The images on the vampmobile’s high-resolution window displays revealed a video of the road heading out of Roseland on the way home, but the shifting weight didn’t quite match the view.
“You’re not taking me home, are you, Miss Yasmine-with-a-wy?”
A tap on the tablet, and the screen cast a pale blue glow onto Yasmine’s face revealing her pleasant expression. A quick glance, the male went back to looking at the view that appeared to be the highway heading through tall evergreens illuminated by lamplights.
Yasmine swiped her finger on the tablet screen, and the images on the false-windows changed to dark stone walls supported by white columns zipping by. The car drove through a narrow tunnel.
“I truly hate commute traffic,” said Yasmine. She swiped her finger on the tablet, and the windows reverted back to the wooded scene. “Trees are prettier. Don’t you think?”
“Where are you taking me?”
“Home, sweetie, but first I’d like to show you something as a sign of good faith.”
“For what exactly?”
“I’d like to invest in Thyme with money and equipment, resources to help improve and expand your harvesting. The tiny amount you procure with those antiquated needles simply won’t do.”
“Wait,” said Nine, “what do you even want with venom?”
“Xavier, dear, isn’t Miss Thyme just the most adorable little thing ever? The ignorance of their kind never ceases to amaze me.”
“Drugs,” said Nine, speaking in defense of her species. “You’re talking about a drug business, but why don’t you get it yourselves? Why do you need my funeral home?”
As she heard her own words, she realized she had stumbled. She winced.
“The penis thing,” said Nine. “You need a human front else you’d all be swinging your dicks at each other. Or teeth, I guess.”
Smiling devilishly, Yasmine said, “There’s hope for you yet, young Miss Nine Thyme.”
The limousine stopped at a wide spot in the corner switchback of a narrow road snaking up a hill through the forest. Located along the western edge of the graveyard, the street looped above the main road providing access to seven homes nestled in the woods.
“Xavier here will show you my gift,” said Yasmine. She turned off the tablet, and darkness filled the car. Her iridescent eyes narrowed. “Then take your time considering my offer. Enjoy a bubble bath. Pleasure yourself if that helps. I want you give this careful consideration before we speak again.”
The door opened, panel lights illuminating the pavement and the trees off the edge of the road. Somehow the false view within the tunnel had merged seamlessly with the true view outside the car somewhere back on the road. Nine couldn’t imagine the equipment necessary, but it seemed an extravagant trick.
Xavier led the way onto an unmarked hiking trail. His dark clothing made him difficult to follow in the woods. Nine pulled out her phone and selected the flashlight.
“My apologies, Miss Nine of Thyme,” said Xavier. His voice, smooth nearly sang. “I sometimes forget the limits of your kind.”
“You’re her bodyguard, aren’t you?”
Climb turning steep, Nine used her free hand to hold onto a rock and crawl up. Spotting Xavier’s outstretched arm, she hesitantly took hold of his hand.
“You don’t remember me do you young miss?”
Xavier with his wavy hair could have passed for a rockstar during her father’s younger years, and she thought she should remember something like that. A familiarity coursed through his hand and into hers, but she couldn’t place the male Itoril.
“Your sixteenth birth anniversary, I believe.”
A tug, Xavier lifted Nine off her feet like she was weightless, carried her by the arm around him, and set her down on top of the incline.
“Augustus had been searching for this tomb for some years,” said Xavier.
Waving the light, Nine looked over the stone structure half-buried in silt with two trees growing out of the top. It reminded her of a burial mound, but this tomb had been submerged by the passage of time, erosion bringing the hillside down around it. By her estimation the tomb had to be located just beneath the graveyard proper nearest the funeral home. The entrance in the center was blocked by a rusted iron gate and moss-covered rocks on the ground. Her light shone inside revealing rubble and a narrow hall receding into the darkness.
“Miss Nine of Thyme,” said Xavier, bowing. “Allow me to introduce your namesake.”
Nine gasped in disbelief. The first Thyme had to be several generations older than the family funeral home. Had her grandfather’s grandfather built the funeral home on land owned by the family since prior generations? She hadn’t realized the Thyme’s influence in Roseland had begun so long ago.
Noticing the broken lock, she pulled on the gate. Screeching against hinges, the gate opened and knocked against a rock. The opening appeared barely wide enough for a slender person to squeeze inside. Best to return in daylight with safety gear, but a quick look inside would help decide what to bring.
Squeezing between the gate and stone made her wish she hadn’t treated herself with a bag of late-night munchies. Noticing Xavier getting an eyeful of her boobs squished against the bars, she poked her tongue out at him. He grinned like the devil and turned his gaze away. The Itoril man’s broad torso prevented him from entering, so she was on her own, and that was more than fine. She didn’t need venomous fangs hovering over her within a creepy old burial chamber.
After the rubble at the entrance, the stone floor was clear of debris. The passage led deeper than she had imagined. The tomb had been built into the earth after all. Reaching a chamber, she stopped and waved her light around. At the back stood a copper and black iron coffin with a silver etched inlay on the lid, the Chinese symbol for courage.