, why don't we just accompany you down to the lobby? We're headed that way anyhow."

"Oh course," LaCroix replied in a surprisingly polite manner. He turned to Nick once again for a few final words. "Do take care of yourself, Nicholas. I must say, it has been my greatest pleasure knowing you."

Despite the forced smile on his former master's face, Nick was able to catch a glimpse of unshed tears in the vampire's normally steely eyes. The tiniest bit of regret nudged the back of Nick's mind. He wondered, ever so briefly, if he was doing the right thing by casting his old friend out of his life. Then he realized that their bond needed to be broken cleanly and completely if he ever hoped to live a normal life.

"Good-bye, LaCroix," said Nick, holding his hand out to shake. As the vampire grasped his hand firmly," Nick added, "I'll never forget you."

A pained smiled flirted across LaCroix's face as he slowly released Nick's hand. Without another word, he turned and headed for the door, but paused when he reached Natalie. "It appears that you've won, my dear. Enjoy what little time you have left with him."

It had sounded like a threat, but the expression on the old vampire's face seemed more regretful than menacing. He glanced back ruefully at his child for just a second, then walked away without further comment, one of the security guards sticking close by him.

"Mr. and Mrs. Simmons, if you have any further problems, don't hesitate to call."

"Thank you," said Nat as the man closed the door on his way out. She secured the safety latch on the door, then raced over to Nick and threw her arms around him. "Are you all right?" she asked, pulling back a bit to get a good look at him.

"Yeah, I'm fine," Nick reassured her with a kiss to her cheek.

"I was so scared. I wasn't sure what I'd find when I stepped back through that door. What happened exactly?"

"I made my wish."

"Which was?"

"For LaCroix to butt out of my life and leave us to live in peace."

"That's it? I mean, do you think that's going to be enough?"

"Well, so far, it seems to be working. He's gone. Walking away empty-handed is not what he had planned when he came here. But something miraculously, compelled him to do just that."

"So you think it's safe for us to stay here? You believe that he's gone for good?"

"Yeah," Nick nodded with a hint of melancholy. "I don't think we'll ever see or hear from him again.

"What about that last comment he made? About me enjoying what little time I have left with you. It sounded kind of like a threat, as though he didn't expect for us to be together for too much longer or something."

"LaCroix is under the mistaken perception that I will soon get bored with being mortal and that I'll want to go back to being a vampire again. But, he's wrong, Nat. I could never go back to that living hell. Never. So I guess you're just stuck with me from now on." Nick pulled her to him and gave her lips a soft kiss.

Natalie sighed blissfully in his arms for a brief moment, then let out a sudden gasp and pulled away. "Sidney!" she exclaimed fearfully. "Is he all right? LaCroix didn't hurt him, did he?"

"Not really. He sort of flung him across the room. The curtains kept him from getting injured but I think the incident may have left him a little shaken. He ran into the bedroom. You may want to go check on him."

Natalie hurried off in search of her cat and found her distressed pet hiding beneath the bed. While she was on her hands and knees trying to coax the animal to come to her, Nick leaned against the doorway, his attention focused on the puzzle box he had picked up off the floor. His thoughts drifted back to a time long ago.

Baghdad - 1258

"Demarcus walked for miles in the desert. The lack of water and the heat of the blistering sun, robbed him of his strength, until at last, he could no longer go on. It was nearly sunset when he collapsed to the ground, exhausted and near death. All the while, he had been praying to his god for deliverance, and without forethought, his hands had worked to solve the puzzle. He still had hope that the box would open for him again and grant him another wish. The noble idea that he had earlier of saving his people from slavery, had been pushed to the back of his mind. The thought that consumed him now was the desire to live.

"And just at the moment he was about to give up, he saw the image of a dragon appear on the magic box. Then there were clicking noises like he had heard the night before. The crystal sphere inside showed itself. Demarcus was too weak to speak the words aloud. He could only think them. 'Please, do not let me die. I do not wish to die,' is what he told the magic crystal. He saw the smoke form the words, 'As you wish,' then the magic box closed upon itself. A moment later, Demarcus fell unconscious."

Nicholas waited impatiently for Shalimar to continue. She had paused for a moment to sip from her cup of water. He didn't believe that she was actually thirsty, but rather stretching out the suspense. He had to admit that she was an excellent storyteller. He idly wondered that if he drank her blood, if he would be able to capture all the tales she knew. LaCroix had taught him that drinking the blood of the very talented, although momentarily very satisfying, wasn't quite the same as experiencing those talents first hand. It was possible that he could know a small sampling of her stories through her blood alone, but he knew he wouldn't have the richness and detail that only she could deliver personally.

"Do you plan to finish this tale some time this century?" he finally asked, his voice filled with impatience.

"Of course," she replied calmly, knowing she had him in the palm of her hands, at least for the moment. "Where was I?"

"Demarcus was unconscious."

"Oh, yes. After making his wish, Demarcus fell into a state of unconsciousness. He lay there for several hours. The sun had gone down and the moon was high. A lone traveler happened upon the young man, dying in the desert. Demarcus was faintly aware of hands holding him and a voice talking to him, asking him if he wanted to live. He could only offer a hint of a nod, then he felt a sharp pain in his neck. He wanted to scream out, but too quickly the pain turned pleasant and he wanted it to continue. Soon, the touch at his throat disappeared and the flesh of another was pressed against his lips. He was encouraged to drink the moisture he found there."

"He was bitten by a vampire," Nicholas concluded. "A demon," he added, using her term for it.

"Yes. And so, his wish not to die, had just been fulfilled."


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