The Afflicted Ch. 07byChiShyGuy©
Frederique watched her children leave and wiped away more than a few tears. They were preparing to find the bank and take care of their temporary housing plans when Sigrid returned from a brief absence.
"Mr. and Mrs. Dujobe, I was sent word that your quarters are ready. It would be my honor to escort you there right away"
Palo shot Frederique a questioning look. They had not put in a formal request, and they had more to do -- but there was subtext in Sigrid's tone that said this was not merely an offer, but something she would insist upon. Frederique gave a gentle nod to Sigrid that they understood.
The tall blonde held a finger to her lips as she took them into a very small office, very small. It was confusing as to what they were doing there until she pulled a lever on the wall which opened a hatch in the ceiling of the office.
"The tubes are small," she whispered, "but they can be navigated easily enough once you are used to them."
Sigrid sailed up into the hole in the ceiling, followed by Palo and then Frederique. They ascended rapidly and Frederique heard a click behind her as the hatch they had passed through closed again.
The flight was disorienting for both of them and they knew they would never find their way back again if they were to lose Sigrid.
They made turn after turn, all of them able flyers and Sigrid leading the way with confidence. Perhaps ten minutes later, they slowed outside a small section of tunnel near an intersection. Removing a key from a pocket, Sigrid opened a hidden hatch which led to another tunnel. The tunnels they had been in had been plain and simply functional.
This was no rough-hewn stone conduit, but a beautifully tiled tube which stretched for miles. Sigrid flew off in what they were to later learn was a northerly direction. After five minutes of rapid flight, they arrived at a widened area that had an ornate, gold-inlaid door. Sigrid took out the same key she had used to enter the tunnel and let them in -- scanning the corridor once more before closing the door.
The interior was no less opulent. They found themselves in a grand, arched corridor which seemed to borrow from every architectural style in an elegant way.
Once inside, Sigrid breathed a sigh of relief.
"My friends -- I will admit that I am probably being overly cautious, but I want to take no chances with your safety."
"Our safety in regard to what?" asked Palo, growing more frustrated by the minute.
"We have certainly been having share of troubles with the Black Guard of late -- but the more I thought about it, the more it concerned me that they knew of your ship so well, given the fact that Frederique was upon it. It struck me as odd that no Council representative or guard was there to meet you. Regardless of whether the harbor envoy was waylaid -- someone of your stature should have been greeted upon her arrival. I looked into it, and discovered that the message of your arrival had been altered and you weren't due for another day. It was just luck that a detail-oriented harbor watcher noticed the Siren and alerted some people."
"Her stature..." said Palo, in a growing state of confusion over the obvious notoriety of his beautiful wife. "Frederique, what is it you did. People bowing to you, offering their necks... Why have I not been told of what it is you did?"
"He still doesn't know?" asked a surprised Sigrid.
"Not very much, no," said Frederique. "But I realize it is time. I will tell you as soon as our dear Sigrid here has shown us around this lovely place. Trust me Palo, I will tell all."
She placed a soothing hand on her husband's muscular arm.
"My other duties revolve around the property office," said Sigrid. "This place currently belongs to members of the Verplanck family, one of New York's founding dynasties. However, it hasn't been occupied for nearly ten years as there are very few who can afford it. The only people to visit it are the workers who check in on it every month or so for routine maintenance. This was just done. That means we are in a very safe place for quite some time. There will be more than satisfactory emergency provisions in the kitchen, and everything else should be in proper order."
"Since your envoy in the harbor was obviously compromised, it is likely that only Reykjavik is fully aware of your situation."
"Reykjavik?" inquired Frederique.
"Yes, after the Tacito affair, security was raised. The Council center was moved from Copenhagen to Iceland. You can imagine it keeps the deplaceurs busy -- but it also means security is higher than it's ever been. Speaking of security, let me show you around this place."
She crossed to a panel where there were several brass gauges and levers.
"This," she explained, pushing one lever up. "Is a jumper alert. To my knowledge, there are only three other residences equipped with such a system. Should anyone attempt to deplace into any part of this complex -- an alarm will sound and mesh nets with gold fibers will shoot straight for the location of the intruder. The doors are impregnable, the air is internally refreshed and filtered."
"Impressive," said Frederique. "With such security, is there a safe room?"
"There certainly is, great lady," said Sigrid. "If you will follow me."
She led them down the hall past a huge library and an opulent parlor. From there, they proceeded past a stunning statue that seemed to be a mixture of glass and marble, brass and glittering steel. The craftsmanship was truly amazing, but the subject was even more of a surprise. The statue was of a flying woman, her sword outstretched before her. The beauty of its lines and the figure was clear from a distance. As they drew closer, the beauty and the subject of the piece was surprising. It was Frederique. The look on her face was the most amazing. Somehow the artist had captured countless emotions in one frozen moment. There was a grim look of determination on her face, and anger -- yet a single tear flowed from her right eye as she aimed her sword at some grim destination.
"Ironic, isn't it?' said Sigrid, "that this statue should be the key to the safe room I'm about to show you?"
Frederique was overwhelmed at the sculpture. As for Palo, he turned to her, more confused than ever.
Sigrid reached up and touched two fingers to the lips of the statue. This caused a soft rolling sound and revealed a hole in the wall -- which was more than two feet thick.
"Come in," she urged.
The safe room seemed like a plain room of perhaps twenty feet on each side and the same in height. However, when Sigrid pulled the lever to seal it shut again, an entirely different world appeared. The walls, the ceiling, and even the floor started scintillating with different colors and patterns.
"Magnifique," gasped Frederique. "What a marvelous invention."
"It was based on a note found in one of your first husband's old notebooks," said Sigrid. "It is one thing to keep the location of a room secret so no Jumper can ever find it. It is quite another to make the room so it never exists as the same thing for more than a few seconds."
"My dear Christophe," said Frederique. "Such a wonderful mind he had."
Palo had grown even more contemplative and almost surly. They stepped back out of the safe room and Sigrid walked with them back to the entrance, bidding them to seal the door and activate the alarms until someone from the Council arrived.
"Oh, and one other thing," she said, coyly. "Enjoy the gymnasium."
Upon saying that, she stepped out and closed the door.
"Well? Should we look around?" said Frederique, smiling. "It's such a nice place. Palo, what's wrong?"
Palo paced about -- then finally gathered his wits and took Frederique's hand and led her to a divan in the parlor. They sat, side by side, and as Palo spoke he stared straight forward, not meeting her eyes.
"When we first met, decades ago, I saw you and thought you were the most beautiful woman in the world. I still do. When you chose me as your mate and I learned of the Affliction -- even with my misgivings about taking on this curse of the moon -- I had no choice even then. I would have done anything to be with you. "
"In the early times, I knew you bore some sort of grief in your heart and some sort of secret. When the council delegate arrived to approve me becoming one of you, he was very tight-lipped about you and your past. Always I thought that sometime, someday you would tell me of your past. Yet, the years rolled by and it simply became our life -our wonderful, lovely life with our children. Now, in the course of a month all of it has been entirely changed. Our children are lovers. Our simple home is forgotten. Now, the worst of all is you."
"Why am I the worst?" said Frederique.
"My father always said something," continued Palo, tears forming in his own eyes. "He always said there are two ways to lie. One, is to tell something that is untrue. The other, is to leave the important bits out. That's what you have done to me, Frederique. You have left every important bit out. I have lived the equivalent of an entire mortal lifetime with you and I know nothing about you. You are royalty, as far as I can tell. You are a heroine of a war I know nothing about. I am not threatened or worried by any of it. What I can't believe is that would keep so much from me. If you are keeping so many huge things from me, what else might you be hiding?"
He had finally turned to face her and his heart went out for her at the tears she was shedding.
"Oh Palo," she whispered. "You are right. It was not fair of me to hide so much. At first I didn't tell you because I wanted to protect you. I had planned on telling you everything before we left Morocco. Then the orders came so suddenly for our move that I thought I would wait for the ship. Then, aboard the ship, Claude and Aimée occupied my every thought. But it is time. You are right, you need to know your wife. I promise you one thing; the most important thing. This..." and with that she placed his hand over her heart. "This belongs to you, always."
"Very well," said Palo, tenderly kissing her. "I look forward to learning more about the great Frederique La Teilière."
"Frederique Dujobe," she said tenderly. "Frederique who looks forward to exploring this fascinating house with her 'Dark-Skinned Adonis', as Sigrid put it so eloquently. Frederique, who looks forward to telling him anything and everything she has been keeping from him."
The homes of the Afflicted, the 'belows' as the homes were sometimes called, were fascinating reflections of the unique traits of the species. Lives that can last centuries allow for more luxury in certain areas. Libraries were highly valued, the Afflicted were almost all keen scholars. Further, they certainly gained an appreciation of the finer things. The kitchens and wine cellars were usually provisioned with top-shelf items.
Physically, there was not merely a hunger for sexual outlets. Exercise in general was of great importance. Swimming pools provided a great opportunity for concentrated exercise in a small amount of space so pools, large or small were a recurrent theme in most belows.
There were individual tastes like the arts, such as sculpture or painting. Technology was very popular. Many of mankind's great inventions were often created by the Afflicted first and then 'leaked' to the public via way of a third-party, or by clever guidance and suggestions to human inventors. Science was also a particular specialty, especially in the medical realm.
Of course, there was sex. The Afflicted were blessed with superhuman physiques and gifts. The Affliction also cursed (or blessed) its kind with a superhuman hunger for physical intimacy. Without the daily dose of a few drops of blood and a much larger 'serving' of sexual relief, the Affliction would cause one to grow morose and the more dangerous instincts would rise to the surface.
Frederique and Palo wandered through their temporary home. They looked about in wonder at the opulence. This dwelling was a stunning example of a below constructed with New World wealth.
The kitchen was a palace in of itself. The grand dining room could seat at least fifty and had likely hosted some amazing parties over the years. The library was massive and stocked with volumes and even scrolls in every language.
"Why would they leave their books?" Palo asked as he perused the thousands of titles.
"It's not unusual among our kind," said Frederique. "You see, when you have decades to read a favorite book, you will commit it to memory eventually. Also, since our collections are so rare, if we don't sell it to others among the Afflicted, we will raise troublesome questions if we try to sell them to mortal book dealers."
"Here," said Palo, who had crossed to a writing desk. "Here is the answer, and it is just as you said."
He lifted a note and read it.
"To our lovely home's new occupants: We have decided to give California a try with new names and all that goes with it. We have taken a few of our most prized possessions, but felt an entirely new start was in order. We will miss our library the most -- so if you don't mind, we might come to call now and again when we are in town. Our very best, the Verplancks."
"P.S. We wish you many happy times in the gymnasium."
The gymnasium?" inquired Palo. "Why should they also mention that?"
"I think we'll just have to go and find out," said Frederique.
They wandered past several well-appointed bedrooms with beds large enough to accommodate at least two lovers. They saw a bathroom with a tub that might as well have been a swimming pool. At last they came to an open door that led to a huge room that seemed it could be used as an indoor tennis court, a fencing room, a ballet studio, or anything one would wish to do on smooth wooden floor.
"It seems nice, I suppose," said Palo, "but..."
"Dear, look up," said Frederique.
The door leading into the room that was open had a sign above it which read 'exercise room'.
However, a door right next to it, which was closed, read 'Gymnasium.'
Frederique and Palo stepped up to the door curiously and opened it.
"Oh my word," muttered Palo, glancing into a room which was perhaps twice again as large as the exercise room.
Heat wafted out at them -- and the reason for the temperature was immediately clear. This was not a room where one was meant to wear clothing.
Frederique instantly understood and began disrobing immediately.
"Well?" she said, winking at Palo, "do you need me to spell it out?"
Palo followed suit and they were soon entering the gymnasium -- stepping into a world which few can imagine.
The floor was padded in a soft, silky fabric. It appeared to be upholstered in large squares so that any single meter-wide square could be replaced with ease. (In fact, they later found this to be exactly the case, a hidden closet held spare tiles which could quickly be swapped out -- though it was rarely necessary because the room was so large no one area got too much traffic... of any variety.)
There were swings with velvet ropes. There were raised mattresses...with velvet ropes and rings to attach restraints. There were ample alcoves in the walls -- some at ground level and some fifteen feet off the ground. Three beds were suspended high from the ceiling -- with no mechanism in sight to lower or raise them.
"They were obviously fliers," whispered Frederique, matter-of-factly. There was something about the room that made one whisper.
There were special chairs and benches, restraints and swings -- all of it with one and only one thing in mind.
Perhaps the two most fascinating elements of the room stood in the center. One, was a huge column of glass with metal ribbings, within which was clear, warm water. It seemed the only way to access it was via the top. Its purpose confused them until Palo spied small tubes along the sides for one to breathe indefinitely below the surface -- and in full view of whoever might be in the room.
The other was a somewhat lifelike automaton, with one very lifelike appendage. Frederique appraised the life-sized robotic invention it with an expert's eye. Even the relatively staid Palo couldn't help but find the machine full of fascinating potential -- his fascination with the possibilities quickly became evident -- visibly so.
"Frederique reached down and took him by that very same evidence and kissed him gently.
"Some other time, yes?" she said. "Now, it is story time. Let's go up there."
They flew up to the highest cave for lack of a better word. It was clear that the Verplancks had invested a great deal of time, thought, and money into the Gymnasium. No doubt they had revised and improved it over the years. The large room was clearly meant for larger parties and those more prone to exhibitionist and group tendencies. These little love alcoves were fully provisioned with padded floors, a bench running around the entire wall, pillows, and a sheer curtain which could be left open or closed -- but even closed they allowed for a view to the larger room beyond.
"Sit," said Frederique, leading Palo to a place where he could lean his back against the wall. She knelt in front of him, but it took no more than three kisses and two licks to have him ready.
"Very good," she purred. "It is time for a story."
"While we make love?" asked a bemused Palo.
"We need this as well -- we might as well take care of two things at once."
She climbed up, straddling him on her knees, and slid his lovely, long tool inside. With one satisfied sigh, she settled there and began.
"Once upon a time," Frederique said, quite simply. "There was a girl borne of two Afflicted parents. That girl was me. My mother was over a thousand years old and was the daughter of two of the first-bitten who had once lived on a tiny island in the Mediterranean. My mother lost her first husband in battle and in the year one-thousand thirty-five, married my father Georg La Teilière. He was one of the finest scientific minds the world has ever known. My mother was a flyer, but her true gift was that of warrior. She could shoot an arrow in strong wind, from any elevation, and find her mark miles away. No one could cross swords with her and win. Long staff, quarter-staff -- put a weapon in my mother's hand and there was no one who could best her -- no one. Though we do not have royalty among the Afflicted, my parents were as close as one could imagine. They sat in various positions on the Council over their long lives and eventually settled in Paris where they decided to have children.
"Alphonse, my brother, was first, followed five years later by me. When he awakened, it was discovered that Alphonse's gift was the very rare and highly valued skill of Empath. It was lucky he had been borne of such noble and gentle parents, because an Empath's power can be used in frightening ways. When powerful enough, and Alphonse was, an empath can reach into the mind of anyone they wish and even control their minds and bodies.
"As for me, I was merely a flyer -- somewhat to the disappointment of my parents."
"After I awakened, I was enrolled at the Copenhagen Academy, the center of European education and government for the Afflicted at the time. Our class was a particularly promising one -- with several of our great leaders emerging in later years.
"Our instructors were harsh, and they needed to be. Those were rough times with witch hunts still going on and the Black Guard just beginning to form. We needed to be tough and sharp, and we were.
"We also needed each other. I have no shame in saying I broke many hearts while I was there, Palo. I was ravenous for companionship. I slept with nearly every member of our class, often more than one at a time. I felt that it was my duty to welcome any new boys to the Academy in the proper way. Let's just say that in my five years I had a great deal of fun.