I think I’m too late for Blogophilia, but we’re gonna try it anyway. This week is writer’s choice, so:
Good Times, and Bad Times
Easy: Use a Russian word: Kiska
Hard: Use Lyrics from American Pie by Don McLean (a long, long time ago)
It’s Senya’s turn for a story. This takes place during Heart of the Raven
Senya moved silently through the cold Russian night. Long ago, the temperatures would have left her shivering under layers of clothing, but not now. Immortal, such things didn’t bother her.
Like the dark.
The night that had once been her enemy was her friend, a haven from the damaging sunlight. She moved through shadows, hidden from the eyes of her prey, just as her enemies had once been hidden from her.
That was a long, long time ago.
The past was something she’d let go, moved on from, and yet here, in this place, with this particular hunt, she could feel it pressing close, like a photo without glass in the frame. She had only to lift her hand, reach out, and there it would be, there she would be, hungry dirty, still grieving for her dead brother, even as she took his place in the fight.
A familiar scent caught her and she stopped in her tracks. With that smell came a thousand memories, the smell of blood, fear, and later more blood, more fear, though of a different kind. Through it all, he’d been there, with his deep belly laugh and optimistic outlook, always promising that things would get better.
Did they, Boris?
She hadn’t seen his face – or smelled his scent – since 1660. How long ago was that? More than three hundred years, at least. Almost four. In that time she’d written him off as dead and forgotten him and yet here he was, crashing back, bringing those memories with him.
Memories she didn’t have time for.
“I assumed you were dead by now,” she told the darkness. “How have you managed to stay hidden alone for so long?”
The night gave no answer, so she picked her way slowly towards the small house. The single light in the window stayed steady, no shadows moved, and no sound came from inside. Did he know she was there? Did he smell her? Would he recognize her if he did?
She stopped at the door and wavered. Should she knock as a friend, or kick it in as an enemy? Which was she? Which was he?
Time to find out.
She rapped on the door with her knuckles, three sharp little sounds. She heard a soft shuffle inside and tensed, waiting for the fight that often answered her knocks. The door click, then opened slowly, to reveal a mustached vampire. The round face matched his belly, and dark thick hair teased his heavy brows. His eyes, a deep brown, looked her over, snapping with a thousand thoughts.
When he didn’t speak, she snapped, “Hello, Boris.”
“So you come.” He stepped back , holding the door wide, and motioned her inside.
Senya stepped over the threshold cautiously, eyes taking in everything, looking for traps, accomplices, danger. What she found was a snake of cables running to a cobbled together pile of computer parts. A camera and tripod pointed to a blue screen, while a collection of buckets held various amounts of rain water, runoff from the water spotted ceiling. The only doorway was covered by a thin blanket, and though she couldn’t see past it, neither could she smell anyone else.
“You’re alone?” she demanded, her hand near her dagger, ready to grab it, to stab, to cut. Where is she?
“Do you see anyone, Fetiniia?”
The old name was like a slap, a memory she’d forgotten. “It’s Senya.”
“Yes, yes, I remember, but do you? Do you remember why you took his name?”
Senya fell back a step, fingers itching for the handle of her weapon. “I remember well enough.”
Boris chuckled. “Of course you do.” He turned and moved for the heap of computers, his back to her. If she planned to take the shot, this was it. This was the best chance. If it came to hand to hand combat…
“I’m glad to see your friends delivered the message,” he added, switching to their native Russian. “Would you care to sit?”
Though he tugged the chair free, she ignored it to demand, “Friends? What friends?” He didn’t mean…?
“Ah, but I have forgotten their names.” He tapped the side of his nose and winked. “I’m paid to forget such things, yes? You know them, though. They travel with a human.”
So he did. “Jorick and his entourage are not my friends.” Far from it. If anything they were her enemies. No, not my enemies, but Malick’s. Yet, now that they’d left The Guild, weren’t Malick’s enemies her enemies now?
How many days had it been since the battle? Malick had known an attack was coming to The Guild, but when Eileifr, the demon eye on the high council, mentioned seeing it, Malick always swished it away. “You see only his intentions,” Malick said. “They will not come to fruition.”
And they shouldn’t have. There was no way that Jorick’s fledgling and his ragtag band of vampires should have been able to breech the security and cause any damage. The moment they hit the parking lot above the underground citadel, the cameras should have seen them, and a small group of the highly trained Executioners should have been dispatched to take them out.
Except the cameras weren’t working that night. On Malick’s orders, she and Griselda had seen to that, leaving the vampire’s fortress blind. Then, when the attack came, Malick had ordered the Executioners below, to him, rather than sending the into the fight. Those that disobeyed and marched to the fray anyway were scattered and disorganized, as were the lesser guards Malick had ordered to the front lines.
Is it any wonder the casualties were so high?
But that was his plan, wasn’t it? Not that Senya could see into his heart, or really knew his motivation. Still, if Malick’s ramblings meant anything, then he’d let it unfold as a way to wipe out the weak vampires who populated the citadel. That was why his initial orders seemed so bizarre.
She’d stood in his chambers with the others, surrounded by plants, listening for the sounds of battle that would soon begin. He’d asked first for their loyalty, told any who were unsure to leave now, and then ordered them to pack everything.
Griselda had blinked blue eyes. “Master?”
Malick spun on her, so that his long silver hair flew round his face. “You question me, child?”
“No, master. Of course not.” Though Senya could guess her fear, Griselda held her shoulders straight, gaze unwavering.
“Good.” Malick smiled sweetly. “Then do as I say. Everything must go. And quickly. A truck waits outside, and from there we will take a plane.”
“We’re leaving?” Greneth asked. “But, master, I thought the point of this was to take The Guild back! To get rid of the high council and-”
Malick laughed, a sound like sunshine and ocean waves. “Child, if I wished to destroy the high council I could do so myself, at any moment. They are children to me.” His tone turned stern. “Now do as you are ordered!”
The collection of guards and Executioners hurried to their strange task, packing and hauling everything upstairs via and an old forgotten entrance. Seya vaguely recalled that they’d sealed it off sixty years ago, when some of the above ground buildings moved, but she’d forgotten it existed, and certainly hadn’t expected to see it open at the top.
But of course, he’d have it ready to go.
Despite their secret exit, Malick had chosen to leave in style. When his chambers were emptied, and the invaders had made as much headway as he felt they could, he and his three faithful Executioners sealed his chamber doors, then marched into the atrium. They’d faced Eileifr, then the guards above detonated the pre-timed explosives, turning the fake skylight into a real opening. While the glass fell, Griselda had used the grappling gun – as Malick called the bizarre weapon – to fire a bolt into the ceiling. Hanging together, the fur of them had left, winched up through the ceiling by a device they’d never tested before. As the floor fell away, Senya had wondered what would happen if they fell.
“Then we will make a different exit,” was Malick’s silent reply.
But they hadn’t fallen. They’d climbed out at the top, hopped in the waiting SUV and sped for the airfield. A crew of faithful had taken the truck to another airport, where a cargo lane waited, but here was a passenger plane, carefully cleaned of all tracking devices, and ready to go.
And go it did.
That was how they got to Namibia, where Malick had been secretly setting up a new base of operations. He’d hired local villagers to build the complex, and furnish it. Once the cargo arrived with the last of his belongings from the citadel, he’d sent a death squad to handle the villagers. A fire later, and the world believed terrorists had destroyed it, or so Senya had seen in a newspaper later.
That was one blood bath I missed.
She’d been busy, handling other things, but Greneth had been happy to tell her about it. His eyes had glowed with the memories of the mortal’s screams.
Though Senya had a reputation for reveling in such things, too, she didn’t. To be fair, she didn’t hate them, either, she just didn’t care. An assignment was an assignment. One did their job and then moved to the next, no matter what that job might be. If it was kidnapping fellow vampires to hand over to humans, killing entire villages, or just luring the hand of death somewhere, it didn’t matter. Each job was as important as the one before, with orders that needed to be followed.
If that’s true, then why in the hell am I here?
She glanced to Boris, wearing his familiar friendly expression. It was that same kindness that had soothed her when her brother was killed so long ago, and when their master made them into what they were, when he started to demand that they follow his orders, complete his assignments…
“You are lost in thought, hmm? Memories, perhaps?”
Senya looked away. “You’re not a mind reader, don’t pretend to be.”
“No, no, but I recognize the look on your face. It is the same I wore when I last saw Basille. Was it…forty years ago, perhaps? Maybe more.”
Basille. Their master, the vampire who had given his blood and made them, and the others, what they were. His own private army. And yet with his diminutive figure, and cheerful expression, he didn’t seem the type to need such a force.
How wrong that assessment was.
“Where did you see him?” Senya asked.
“Here, in the old country. He was passing through. He asked after you, though I had no news to give him. I have often wondered how you are doing, whether you were still alive, or shared the same fate as our brothers.”
Senya bit back a million nasty retorts. If he cared so much, she was easy to find. As an Executioner, many of the vampires in North America knew her name, or at least her description. “I’m not hard to find.”
“No, perhaps not for one who travels, but me? Eh, I stay where I am. I move from den to den, yes, but Russia is my home, no matter what name they want to call it. I fought too hard for it once, remember?”
“That was a long time ago, when we were still…” she couldn’t say the word, as if having been human somehow made them lesser. “It doesn’t matter.”
“No, I suppose nothing matters.” Boris offered the chair again, then shrugged and took it himself. “Though it is good to see your face after so long, I have to ask, why did you come? To reconcile, I thought at first, but maybe not? Maybe you are here to finish our old argument?”
Senya stiffened. The old argument. A disagreement that had separated them all those years ago. They’d had thirty years of freedom from Bassile and, in that time, the few who’d remained of their coven had peeled away, leaving just the two of them. Their partnership was not romantic, nor was it perfect, but they got along much like a father and daughter.
Until she came.
Eva was plump, but pretty. With a tiny mouth and curling hair, her expression was usually pleasant. At first. The closer she and Boris got, the harder that sweet face turned. Not in front of Boris, of course, but only to Senya. Her jealousy was a bitter, almost palpable thing that led her to first exaggerate, and finally lie about things Senya had done or said.
“I understand it is hard to accept new company,” Boris said to her one night. “But Eva is nice. You must learn, kiska.”
Senya had laughed. “I must learn? Or what? You’ll play the father and punish me? Eva’s words are lies.”
And with his gentle sadness, Senya realized he would forever believe Eva over her. Se and Boris were not lovers, were not related even except for the blood from their master. There was no reason for her to stay.
And yet she had stayed another month, or was it two? The days peeled away like apple skin, revealing a rotten fruit beneath. Boris’ gentle reprimands turned stern, then angry, and finally furious.
“You are like spoiled child, kiska, who cannot share! Before you were the only woman, but now there are two and you cannot abide it.”
“My hatred of the harpy has nothing to do with her sex! I would gladly welcome twenty women, so long as they were not the lying, manipulative-”
“Enough! No more name calling. No more accusations! If you are so unhappy, leave!”
And she did. Not immediately. First they shouted cruel words that devolved into a violent brawl. Eva stood at the fringes, hands clasped saying, “Oh Boris, don’t fight over me!” But Senya knew the words for what they were. She saw the gleaming blood lust in Eva’s eyes.
When Senya finally stormed out, covered in blood, she swore that the next time they met she would kill them both. And she’d meant to. But, as the years flew past, the old wounds felt different, until now she looked back not with hatred for Boris, but pity; pity that he could so easily be manipulated.
“Where is she?” Senya finally asked.
“You mean, Eva, yes? Ah, but she is gone. Long, long gone. We were happy, for a time, but such things end and then there is only dust and memories. Neither are strong enough to hold a person, are they?”
“And then what?” Senya demanded. “When she left what did you do?”
“Ah, you wish to catch up? To hear my whole history? But we do not have time for that, not when the sun will come soon. I will say that until now I have had good times, and bad times, and some times I cared for neither one way or the other. I made two fledglings, though both have gone on to their own lives now. For the last fifty years I have been alone, working, learning, finding way in between the cracks to seek the information, because that is where the power and the profit are, kiska. In knowledge, and so much of it is now available with the click of a key.”
Senya wasn’t sure what he meant, but it wasn’t important. He was right about the morning. She could feel it approaching. She wasn’t sure she had time to make it somewhere else.
Boris stood and yawned. “If you wish to kill me, you should do it now. Otherwise it is time to seek my bed, and perhaps to find one for you, yes?”
The righteous anger was still there in a tiny ball, the desire to beat him to a bloody pulp and make him apologize, make him admit that she was right, that Eva was the monster that-
That none of it matters.
“You are right. It is late.”
He nodded and relaxed, as though her words had answered some deeper question. “Come, I will show you where I sleep. It is not luxurious, but it is safe.”
She followed him to a root cellar and accepted the box he offered. “You are guest, yes? Boris will take the floor tonight.”
She didn’t argue, and was soon bedded down, the lid secured above her. She lay awake until the sound of Boris’ breathing dissipated – a sign he’d fallen asleep – then checked to make sure the lid moved; that he hadn’t locked her inside. It lifted easily, and she peeked out to check on him. He lay asleep on the floor, eyes closed, one hand under his head, the other at his side, no weapons in sight.
Not that I don’t trust him.
Secure in her safety, Senya laid back down and slid the lid back in place. Tomorrow she’d find out what he wanted from her.
And what I want from him.
The next evening Senya rose to find Boris awake, but not yet up. “Good evening.” He smiled as he pulled into a sitting position. “You slept well, yes?”
“Well enough. What do you feed on?”
He laughed and climbed to his feet. “Always so direct, yes? Ah, but I feed on what I can. We are near a town, but not so near that there is no wildlife. You can take your choice of human or animal.”
“Human always tastes better, however, I assume you have a system to avoid too many disappearances?”
He chuckled and motioned her up, out of the cellar. “My system is simply not to kill too many. If you stay long, you will find that humans come to me, in secret, just as your friends did. No one knows they are here, so if they disappear…ah, it is no big thing.”
Friends? The word jolted, but again Senya realized who he meant. “What did Jorick and…” she couldn’t remember any of the other’s names. “…And the others want with you?”
“The same thing everyone wants, yes? Fake papers. Fake IDs. To hide themselves in plain sight, to have official documents that look real and yet maybe aren’t. Ah, but I can make them real, can’t I? It is so easy now, everything is computers and databases. You go in, you enter the information, you edit the files, and your little manipulations are now reality.”
Though not computer savvy, Senya understood what he meant. They had a department at The Guild to handle such things, to move money and identification around, to keep vampire’s immortal natures secret. Of course, they didn’t do it for free, and those who opted for such services paid The Guild a hefty fee.
“How else do you expect the citadel to pay the electric bill?” Malick had asked jokingly.
Senya followed Boris outside, pondering why Jorick would want fake papers. As a whisperer he could get by easily enough, no matter where he was headed. Logic said it was to Japan, to retrieve the item Malick sought, but…
But is it really there?
Malick said it was; said he saw it in Jorick’s mind while they were in the stronghold in Munich – now there was another example of Malick’s mysterious plans. They’d moved into the complex in Namibia, taken out the village nearby with its many witnesses, and just settled in when Malick’s spies in the citadel sent word that Jorick was on his way to see the True Council in Munich, Germany. They didn’t need the rest of the message to know why: The Guild had lodged an official complaint with the higher ups about Malick’s revolt, and Jorick had been sent to give testimony about it. The True Council would then hand down a judgement, but short of hunting Malick down, there was no way to enforce it. The whole proceedings were a joke. As Malick said, the True Council – or any council – had only the power that others allowed them to have.
Despite the farce, Malick was infinitely interested. Not because he feared the True Council, but because Jorick was involved. His son in blood, it had hurt him that Jorick hadn’t joined them. Senya knew the vampire never would – he was too pompous, too full of his own sense of justice to ever bend his so-called morals – but Malick saw things differently. He believed that Jorick would “awaken” to his “true nature” and “come back”.
With that goal, they’d traveled to Munich. Not two hours on the ground and they’d found a familiar face: Traven, one of the vampires who’d led the attack on The Guild. Though Senya wanted to kill him – there was something weasely about him she found offensive – Malick stopped her.
“I believe he will be useful to us, as one of Jorick’s former allies.”
“Not Jorick’s,” Traven said coldly. “I was allied with Oren, Jorick’s fledgling, but not Jorick. I’ve known him too many years for that.”
“How familiarity breeds contempt,” Malick said with a smile. “Such things may make you even more useful. Release him, Senya.”
With a snarl she’d done as she was told, though it made little sense. Traven was old, yes, but useless. His history with Jorick was useless.
“Can you see the future?” Malick’s voice had asked in her head. “Those who seem useless now may become the key to everything.”
It was only after Traven was gone that Malick revealed the scroll to them. “He knows not what it says, except that it contains details on the Heart of the Raven. He foolishly hopes it holds the location- though such will do him no good because Jorick alone knows where he has hidden it. However, he also believes it will reveal the secret to unlocking its power. If such a thing is true, we must possess it.”
“Where is it, master?” Greneth asked.
“Traven has been asking the same question, but we are smarter than he is, and I believe we will find out first. Come, the hour grows late. We will handle such things tomorrow.”
And they did. First Malick swept through the vampire underground, and when he had his information they stormed the stronghold, not that it was hard for them to get in. Rather than recruiting Jorick, as Senya understood the plan was, they had a brief face to face with him and one of the members of the True Council, then left.
As Griselda whipped their SUV out into traffic, swerving like a madwoman around cars and busses, Senya couldn’t stop from asking, “What was the point?”
“The point of what?” Malick asked from the back seat, where he rode like a rich king.
“And therein lies your problem, child. You should not think, only do as you are commanded. We have what we came for. I now know where the heart is. Greneth! Make arrangements immediately for us to travel to Japan.”
Greneth cleared his throat. “We’ll need to get new pilots, master. We killed the pair that brought us here from Africa.”
Malick motioned it away. “Not pilots. I believe the sea is a better choice. Jorick will be slow to get there considering the number he travels with, and we do not want to arrive too early. No, we will get there about the same time he does and follow. Let him lead us to his hiding place.” The ancient chucked. “I had not considered that he left it with her. How fascinating that he can still surprise me.”
“With who, master?” Greneth asked.
“His fledgling, of course. Oh, he assumed I didn’t know about her, and to be honest I had forgotten. I kept tabs on her for the first hundred years, but when he had no contact with her, I assumed she was unimportant.” He leaned forward to touch Senya on the shoulder. “And that, child, is why you should never be quick to judge another as useless.”
Griselda turned the wheel sharply, avoiding a large truck. “So Jorick really did steal the Heart of the raven from you when he left and hid it a so-called secret fledgling?”
Malick laughed. As it rolled through the car, the amusement turned cold and he snapped, “Do you really believe he would dare to steal from me? That he could get away with such a deed? No. I gave it to him for safe keeping, and he had it hidden in his den. When he left us, he still had it squirreled away. I assumed it was still in the United States, perhaps in his house in Maine. Ah, but this…this will be far more amusing.”
Amusing. Malick was always looking for amusement, as if it was the elixir of youth. And perhaps it was. He was two thousand years old, or older, and had managed not to turn into a cold creature, like the rest of the ancients.
Hell, I’m colder than he is.
Though Senya preferred humans, she followed Boris and fed on wildlife. When they’d finished, they headed back to his shabby house. As Senya ducked inside, she wondered why vampires preferred to live in squalid conditions, but decided it probably had little to do with choice. Days, weeks, years passed differently for them, and the ten years in between new house paint would pass in the blink of an eye, let alone the weekly necessity of mowing or weeding. Then there was the problem of sunlight. It wasn’t as if there was a lot of time in the summer for them to be awake, and who wanted to spend what little there was on house maintenance. No, it was more likely a lack of concern, so that one day you woke up in what had been a nice house and discovered it was a hovel.
That’s why I preferred The Guild. None of that to worry about.
Not that there would be any o fit to worry about at Malick’s complex, at least not for her. They’d brought a small army of guards and lackeys to handle the lesser tasks. Already a group of former guards was out recruiting more, while a team of servants was at the complex unpacking crates and rearranging rooms.
Not that they’d call themselves servants, she mused. Followers, perhaps, of the ancient master, but not servants.
Yet that’s what they are. What we all are.
She didn’t like the label, but there it was. Such things happened when you allied yourself with an ancient; one strong enough to crush you using the mere power of their mind. She’d seen Malick do that only a few days ago.
And what will he do to me when he finds out I’m here and not on the ferry, following Jorick and his human?
And now for guesses:
- gandalf 2. man in the water 3.old man 4. guardian 5. swamp man 6. watching 7. I hope this river stays low 8. in the river
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 22.11 Topic – Scuba Diving
**BONUSES: Hard Bonus (2 pts): Incorporate a movie starring Emma Thompson (Stranger than Fiction)
Easy Bonus (1 pt): Mention uncovering a lie
This story takes place 15 years after the last novel.
Obrad checked his phone again, then let his eyes move over the abandoned house. It looked like a vampire den even smelled vaguely like one, but there were no vampires. And especially not a pair of rogues. There wasn’t even evidence of them. No corpses, no chained up humans. Nothing.
One of the guards came around the corner of the house, shaking his head. “There’s no one here, sir.”
“That’s what I thought.” Obrad stashed his weapon and walked towards the sagging front door. It hung open, swinging softly in the night breeze. He could see the empty room beyond, vacant of furniture or love, holding only a few broken beer bottles and old graffiti.
He stopped to survey the artwork. “Trina waz Here”. A lopsided Snoopy held a joint. A mouse in a mask enjoyed scuba diving until another artist had painted in a badly done shark.
Obrad moved through the rooms of the house. The dirty floor was littered with debris and an occasional piece of broken furniture, but that was it. Still no corpses, no blood, no sign of a vampire past a vague lingering smell.
“Obviously they’ve moved on,” he announced to the empty hallway.
As he tugged out his phone to report that his mission was complete, the second guard’s voice echoed through the house, “You should come see this.”
Obrad bit back impatience. He didn’t want to go see it. He wanted to send his text message and head back to the citadel in time for the ceremony.
But I’d better check it out.
With a resigned sigh, he picked his way down the rickety stairs to join the guards in what had once been a dining room. The men were both tall, one with dark hair, the other light. Their black uniforms were identical, and to be honest he could barely tell them apart. It was that way with a lot of the guards; they were accessories, background noise that he didn’t pay attention to.
I guess I’ve changed.
Fifteen years ago he’d been one of them; a greater guard accompanying Executioners on assignments. Then he’d gotten promoted. He’d sworn he’d never be like the others, never think he was better than everyone else.
And yet, here I am.
He broke away from his internal chastisement to ask with a little more patience, “What do we need to see?”
“It’s in the woods. I caught a scent when the wind changed, and when I followed it…You’ll just have to come see.”
Obrad ground his teeth, but nodded. If the guy would just tell him it would save so much time. Who knew that it was even worth hiking through the woods to see?
Still, he followed the lighter haired guard. They pushed through the overgrown lawn and into the trees beyond. Close growing branches slapped at them, and thick weeds tried to choke their progress. Obrad had just decided that nothing could be worth the overgrown jungle, when the smell of death wafted to him. Not just death; immortal death.
With renewed purpose, he forced his way past their guide and clumped through underbrush to reach a small clearing. The grass had been mashed down in a lopsided circle, weeds broken and overhanging branches torn free. Leaning against the base of one tree was a headless vampire, his neck a scabbed stub of old blood, his chest a mass of flies and gore. Parts of his body were burned, probably where sunlight had managed to creep through the thick canopy, leaving him with only one arm and no feet.
Nearby lay what was left of another corpse, mostly torso, animals had torn into it, leaving clothes and shriveled flesh shredded. Both legs were burned away, up to the hip, as was one arm. The other was only left from the elbow up, the rest taken by sunlight.
Obrad rolled the bits over with his foot, but aside from a mass of jelly where his heart had been, the remains gave no clues.
The dark haired guard turned away, gagging, but the lighter one knelt by the more complete body. “They’ve been here for a couple of days at least. It’s amazing they haven’t been burned completely.”
“There’s not enough sunlight.” Obrad pointed to the thick leaves overhead. “I imagine it’s taken a couple of days to do that much, as weak as it was. It must not have been hot enough to combust.”
Combust. A tidy word to describe what happened to their tissue in full on sunlight. After so much exposure, flames would appear, and sweep over clothing and flesh, gaining intensity until it was hot enough to burn bone. They’d all seen it happen, or at least he assumed they had. He could have pressed into their minds to find out, but he didn’t care enough.
“I imagine we’ve found our rogues.” Obrad tugged out his phone and snapped several photos of the bodies. “They’re already dead, so job done. We’ll take them back to the house and burn them in the yard, then head back to the citadel.”
The lighter haired guard frowned. “Shouldn’t we investigate, sir?”
No. We should head back before we miss the ceremony! Instead, Obrad asked, “Investigate what?”
“What killed them, of course.”
The darker guard joined them, eyes down, steps cautious, as if afraid to get too close to the mangled corpses. “Caleb’s right. If animals did this, they must be something pretty fierce to take out vampires. And if they ingested enough blood, we might have something more dangerous than rogues on our hands.”
He was right. Caleb was right. But…damn. “Good. I was testing you. You’ve both passed.” The guards tense shoulders relaxed and Obrad knelt near the more complete body. Using a stick, he shooed away the bugs and pried at the edges of the chest wound. Though gory, it was obvious it had been cut, not ripped by an animal. The stump of his neck was the same. Unsinged, it meant the head had been removed purposefully, not burned away.
“I don’t think it was an animal, though one has certainly eaten them. However, it’s doubtful they ingested enough pure blood to make a drastic change. They’d have had to be nearly drained themselves in order to be turned, and even if they were, chances are they were destroyed by sunlight later.”
The guards murmured agreement, though Obrad could feel their lack of sincerity.
He poked at the wounds again, then straightened. “If I had to guess, I’d say that they were killed by another vampire, maybe a coven mate, if you can call rogues that. Probably there was a fight, these two were killed, and the other – or others – left. We could try to trail them, but unless one of you is a tracker…”
He left the sentence unfinished, knowing full well they weren’t.
And thank goodness for that.
They mumbled that they weren’t, then Caleb turned to dragging the more complete body away through the underbrush. “Can you get the other, Bane?”
The dark haired guard edged towards the twisted torso, his face paler than usual. Obrad waited a full thirty seconds before he snapped impatiently, “Allow me.”
What was left of the corpse was soft, but Obrad managed to haul it back. IN the yard he threw it on top of the other, then peeled off his gloves and tossed them on top. There was no way they were ever going to come clean.
Caleb brought gasoline and matches from the car. While he worked, Bane apologized over and over for failing to help. Obrad dismissed him with a gesture, though he didn’t bother to comment. If the guard thought he’d leave it out of the report, he was mistaken.
Soon flames licked the night, the smell of burning flesh replacing the subtle hint of immortals. They stayed until the fire died down – didn’t want to start a wild fire, after all – then climbed back in the car. Obrad settled comfortably in the passenger seat, leaving Caleb to drive. If they hurried, they could be back to the citadel in time for the ceremony.
The road sped past, and Obrad counted the miles. It wasn’t just the ceremony he was looking forward to, but seeing Rayne again. Though she was still a guard, she wasn’t one that blended into the background. With her dark black hair, snappy sapphire eyes and smart mouth to match, she was the kind of vampiress any man would be happy to talk to.
And somehow she’s mine.
It was still a wonder to him that she’d ever spoken to him, let alone anything else. He still remembered their first assignment together, working under Ark, in Minnesota. As soon as he saw her, the black uniform hugging her curves like a sports car on a night road, he knew he was in trouble. Sure, he’d seen her around before, but never that close.
Despite her looks, she was humbled by her status of new recruit, and made a beeline for him almost immediately. “I’m sorry to be a pain, but I want to warn you, I don’t really know what I’m doing.”
And she hadn’t. Ark spent most of the trip chastising her, and by the time they got back to the citadel she was ready to quit.
“I don’t know why I thought I could handle this. It sounded so exciting; getting to go places with the Executioners, but if they’re all as terrifying as him…”
“They are,” Obrad had agreed. “Senya and Bren are the worst, and Griselda and Greneth are close. Verchiel and Jamie are probably the best.”
Her shoulders sagged. “I’m not cut out for this.”
“We all feel that way at first,” he’d assured her. “Just hang in there.”
She’d not only hung in, but requested she work with him on the next assignment and the next, and the next. He told himself, and his teasing buddied, that it was just because he’d been nice to her, because she didn’t know anyone else. He even made up a story in his head where she was alone, without coven or friend, and so looked at him as a kindly brother.
But truth is stranger than fiction, and finally she asked him to spend time outside of work. When he went to her room to pick her up, she introduced him to her sister and brother in blood. They surveyed him critically, though they acted friendly enough.
During dinner at the café, they were treated to no less than five different vampires who felt the need ot say hello to her and find out who her new friend was.
“This is Obrad,” she said for the fifth time. And for the fifth time she failed to add that they were work acquaintances, that he was just a friend, or any of the million other things that would have clarified his position in her life.
When he took her back to her room later that evening, she’d hung around with a slow goodbye, only surrendering when he inched away. Unsure what he’d just experienced – was it a pair of friends out for an evening, or some kind of date? – he’d hurried toward his own den. It wasn’t until the next evening that her brother cornered him in the mall.
“What are your intentions toward Rayne?”
Obrad had tried not to panic. “I don’t really have any intentions.”
The vampire had growled. “If you think you can break her heart without consequences-”
“Whoa! It’s not like that. We’re just work acquaintances!”
Then you’d better tell her that, before she falls any deeper! Be warned, for every tear she cries I’ll take an inch of your flesh.”
The vampire stomped away, leaving Obrad confused. “Falls any deeper”? Could he mean…?
Not someone like her.
They received their orders that day – accompanying Verchiel to Arizona. The redhead took a car on his own, leaving them to share alone. Her brother’s words kept playing through Obrad’s head, taunting, teasing, confusing, until the temptation was too much.
He’d used his dream stealer power on her. Not enough to push into her mind, just enough to touch the surface thoughts; thoughts where she was worried that he didn’t like her, where she was disappointed he hadn’t kissed her, where she thought she wasn’t as pretty as some of the others.
“None of them are more beautiful than you.”
She jolted and he realized he’d replied out loud. It took her a moment, too, to understand that he’d been in her head. After hitting his arm and shoulder until they were sore, she dropped back in the seat and declared he’d better never do that again. “Or I’ll do the same to you.”
“I already said I was sorry. Besides, you’re not a dream stealer,” he countered, rubbing his shoulder.
“No, I’m a paralyzer, and if you don’t think I’ll make you stand perfectly still while I do exactly what I want to you, you’re mistaken.”
It had taken him the rest of the trip to find out just wat kind of things she had in mind, and once he did he was sorry he hadn’t found out sooner.
They’d been together since then, even after he was promoted to Executioner. She’d remained a greater guard, and for a while he’d been able to take her on assignments. Eventually, though, the office caught on and started splitting the up. Now it was nearly impossible to sync their schedules.
And if I miss this ceremony, she’ll be furious.
Except, that wasn’t completely true. She’d be mad at first, maybe smack him in the shoulder and yell a bit, but in the end she’d understand, and they’d snuggle up in bed after-
The alert on his phone interrupted the more enjoyable thoughts. The text that went with it carried instructions for a new assignment.
He cursed, ignoring the surprised look Caleb shot him. “We need to turn around. Back to Missouri.”
“Yes, sir.” Caleb slowed, eyes scanning for an offshoot road or field access. “May I ask where we’re headed?”
“Back where we were.” Obrad sighed. “It looks like they found the rest of the rogue coven, not far from the den. Apparently someone took exception to them.”
“Sir?” Bane asked from the backseat.
“They’re dead,” Obrad explained.
“Do they know who killed them?”
Obrad started to snap back, but realized he didn’t know. The message only said there were four dead vampires two miles from the location he’d reported previously, that he was to investigate if they were involved with the rogues and dispose of the bodies.
“We’ll find out when we get there.”
Despite his cryptic answer, an hour later he called the office. A guard stuttered over himself to say that they didn’t know, either. “A-a local coven called it in. Just said there were four dead.”
“Then I imagine they killed them. Have whoever called meet us there.”
“I’ll…I’ll tell them, sir.”
I bet you will.
Obrad’s phone alarm went off, a reminder that the ceremony would start in ten minutes. He glanced at the guards, then dismissed them. As long as he was careful he could make the call in front of them.
Rings fell away, and just as he was ready to hang up, Rayne answered, “Let me guess, you’re not going to make it?”
“Sorry. I thought I was done, but they’re sending me back. Apparently the rest of the rogues turned up.”
There was a moment of silence and then, “You should have found them while you were there the first time.”
“Maybe I would have, but I was in a hurry to get back for you.”
She sighed out most of her animosity. “I know. I’m sorry. I’m not mad at you. Just nervous. Do you really think they might pick me?”
“I don’t see why not. You have several commendations, and you’ve been a guard for a long time. You’re a great candidate.”
She took a deep breath. “All right. Wish me luck.”
“Wishing you all the luck in the world.”
He could hear the smile in her voice. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
He hung onto the phone for a moment after she’d hung up, as if he could hang onto her that way. But, he knew better, knew the smooth electronic device could never be a substitute for the real thing.
“Excuse me, sir, but were you talking about the choosing ceremony?”
Obrad gave Caleb a hard glare for eavesdropping. “I might have been.”
The guard sagged just a little. “I’d hoped to attend that, too. I filled an application out.”
Obrad scoffed silently. “Then good luck to you as well.”
As if he has a chance of beating Rayne.
They reached their destination an hour before dawn. A tumbled down barn with a skeleton windmill was all that stood in the lonely field. There were no trees, and no vampires.
Obrad cursed silently and dialed the office. “I specifically said to have the vampire who reported this meet us. Where are they?”
“I don’t know, s-sir. We couldn’t get ahold of them again.”
“Couldn’t get-” he broke off before he reeled out a tirade on their incompetence. “Fine. Give me the address of their den. We’ll need somewhere to stay.”
“I, uh, I don’t have it.”
Obrad sucked air between his teeth. “What?”
“They, uh, they left a name. Jenny, but no one thought to get an address. And it’s not in the database.”
Obrad grabbed Caleb’s phone and zipped to the app. He put in their location, but sure enough there was no Jenny nearby, only the coven who had originally complained; a coven Obrad had spoken to earlier today.
Obrad shoved the device back to its owner and hung up. They had just enough time to do a quick once over the scene and then make it to that coven’s den.
He could smell the death as soon as he stepped out of the car. Storming through old weeds, he stopped just inside the ramshackle barn. Four bodies were strewn about, their heads missing and their chests gory holes, like those in the woods.
Unlike the previous corpses, the death was fresher, a day at the most, and perhaps less. One of the bodies was seated upright, back leaning against the wall, a folded piece of paper taped to his shirt.
At a motion from Obrad, Bane snatched it up, and quickly turned away.
“What does it say?” Obrad snapped.
“It…It says…vampire hunters.”
“What?’ Caleb jerked the paper away and read over it. “Let this be a warning to your kind. You have ruled the shadows too long. We will no longer be your cattle. We have learned your weaknesses .The retribution begins. We will hunt all of your kind, and we will destroy you. We will no longer fear the vampires, rather you will learn to fear the vampire hunters.” Caleb looked up. “Do you think that’s who killed the other two, as well?”
“Vampire hunters?” Obrad scoffed. “There’s no such thing.”
“Then who did this?” Bane demanded, motioning to the headless bodies and puddles of congealed blood.
“More likely other vampires.” Obrad straightened, wiping his hands on his pants. “You don’t seriously believe that humans did this?”
Caleb waved the note. “I can smell the human on the paper,”
With an eye roll, Obrad snatched the missive from his hand and gave it a sniff. He, too, could smell human scent on the paper and yet…”That doesn’t mean a human wrote it, or left it, or killed them. You’re jumping to conclusions, like they want you to.”
“But nothing. I imagine Jenny, whoever she is, and her coven killed them, then concocted this to hide. Knowing we’d uncover the lie, they took off. Which was stupid. These were rogues. It’s perfectly legal to kill them. Obviously Jenny and her friends are young vampires who know nothing of the way The Laws work.”
He prodded the nearest body. “Take photos and then we need to get these bodies burned. The sun will be up soon.”
They made it to the local coven just as the sky was turning pink. The vampires were confused, but knew better than to deny shelter to emissaries of The Guild. Obrad settled down and made a quick call to Rayne that went unanswered. That she hadn’t called him right away was a good sign. Maybe it meant she was busy signing papers, getting sworn in, and all the million other things.
Or maybe it means she didn’t get it and is too upset to tell me.
With that unhappy thought, he drifted to sleep. His pessimism was forgotten by evening, and he woke feeling both hopeful and aggravated – hopeful for her and aggravated at his own situation.
The coven fed them, and nervously answered questions. They had no idea who Jenny was, or who her coven might be, or even where they lived.
“As far as I know we’re the only ones around here, until the rogues came.”
“At least you won’t need to deal with them, anymore,” Obrad said briskly. “If you see anything, or run into this other coven…”
“Yes, we’ll call right away.” The coven leader held his phone up and nodded vigorously.
With nothing else to gain, Obrad led the guards to the car, and soon they were on the road.
They’d gone a few miles when Caleb said tentatively, “You’re sure it wasn’t a human?”
Obrad rolled his eyes. “No. Humans could not have killed four vampires, especially not like that. And there’s no such thing as vampire hunters,” he added. “Past what they see in entertainment, humans don’t know about us. We have laws to make sure that they don’t.”
“I know,” Caleb said quickly. “Human slaves must be marked and tracked, and human witnesses are to be killed or have their memories purged by a whisperer. Humans who know but are unowned are forbidden.”
A moment passed and Caleb asked quietly, “Can you be sure on hasn’t slipped through the cracks?”
Obrad snapped, “Of course!” The silence that settled felt accusatory, and he relented. “All right, perhaps one, here or there, but do you think anyone else would believe them? If they told people that vampires were real, they’d be laughed at, scorned. They wouldn’t be able to recruit humans to help hunt vampires. It’s just ridiculous.”
“But there was human scent on the paper.”
“Meaning a human touched it. Jenny’s coven probably has a human slave, or pet. Look.” He straightened in the seat to give the guard a hard stare. “Do you want to spend days in Missouri, tracking down covens, sifting through weeds on your knees, and generally wasting time, or do you want to go home and find out how the ceremony went?”
Caleb’s lips pressed into a tight line before he finally said, “I want to do my job.”
“And your job is to do as I say,” Obrad reminded him as he settled back. “You are here to assist me, to follow my orders, and to help in any way necessary. You’re not here to play detective or to look for trouble where there is none. Now concentrate on driving, and maybe we’ll get there before sunrise.”
Caleb’s face creased with unhappiness, but he was smart enough to keep his thoughts to himself.
They made it back to the citadel with a few hours to spare. Obrad checked in at the office and left the guards to do the paperwork. He’d file an addendum later, mentioning Bane’s issues. Though it seemed like a mean thing to do, there was no animosity behind it. If no one noted it, there was a chance he’d eventually get promoted to Executioner. If he was the one in charge, the one others relied on, a reaction like that could get him and the guards under him killed.
Obrad took the elevator to the second floor and stalked toward the Executioner block, ignoring the way other vampires shied away. They saw the long black coat, the silver medallion around his neck, and cringed back, leaving him a wide berth. In his human years such behavior would have stung, but now…
Now I’m strong. Then I was weak, and lonely.
That was what had made vampiredom appealing. The youngest son, birthed to the east favorite wife, Obrad was virtually ignored by his father, until his mother was killed. Then he was elevated to favorite status briefly. He’d enjoyed it, reveled the way only a twelve year old boy could, until one of his brothers told him the truth: it was only temporary, to appease his mother’s family.
He hadn’t believed it, but in a matter of weeks he was relegated to the wayside once again, only this time he didn’t have his mother to soften the hurt of being ignored. He’d grown into a troubled youth, and when his father found him too big of a nuisance, he’d finally sent him away.
As strange as it was, that was the thing that had saved him. The caravan had been attacked by vampires. Their queen, Aka, found his harsh exterior and smart mouth amusing, so she kept him as a slave. She used to laugh and tell him that she could see though his lies, through his shield of anger, to the sobbing little boy underneath.
Those words just made him madder.
Eventually she took him as a lover, and finally turned him. Though they were intimate, it had never been about love, and when his blood debt was paid he left without looking back. Not that he didn’t still have strange feelings for Aka, but…
But it’s not like Rayne.
As if his thoughts summoned her, her scent wafted through the door of his den. He breathed it in a moment before unlocking the door and shoving it open.
“There you are!”
Her arms were around his neck, her soft body pressed against his, before he even had time to react. She squeezed tight, then let go and dropped back a step. Her dark black hair curled around her shoulders, and those eyes, like peering into one of his father’s pools, shone blue and excited.
“Guess what? Guess?”
He opened his mouth to do that, when she interrupted by pulling something from her pocket. With a squeal she waved it around, a chain with a swinging silver medallion.
“You were chosen.” He smiled and drew her to him. “I knew you would be.”
She was nearly bouncing in his arms, so he let her go and busied himself peeling off his coat and shoes, while she told him about it. “There were a lot of applicants. I think most of the greater guards were there. They had to bring extra chairs into the audience chamber.”
Obrad nodded absently, recalling his own appointment. After filling out pages of a paper application, they’d met in the audience chamber and waited as a committee of Executioners, led by Ark, read over them. Then they were called one by one to answer questions, and finally his name was announced. That was when the real ceremony began; the swearing in, if you will. In the old days that was all there’d been Malick had chosen a new Executioner, who received notice, and they appeared for the ceremony. But since he’d left…
Obrad realized he hadn’t been listening to Rayne, and murmured a sound, as if he had been. “How did your questions go?”
She cocked an eyebrow. “I was just telling you. Anyway, Ark gave everyone a different scenario, I suppose so no one had time to figure out their answer ahead of time, and Jamie asked everyone random questions. Mine was whether I preferred a six inch blade or a ten inch. What does that matter? But, anyway, I got it!”
“You should have called me right away and told me. Or today,” he admonished as he moved back to her. “I called you but you didn’t answer.”
“I’m sorry, I’ve been so busy, and everyone wanted to celebrate, and you were on assignment. I didn’t want to call in case you were in the middle of some life or death battle.”
“We weren’t,” he assured her.
“Good. I worry.” She drew her arms around his neck and leaned until the tip of her nose touched his. “Now you get to worry about me.”
“I always do. Guards die all the time, especially if their Executioner is careless, like Senya used to be.”
“She wasn’t careless with her favorites, just everyone else. It doesn’t matter, she and her group are long gone, and Eileifr’s worked really hard to blast that mentality out of the ranks.”
“I suppose added eight new Executioners is one way of doing that,” Obrad mused.
“He thinks so. Plus, it will mean you’ll be at the citadel more. More Executioners means fewer assignments. Still…” She broke off. “I’m not sure about some of the appointments.”
She opened her mouth to reply, then stopped, and started again. “Honestly, I’m not sure you’d know who they were by name. Come with me to the party and you’ll see.”
Party. The word sent a shiv of ice through his chest. “Um…”
“You’ll be fine. I know you hate those kind of things, but it might be fun.” She tugged away and headed for the bedroom. “I was just going to get ready when you got home. I better hurry or we’ll be late. No time for makeup.”
“You don’t need makeup,” he called after her, his mind already looking for excuses. He’d just gotten back after being gone for eight days. The last thing he wanted was to be surrounded by coworkers, politely sipping blood, and trying to pretend he cared.
“How did your assignments go?” she called from the next room.
“Fine. The first two were butter, and the third ended u easier than we thought. Some local coven killed the rogues for us.”
“Did you thank them?”
He drifted closer to the bedroom. “No, they took off. Probably thought they’d get into trouble. They left a craz note, blaming it on vampire hunters.”
Rayne stuck her head out of the door. “Vampire hunters? But-”
“There’s no such thing,” he said firmly. “Especially considering their heads were severed and their chests gutted. Humans couldn’t do that.” He waved it away. “It doesn’t matter. You were telling me about the new Executioners?”
“You’ll meet them at the party. I’m more interested in the vampire hunters.”
He barely controlled an eye roll. “Not you, too? There’s no such thing.”
“And if you asked mortals they’d say there’s no such thing as vampires.”
“Exactly. So why would they hunt them?”
They stared at one another in silence for a moment, and finally she relented. “All right. I’ll let it go for now. But if another case like this comes up…”
“If another coven of vampires is whipped out with a note declaring revenge on all immortal kind, I might worry about it then. Until then…”
“Until then we have a party to go to. You’re not going to wear that, are you?”
He looked down at his black button up and slacks. “Yes.”
“No, you’re not. Get in here.” He resisted and she snapped back, “Or I’ll make you.”
He felt the tug on his limbs as she exerted a hint of her powers. He could fight, but why bother? In the end it was as inevitable as death.
As he headed into the bedroom, he thought that maybe he should have listened to Caleb. If they’d wasted time investigating fake vampire hunters, they’d still be in Missouri, and he’d have escaped the horrible socializing to come.
When you look at it like that, it’s almost a shame they’re not real.
And for guesses:
- haunting 2. figure in white 3. spooky 4. who ya gonna call? 5. apparition 6. casper 7. all the remains 8. from ashes 9. spectre 10 phantom
It’s time again for blogophilia. The prompts are:
And migina rolls on. Sadly still not finished. I need a month of free time.
The following evening, Migina woke and showered in her private bathroom. She technically didn’t need to – vampires didn’t produce the sweat and oils that gave humans their distinctive odor – but she enjoyed it. It had nothing to do with Franklin’s impending return, or at least she told herself it didn’t. They’d been together too long to bother trying to impress one another, anymore.
Despite that, she took the time to comb out her wet hair and plait it into her usual long, whip-like braid. Maybe, if he got back after she’d finished with the bathroom, she’d unbraid it and leave it loose. He’d commented before that he liked that.
After a quick call to maintenance to have the water shut off, she checked the min-fridge. There was no blood inside, bottled or bagged. She hadn’t restocked it. Now that Sabrina was gone, it was one more thing she’d have to do herself.
With no alternative, she left her apartment behind for the café. She found a corner seat and ordered, watching as the waiter scurried away. The sickly yellow walls made her feel nostalgic; she remembered when murals had been in their place, representing an outdoor area. Gone too were all the plants, and the cute sidewalk-style signboard. Instead the air was sleek ultra-modern, like something from a science fiction TV show. The plastic and chrome chairs matched the triangular shaped tables, and pendant lighting hung low enough to be annoying.
Change is rarely good.
She leaned back in her chair, fingers tapping that plastic table top, when a vampire called her name. She cringed inwardly as she recognized the voice, but forced herself to remain aloof on the outside.
Never let them know they have power over you.
Ignoring him only served as encouragement, and a moment later Philip, a fellow Executioner, took the chair across form her. His dark hair fell carelessly in his face, and even darker eyes smoldered with an intensity that had tripped up many a woman.
But not me.
“Migina! How lovely to see you! And where is Franklin?”
“Waiting to cut out your heart.” Instead, she said, “On his way back.”
“The absences make relationships hard.” He gave her a knowing smile that felt smug. “So how are you?”
“Hungry,” she bit back.
Not to be deterred by her short answers, he rubbed his hands together. “As am I. Did you get a pitcher or a single glass?”
“Single glass. You’ll have to order your own.”
He chuckled. “Of course. Nothing to worry about. If I recall, we don’t like the same mix-in, anyway.”
The waiter saved her from having to answer. He dropped off her breakfast and took Philip’s order before he disappeared.
She took a drink, savoring the deep, unadulterated flavor. Unlike the others she wasn’t tired of the flavor and didn’t need to add fancy peppermint or sage or whatever Philip had ordered.
The Executioner across from her chattered as she drank. When her meal was half gone, she cut him off. “Why are you here?”
He laughed, motioning to the counter. “To feed, obviously. Though it would be more appealing if they had live humans to drink from. I miss that when I’m here. Of course in the field-”
“I meant, why are you sitting with me?”
“Ah, and why not? I know you try hard to be unfriendly, but no one can be as sharp as you pretend to be. Your affair with Franklin proves you have soft places.” He gave her a wink. “Besides, is there something wrong with wanting to be friendly with a fellow Executioner?”
She gulped the last of her blood and deposited the empty glass. “Good luck with that.” Then she stood and headed for the door, leaving him alone with his amused laughter.
At least he didn’t come after me.
Back in her den, Migina checked that the water was indeed off, then grabbed her sledge hammer. She moved through the empty bedroom, to the equally empty bathroom. She’d never noticed before that the bathtub was starting to look worn. When was the last time it had been replaced? They’d put in the human facilities in the forties. Then they’d updated it…It had to be the sixties. She’d passed on the last round, just two years ago.
Just as well. It would have been a waste of money.
Yes, she was sure it was the sixties. It was just before that night with Sabrina… The memory popped to the surface, bright and clear as when it happened. She’d come home to the sound of sobbing and the scent of blood. A few steps had taken her to the doorway of this bathroom. Inside, Sabrina was rolled into a ball, back pressed against the tile wall, knees to her chin, body shaking with sobs. No matter how many times Migina asked her what was wrong, she couldn’t get an answer. Finally, she stormed into the room and jerked the woman to her feet to find her dress shredded, and her shoulder gaping, blood still running from the wound.
“What in the hell?”
Sabrina pulled away, curled in on herself. “It-it’s nothing. It…”
But they both knew it was a lie. A threat or two later and Sabrina confessed the truth. It was Philip. Always Philip. Sabrina’s first years at the citadel had been spent much like her human life; she’d replaced the drugs with the euphoria of immortal coupling, of having her blood taken by a vampire. But the day came when she didn’t want to anymore, when she weened herself off of the high, when she wanted to stay away and be left alone.
Apparently Philip hadn’t gotten the message.
“I’ll kill him,” Migina had snarled, turning for the door, but Sabrina had grabbed her arm and tried to hold her back.
“No! If-if you do he’ll know I told you, he’ll know…” she let go and dropped back, hand pressed to the wound. “I’ll just stay away from him, I’ll just-”
“Just what? At the best, you are legally my property, Sabrina! Your job is to guard my den against him, as well as the others! How does it look if he’s savaging you? How can you protect me? And at the worst, what he did was tantamount to-”
“I know!” She’d fallen back a step, body shaking. “I know what it was. What it is. I just don’t want to talk about it, all right! I just.. I just need some blood to heal this and then it will be fine. Everything will be fine.”
Except it wasn’t. How many times had she come home after that to find out something similar had happened; and it was always Philip. Good looking, sex-obsessed Philip. It was the fifth time when she ignored Sabrina’s pleas and stormed to his den. His human guard dog was on the floor, her hands tied behind her back, her mouth gagged. Was it punishment or some game?
Philip, meanwhile, was still laying across the lounge, half naked, a satisfied smirk on his face, a smear of blood on his chin.
“Migina, what can I-”
She’d punched him before he could finish his sentence.
“What in the hell?”
“You know damn well what that’s for!”
His human stirred, terrified eyes like saucers, but, restrained, she couldn’t do anything. Not that Migina as sure she wanted to.
Philip wiped the blood from his nose. “Is this over your guard dog? Why are you so worked up? She’s just a human.”
“Yes, but she’s my human, do you understand that, Philip? My property. If you so much as look at her again – let alone touch her- I’ll pull you apart and barbecue the pieces!”
Philip sneered, dark eyes flashing that smugness she hated. “You’ve gotten soft, haven’t you?” He swung to his feet and stood slowly, stretching with the motion. “How long have you had that one? Too long, I think. Better to kill her and get a new one. I cycle mine every year.”
The bound girl on the floor made a soft whimpering sound.
“It’s none of your business how long I keep my property. I mean it, Philip. If you go near her again-”
He leaned close and waved his hands in Migina’s face, “Oooo. What will you do? Report me? As if Ark will care.”
She leaned close, so he could feel her breath on his cheek. “I won’t bother reporting you, Philip. I’ll cut out your heart and give your guard dog a reason to celebrate.”
The girl made another sound, and Migina stormed out, her warning delivered. Though he’d blown it off, he’d evidentially taken it seriously because that was the last time she’d had to find Sabrina bleeding, broken, sobbing.
That son of a bitch.
Rage bubbled and Migina swung the sledgehammer at the worn out tub. Splinters of porcelain shot out like missiles, bouncing off of her arms. With a snarl, she pounded the bathtub again and again, smashing it into bits that crunched under her feet. She swung around for the toilet and did the same, then to the sink, the empty counter where Sabrina’s things used to sit, where her hairbrush was always thrown, and that stupid bracelet holder that looked like a severed hand. Where the hell had that thing even come from?
It was ugly. Sabrina had such horrible taste! Everything she loved was ugly! Like that damn pineapple candle!
Migina swung the hammer again. That ugly candle! She’d been there for three years and suddenly decided to shove a Christmas gift at her master. Migina had stared at the package, and when she’d finally opened it, her reaction was no better.
“What is this?”
“It’s a goddamn candle!” Sabrina snapped, jerking it away so she could point to the wick and wave the wax monstrosity around. “Of course you hate it! You hate everything!”
Migina wanted to hit her in the head with the grotesque item, but instead she’d gone to pack for her assignment. When she came back in the room, Sabrina was seated in the middle of the floor, using a lighter to melt the candle into a puddle.
“What in the hell are you doing?”
“Why do you care? You didn’t like it anyway!”
Migina had grabbed it away from her; the soft bottom half hardened quickly, so that the pineapple looked like someone had smooshed it against a table. After that, she’d used the ugly thing as a paperweight, even as bits of it fell off over the years.
And if it got too warm, it always left a waxy film on everything.
Stupid, ugly pineapple.
Migina slammed the sledgehammer again and again, only stopping when she realized the sink was little more than dust and palm sized chunks. She staggered back to look over the bathroom; porcelain lay everywhere, most in small pieces. Even the mirror, still stuck to the wall, was shattered.
“Looks like you’re having fun.”
Migina spun, hammer raised, but stopped just in time to avoid slamming Franklin in the face. Torn between hugging him and hitting him, she was left blinking, eyes narrowed.
He made the decision for her as he stepped forward and swept his arms around her. She let the hammer go and pressed close to him, inhaling his familiar scent.
“I wasn’t sure you’d actually make it back today.”
He squeezed her tight, then let go. “I wasn’t either, but things went well. How are you? Did you get rid of-”
“Yes,” she snapped, stepping away. “Sabrina is gone.”
“Ah.” He laid his hands on her shoulders. “I’m sorry.”
Migina stepped away from the compassionate touch. “For what? She was only a human. It’s not like I care.”
“Of course not.” But the corner of his mouth quirked in an amused smile. “How did your last assignment go?”
“Fine. Yours?” But she didn’t want to talk about it. She didn’t want to talk about anything. She just wanted to pin him to the wall and lose herself in his blood. Though he wasn’t a mind reader, he seemed to sense her desire, and cut the conversation off with a deep kiss. She returned it, sliding her tongue past his lips, into the hot recesses of his mouth. He tasted coppery, like blood, a flavor that fueled her desire.
He pulled her tighter, until their bodies meshed. One hand cradled the back of her head, the other in the small of her back, pressing her closer. She ground against him; trying to meld with him, disappear in him. She snaked her hands under his shirt, and ran her palms over his hard chest. Her fingers danced down his stomach, and she pulled back enough to reach his belt buckle.
He caught her hand, and she looked up to see his smirk. “Shall we?”
An hour later, Migina felt better. She lay back on the bed, watching Franklin smoke a cigarette. The smell was sharp to her immortal nose, and she waved the smoke away.
“You should quit that.”
“This?” He held the cigarette up and grinned. “Why? They’re all the rage.”
“Yes, but I don’t know why.”
“This may sound cheesy, but the humans say they’re good for your health. Or they did a few years ago. I can’t imagine that would change.”
Migina rolled her eyes. “You don’t need to worry about your health. It just makes you feel sophisticated and modern.”
“Maybe. And what’s wrong with that?” He laughed. “Come now, Migina, don’t pretend to be an impenetrable ice sculpture. You’re as prone to your little vanities as anyone.”
it’s time again for blogophilia. This week’s prompts are:
I was hoping to do this all in one shot but haven’t had the time. *sigh*
It’s 1976 in the citadel in Iowa…
Migina let herself into her apartment, dumping her luggage on the floor. Though she didn’t need the electric light to see, she liked it. A quick flick of the switch and the room brightened, like instant sunlight.
Her eyes snapped past the leather couch and chairs to the low coffee table. On top of the magazines was a folded piece of paper with her name scribbled on it.
She peeled off her coat, then took one of the chairs. Feet propped on the coffee table, she leaned back, note in hand. The handwriting was as familiar as her own; she knew every curve, every swirl, every oddly dotted i. She didn’t need to see the F scrawled at the bottom under the words, “I miss you, my wild woman,” to know it was from Franklin.
Wild woman. She chuckled softly at the term of endearment. It was the kind of thing he liked to call her, as if she was really any wilder than the other women in the Citadel. Compared to some, she was pretty tame.
It isn’t like I bathe in blood anymore.
The memories of those days were tucked away; dark skies, gleaming stars, the screams of mortal victims. It was a different time then. Untamed. Wild, even, like Franklin liked to call it. Then The Guild rolled through and put an end to it.
Civilization always wins in the end.
Her eyes strayed from the paper to photos on the wall. Mostly black and white, they were a collection of night photography, the play of light and shadow, of silhouettes in the dark. Though she was proud of them she wondered what she could accomplish with natural light. What interesting shots could she take if the sunlight didn’t burn her?
If only photography had existed before Tainge shared the gift of strength.
Migina pulled herself away from the past to reread the letter. Six days ago, Franklin had been sent on assignment for at least a week, but when he got back he had plans, “and you had best not be busy.”
She chuckled at the pseudo threat. They both knew she’d be available – assuming she wasn’t on assignment herself. Though since she’d just gotten back, so there was a good chance she’d still be at the citadel.
Assuming he really gets home tomorrow. Otherwise he’ll just be high and dry.
She dropped the letter on the table and leaned back in the chair. Her den – an apartment in the Executioner’s block of the citadel – was quiet. Too quiet. She started to call to her human guard dog, Sabrina, to demand to know why she wasn’t working, cleaning, making herself useful, but then she remembered. Sabrina was gone.
Migina stood and drifted to the door of the small bedroom. Inside was a bed and a dresser, both empty. A piece of clear tape clung stubbornly to the wall, the corner of a poster forever trapped.
She was just a mortal, Migina reminded herself. It wasn’t as if she mattered.
Still, she was used to Sabrina rattling around the place. The woman had been with her since…when? 1954. Or was it 55? The years ran together, but either way it had been more than twenty years.
Though in the span of immortality, that’s hardly anything, she reminded herself.
Still, it felt like something. She remembered when she’d captured Sabrina; a dark haired wild looking thing with eyes the color of honey. It wasn’t her beauty that had struck Migina, though, but her spirit. She’d clawed and fought, like a remnant of the old world, those strange eyes burning with fire. Most of the other Executioners had preferred meek, weak-willed humans as their servants, but Migina found them tiresome and useless.
Little more than a dishrag.
The humans had first been procured as protection against each other – to keep their fellow Executioners from sneaking into one another’s rooms during the day and killing them in their sleep. Fifty years later, no one seemed to care anymore. Jamie had gotten rid of his first, followed by Ark and her own Franklin. Then Bren relinquished his, and Senya killed hers, and even Griselda decided she didn’t need one. Migina had hung on, nearly the last to have her human, but when Verchiel started talking about sending his away, she knew it was time.
Lest the others think I’ve grown soft and attached.
Because she wasn’t attached. Sabrina was merely a human slave; someone to clean and run errands, and handle things Migina didn’t want to. She was an occasional snack. Nothing more. She was just a human.
And now she’s gone.
Which means that room needs redecorating.
Yes. Some new furnishings, some paint, maybe. She’d get Sabrina to-
With a snarl of impatience, Migina flipped her long black braid over her shoulder, then flounced out of her apartment. She’d go to the shopping area, buy some things, look through some catalogs, make some orders. She’d turn that room into…into…into something. A dark room, maybe. Then she wouldn’t have to pay to use the one in the shopping center.
Except it was too big for a dark room. The human bathroom, however, would be perfect. And it already had water piped to it.
But it’s going to take some renovations.
Migina leaned on the shop counter and flipped through the catalog. She’d hired a carpenter to build countertops in the bathroom next week, but she hadn’t decided what to do with the actual bedroom yet.
“We have a very nice suite collection. It’s new,” the salesman suggested, motioning to the glossy pages she flipped past.
“I don’t need bedroom furniture. I already have one. And I have a sitting room,” she added, before he could suggest it.
The vampire behind the counter gave an impatient huff, but kept his tone and expression friendly. “Then may I ask what you’re looking for?”
Migina flipped another page to gaze at shiny oak bookcases. “I don’t know. I have an extra room, but-”
“Ah!” The salesman tugged the catalog away from her and flipped several pages, stopping on a modern grouping. “Might I suggest a lounge? They’re very popular.”
Migina frowned at the orange upholstered furniture, the pendant lights, and even the fake wood stereo cabinet. “What would I do with a lounge?”
“Relax?” he suggested. “Listen to records.” He pointed to the stereo. “Or 8-tracks. This beauty plays both. Not to mention cassettes and there’s an option for reel to reel.”
Migina frowned at the photo. “The plants. Do they come with it? They’ll die.”
He turned the magazine around and looked over the printed descriptions. “Actually we could order artificial sun lamps for them… Let me see…Yes, you can order them…And we won’t need the lamps because they’re plastic. They look real, though, don’t they? Isn’t it amazing what they can make now?”
“Synthetic vegetation, fake sunlight, soon no one will ever need to leave their dungeons,” she muttered.
“Hmm?” Though it was a question, his hurry to rush on proved his disinterest. “You can get everything in the photo except the artwork and the carpeting, but we can order some paintings that would look good.” He pulled another catalog out from under the counter. “And as for carpeting, just a moment.” He lugged up a stack of sample books. “We have that covered, too. And wallpaper.”
Though she was still undecided, she let him flip through the binders, pointing out popular choices, including some heavy shag carpeting.
“Do you know your room measurements?” he asked.
She shrugged and he soon had an appointment set up for a workman to measure everything. “In the meantime we can go ahead and get this ordered. It will take about a month to get here, I’d say. Might be sooner, but I like to project on the longer side. When I do, I find that people are more likely to be pleasantly surprised than disappointed.”
Though she still wasn’t sold on the lounge idea, she couldn’t think of anything else. Half an hour later she left with a receipt, a photocopy of the catalog page, and a considerably lighter bank account.
She stopped in the corridor to stare at the black and white copy. Franklin’s going to laugh his head off when he gets home and sees this. Normally she didn’t let anyone talk her into things – she knew what she wanted and went for it – but this time…
There isn’t anything I want.
Except the dark room.
Migina returned to her apartment toting a sledgehammer. She ran into Verchiel in the hall, but for once the idiotic redhead only eyed the massive tool instead of offering some annoying quip.
Good. I hope he sees I’m not in the mood.
She let herself into the apartment, momentarily shocked to see her luggage and coat still stacked in the front room. “Sab-” she cut herself off. Right. She’d have to put her own things away, now.
Tell me again why we got rid of our servants?
After she’d lugged the stuff to her bedroom, she hauled the sledgehammer to Sarbina’s old bathroom. The tiled countertop looked empty, bare of all Sabrina’s toiletries. She’d been pretty for a human, and a little vain. Migina remembered more than once waiting on her to do her lipstick or curl her hair. Though she hadn’t bothered as much the last few years. In her mid-forties, she’d joked she was past catching a man, and those she attracted…well, they just wanted her blood. They didn’t care what she looked like.
“Philip told me that once,” she’d said, while squinting into the mirror.
Migina had stood impatiently in the doorway, arms crossed. “I’ve told you that you shouldn’t fraternize with the vampires. You’re not much of a guard dog if you’re in love with one of them.”
Sabrina had laughed, a cold, hollow sound. “You don’t need to worry, mistress. I’d be glad of an excuse to cut his heart out.”
Wouldn’t we all?
Sadly Sabrina had never gotten that chance. No one had broken in during the day, let alone tried to attack them.
And that’s the reason the guard dogs became obsolete.
Migina tightened her old on the sledgehammer and looked the room over again. There was a tub, toilet, and sink. She could make quick work of the porcelain – though she knew she should shut the water off first – If I don’t, trouble will find me, or something like old faithful, at least…but where was the valve? There was a valve, wasn’t there?
Half an hour later she checked the time and surrendered. The sun would be up soon. Tomorrow she’d have to call maintenance and have them shut the water off.
And then I’m going to gut that goddamn room.
1.wishful thinking 2. delusions 3. delusions of grandeur 4. reflection 5. mirror 6. inner tiger
It;s time again for blogophilia, the fun blog group where martien gives participants prompts to use in their weekly blog. This week’s prompts are:
And now we finish Tellith. If things work out, I’d like to do full stories the next few weeks. I have an idea for two of them and a beginning for a third (though no idea where it’s going). It;s just Philip I don;t know what I’m going to do. Yeah, I know, only four Executioner stories left. Then I can start working on my novel instead. Fun times.
Tellith woke as the sun sank the next evening. He blinked for a moment, remembering the silly sing-song Gladys used to say. “To bed now, my darling say goodbye to the day, for the vampires come out at night to play. They eat naughty children, who won’t go to sleep, so hide under your covers, and safe you will keep. ”
Then she’d break into a cackling laugh and sashay toward the powder room.
She was more than a little nuts. Lucky for Bray that she’s still living with him.
He dismissed the familiarity of his old coven for the nightmares of the now. Roger’s panicked phone call, the explosions, the unanswered calls. He didn’t have time to lay there, thinking about his old coven days. He needed to move.
His urgency returned, he leapt from the bed, grabbed his stuff, and headed out without even changing. His meal was a snack at the side of the road; using his phantom powers to make himself invisible long enough to pounce on deer.
He wanted more blood, but he let the animal break away, and headed back for his car. He should have taken an airplane. That would have been faster. He never thought of planes, though, not right off. Hell, his first instinct was still a horse. Cars and planes hadn’t existed for the first two-thirds of his life. For some reason his brain didn’t want to let go of that.
He was a good piece down the road when he decided to try Roger again. A great idea, but his phone was dead. The charger wasn’t plugged into the port – had he left it at Bray’s? – so he tossed the device in the passenger seat. What did it matter, anyway? It’s not like any of them could answer.
Because they’re dead.
He was sure of that, sure they’d all been slaughtered. Maybe the Hand of Death had swept through, killing them one by one in magnificent sprays of crimson. He imagined the floor wet with the blood of so many dead, and saw the monster-like man wading through the carnage, tearing his enemies apart with his bare hands.
Then he imagined himself arriving, walking through decimated hallways, to find the legendary vampire in the High Council’s audience chamber, seated on a pile of bloody skulls. His voice boomed, echoing off the crimson stained walls, “Who are you?”
In his imagination he fell to his knees and begged for mercy while the Hand of Death sat on his grisly throne and laughed. And laughed. And then, he’d stand and…
And kill me.
Tellith scowled. If he was going to die anyway, he didn’t want to grovel. His imagined scenario changed. The vampire god was still there, still perched on his skulls, his feet bare and stained in blood. But, instead of meekly dropping to his knees, Tellith charged, swinging a battle axe-
“Where the hell am I going to find a battle axe?”
But there was bound to be one laying around somewhere, right? After an epic battle with hundreds dead, there would be weapons everywhere among the carnage. It wasn’t as if the Hand of Death was going to go through and pick them all up. Something like that was too demeaning for a conqueror.
Unless he has followers.
Shit. That was something Tellith hadn’t considered. What if he had a whole army with him? The audience chamber disappeared, gone were the skulls and the vampire king drunk on blood, replaced with a mob of vampire soldiers, armed with shiny spears. They stood not inside, but outside the citadel, surrounding the entrance disguised as an office building. As soon as Tellith pulled into the parking area they pounced, attacking the car. Tellith floored it, but titans lifted the front of the car, leaving the wheels spinning uselessly in midair.
And then they dumped the car over. There was crunching glass, and suddenly hands would reach inside to pull him out and…
He shook away that scenario and tried again. What if he parked down the road? He could sneak up though the cornfield, and then…and then what? If he stepped out they’d get him. Unless they didn’t see him. Maybe he could slide into the garage and-
But there’s no corn this time of year.
He’d been in Florida, enjoying the summer-like warmth, but in Iowa it was January. The fields would be bare stubble and frozen dirt. There was nowhere to hide, no way to sneak past the waiting army.
On the other hand, he was a phantom, a vampire who had the ability to become invisible. Not literally invisible, of course, but he could somehow trick other people’s minds so they didn’t see him. The trouble was, it didn’t work on everyone. And there was no way someone as old and legendary as the Hand of Death would be susceptible.
Maybe I’ll get lucky, he told himself. Maybe he’ll be gone already. Maybe he and his army will have moved on.
He imagined the citadel in ruins, corpse laden hallways silent as he picked his way through them. No sign of life, nothing left alive, discarded weapons and limbs scattered. The carpet squished with blood as he walked, and the atrium was a sea of death; bodies heaped among dead foliage-
He broke off. No, the plants wouldn’t be dead. The Atrium’s waterfall would still tumble five stories down to the pool below, and the greenery – potted trees and shrubs – would still be lush and green, growing under the artificial skylight that served as the atrium’s ceiling.
That ceiling, Tellith thought irritably. He’d had to help change the lightbulbs in it more than once. It was his own fault for having a friend in the maintenance department – a friend who’d since been smart enough to quit.
At least she’s still alive, Tellith mused. She wouldn’t have been there when the attack came, she’d have been at her den in Montana. Or was it Michigan? Some state that started with an M, anyway. He got those two mixed up all the time. And then there was Mississippi…No. He’d driven through that on the way to Bray’s, and he knew she didn’t live down south. She’d headed north on the arm of a dark haired vampire who’d promised her the moon.
“As if he can deliver,” Tellith muttered sarcastically.
Tellith had never been in love with June – she was too dark for him, too depressing. June Gloom was her nickname, a play off of her birth name of June Glome. But she was also loyal and when he took her complaints with a grain of salt, they were even amusing sometimes.
He’d met her at the citadel, one of his first new friends. That had been 1937 – wasn’t it? He was pretty sure because it was the same year that Gladys started the war with that coven master who had the wonky eye…
Tellith shook his head as if he could physically get himself back on track. What had he been thinking about? Oh, right, June Gloom. She was slightly pudgy with red hair that curled unevenly, and one missing tooth. She said a donkey had kicked it out when she was a teenager. Though he’d witnessed their fellows’ rude comments about it, he found the imperfection endearing. It was a change from all the perfection of the upper echelon.
And they are perfect, he thought bitterly. All beautiful and glamorous, like polished stone that’s been sitting there for centuries gaining power. Meanwhile the peons were down at the bottom taking orders and wondering why.
Not that he wondered why. He knew why he took orders – because it was a steady paycheck. Vampirism didn’t negate the need for money. They still needed somewhere to live, a roof to shelter them from the sun. Sure, they could live like the rogues and squat in abandoned houses, but who wanted to do that for very long? No power, no television, no microwaved blood. Sure, he’d survived without those comforts for years, but now that he’d had them, he didn’t want to go back.
That was something he and June agreed on. It was the reason they took jobs at the citadel – she in maintenance, and he as a low level guard. He’d risen through the ranks, and she’d quit. He remembered the night she’d gone off the rails.
It was really Tristan’s fault. He was good looking, if you liked that bad boy type, and not more than forty years turned. Tellith didn’t know much about his past, only that he was dating Kathy, June’s maintenance partner and semi-friend. No, semi-friend was too strong. More like friend-she-hated.
Kathy was okay, not gorgeous, but most people agreed she was better looking than June. Tristan wasn’t most people, and he broke up with Kathy for the chubby redhead. That was what caused the rift that left June changing the lightbulbs in that nightmare ceiling by herself.
Which is why she asked me to help, Tellith thought glumly.
The ceiling of the atrium was made of milky glass. Above it was a crawl space that housed about a million light bulbs so that when they were all turned on it gave the illusion of a skylight. When they’d out it in, he’d marveled at it. Later, after helping June a few times, he’d come to hate the ting. That particular night, they crawled through the small space, swapping out bulbs, knocking away spider webs and the occasional grasshopper. When they finished, they’d climbed out to find Kathy and a gaggle of catty vampiresses. Before Tellith could do more than say, “Can I help you?” they’d pounced.
It was a helluva fight. The kind that sent more than one shrieking female through the wall and into the glowing bank of lightbulbs. He’d never forget the popping, shattering sound as the bulbs broke. When it was over, June’s clothes were torn, he had a scratch down his face, and the attackers lay moaning on the floor. As sharp as you please, the head of maintenance appeared. Oblivious to what had been all out war, his only words were, “I thought I told you to change those burnt out light bulbs, not stand here gossiping with your boyfriend.”
June’s face had wadded in fury, as red as her hair. She grabbed the crate of good bulbs from its safe place against the wall and dumped it over the vampire’s head while screaming, “He’s not my goddamn boyfriend!”
Then she’d stormed away, shouting after her, “I quit.”
Tellith had stood in the hallway, watching the vampire’s confusion melt into fury. He’d shaken the glass from his hair and arms, bellowing, “You! Clean this up!”
“Sorry, not my job.” And he’d also strode away, stepping over Kathy’s unconscious body. He’d heard later that the head of maintenance finally figured out about the fight, but he hadn’t connected June to it, and had even gone so far as to say Kathy was working when she was jumped by the other girls. The report was hilarious, though sadly only the garbage can got to enjoy it when Tellith accidentally dropped it there.
Three weeks later, Tristan talked June into packing up her suitcase and her pet koi fish, and leaving the citadel for that state that started with an M, where he had some family. By family he no doubt meant immortal family, but then as young as he was it was hard to say. He might have living relatives still. Hell, he might have children if they were conceived before he was turned.
Children. Tellith grimaced at the word. Not because he’d never had any, but because he had. One. A son. That was in the 1700s. Being a vampire was different then, and when you got turned you had to leave everything behind – everyone. To be fair, the boy hadn’t been born yet, he was just a bump in a young girl’s stomach – a young girl he wasn’t excited about marrying. Vampiredom seemed like the perfect escape. He got out of the drudgery of marriage and he got to live forever. Could it be better?
He’d regretted the decision later, but it was too late. He couldn’t go back, couldn’t marry her after all. Hell, he wasn’t even supposed to see her. He had, though. He’d snuck back three years later and peeked through the cold winter window to see her and the child huddled before the fire, her husband in a nearby chair cleaning his rifle.
Tellith told himself that at least he seemed happy, at least the child was well cared for. But, deep down, he knew he should have been the man in the chair, the man providing the meals, the man taking care of them in that wild land.
Nothing I can do about it now.
That was the story of his life. There was never anything he could do about it. Like now. He could drive and drive, but by the time he got to the citadel there would be nothing he could do.
Nothing except burn the bodies.
The sun was peeking over the horizon by the time he found a motel. He ran to the building to check in, leaving all his luggage locked in the car. He didn’t need it anyway, it at least not as much as he needed to hide from the glowing ball of hate.
His motel room had heavy curtains that he gladly pulled, but to be safe he spent the night in the empty bathtub, the door shut. The do not disturb sign hung on the knob, even so he wondered if they’d obey it, or of some well-meaning maid would waltz in around noon, screaming at the body in the bathtub.
Just the thing I need to interrupt my sleep.
Despite Tellith’s fears, he was undisturbed, and woke the next evening thinking of Gladys’ stupid rhyme. If she was here, I’d strangle her. Not that he really would. He’d had the chance while he was at Bray’s for a week, and he hadn’t done it. Even when she sang the worm song, as he called it for lack of a title, while dusting the parlor.
I don’t have time to worry about Gladys. Or Bray. I need to get back.
And bury the bodies.
He returned the key to the lobby, stopping long enough to check the map pinned to the wall. If there was no construction or detours, he should get to the citadel by two in the morning.
Maybe I should buy a shovel first?
But he didn’t, just fed on the owner’s dog, leaving the canine alive but groggy, and then headed out. He stopped again along the side of the road for more wildlife, but didn’t linger. The sooner he got there, the better.
He steered down the interstate, his mind wandering back to Bray, Gladys and the others. They weren’t his original coven – that was why they had different abilities than he did. For that matter they weren’t anyone’s original coven, rather a hodge-podge of lone vampires who didn’t really want to be alone, no matter what they said.
That was what he’d been when he and Bray had found them. The only pair to share a master, they were as close to real brothers as it came in the group. But the others had quickly welcomed them, and soon they were a functioning family, if that was what you wanted to call it.
Does that make Gladys our mother, or the crazy sister?
He’d stayed with them for more than fifty years before leaving for the citadel. It had been Gladys’ war that prompted him to finally part ways. Not that he was adverse to fighting if it was necessary, but she just liked to pick fights, and how many should he be expected to fight before he got tired of it. Bray said she’d pouted for months after he left, even refused to fight the war she started.
At least that was something, he told himself.
Though he’d moved, he was still close with them – close enough to take two weeks of vacation days to help Bray paint his house. That was another thing people didn’t think about when it came to vampires. If they had a den, they still had to maintain it. It still needed painted, re-roofed. The yard still had to be mowed, if they were in town, and the trash still had to go out. All those mundane things didn’t disappear with immortality like they did in the movies.
Unless you work for The Guild. Then they take care of all that.
It was well after midnight when Tellith crossed into Iowa, and closing in on one when he got close to the citadel. He left the nearest town behind – a rural place with a handful of stoplights and dark businesses. The black highway hummed under the tires, but he forsook it finally for gravel, a path of white rock gleaming in the moonlight.
The way The Hand of Death’s skull throne gleams.
Tellith hands tightened on the steering wheel, and each mile saw them clench tighter. He imaged the citadel above ground; what had been a grain elevator and shining silver bins would be blasted open, the last of the stored corn spread on the ground like intestines. The other building would be burnt shells, frames of twisted metal, charred wood, the garage peeled back sheet metal with rows of ruined cars whose owners would never see them again. The office building would be a smoldering wreck, the space-age silver door, previously hidden in the back room among sacks of seed, now exposed.
But would there be an army? Had the Hand of Death attacked alone? Was he still there?
Tellith cursed at his lack of information. Better safe than sorry, he pulled over to the side of the road and got out. He could see the hulk of the grain buns in the distance, maybe a half hour walk f he hurried, faster than a mortal could go.
If only I was a wind walker. I could be there and back out before anyone even noticed.
Gladys echoed in his head. “Who wants to be a wind walker? What’s the good of running fast when no one else can? I spend all my time waiting on everyone to catch up. But you – a phantom – you can sneak around, listen in on conversations, find out secrets. And don’t tell me you don’t do that!”
Except he didn’t. It hadn’t occurred to him, and even after she’d suggested it, it felt wrong. He’d eavesdropped enough in his life to know that you never heard anything good that way.
Thank God I’m not a mind reader.
He stopped long enough to dig through his trunk for a weapon – he hadn’t planned on trouble, so all his Guild issued hardware was still in the citadel. With nothing else, he settled for the tire iron, promising himself held grab the first discarded battle axe he could find.
He started out on the road. Moving closer and closer to citadel and the ruined grain elevator that hid it – except as he got closer he didn’t see much destruction. He could smell the smoke, though, heavy and laced with burning flesh. The attack was forty-eight hours ago, so why was it still burning, unless everyone really was dead. But then why hadn’t the humans-
He stopped in his tracks and groaned. He hadn’t thought about them. The grain elevator and office was manned by humans in the daytime. Though the vampires liked to pretend that the mortals didn’t know what lurked beneath. He knew for a fact that they did. Maybe not the specifics, but they were aware that someone hid in the deep. How else could anyone explain the garage of expensive sports cars? What they thought those someones were – whether rich recluses or genuine monsters – Tellith wasn’t sure, but they certainly knew they were there.
So what would happen when those humans had come to work the next morning to find the buildings burning and the towering bins – okay, the bins looked fine, but the buildings were surely destroyed. The vampire army would have had to hide underground by then. Even the Hand of Death couldn’t brave the sun.
Or could he? They said ancient vampires could take surprising amounts of sunlight. How old was he? Tellith knew that Malick was the Hand’s master, and Malick was definitely ancient. A couple thousand years at least. It made sense that the Hand of Death would be at least a thousand, maybe older. It would explain what made him so strong…
Tellith’s imagination pulled up the ruined buildings, the smoldering ground, bathed in the red light of dawn. Humans stood around, confused. One pulled out a phone, dialed 9-1-1. A low rumble started under their feet, like an earthquake in the bowels of hell. It grew louder and louder, until the Hand of Death blasted through the naked, exposed silver door.
The humans screamed, ran, but the vampire grabbed them, tore through them with his gangs, gorging on their blood. He threw their empty casks aside with a howl of unhuman rage, muscles gleaming in the morning sun, body streaked in crimson…
And then what? When the humans didn’t come home that night, did their family come looking for them? Police? Firemen? Had the Hand of death killed all of them, or had he left? If so, had those humans found the silver door? Had they crept down the stairs to find the carnage inside?
Tellith’s head swam with the horrible possibilities, with all the laws such a scenario broke. That humans might discover them, their existence…it went against the edict handed out by Munich, by the ancients who ruled all vampire-kind. By their command it was the responsibility of every vampire – more-so the Executioners and guards – to cover up the evidence of vampire/human interactions.
But who’s going to cover this up?
And when no one hid the truth, who would the ancient vampires in Munich punish? Tellith swallowed hard. Would they blame him? He was a greater guard, after all, and they’d want a scape goat, someone to blame and make an example of.
Maybe I should just go back to Bray’s.
Except…Except he’d promised Roger he’d come bury their bodies.
No longer sire who to fear – the Hand of Death, his army, the humans, or Munich – Tellith tightened his grip on the tire iron and started walking again. He moved towards the edge of the road, and finally moved to the ditch. He could see the looming towers, the rest of the complex surrounded by trees. The yard lights were all blazing like usual, but that didn’t mean much.
Though there was no corn, he navigated to the field and cut across, drawing closer. He sniffed the air, inhaling the heavy smoke. The smell obliterated everything else, and he crept forward blind. Concentrating, he disappeared, or would have seemed to if anyone was looking, not that he saw anyone.
He broke through the trees, into the complex area. The buildings weren’t the shambles he expected. Rather, they seemed undamaged, despite the horrific destruction that had happened there. The smoke rolled not from the citadel, but from an empty field beyond it.
What in the hell?
Still invisible, he slipped around the buildings, around the grain bins, until he had a full view. A large bonfire blazed, orange flames snapping up into the night like the scene his imagination had played over and over. Silhouetted in the fire were the black shape of vampires with weapons – no, not weapons, but-
Tellith moved closer, the scent of their immortality getting stronger as he mentally pushed away the smoke’s putrid smell. They were vampires, all right, and not completely unfamiliar. In fact he thought he recognized-
One of the silhouettes looked up, a hand up to shade their eyes. “Yeah, what?”
Tellith blinked back into existence, now visible to everyone, and hurried toward his friend. He stopped in front of him to grab his shoulders, checking he was solid, real, that his chest wasn’t a gaping hole of gore.
Roger ripped away with a scowl. “What the hell? Tellith? You scared the hell out of me! What do you think you’re doing just popping out of thin air to grab someone?”
“You’re alive!” he cried, ignoring the tirade.
“Of course I’m alive! No thanks to you. Where have you been? I’ve been trying to call you for two days – two days! Do you realize-”
“My phone was dead,” Tellith murmured, still dazed to find his friend all in one piece and in the same mood as always. “I think I left the charger at Bray’s den.”
“Well isn’t that great? I was starting to think you’d been killed in some kind of horrible wreck. It would explain why you called me in the daytime.”
Tellith stepped back, frowning. “I didn’t.”
“Oh yes you did.” Roger dropped his shovel to dig his phone out of his pocket. “It’s right here…” he flicked the screen several times, finally flashing the display with triumph. “See? The day before yesterday you called me at six-thirty in the morning. I didn’t answer because I was asleep, like any sane vampire, but some of the other guys said you called them, too. I figured it must have been an emergency since you were harassing everyone.”
Tellith ran over the events of the day before. He hadn’t – but he had. He’d called them from the motel the first night out, when no one had answered.
Was it really that late when I called? No wonder no one answered.
“You’d think the office would have picked up,” he muttered.
“Shit, we don’t hand landline service. No TV either, and the power is only now getting fixed.”
Tellith looked over his shoulder, to the undamaged buildings. “So there was an attack?”
“Of course there was an attack!” Roger shouted. “I told you – oh for crying out loud. Come on.”
He grabbed Tellith’s arm and started to steer him back to the office, but Tellith dug his feet in. “Wait a minute. Aren’t you on duty?”
“You call burning bodies duty?”
Burning bodies. Tellith looked to the fire, to the wheelbarrow heaped in corpses. “Shit. Who are they?”
“Casualties. Anyway, you go there just in time. I have an appointment in the audience chamber, so we’ll have to talk and walk.”
Tellith relented and followed his friend. As they walked, Roger said, “I told you we were under attack, right? Well, it was Jorick’s fledgling Oren, and his group.”
Tellith shivered. “So it was the Hand of Death.”
“No,” Roger snapped impatiently. “It was his fledgling, Oren. And there weren’t that many of them. Sure, enough to cause trouble, but not enough to make this big of a mess.”
Roger hushed him as they entered the office, nodded to the vampire farmer behind the desk, and headed back to the silver door. Everything looked fine until they reached the bottom of the stairs, and then Tellith saw it. The welcome room was destroyed; walls scorched, furniture burned. Huge cracks in the ceiling were partially plastered, as if someone had started fixing things then got bored.
“What in the hell?”
“They had explosives,” Roger explained.
“So that was how a small army managed to kill so many?” He jerked his thumb in the general direction of the bonfire and the gory wheelbarrow.
“That didn’t hurt, but the main trouble was that none of the security systems were working at the time. None of them. And when the attack started, instead of sending the Executioners upstairs to fight, Malick called them all to the basement.”
“Why would he do that?” Tellith asked, half of his attention focused on the hallway they walked into. There were no dead bodies, no rug squishing with blood, only freshly repaired walls and a pair of vampires on a ladder trying to repair hanging electrical wires.
“Because he had plans!” Roger snapped. “Let me explain it, huh? As I was saying, Malick just sent the lesser guards up to fight, as if those guys could do shit. And as I said, the attackers had explosives.”
“But the buildings looked alright-”
“Of course they did! What good would it do to blow them up? They blasted their way in here!” Roger pushed the elevator button and the doors swished open, revealing a glass backed carriage. He stepped inside, dragging Tellith with him. Gesturing past the glass walls, the six story atrium beyond. “See that? They blew a hole in the damn ceiling! And not just here but other places, too.”
Roger went on, detailing how they’d split up, blown through the roof, through the dirt and rock above their heads, and had even blasted their way from floor to floor, moving closer to the ground floor.
“We stopped them eventually, of course.” Roger’s chest puffed out as he turned and mashed an elevator button. “Captured them all, but not before Malick pulled his revolt.”
Tellith’s attention jerked away from the atrium; from the roof draped in plastic, and the bent vegetation. “Malick’s what?”
“You heard me. He revolted.”
“But he was in charge of The Guild! In order to revolt, he’d have to revolt against himself!”
Roger rubbed his chin. “I suppose, if you look at it that way. I assumed he was revolting against the rest if the High Council. Anyway, he did this thing that killed pretty much everyone who’d taken shelter in the atrium – made their brains explode in their heads. That was a mess to clean up. Then he took off.”
“What?” Tellith cried, no longer watching the elevator’s descent.
“I told you-” Roger broke off as the elevator stopped and the doors opened. He half dragged Tellith out and down the hallway. “Anyway, the important part, when he left, he took three Executioners with him – Three! Can you imagine? The final selection for replacements is today.”
Roger kept talking, but Tellith suddenly understood. Roger had put in for Executioner duty. Again.
“You know, there’s going to be a lot of competition.”
Roger drew to a stop to glare at him. “Don’t start. This is my time. I can feel it. I received special commendation in that battle, you know.”
“Ah. Well, maybe that will help,” Tellith muttered.
“I hope so. Now if you’ll excuse me?”
Before he could actually move, a pair of Executioners appeared. Wearing semi-identical black clothes and silver medallions, they both had long black hair, though one wore it in a bun while the other left his long.
As they strode by, Tellith snapped a salute from habit, but Roger only scowled.
“What the hell are you doing?” Tellith whispered when they were past. “Those were Executioners!”
“I know who they are,” Roger muttered. “And after today I won’t have to salute them anymore.”
“Maybe.” Tellith watched them disappear through the giant door of the audience chamber. “Who was the new guy? Not Jamie, but the other one?”
Roger rolled his eyes. “That was Executioner Jorick.”
Tellith choked on the name. “There’s another Jorick? I thought there was just the one.”
“How should I know? There’s probably a lot of Jorick’s in the world! But that’s the one you’re thinking of. The so-called hand of Death.”
Tellith couldn’t find intelligent words. “What?”
“Malick sentenced him to be an Executioner as punishment for killing so many of them. Can you believe that crap? I’d do it willingly, but he forces that guy to do it? Anyway, I figured he’d leave with Malick, too, you know, since that’s his master, but he didn’t. Not sure if he’s staying here as a spy for Malick or what’s going on. And I don’t care. In an hour I’ll be his equal. Wish me luck!”
With that, Roger dashed away, leaving Tellith standing in the cracked corridor, mouth hanging open.
Of all the things held imagined, that hadn’t been it. That the hand of death would be there, not as a conqueror, but reinstated as an Executioner, and that the death wasn’t caused so much by an invading horde, but by Malick himself…
I guess they say truth is stranger than fiction, and that’s too strange, even for my imagination.
And now for guesses
It’s time for Blogophilia, the fun blog group where Martien gives participants prompts to use in their weekly blog. This week;s prompts are:
I was trying to do complete (or at least half) stories, but it;s not happening this week because most of my writing time is going to the Jorick short that will be in the Creature Feature anthology.
This story takes place during the end of Ashes of Deceit. (book 4 in my series)
Tellith wedged the edge of the blade under the flap of loose paint. He scraped, watching the bits of old paint drop down to the plastic. With a flick of his wrist he started again, on another chunk. Scrape. Scrape. Scrape.
With a huff of impatience, he blew a frizzy curl off his forehead and looked at his brother. The opposite of Tellith, Bray was pale with red-gold hair and freckles. The disparity wasn’t caused by an unfaithful mother, or a philandering father. In truth, they weren’t brown brothers, but had become so in the afterlife. Turned by the same master, they were brothers in blood.
And that was the only reason Tellith was there now instead of at the citadel. He was burning up two week’s worth of vacation to help Bray paint his den. It was a tedious job that he was sick of already.
“Why don’t you just hire someone to do this?” he asked testily.
Bray paused scraping to roll his. “You know anyone? It’s not like I can hire a human crew. Business hours…”
It was a valid excuse, but Tellith wasn’t interested in admitting it. “Yeah. Yeah. You’re just lucky they let me off for this.”
They went back to their work. Scrape. Scrape. Scrape. Finally, Bray asked, “You’re still just a guard?”
Tellith tried not to be annoyed with the question. “A greater guard, but yes. Though at the rate the Executioners are dying lately I’ve got a chance.”
It was obviously a polite inquiry with no interest behind it, but Tellith felt like making Bray suffer. “The Hand of Death has been back at things, apparently. I don’t know that you’ve heard of him?”
“Not really,” Bray muttered.
Tellith bit back a smile and launched into a long winded story about a vampire named Jorick, the legendary Hand of Death, son of Malick, the head of the Executioners. Jorick had been an Executioner once, long ago. After trying to kill everyone in the citadel, he’d retired only to resurface a few months ago.
“Since then, five Executioners have died.”
Bray stopped scraping to look at him. “You don’t have that many of them, do you?”
“Twelve. So Jorick has wiped out almost half of them. Of course they’ve been replaced.” He started on a long drone about the process; how Malick called the candidates before him, probed their minds, and made his choice, but his ringing cellphone interrupted him.
“better get that,” Bray said with relief.
Tellith was tempted not to, just to aggravate him, but he tugged the device out. Roger’s name flashed on the screen, and on a whim he answered.
“Well hello! You just had to bother me on my vaca-”
Roger cut him off. “Where are you?”
Tellith gave an impatient huff. “I already tried to tell you. I’m on vacation, helping Bray repaint his den. You remember, he was in the coven with me-”
“Yeah, yeah. We’re under attack here!”
Tellith blinked at the partially scraped house. “What? Are you serious? What’s going on?”
“No, I’m joking,” Roger said sarcastically. “Yes. I’m serious! Get your ass back here before we’re all killed!”
“It’s a two day drive from here. If I left this minute-”
“You’d be here in time to bury us, maybe,” Roger snapped.
Bray looked up from his work. “What is it?”
“It’s Roger. He’s a greater guard, too. He says they’re being attacked.” Just then he heard the sound of an explosion on the other end of the line. “Holy shit. What was that? Roger?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m here. I think they’re blasting their way into the citadel!”
“Who is?” Tellith practically shouted.
“I have to go. I’ll see you if you ever get here, assuming I’m not dead!”
“Roger!” Tellith yelled into the phone, but it did no good. The line went dead.
He thought about calling Roger back, but if he really was fighting for his life it would just be a nuisance. Frustrated, he jammed his phone back into his pocket.
“What the hell is going on?” Bray asked, his task temporarily forgotten.
“I don’t know. It might be the Hand of Death.”
Bray shook out of his surprise and turned back to his work. “Aren’t you glad you’re here?”
“No. I’m going to have to go back.”
Bray spun back to him. “Are you kidding? You promised me two weeks, but you’ve only been here one. We haven’t even started to paint yet! Besides, it’s safer here! Why would you want to go running back? You sad yourself this Hand of Death killed half the citadel once. Do you want involved in that? The average man don’t like trouble and danger.”
“But I’m not average,” Tellith said, tossing the paint scraper onto the patio table. “I’m sorry, Bray, but I have to go. They’ll be requesting me officially pretty soon, anyway.”
Bray sighed. “Fine, man, whatever.”
“Look, I’m sorry-”
“Oh, don’t worry, I’ll just have to prostitute out the rest of the coven to raise enough money to hire someone that won’t ask questions, like why we’re not home all day. No big deal.”
“That’s a little TMI,” Tellith smirked. “You’ll be fine. We were almost done scraping, and you could make the rest of your lazy ass coven do the painting.”
“Good luck with that. The prostituting thing was more likely.”
Tellith chuckled as he ducked inside the house and hurried to the back room where his bag was. He gathered up the things he’d scattered around the house; bath supplies, extra clothes, a book, and hurried back out to his car.
Bray waited as he threw the bag in the backseat and climbed in. “You could come with me,” Tellith suggested.
“Hardly,” Bray answered. “Good luck not getting killed by the hand of the dead, or whatever his name is.”
“Jorick,” Tellith called as he fired the vehicle up. “And thanks! Good luck to you with your paint!”
He peeled off, leaving a spray of dirt and gravel behind in his haste.
Not that I’ll get there in time to do anything except bury them.
- traffic jam 2. in the city 3. downtown 4. overcrowding 5. summer in the city 6. limousine races 7. city traffic 8. Busy afternoon 9. transportation 10. they need some stop lights.
It’s time again for Blogophilia, the fun blog group where Martien gives participants prompts to use in their blogs. This week’s prompts are:
And part two (the final half) of Mary’s story is here!
She tightened her hold on her weapon, waiting, counting the seconds in time to her heartbeats. As she concentrated, tense, the whisper of the breeze became a roar, the chirp of a lone cricket a deafening symphony.
She heard him before she saw him; a rush of wind followed by a blur. Jared stumbled backwards, clipped by their indivisible enemy; his motions so fast that even Mary’s vampire eyes couldn’t see him.
She swung in the space he should have bene, but hit nothing. Reeling from the missed attack, she missed him as he came behind her. She felt the fists in her back a moment before she slammed face first into the damp grass.
She jerked to her feet, spinning in an angry circle, but that was it. He was gone. He’d escaped. Again.
Oh, no you don’t. Not this time.
She checked to make sure Jared was alive, then sprinted after the rogue. The world blurred into smears of green as she followed the scent, back up the street and into town. She raced past unseen houses, their windows dark, only to finally catch sight of him ahead of her. He slowed enough to look back and she saw his face, his dark eyes gleaming with surprise and his full lips stretched in a grin, as if to say, “Do you want to race?”
She thought she heard laughter as he spurred himself forward, leaving her behind. With a prayer to whatever dark gods might listen, she pushed herself. In her memory she wasn’t in a small Iowa town anymore, but back in New Orleans, racing the dark streets after Daquin.
His words flew back to her, echoing off the towering buildings and balconies. “You’ll never catch me!”
And she didn’t. She’d get so close; once close enough to pull his flapping coat free, but at the last moment he would bound away, using wrought iron balconies to reach the rooftops, and then he was gone, laughing into the night, leaving her to slump back to Madam LaFete alone.
“Where have you been child?” her mother in blood would demand when she sulked through the door. But she knew, they all knew.
“He’s good for nothing, child. You chase only heartbreak.”
If only I’d listened.
But she hadn’t listened then, and she wouldn’t listen now. She’d lost Daquin, but this rogue…this rogue, would be her prize.
His scent was heavy on the breeze, and she skidded to a stop. The mistake she’d made with Daquin was trying to match his speed. No, the smarter thing to do was head him off, take a shortcut. They’d arrive at the same location at the same time, despite his superior skill.
But where is he going?
He’d come on the train and if his pattern held, he’d leave on the train. As if cued, a whistle sounded in the distance, mournful and alone.
No. Not this time.
With the renewed energy of a new beginning, she abandoned his trail and cut back towards the train tracks. He wouldn’t need to board at the station, wouldn’t want to, in fact. No, he’d hop on a little ways down the track, where there was no one to see him.
Praying that she was right, she hopped a fence, and raced headlong through someone’s yard. Another fence, an ally, and then on to the street. Her feet flew, barley touching the earth before they were gone again, propelling her onward, so fast it seemed she was flying.
And then she saw him. Silhouetted in the moonlight, standing by the tracks. He sensed her a moment too soon, and after a surprised look back, took off. Her fingertips had brushed his arm; his shirt. She could still feel the warmth of his body, heated by his victims’ blood.
She flashed back again to Daquin, to the texture of his velvet coat between her fingers as he ripped away from her, laughing, tossing back that curious mixture of English and French that rolled from his tongue like warm honey. She’d wanted to wrap in those words, in his voice, wallow in it, bathe in it, never leave. She’d wanted to hear him call her ma cherié forever.
If only I’d known how empty those beautiful words were.
Her prey disappeared over a rise, and she caught the scent of water; a river. If he made it there, she wasn’t sure she could track him anymore. Jared could, but he was back at the house, still. With no other choice, she said a final prayer and leapt over the rise, throwing herself toward whatever she could tackle.
Whether luck or fate, she found her mark, slamming bodily into him, so that the pair rolled and tumbled down the rocky bank into the shallow water.
He pulled partially free, but she retackled him, wrapping her legs around his middle and her arms around his shoulders, pushing him face down in the churning water. He wouldn’t drown; vampires didn’t need air, but his instincts didn’t know that. They’d fight to breathe, fight for useless oxygen, and surrender the battle to get it.
He choked, sputtered, tried to get his hands free. She tightened her grip, squeezing with all her strength. Water splashed in her face, filled her nose, burned her eyes. I don’t need the air, she told herself. I’m fine. I’m safe. I don’t need the air. I can’t let go.
He choked, and finally went still. Surrender. Or at least the appearance of it. But she knew better than to take it at face value.
She pulled back, lifting his face out of the river. He coughed, hacked, gasped for wheezing lugfuls of air.
“All right. You…you got me,” he choked out. “Now…what?”
“Now I take you to the citadel to stand trial. Or kill you here, and leave your body to burn in the sunlight. Whichever you prefer.”
“I get a choice?” He spit out a mouthful of laughter and managed a chuckle.
“No, I do. Now get up.” She slackened her grip enough to slide off of him, using one hand to pull his wrists behind his back. She’d lost her mace in the struggle, so she settled for jamming her backup dagger under his chin. “If I have to, I’ll drain you dry and drag your empty husk back. On second thought, that might be easier.”
There was no fear in him, only amusement. “That it would. But you’d better hurry.”
“Or you’ll have to fight my master, too.”
His master? Mary’s instinct was to jerk away, dagger held at the ready, while she scanned the night for a second vampire, but that was just what he wanted her to do. He wanted her to let go, to lower her guard so he could escape.
“I’ll worry about that when he comes. Now get up.”
The rogue shrugged, and stood, sinewy muscle sliding through her hands as he straightened. Too tall for her to reach his throat effectively, she snapped the dagger around to his back, pressing the tip behind his heart. “What is your name? And who is your master?”
He spit out river water, and shook his soggy brown bangs out of his face. “Seth.”
Half an answer was better than none, and she didn’t have time to mess around. She needed to get back to Jared and Deanne, Between the three of them, they should be able to hold him. On her own, one wrong move, and he’d be free, and gone.
“Fine, Seth. Now march.”
He spit more river water and stumbled his way up the bank, tugging at his hands. She held them hard, and applied more pressure to the dagger. If he tried, he could break free. Hopefully the blade held enough fear for him to prevent that.
Or Jared tracks us here, and joins me in detaining him.
He stopped at the bank, shaking water from his boots. “Where are we marching to?”
“Back to the house, and the humans you butchered.”
He scoffed. “Since when did vampires care about mortal lives?”
“We don’t. We care that you kill in such a public way. Leaving the bodies lay in their beds, for some fool to discover? Do you know what they make of such a mess? What happened in Utah? This modern humanity is not so modern that a little evidence won’t convince them monsters exist. It was only luck that one of them blamed the open window and a rabid dog with blood on its muzzle. If you want to kill to feed, then do so discreetly. You’re so-called master should have taught you that.”
“Where’s the fun in that?” He snickered and flexed his wrists again, testing the strength of her hold. “You’re what they call an Executioner?”
“Yes,” she snapped. “Now march.”
“I would, but…” he trailed off into another chuckle. “It’s rude to go when we have company.”
Mary’s heart hammered and her eyes darted around, seeking the invisible “company”. Had his master arrived, as he’d threatened? She sniffed the air, finding mud, the heavy smell of the river, the green of the plants, the peculiar smell of a cool summer night, and then, on the breeze, the scent of shadows and molasses; a scent that froze her chest.
The voice came from the dark trees that bordered the river, words rolling like thick honey. “Seth, Seth. What trouble have you gotten yourself into this time?”
Though it had been years, Mary knew that voice, knew that scent, felt both echo in the core of her being.
He stepped free of his shelter to stand in the gently waving grass. Diffused moonlight shone on his chocolate skin, and his dark hair curled in a new style, one more suited to his modern wardrobe. Though he was some distance, her vampire eyes gave her a clear image of him, and of his face, so familiar and yet foreign by the passage of time.
“Master.” She could hear the grin in Seth’s voice. “I warned her you were coming.”
Master. No wonder the rogue made her think of Daquin, when he carried his blood.
“Those in power are all the same, they never listen. Why would immortality make that different?” Daquin walked closer, his movements the smooth grace of a predator waiting to spring. “Executioner, is it? You can see you’re out numbered. Drop the blade and step away.”
She narrowed her eyes, met his gaze full force. “Or what?”
He stopped, close enough to reach out for, and studied her. She could almost see the gears turning in his head as he surveyed her. “Do I know you, chere?”
That word slithered through her, and it took all of her self-control not to react. “I doubt it. Now back away, or I’ll take you in as well.”
Daquin gave a hearty laugh. “You have some nerve, I’ll give you that. But, as I already told you,” the amusement sipped from his voice as he closed the gap between them, leaving only cold menace. “Drop the blade and step away.”
He grabbed her wrist and she twisted away, pulling from his grasp. The moment the dagger was out of Seth’s back, he jerked loose from her, and bounded up the bank, stopping on the high ground to peer down. “I warned you, Executioner.”
“I told you, boug, they never listen. Haven’t you listened to the stories of the Executioners? The fearful whispers in the shadows of their merciless strength? We’ll see how strong they really are.” Daquin smirked, as he moved toward her, his every move smooth like a swaying snake that held her hypnotized. She wasn’t there, by the tiny Iowa river, but back in Louisiana, watching him draw close, that same predatorial smirk on his face. Only then it wasn’t her blood he meant to claim, only her body, a thing she’d given willingly.
But Daquin, he was rooted firmly in the present, in a time and place where he didn’t know her, and didn’t care. “How do you want to die, Executioner? Fast or slow?”
Inside, she screamed a torrent of frustration. She couldn’t take two of them alone. There was only one option – to let them go.
“Neither.” And she took off, leaving his fingertips brushing empty air.
As she bounded past Seth, knocking him down for good measure, she heard Daquin laugh. “A shadow racer!” but she didn’t stay to hear the rest.
She’d crossed the tracks, when she was aware of him, tailing her, catching up. She was not the prey and they the hunters.
If I can just make it back to Jared and Deanne.
She put on a burst of speed and cut through a yard. Over a ditch, through a garden, past another block. So close. So…
He nailed her from behind, slamming her into the ground, just as Seth had earlier. Only, instead of leaping up to run away, he stayed, pressing her into the damp earth with the weight of his body.
“Not so fast, are you? What a pity for you. What should I do with such a weak Executioner?”
As she’d fallen, she’d folded her arm, keeping the dagger flat against her body. She wriggled under him, working to slide her arm free. “If you kill me, they’ll be a mark on your head as well as your fledgling’s. To this moment you’ve done nothing worth dying for. Do you really want to get involved in his crimes?”
“Nothing worth dying for? Ah, ma chere, but you don’t know me. I have done a million terrible things. What’s one more?”
Her arm broke free, and she used it to arch herself up, dislodging him, then rolled, slashing with the dagger. The blade caught his shoulder as he pulled back, leaving the glittering edge wet with crimson. He flinched away in surprise, then his face clouded with fury. He slammed his arm across her shoulders, knocking her back to the ground, and grabbed her wrist with his free hand, squeezing, trying to force the dagger from her grip. Leaning his face close to hers, he snarled, “You will die for that Ex-“ He broke off suddenly and leaned back, those invisible gears spinning again. “No, no, ma chere. You do know me, don’t you? Hmmm? And I know you. But from where, I wonder? Who are you?”
“I’m an Executioner,” she snarled between clenched teeth. She was already nearly outmatched and had no intention of telling him the truth; that she was that weak little thing he’d left broken hearted when he broke from their master so long ago.
He leaned close again, inhaling deeply, like she was some kind of exotic dish. “That’s as may be, but you have a name. And a history. Mmmmm. Your smell, it rings a bell, as they say. The edge of a memory. I can almost taste it.” He snapped his teeth and snickered. “I’ve had you before, yes? There’s so many, it’s hard to keep track of all of you.” He applied more pressure to her wrist, his thumb sending shooting shards of pain up her arm. “The question is, were you satisfying enough to spare, or should I go ahead and kill you? That I can’t remember says you can’t have been completely disappointing.”
While he rambled, she pulled her other arms free and used it knock him off of her. By the time he recovered, she was on her feet, blade at the ready.
He stepped back, hands up, laughing. “If you were mediocre, then you have improved, ma chere. Feisty. I like that in a woman. You may have saved your own life, but you cannot hope to take me to your Guild. You can’t catch me.” She saw the comprehension dawn across his features, the light of recognition spark in his eyes. “Of course! How could I not recognize our shared blood sooner? You are one of LaFete’s children…what was your name? An S I think? No, an M. Magdalene. No…No…Mary!” He made a sound of triumph as he lowered his hands. “Lord, but it’s been a spell, ma chere. An Executioner?” He whistled and circled her, as if taking in a grown child. “I didn’t expect that of you. I thought you’d be back in the bayou with LaFete, or long dead, like the others.”
Mary tightened her hold on the dagger, as if she could choke the air from him by proxy. Her memories flashed and she saw the others, victims of a coven war, their blood splashed up the walls. The basket she’d held slipped from her fingers, and she’d turned and run, sprinting harder than she ever had before, leaving behind the stench of death. It had taken her two days to go back. By then, the bodies were long gone, all evidence erased, and the other coven had moved in. She managed to avoid them, and found Madam LaFete hiding out in the bayou. Though her master swore revenge, it wasn’t something Mary could face, so she’d left.
And spent the years after trying to make up for that cowardice.
Maybe she wasn’t the only coward. “And where were you when they were killed, Daquin? No one had seen you at the den for days, we thought you’d already cleared out, but if you knew their fate, then it means you weren’t so far gone as we imagined.”
“Oh, I was gone, all right. And smart enough to stay gone.” He slipped closer, dropping his voice to a purr. “I knew they were coming, huh? Knew they were coming and knew better than to get involved. As you did, or you wouldn’t be standing here.”
“I was at the market when they attacked!”
“Then luck was with you, ma chere. And Lafete? Did she tell you where she was?”
Mary faltered. In her memory she saw her master, dark braids falling around her shoulders as she swore to destroy them. “They killed my children! They will die for this!” She’d poured out plans, but never had they discussed how they’d both come to survive.
Daquin snickered. “I can see by your face that she didn’t. She left, of course. When the fighting started, when the blood began to flow, LaFete slipped out the back and kept right on going. She conceded the den, the coven, all of it to save herself.”
Anger rose in Mary, anger she struggled to control. “How would you know? You said yourself you left before the attack.”
“And that I looked up LaFete afterwards. Call it curiosity to see how the old hag made it through.”
“Watch your tongue! She is your master, you owe her respect!”
All humor disappeared from his face. “I owe her nothing! And I owe you nothing, little Mary. She made us not out of love, but for her own selfish ends, because we pleased her eyes or her senses in some way, or reminded us of what she’d once had. A replacement for her daughter, weren’t you? But when she escaped that den did she go to the market to warn you, or did she flee, and leave you to your fate?”
“No doubt she trusted I was smart enough to notice the commotion.”
He stepped closer. “And were you? Or did you go back to that den, and only escape because fate let you? You should have learned the lesson I tried to teach you; you don’t owe anyone anything. Take what you want, leave behind what you don’t, just as she left you.”
With a cry of rage, Mary lashed out, slashing only air. Daquin chuckled behind her, and she spun in time for him to disappear and reappear near her elbow, holding a pocket watch. “A fun diversion, but one I don’t have time for. It’s been nice to see you again, ma chere, my sister-in-blood, but I have a fledgling to take in hand and a train to catch soon. I’m afraid this must be goodbye.”
She grabbed for him, but her fingers only brushed him before he’d hopped away. “I’ve let you live, this time, because I do remember you, and you were far from disappointing, sweet little cherry, but if you continue to hunt us, things may go differently.”
She suppressed a growl. “It’s your fledgling I want. He must answer for this, for making such a display, leaving such a mess.”
“Pshaw. Such a thing is in our nature, but this once, for the memory of that long ago time, I’ll speak to him. Hmmm?” He shot her a wink. “Adieu.”
And then he was gone. Mary lunged at the spot he’d been, but there was no point. His scent was strong, and she could have given chase, but again, it was futile. He was faster than she was, and she’d only end up pinned between the two of them, with very little time before sunrise.
At least I have names now.
Cursing the whole way, she made it back to the small house of death. The back door was unlatched, so she let herself inside. She found Deanna standing in the living room, a gory axe still raised and her face creased in a frown.
“What?” Before she could answer, Mary saw the child who lay at her feet, half inside a tiny bedroom.
Deanna lowered the weapon. “She was still alive. She regained consciousness as I was finishing the other child, and attacked me.”
Mary gave the window an impatient glance. “The sun will rise soon. We need to leave and find a safe resting place. Where is Jared?”
“Upstairs, finishing his strange rituals.”
“Then he needs to hurry. Go, wash up.”
Deanna saluted and hurried away, leaving Mary to stare at the ruined child sprawled on the floor. With a mutter of disgust, she hefted the body, and tossed it on the bed. The mirror had already been covered, probably before Jared went upstairs, and clothing was tossed on the floor, no doubt to cover their faces with.
Jared’s odd habit.
Mary grabbed the up and tossed them over their heads. She noted the odd angle of the second girl’s nightdress, but didn’t have time to correct it. They needed to go. Now.
The pair popped down the stairs, Deanna still wiping blood from her face and hands.
“Did you catch him?” Jared asked hopefully.
“No.” It was easier than trying to explain. “But we will. Come. The sun will rise in an hour and humans will be awake before that.”
They locked the doors and climbed out the window, pulling it closed after them. Mary rounded the side of the house and stopped when she something heaped in the yard.
Moving to it, she recognized Seth, his clothes and hair still wet from the river. His chest was a gaping hole, not yet congealed, and protruding from his shirt pocket was a rolled up piece of paper.
“Who’s that?” Jared asked, but his face showed understanding a moment later as he recognized the scent. “What in the hell?”
Mary pulled the paper free and unrolled it.
I already let you live as a favor, but just to me sure that you owe me when next we meet, I have also ended your chase. DO not take is with more sentimental meaning than there is. He has been troublesome for some time and, truth be known, I have also been chasing him. Not for his very public murders that you so object to, but because he stole from me when he left. I have recovered my property, and your manhunt has ended. We are both well served.
Deanna read over her shoulder, and drew back frowning. “I don’t understand.”
“Never mind.” Mary jammed the note in her pocket. “Grab him and let’s go.”
“Where?” Jared asked as he lifted the corpse.
“Back to the citadel. As the letter said, our manhunt is done.”
Mary signed her report with a flourish and leaned back in the chair. Once more at the citadel, she sat in the safe solitude of her rooms, locked away from the other vampires and their prying eyes.
She drew the note out of her pocket and reread it again. How like him to pretend at first that he’d done her a favor when he’d planned to kill Seth all along. As she rolled it up, for a moment she could smell him, the same scent that lingered in her dreams sometimes, and had been back with more ferocity since she’d started chasing Seth. It was the smell of jambalaya cooking, of palm trees, of ancient ceremonies, of drums beating in the dark while Madam LaFete conducted the ceremony to bring her children into a world of darkness; a ceremony Mary now knew was nothing more than show. But back then they’d thought it was real, that it was the magic that changed them, that drinking her blood was just to hammer it all home.
Maybe Daquin was right. Maybe she was always a liar.
Mary glanced at the report, the report that didn’t mention him, or the real way that Seth had been killed. And maybe I’m one too. Or maybe something worse. Shed allowed the office to misidentify Seth, saying his mark looked like the work of Wapiti, a vampire long known to be rogue. They’d poured through the annals and determined that Seth was his fledgling Barnabas. She didn’t correct them, and had even gone so far as to bribe Jared and Deanna not to mention the note, or how the truth of Seth’s death. In exchange for silence, she’d given them special accolades, the kind that would look good if they ever wanted to be Executioners, and that also meant a pay raise.
But she hadn’t done it to protect Daquin. No, she did it to protect herself. There’d be too many questions, too many inquiries, too much to explain. She didn’t need that, didn’t need to relive it all, or to even think about it, if she could help it. Instead, she needed to dust while she could, and get ready for her next assignment.
At least this time it won’t involve faking axe murders.
- reflection 2. chorus line 3. can can 4. dancers 5. ballet 6. feeling blue 7. looking back 8. reverberate 9. stretching on 10. in line