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Prologue: A Matter of Soul, Scene I (Lauren)

   
The shadow trick was pretty cool, she had to admit. Though she imagined it would be significantly less useful in well-lit areas, as she watched the shadow slink along the ground.

Looking toward the exit, Lauren spotted the plants. Damn. Well, it was better than those two guards with the automatic rifles popping up. She willed her body to move much faster than it normally could, sprinting to the door and attempting to wrench it open before the creepers could seal it.

The door opened with a muffled scriiiiiitch, the hinges protesting at this rough treatment. Confused, befuddled, the creepers pulled themselves back for a moment, attempting to parse in their botanical brains why the doors had opened seemingly of their own accord. Their surprise lasted only seconds, but it was enough.

Her obfuscation was shredded by the act of pulling open the heavy doors, but it didn't matter. The delay was all the time that Lauren needed to squeeze through the gap between the brass doors, and then she was free, out in the cold, chill air of the night.

A moment later, Oleander flowed through the crack beneath the rapidly-closing doors, a blotch of darkness against the night, illuminated only by the moon and stars. If Lauren had not known that this specific patch of darkness was that of her friend and lover, she'd have never found him, not in this environment. But Oleander kept moving, and his destination was obvious. Back to the hearse, and out of Highgate Cemetery.

Lauren followed,
Dice Roll: 11d10s8e
d10 Results: 1, 3, 6, 5, 3, 5, 4, 6, 5, 3, 10, 4 (Total Successes = 1)
hiding herself again. She kept close to the shadow, interested in what he'd do when they got to the hearse.

They reached the hearse a few minutes later, moving at a dead run. It was too much to hope for that someone wouldn't notice that they were gone, and when that happened, it would be a good idea for both of them to be too far to be easily caught. Not that they were expecting pursuit. They were guests, not prisoners. But it was simpler to just avoid the explanations.

A few minutes into their run, the shadow faded away, and there was a wolf loping alongside Lauren, a great, shaggy thing the size of a mastiff. Oleander made for a whole lot of wolf.

The hearse was still there, exactly as Lauren had left it earlier. The car keys were still in her pocket, and the gates were open. Oleander loped alongside Lauren. His gravelly voice sounded through the night. "Leave my clothes here, and get the engine warmed up. I'll join you in a minute."

She was rather disappointed that she was being told to look away again, but this was not the place to argue about it. Lauren wanted very much to be away from the cemetery as quickly as possible. Though they hadn't been held there against their will, exactly, the narrow escape through the doors made it all seem more dangerous, and Lauren was (perhaps irrationally) worried that they'd be caught and punished... for something or other. Besides, she could nag him about it later.

She tossed Oleander's clothes at him and started up the hearse. Lauren contemplated angling the mirrors so she could see him, but decided it would be much more satisfying if he showed her on purpose. So, she waited, ready to hit the gas as soon as he got in.

A moment later, Oleander got into the car looking distinctly mussed. His short, blond hair looked only slightly more unruly than usual, but his anorak was unzipped and the t-shirt beneath it was loose. In short, someone who had dressed in a great deal of hurry and without as much care as one might like.

"And we're gone." Oleander said, blowing out a breath. He glanced at Lauren. "Where to?"

"M--" Lauren started, then reconsidered. Her apartment was the obvious choice. She'd even added some comforts for the living, like a coffee maker and a little bit of actual food. But she'd never seen Oleander's. And he'd already thwarted her curiosity twice tonight. It was time to break that failure streak.

"Your apartment," she said casually, and drove off toward the area she usually picked him up.

Learning about Oleander was like a constant game. He wasn't very forthcoming with personal details at all. In some ways, it was incredibly frustrating. But part of Lauren liked the challenge, and the feeling that she'd "won" when she found out something new about him.

Oleander turned in his seat and gave Lauren a look, as far as the seat belt would allow. "Fine."

"You won't like it." Oleander predicted, in a tone of voice that hinted at no uncertainty. But Lauren was already driving towards Tottenham, so it didn't seem that Oleander was getting out of this. With a sigh of resignation, he gave her an address, and they drove off into the night.

****************************************************************************

Certainly, the first sight of Oleander's home was not an encouraging one. It was what in Britain they called 'Council Estates' or 'Council Houses', and what an American such as Lauren would have recognized as 'the projects'. A huge, blocky tenement that loomed up alongside a half-dozen identical siblings, their brownstone facades defaced with grafitti. Oleander gestured towards one of them, but had Lauren park several streets away, in a well-lit parking lot next to a bank. Between this location, and the fact that it was a hearse, Oleander felt they could be reasonably confident of seeing the car again.

There were some local residents, even at this early hour of the morning, mostly youths clad in dark anoraks, talking amongst themselves. It was not the place that Lauren would have cared to have to come when alive, though Oleander certainly looked like a capable protector, big and blond and muscular. A few people glanced at them, but most were content to leave the surly werewolf be.

"I live on the seventh floor." Oleander said, opening the front door of the apartment complex, which had been propped open with a brick. There was a row of name-tagged mailboxes along the wall.

It wasn't really a concern of whether or not she'd like it. Lauren just wanted to know where (and how) he lived. Though, she had to remind herself of that fact the closer they got. She hadn't expected it to be this bad.

Her expression remained calm, but curious as they walked. At least it was easy not to appear afraid. Had she been here as a human, she'd have been terrified. A well-off girl who only knew these kinds of places as "the bad part of town." Now, she'd had more experience with different classes. Also, she was a vampire.

Lauren's eyes glanced over the mailboxes as she entered, before turning to Oleander. "Lead the way." She gave him a small smile.

To Lauren's discomfit, there were a lot of people living in the housing estate, hundreds easily, and she wasn't able to discreetly find Oleander's name before he moved on, into the depths of the apartment building. To complete the litany of unpleasantness, the one elevator was out of order, if one judged by the sign, and so they took the stairs to the seventh floor. It was an excellent thing that being dead spared you such troubles as fatigue. Lauren slept by the position of the sun, not due to tired muscles or aching limbs. Oleander, though living, was used to this.

His flat was one of the nicer ones, or at least a large one in the corner of the building. He had a stout door, and there were two locks on it, both heavy-looking things that looked to have been custom-installed. When he opened the door and ushered Lauren inside, she spotted a further deadbolt added onto the array.

"Home sweet home." Oleander said deadpan, snapping the deadbolt into position after Lauren entered fully. "Make yourself at home."

Oleander lived in a studio apartment, consisting of a kitchenette, a bathroom, and a single room a bit bigger than Lauren's living room. The general impression one got, on first examination, was of desolation. There were the accoutrements of life, a television, a dresser, a pull-out couch that served as a bed, a small desk with a computer. It was neat, and Lauren didn't see any strewn-about clothing or week-old food, but it was neat in the way of a place that was only half-lived in, some place that Oleander did not spend more time in than he could help.

There were a few personal touches. There were exercise machines scattered about the main room, a set for lifting weights, an exercise-bicycle, and other, less elaborate devices as well. There was a picture, on the desk by the computer, of a much younger Oleander standing next to two teenage girls and another boy, all with the same blond and blue-eyed look Oleander had. And there was a side-table by the door, on which a pile of unopened mail was sitting.





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