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Blogophilia 15.11: Migina Part 1

it’s time again for blogophilia. This week’s prompts are:

 

Ecrits Blogophilia Week 15.11 Topic: Trouble Will Find Me
BONUSES: ** Hard Bonus (2 pts): Mention an Audrey Hepburn Movie (Sabrina)
Easy Bonus (1 pt): Use the phrase “High and Dry”

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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-

Crap.

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.

**

guesses:

Topic: Dahlia

Picture: Christopher

1.wishful thinking 2. delusions 3. delusions of grandeur 4. reflection 5. mirror 6. inner tiger

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Blogophilia 14.11: Tellith Part 3 END

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:

Ecrits Blogophilia Week 14.11 Topic: June Gloom
BONUSES: Hard Bonus (2 pts): Incorporate a Cyndi Lauper song lyric (the vampires come out at night to play)
Easy Bonus (1 pts): Include your favorite fish (koi fish)

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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.

Shit.

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.

Whoops.

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.

Right.

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-

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.

Shit.

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-

Shovels?

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-

“Roger?”

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.”

“Then what-”

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

Topic: Christopher

picture: Stormy

1) out to sea 2) waiting 3) in the distance 4) where’s Nessie? 5) “piering” in the distance 6) under the umbrella 7) johnny sailor bold 8) storm brewing 9) rough seas are coming 10) solitude

Blogophilia 10.11 Tellith Part 1

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:

Ecrits Blogophilia Week 10.11 Topic – TMI (Too Much Information)
BONUSES:** Hard (2 pts) Include a line from Mark Twain’s ‘Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’
Easy (1 pt) Include a mode of transportation

.

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.”

“Oh?”

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.

**

Guesses:

pic: Nissmech

topic: Stephen

  1. 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.

Blogophilia 9.11 – Mary part 2

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:

Ecrits Blogophilia Week 9.11 Topic – New Beginnings
BONUSES:** Hard (2 pts) Include the word “Wapiti”
Easy (1 pt) Mention Palm Trees

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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 what?”

“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.

Daquin.

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.

“Jared! Deanna!”

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.

A body.

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.

Sweet Cherry-

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.

Adieu,

D

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.

**

topic: Michelle

picture: Trevor

  1. 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 

Blogophilia 8.11 – Mary Part 1

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:

Ecrits Blogophilia Week 8.11 Topic – Birds and Bees
BONUSES:** Hard (2 pts) Quote or include a line from E.E. Cummings (You are my sun, my moon, and all my stars,)
Easy (1 pt) Include a town from Vermont (Killington, Vermont)

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This story takes place June 9, 1912 in a little Iowa town I am familiar with. Heh-heh.

**

Mary slowed her pace to a jog and looked over her shoulder. She could just see the guards in the distance, running to catch up. If they were human, they’d no doubt be huffing and puffing by now. Luckily, they weren’t. They were vampires like she was.

If only they were as fast me.

The Guild called her special ability wind walking, though Madam LaFete had called it Outrunning the Shadows, because even the shadows were too slow to catch you. She remembered in the early days trying to see if that was true, if she really was faster than her shadow, but she’d never come to any conclusions.

Mary slowed her to jog to a walk, and finally stopped altogether. While she waited, she sniffed the summer air, heavy with the threat of rain. The scent of flowers and fresh grass filled her senses. Night dew, and damp earth followed, with subtler tones on their heels. She could smell smoke from the nearby town, the coal and oil of the train yard, and the life, the blood, of the populace.

The guards caught up. Mary tapped her foot impatiently, expectant eyes on Jared. The guard sniffed the air and nodded, his hunter abilities finding the scent that even she couldn’t.

“He’s been here. The trail goes into town.”

Mary tightened her grip on her mace and nodded. They’d been hunting him for ten months, since Utah. They’d been to slow to cover that crime up, but they’d been in time in Colorado Springs. She’d been in charge, traveling with the same set of guards she had tonight. When greeted with the crime scene – six dead people, still in bed, their flesh torn the night before by vampires fangs – she’d first thanked the unknown that no one had discovered the bodies yet. But they would soon. Six people were too many to just disappear without causing a man hunt, so how were they going to cover up the slaughter?

It was Jared who’d suggested a murder scene. That was what had happened, anyway, so it would be less work to hide the evidence. The only thing they needed to do was cover up how they’d died. Deanna found the axe outside, and with great efficiency, hacked up the bodies, obliterating any sign of vampiric teeth marks. As they scoured the houses, double checking that the vampire had left behind no other clues, Jared had covered the corpses up.

Mary remembered glancing over his odd work and asking him why.

He’d frowned. “I don’t know. It seems respectful.”

She could tell by the set of his shoulders that he expected laughter. Instead, she motioned to a mirror. “Then you should cover that as well. They say the souls of the dead can get trapped there.”

In the end they’d left, exiting through a window and leaving the door locked. The puzzle they’d left behind had stumped the human authorities, which was good enough for her.

From there, they’d followed the rampaging vampire to Illinois, then to Kansas, and to Ohio. There they’d almost caught him, but he’d fled before Mary could lay her hands on him – or before he could butcher another family of humans.

A fellow wind walker, he’d been fast; faster than even she was. He was the kind of fast Madam LaFete had meant when she said they could outrun the shadows.

I bet he can.

The chase had gone on, winding around the country, following the rails. Only a few days ago they’d had to clean up after him in Kansas, again. Though they’d used different methods in several of the crimes – including burning the houses down, like in Killington, Vermont –  they’d gone back to the axe for that one because there wasn’t time for anything else. They were right on his heels, and to stay longer would risk losing him.

We’re so close!

Though her official orders didn’t say she couldn’t return to the citadel until the rogue was caught, she was determined not to. To do so would lose days, or weeks, to travel and give him even more of an advantage.

It doesn’t matter, she told herself. Because we’re going to catch him tonight.

If their map was correct, it was a fitting location, too, not far from the citadel. They could capture him and be there before the sun rose, their nine month hunt finally over.

She motioned the guards to follow, and headed into the town, letting Jared and his hunter senses lead the way. As she walked, her mind wandered back to the citadel, and her rooms there. She’d left to investigate the scene in Utah, never planning to be away so long. She could only imagine the dust that had gathered on the furniture since, ho stale the linens would be. Had she made the bed, she wondered for the thousandth time. She remembered packing a case, jamming extra shoes and clothes inside, but she couldn’t recall if she’d tidied first, or left it for when she returned.

If only David was still there. He’d have taken care of things while I was gone.

Except, that was the reason he wasn’t there anymore.

She could still see the letter in her memory, the blotted writing, the wrinkled paper.  I love you, he’d said. You are my sun, my moon, and all my stars, but how can a man live when that light is forever missing, when your place is forever vacant while you follow orders? In a vacuum of eternal night, I am left to wander alone, with a starless sky and a sunless dawn. I have asked you before to leave the Executioners, to come away with me. I have been patient, I have tried to live this way, but I cannot endure any longer.

Cannot endure. That note was all he’d left behind, set carefully on the sideboard where she’d see it right away. Even now, four years later, the memory of it punched her in the stomach and stole her breath. At the time she’d thought wildly of following him, finding him, giving up her life as an Executioner. But Madam LaFete’s words echoed too strongly inside her.

“You give up a part of yourself for a man, and soon they want another, and another, until there is no piece of you left, and when they look into your face, they see only a reflection of themselves. They may think that makes the happy, but it doesn’t. And when they realize that, child, they will leave you empty and alone, to seek a new pair of eyes to gaze into.”

Besides, David had been there for forty years. That was as long as any human relationship lasted – longer than many. The heart was never made for eternity, for immortality.

And neither is the soul.

She pushed the old thoughts away and concentrated on her surroundings. A quiet town, wrapped in the mantle of sleep. Trees swayed in the cool night and crickets chirped. Heavy clouds obscured the stars, and overworked the gas lights that tried their best to light the streets. In the quiet, without humans and their constant to and fro, the birds and bees and squirrels were free to roam.

A stray cat yowled in the distance, a tom singing for a mate. Mary wondered briefly if he’d land a lady, or if his call would go unanswered. That was the normal way of it. Those who wanted love were left wanting and those that didn’t, who only wanted to use it for their own gain, they found it in shovel fulls.

Like Daquin.

To think of two men in a span of a moment was too much, and she chided herself. She needed to be on the lookout, alert, if she wanted to catch the rogue, not ruminating on old heartbreak.

Jared drew to a stop and sniffed. His eyes lit, and he motioned them around a corner and down the road. They picked up speed as they went, and as they reached the edge of town, even Mary could smell the rogue.

He’s still here.

She didn’t wait for the others, but lunged ahead, leaving them and the shadows to catch up to her. The dark world flew by, and she skidded to a stop. She’d gone too far. Spinning back, she saw a small white farm house. Dark windows tried to convince her everything was fine within but she knew better. She could smell him, smell the blood.

He’s already killed.

Cellar doors stood open – his entry point? She dropped down the stairs into a small, damp room, but there was no other opening, no connection with the interior of the house. Cursing silently, she popped outside again, slamming the doors shut out of habit.

The sound echoed in the still night and she froze. Had he hear it? He’d have to be deaf not to. And now that he had, a simple sniff would tell him who was outside.

A sound came from inside. A door shutting? Furniture scraping? She wasn’t sure, but it meant motion, movement. She tensed, eyes moving over the doors, the windows, waiting for him to rip his way outdoors and then-

Jared and Deanna appeared, slowing when they noticed her.  She motioned to the house, telling them he was inside, but there was no point. They could smell him just as she could.

The pair split up. Deanna went around the back side of the house, while Jared joined Mary. If only one of them was a whisperer, they could have made a silent plan. Without those powers, they were left with hand signals and urgent nodding to get the point across.

There were three doors, one in the back and two on the front porch. Mary hoped Deanna was watching the back and motioned Jared to the porch with her. As long as the rogue didn’t go for a window, there was no way he could escape.

You’re mine this time.

**

to be finished next week

Topic: Stormy

Picture: Colleen

  1. bouquet 2. spring flowers 3. May flowers 4. token of affection 5. fresh 6. spring blossoms 7. How does your garden grow 8. blooming 9. blooms 10. maybe now that it’s stopped snowing we can get some of these.

Blogophilia 11.5 – Kioko

It’s time again for Blogophilia, the fun blog group where Martien gives participants prompts for their weekly blog. This week’s prompts are:

Ecrits Blogophilia Week 5.11 Topic – My Fate
BONUSES:** Hard (2 pts) Incorporate a lyric by the group Porcupine Tree – (A Purple Haze crawled on the lawn)
Easy (1 pt) Mention something found in a cemetery

,

I have maybe two people who read this blog, and one of them (Martien) said they liked having the whole story in one go, so, since I’m behind on my shorts anyway,  I worked my fingers to the bone and got all of Kioko done in one shot. Yay!

This story takes place during the fourth novel (Ashes of deceit) and before the Zuri short I posted awhile back.

***

Kioko stood uncomfortably to the side while Ark gave the guards instructions. Two weeks ago she’d been one of them; dressed in black and taking orders. But now she was one of the elite, an Executioner, chosen by Malick, the head of the Guild, himself.

It’s strange, she thought. After more than a hundred years of immortality, two weeks can make all the difference. Just two weeks.

Though her appointment had come at another’s expense, killed in an altercation with Jorick, the legendary Hand of Death. Though Kioko had never met him – he’d been an Executioner and quit long before she ever moved to the citadel – she’d heard the awed whispers. Stories of things he’d done, vampires he’d murdered, superhuman deeds that she doubted any vampire could accomplish.

He has murdered three Executioners in three months, she reminded herself, or at the least been involved in their deaths. Franklin had been killed in October, then Philip and Bren recently. It was the latter that she’d replaced.

The guards saluted and moved away. Ark straightened his coat and glanced over his shoulder, at the small house. “I think we’re done here. We have a few hours until sunrise if you want-” His chiming cell phone cut him off. With an eye roll he tugged it free and answered, “Hello?”

Kioko watched his eyebrows shoot up. His mouth worked, as he tried to get a word in. Finally he snapped, “Both Dismas and Zuri?”

Dismas. The Executioner who’d replaced Franklin, he’d only held the post for three months. Before that, he’d been a greater guard. Kioko had worked with him several times, and had even attended a few of the same social events. They weren’t close, but…

Ark gave an impatient huff of breath. “Where is he now?” He fell silent, nodded a few times, and finally snapped, “We’ll meet you there,” before he hung up.

Kioko waited as he shoved the phone in his pocket and ran a hand through his chestnut hair. “Excuse me, but what about Dismas?”

Ark ground his teeth. “He’s dead.”

“Dead?” She realized the stupidity of her echo, but it was too late. “How did he die?”

“They say it was Jorick. Dismas is dead, and Zuri’s whereabouts are unknown. Truth be told, he’s probably in the grave, as well.”

Not three Executioners then, but five. Jorick had killed five of them in three months. That was almost half of their number.

“They say he and his human have been murdering covens,” Ark added. “He won’t get away with it this time.”

Kioko tried to keep the trepidation from her voice, “What do you mean, sir?”

“We’ve been tasked with bringing him in to stand trial.”

He’s killed five Executioners, but the two of us will bring him in alone? Though it was the obvious question, she kept it to herself. “What about the coven in Manchester?”

“They’ll have to wait. I’ll send the guards ahead to start the proceedings while we find him.”

“Where is he?”

“He was last seen in Kentucky, with another coven. We’ll get the details when we get to the citadel.”

Kioko didn’t like to point out that the citadel was the opposite direction of Kentucky. “We’re going back, sir?”

He checked the time on his phone. “Yes. We’re to report there for supplies. If we hurry, we should make it before sunup.”

Supplies? Did he mean reinforcements?

Instead of asking, she saluted, a habit too ingrained to break yet, then followed him to the cars. He gave the guards their orders, then motioned her into his vehicle.

Sleek and red, it looked as fast as it was. Kioko fastened her seatbelt and watched her guild assigned car drive away, full of guards. It wasn’t her personal car – she and Aine both needed to choose vehicles still – but she was responsible for it. If they wrecked it, or damaged it, the cost would likely come out of her account.

Assuming I survive bringing in the Hand of Death to worry about it.

***

Ark sped all the way to the citadel. Kioko watched the speedometer anxiously. It wasn’t his skill she doubted, but his luck. At the rate they were going, the human police would pull them over and then what? Ark was a dream stealer, but not a whisperer, and she was only a hunter. Neither would be able to persuade the cops to let them go. Of course, The Guild would make everything all right in the end, but in the meantime their journey would be delayed, leaving them little time to get indoors before the sun was up.

Despite her concerns, they arrive at the towering grain elevator just as the sky was blushing pink. Ark parked the car in the building, and they headed through the private entrance into the underground citadel.

Ark checked his phone. “Everyone has retired for the day, already. We might as well do the same.”

She nodded, catching herself from another salute. I’m an equal now, she reminded herself, though it was hard to believe.

As she followed Ark through the citadel, toward their chambers on the second floor, she wondered for the millionth time why she’d been chosen as an Executioner. When an opening came up, all greater guards interested in the post reported to Malick. He’d look them over, skim through their minds, and then choose the most powerful. For some inexplicable reason, this time he’d chosen herself and Aine.

There were better candidates, she thought. Stronger candidates. Aine and I were probably the weakest applicants, and certainly the youngest. Neither of us are over one hundred and fifty. Why would he choose us?

It was almost as if he’d wanted weak Executioners. But what sense did that make?

She dismissed the worry as she let herself into her apartment with instructions to meet Ark first thing the following evening. She nodded her agreement before shutting the door. The apartment looked as it had earlier that evening, left clean and ready for a two week or more absence.

How long will I be gone now? she wondered. Even if they were successful in bringing Jorick in, how much would that delay them? After Manchester, there was a rogue vampire, and coven they were supposed to tend to, then they were to split up and she was supposed to handle two territory disputes before she’d be able to come home again. Thanks to the small number of Executioners and the vast distances, they often had jobs stacked up. Changing even one of them could ruin the whole string.

Maybe he’ll kill us, too, then it won’t matter anymore.

The thought was hardly comforting.

***

Kioko woke the next evening, dressed, and exited to find Ark in the corridor.

“I was on my way to summon you,” he said. “Come, we’re supposed to report to the lower laboratory.”

The name sent a shiver down Kioko’s spine. A semi-secret area in the bowels of the citadel, no one knew what went on there, except Malick and the so-called men of science who ran it. She’d done a stint as a prison guard, just up the hall from the lab. The vampires she’d seen scuttling up and down the corridor, heads bent, soulless eyes darting, had given her the creeps. She couldn’t explain the feeling, except to say that there was an air of evil that hung over them.

It wasn’t just the occasional brush with the scientists that had made her time down there unpleasant. The guards who were regularly assigned to the prison were little better than useless. If there was a prisoner to fetch, she was the one who had to do it. If there was a visitor, she had to deal with them. That they managed to crawl to their posts each day was a miracle, and when she finally demanded a transfer she hadn’t left under the best of circumstances. To say they all hated one another was an understatement.

What a way to start the night.

Kioko and Ark stopped at the café to grab breakfast, then headed to the lowest level. As the elevator descended, she could feel the crushing presence of the high council, hidden in their chambers. Ancients all, with Malick the oldest and most terrifying.

They exited in the shiny black and red corridor, something straight from a nightmare, and walked toward the secret lab. The closer they got, the worse the suffocating presence became. When the locked metal door opened wide, she saw why; Malick waited for them inside.

“Master.” Ark bowed, and she quickly did the same.

Malick beamed a benevolent smile over his long white beard. Hair the color of snow fell past his shoulders, left long today. A black and gold robe dragged the floor, work over a well cut suit, complete with a matching tie.

“Come, come,” he instructed, motioning them over the threshold and into the room. Painted white with a shiny linoleum floor, a bank of computers sat to one side, tended by a vampire in glasses. Two doorways on the back wall led away, while a table to the right was covered in items, including a box of what looked like red grenades.

A vampire in a lab coat stood behind it, his dark hair brushed back. He rubbed his hands excitedly, the end of his long nose twitching. “Yes, yes. Executioner Ark, I believe you’re familiar with the NR canisters?”

NR? Kioko looked sharply to her superior, but he ignored her to nod. “Yes. Most of the Executioners are.”

“I don’t recognize your friend.” The scientist squinted at her. “I assume you’re new?”

Kioko felt herself drawing away from his scrutiny. “Yes.”

He nodded, muttering to himself. “We’ve had some improvements, anyway.” He patted the box of grenades. “Yes, yes, improvements. With this, you can incapacitate any vampire.” He lifted one and hooked his finger through the pin. “Pull, toss, and step back. Yes, yes, the… shall we call it nerve gas for you? It is very potent. A minute at most for the toughest vampire. That’s why you must take these.” He lifted a bottle of pills with a rattle. “We call them PREP. Take one each – don’t swallow, mind, but let it dissolve on your tongue – no more than twenty minutes before you use the NR2.”

“How does it work?” Kioko asked uncertainly.

“It changes your chemistry – temporarily,” the scientist added. “For the twenty minutes after you take the dose, you will not be as you are now. When it wears off, you’ll be back to normal.”

“Does it actually work this time?” Ark asked.

“Yes, yes. It works.” Some of the scientists enthusiasm dimmed, replaced by the edge of a sulk. “And the NR2 will no longer kill humans.”

Malick’s voice rumbled behind them like summer thunder, “How fortunate, as Jorick travels with just such a companion.”

As the scientist bundled up several canisters of NR2, the Executioners turned to Malick.

“If I may, master,” Ark began. “What is going on?”

Malick chuckled. “It seems my son has gotten himself into trouble. Ah, how refreshing to see him doing something besides sulk! Nevertheless, we can’t have him killing indiscriminately, can we? You have perhaps heard of the murders that Verchiel was investigating before his transgression?”

Verchiel. A fellow Executioner, Kioko hadn’t seen him for several days. She’d assumed he was on an assignment but…

Ark murmured acknowledgement, and Malick continued. “To shorten the story, I will say simply that Senya was investigating the latest, accompanied by Zuri and Dismas. Imagine her surprise to discover that Jorick and his human were visiting the nearest den, where another murder allegedly took place, this time before a witness who named the human a killer.”

Kioko could see Ark struggling with the idea. “Excuse me, master, do you mean that Jorick’s human murdered someone?”

“So they say. Without examining her, how can I say for sure?” He spread his hands helplessly, and went on. “For reasons we do not yet understand, Jorick led an attack on the Executioners. Senya reported that Dismas was killed before she managed to escape.”

Ark scowled. “And what o f Zuri?”

“His fate is unknown, but one can assume, knowing Jorick’s renewed thirst for blood…Ah! But it is refreshing to see him back to his old ways! To once again revel in the fight, the blood, the death! Perhaps the human is worth more than I first thought?”

Kioko wasn’t sure if they were supposed to respond, and if so what to say. She looked to Ark, but he was silent, his face unreadable.

“It is no matter, for neither of you children knew him in the days before. Ark, perhaps, caught glimpses of his beautiful fury, but you weren’t there, in the old world, to see him alight with youthful anger, desperate to quench the flame of rage with his enemy’s blood. As to the matter at hand, it would be easiest for you to simply incapacitate him, and bring him to me. But you do not choose the easy path, do you, child? If you wish to make it difficult, you may tell him I only wish to speak to him, though it’s doubtful he’ll believe such a tale. When that fails, you will perhaps wish to employ this wonderful invention?” He motioned to the box of gas canisters.

“And the human?” Ark asked.

“It will be best to bring her along, I believe. Though even Senya has cast doubt on the charge of murder, there is a human involved in the serial murders, so perhaps we were mistaken about her? Though I saw no violent malice in her mind, perchance, hidden in some dark corner, was a patch of homicidal darkness I missed. She must be thoroughly investigated. And of course there is the matter of theft.”

“Theft, master?” Kioko asked.

“Yes.” Malick’s jewel like eyes crinkled with amusement. “He stole Senya’s car. Or at any rate, one of his allies did. I have no doubt that my son will end up with it in the end; a trophy he won’t be able to resist. If not, whoever does will no doubt be in his company, or at the very least know where he has gone.” The ancient vampire snapped his fingers, and the vampire at the computer bank abandoned his post to shuffle towards them, an electronic tablet in his hand.

Malick took the device and handed it to Ark. “Unbeknownst to him, we have recently begun toying with tracking devices on Guild vehicles. How fortunate Senya’s car was one that was outfitted.”

Kioko leaned over to peer at the screen. A map was displayed, with a blinking dot and a set of coordinates.

“He is stationary now,” Malick said. “Though perhaps not for long? I am interested to see where he will go. Will it be to his den? Or to his fledgling? Or perhaps, to find a new victim?”

The delight in Malick’s laughter felt wrong to Kioko. Jorick was murdering his Executioners. He should be furious, not amused.

The scientist shoved a bag into Kioko’s hands. “Remember to take the PREP no more than twenty minutes before, or its effectiveness will be diminished and you’ll risk succumbing as well.”

Kioko nodded. “Will this also incapacitate the human?”

“No. It doesn’t do anything to them, anymore. There’s a hypodermic included for her, and some chloroform if you need it. Getting close enough to use it should be easy for an Executioner.”

Even if she’s a vampire killer.

“You’ll need to be careful,” Malick added, almost as an afterthought. “We wouldn’t want either to be permanently harmed.”

Despite the casual demeanor, the sudden tension in the room said that it was an order. Neither Jorick nor his human were to be hurt, no matter what crime they’d committed.

“You will of course want to get underway?” Malick’s suggestion was yet another order.

Kioko and Ark bowed to the ancient, and she gratefully hurried out the door. Her shoulders didn’t relax until the elevator opened on the top floor of the citadel.

Ark strode ahead of her, leaving her to carry the bag from the lab, without looking back.  She expected him to comment, but there was nothing, even when they were both seat belted into the car.

He handed her the tablet , then started the car. The dot on the screen was still stationary, blinking but not moving. She zoomed out until she could see a town name. Altoona. It meant nothing, so she zoomed out farther to see the name Pennsylvania in large letters.

“Is his den in Pennsylvania?”

“Maine,” Ark answered. “Keep an eye on that and let me know if he starts moving.”

“Yes, sir.” Though they weren’t even sure he was the one in the car.

“As Malick said, whoever has it will know where he is,” Ark replied to her thoughts.

She ignored the intrusion. It was common enough with mind readers, and he was her superior. “Assuming we find him, at least we’ll be able to capture him with the NR2.”

“If it works,” Ark said. He sighed. “I’m loath to use it on him, of all vampires. Jorick…he has great faith in his own strength, and this will only encourage that. It’s as if we’re saying he’s so strong we can’t take him any other way.”

“Can we?”

He shot her a dirty look and laid on the gas. “He’s not a God.”

“Of course not, sir.” Kioko silently cursed herself for deferring. Ark was the leader of the Executioners, but the others didn’t treat him like this. They were his equal. And so am I now. Why can’t I remember that?

“Remember the NR2 won’t work on the human.” Ark broke away to mutter, “A human. How ridiculous.”

“What’s ridiculous about his having a mortal pet? Many vampires do.”

“True, but Jorick isn’t many vampires. I remember a time he swore to destroy every human in the world. That he would forget that already…Though, I suppose it’s been more than a hundred years. Time softens everything they say.”

Something strange flickered across his face, and Kioko had the sense that it wasn’t necessarily true; there were some things time didn’t erase. It was a topic she wasn’t interested in touching, so she changed it. “Do you think Jorick and his human committed the murders Senya accused him of?”

“Senya?” Ark spat the name like a bite of poison apple. “I wouldn’t believe anything she said, especially not concerning Jorick. Even you should know she’s Malick’s pet, second only his children. I imagine Senya would like to see Jorick fall, leaving her as the favorite. I find it very convenient that she was able to escape this great, random attack, while Zuri, by her own admission, was left to suffer an unknown fate.”

Kioko hadn’t paid much attention to the details, but now that Ark mentioned it. “Do you think that she left him on purpose?”

“I think she deserted him,” Ark said bluntly. “Dismas was killed, and without Bren to back her up, Senya ran.”

Bren. The Executioner Kioko had replaced. Even the greater guards knew that the two had been lovers.

“If Zuri is dead, it’s her fault, no one else’s,” Ark added.

Not even his killer’s?

***

The dot eventually started moving. Kioko followed it into New York, mentally calculating where it might be headed. As the night wore on, it moved into Connecticut, then Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. Ark was confident it was headed to Maine, and she could hardly argue. If he was right, then so was Malick; it would mean Jorick had taken the car as a trophy.

And he’ll be waiting for us at the end of our journey.

It was near dawn when the dot stopped moving, in Maine. Ark took the tablet to zoom in on the nearest town, then nodded. “That’s him. At least we know he’s likely to stay put now. It will save us chasing him all over the country.”

They stayed the night with a coven whose hospitality was begrudging at best. Kioko and Ark took two of the boxes, leaving the usual occupants to bunk up on the floor. It was a new experience for her; as a guard she’d have been left to sleep on the floor with the displaced vampires while the Executioner took the best.

She lay awake in the dark box, eyes studying the smooth underside of the lid, listening as strange vampires fell asleep around her. It reminded her of that first night in Hekili’s coven. They’d greeted their newest member with mixed emotions, but had given her the use of Ano’s box, since he didn’t need it anymore. Just her luck, he’d returned two months later, and she’d been relegated to the floor until a new box opened up. More than once she’d suggested just building a new box, but no one seemed interested in it. Vampires came and went; new members joined and quit, while visitors drifted through for days or months.

It was that insane lack of structure that led her to The Citadel in search of an ordered, organized existence. She’d tried not to crave it, tried to be casual and fluid, but it was ingrained too deeply in her. She blamed her parents and their obsession with duty, honor, regimentation. Of Japanese origin, they’d immigrated to Hawaii, before the United States had stolen it. She’d been born shortly after they settled in, and grown up surrounded by palm trees and daily visits to the beach. That was the only problem with the citadel. Iowa was a landlocked state awash in corn fields and cows. At first the change had been charming; so different from the island life she’d known for eighty years. But some days…some days it was wearisome.

At least I get to travel as a guard, she told herself, quickly correcting it to Executioner. I’m an executioner now. I need to remember that; need to act like. Especially if I’m going to face the Hand of Death.

***

They fed on wildlife the next evening, while a purple haze crawled on the lawn, then climbed in the car. The dot was in the same location it had been in the night before. Kioko had cross referenced Ark’s assertion with the Guild’s app. It was indeed the listed location of Jorick’s den.

“We should be there in a few hours,” Ark commented, steering around a slower moving vehicle.

Kioko gave a crisp nod. “What’s the plan when we arrive?” She stopped herself from adding, “sir.” The other Executioners didn’t use it. Why should she?

“I’m going to try to talk to him first.”

Kioko swallowed the first objections that popped in her head, settling at last for, “But sire, Malick suggested-”

“I am well aware what he suggested.” Ark waved it away with annoyance. “However, as I’ve already told you, to attack first with no warning only underlines his importance in his own mind. Not to mention it’s cowardly. He deserves to at least know that we’re there. He may come for Malick.”

Kioko didn’t bother to reply, didn’t bother to point out that it was a terrible plan. She didn’t even bother to read him the long list of charges attached to Jorick’s file. Instead, she turned her attention back to the app and the neat details written there. Turned in 1568 by Malick. Whisperer. Dream stealer. Blood debt paid. The file summed him up, listed his years as an Executioner, noted some accomplishments and one disciplinary note, dated 1868. “Let it be known that Jorick, fledgling of Malick, has been found guilty of the murder of seven lesser guards, the assault of eight lesser guards, with intent to kill, and unlawful assault on Executioners Beldren, Bren, Mary, Jamie, and Ark.” There was no trial mentioned, and no sentence, but still there it was in black and white. The famous moment when Jorick had stormed the citadel and tried to kill everyone in his path.

And that’s why Ark wants to take him barehanded, she thought. He wants to prove that this time, he can best the Hand of Death.

Only, she wasn’t sure that he could.

***

As the miles between them and the blinking dot shrank, Kioko mentally practiced her speech:

“Jorick, fledgling of Malick, you and your human are wanted for questioning concerning the murders of nine vampires, as well as the possible deaths of two Executioners and the theft of Guild property.”

It sounded tough, official, and most of all succinct and to the point. In her imagined scenario, Jorick stood by as she quoted it, a faceless shadow who stood well over six feet tall with broad shoulders and bulging arms. As the last words dropped, he lunged for her and she threw the gas canister just in time. As colored smoke billowed around them, he dropped to the floor and lay as if dead.

“Good work,” Ark said.

And that’s when the scene evaporated. Ark wouldn’t say that. Instead he’d be angry that she’d taken him down, that he hadn’t done it himself.

And that stubborn anger is going to get me killed.

Though the conversation was an uncomfortable one, she took herself in hand. It must be my fate to do things the difficult way, but better difficult than dead.

“Excuse me, sir? I know you’re against using the NR2, but-”

Ark made a low aggravated noise. “Yes, I’m against it, but I’m not stupid. If it comes to it, we’ll do what needs to be done to complete the assignment. However, we’re going to try it without the chemical first.”

With nothing more to say, she turned her attention to the passing scenery. They hugged the coast, and the smell of the nearby sea seeped through Kioko’s window. She closed her eyes and, for a moment, it smelled like home, like childhood, like Hekili; her brown skin, thick dark hair, sweet laughter. In her memory she could taste Hekili’s kisses, see the way she’d looked at her with love sparkling in her dark eyes, until the day that love faded, leaving only a sort of dull affection, an obligation.

An obligation I wanted no part of.

She’d told her that, seen the relief in her once-lover’s eyes. She’d stayed with the coven for a while afterwards, but without Hekili to distract her, that was when the pure insanity of the arrangement got to her; the complete lack of logic or regiment.

Or maybe it was just a broken heart.

Whatever it was, it was the past, and nothing to dwell on. Not now. The sea pounding the shore was the wrong ocean. The sand was the wrong color, and there were no gracefully curving palm trees, lifting their fronds to the heavens like open arms.

It’s nothing like Kaua’i.

She straightened in the seat, tugging at her coat, as if physically organizing herself could do the same for the thoughts in her head.

Ark glanced to her, then pointed to a house in the distance, ringed in trees, a ling driveway leading to the road. “I think that’s it.”

Kioko checked the tablet. Sure enough, they were almost on top of the blinking dot.

They parked at the mouth of the driveway, and Ark signaled her to climb out quietly.  She reached into the backseat and grabbed a couple of the canisters and the bottle of PREP. Ark frowned at the pills, but when she offered them to him, he snapped the top and popped one in his mouth. She did the same, holding it on her tongue. It fizzed as it dissolved, and burned, like tiny sparks.

As the sensation faded, a bang came from the front of the house; the sound of a door slamming.

“He knows we’re here.” Ark tugged his coat straight and squared his shoulders. “Come.”

She followed, forcing her spine straight and her face hard. She could do this. She would do this. By any means necessary.

They reached the end of the driveway, and paused to peer inside the shiny black sports car that was parked there. Though Kioko had gotten lucky and never been assigned to Senya, Ark nodded as if to say he recognized the vehicle.

They continued on, picking their way through the weedy front lawn to the small porch. Kioko could hear movement inside, and hushed conversation. She could smell a vampire and a human inside, no doubt Jorick and his pet.

She tensed as they reached the door, waiting for Ark to knock it in. Instead, he knocked. A moment passed, movement sounded from inside, and then the door opened a crack to reveal a slice of pale face framed in black hair. Dark eyes peered out from under heavy brows, and full lips were drawn in a tight angry line. “Yes?”

Though not a mind reader, Kioko could feel his anger, vibrating the air around them.  She could only imagine what it would be like full blast.

Ark was unfazed. “Hello, Jorick. You know why we’re here.”

Kioko held herself immobile in the face of Jorick’s sarcasm. “No, Ark. I can’t possibly guess.”

Her rehearsed speech tumbled out, just as she’d practiced it. “You and your human are wanted for questioning concerning the murders of nine vampires, as well as the possible deaths of two Executioners and the theft of Guild property.”

Ark shot her a look that said he had it under control. “Thank you, Kioko.” He turned back to the man in the doorway. “This doesn’t have to be hard, Jorick.”

“You’re right.” And Jorick slammed the door.

Ark growled and threw the door open again. Jorick stood not two feet away, eyes narrowed, and Ark marched inside toward him. Though his shoulders were stiff, his voice was forced patience. “That isn’t what I meant. Malick only wants to speak to you.”

Just as Malick suspected, the line didn’t work.

“We’ve done that already!” Jorick snapped, holding his ground, his hands balled into fists.

“I know,” Ark said, an edge of menace to his voice. “However, I have my orders, and I will carry them out.”

“Really?” Jorick gave a cold, challenging laugh. “I’d like to see that.”

And there it was. The threat before the storm, the moment when he challenged, then charged. The two men stood, eyes boring into one another. As dream stealers, Kioko wondered if they were waging some furious mental battle, or if it was simply macho bravado.

A second passed, then another. The tension in the room thickened, multiplied, until Kioko felt uncomfortable under the weight of it. She could feel Jorick’s presence, his power, like a dark cloud that threatened to knock her to the floor. Ark’s was nearly the same but not quite as strong; not quite as angry.

Not enough to overcome him.

Finally Ark broke the silence. “Is this really what you want Jorick?” He looked away, met Kioko’s eyes. Before he spoke she saw the message on his face. He was okaying the use of the NR2.

“All right Kioko.”

She reached into the inner pocket of her coat and tugged out one of the round red canisters. She pulled the pin and tossed it, just as Jorick shouted, “You!”

The gas hissed, disappointingly invisible. Kioko suddenly wondered if it really would work. If it doesn’t…

Her fears evaporated as Jorick’s knees buckled. He landed on all fours, snarling like a cornered animal.

Ark watched impassively. “I’m sorry, Jorick. I didn’t want to resort to this.”

“No, I’m sure you didn’t.” The dark vampire growled and tried to stand. His weak limbs failed and he fell back to the floor.

A human woman bounded through the doorway, blonde hair flying around her as she dropped to her knees next to the fallen vampire. “Jorick! What’s wrong?”

“Jorick.” Not “Master.” This was no mortal pet, used for food and slavery, but…

“Gas,” He choked out. “They have gas-” he broke off and clutched at the woman. “I swear, if you hurt her…”

No. No pet, but a lover? Jorick, the Hand of Death had a human lover?

Kioko flicked her gaze over the creature, taking in large, horrified blue eyes, slender shoulders, small breasts, pale skin. Though not beautiful, she was pretty, and would be even prettier with the touch of immortality. “The human will remain unharmed, as per our orders.”

Jorick snarled and swayed. For a moment Kioko thought he might make it back to his feet. “I can’t believe…you’ve turned into a coward…Ark.”

“I’m sorry, but there wasn’t any other way.” He stepped forward, his hand out to the woman. “Come.”

The human ignored him, arms wrapped around Jorick as she tried to prop him up. Kioko watched with silent fascination as he clutched her coat and opened his mouth, then fell still and insensible.

It actually worked.

“Jorick!” The woman shrieked and shook him. “Jorick!”

Ark rolled his eyes, but his voice stayed neutral. “He’ll be fine in a few hours. Now come with us.”

The human glared back. “What have you done to him?”

When Ark didn’t reply, Kioko filled in. “It’s a kind of nerve gas. It specifically targets vampires.”

“Then why aren’t you affected?”

With an impatient huff, Ark grabbed for the woman, but she jerked away shouting,  “Answer me! Why aren’t you affected?”

Though Ark had said they had a few hours until Jorick woke, Kioko wasn’t sure how much time they had left before the PREP wore off, or how long it took the invisible NR2 to dissipate. She didn’t want to fall victim to it herself.

“Your questions are unimportant, human. We will leave now.”

“Like hell!” The woman stood, hovering over Jorick’s fallen figure like a protective guard dog.

“You can do neither,” Ark said suddenly. The surprise on the human’s face said he must have been reading her mind. Kioko could only guess that she’s been trying to decide between fighting and fleeing.

“I suggest you cooperate,” Ark added. It will make things easier.”

“Can’t you just knock me out, too?” the human demanded sarcastically.

Kioko thought of the chloroform, still in the backseat. “If you wish.” She waited a heartbeat, but when Ark didn’t move she swooped in. The human tried to twist away, but her mortal strength was no match for Kioko’s immortal abilities. She swept the woman up over her shoulder and headed outside, away from the cloud of NR2.

She headed around the house and down the driveway while the human kicked and writhed. Kioko only clamped down harder and glanced back to Ark who shadowed her, carrying Jorick’s limp body.

This was easier. Why don’t we use the NR2 more often?

She stopped next to Ark’s car and waited as he stuffed Jorick in the backseat, coming back out again with the chloroform rag.

“We should render her immobile,” Kioko suggested. “It will make the trip easier.”

Ark prepped the rag as he spoke. “You may be right. He’s at least found someone as difficult as he is.”

He stepped forward and clamped the rag over the struggling woman’s face. She choked and fought, but Kioko held her fast.

When it seemed to be stretching out too long, Kioko asked, “How long does this take?”

“Usually not this long. She’s obviously had plenty of vampire blood.”

“That seems logical, since they’re obviously lovers.”

“Odd, isn’t it?” Ark asked as the woman finally fell still. He held the rag a moment longer, to be sure, then hefted her dead weight from Kioko’s shoulder and stuffed her in the backseat with her vampire master. “I’ll call The Guild and see where we should go from here. I’m loath to try to drive two days back with both of them.”

Kioko couldn’t agree more. Unless they planned a steady diet of PREP pills, they wouldn’t be able to use the NR2 to keep him subdued, and when he woke up…she didn’t want to be in a vehicle with him when it happened.

Ark’s conversation lasted only a moment. When it was over, he stashed his phone and turned to her.  “There’s an airport not far from here. The Guild will rent us a plane to take him back to Iowa. After the prisoners are delivered, we’ll fly back here to pick up the car, then go on to Manchester.”

It seemed it would be smarter to just fly to Manchester and let guards come fetch the car, but she imagined he wouldn’t like that. It was his car, and leaving it in someone else’s care…No. He’d never agree to that.

Though if it was me, I doubt he’d give me a choice.

***

With an extended trip looming, Ark administered the hypodermic to the sleeping human.

“What is it?” Kioko asked as she watched him push the liquid into her arm.

“I have no idea. It usually knocks them out for several hours. Normally I’d say she’d be back to the citadel before she wakes, but as resistant as she is, she may wake sooner. Hopefully not on the flight. The last thing we need is a hysterical human.”

The airfield wasn’t very far. They met the pilot on the tarmac, a wiry man who didn’t seem interested in asking questions, though there were plenty he could have asked. Like, “Why do you have two unconscious people?”

Kioko could only assume The Guild was paying him enough money to quench his curiosity.

The plane itself was small and cramped. It rattled when they lifted off, and made horrible creaking noises once they were airborne. Though not normally afraid of flying, Kioko spent the trip tense, waiting for the plane to rattle itself apart midair.

Hopefully that human does stay asleep. If she wakes up in this…

Luckily when they touched down, the airplane was in one piece, and the human still unconscious. Kioko slipped out the hatch quickly, grateful for the tarmac under her feet. A chill winter wind blew, though it’s bite didn’t bother them. Mist bloated the airports lights into glowing blobs, and gave the place an air of loneliness peculiar to the wintertime.

“Kioko!”

Her attention snapped back to the plane, where Ark hung half out, holding the human. “Are you planning to take her, or would you rather carry Jorick.”

She silently cursed her inattentiveness as she scrambled to take the woman from him. “I’m sorry, sir.”

Ark rolled his eyes and disappeared back inside, reappearing with Jorick. “I called, but they said someone is already on the way.”

They’d taken a few steps away from the plane when Kioko felt the woman stir. Or did she? A second movement confirmed it.

“She’s waking up.”

Ark fumbled for the chloroform in his pocket, but a nearby car motor gave him pause. They both waited as an SUV came into view; one of the Guild’s fleet of “work” vehicles.

It stopped nearby, and Jamie and Greneth climbed out.

“You got him?” Jamie asked.

“That was the assignment,” Ark replied.

“But no one thought you’d actually pull it off.” Greneth’s mouth twisted into his usual smug smirk, an expression Kioko had wanted to wipe off his face many times over the years. But, she was always just a lowly guard while he was her superior. Now…

“If they wanted failure, they’d have sent you,” she quipped.

Greneth’s amusement melted into a scowl. “I could have gotten him just as easily as you did, especially if I had the NR2! How hard is that? You pull the pin and wait. A monkey could do it.”

“Then they should have sent you,” Ark said. “Come on. We have to take these two back to the Guild and then Kioko and I still have to fly back to Maine.”

Jamie surveyed the plane. “Good luck.”

They loaded Jorick and Ark into the back of the SUV, while Kioko took the middle with her prisoner. The human was awake, though like a drunkard, she didn’t resist. It wasn’t until they were moving that she seemed to really understand what was going on.

Jamie turned around in the front seat, and after shooting Kioko a look that said, “I’ll handle it,” he met the mortal’s eyes. A moment later, the woman’s body relaxed back into the seat and her eyes slipped half closed, on the edge of sleep.

“It would be easier if you just knocked her out,” Greneth suggested. “Or killed her.”

“We have strict orders to keep her alive,” Ark replied. “And unharmed.”

Greneth’s eyes were visible in the rearview for a moment, looking back at them. “I wonder what Malick has planned for them.”

“A trial,” Jamie said.

Kioko looked at the still and silent woman, checking to see that her chest was still rising and falling with her breaths. “Would it not be easier for Malick to simply read their minds and-”

“Of course it would,” Jamie said before she could finish. “But where’s the spectacle in that? Truthfully, Ark or I could read the human easily enough, and have all the answers we need.”

Not being a mind reader, she hadn’t thought of that.

“I already have,” Ark said hesitantly, his attention focused on the back of Greneth’s head, as if unsure whether to speak in front of him. “We both know they’re not the murderers, but her thoughts confirmed it.”

“And Dismas and Zuri?”

“Zuri is alive, or was. He’s being held prisoner. She saw him there. As for Dismas…she doesn’t know what happened. I haven’t had a chance to try Jorick’s mind yet.”

“You won’t get far,” Jamie said. “He’ll block you from seeing anything he doesn’t want you to.”

“Probably,” Ark agreed.

They fell silent, leaving Kioko to watch the countryside slip past. What kind of spectacle did Malick want to create? And why?

The vice that whispered through her mins sounded like her own thoughts, but she knew it wasn’t. Those answers are above your paygrade.

She glanced sharply to Jamie, but he pretended not to notice.  She wanted to be angry, but he was right. She’d been an Executioner for two weeks. Better to keep her head down and leave such things to those who’d been there forever.

***

AT the citadel’s complex, Jamie parked in front of the small building marked office. Kioko climbed out and hefted the human over her shoulder. Jamie’s influence would fade soon, and then she was likely to be argumentative.

Greneth’s right. Killing her would have been easier.

Ark came around the vehicle, carrying Jorick. “Jamie said to take them to the detention center. They’re to be seen to tomorrow.”

Great. The detention center. Her favorite place.

The SUV pulled away as Kioko carried her burden into the office. Behind the counter sat a wrinkled farmer wearing a seed company hat. He nodded, and pressed the button to let them into the back room where, past shelves of seeds and binders, a space-age silver door led down to the citadel.

Kioko and Ark headed through it and down the stairs. Through the reception room, and into the corridor. As they waited for the elevator, Kioko tensed, ready for the woman to fight, to try to flee. Instead she hung compliantly over her shoulder, her breathing tight with terror.

Maybe she’s too scared to resist?

They took the elevator down, past the lowest level, to the subbasement; the home of the High Council, the secret laboratory, and the detention center.

I hope Paul isn’t working there anymore.

As if fate was determined to give her the most miserable week it could, Paul was not only still there, but one of two guards that greeted them. He gave her a cold once over and sneered, “We have a detention cell ready for them, if you’d follow me?”

As if she needed to follow him! She knew where the cells were!

Instead of saying that, she replied coldly, “It’s nice to see you doing your job for a change.”

Paul and his partner gave her dirty looks, but led them down the shiny black cell block. Silver padlocked doors set at intervals, some with prisoners behind them. Thanks to her stint as a detention guard, she knew what condition they were in; starved, withered, hungry, desperate. And the longer they’d been there, the worse they were.  Kioko was glad at moments like this that she wasn’t a mind read after all.

Paul motioned to an open door. Ark dropped Jorick off first, and Kioko followed with the human. She stepped back quickly, barley getting out of the way before Paul slammed the door.

“Wouldn’t want her to escape,” he said, though Kioko knew better.

She gave the guard a withering look and marched past him, back to the central detention room and on to the corridor. She was already in the elevator when Ark joined her, looking curious. “What was that?”

“What was what?” She almost added sir, but didn’t bother.

“The guards. True, they’re usually hostile to Executioners, jealous I suppose, but that was more than that.”

“I was assigned to the detention center at one time.”

When she didn’t finish, Ark pressed. “And?”

“And I wasn’t a good fit.” She felt Ark’s eyes on her, and knew that in a moment he’d probe her mind, push through her memories, seeking what had happened to cause such a problem.

“Paul was… romantically interested in me. I was not interested in him. When he found out, he made the workplace intolerable.”

“Not your type?” Ark asked, his tone disinterested.

“No,” she murmured uncomfortably.

“If you’re picky you’d do well to avoid Verchiel as well. He likes to-” Ark broke off and looked at her, interest in his eyes. “Ah, I see. Never mind.”

Kioko closed her eyes, trying to fight her own humiliation. She told herself for the millionth time that it was nothing to be ashamed of, that it was okay.

Ark cleared his throat loudly. “There’s nothing wrong with…It’s more acceptable among vampires than humans most of the time. Though I believe it’s in vogue again among them.”

In vogue. Like it was a fashion statement. But it wasn’t. It had nothing to do with what was accepted, or what was popular it was just…

“It’s just who you’re attracted to,” Ark finished the thought for her. “It doesn’t matter. It has nothing to do with your job. The only one petty enough to want revenge for rejection would be Greneth, and he’s infatuated with Griselda and Senya, who may or may not be having an affair of their own. If you’re worried, I can promise not to tell anyone, though most can pluck it from your thoughts as easily as I did, if they cared to bother.”

Kioko didn’t answer. What was there to say?

The elevator doors opened. She stepped forward, but Ark caught her arm and pulled her back.

He cleared his throat uncomfortably. “You’re doing well, by the way. I especially like the way you handled Greneth earlier.”

She tried to hide her surprise. “Thank you, sir.”

He let her go to stride out into the hallway. “And quit calling me sir. You’re one of us now. You need to remember that.”

Right. One of them.

****

Now for guesses:

topic: Christopher

photo: Colleen

  1. hand of God 2. reach for the stars 3. reach for the sky. 4. he’s got the whole world in his hand 5. full moon 6. moonglow 7. reaching for a dream 8. outer space 9. for the taking 10. looks like a Dr. Who episode.

Blogohilia 3.11 – Krill vs 2

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:

Ecrits Blogophilia Week 3.11 Topic – Our Lips Are Sealed
BONUSES:**
Hard (2 pts) Include a quote from Walt Whitman (Nothing can happen more beautiful than death)
Easy (1 pt) Incorporate a Dragon (Come not between the dragon and his wrath)

.

I started Krill a couple week’s ago, but decided to move things around a little, so here is the full story in one blog. Yeah, it makes it kinda long, so I’ll be surprised if anyone reads it all, but it is what it is.

***

Krill waited as the last of the clock’s chimes died away, then pushed away from the wall. His shift as a guard was over for the evening, just in time to grab a quick bath and get to bed.

He nodded to his replacement, one of a skeleton crew who would defend the important places of the Citadel during the daylight hours. He felt sorry for them. A vampire’s instincts were to be hidden – and sleeping – once the sun took the sky. To stay awake and active during the day, even safe underground – took a lot of willpower, not to mention extra blood.

I do not envy the bill for their meals.

He made his way through the Citadel, to his own floor. Half finished, this would one day be the second story from the bottom, but for now it was the bottom most and housed living quarters for the guards, the Executioners, and even the high council members. Krill could feel their presence, the heaviness of their years and power, and happily turned the other direction. He wound down corridors, some not yet wallpapered, to his own door.  Inside was a single room with a box, a desk, and a wardrobe.  He bypassed those to grab his pajamas from the chair, then hurried back to the corridor to the shared bathroom. The indoor plumbing was relatively new. Collection tanks sat above ground, disguised as part of the grain elevators’ many outbuildings. Water ran down the pipes, pulled by gravity. It was a fascinating system, but it meant there was only so much water to be had.

The shared bathroom was six doors down and had a sink, tub, and stool inside. He quickly locked the door and turned the water on, watching as it flowed out. Though the tub was large, there was a painted line only a few inches from the bottom that marked the maximum water level they were allowed. Though there was no one to enforce it, there was always the threat that guards might be posted if the rules were disobeyed and, being surrounded by mind readers, someone would know if you did.

He slipped off his wool uniform, carefully folding it, before he climbed in. The water was chill, though thanks to his vampire body not horrifically so. For a moment he was taken back to his human years, and the cold bath he often had to take. Shivering in the early morning, in and out as quickly as he could do it. Hot water would have been great, but how did one heat a flowing creek?

A freckled face flashed before his eyes. He pushed it away just as quickly, before his last view of her could surface.

So much blood.

He turned his mind to the practical. He soaped up, scrubbed, and then reluctantly drained the few inches of water. His well-worn pajamas were like a comfortable hug, and he left the shared bathroom feeling better.

In the corridor, he passed Hugh. His fellow guard nodded, and snickered. “You and your pajamas.”

“Why not? It’s more comfortable than sleeping fully clothed.”

Hugh stopped to shake his head. “But if you sleep in your uniform you’re ready for action. You can just jump up and go.”

“Sure, but I’m second shift, so I don’t need to jump and go. I have half a night to get dressed before I have to report.”

Hugh chuckled as usual and they split up. That was when he noticed his bedroom door was ajar.

“Were you in there?” he called to his retreating friend.

“In where?” Hugh stopped again to look back on him.

Krill motioned to his room and Hugh chuckled again. “Hardly. You must have left it open yourself.”

With a wave, Hugh turned the corner and disappeared for his own room. Krill pushed aside the open the door and surveyed the room suspiciously. Everything looked to be in order. No trespassers were visible. Unless… he lunged at his sleeping box, but there was no one inside. Only a folded piece of paper.

He opened it to find beautiful, slanting writing that said only:

Woe, destruction, ruin, and decay; the worst is death, and death will have his day. Be wary.

Krill blinked at the missive. He recognized the first line. Wasn’t it from a Shakespeare play? The one about the Ides of March and the Roman? No. Not that one, but it was from one of the plays. He was sure of that much. What he wasn’t sure of, was why someone had written it to him. Was it a threat? From who? And most importantly, why?

Hugh? Not unless he’d had someone else write it. His penmanship was a disaster.

Still, it was likely, so Krill tossed the note aside and climbed into his box. He’d corner the other vampire tomorrow and find out what he was up to.

***

Krill had breakfast the following morning – a draught of blood from what was basically a restaurant – then went in search of Hugh. He found him guarding the entrance to the dungeon, looking as excited to be there as the prisoners.

“Good evening,” Krill surveyed him, looking for a crack his veneer; something to give him away.

“If you can call it good. You won’t believe this, but Clethius resigned! They’ve given me his post ‘for the foreseeable future’. Can you imagine? Why would he quit?”

“Perhaps he plans to leave? Go back to his coven, or make a new one. Who knows.”

Hugh continued to grumble and Krill surrendered. Obviously he wasn’t going to incriminate himself.

“What I’d like to know more than Clethius’ plans for the future, is why you left this.” He produced the note with a flourish and waved it under Hugh’s nose.

The vampire flinched back and grabbed at the waving paper. “What is it? I didn’t leave anything.”

“Of course you’d cry your innocence.” Krill smirked and snapped it open. “Shakespeare? Really? Who did you get to write it for you?”

Hugh snatched it away, He stumbled over the words, his lips moving as he sounded them out. When he’d finished, he frowned and peered closer at the writing. “Where did you get this?”

“You left it in my room, in my box.”

“I’m sorry, but I know nothing of it.” Hugh handed it back. “It sounds like a threat.”

“Of course it does, because you thought it would be humorous.”

Hugh made a show of crossing his heart. “I swear, give you my word, whatever you want me to do, that I had nothing to do with this. I’ve never seen it before, and I have no idea who wrote it.”

Krill’s joviality stretched until it was nearly broken. “Of course you’d say that.”

“It’s the truth.”

Though not a mind reader, Krill could see the honesty in his eyes, and what little bit of amusement he had snapped, leaving him shaken. “That means that this…this…is real.”

“Aye, would seem so.”

“But…but who?”

Hugh shrugged. “I don’t know. If I were you I’d go to the commons and ask around there. Maybe someone saw something.”

It was better than any idea he had, so he left his friend to his duty. The commons area was a large empty area ringed in shops, like a city square. Vampires lounged on benches, exchanging the latest news and gossip.

Krill looked over the area, seeking a friendly face. Instead he found the dark visage of Kateesha as she swept from one of the shops, a parcel pressed to her ample breasts. Though not a cupid, the hypnotic sway of her hips drew the eyes of many men as she made her way through the room. Not all of them looked at her with admiration. Many looked at her with terror.

Krill was one of those.

Kateesha was older than he was, by a hundred years or more. One of Malick’s fledglings, she’d long ago been handed the Executioner title and rendered untouchable. Twenty-five years ago she’d left The Guild, with a death sentence hanging over her head. After hiding out for two years, avoiding Executioners, she’d returned. Krill had been guarding the audience chamber that day, when she threw open the double doors and sauntered down the red carpet, towards the High Council’s thrones. Celandine, one of the council, stood, her pale face taut with fury. She raised a hand and opened her mouth, no doubt to order Kateesha’s arrest and murder. Before the words could find her lips, Malick also stood, his arms outstretched.

“So you return, my daughter! And what contrite words do you bring with you?”

Kateesha dropped at his feet, her head bowed. “I beg your forgiveness father. I disobeyed your orders with my overindulgence and have seen the error of my ways.” She turned long lashed eyes up to him. “The last two years have been lonely and dark, cast from your presence. The world has been inside out, and I wish to make it right, to return to you; to serve you as I used to.”

Celandine shook with rage, but Malick only chuckled. “You have been practicing that speech, haven’t you, my child? Yes, I can see that you have. As for your contrition, I sense that, too, though not for the reason you name. Perhaps if I told you that your brother Jorick is no longer one of us, your penance would dissolve?”

Kateesha didn’t flinch. “I have heard he’s gone into hiding after the death of his wife.”

“So he has,” Malick agreed. “Do you still wish to rejoin us?”

Celandine cut in, her hands balled into fists. “I cannot condone this! Kateesha was given a sentence of death for repeatedly disobeying orders! That she is alive is a tragedy and to allow her to return to her position would be a catastrophe!”

“And should we hand out death, even to the contrite? She has seen the error of her ways, dear Celandine.  If we are not willing to forgive, how can we expect to last the weary ages of immortality? Will not the burden of our bitterness overwhelm and destroy us? No, forgiveness is necessary for all, and even more so for us.  As the head of the council, I extend that forgiveness to this child who has lost her way. Perhaps without the distraction of her brother, she will better be able to contain herself this time.”

After that she was given a full pardon. Malick even took the position of head Executioner away from Ark and awarded it to her. Though Krill wasn’t in the upper circles, he could just imagine how Ark felt about that – and had continued to feel about it the last twenty-three years.

But it wasn’t his problem. He had more pressing matters – like who had left that threatening note in his room.

With Kateesha gone, he scanned the room again and found a pair of sisters he recognized. All blessed with dark chestnut hair and deep eyes, there were four of them total, though where the other two were was anyone’s guess.

He slipped through the crowd to stop next to their bench. He nodded and swept aside his cap. “Good evening ladies. How are you this evening?”

“Good, and you?” Abigale, the eldest and prettiest of the women, replied.

“I’m seeking information, actually.” He explained about the letter and the mysterious message.

When he’d finished, Elizabeth, a little younger and not quite as good looking, frowned. “You don’t think we did this?”

“No, no,” he said quickly. “But perhaps you heard something, or will hear something?” He gave them his best hopeful look.

“If we hear anything,” Abigale said dismissively, though I doubt we will.”

“Can we see the missive?” Elizabeth asked, despite her sister’s attitude.

Krill handed it over, not the he expected much. The young woman unfolded it. Her eyes went wide and her lips parted, but she quickly mashed them together and shoved it at her sister. Abigale’s reaction was similar, though she refolded the note and handed it back. “I wish you good luck. Come, Lizzie, we have things to do.”

They swept to their feet, and Krill moved to block their escape. “Did you recognize the hand? You did, didn’t you?”

Abigail tried to didge around him, but he shifted t plant himself firmly in her path. “You did, didn’t you?”

“Perhaps,” Elizabeth said.

Abigail sent her a withering look. “I’m sorry, but we have nothing more to say. It will do you no good to follow us. Our lips are sealed. Good day.”

He watched the ladies hurry away, clutching the paper in his fist. He’d never wished to be a mind reader more than at that moment.

“Problem?”

Krill looked over to see Migina studying him through narrowed eyes. A fellow guard, she wore her dark hair in a long braid, her hands on her hips.

“No. Well…Yes.” He joined her, holding the paper out. “Someone left me this.”

Migina took the paper warily, but her suspicion faded as she looked it over. “That sounds like a threat. What do they have to do with it?”

“Nothing. Or I didn’t think they did. I was just asking if they’d heard anything suspicious, or seen anything, but then they recognized the writing and…Oh, never mind.” He took the letter back and jammed it in his pocket. “Unless you know something.”

“About your note? No. As to other things…” she trailed off. “You’ve heard the rumors?”

“What rumors?”

Migina looked ready to reply, then shook her head. “They can’t mean anything. Not with Malick in charge. He’d see the truth in it and stop it.”

Maybe I should ask him to look into my letter, Krill thought with a smirk. At least he’d get to the bottom of it, assuming he didn’t scare me to death first.

***

Hugh listened to the story and rolled his eyes. “You should have used your cupid abilities on them.”

Krill leaned back against the wall and sighed. “If they were strangers, perhaps, but they’re not. It would complicate things later.”

“Why? The attraction wears off once they’re out of range.”

“Yes, but they’d remember it, and see the trick. How would they trust me afterwards, knowing I manipulated them?”

“Of course, better to be murdered in your box then upset some ladies.” Hugh rolled his eyes.

Krill couldn’t explain it, but…”I think, perhaps, they went to deal with it, to speak to the author of the letter and dissuade them from their dark plans.”

“Hopefully for you they can.” Hugh shook his head. “Do you want me to bunk with you for awhile? If I sleep on the floor they’ll have to trip over me first to get to you.”

“Or kill you first,” Krill said, his positivity slipping away for a moment. He pulled it back. “No, no, I have faith that they’re doing something about it.”

I just hope they succeed.

***

When Krill’s shift was over, he headed back to his room. The door was firmly closed, but not locked. He patted his pockets, checking for the key. He’d locked it, hadn’t he? He couldn’t remember; he’d been distracted with his plans to confront Hugh. Maybe he’d forgotten?

He pushed the door open and stuck his head inside. Like last night, everything was just where he’d left it. He eased inside, drawing his weapon, and crept towards the box. Carefully, he knocked the lid aside, but there was no one hiding inside. Only a folded piece of paper.

Another note.

He snatched the letter up and scanned the contents. In the same, slanting handwriting it said:

Come not between the dragon and his wrath, lest you be trampled. Be wary and stay clear.

His throat tightened as he reread the words. Trampled. Be wary. Stay clear. But stay clear of what? Who was the dragon? The only thing that made any sense was the consequences: he could figure out what getting trampled by a beast entailed.

So much for Abigail’s help.

***

Krill woke the next evening. He dressed, and shoved the wardrobe away from the door and back to its normal home against the wall. Whether because of the furniture, or something else, no invisible assassins had struck during the day.

At least not yet.

He hurried to the restaurant where he found Hugh, enjoying his day off.

“You were right,” he muttered as he shoved the newest note at him. “Abigail didn’t stop them.”

Hugh read it over, then handed it back. “Since you’ve admitted it, I won’t indulge in smugness. I will ask what you plan to do.”

“The sister knew the handwriting, I’m sure of that. Though Abigail and Elizabeth weren’t helpful, one of the other two might be. I thought we’d visit them.”

“We?” Hugh raised an eyebrow. “How did I become an accessory to your struggle?”

“You were conscripted. Come on.”

Though Hugh grumbled, he followed. Their first stop was the higher floors, where they visited the guest office. The vampiress behind the counter was reluctant to let them see the ledger of names and room assignments. Hugh nudged him and, reluctantly, Krill focused his cupid powers. Though it was an ability akin to a whisperer – being able to manipulate their perceptions by implanting thoughts or feelings – it was different. A whisperer could impart anything. One would be able to just say “You want us to look at the ledger,” and if her mind was weak enough, or the whisperer strong enough, she’d hand it right over. Cupids, however, could only make them think, or feel, one thing.

“You’re sure?” he asked, offering a smooth smile. He noticed as her cheeks tinted, as her eyes – suddenly brighter than they’d been – shied away. “It would only take a moment.”

The last words fell like a whisper, and he felt them reverberate inside her mind, shifting like silk to impart different meanings; darker, warmer meanings. She drew a tight breath and held it, as if fighting for control, so he sent another thought, one that involved hot lips against cool skin.

“I-I suppose there’s no…no harm. Here.” She shoved the book at them and stepped back, fanning herself, eyes everywhere but them.

Krill flipped pages, scanning until he found their names: Mistresses Abigail, Elizabeth, Hannah, and Molly. Guest lodgings #122.

He thanked the receptionist then hurried away before she could call him back, try to set up a meeting later in the evening. He’d made the mistake before, and it never worked. By the time they met up again, the attraction had faded, leaving the woman confused, angry, and cold. It wasn’t hard for most to figure out he’d somehow inspired those emptions to get what he wanted, that he’d used them.

It isn’t as if I use it to actually take advantage of them.

He and Hugh stopped before door 122. After exchanging uncertain looks, Krill knocked. He listened to the soft sound of movement inside, waiting as footsteps approached the door.

“Krill?” Hannah peered around the edge of the door without opening it all the way. “Can I help you?”

“I hope so.” He held the note out. “I spoke with Abigail and Elizabeth yesterday. I believe they recognized the handwriting.”

“I wouldn’t know if they did,” Hannah said evasively. “They’re not here just at the moment. I can tell them you inquired after them.”

Hugh jostled to the front. “Actually we were hoping you’d take a look at it and see if you recognize it.”

Hannah bit her slightly-too-large bottom lip. “I-I suppose.”

She opened the door wider, took the paper, and glanced at it. Krill saw her wince, and then she shoved the paper back. “Sorry. No.”

He didn’t need to be a dream stealer to know she was lying.

“I apologize for not being able to help you.”

She tried to slam the door, but Krill caught it and wedged himself partially inside. “Perhaps Molly could take a look?”

“Molly isn’t available,” Hannah pushed harder, her voice strained with her effort.

“She’s not here?” Krill asked, pushing back.

“No, she’s-”

Before Hannah could finish, Krill had shoved far enough past the door that he could see over her shoulder, where Molly stood. The youngest and least attractive of the four, Molly had the same dark hair and eyes, but her face was rounder, her ears a little bigger, her nose a little shorter, and her face scattered in freckles.

Like Katherine’s.

Krill didn’t have time to dwell on the past, not with a potential killer lurking. He waved the letter over Hannah’s head and called, “Hullo, Molly! How are you? I’d hoped you could help me.”

With a sigh, Hannah relented, backing away so he could come inside. He offered her a polite nod as he moved past, holding the note out and explaining it to the youngest sister.

Molly, cheeks pink and eyes down, didn’t move to take the paper, only murmured, “I’m sure I couldn’t say.”

“Perhaps if you took a look?” Hugh suggested from the doorway.

“Yes, I…I suppose I could.” She reached for the paper, fingertips brushing Krill’s. The tint of her cheeks deepened, and her gaze danced urgently to her shoes, as though she expected to see her feet engulfed in flame.

“It’s not a long note,” Krill said encouragingly. “It’s rather short and ambiguous.”

Molly cleared her throat as she opened the paper and glanced over it. “It’s Shakespeare. I mean, I think it is. Part of it is, at least.”

“The first one was as well.” Krill chewed his lip thoughtfully. “I suppose that means whoever left it must be a fan.”

“Yes…I…I would guess that.” She quickly folded the paper and handed it back. “Perhaps you should head their warning.”

Krill looked back to her, catching her gaze before she could turn away. “Did you recognize the penmanship?”

“No. No. I…I’m sorry.”

She turned bodily away, leaving Krill to retreat for the door. He stopped just shy of reaching it. “Abigail and Elizabeth said they knew who sent it, but they refused to say who.” Neither Hannah or Molly replied, so he added, “Perhaps I should try inquiring with them again?”

“I wouldn’t,” Hannah said quickly. “Besides, as you can plainly see, they are not at home.”

“When will they be back?”

The sisters exchanged quick looks and Molly murmured, “The meeting shouldn’t last more than an hour.”

“Meeting?” Hugh asked.

Hannah gripped the door harder. “I’m sorry, but it’s none of your business. You’ve asked Molly, now if you would please take your leave.”

Hugh opened his mouth,  probably to object, but Krill motioned him to silence. “Of course. I appreciate that you are busy ladies. Until next we meet.” He bobbed his head, and then dragged his friend deeper into the corridor.

“What are you doing?” Hugh demanded. “They obviously know-”

Krill shushed him, then crept back to the closed door. He could hear Hannah whisper-yelling inside, “-mention that? Do you want to alert everyone?”

“I’m sorry, but-”

“No buts! I will tell Abigail about this when she returns.”

Molly made a soft sound, but no more conversation came. Krill waited, hopefully, until a door farther down the hall opened. Reluctantly, he abandoned his post to nod at the newcomer, then headed down the corridor, Hugh on his heels.

“That was a waste of time,” Hugh said finally.

“Yes and no. It’s someone the sisters are acquainted with; someone Abigail wants to protect. Perhaps even the very person she and Elizabeth are meeting with this very moment.”

“We could search the citadel for them?”

Krill stuffed the note in his pocket. “It’s as good a plan as any.”

***

They roamed corridors, sniffing and reaching out with their senses for the sisters. After two hours with no success, they retreated to the restaurant to have a drink and examine their plan.

“We’ve probably missed them.” Krill took a defeated drink from his glass. “I imagine they’re barricaded in their room by now. We won’t get inside again.”

“True enough. Maybe we can solve it without them. I’ll be back.”

He disappeared towards the counter, leaving Krill to toy with his glass morosely. It was bad enough that Abigail wouldn’t tell him, but Molly…He’d always liked Molly the best of the four. Hugh had joked about his taste, but it had nothing to do with her appearance. Or maybe it did. Maybe it was because she reminded him of Katherine.

That would explain the lack or romantic feeling that went with it, how could he feel that way about someone that reminded him of his sister?

He propped his chin on his hand and let his mind wander back; back to that tiny house, to the flickering hurricane lamp, the blood splattered on the wall, the broken door. His memory spun in circles, taking it all in; noting the broken rifle on the floor, the shattered dishes, the trampled bible. His father lay slumped before the fireplace, throat torn, and eyes the glassy color of death. Outside in the yard was his mother. But where was-

“Kathy!” he bellowed as he spun in circles. “Kathy!”

The blood was still wet, and his parents still warm. He’d missed the attack by minutes, which meant they couldn’t have gone far.

“I’m coming, Kathy!”

And he’d gone. He’d followed a trail of bent vegetation and bloody footprints, until he came across the monsters. Two beasts disguised as men, clothes torn and dirty, hair and eyes wild. Katherine lay broken and bleeding in the grass. Her dress hung in tatters from her twelve year-old frame and her pale skin was rent in long bloody gouges that wept crimson in the moonlight.

He’d gone crazy then. The memories were a red-tinted blur with a backdrop of screams. When it was over the monsters were dead and he on his way to meet his maker. He’d crawled to his dead sister, cradling her still body against him as he’d vented his grief and guilt.

That was when Wapi and Sula came. Vampires who were hunting rogues, they’d been on the trail of the monsters. They helped him to clean up, to bury his sister, and Sula even tended his wound. Near morning, they’d had a whispered discussion; if they left him human he’d eventually be killed by Executioners because unowned humans were not allowed to know. But if they made him as they were…

And that was what Sula had done, passing on her abilities both as a cupid and a paralyzer. Some days, Krill wished Wapi had done the deed instead, then he’d be a whisperer and a dream stealer, like he was.

And then I’d know who was threatening me.

As the memories of the past drifted away, a voice at a nearby table caught his attention. “-all she said was, ‘Nothing can happen more beautiful than death,” as if that was some sort of reassurance.”

Krill perked up and tried to glance at the speakers without their notice. It was a fellow guard, Noris. Across from him was a ginger haired vampire who hadn’t been there very long, and whose name Krill couldn’t think of.

“I’m out,” the unnamed vampire said. “It’s too risky.”

“You can’t make great strides without risk,” Noris pointed out.

Before the other could reply, Hugh was back, looking unhappy. “I asked if Abigail had been seen meeting with anyone recently, this or the commons would be the only place she could meet a man properly, and she seems the type for propriety.”

“And?” Krill asked.

“And, no. She’s only been seen in the company of her sisters, but he’s willing to ask around.”

“Assuming they don’t kill me in the meantime.” Krill finished his glass and then paused, considering. “How do you know it’s a man?”

Hugh shrugged. “Only love could keep her lips so tightly closed.”

***

Krill finished his shift and put off returning to his room until he could feel the sun rising outside. Too tired to keep pushing himself, he abandoned the empty commons area and slinked slowly into his room. As before, everything seemed fine, until he opened his box. There, folded neatly on his pillow, was another note.

O war! thou son of Hell! For war is coming, when least expected. Both war and death. Do not fall prey, but stay clear of such things, of the cries and strange noises in the night. This is no threat, but a warning, a wish to spare you pain. Would that I could say more.

Krill stared at the slanted writing, the precisely dotted i’s and crossed t’s. No threat, but a warning. A warning about what?

With a shake of his head, he pulled on his pajamas. Despite the letter’s assurances, he propped the wardrobe before the door before climbing into his box and pulling the lid closed.

Better safe than sorry.

***

In Krill’s dreams he saw his sister, sitting in the grass, working on her cross-stitch, her brows furrowed in concentration. At the sound of the horse she looked up, smiling. “I’m almost done! When you return tonight, it will be finished.”

The sunlight faded and he saw the ruined house, the scattered objects, the cross-stich, still its hoop, half covered in a bloody footprint.

The tapping sound was soft, but grew in volume, until he jerked awake. It took him a second to realize that the sound wasn’t part of the dream, rather from the waking world. Someone knocking on the door.

He could feel the sun outside. His instincts said there was more than an hour until it would sink. Who in the world could be knocking at his door that early?

The knocking came again; faster, more insistent. Curiosity warred with prudence, but the former won, and he quickly hefted the wardrobe aside and unlocked the door. Holding it with his body, he eased it open a crack and peered out. “Yes?”

Molly’s familiar scent came to him a moment before she pressed her face to the opening. “Please, Krill. Let me in and be quick! There is no time.”

He moved back, his brain scrambling to make sense of it. Why would she…was she there to reveal who was leaving the notes, against her sister’s wishes? Was that why she needed to come at such an ungodly hour?

“Yes and no,” she said as she shut the door behind her. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to read your mind, but there’s little time. It will start in a moment and we’re leaving with them.”

Krill blinked. “Leaving with who?”

Molly bit her lip and whispered, “Kateesha. And the others. Abigail and Elizabeth…it doesn’t matter now. Know that I don’t want you caught up in this.” She surged forward and caught his hands in hers. “I tried to warn you, but my notes were too subtle. Yet how could I explain myself? If you were to understand you’d have to turn it in, turn us in. And could I blame you? You are honorable that way, Krill. Honorable and good, and that’s why I know you’d never join us, even if I begged.”

“Join what?” Krill struggled to understand what was going on. His mind was thick with lack of sleep and the sun outside. “Molly?”

“I’m sorry.” She squeezed his hands and then leaned close to press a kiss to his cheek. “Perhaps later, we will meet again.” She let go and darted for the door, stopping at the threshold to look back, her dark eyes pleading. “Until then, stay clear of the coming storm. Stay safe.”

And then she was gone.

Krill ran a hand through his hair and shook away shreds of confusion. She said she’d written the notes? No wonder the sisters had recognized the hand. But a warning about what? A coming storm? Did the weather really affect them this deep underground?”

The screaming clang of the alarm bell killed his thoughts. He stared at the door, as if it would tell him what was going on outside, but it remained silent.

The bell continued, joined by another and another. And then the door flew open and Hugh stuck his head inside to cry, “Grab your weapons! We’re under attack! Hurry!”

Attack.

Krill’s body acted on its own. He grabbed his sword and a set of daggers, strapping the belt hurriedly over his pajamas. He tugged his boots on, and dashed out the door, into a corridor of rushing guards, most out of uniform. Together, they swarmed for the stairs and up, climbing higher and higher, to finally spill out on the next to last floor.

Krill drew up, as he tried to make sense of the violence. Fighting had already started; weapons clanging, vampires snarling. He saw guards fighting back against the attackers, many still in pajamas as he was. But who were the invaders? Who would dare-

And then he saw Hugh, clashing against a vampire clad in gray. A fellow guard. His eyes spun away from them, on to the others, to see Noris, and others he recognized. Dismas, a guard he’d worked with before. And there, in the back, swinging long knives, her eyes gleaming with delight, was Kateesha.

There were no invaders, no foreign enemy. This wasn’t an attack, but a revolt.

With the horrifying realization, Krill jumped into the fray, knocking Noris aside. The vampire snarled and snapped, then bounded on down the corridor, seeking a new opponent.

“What in the hell is this?” Krill cried over the shriek of the alarm bells.

“Apparently the rumors were true,” Hugh shouted back. When Krill only looked clueless, he yelled, “You haven’t heard them? Nothing?”

“Obviously not!” They broke to fend off a surly vampire neither recognized. When their enemy lay dead, they fell back against the wall, wiping blood from their swords.

“There have been rumors for months that Kateesha was organizing this, that she wanted to overthrow the Guild. But it couldn’t be real. How could such a plot take place surrounded by so many mind readers? Malick is the greatest of them all, that he couldn’t know about it would be impossible. Because of that, I dismissed the whispers, just like everyone else did.”

A pair of snarling vampires broke the conversation up. Krill fought his enemy towards the stairs, attention focused on the fight. A slash, a dodge, a blow, and finally his opponent lay dead.

He turned back towards Hugh, just in time to see Kateesha sail past, her knives flashing. He froze as the blade caught Hugh across the throat with enough force to send him spinning. Time slowed as he landed on the floor, as his attacker pounced, ramming a heavy bladed weapon through his back, right where his heart was.

The cry sounded wrong, but it was too loud to come from anyone but himself. Time slapped into itself, sped up, and suddenly Kateesha was breezing past, knocking the nearest vampire out of her way with a delighted laugh as she started up the stairs.

Krill started after her, then tore away and ran for his fallen friend. He knelt among the carnage, rolling Hugh over onto his back. He didn’t need to see the hole, or the gleaming gore to know it was too late. Hugh was dead.

With a roar, Krill jerked to his feet, grabbing Hugh’s weapon with his free hand, and charged back in.

***

The alarm bells that had screamed for so long clanged to a stop, dropping the citadel into silence. Krill wiped the blood from his eyes and surveyed the damage. Dead and injured were scattered up and down the corridor.

A voice came behind him. “You’re still alive.”

Krill turned to see Migina wipe a gory blade on her pants before she jammed it into its sheath. Her dark hair was pulled back in a long braid, but a few wisps escaped, flecked in the blood of her enemies. Or maybe her allies.

Krill nodded, too weary to find words. What was there to say after such a fight as this; after a revolt.

Revolt.

The word felt wrong; impossible. That his fellows could do such a thing…

“Did you see her?” Migina asked.

The emphasis she put on the word could only mean Kateesha.

“Yes.” His voice turned brittle, cold. “Last I saw she was going upstairs, where the Executioners are stationed. I imagine one of them killed her.” If only it had been him, if only he’d slit her throat, the way she’d slit Hugh’s.

“They didn’t. She, and many of her followers, escaped.” Migina glared at nothing, as if Kateesha could feel her fury through the miles.

Her words sapped what little energy he had left. “How did they get away?” Had she killed everyone?

“I don’t know. I didn’t see it, only heard that was why the fight ended.” She motioned to a group of guards gathering further down the hall, at the foot of the stairs. “Those who were on the upper level may know more.”

Krill nodded and made his way to the group. Their conversation was agitated, angry, excited. “…Malick let them go,” one of the guards said. “I swear! I saw it.”

“But why would he?” Another asked. They fell to talking over one another, but Krill knew the answer: because it was Kateesha, and Kateesha was Malick’s favorite. Apparently so much so that butchering her own kind wasn’t enough for her to fall from favor.

He didn’t stay for the conversation, instead headed upstairs in search of an Executioner. The upper corridor was similar to the one below; scattered bodies, damaged furniture. In the entryway the chandelier had been knocked to the floor and lay in field of shattered crystals and broken candles.

One of the Executioners, a blond named Beldren, stood next to the mess, poking it with the toe of his boot.

“Excuse me, sir.” Krill saluted as Beldren looked up. “What are our orders?”

“Hell if I know.” The Executioner sent a crystal bouncing across the floor, where it landed in a puddle of congealing blood. He sighed then snapped straight. “Do you have anything to report?”

“Report?” Krill hesitated uncertainly. “I don’t…”

“During the battle,” Beldren snapped. “Did you see or hear anything unusual?”

Krill’s mouth went dry. Did he mean Molly and her warning? Was Beldren a dream stealer? Could he see?

Beldren stared at him, and he forced words out. “Excuse me, sir, but the incident itself was unusual. Kateesha and her followers attacked-”

“I’m well aware of that. What I meant was…never mind. I doubt Malick will want to pursue them, anyway. You can go.”

“Yes, sir.” Krill saluted and hurried away before Beldren could change his mind. This was surely the “coming storm” Molly had mentioned, that she’s told him to avoid. That she and her sisters were with Kateesha…That they had willingly participated in this…

But why?

On the lower floor, Krill looked for Migina, but didn’t see her. Let her find out her orders on her own. He needed a drink, to change and bathe, and try to make sense of the carnage he’d witnessed.

The restaurant was just opening for the evening. The vampire at the counter took one look at him and balked. “What’s going on? I heard the alarms.”

Krill didn’t feel like explaining it, instead he ordered an early lunch, drank it in two gulps, then headed for his room. Inside it was just as he’d left it, the wardrobe shoved to one side, last night’s note still on the desk.  He picked it up and ran over the words again, no longer so mysterious.

O war! thou son of Hell! For war is coming, when least expected. Both war and death. Do not fall prey, but stay clear of such things, of the cries and strange noises in the night. This is no threat, but a warning, a wish to spare you pain. Would that I could say more.

Now that he knew, that it had happened, he understood the warning. But without that information, without some hint, or some sign…Hugh had mentioned rumors, and if he thought back on it, Migina had said something the other day. Rumors that were impossible with mind readers all over the place. Unless the mind readers knew about the impending revolt; unless Malick had known and let it continue.

Perhaps he hadn’t thought she’d really go through with it.

Or perhaps he knew she would. That idea was the worst. That he would sacrifice them willingly…it was a chilling thought.

He dropped Molly’s note back to the desk and reached for his uniform. He had a few hours until he was supposed to be on duty, but given the circumstances…No. They’d want everyone as quickly as possible. They’d need them to help collect the dead, haul bodies, build a funeral pyre.

A funeral pyre for Hugh.

Krill glanced down at his pajamas, torn and splattered in crimson. The laundry department would never get them clean again. They had a no guarantee policy on blood, which meant you were lucky if they’d dip them in water before refolding and sending them back with a bill.

“…if you sleep in your uniform you’re ready for action. You can just jump up and go.”

Krill squeezed back the tears. “Guess you were on to something, Hugh. You were right. Ready for action. Jump and go.”

And if I ever see Kateesha, or her traitors, again, I guarantee I’ll be ready for action.

***

And now for guesses

Topic: Stormy

picture: Lisa

  1. melting 2. running out of time 3. the persistence of memory 4. or is it the persistence of time? 5. lost time 6. Soft watch 7. Time and relativity 8. droopy 9. time slipping away 10. dripping

Yeah, I’m not getting any extra points this week.

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