It’s time again for blogophilia. The prompts are:
And migina rolls on. Sadly still not finished. I need a month of free time.
The following evening, Migina woke and showered in her private bathroom. She technically didn’t need to – vampires didn’t produce the sweat and oils that gave humans their distinctive odor – but she enjoyed it. It had nothing to do with Franklin’s impending return, or at least she told herself it didn’t. They’d been together too long to bother trying to impress one another, anymore.
Despite that, she took the time to comb out her wet hair and plait it into her usual long, whip-like braid. Maybe, if he got back after she’d finished with the bathroom, she’d unbraid it and leave it loose. He’d commented before that he liked that.
After a quick call to maintenance to have the water shut off, she checked the min-fridge. There was no blood inside, bottled or bagged. She hadn’t restocked it. Now that Sabrina was gone, it was one more thing she’d have to do herself.
With no alternative, she left her apartment behind for the café. She found a corner seat and ordered, watching as the waiter scurried away. The sickly yellow walls made her feel nostalgic; she remembered when murals had been in their place, representing an outdoor area. Gone too were all the plants, and the cute sidewalk-style signboard. Instead the air was sleek ultra-modern, like something from a science fiction TV show. The plastic and chrome chairs matched the triangular shaped tables, and pendant lighting hung low enough to be annoying.
Change is rarely good.
She leaned back in her chair, fingers tapping that plastic table top, when a vampire called her name. She cringed inwardly as she recognized the voice, but forced herself to remain aloof on the outside.
Never let them know they have power over you.
Ignoring him only served as encouragement, and a moment later Philip, a fellow Executioner, took the chair across form her. His dark hair fell carelessly in his face, and even darker eyes smoldered with an intensity that had tripped up many a woman.
But not me.
“Migina! How lovely to see you! And where is Franklin?”
“Waiting to cut out your heart.” Instead, she said, “On his way back.”
“The absences make relationships hard.” He gave her a knowing smile that felt smug. “So how are you?”
“Hungry,” she bit back.
Not to be deterred by her short answers, he rubbed his hands together. “As am I. Did you get a pitcher or a single glass?”
“Single glass. You’ll have to order your own.”
He chuckled. “Of course. Nothing to worry about. If I recall, we don’t like the same mix-in, anyway.”
The waiter saved her from having to answer. He dropped off her breakfast and took Philip’s order before he disappeared.
She took a drink, savoring the deep, unadulterated flavor. Unlike the others she wasn’t tired of the flavor and didn’t need to add fancy peppermint or sage or whatever Philip had ordered.
The Executioner across from her chattered as she drank. When her meal was half gone, she cut him off. “Why are you here?”
He laughed, motioning to the counter. “To feed, obviously. Though it would be more appealing if they had live humans to drink from. I miss that when I’m here. Of course in the field-”
“I meant, why are you sitting with me?”
“Ah, and why not? I know you try hard to be unfriendly, but no one can be as sharp as you pretend to be. Your affair with Franklin proves you have soft places.” He gave her a wink. “Besides, is there something wrong with wanting to be friendly with a fellow Executioner?”
She gulped the last of her blood and deposited the empty glass. “Good luck with that.” Then she stood and headed for the door, leaving him alone with his amused laughter.
At least he didn’t come after me.
Back in her den, Migina checked that the water was indeed off, then grabbed her sledge hammer. She moved through the empty bedroom, to the equally empty bathroom. She’d never noticed before that the bathtub was starting to look worn. When was the last time it had been replaced? They’d put in the human facilities in the forties. Then they’d updated it…It had to be the sixties. She’d passed on the last round, just two years ago.
Just as well. It would have been a waste of money.
Yes, she was sure it was the sixties. It was just before that night with Sabrina… The memory popped to the surface, bright and clear as when it happened. She’d come home to the sound of sobbing and the scent of blood. A few steps had taken her to the doorway of this bathroom. Inside, Sabrina was rolled into a ball, back pressed against the tile wall, knees to her chin, body shaking with sobs. No matter how many times Migina asked her what was wrong, she couldn’t get an answer. Finally, she stormed into the room and jerked the woman to her feet to find her dress shredded, and her shoulder gaping, blood still running from the wound.
“What in the hell?”
Sabrina pulled away, curled in on herself. “It-it’s nothing. It…”
But they both knew it was a lie. A threat or two later and Sabrina confessed the truth. It was Philip. Always Philip. Sabrina’s first years at the citadel had been spent much like her human life; she’d replaced the drugs with the euphoria of immortal coupling, of having her blood taken by a vampire. But the day came when she didn’t want to anymore, when she weened herself off of the high, when she wanted to stay away and be left alone.
Apparently Philip hadn’t gotten the message.
“I’ll kill him,” Migina had snarled, turning for the door, but Sabrina had grabbed her arm and tried to hold her back.
“No! If-if you do he’ll know I told you, he’ll know…” she let go and dropped back, hand pressed to the wound. “I’ll just stay away from him, I’ll just-”
“Just what? At the best, you are legally my property, Sabrina! Your job is to guard my den against him, as well as the others! How does it look if he’s savaging you? How can you protect me? And at the worst, what he did was tantamount to-”
“I know!” She’d fallen back a step, body shaking. “I know what it was. What it is. I just don’t want to talk about it, all right! I just.. I just need some blood to heal this and then it will be fine. Everything will be fine.”
Except it wasn’t. How many times had she come home after that to find out something similar had happened; and it was always Philip. Good looking, sex-obsessed Philip. It was the fifth time when she ignored Sabrina’s pleas and stormed to his den. His human guard dog was on the floor, her hands tied behind her back, her mouth gagged. Was it punishment or some game?
Philip, meanwhile, was still laying across the lounge, half naked, a satisfied smirk on his face, a smear of blood on his chin.
“Migina, what can I-”
She’d punched him before he could finish his sentence.
“What in the hell?”
“You know damn well what that’s for!”
His human stirred, terrified eyes like saucers, but, restrained, she couldn’t do anything. Not that Migina as sure she wanted to.
Philip wiped the blood from his nose. “Is this over your guard dog? Why are you so worked up? She’s just a human.”
“Yes, but she’s my human, do you understand that, Philip? My property. If you so much as look at her again – let alone touch her- I’ll pull you apart and barbecue the pieces!”
Philip sneered, dark eyes flashing that smugness she hated. “You’ve gotten soft, haven’t you?” He swung to his feet and stood slowly, stretching with the motion. “How long have you had that one? Too long, I think. Better to kill her and get a new one. I cycle mine every year.”
The bound girl on the floor made a soft whimpering sound.
“It’s none of your business how long I keep my property. I mean it, Philip. If you go near her again-”
He leaned close and waved his hands in Migina’s face, “Oooo. What will you do? Report me? As if Ark will care.”
She leaned close, so he could feel her breath on his cheek. “I won’t bother reporting you, Philip. I’ll cut out your heart and give your guard dog a reason to celebrate.”
The girl made another sound, and Migina stormed out, her warning delivered. Though he’d blown it off, he’d evidentially taken it seriously because that was the last time she’d had to find Sabrina bleeding, broken, sobbing.
That son of a bitch.
Rage bubbled and Migina swung the sledgehammer at the worn out tub. Splinters of porcelain shot out like missiles, bouncing off of her arms. With a snarl, she pounded the bathtub again and again, smashing it into bits that crunched under her feet. She swung around for the toilet and did the same, then to the sink, the empty counter where Sabrina’s things used to sit, where her hairbrush was always thrown, and that stupid bracelet holder that looked like a severed hand. Where the hell had that thing even come from?
It was ugly. Sabrina had such horrible taste! Everything she loved was ugly! Like that damn pineapple candle!
Migina swung the hammer again. That ugly candle! She’d been there for three years and suddenly decided to shove a Christmas gift at her master. Migina had stared at the package, and when she’d finally opened it, her reaction was no better.
“What is this?”
“It’s a goddamn candle!” Sabrina snapped, jerking it away so she could point to the wick and wave the wax monstrosity around. “Of course you hate it! You hate everything!”
Migina wanted to hit her in the head with the grotesque item, but instead she’d gone to pack for her assignment. When she came back in the room, Sabrina was seated in the middle of the floor, using a lighter to melt the candle into a puddle.
“What in the hell are you doing?”
“Why do you care? You didn’t like it anyway!”
Migina had grabbed it away from her; the soft bottom half hardened quickly, so that the pineapple looked like someone had smooshed it against a table. After that, she’d used the ugly thing as a paperweight, even as bits of it fell off over the years.
And if it got too warm, it always left a waxy film on everything.
Stupid, ugly pineapple.
Migina slammed the sledgehammer again and again, only stopping when she realized the sink was little more than dust and palm sized chunks. She staggered back to look over the bathroom; porcelain lay everywhere, most in small pieces. Even the mirror, still stuck to the wall, was shattered.
“Looks like you’re having fun.”
Migina spun, hammer raised, but stopped just in time to avoid slamming Franklin in the face. Torn between hugging him and hitting him, she was left blinking, eyes narrowed.
He made the decision for her as he stepped forward and swept his arms around her. She let the hammer go and pressed close to him, inhaling his familiar scent.
“I wasn’t sure you’d actually make it back today.”
He squeezed her tight, then let go. “I wasn’t either, but things went well. How are you? Did you get rid of-”
“Yes,” she snapped, stepping away. “Sabrina is gone.”
“Ah.” He laid his hands on her shoulders. “I’m sorry.”
Migina stepped away from the compassionate touch. “For what? She was only a human. It’s not like I care.”
“Of course not.” But the corner of his mouth quirked in an amused smile. “How did your last assignment go?”
“Fine. Yours?” But she didn’t want to talk about it. She didn’t want to talk about anything. She just wanted to pin him to the wall and lose herself in his blood. Though he wasn’t a mind reader, he seemed to sense her desire, and cut the conversation off with a deep kiss. She returned it, sliding her tongue past his lips, into the hot recesses of his mouth. He tasted coppery, like blood, a flavor that fueled her desire.
He pulled her tighter, until their bodies meshed. One hand cradled the back of her head, the other in the small of her back, pressing her closer. She ground against him; trying to meld with him, disappear in him. She snaked her hands under his shirt, and ran her palms over his hard chest. Her fingers danced down his stomach, and she pulled back enough to reach his belt buckle.
He caught her hand, and she looked up to see his smirk. “Shall we?”
An hour later, Migina felt better. She lay back on the bed, watching Franklin smoke a cigarette. The smell was sharp to her immortal nose, and she waved the smoke away.
“You should quit that.”
“This?” He held the cigarette up and grinned. “Why? They’re all the rage.”
“Yes, but I don’t know why.”
“This may sound cheesy, but the humans say they’re good for your health. Or they did a few years ago. I can’t imagine that would change.”
Migina rolled her eyes. “You don’t need to worry about your health. It just makes you feel sophisticated and modern.”
“Maybe. And what’s wrong with that?” He laughed. “Come now, Migina, don’t pretend to be an impenetrable ice sculpture. You’re as prone to your little vanities as anyone.”
it’s time again for blogophilia. This week’s prompts are:
I was hoping to do this all in one shot but haven’t had the time. *sigh*
It’s 1976 in the citadel in Iowa…
Migina let herself into her apartment, dumping her luggage on the floor. Though she didn’t need the electric light to see, she liked it. A quick flick of the switch and the room brightened, like instant sunlight.
Her eyes snapped past the leather couch and chairs to the low coffee table. On top of the magazines was a folded piece of paper with her name scribbled on it.
She peeled off her coat, then took one of the chairs. Feet propped on the coffee table, she leaned back, note in hand. The handwriting was as familiar as her own; she knew every curve, every swirl, every oddly dotted i. She didn’t need to see the F scrawled at the bottom under the words, “I miss you, my wild woman,” to know it was from Franklin.
Wild woman. She chuckled softly at the term of endearment. It was the kind of thing he liked to call her, as if she was really any wilder than the other women in the Citadel. Compared to some, she was pretty tame.
It isn’t like I bathe in blood anymore.
The memories of those days were tucked away; dark skies, gleaming stars, the screams of mortal victims. It was a different time then. Untamed. Wild, even, like Franklin liked to call it. Then The Guild rolled through and put an end to it.
Civilization always wins in the end.
Her eyes strayed from the paper to photos on the wall. Mostly black and white, they were a collection of night photography, the play of light and shadow, of silhouettes in the dark. Though she was proud of them she wondered what she could accomplish with natural light. What interesting shots could she take if the sunlight didn’t burn her?
If only photography had existed before Tainge shared the gift of strength.
Migina pulled herself away from the past to reread the letter. Six days ago, Franklin had been sent on assignment for at least a week, but when he got back he had plans, “and you had best not be busy.”
She chuckled at the pseudo threat. They both knew she’d be available – assuming she wasn’t on assignment herself. Though since she’d just gotten back, so there was a good chance she’d still be at the citadel.
Assuming he really gets home tomorrow. Otherwise he’ll just be high and dry.
She dropped the letter on the table and leaned back in the chair. Her den – an apartment in the Executioner’s block of the citadel – was quiet. Too quiet. She started to call to her human guard dog, Sabrina, to demand to know why she wasn’t working, cleaning, making herself useful, but then she remembered. Sabrina was gone.
Migina stood and drifted to the door of the small bedroom. Inside was a bed and a dresser, both empty. A piece of clear tape clung stubbornly to the wall, the corner of a poster forever trapped.
She was just a mortal, Migina reminded herself. It wasn’t as if she mattered.
Still, she was used to Sabrina rattling around the place. The woman had been with her since…when? 1954. Or was it 55? The years ran together, but either way it had been more than twenty years.
Though in the span of immortality, that’s hardly anything, she reminded herself.
Still, it felt like something. She remembered when she’d captured Sabrina; a dark haired wild looking thing with eyes the color of honey. It wasn’t her beauty that had struck Migina, though, but her spirit. She’d clawed and fought, like a remnant of the old world, those strange eyes burning with fire. Most of the other Executioners had preferred meek, weak-willed humans as their servants, but Migina found them tiresome and useless.
Little more than a dishrag.
The humans had first been procured as protection against each other – to keep their fellow Executioners from sneaking into one another’s rooms during the day and killing them in their sleep. Fifty years later, no one seemed to care anymore. Jamie had gotten rid of his first, followed by Ark and her own Franklin. Then Bren relinquished his, and Senya killed hers, and even Griselda decided she didn’t need one. Migina had hung on, nearly the last to have her human, but when Verchiel started talking about sending his away, she knew it was time.
Lest the others think I’ve grown soft and attached.
Because she wasn’t attached. Sabrina was merely a human slave; someone to clean and run errands, and handle things Migina didn’t want to. She was an occasional snack. Nothing more. She was just a human.
And now she’s gone.
Which means that room needs redecorating.
Yes. Some new furnishings, some paint, maybe. She’d get Sabrina to-
With a snarl of impatience, Migina flipped her long black braid over her shoulder, then flounced out of her apartment. She’d go to the shopping area, buy some things, look through some catalogs, make some orders. She’d turn that room into…into…into something. A dark room, maybe. Then she wouldn’t have to pay to use the one in the shopping center.
Except it was too big for a dark room. The human bathroom, however, would be perfect. And it already had water piped to it.
But it’s going to take some renovations.
Migina leaned on the shop counter and flipped through the catalog. She’d hired a carpenter to build countertops in the bathroom next week, but she hadn’t decided what to do with the actual bedroom yet.
“We have a very nice suite collection. It’s new,” the salesman suggested, motioning to the glossy pages she flipped past.
“I don’t need bedroom furniture. I already have one. And I have a sitting room,” she added, before he could suggest it.
The vampire behind the counter gave an impatient huff, but kept his tone and expression friendly. “Then may I ask what you’re looking for?”
Migina flipped another page to gaze at shiny oak bookcases. “I don’t know. I have an extra room, but-”
“Ah!” The salesman tugged the catalog away from her and flipped several pages, stopping on a modern grouping. “Might I suggest a lounge? They’re very popular.”
Migina frowned at the orange upholstered furniture, the pendant lights, and even the fake wood stereo cabinet. “What would I do with a lounge?”
“Relax?” he suggested. “Listen to records.” He pointed to the stereo. “Or 8-tracks. This beauty plays both. Not to mention cassettes and there’s an option for reel to reel.”
Migina frowned at the photo. “The plants. Do they come with it? They’ll die.”
He turned the magazine around and looked over the printed descriptions. “Actually we could order artificial sun lamps for them… Let me see…Yes, you can order them…And we won’t need the lamps because they’re plastic. They look real, though, don’t they? Isn’t it amazing what they can make now?”
“Synthetic vegetation, fake sunlight, soon no one will ever need to leave their dungeons,” she muttered.
“Hmm?” Though it was a question, his hurry to rush on proved his disinterest. “You can get everything in the photo except the artwork and the carpeting, but we can order some paintings that would look good.” He pulled another catalog out from under the counter. “And as for carpeting, just a moment.” He lugged up a stack of sample books. “We have that covered, too. And wallpaper.”
Though she was still undecided, she let him flip through the binders, pointing out popular choices, including some heavy shag carpeting.
“Do you know your room measurements?” he asked.
She shrugged and he soon had an appointment set up for a workman to measure everything. “In the meantime we can go ahead and get this ordered. It will take about a month to get here, I’d say. Might be sooner, but I like to project on the longer side. When I do, I find that people are more likely to be pleasantly surprised than disappointed.”
Though she still wasn’t sold on the lounge idea, she couldn’t think of anything else. Half an hour later she left with a receipt, a photocopy of the catalog page, and a considerably lighter bank account.
She stopped in the corridor to stare at the black and white copy. Franklin’s going to laugh his head off when he gets home and sees this. Normally she didn’t let anyone talk her into things – she knew what she wanted and went for it – but this time…
There isn’t anything I want.
Except the dark room.
Migina returned to her apartment toting a sledgehammer. She ran into Verchiel in the hall, but for once the idiotic redhead only eyed the massive tool instead of offering some annoying quip.
Good. I hope he sees I’m not in the mood.
She let herself into the apartment, momentarily shocked to see her luggage and coat still stacked in the front room. “Sab-” she cut herself off. Right. She’d have to put her own things away, now.
Tell me again why we got rid of our servants?
After she’d lugged the stuff to her bedroom, she hauled the sledgehammer to Sarbina’s old bathroom. The tiled countertop looked empty, bare of all Sabrina’s toiletries. She’d been pretty for a human, and a little vain. Migina remembered more than once waiting on her to do her lipstick or curl her hair. Though she hadn’t bothered as much the last few years. In her mid-forties, she’d joked she was past catching a man, and those she attracted…well, they just wanted her blood. They didn’t care what she looked like.
“Philip told me that once,” she’d said, while squinting into the mirror.
Migina had stood impatiently in the doorway, arms crossed. “I’ve told you that you shouldn’t fraternize with the vampires. You’re not much of a guard dog if you’re in love with one of them.”
Sabrina had laughed, a cold, hollow sound. “You don’t need to worry, mistress. I’d be glad of an excuse to cut his heart out.”
Wouldn’t we all?
Sadly Sabrina had never gotten that chance. No one had broken in during the day, let alone tried to attack them.
And that’s the reason the guard dogs became obsolete.
Migina tightened her old on the sledgehammer and looked the room over again. There was a tub, toilet, and sink. She could make quick work of the porcelain – though she knew she should shut the water off first – If I don’t, trouble will find me, or something like old faithful, at least…but where was the valve? There was a valve, wasn’t there?
Half an hour later she checked the time and surrendered. The sun would be up soon. Tomorrow she’d have to call maintenance and have them shut the water off.
And then I’m going to gut that goddamn room.
1.wishful thinking 2. delusions 3. delusions of grandeur 4. reflection 5. mirror 6. inner tiger
It;s time again for blogophilia, the fun blog group where martien gives participants prompts to use in their weekly blog. This week’s prompts are:
And now we finish Tellith. If things work out, I’d like to do full stories the next few weeks. I have an idea for two of them and a beginning for a third (though no idea where it’s going). It;s just Philip I don;t know what I’m going to do. Yeah, I know, only four Executioner stories left. Then I can start working on my novel instead. Fun times.
Tellith woke as the sun sank the next evening. He blinked for a moment, remembering the silly sing-song Gladys used to say. “To bed now, my darling say goodbye to the day, for the vampires come out at night to play. They eat naughty children, who won’t go to sleep, so hide under your covers, and safe you will keep. ”
Then she’d break into a cackling laugh and sashay toward the powder room.
She was more than a little nuts. Lucky for Bray that she’s still living with him.
He dismissed the familiarity of his old coven for the nightmares of the now. Roger’s panicked phone call, the explosions, the unanswered calls. He didn’t have time to lay there, thinking about his old coven days. He needed to move.
His urgency returned, he leapt from the bed, grabbed his stuff, and headed out without even changing. His meal was a snack at the side of the road; using his phantom powers to make himself invisible long enough to pounce on deer.
He wanted more blood, but he let the animal break away, and headed back for his car. He should have taken an airplane. That would have been faster. He never thought of planes, though, not right off. Hell, his first instinct was still a horse. Cars and planes hadn’t existed for the first two-thirds of his life. For some reason his brain didn’t want to let go of that.
He was a good piece down the road when he decided to try Roger again. A great idea, but his phone was dead. The charger wasn’t plugged into the port – had he left it at Bray’s? – so he tossed the device in the passenger seat. What did it matter, anyway? It’s not like any of them could answer.
Because they’re dead.
He was sure of that, sure they’d all been slaughtered. Maybe the Hand of Death had swept through, killing them one by one in magnificent sprays of crimson. He imagined the floor wet with the blood of so many dead, and saw the monster-like man wading through the carnage, tearing his enemies apart with his bare hands.
Then he imagined himself arriving, walking through decimated hallways, to find the legendary vampire in the High Council’s audience chamber, seated on a pile of bloody skulls. His voice boomed, echoing off the crimson stained walls, “Who are you?”
In his imagination he fell to his knees and begged for mercy while the Hand of Death sat on his grisly throne and laughed. And laughed. And then, he’d stand and…
And kill me.
Tellith scowled. If he was going to die anyway, he didn’t want to grovel. His imagined scenario changed. The vampire god was still there, still perched on his skulls, his feet bare and stained in blood. But, instead of meekly dropping to his knees, Tellith charged, swinging a battle axe-
“Where the hell am I going to find a battle axe?”
But there was bound to be one laying around somewhere, right? After an epic battle with hundreds dead, there would be weapons everywhere among the carnage. It wasn’t as if the Hand of Death was going to go through and pick them all up. Something like that was too demeaning for a conqueror.
Unless he has followers.
Shit. That was something Tellith hadn’t considered. What if he had a whole army with him? The audience chamber disappeared, gone were the skulls and the vampire king drunk on blood, replaced with a mob of vampire soldiers, armed with shiny spears. They stood not inside, but outside the citadel, surrounding the entrance disguised as an office building. As soon as Tellith pulled into the parking area they pounced, attacking the car. Tellith floored it, but titans lifted the front of the car, leaving the wheels spinning uselessly in midair.
And then they dumped the car over. There was crunching glass, and suddenly hands would reach inside to pull him out and…
He shook away that scenario and tried again. What if he parked down the road? He could sneak up though the cornfield, and then…and then what? If he stepped out they’d get him. Unless they didn’t see him. Maybe he could slide into the garage and-
But there’s no corn this time of year.
He’d been in Florida, enjoying the summer-like warmth, but in Iowa it was January. The fields would be bare stubble and frozen dirt. There was nowhere to hide, no way to sneak past the waiting army.
On the other hand, he was a phantom, a vampire who had the ability to become invisible. Not literally invisible, of course, but he could somehow trick other people’s minds so they didn’t see him. The trouble was, it didn’t work on everyone. And there was no way someone as old and legendary as the Hand of Death would be susceptible.
Maybe I’ll get lucky, he told himself. Maybe he’ll be gone already. Maybe he and his army will have moved on.
He imagined the citadel in ruins, corpse laden hallways silent as he picked his way through them. No sign of life, nothing left alive, discarded weapons and limbs scattered. The carpet squished with blood as he walked, and the atrium was a sea of death; bodies heaped among dead foliage-
He broke off. No, the plants wouldn’t be dead. The Atrium’s waterfall would still tumble five stories down to the pool below, and the greenery – potted trees and shrubs – would still be lush and green, growing under the artificial skylight that served as the atrium’s ceiling.
That ceiling, Tellith thought irritably. He’d had to help change the lightbulbs in it more than once. It was his own fault for having a friend in the maintenance department – a friend who’d since been smart enough to quit.
At least she’s still alive, Tellith mused. She wouldn’t have been there when the attack came, she’d have been at her den in Montana. Or was it Michigan? Some state that started with an M, anyway. He got those two mixed up all the time. And then there was Mississippi…No. He’d driven through that on the way to Bray’s, and he knew she didn’t live down south. She’d headed north on the arm of a dark haired vampire who’d promised her the moon.
“As if he can deliver,” Tellith muttered sarcastically.
Tellith had never been in love with June – she was too dark for him, too depressing. June Gloom was her nickname, a play off of her birth name of June Glome. But she was also loyal and when he took her complaints with a grain of salt, they were even amusing sometimes.
He’d met her at the citadel, one of his first new friends. That had been 1937 – wasn’t it? He was pretty sure because it was the same year that Gladys started the war with that coven master who had the wonky eye…
Tellith shook his head as if he could physically get himself back on track. What had he been thinking about? Oh, right, June Gloom. She was slightly pudgy with red hair that curled unevenly, and one missing tooth. She said a donkey had kicked it out when she was a teenager. Though he’d witnessed their fellows’ rude comments about it, he found the imperfection endearing. It was a change from all the perfection of the upper echelon.
And they are perfect, he thought bitterly. All beautiful and glamorous, like polished stone that’s been sitting there for centuries gaining power. Meanwhile the peons were down at the bottom taking orders and wondering why.
Not that he wondered why. He knew why he took orders – because it was a steady paycheck. Vampirism didn’t negate the need for money. They still needed somewhere to live, a roof to shelter them from the sun. Sure, they could live like the rogues and squat in abandoned houses, but who wanted to do that for very long? No power, no television, no microwaved blood. Sure, he’d survived without those comforts for years, but now that he’d had them, he didn’t want to go back.
That was something he and June agreed on. It was the reason they took jobs at the citadel – she in maintenance, and he as a low level guard. He’d risen through the ranks, and she’d quit. He remembered the night she’d gone off the rails.
It was really Tristan’s fault. He was good looking, if you liked that bad boy type, and not more than forty years turned. Tellith didn’t know much about his past, only that he was dating Kathy, June’s maintenance partner and semi-friend. No, semi-friend was too strong. More like friend-she-hated.
Kathy was okay, not gorgeous, but most people agreed she was better looking than June. Tristan wasn’t most people, and he broke up with Kathy for the chubby redhead. That was what caused the rift that left June changing the lightbulbs in that nightmare ceiling by herself.
Which is why she asked me to help, Tellith thought glumly.
The ceiling of the atrium was made of milky glass. Above it was a crawl space that housed about a million light bulbs so that when they were all turned on it gave the illusion of a skylight. When they’d out it in, he’d marveled at it. Later, after helping June a few times, he’d come to hate the ting. That particular night, they crawled through the small space, swapping out bulbs, knocking away spider webs and the occasional grasshopper. When they finished, they’d climbed out to find Kathy and a gaggle of catty vampiresses. Before Tellith could do more than say, “Can I help you?” they’d pounced.
It was a helluva fight. The kind that sent more than one shrieking female through the wall and into the glowing bank of lightbulbs. He’d never forget the popping, shattering sound as the bulbs broke. When it was over, June’s clothes were torn, he had a scratch down his face, and the attackers lay moaning on the floor. As sharp as you please, the head of maintenance appeared. Oblivious to what had been all out war, his only words were, “I thought I told you to change those burnt out light bulbs, not stand here gossiping with your boyfriend.”
June’s face had wadded in fury, as red as her hair. She grabbed the crate of good bulbs from its safe place against the wall and dumped it over the vampire’s head while screaming, “He’s not my goddamn boyfriend!”
Then she’d stormed away, shouting after her, “I quit.”
Tellith had stood in the hallway, watching the vampire’s confusion melt into fury. He’d shaken the glass from his hair and arms, bellowing, “You! Clean this up!”
“Sorry, not my job.” And he’d also strode away, stepping over Kathy’s unconscious body. He’d heard later that the head of maintenance finally figured out about the fight, but he hadn’t connected June to it, and had even gone so far as to say Kathy was working when she was jumped by the other girls. The report was hilarious, though sadly only the garbage can got to enjoy it when Tellith accidentally dropped it there.
Three weeks later, Tristan talked June into packing up her suitcase and her pet koi fish, and leaving the citadel for that state that started with an M, where he had some family. By family he no doubt meant immortal family, but then as young as he was it was hard to say. He might have living relatives still. Hell, he might have children if they were conceived before he was turned.
Children. Tellith grimaced at the word. Not because he’d never had any, but because he had. One. A son. That was in the 1700s. Being a vampire was different then, and when you got turned you had to leave everything behind – everyone. To be fair, the boy hadn’t been born yet, he was just a bump in a young girl’s stomach – a young girl he wasn’t excited about marrying. Vampiredom seemed like the perfect escape. He got out of the drudgery of marriage and he got to live forever. Could it be better?
He’d regretted the decision later, but it was too late. He couldn’t go back, couldn’t marry her after all. Hell, he wasn’t even supposed to see her. He had, though. He’d snuck back three years later and peeked through the cold winter window to see her and the child huddled before the fire, her husband in a nearby chair cleaning his rifle.
Tellith told himself that at least he seemed happy, at least the child was well cared for. But, deep down, he knew he should have been the man in the chair, the man providing the meals, the man taking care of them in that wild land.
Nothing I can do about it now.
That was the story of his life. There was never anything he could do about it. Like now. He could drive and drive, but by the time he got to the citadel there would be nothing he could do.
Nothing except burn the bodies.
The sun was peeking over the horizon by the time he found a motel. He ran to the building to check in, leaving all his luggage locked in the car. He didn’t need it anyway, it at least not as much as he needed to hide from the glowing ball of hate.
His motel room had heavy curtains that he gladly pulled, but to be safe he spent the night in the empty bathtub, the door shut. The do not disturb sign hung on the knob, even so he wondered if they’d obey it, or of some well-meaning maid would waltz in around noon, screaming at the body in the bathtub.
Just the thing I need to interrupt my sleep.
Despite Tellith’s fears, he was undisturbed, and woke the next evening thinking of Gladys’ stupid rhyme. If she was here, I’d strangle her. Not that he really would. He’d had the chance while he was at Bray’s for a week, and he hadn’t done it. Even when she sang the worm song, as he called it for lack of a title, while dusting the parlor.
I don’t have time to worry about Gladys. Or Bray. I need to get back.
And bury the bodies.
He returned the key to the lobby, stopping long enough to check the map pinned to the wall. If there was no construction or detours, he should get to the citadel by two in the morning.
Maybe I should buy a shovel first?
But he didn’t, just fed on the owner’s dog, leaving the canine alive but groggy, and then headed out. He stopped again along the side of the road for more wildlife, but didn’t linger. The sooner he got there, the better.
He steered down the interstate, his mind wandering back to Bray, Gladys and the others. They weren’t his original coven – that was why they had different abilities than he did. For that matter they weren’t anyone’s original coven, rather a hodge-podge of lone vampires who didn’t really want to be alone, no matter what they said.
That was what he’d been when he and Bray had found them. The only pair to share a master, they were as close to real brothers as it came in the group. But the others had quickly welcomed them, and soon they were a functioning family, if that was what you wanted to call it.
Does that make Gladys our mother, or the crazy sister?
He’d stayed with them for more than fifty years before leaving for the citadel. It had been Gladys’ war that prompted him to finally part ways. Not that he was adverse to fighting if it was necessary, but she just liked to pick fights, and how many should he be expected to fight before he got tired of it. Bray said she’d pouted for months after he left, even refused to fight the war she started.
At least that was something, he told himself.
Though he’d moved, he was still close with them – close enough to take two weeks of vacation days to help Bray paint his house. That was another thing people didn’t think about when it came to vampires. If they had a den, they still had to maintain it. It still needed painted, re-roofed. The yard still had to be mowed, if they were in town, and the trash still had to go out. All those mundane things didn’t disappear with immortality like they did in the movies.
Unless you work for The Guild. Then they take care of all that.
It was well after midnight when Tellith crossed into Iowa, and closing in on one when he got close to the citadel. He left the nearest town behind – a rural place with a handful of stoplights and dark businesses. The black highway hummed under the tires, but he forsook it finally for gravel, a path of white rock gleaming in the moonlight.
The way The Hand of Death’s skull throne gleams.
Tellith hands tightened on the steering wheel, and each mile saw them clench tighter. He imaged the citadel above ground; what had been a grain elevator and shining silver bins would be blasted open, the last of the stored corn spread on the ground like intestines. The other building would be burnt shells, frames of twisted metal, charred wood, the garage peeled back sheet metal with rows of ruined cars whose owners would never see them again. The office building would be a smoldering wreck, the space-age silver door, previously hidden in the back room among sacks of seed, now exposed.
But would there be an army? Had the Hand of Death attacked alone? Was he still there?
Tellith cursed at his lack of information. Better safe than sorry, he pulled over to the side of the road and got out. He could see the hulk of the grain buns in the distance, maybe a half hour walk f he hurried, faster than a mortal could go.
If only I was a wind walker. I could be there and back out before anyone even noticed.
Gladys echoed in his head. “Who wants to be a wind walker? What’s the good of running fast when no one else can? I spend all my time waiting on everyone to catch up. But you – a phantom – you can sneak around, listen in on conversations, find out secrets. And don’t tell me you don’t do that!”
Except he didn’t. It hadn’t occurred to him, and even after she’d suggested it, it felt wrong. He’d eavesdropped enough in his life to know that you never heard anything good that way.
Thank God I’m not a mind reader.
He stopped long enough to dig through his trunk for a weapon – he hadn’t planned on trouble, so all his Guild issued hardware was still in the citadel. With nothing else, he settled for the tire iron, promising himself held grab the first discarded battle axe he could find.
He started out on the road. Moving closer and closer to citadel and the ruined grain elevator that hid it – except as he got closer he didn’t see much destruction. He could smell the smoke, though, heavy and laced with burning flesh. The attack was forty-eight hours ago, so why was it still burning, unless everyone really was dead. But then why hadn’t the humans-
He stopped in his tracks and groaned. He hadn’t thought about them. The grain elevator and office was manned by humans in the daytime. Though the vampires liked to pretend that the mortals didn’t know what lurked beneath. He knew for a fact that they did. Maybe not the specifics, but they were aware that someone hid in the deep. How else could anyone explain the garage of expensive sports cars? What they thought those someones were – whether rich recluses or genuine monsters – Tellith wasn’t sure, but they certainly knew they were there.
So what would happen when those humans had come to work the next morning to find the buildings burning and the towering bins – okay, the bins looked fine, but the buildings were surely destroyed. The vampire army would have had to hide underground by then. Even the Hand of Death couldn’t brave the sun.
Or could he? They said ancient vampires could take surprising amounts of sunlight. How old was he? Tellith knew that Malick was the Hand’s master, and Malick was definitely ancient. A couple thousand years at least. It made sense that the Hand of Death would be at least a thousand, maybe older. It would explain what made him so strong…
Tellith’s imagination pulled up the ruined buildings, the smoldering ground, bathed in the red light of dawn. Humans stood around, confused. One pulled out a phone, dialed 9-1-1. A low rumble started under their feet, like an earthquake in the bowels of hell. It grew louder and louder, until the Hand of Death blasted through the naked, exposed silver door.
The humans screamed, ran, but the vampire grabbed them, tore through them with his gangs, gorging on their blood. He threw their empty casks aside with a howl of unhuman rage, muscles gleaming in the morning sun, body streaked in crimson…
And then what? When the humans didn’t come home that night, did their family come looking for them? Police? Firemen? Had the Hand of death killed all of them, or had he left? If so, had those humans found the silver door? Had they crept down the stairs to find the carnage inside?
Tellith’s head swam with the horrible possibilities, with all the laws such a scenario broke. That humans might discover them, their existence…it went against the edict handed out by Munich, by the ancients who ruled all vampire-kind. By their command it was the responsibility of every vampire – more-so the Executioners and guards – to cover up the evidence of vampire/human interactions.
But who’s going to cover this up?
And when no one hid the truth, who would the ancient vampires in Munich punish? Tellith swallowed hard. Would they blame him? He was a greater guard, after all, and they’d want a scape goat, someone to blame and make an example of.
Maybe I should just go back to Bray’s.
Except…Except he’d promised Roger he’d come bury their bodies.
No longer sire who to fear – the Hand of Death, his army, the humans, or Munich – Tellith tightened his grip on the tire iron and started walking again. He moved towards the edge of the road, and finally moved to the ditch. He could see the looming towers, the rest of the complex surrounded by trees. The yard lights were all blazing like usual, but that didn’t mean much.
Though there was no corn, he navigated to the field and cut across, drawing closer. He sniffed the air, inhaling the heavy smoke. The smell obliterated everything else, and he crept forward blind. Concentrating, he disappeared, or would have seemed to if anyone was looking, not that he saw anyone.
He broke through the trees, into the complex area. The buildings weren’t the shambles he expected. Rather, they seemed undamaged, despite the horrific destruction that had happened there. The smoke rolled not from the citadel, but from an empty field beyond it.
What in the hell?
Still invisible, he slipped around the buildings, around the grain bins, until he had a full view. A large bonfire blazed, orange flames snapping up into the night like the scene his imagination had played over and over. Silhouetted in the fire were the black shape of vampires with weapons – no, not weapons, but-
Tellith moved closer, the scent of their immortality getting stronger as he mentally pushed away the smoke’s putrid smell. They were vampires, all right, and not completely unfamiliar. In fact he thought he recognized-
One of the silhouettes looked up, a hand up to shade their eyes. “Yeah, what?”
Tellith blinked back into existence, now visible to everyone, and hurried toward his friend. He stopped in front of him to grab his shoulders, checking he was solid, real, that his chest wasn’t a gaping hole of gore.
Roger ripped away with a scowl. “What the hell? Tellith? You scared the hell out of me! What do you think you’re doing just popping out of thin air to grab someone?”
“You’re alive!” he cried, ignoring the tirade.
“Of course I’m alive! No thanks to you. Where have you been? I’ve been trying to call you for two days – two days! Do you realize-”
“My phone was dead,” Tellith murmured, still dazed to find his friend all in one piece and in the same mood as always. “I think I left the charger at Bray’s den.”
“Well isn’t that great? I was starting to think you’d been killed in some kind of horrible wreck. It would explain why you called me in the daytime.”
Tellith stepped back, frowning. “I didn’t.”
“Oh yes you did.” Roger dropped his shovel to dig his phone out of his pocket. “It’s right here…” he flicked the screen several times, finally flashing the display with triumph. “See? The day before yesterday you called me at six-thirty in the morning. I didn’t answer because I was asleep, like any sane vampire, but some of the other guys said you called them, too. I figured it must have been an emergency since you were harassing everyone.”
Tellith ran over the events of the day before. He hadn’t – but he had. He’d called them from the motel the first night out, when no one had answered.
Was it really that late when I called? No wonder no one answered.
“You’d think the office would have picked up,” he muttered.
“Shit, we don’t hand landline service. No TV either, and the power is only now getting fixed.”
Tellith looked over his shoulder, to the undamaged buildings. “So there was an attack?”
“Of course there was an attack!” Roger shouted. “I told you – oh for crying out loud. Come on.”
He grabbed Tellith’s arm and started to steer him back to the office, but Tellith dug his feet in. “Wait a minute. Aren’t you on duty?”
“You call burning bodies duty?”
Burning bodies. Tellith looked to the fire, to the wheelbarrow heaped in corpses. “Shit. Who are they?”
“Casualties. Anyway, you go there just in time. I have an appointment in the audience chamber, so we’ll have to talk and walk.”
Tellith relented and followed his friend. As they walked, Roger said, “I told you we were under attack, right? Well, it was Jorick’s fledgling Oren, and his group.”
Tellith shivered. “So it was the Hand of Death.”
“No,” Roger snapped impatiently. “It was his fledgling, Oren. And there weren’t that many of them. Sure, enough to cause trouble, but not enough to make this big of a mess.”
Roger hushed him as they entered the office, nodded to the vampire farmer behind the desk, and headed back to the silver door. Everything looked fine until they reached the bottom of the stairs, and then Tellith saw it. The welcome room was destroyed; walls scorched, furniture burned. Huge cracks in the ceiling were partially plastered, as if someone had started fixing things then got bored.
“What in the hell?”
“They had explosives,” Roger explained.
“So that was how a small army managed to kill so many?” He jerked his thumb in the general direction of the bonfire and the gory wheelbarrow.
“That didn’t hurt, but the main trouble was that none of the security systems were working at the time. None of them. And when the attack started, instead of sending the Executioners upstairs to fight, Malick called them all to the basement.”
“Why would he do that?” Tellith asked, half of his attention focused on the hallway they walked into. There were no dead bodies, no rug squishing with blood, only freshly repaired walls and a pair of vampires on a ladder trying to repair hanging electrical wires.
“Because he had plans!” Roger snapped. “Let me explain it, huh? As I was saying, Malick just sent the lesser guards up to fight, as if those guys could do shit. And as I said, the attackers had explosives.”
“But the buildings looked alright-”
“Of course they did! What good would it do to blow them up? They blasted their way in here!” Roger pushed the elevator button and the doors swished open, revealing a glass backed carriage. He stepped inside, dragging Tellith with him. Gesturing past the glass walls, the six story atrium beyond. “See that? They blew a hole in the damn ceiling! And not just here but other places, too.”
Roger went on, detailing how they’d split up, blown through the roof, through the dirt and rock above their heads, and had even blasted their way from floor to floor, moving closer to the ground floor.
“We stopped them eventually, of course.” Roger’s chest puffed out as he turned and mashed an elevator button. “Captured them all, but not before Malick pulled his revolt.”
Tellith’s attention jerked away from the atrium; from the roof draped in plastic, and the bent vegetation. “Malick’s what?”
“You heard me. He revolted.”
“But he was in charge of The Guild! In order to revolt, he’d have to revolt against himself!”
Roger rubbed his chin. “I suppose, if you look at it that way. I assumed he was revolting against the rest if the High Council. Anyway, he did this thing that killed pretty much everyone who’d taken shelter in the atrium – made their brains explode in their heads. That was a mess to clean up. Then he took off.”
“What?” Tellith cried, no longer watching the elevator’s descent.
“I told you-” Roger broke off as the elevator stopped and the doors opened. He half dragged Tellith out and down the hallway. “Anyway, the important part, when he left, he took three Executioners with him – Three! Can you imagine? The final selection for replacements is today.”
Roger kept talking, but Tellith suddenly understood. Roger had put in for Executioner duty. Again.
“You know, there’s going to be a lot of competition.”
Roger drew to a stop to glare at him. “Don’t start. This is my time. I can feel it. I received special commendation in that battle, you know.”
“Ah. Well, maybe that will help,” Tellith muttered.
“I hope so. Now if you’ll excuse me?”
Before he could actually move, a pair of Executioners appeared. Wearing semi-identical black clothes and silver medallions, they both had long black hair, though one wore it in a bun while the other left his long.
As they strode by, Tellith snapped a salute from habit, but Roger only scowled.
“What the hell are you doing?” Tellith whispered when they were past. “Those were Executioners!”
“I know who they are,” Roger muttered. “And after today I won’t have to salute them anymore.”
“Maybe.” Tellith watched them disappear through the giant door of the audience chamber. “Who was the new guy? Not Jamie, but the other one?”
Roger rolled his eyes. “That was Executioner Jorick.”
Tellith choked on the name. “There’s another Jorick? I thought there was just the one.”
“How should I know? There’s probably a lot of Jorick’s in the world! But that’s the one you’re thinking of. The so-called hand of Death.”
Tellith couldn’t find intelligent words. “What?”
“Malick sentenced him to be an Executioner as punishment for killing so many of them. Can you believe that crap? I’d do it willingly, but he forces that guy to do it? Anyway, I figured he’d leave with Malick, too, you know, since that’s his master, but he didn’t. Not sure if he’s staying here as a spy for Malick or what’s going on. And I don’t care. In an hour I’ll be his equal. Wish me luck!”
With that, Roger dashed away, leaving Tellith standing in the cracked corridor, mouth hanging open.
Of all the things held imagined, that hadn’t been it. That the hand of death would be there, not as a conqueror, but reinstated as an Executioner, and that the death wasn’t caused so much by an invading horde, but by Malick himself…
I guess they say truth is stranger than fiction, and that’s too strange, even for my imagination.
And now for guesses
If the amazing Tricia Drammeh is in it, you know it’s good!
I’m so excited to be a part of this anthology! Eight stories by eight authors for the pre-order price of only $2.99. Here’s what it’s all about:
In our world, outside forces find reasons to keep us apart. Wealth, religion, and race are dividing factors. All manmade barriers that have nothing to do with the heart of the people involved. Although wealth and religion can be hidden, race cannot.
On June 12th, 1967, the Supreme Court struck down the laws that enforced racial segregation in marriage and Loving Day was created. To celebrate this step to remove this unjust barrier to love, eight Interracial Romance authors have come together to celebrate with stories that challenge the social norms on both sides of the coin.
With contemporary, paranormal and historical settings discover how finding the other half of your soul is worth fighting for.
Beyond Everything by Angela Kay Austin
View original post 380 more words
It’s time for blogophilia, the fun blog group where Maritne gives participants prompts to use in their weekly blogs. This weeks prompts are:
A quick bit of Telith. I know, I should have added more, but finishing Jorick’s story took a lot out of me.
Telith drove through the night, finally stopping for a motel near sunrise. He’d had plans to stay with a coven at the half-way point, but there was no way he was going to make it.
The room was nice enough, and the window covered in two layers of sun-blocking curtains. Telith dropped into bed fully clothed and dialed Roger’s number. The phone rang and rang, finally going to voicemail.
That doesn’t bode well.
He tried some of the other guards. With each voicemail hello, he got more and more concerned. He’d blown Roger off – who could really attack the citadel? – but maybe it was serious. Maybe they’d all been butchered.
Especially if it really was the Hand of Death.
Telith swore and tried the number for the guard’s office, but got a busy signal. It was the same for the Executioner’s office, the welcome office, and the staff check-in point. He didn’t have the number for the seed office on his phone, or any of the other contact points, but he suspected they’d be the same, anyway. Damn, was the citadel even standing? Or was it a smoldering wreck? He pictured a scene from The Towering Inferno, the actors replaced with his fellow vampires.
Even if that’s the case, there’s nothing I can do, he told himself. He was on his way, going as fast as he could.
I have to stop. If I keep going, I’ll end up burned to a crisp, too. Not by fire, but by the sun.
The most inconvenient part of immortality.
He rolled over and closed his eyes, but his brain kept playing imaginary scenes. He saw an army led by a faceless goliath. They swarmed across the rural location, knocking down the grain elevators, burning the seed office and other outbuildings, blowing up the train cars.
Except there aren’t train cars there, anymore, he reminded himself. The spur that had once brought grain the elevators, and vampires to the citadel, was closed now.
The small change in scenario did nothing to improve his mental landscape. The Hand of Death’s undead army continued their attack, bombs exploding. His imagination switched to the floors beneath the ground, where plaster rained down. Vampires screamed, crushed to death as the floors collapsed, leaving piles of rubble and twisted, broken limbs.
Stop thinking about it! He shouted at himself. There was nothing he could do. He wouldn’t get there until late tomorrow. Worrying didn’t help anyone.
But it doesn’t stop me from doing it.
Telith woke as the sun sank the next evening. He leapt from the bed, grabbed his stuff, and headed out without even changing. His meal was a snack at the side of the road; using his phantom powers to make himself invisible long enough to pounce on deer.
He wanted more blood, but he let the animal breakaway, and headed back for his car. He should have taken an airplane. That would have been faster. He never thought of planes, though, not right off. Hell, his first instinct was still a horse. Cars and planes hadn’t existed for the first two-thirds of his life, and for some reason his brain didn’t want to let go of that.
He was a good piece down the road when he decided to try Roger again. A great idea, but his phone was dead. The charger wasn’t plugged in – had he left it at Bray’s? – so he tossed the device in the passenger seat. What did it matter, anyway? It’s not like any of them can answer.
Because they’re dead.
He was sure of that, sure they’d all been slaughtered. Maybe the Hand of Death had swept through, killing them one by one in magnificent sprays of crimson. He imagined the floor wet with the blood of so many dead, and saw the monster-like man wading through the carnage, tearing his enemies apart with his bare hands.
continued next week
now for guesses:
- faster than the bear 2. run! 3. fly, you fools 4. dinner time 5. wildlife photography 6. a day in the country 7. get away
It’s time for Blogophilia, the fun blog group where Martien gives participants prompts to use in their weekly blog. This week;s prompts are:
I was trying to do complete (or at least half) stories, but it;s not happening this week because most of my writing time is going to the Jorick short that will be in the Creature Feature anthology.
This story takes place during the end of Ashes of Deceit. (book 4 in my series)
Tellith wedged the edge of the blade under the flap of loose paint. He scraped, watching the bits of old paint drop down to the plastic. With a flick of his wrist he started again, on another chunk. Scrape. Scrape. Scrape.
With a huff of impatience, he blew a frizzy curl off his forehead and looked at his brother. The opposite of Tellith, Bray was pale with red-gold hair and freckles. The disparity wasn’t caused by an unfaithful mother, or a philandering father. In truth, they weren’t brown brothers, but had become so in the afterlife. Turned by the same master, they were brothers in blood.
And that was the only reason Tellith was there now instead of at the citadel. He was burning up two week’s worth of vacation to help Bray paint his den. It was a tedious job that he was sick of already.
“Why don’t you just hire someone to do this?” he asked testily.
Bray paused scraping to roll his. “You know anyone? It’s not like I can hire a human crew. Business hours…”
It was a valid excuse, but Tellith wasn’t interested in admitting it. “Yeah. Yeah. You’re just lucky they let me off for this.”
They went back to their work. Scrape. Scrape. Scrape. Finally, Bray asked, “You’re still just a guard?”
Tellith tried not to be annoyed with the question. “A greater guard, but yes. Though at the rate the Executioners are dying lately I’ve got a chance.”
It was obviously a polite inquiry with no interest behind it, but Tellith felt like making Bray suffer. “The Hand of Death has been back at things, apparently. I don’t know that you’ve heard of him?”
“Not really,” Bray muttered.
Tellith bit back a smile and launched into a long winded story about a vampire named Jorick, the legendary Hand of Death, son of Malick, the head of the Executioners. Jorick had been an Executioner once, long ago. After trying to kill everyone in the citadel, he’d retired only to resurface a few months ago.
“Since then, five Executioners have died.”
Bray stopped scraping to look at him. “You don’t have that many of them, do you?”
“Twelve. So Jorick has wiped out almost half of them. Of course they’ve been replaced.” He started on a long drone about the process; how Malick called the candidates before him, probed their minds, and made his choice, but his ringing cellphone interrupted him.
“better get that,” Bray said with relief.
Tellith was tempted not to, just to aggravate him, but he tugged the device out. Roger’s name flashed on the screen, and on a whim he answered.
“Well hello! You just had to bother me on my vaca-”
Roger cut him off. “Where are you?”
Tellith gave an impatient huff. “I already tried to tell you. I’m on vacation, helping Bray repaint his den. You remember, he was in the coven with me-”
“Yeah, yeah. We’re under attack here!”
Tellith blinked at the partially scraped house. “What? Are you serious? What’s going on?”
“No, I’m joking,” Roger said sarcastically. “Yes. I’m serious! Get your ass back here before we’re all killed!”
“It’s a two day drive from here. If I left this minute-”
“You’d be here in time to bury us, maybe,” Roger snapped.
Bray looked up from his work. “What is it?”
“It’s Roger. He’s a greater guard, too. He says they’re being attacked.” Just then he heard the sound of an explosion on the other end of the line. “Holy shit. What was that? Roger?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m here. I think they’re blasting their way into the citadel!”
“Who is?” Tellith practically shouted.
“I have to go. I’ll see you if you ever get here, assuming I’m not dead!”
“Roger!” Tellith yelled into the phone, but it did no good. The line went dead.
He thought about calling Roger back, but if he really was fighting for his life it would just be a nuisance. Frustrated, he jammed his phone back into his pocket.
“What the hell is going on?” Bray asked, his task temporarily forgotten.
“I don’t know. It might be the Hand of Death.”
Bray shook out of his surprise and turned back to his work. “Aren’t you glad you’re here?”
“No. I’m going to have to go back.”
Bray spun back to him. “Are you kidding? You promised me two weeks, but you’ve only been here one. We haven’t even started to paint yet! Besides, it’s safer here! Why would you want to go running back? You sad yourself this Hand of Death killed half the citadel once. Do you want involved in that? The average man don’t like trouble and danger.”
“But I’m not average,” Tellith said, tossing the paint scraper onto the patio table. “I’m sorry, Bray, but I have to go. They’ll be requesting me officially pretty soon, anyway.”
Bray sighed. “Fine, man, whatever.”
“Look, I’m sorry-”
“Oh, don’t worry, I’ll just have to prostitute out the rest of the coven to raise enough money to hire someone that won’t ask questions, like why we’re not home all day. No big deal.”
“That’s a little TMI,” Tellith smirked. “You’ll be fine. We were almost done scraping, and you could make the rest of your lazy ass coven do the painting.”
“Good luck with that. The prostituting thing was more likely.”
Tellith chuckled as he ducked inside the house and hurried to the back room where his bag was. He gathered up the things he’d scattered around the house; bath supplies, extra clothes, a book, and hurried back out to his car.
Bray waited as he threw the bag in the backseat and climbed in. “You could come with me,” Tellith suggested.
“Hardly,” Bray answered. “Good luck not getting killed by the hand of the dead, or whatever his name is.”
“Jorick,” Tellith called as he fired the vehicle up. “And thanks! Good luck to you with your paint!”
He peeled off, leaving a spray of dirt and gravel behind in his haste.
Not that I’ll get there in time to do anything except bury them.
- traffic jam 2. in the city 3. downtown 4. overcrowding 5. summer in the city 6. limousine races 7. city traffic 8. Busy afternoon 9. transportation 10. they need some stop lights.
It’s time again for Blogophilia, the fun blog group where Martien gives participants prompts to use in their blogs. This week’s prompts are:
And part two (the final half) of Mary’s story is here!
She tightened her hold on her weapon, waiting, counting the seconds in time to her heartbeats. As she concentrated, tense, the whisper of the breeze became a roar, the chirp of a lone cricket a deafening symphony.
She heard him before she saw him; a rush of wind followed by a blur. Jared stumbled backwards, clipped by their indivisible enemy; his motions so fast that even Mary’s vampire eyes couldn’t see him.
She swung in the space he should have bene, but hit nothing. Reeling from the missed attack, she missed him as he came behind her. She felt the fists in her back a moment before she slammed face first into the damp grass.
She jerked to her feet, spinning in an angry circle, but that was it. He was gone. He’d escaped. Again.
Oh, no you don’t. Not this time.
She checked to make sure Jared was alive, then sprinted after the rogue. The world blurred into smears of green as she followed the scent, back up the street and into town. She raced past unseen houses, their windows dark, only to finally catch sight of him ahead of her. He slowed enough to look back and she saw his face, his dark eyes gleaming with surprise and his full lips stretched in a grin, as if to say, “Do you want to race?”
She thought she heard laughter as he spurred himself forward, leaving her behind. With a prayer to whatever dark gods might listen, she pushed herself. In her memory she wasn’t in a small Iowa town anymore, but back in New Orleans, racing the dark streets after Daquin.
His words flew back to her, echoing off the towering buildings and balconies. “You’ll never catch me!”
And she didn’t. She’d get so close; once close enough to pull his flapping coat free, but at the last moment he would bound away, using wrought iron balconies to reach the rooftops, and then he was gone, laughing into the night, leaving her to slump back to Madam LaFete alone.
“Where have you been child?” her mother in blood would demand when she sulked through the door. But she knew, they all knew.
“He’s good for nothing, child. You chase only heartbreak.”
If only I’d listened.
But she hadn’t listened then, and she wouldn’t listen now. She’d lost Daquin, but this rogue…this rogue, would be her prize.
His scent was heavy on the breeze, and she skidded to a stop. The mistake she’d made with Daquin was trying to match his speed. No, the smarter thing to do was head him off, take a shortcut. They’d arrive at the same location at the same time, despite his superior skill.
But where is he going?
He’d come on the train and if his pattern held, he’d leave on the train. As if cued, a whistle sounded in the distance, mournful and alone.
No. Not this time.
With the renewed energy of a new beginning, she abandoned his trail and cut back towards the train tracks. He wouldn’t need to board at the station, wouldn’t want to, in fact. No, he’d hop on a little ways down the track, where there was no one to see him.
Praying that she was right, she hopped a fence, and raced headlong through someone’s yard. Another fence, an ally, and then on to the street. Her feet flew, barley touching the earth before they were gone again, propelling her onward, so fast it seemed she was flying.
And then she saw him. Silhouetted in the moonlight, standing by the tracks. He sensed her a moment too soon, and after a surprised look back, took off. Her fingertips had brushed his arm; his shirt. She could still feel the warmth of his body, heated by his victims’ blood.
She flashed back again to Daquin, to the texture of his velvet coat between her fingers as he ripped away from her, laughing, tossing back that curious mixture of English and French that rolled from his tongue like warm honey. She’d wanted to wrap in those words, in his voice, wallow in it, bathe in it, never leave. She’d wanted to hear him call her ma cherié forever.
If only I’d known how empty those beautiful words were.
Her prey disappeared over a rise, and she caught the scent of water; a river. If he made it there, she wasn’t sure she could track him anymore. Jared could, but he was back at the house, still. With no other choice, she said a final prayer and leapt over the rise, throwing herself toward whatever she could tackle.
Whether luck or fate, she found her mark, slamming bodily into him, so that the pair rolled and tumbled down the rocky bank into the shallow water.
He pulled partially free, but she retackled him, wrapping her legs around his middle and her arms around his shoulders, pushing him face down in the churning water. He wouldn’t drown; vampires didn’t need air, but his instincts didn’t know that. They’d fight to breathe, fight for useless oxygen, and surrender the battle to get it.
He choked, sputtered, tried to get his hands free. She tightened her grip, squeezing with all her strength. Water splashed in her face, filled her nose, burned her eyes. I don’t need the air, she told herself. I’m fine. I’m safe. I don’t need the air. I can’t let go.
He choked, and finally went still. Surrender. Or at least the appearance of it. But she knew better than to take it at face value.
She pulled back, lifting his face out of the river. He coughed, hacked, gasped for wheezing lugfuls of air.
“All right. You…you got me,” he choked out. “Now…what?”
“Now I take you to the citadel to stand trial. Or kill you here, and leave your body to burn in the sunlight. Whichever you prefer.”
“I get a choice?” He spit out a mouthful of laughter and managed a chuckle.
“No, I do. Now get up.” She slackened her grip enough to slide off of him, using one hand to pull his wrists behind his back. She’d lost her mace in the struggle, so she settled for jamming her backup dagger under his chin. “If I have to, I’ll drain you dry and drag your empty husk back. On second thought, that might be easier.”
There was no fear in him, only amusement. “That it would. But you’d better hurry.”
“Or you’ll have to fight my master, too.”
His master? Mary’s instinct was to jerk away, dagger held at the ready, while she scanned the night for a second vampire, but that was just what he wanted her to do. He wanted her to let go, to lower her guard so he could escape.
“I’ll worry about that when he comes. Now get up.”
The rogue shrugged, and stood, sinewy muscle sliding through her hands as he straightened. Too tall for her to reach his throat effectively, she snapped the dagger around to his back, pressing the tip behind his heart. “What is your name? And who is your master?”
He spit out river water, and shook his soggy brown bangs out of his face. “Seth.”
Half an answer was better than none, and she didn’t have time to mess around. She needed to get back to Jared and Deanne, Between the three of them, they should be able to hold him. On her own, one wrong move, and he’d be free, and gone.
“Fine, Seth. Now march.”
He spit more river water and stumbled his way up the bank, tugging at his hands. She held them hard, and applied more pressure to the dagger. If he tried, he could break free. Hopefully the blade held enough fear for him to prevent that.
Or Jared tracks us here, and joins me in detaining him.
He stopped at the bank, shaking water from his boots. “Where are we marching to?”
“Back to the house, and the humans you butchered.”
He scoffed. “Since when did vampires care about mortal lives?”
“We don’t. We care that you kill in such a public way. Leaving the bodies lay in their beds, for some fool to discover? Do you know what they make of such a mess? What happened in Utah? This modern humanity is not so modern that a little evidence won’t convince them monsters exist. It was only luck that one of them blamed the open window and a rabid dog with blood on its muzzle. If you want to kill to feed, then do so discreetly. You’re so-called master should have taught you that.”
“Where’s the fun in that?” He snickered and flexed his wrists again, testing the strength of her hold. “You’re what they call an Executioner?”
“Yes,” she snapped. “Now march.”
“I would, but…” he trailed off into another chuckle. “It’s rude to go when we have company.”
Mary’s heart hammered and her eyes darted around, seeking the invisible “company”. Had his master arrived, as he’d threatened? She sniffed the air, finding mud, the heavy smell of the river, the green of the plants, the peculiar smell of a cool summer night, and then, on the breeze, the scent of shadows and molasses; a scent that froze her chest.
The voice came from the dark trees that bordered the river, words rolling like thick honey. “Seth, Seth. What trouble have you gotten yourself into this time?”
Though it had been years, Mary knew that voice, knew that scent, felt both echo in the core of her being.
He stepped free of his shelter to stand in the gently waving grass. Diffused moonlight shone on his chocolate skin, and his dark hair curled in a new style, one more suited to his modern wardrobe. Though he was some distance, her vampire eyes gave her a clear image of him, and of his face, so familiar and yet foreign by the passage of time.
“Master.” She could hear the grin in Seth’s voice. “I warned her you were coming.”
Master. No wonder the rogue made her think of Daquin, when he carried his blood.
“Those in power are all the same, they never listen. Why would immortality make that different?” Daquin walked closer, his movements the smooth grace of a predator waiting to spring. “Executioner, is it? You can see you’re out numbered. Drop the blade and step away.”
She narrowed her eyes, met his gaze full force. “Or what?”
He stopped, close enough to reach out for, and studied her. She could almost see the gears turning in his head as he surveyed her. “Do I know you, chere?”
That word slithered through her, and it took all of her self-control not to react. “I doubt it. Now back away, or I’ll take you in as well.”
Daquin gave a hearty laugh. “You have some nerve, I’ll give you that. But, as I already told you,” the amusement sipped from his voice as he closed the gap between them, leaving only cold menace. “Drop the blade and step away.”
He grabbed her wrist and she twisted away, pulling from his grasp. The moment the dagger was out of Seth’s back, he jerked loose from her, and bounded up the bank, stopping on the high ground to peer down. “I warned you, Executioner.”
“I told you, boug, they never listen. Haven’t you listened to the stories of the Executioners? The fearful whispers in the shadows of their merciless strength? We’ll see how strong they really are.” Daquin smirked, as he moved toward her, his every move smooth like a swaying snake that held her hypnotized. She wasn’t there, by the tiny Iowa river, but back in Louisiana, watching him draw close, that same predatorial smirk on his face. Only then it wasn’t her blood he meant to claim, only her body, a thing she’d given willingly.
But Daquin, he was rooted firmly in the present, in a time and place where he didn’t know her, and didn’t care. “How do you want to die, Executioner? Fast or slow?”
Inside, she screamed a torrent of frustration. She couldn’t take two of them alone. There was only one option – to let them go.
“Neither.” And she took off, leaving his fingertips brushing empty air.
As she bounded past Seth, knocking him down for good measure, she heard Daquin laugh. “A shadow racer!” but she didn’t stay to hear the rest.
She’d crossed the tracks, when she was aware of him, tailing her, catching up. She was not the prey and they the hunters.
If I can just make it back to Jared and Deanne.
She put on a burst of speed and cut through a yard. Over a ditch, through a garden, past another block. So close. So…
He nailed her from behind, slamming her into the ground, just as Seth had earlier. Only, instead of leaping up to run away, he stayed, pressing her into the damp earth with the weight of his body.
“Not so fast, are you? What a pity for you. What should I do with such a weak Executioner?”
As she’d fallen, she’d folded her arm, keeping the dagger flat against her body. She wriggled under him, working to slide her arm free. “If you kill me, they’ll be a mark on your head as well as your fledgling’s. To this moment you’ve done nothing worth dying for. Do you really want to get involved in his crimes?”
“Nothing worth dying for? Ah, ma chere, but you don’t know me. I have done a million terrible things. What’s one more?”
Her arm broke free, and she used it to arch herself up, dislodging him, then rolled, slashing with the dagger. The blade caught his shoulder as he pulled back, leaving the glittering edge wet with crimson. He flinched away in surprise, then his face clouded with fury. He slammed his arm across her shoulders, knocking her back to the ground, and grabbed her wrist with his free hand, squeezing, trying to force the dagger from her grip. Leaning his face close to hers, he snarled, “You will die for that Ex-“ He broke off suddenly and leaned back, those invisible gears spinning again. “No, no, ma chere. You do know me, don’t you? Hmmm? And I know you. But from where, I wonder? Who are you?”
“I’m an Executioner,” she snarled between clenched teeth. She was already nearly outmatched and had no intention of telling him the truth; that she was that weak little thing he’d left broken hearted when he broke from their master so long ago.
He leaned close again, inhaling deeply, like she was some kind of exotic dish. “That’s as may be, but you have a name. And a history. Mmmmm. Your smell, it rings a bell, as they say. The edge of a memory. I can almost taste it.” He snapped his teeth and snickered. “I’ve had you before, yes? There’s so many, it’s hard to keep track of all of you.” He applied more pressure to her wrist, his thumb sending shooting shards of pain up her arm. “The question is, were you satisfying enough to spare, or should I go ahead and kill you? That I can’t remember says you can’t have been completely disappointing.”
While he rambled, she pulled her other arms free and used it knock him off of her. By the time he recovered, she was on her feet, blade at the ready.
He stepped back, hands up, laughing. “If you were mediocre, then you have improved, ma chere. Feisty. I like that in a woman. You may have saved your own life, but you cannot hope to take me to your Guild. You can’t catch me.” She saw the comprehension dawn across his features, the light of recognition spark in his eyes. “Of course! How could I not recognize our shared blood sooner? You are one of LaFete’s children…what was your name? An S I think? No, an M. Magdalene. No…No…Mary!” He made a sound of triumph as he lowered his hands. “Lord, but it’s been a spell, ma chere. An Executioner?” He whistled and circled her, as if taking in a grown child. “I didn’t expect that of you. I thought you’d be back in the bayou with LaFete, or long dead, like the others.”
Mary tightened her hold on the dagger, as if she could choke the air from him by proxy. Her memories flashed and she saw the others, victims of a coven war, their blood splashed up the walls. The basket she’d held slipped from her fingers, and she’d turned and run, sprinting harder than she ever had before, leaving behind the stench of death. It had taken her two days to go back. By then, the bodies were long gone, all evidence erased, and the other coven had moved in. She managed to avoid them, and found Madam LaFete hiding out in the bayou. Though her master swore revenge, it wasn’t something Mary could face, so she’d left.
And spent the years after trying to make up for that cowardice.
Maybe she wasn’t the only coward. “And where were you when they were killed, Daquin? No one had seen you at the den for days, we thought you’d already cleared out, but if you knew their fate, then it means you weren’t so far gone as we imagined.”
“Oh, I was gone, all right. And smart enough to stay gone.” He slipped closer, dropping his voice to a purr. “I knew they were coming, huh? Knew they were coming and knew better than to get involved. As you did, or you wouldn’t be standing here.”
“I was at the market when they attacked!”
“Then luck was with you, ma chere. And Lafete? Did she tell you where she was?”
Mary faltered. In her memory she saw her master, dark braids falling around her shoulders as she swore to destroy them. “They killed my children! They will die for this!” She’d poured out plans, but never had they discussed how they’d both come to survive.
Daquin snickered. “I can see by your face that she didn’t. She left, of course. When the fighting started, when the blood began to flow, LaFete slipped out the back and kept right on going. She conceded the den, the coven, all of it to save herself.”
Anger rose in Mary, anger she struggled to control. “How would you know? You said yourself you left before the attack.”
“And that I looked up LaFete afterwards. Call it curiosity to see how the old hag made it through.”
“Watch your tongue! She is your master, you owe her respect!”
All humor disappeared from his face. “I owe her nothing! And I owe you nothing, little Mary. She made us not out of love, but for her own selfish ends, because we pleased her eyes or her senses in some way, or reminded us of what she’d once had. A replacement for her daughter, weren’t you? But when she escaped that den did she go to the market to warn you, or did she flee, and leave you to your fate?”
“No doubt she trusted I was smart enough to notice the commotion.”
He stepped closer. “And were you? Or did you go back to that den, and only escape because fate let you? You should have learned the lesson I tried to teach you; you don’t owe anyone anything. Take what you want, leave behind what you don’t, just as she left you.”
With a cry of rage, Mary lashed out, slashing only air. Daquin chuckled behind her, and she spun in time for him to disappear and reappear near her elbow, holding a pocket watch. “A fun diversion, but one I don’t have time for. It’s been nice to see you again, ma chere, my sister-in-blood, but I have a fledgling to take in hand and a train to catch soon. I’m afraid this must be goodbye.”
She grabbed for him, but her fingers only brushed him before he’d hopped away. “I’ve let you live, this time, because I do remember you, and you were far from disappointing, sweet little cherry, but if you continue to hunt us, things may go differently.”
She suppressed a growl. “It’s your fledgling I want. He must answer for this, for making such a display, leaving such a mess.”
“Pshaw. Such a thing is in our nature, but this once, for the memory of that long ago time, I’ll speak to him. Hmmm?” He shot her a wink. “Adieu.”
And then he was gone. Mary lunged at the spot he’d been, but there was no point. His scent was strong, and she could have given chase, but again, it was futile. He was faster than she was, and she’d only end up pinned between the two of them, with very little time before sunrise.
At least I have names now.
Cursing the whole way, she made it back to the small house of death. The back door was unlatched, so she let herself inside. She found Deanna standing in the living room, a gory axe still raised and her face creased in a frown.
“What?” Before she could answer, Mary saw the child who lay at her feet, half inside a tiny bedroom.
Deanna lowered the weapon. “She was still alive. She regained consciousness as I was finishing the other child, and attacked me.”
Mary gave the window an impatient glance. “The sun will rise soon. We need to leave and find a safe resting place. Where is Jared?”
“Upstairs, finishing his strange rituals.”
“Then he needs to hurry. Go, wash up.”
Deanna saluted and hurried away, leaving Mary to stare at the ruined child sprawled on the floor. With a mutter of disgust, she hefted the body, and tossed it on the bed. The mirror had already been covered, probably before Jared went upstairs, and clothing was tossed on the floor, no doubt to cover their faces with.
Jared’s odd habit.
Mary grabbed the up and tossed them over their heads. She noted the odd angle of the second girl’s nightdress, but didn’t have time to correct it. They needed to go. Now.
The pair popped down the stairs, Deanna still wiping blood from her face and hands.
“Did you catch him?” Jared asked hopefully.
“No.” It was easier than trying to explain. “But we will. Come. The sun will rise in an hour and humans will be awake before that.”
They locked the doors and climbed out the window, pulling it closed after them. Mary rounded the side of the house and stopped when she something heaped in the yard.
Moving to it, she recognized Seth, his clothes and hair still wet from the river. His chest was a gaping hole, not yet congealed, and protruding from his shirt pocket was a rolled up piece of paper.
“Who’s that?” Jared asked, but his face showed understanding a moment later as he recognized the scent. “What in the hell?”
Mary pulled the paper free and unrolled it.
I already let you live as a favor, but just to me sure that you owe me when next we meet, I have also ended your chase. DO not take is with more sentimental meaning than there is. He has been troublesome for some time and, truth be known, I have also been chasing him. Not for his very public murders that you so object to, but because he stole from me when he left. I have recovered my property, and your manhunt has ended. We are both well served.
Deanna read over her shoulder, and drew back frowning. “I don’t understand.”
“Never mind.” Mary jammed the note in her pocket. “Grab him and let’s go.”
“Where?” Jared asked as he lifted the corpse.
“Back to the citadel. As the letter said, our manhunt is done.”
Mary signed her report with a flourish and leaned back in the chair. Once more at the citadel, she sat in the safe solitude of her rooms, locked away from the other vampires and their prying eyes.
She drew the note out of her pocket and reread it again. How like him to pretend at first that he’d done her a favor when he’d planned to kill Seth all along. As she rolled it up, for a moment she could smell him, the same scent that lingered in her dreams sometimes, and had been back with more ferocity since she’d started chasing Seth. It was the smell of jambalaya cooking, of palm trees, of ancient ceremonies, of drums beating in the dark while Madam LaFete conducted the ceremony to bring her children into a world of darkness; a ceremony Mary now knew was nothing more than show. But back then they’d thought it was real, that it was the magic that changed them, that drinking her blood was just to hammer it all home.
Maybe Daquin was right. Maybe she was always a liar.
Mary glanced at the report, the report that didn’t mention him, or the real way that Seth had been killed. And maybe I’m one too. Or maybe something worse. Shed allowed the office to misidentify Seth, saying his mark looked like the work of Wapiti, a vampire long known to be rogue. They’d poured through the annals and determined that Seth was his fledgling Barnabas. She didn’t correct them, and had even gone so far as to bribe Jared and Deanna not to mention the note, or how the truth of Seth’s death. In exchange for silence, she’d given them special accolades, the kind that would look good if they ever wanted to be Executioners, and that also meant a pay raise.
But she hadn’t done it to protect Daquin. No, she did it to protect herself. There’d be too many questions, too many inquiries, too much to explain. She didn’t need that, didn’t need to relive it all, or to even think about it, if she could help it. Instead, she needed to dust while she could, and get ready for her next assignment.
At least this time it won’t involve faking axe murders.
- reflection 2. chorus line 3. can can 4. dancers 5. ballet 6. feeling blue 7. looking back 8. reverberate 9. stretching on 10. in line